July 4th Off… And Then Some

Employees are turning one-day holidays into weeklong vacations, forcing firms to redefine yearly calendars.

It’s hardly surprising that millions of people travel on the Sunday after July 4th—they’re coming back from their Independence Day break. This year, more than 3 million people boarded flights on July 7th, making it the busiest-ever day for air travel in the United States. But here’s a surprising stat: We almost saw the record broken on the Friday before the week of July 4th. On that day, 2.94 million passengers passed through airport-security checkpoints.

Travel pros came to the obvious conclusion: People didn’t just take off July 4th and the days immediately around it; they took the entire week—or more. 

Welcome to what may be an historic shift in how people are taking vacations. Whether it’s July 4th, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving, workers are stretching their vacations into entire weeks off. It’s a fundamental change in vacation patterns that could leave leaders scrambling to cover critical work areas around holidays in ways they’ve never had to before. 

“There’s a generational shift going on here,” says Kate Shattuck, founder and global co-leader of Korn Ferry’s Impact Investing, ESG and Sustainability practice. Indeed, according to a Harris poll conducted in June, a majority of Gen-Z and millennial employees said that having the full July 4th week off would make them more productive for the rest of the year (only 32% of boomers & Gen Xers felt similarly). 

The new work calendars emerge at a time when managers are already worried that many employees may be embarking on quiet vacations, in which they take trips and show up virtually for meetings—without using any of their allotted time off. But even when those days are official, firms may struggle to balance the desires of their employees for time off with the ability to keep work going. “You’re going to have to communicate with your employees weeks ahead of time and make sure you’re well covered,” says Shattuck.

The Fourth of July wasn’t the first federal holiday this year that workers expanded into significantly longer vacations. Something similar occurred around Memorial Day, which this year fell on Monday, May 27th. The number of air passengers peaked on Friday, May 24th, as per usual, at 2.95 million, according to the Transportation Safety Administration (the average was 2.35 million in 2023). However, more than 2.8 million people flew on May 17th, 18th, and 19th, respectively—putting all three on TSA’s list of busiest days ever. 

Those passengers needed places to stay as well. Nationwide, hotel occupancy was about as high for the entire pre-Memorial Day week as it was for the traditional three-day weekend, according to CoStar, a hospitality-analytics firm.

To be sure, experts say the additional time off isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “We believe this is positive both for employees’ mental health and retention of talent,” says Radhika Papandreou, Korn Ferry’s president of North America. For his part, Andrés Tapia, a senior client partner and global DE&I and ESG strategist at Korn Ferry, says the issue isn’t about when workers take days off but when work gets done. “Now you can take advantage of going away and still get your work done,” he says.

Still, if the extended holiday vacations continue, experts say, firms may end up having to curtail worker requests for PTO. Even so, they recommend managers do some advance planning to avoid leaving work hanging. 

Shattuck recommends that managers take advantage of any non-US-based direct reports to cover work during US holidays. This year she had some of her Europe-based team members take the lead on a project during the week of July 4th. 

At the same time, managers should be talking to their employees about how to communicate that they want time off, as well as how to avoid leaving colleagues in the lurch. Younger employees, or those in hybrid environments, might not realize that their taking time off could hamstring their organization. “Leaving for vacation today is actually a skill,” Shattuck says. 


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