Opinion

The truth about work at Christmas time

8 min read

23 December 2015

In the lead up to Christmas the average person spends close to £900 on a variety of presents, decorations and festive extras in readiness for 25 December. It’s hardly surprising with the pressures of expectations and opportunities online that much of this buying is done sneakily in work time.

Is this something bosses should be concerned about or an inevitable part of December’s Christmas consumer frenzy that we all face?

With the pressures of the Christmas deadline baring down on staff confined to offices around the UK it might not be surprising that many resort to taking a bit of time for themselves, buying gifts for friends and family.

However, this habit can lead to dire consequences – for the staff and for the business. 

With short windows of time to purchase special offer bargains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is an added pressure to shop on specific dates.

This means people at work may see the only way to make the most of those savings is to a) skive off work and go shopping b) purchase online whilst at work.

The growth in Christmas spending in 2014 in the UK was higher than any other European country, and was only surpassed by the US. Online retail accounted for almost one-quarter (23.4 per cent) of Christmas spending in 2014, according to the Centre for Retail Research.

This year’s Black Friday was more an online scrum for example, than last year’s more physical shop related scramble. That may well have been because most of us were at work.

How is the workplace affected? 

Today, many businesses rely on managed services providers for their IT support which means staff behaviour online can be accurately monitored and for employers this can be valuable information.

Adam Harling, director of managed services company, Netitude, based in Frome and Bristol, said: “Managed services means that we can monitor a business network and online behaviour. Whilst this is intended to guard against security threats we can also analyse the way staff interact online and there are times when people will be lingering on Facebook profiles or buying personal gifts. 

“Whilst most of the time this is innocent enough and marginal, there are instances where performance and business processes may be adversely affected. Many people might feel it is OK to hop onto the occasional site for personal reasons but in some instances employers may be paying their staff to spend their afternoon shopping and not doing their work which is a double blow for a business.” 

A survey by myvouchercodes asked 2,157 men and women in the UK over 18, who were in full time employment, the question: ‘Have you ever shopped for Christmas presents whilst at work?’ A whopping 48 per cent admitted they had, two per cent said they would rather not answer and 50 per cent said they never had. 

Read more on Christmas in the workplace:

The survey reportedly found that 38 per cent used their work computer rather than a smart device with some employees stating they had spent over three hours online shopping at work! A feature in The Telegraph claimed that around 96m hours of work time in the UK was dedicated to personal Christmas shopping.

There is research to indicate some employers are taking a hard line on this kind of online distraction. A poll by CareerBuilder revealed that 23 per cent of 2,326 employers fired someone for non-work related use of the internet whilst at work.

Another issue that has sprung up for employers and irked a few of them is when staff get online purchases delivered to the office rather than home. 

HSBC, JP Morgan, the DVLA and Citi are but a selection of companies that do not allow their employees to get personal items delivered to their London offices according to The Daily Mail. Mail room staff have become burgeoned with processing a large amount of parcels and so policies to prevent this have come in.

Despite all the battening down of work policies in SMEs and corporations all over the UK, there are still many companies that consciously allow a little Christmas wriggle-room in the office – particularly if it is ordering online at reputable sites in lunch time.

Chill out – it’s Christmas!

Tom Vaughton, director of website marketing company, Varn Media, based in Bradford on Avon, said: “We trust staff to manage their time whether that be on Facebook or Christmas shopping online.

“We find that if staff enjoy their work, have responsibility and understand the importance of their role then monitoring isn’t really an issue. In fact, if there is an issue it is likely a sign that staff are disengaged or feel under-valued at work.”

For some companies the days before Christmas become a dead zone in terms of productivity partly because many workers do not want to be ‘in the middle’ of a job when they leave for the holidays, which unlike summer holidays are rigidly set for most businesses, so they tie off loose ends early.

Whether you are an employer or employee, be careful not to lose your income this Christmas and remember – it’s supposed to be the season of good will.

Continue reading on the next page for the four Christmas office danger zones

Image: Shutterstock

Four Christmas office danger zones

Shopping online is just one of the Christmas danger zones for employees. Others include:

1. Party like there’s no tomorrow

Getting drunk, inappropriate or aggressive at the Christmas party. If you are in the office, good advice is, don’t photocopy your backside as for one, the glass is too thin and you may well end up in hospital – as well as be reprimanded in the cold light of January.

2. P45 in the post

A classic Christmas ‘Doh!’ moment for staffers is pretending to be sick to spend time at home, shopping or hung over and then posting about the true situation on social media visible to their employers.

Are you among the 54 per cent of Brits that dread the work Christmas party?

3. Get the Santa sack

Buying something very inappropriate or offensive for the office Secret Santa might cause red faces and often these parcels can be tracked back eventually – so be warned.

4. No presence At Christmas

Missing the Christmas party altogether – sometimes absence is seen as a bad sign of your involvement and commitment.

With thanks to Adam Harling at Netitude and Tom Vaughton at Varn Media

Richard Forsyth is director at Find A Creative Pro.

Image: Shutterstock