Sunday, May 3, 2015

For the lucky, it's Limbo Week at work:

Admit it. If you've gotta work for a living, nothing beats punching a corporate clock during the week between Christmas and New Year's - that lazy, suspended state when bosses are away, the hallways are emptier than Santa's bag and lunch lasts as long as you want it to.

For the lucky, it's Limbo Week at work:

During Limbo Week, some people have nothing to do but clean off their desks and check message texts. Ahhhhhhhhh...
During Limbo Week, some people have nothing to do but clean off their desks and check message texts. Ahhhhhhhhh...

The following is a slightly updated column I wrote for the Daily News some years back, about the gloriously boring work-week between Christmas and New Year's Day. I thought I'd reprise it here, for auld lang syne.

If you're reading this at the office, there's a good chance your feet are propped on your desk. Maybe your iTunes are blaring at uncharacteristically high volume. Your phone has probably rung only a few times since you got off the elevator this morning.

Your plans for the afternoon might include taking a languorous coffee break, rearranging your files or, maybe, tapping out a few work-related e-mails.

Not that anyone will read them.

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It's Limbo Week.

Admit it. If you've gotta work for a living, nothing beats punching a corporate clock during the week between Christmas and New Year's - that lazy, suspended state when bosses are away, the hallways are emptier than Santa's bag and lunch lasts as long as you want it to.

"It's like being on vacation, in a way," says a communications manager I know. "You're at work, yeah, but there's nothing to do. Plus, you get points for being a Good Samaritan, because you're covering the office while everyone else is gone. "

So far this week, she's put all her disparte notes into separate files. She's caught up on e-mail correspondence to friends. She's renegotiated her cell-phone plan and gotten a better rate from her carrier.

Best of all, her boss called yesterday to tell her to leave at 3 p.m., since things were so slow.

"This is the most relaxing week at work I've ever had," she says.

It's a gift, really, this between-years opportunity to tie up loose ends on somebody else's dime. But not everyone knows its munificence.

If you work in the retail business, for instance, the week between Christmas and New Year's is an unmitigated hell of returned merchandise and inventory clearance. And if you're in the travel or security industry, you've probably been popping Zantac since that suspected Nigerian terrorist was arrested while trying to blow up a flight into Detroit. 

For anyone else lucky enough to remain employed these days, though, this stretch can be the equivalent of a deep, cleansing breath.

It's not just that trains, buses, highways and sidewalks are blessedly empty. Or that sparsely filled parking lots let workers glide into convenient spaces they usually fight over the rest of the year. Or that co-workers share a collegial, unhurried good mood as they discuss New Year's plans and make the pleased observations that it's so much easier to get a good cafeteria seat when no one else is around.

Silent phones and empty meeting rooms also give everyone a chance to catch up on work they never get to because they're always answering phones or attending meetings, which only generate more assignments that never get done.

Even workaholics have little choice but to grind to a halt this week. How can you indulge an addiction when no one's around to return calls, respond to e-mails or supply whatever vital piece of information is needed to stretch an eight-hour workday into a 12-hour one?

 Casual-day dress codes prevail, good moods abound, the elevator ascends and descends with barely a wait and nary a superfluous stop to keep you from getting where you're going, even though you're in no particular hurry to get there.

 "If only life always felt this easy!" we sigh, knowing the futility of the wish, but making it nonetheless.

 Relieved of work's frenetic pace can make you feel newly empowered to revisit projects that looked impossible before Christmas. Having a tidy, dusted-off desk seems normal, not like an anomaly. Balancing work and home seems suddenly do-able, if only for this week.

 The downside to the emptiness of this week, of course, is that, well, no one's around. This is not a good thing if you went into the holidays far behind on an assignment that your boss - and everyone else - was expecting you to have finished well before Christmas Eve.

 "I couldn't get anyone on the phone!" you'll protest when they return next week, looking for whatever outstanding project you promised them before everyone left for the holidays. "No one answered e-mail! Everyone was on vacation!"

Hopefully, they'll be so well rested from their own down time, they'll not only forgive your procrastination but welcome its results.

 After all, on the first day back from vacation, who wants to do any work?

Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.


Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at polaner@phillynews.com.

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