Kvetching Korner: High Holidays & PTO

Flex holidays/Floating Holidays: (def) Flexible paid off days which are sometimes granted by employers. Although employees in salaried positions are often granted days off in observance of common religious and civic holidays, there may be employees who do not celebrate the same holiday as the majority of their colleagues.

Thank you, Merriam-Webster, for articulating what seems to be a difficult concept; the concept that there may be employees within a broader organization who do not celebrate the same holiday as the majority of their colleagues.

Don’t get me wrong, I love free days off. I almost always travel over the Christmas/New Year’s break and appreciate the two guaranteed days off, but I do not appreciate having to use valuable PTO hours for the High Holidays, the most important and sacred days in the Jewish Calendar. I know I am not alone in this view, and I know it extends to other religions and religious days such as Diwali or the beginning and ending or Ramadan.

Growing up, it was easy to celebrate the High Holidays. I went to a Jewish day school where we were out of school more than we were in school during the September/October months. I went to a high school known for its large Jewish population, where people often joked the school should be closed on the High Holidays because so many students were gone. My undergraduate institution was closed on Yom Kippur (although during my 4 years there, Yom Kippur never fell during a weekday), and some professors even canceled class on Rosh Hashanah.

I recognize I grew up among the minority. I was given days off to observe the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar and rarely had to explain to anyone why I was not in school or missing a class. That is, until now. Today, I am among the majority. I am among those who have to use PTO for the holidays, among those who are asked if I am going somewhere exciting or doing something fun on my day off. I found it easier to describe Rosh Hashanah over Yom Kippur to my inquisitive coworkers.

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, I was asked if I was doing something fun on my day off the following day. I paused, ready to craft a response articulating exactly what I would be doing, but thought better of it, and merely responded with, “it will be a nice day with family, thank you for asking.” On Thursday September 20th, I was asked for a recap of my fun adventures from the previous day. This time I responded with, “I was observing the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. We spend the day reflecting, atoning for sins, partaking in a 26-hour fast, and going to synagogue.”

Much to my surprise, the question that followed was, “so what was your favorite part of the day?” Wanting to respond sarcastically, but thinking twice, I paused and shared, “Yom Kippur is part of a series of holidays called the High Holidays. Of this series, Rosh Hashanah, the new year, which we celebrated last week, was my favorite part.”

So now it is my turn to ask the question that many before me have asked, why don’t all companies offer flex holidays? My point is more of a question, why doesn’t every employer provide a certain number of flex holidays to their employees? The addition of something seemingly simple would make a tremendous impact for employees who do not celebrate the majority holidays; less so by the actual day off and moreso in the companies’ recognition that there are employees who celebrate non-majority holidays, the acknowledgement by colleagues that a peer is not just taking the day off to take the day off, but is taking a day to observe a holiday, a religious day. While I took offense at my coworker’s questions, I had to remember that they were likely uneducated regarding the Jewish holidays. Had there been an option to use a flex holiday over general time off, I think the conversation could have started differently, with the recognition that these days off were not days for vacation but for a holiday that occurs outside of the majority holidays.

I will caveat with the recognition that I am not a mathematician nor do I understand the complexities in factoring and calculating days off and the economic impact it has on employers.