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Examples: Newcastle University, Queen's University, University of Florida.

It seems weird to give employees free leave. The Newcastle University page gives an explanation for why this happens:

The Christmas closedown is important to reduce the leave accruals of all staff and it helps to ensure staff remain healthy and have a good work life balance.

But if this is their concern, they could simply give their employees more annual leave and keep operating the university during December. That's what the companies I've worked for do, and I'd even say it's preferable, since the employees get to choose when to use their leave. As for leave accruals, there are other ways to handle it, such as "use it or lose it" or "unused leave is converted to salary".

Also strange is that two of these universities are in the Northern hemisphere. December in the Northern hemisphere is a winter month, so there's less daylight. If I'm going to go on holiday I'd much rather do so during the summer. It could still be that Queen's University & University of Florida staff go on holiday en masse to the Southern hemisphere where it's summer in December, but that stretches belief.

What's the rationale behind the Christmas closedown? If the closedown is so important, why not have a summer closedown instead?

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    Because they match the schools cycle in the countries they are in... having a holiday when your family and especially your kids are still at school is not very interesting if you still have to get them up, do lunch etc... – Solar Mike Dec 27 '18 at 0:07
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    Don't schools in these countries also usually go on holiday in summer? – Allure Dec 27 '18 at 0:25
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    Yes. And it's by no means unusual for catering, security or cleaning arrangements to be reduced or modified during the long vacation. Staff in this case is all staff, not academics who tend to be able to work anywhere. – origimbo Dec 27 '18 at 0:28
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    "If I'm going to go on holiday I'd much rather do so during the summer.": And I love skiing instead. So what? – Massimo Ortolano Dec 27 '18 at 12:34
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    Allure, in a university you can't have fully-flexible holidays, because holidays are constrained anyway by classes and exams. Moreover, students who study far from home want to have a longer vacation period, not just Christmas and boxing day, to rejoin their families. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 27 '18 at 12:49
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In North America, there is a strong tradition of people wanting to spend an extended amount of time with their families around the Christmas holiday (which these days is effectively a secular as well as religious holiday). It is likely that a large fraction of the staff would want to take leave during that period anyway. Thus, if they were to stay open:

  • They'd have to deny leave to a significant number of employees who wanted it, which would be unpopular.

  • Many of those who did stay would be less productive without their colleagues who they might normally collaborate with.

  • They'd have to incur the overhead expenses of keeping the university open: lights, heating, cleaning, food service, etc. But if they shut down completely, they can close up the buildings and dining halls and reduce maintenance staff to a skeleton crew, which saves money.

These factors also apply in industry to some extent, but in academia it is compounded by the fact that classes aren't taught during the December break, and students normally leave campus, so there is naturally much less work to be done during that period.

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In the UK, Christmas day and Boxing Day (26th of December) are bank holidays. This means everything shuts down: schools, shops, banks attractions, many public services etc. Universities follow suit. The only things that remain operational over Christmas are essential services like hospitals and the police.

I expect if a university didn't close for Christmas, the amount of staff choosing to take their leave then anyway would necessitate it. Christmas is generally a time to spend with family, which is easier when everyone has the day off work. People aren't going on holiday, they're going home, eating a lot of food, playing board games or watching TV. As your quote from Newcastle says, it's about maintaining work-life balance.

That said, I'm off to eat some more chocolate.

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    It's just two days of bank holidays though. If you look at the Christmas closedown schedule, Newcastle University is shutting down until 7 January 2019. – Allure Dec 27 '18 at 12:41
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    @Allure If you live 100s or 1000s of miles away from your family, you're going to want more than 2 days with them. Why not give people a break? Mandated closures don't usually come out of your holiday allowance anyway, so you can still take time off in the summer too. – astronat Dec 27 '18 at 16:15
  • @Allure also note that the Newcastle you're talking about there isn't one of the ones in the UK (although reopening the first Monday of the new year isn't a totally surprising schedule anywhere). – origimbo Dec 27 '18 at 20:31
  • Also, if any of you thinks most academics aren't going to work from home at all between 20 December and January 7, you probably don't know university well enough. :) In fact, it's one of the best periods to do research, without other obligations or time sinks. – Federico Poloni Mar 18 at 8:08

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