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Updated Jan 03, 2024

Working on Memorial Day: How to Make It Better for Your Team

Few employees want to work on Memorial Day and other holidays, but you can sweeten the pot. Here's how to boost employee morale on working holidays.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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Historically, many workers have had time off from work for Memorial Day, the informal start of summer. Unfortunately, plenty of people still have to go to work on the holiday. While that might not be great for employees, it is sometimes unavoidable from a business perspective. Some businesses can’t close on weekends or holidays, while many seasonal businesses first open on Memorial Day and need revenue to make up for the down season.

However, as an employer, you have the power to make the best of this situation for your employees. Below, learn how you can help your team get through working this holiday – and all the other ones.

How to treat employees on holidays

If you’re a manager or small business owner who has the day off, but you have employees clocking in for a day’s work, keep a few tips in mind.

1. Provide a payment incentive, if possible.

Many companies that require employees to work on holidays provide some kind of financial incentive for their time. If your business is financially stable and can handle paying your workers a little extra on a holiday, you should strongly consider it. It not only serves as a thank-you to your staff, but also provides a little extra incentive for employees to clock in. Some large companies offer double time, but if that’s too expensive for your business, you have other payment options – such as time and a half, overtime pay, or a separate payment arrangement.

Make sure to update your payroll software to reflect your holiday payment incentives. Don't yet have a payroll platform? Read our reviews of the best payroll services to find the right option. If your business is very small, start with our OnPay review.

2. Say thank you.

Think of a thank-you as a gesture of good faith. Sure, your workers are employed by you and obligated to show up when scheduled, but a show of thanks goes a long way in boosting morale and showing your appreciation for your employees. The most productive workers are those who feel valued at work. No one wants to work on a holiday, but by thanking your employees, you’re showing that you value their willingness to go above and beyond expectations.

3. Be reasonable about productivity.

Depending on your industry, it’s important to be reasonable with your workers about what exactly they’re going to get done on a holiday. If it’s a busy time for your business, it’s important to set clear expectations for employees. If it’s not a busy time but you still need a few employees onsite, it’s equally important to manage expectations and prioritize important projects over maximum productivity. Understand that employees may find themselves a little distracted on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer – and plan accordingly.

4. Hire seasonal employees.

If your business picks up around a certain holiday and not all your staff will be available, temporary employees can lighten the load. Asking the same number of people as usual to do more than their usual amount of work will leave everyone thinly spread, which can lead to a severe drop in morale. By hiring a few extra hands to deal with a holiday rush, you can help spread out the work more evenly and keep your team’s spirits high. It can also save you money on overtime pay. 

5. Schedule in advance.

If possible, determine your employees’ availability during the holiday season at least a few weeks in advance. Knowing who will and won’t be able to work during that time helps you determine the resources you’ll need to allocate in advance. 

You can theoretically ask for scheduling information as far in advance as you’d like, but there is such a thing as too early. Collecting availability too far in advance makes it more likely that unexpected changes in an employee’s schedule will disrupt your holiday business plans. However, doing it too late gives you inadequate time to prepare. The right amount of notice lies somewhere in between. 

6. Defend your staff.

Any holiday – Memorial Day, Christmas, or anything in between – can attract customers looking to get away from their usual lives. In that mindset, these customers might have minimal patience for anything going less than perfectly. The problem is that your employees are on the frontlines with these angry customers. In other words, the “customer is always right” rule is less constructive during the holidays. 

While you shouldn’t ignore the customer’s wishes, defend your employees when they’re being berated. Ultimately, one customer deciding not to return is less disruptive than an employee quitting during a Memorial Day rush because they felt disrespected. 

Wondering which holidays should get paid time off? Check out our handy guide to see how other businesses handle holidays year-round.

Statistics about working on Memorial Day

Below are the details of two past studies about how often employees work on Memorial Day.

Bloomberg BNA study

Although 97% of employers have designated Memorial Day as a paid day off for most of their employees, about 43% still have at least some of their staff come in for the day, according to a study from Bloomberg BNA. The study was based on surveys of more than 100 human resources professionals.

The study also revealed that nearly 20% of businesses have at least some members of their technical staff working on Memorial Day, and 15% of businesses said they’d have security and public safety workers doing the same. In addition, 13% have professional employees working, 12% have managers on the clock, and 11% make service and maintenance personnel report for duty. Another 10% of businesses have sales and customer service employees working on Memorial Day.

The good news for people who have to work on the holiday is that their paychecks will be a bit larger for it. The research discovered that 85% of companies that have employees work on Memorial Day give them some type of extra benefit. Specifically, 28% pay time and a half, 20% provide both extra pay and compensatory time, and 15% pay double time or double time and a half.

Large companies are the most likely to have workers on the clock Monday. The study shows that 80% of businesses with more than 1,000 employees will have at least some employees work on Memorial Day, compared with just 31% of small businesses.

SHRM study

The Society for Human Resources Management conducted a similar study on holiday schedules, including about workers who would be on the clock during Memorial Day. This study found that around 90% of companies close on major holidays – but that means some remain open. Major holidays include New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Memorial Day.

The bigger takeaway from this study, however, was how companies treat employees who have to work on major holidays. Of the 415 HR professionals surveyed, 57% said their company offers some kind of financial incentive to employees who work on holidays. 

Of these organizations, 40% pay double time, and 21% pay time and a half. Nearly 20% pay overtime, and 21% have another payment arrangement. 

Supporting employees who work on holidays

The key to maintaining employee morale – and reduce your employee turnover in turn – is to compensate your employees appropriately for working on a day that many of their friends and family have off. For most, this means additional financial compensation, but if your business isn’t in a position to pay more, there are plenty of other options – offering them a floating holiday or additional paid time off, for example. With the right show of appreciation from the top, working holidays doesn’t have to be a total drag for your employees.

Chad Brooks and Matt D’Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. 

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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