Holidays 2020: Which Professions Will Unplug?

Assume lawyers will still be texting on New Year’s Eve. But despite the pandemic, some surprising professions hope not to be.

We know the image of people in finance—ending the year on grueling schedules. Even if they manage to spend time on a beach, they’ll be texting or calling in last-minute deals. Or will they?

While everyone hopes to unplug the week between Christmas and New Year’s, especially this year, the reality for 2020 is likely to be very different. According to a new Korn Ferry survey, 67% of workers expect this holiday season to be more stressful than in years past. And it isn’t surprising, since seven in 10 say they work more hours per day now than at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, while many leaders stress the importance of taking time off during the holiday week, many believe doing so is “probably more aspirational than reality,” says Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Chief Human Resources Officers practice.

But that isn’t equally true for every profession. A recent LinkedIn survey found some curious if not surprising differences about various fields. Yes, 42% of legal professionals say they plan to spend more time checking in with the office this holiday season than last—the most of any profession. But those in technology and finance are more hopeful. Then there are those in the human resources field, who appear ready to take the advice they likely have given staffers throughout their firm and pull back.

To be sure, the nature of some fields long dictated these gaps, with or without a pandemic. Whether it’s rushing to close transactions, prepare documents, or advise on a crisis, December typically isn’t a restful month for corporate lawyers and in-house counsel, says Julie Anne Preng, managing partner of Korn Ferry’s Legal Center of Expertise. “Corporate law is not a field where you can disappear for a week or two,” she says.

But some fields—such as marketing—appear much more affected by the pandemic. Some 31% of marketers, for example, say they expect to work more this holiday season, the third most of any industry. Caren Fleit, managing director of Korn Ferry’s Global Marketing Officers practice, says marketing has moved to an “always on” strategy as a way to be in constant, real-time contact with consumers. “Customer behavior is more fluid than ever, and because of that, marketing plans are constantly in flux,” says Fleit.

Technology, meanwhile, came in eighth among the dozen professions surveyed. They need to be available more in the remote-work era, but many in the field feel like “they have the wind at their sail,” says Craig Stephenson, managing director of Korn Ferry’s North America Technology Officers practice. “Processes are in place to ensure business continuity.”

Even fewer finance professionals, 26%, plan to work the grueling 100-hour week they are known for doing at the end of the year. In fact, the only group that plans to shut down more than financial professionals this holiday season is HR. Only one-quarter of HR professionals say they expect to work more this year than last, a surprising revelation given the health, safety, and remote-work needs of employees on top of the usual end-of-year compensation and workforce-planning issues. But Kaplan says that’s actually why HR professionals are planning to unplug. “It’s been a particularly draining and grueling year for all HR leaders,” he says. “Every CHRO I speak with just wants to get away and take a long nap.”