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July Fourth holiday can create long weekend

If you're reading this at your desk today, there's a good chance you won't be at work on Thursday or Friday. And if you're lounging around the house, you'll likely be back on the clock at the end of the week.

Split schedules will be commonplace this week thanks to the Fourth of July holiday which falls on Wednesday this year, causing employers and employees to mix things up with five-day weekends at either end.

John Challenger, workplace expert of international outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the rare five-day weekend fits a growing trend of workers choosing long weekend breaks over the traditional one- or two-week vacation.

"As three- and four-day weekends become the vacation of choice, employees jump at any opportunity to wrap vacation days around business-closing holiday in order to get an extra day of leave without depleting their limited vacation allowance," Challenger said.

The mid-week holiday also comes at a time of the year when the flow of work traditionally eases due to seasonal dips in orders and deadlines. This will translate to some bosses rewarding their workers by closing their operations for an extra day or two, giving everybody extra time to kick back.

But for those businesses that are required to keep rolling through the holiday break, maintaining productivity with fewer hands on deck could make for a rocky week ahead. In some cases, workers who would have liked to take some extra time off won't get that chance.

Challenger said managers are walking a fine line in deciding whether to say "no" to requests for an extra long weekend.

"This would have negative consequences for morale and long-term productivity. It is in the best interest of employers to give workers every opportunity to take advantage of paid holiday to maximize vacation time," Challenger said.

Compared to many other countries, Americans don't get much vacation time. U.S. workers average 12 vacation days per year, while just across the border in Canada the average is 26. (Maybe its time for that Fort Erie branch office!).

Employees in Japan average 25 days of vacation, British workers enjoy 28 days off, in Germany it's 35 days, and in France, 37 days of holiday time is the norm.

Challenger notes it is not too late for bosses to loosen their vacation request rules and allow staffers to seize the opportunity for a five-day weekend starting on July Fourth.

"Employers should embrace this opportunity to give workers a five-day weekend," he suggested. "Generous employers may even want to consider including the two extra days as extended holidays and not count the days against workers' vacation days."

U.S. companies have long lagged behind their European counterparts in the vacation day count, but American workers are increasingly making the situation worse by failing to cash in on all the days they are allotted.

This year's annual vacation survey by indicates about one-third of U.S. workers will not take off all the days they have coming. And even if they do physically leave the office, lots will be there virtually, tethered to e-mail and voice mail.

In the Expedia survey, 23 percent of respondents admitted they'll be checking in with the world of work as they hang out at the beach, hike a trail or lounge on the cottage dock. That's up from 16 percent in a 2005 poll of vacation habits.

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