An Englishman in New York: the way we ‘summer’ is changing

An Englishman in New York: the way we ‘summer’ is changing

With the summer in full swing, it’s remarkable how different the attitude towards holidays is between the UK and US, and never more so than over July and August period.

In the US, there are two major holidays that bookend the summer — Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September), with Independence Day (“the fourth of July”) falling somewhere near the middle. Holidays are typically taken in and around these long weekends, and it’s very common to see meetings and events go very quiet during these times as there are so many people out of the office.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of paid vacation days a full-time employee in the US gets is 11, so it’s quite understandable to see how attaching these limited number of days to national holidays is valuable.

In the UK, summer is defined as 1 June to 30 August, so very similar to the US. However, the only nationwide bank holiday is 28 August. In the UK, the statutory amount of paid leave is 28 days for full-time workers (this includes bank holidays and public holidays which don’t have to be given as paid leave), so that gives them more flexibility on when holidays can be used.

When we think of Europe, there is a common perception that ‘Europe shuts down for summer’. Norway, for example, sees many industries shut down during July (the theory being that having 25% — 50% of your workforce out at any one time is very inefficient, so it may as well have everyone out). France ‘shuts down’ for most of August and September to provide a break from the summer heat — the Government thinks this will improve the country’s economy. Italy ‘shuts down’ from 15 August (national holiday) until the end of September, mostly due to giving citizens respite from the summer heat.

The list can go on and on. It’s quite fascinating to see how countries think about how to utilise holidays for citizen welfare and their economies.

US and UK holidays post-pandemic

All the above being said, this does impact businesses that operate between the US and Europe. Pre-Covid, 61% of UK employees didn’t take all their annual leave allowance compared to the US, where 55% didn’t take all of theirs. Coming out of the pandemic, it’s expected that employees will use their paid holiday in full (to maximise travel opportunities they were unable to take when locked down).

It also reopens the debate around ‘unlimited holiday’. This is a practice we tried at TPA, and we found that employees had a real mix of how much they took (some took 30 days, others took 17). Some companies offer ‘unlimited holiday’, but I’m confident the bean counters in the background price in that many don’t take more than the 25 average. Will this post-pandemic approach to summer holiday change the way they approach annual leave setting? I think it probably will.

Closer to home, I have seen longer OOOs becoming common practice and projects/work being put on hold. I’ve been told by a couple of clients in the US, “We’ll pick this up after the summer”. Is this a delaying tactic, or does a reduced workforce mean things move much slower?

I was also researching a topic lately for Europe and reached out to five relevant companies. Three were going away the following week, and two were away that week. Thankfully it wasn’t time-sensitive, but it does reiterate the point that the summer is slow for media and it is occurring on both sides of the pond.

The future of summer holidays

It’s been unusual for me to see the similarities in summer holidays when comparing the US to EMEA. Maybe it’s just me and the sphere of my network, but I have noticed it being very quiet this year (I know there will be people who are outliers reading this, but thinking in the majority here).

The industry slowing down for the summer is no bad thing if it can be planned for, and it’s happening around the globe in full now, which I fully expect to remain in the future. Hopefully, this means energy for the global ad industry is recharged and raring to go for a big Q4. I’m excited to see what that holds.

Wayne Blodwell is founder of TPA Digital, an online advertising consultancy. ‘An Englishman in New York’ is a monthly column reflecting on time setting up a business in the US and what media Brits should know when deciding to find success stateside.


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