It’s a very merry Christmas in business


There’s too much to do in December to find time for any work

Time off is nothing but a dim and distant memory for the top executives of today. Or so say the pundits. How wrong the pundits are.

It is true that today’s new modes of communication allow everybody to be available 24 hours a day; that the out-of-office reply is nearly as extinct as the dodo; that the most recondite places such as the Zambezi river have wifi; that there is a merging of work and play.

And yet my experience shows that the widely accepted thesis that leisure time for senior executives is ancient history is wrong, even in global cities like London. Let us look at the Christmas period. By September, financiers are telling their clients they won’t be able to get their rights issue taken up because “no one is around in December” and considering the long lead time needed, it is best left to the new year. PR companies regularly advise their clients to delay an unwelcome announcement to December for the same reason. It’s a whole month in which to bury bad news.

And is the denominated C-Suite away in December? Not in the first two weeks. Senior executives are physically present, but their spirits are elsewhere. The adrenalin-fuelled work buzz is absent. Time is taken up with Christmas lunches – visit a private members’ club such as 5 Hertford Street or George, at 4pm in the festive season (now deemed anytime within the month of December), and you will find restaurant tables full of dawdling members. Plus there are the emblematic Christmas parties and dinners organized by well-known ‘establishment’ figures and hedge-fund bosses, as well as carol services for numerous children and high-profile charities. It is much more important to be seen at the right events than to be doing any actual work. Now that ‘networking’ qualifies as work, the first half of December can honestly be said to be very hard work indeed! As for actual deals, investments or pitches, the phrase most repeated in corporate offices at this time is: “Let’s deal with it after Christmas.”

Then, in the second half of December, executive parents who pay huge fees to send their children to private schools find them at home, ready for their four-week holiday. It is an oft-heard complaint in London that the more you pay for education, the less time your children actually spend at school. And offspring are time-consuming, whatever their age.

By 20 December, the residents of London’s smartest neighbourhoods, like Belgravia, are long gone, or going, to mansions in the country or chalets in the Alps, or else to some rum-kissed Caribbean island such as Mustique, there to linger for a good two weeks. Because in London, the phrase “Christmas holidays” is shorthand for the period stretching to some time after New Year’s Day, which is not the case in, say, Frankfurt or Madrid.

Refreshed and energized, senior executives are back at their desks on 2 January. Actually, they’re not. Parking spaces abound, there are no waiting lists for fashionable restaurants and London feels like a waking teenager, slow and grumpy. Children return to their private schools mid-month and parents appear then, only to disappear again – relieved to escape the grind of wintry work – for a week’s skiing in January and February or an escape to the sun. Those senior executives without children are just as much slaves to endless school holidays since, without colleagues or clients, there is not much they can do; and thus they join in the organized leisure.

Gentle reader, do I exaggerate? It is for you to judge, as you lie by the pool, daiquiri in hand, in the sunshine of the Bahamas on New Year’s Day.