December 12, 2023

‘I’m Done for the Year.’ Really?

Managers say some workers have already checked out for the year, creating a challenge for firms. 

The manager planned a holiday party, set up end-of-year one-on-ones, and followed best practices: He modeled good behaviors, set an upbeat tone, and, above all, tried to be peppy. But his team wasn’t buying it. He overheard one employee saying, “I’m so done for 2023.”

The actual calendar may say something different, but in growing numbers, executives are facing employees who are just—well, finished. A new survey from Monster shows that more than one in five workers plan to take as much vacation time as possible before year-end, causing workplace-scheduling woes for leaders trying to complete projects and meet customer needs. Retail leaders are especially struggling. “It’s really hard to keep people pumped and excited for six holiday weeks when at the end of every day, the store looks like a disaster area,” says John Long, sector leader for North America retail at Korn Ferry.

While the “I’m done before the holidays” attitude isn’t new, the desire to pack it in early is worse this year. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of workers say that they are negatively affected during the holiday season, with almost half feeling more stress than usual. Experts note that employee attitudes depend on the industry. For example, in healthcare, where frontline workers are still exhausted from the pandemic, the expectation to project holiday spirit can be an added burden. “Decorations and donuts are actually more work for the nurses”—leaving them responsible for, say, making sure toddlers don’t eat a decoration—says strategy expert Anu Gupta, senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

The end-of-year squeeze is often particularly hard on managers, as senior leadership tends to disappear early and employees run out of steam mid-month. Experts say good managers, particularly those with customer-facing employees, often compensate by providing the holiday spirit themselves, in an effort to encourage workers to push through over the final two weeks of the year.

Experts concur, saying that ideally, leaders should articulate expectations a month in advance. This includes setting the tone as early as November for the year-end push by reminding employees not to hoard all their vacation time until December and advising them what they can expect in terms of work hours and workload. “It’s really important to not wait for the holiday season,” says Shanda Mints, Korn Ferry's vice president for RPO implementation in the Americas. “It’s about setting the right expectations, well before the holidays.”

Managers worry that the “I’m done” attitude will spill into the first week of 2024, so that employees end the old year—and begin the new one—behind the eight ball. Experts suggest that leaders should already be visioning for next year, as well as sharing those expectations with employees. “A great 2024 doesn’t start in January. You’ve got to start planning for it now,” says organizational strategy expert Maria Amato, senior client partner at Korn Ferry.


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Employee Experience capabilities.