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A different type of holiday bonus — a week’s vacation

A man looked into the window of an REI store that was closed on Black Friday.
A man looked into the window of an REI store that was closed on Black Friday.David McNew/Reuters/File

At the end of the year, many employers are in a generous mood: throwing holiday parties, giving away turkeys, and handing out bonuses.

But some companies give workers an even more coveted gift. They send everyone home for the week between Christmas and New Year's.

In the Boston area, public relations firms, nonprofits, and biotech companies are among those locking up on Dec. 24 and not reopening until Jan. 4.

When Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge announced at a company meeting in October that it would shut down the last week of the year, "a roar went through the crowd," said spokeswoman Christine Lindenboom.

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Like most employers, Alnylam says giving employees a much-needed break is the reason for the holiday closure, but the shutdowns have practical implications, too. Keeping the heat and lights off can save money on utilities, and productivity tends to slump during a week in which many employees, along with their clients, already take time off.

This year, with Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Fridays, providing a tidy week off in between, a holiday break makes even more sense.

Almost a third of US office workers are taking off the week between Christmas and New Year's this year, according to a survey done for the staffing firm Robert Half. About 50 percent of those vacations happen because the office is set to close.

"If you look at it in terms of what actually gets done that week vs. employee engagement or satisfaction, it's well worth it," said Tracy Burns, chief executive of the Northeast Human Resources Association.

In many industries, such as accounting and finance, a year-end shutdown would be difficult. With quarterly deadlines, clients to bill, and hires that must be made in the current year's budget, giving everyone time off is nearly impossible.

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"Lots of companies are working completely insane hours this time of year," said Brigette Felago, branch manager of the staffing agency Accountemps in Boston.

Gearing up to go dark for a week can be a grind. At Good Sports, a Quincy nonprofit that provides sports equipment for disadvantaged children, Michael Wright is looking forward to spending the holiday season with his 8-month-old son. But first, he has to complete inventory distributions and hit equipment donation goals before the fiscal year ends Dec. 31.

"We're trying to button up everything essentially like a week and a half early, which is taking some adjusting," said Wright, who oversees the equipment distribution process. "You could say it's a crunch."

Just because an office is not officially conducting business doesn't necessarily mean operations are halting entirely, however.

At Wheaton College in Norton, the campus is closed, but the admissions staff will continue to process the 2,000 or so applications that flood the office in the week before the Jan. 1 deadline.

"There's so much anxiety involved in the college application process anyway that when they hit send, if they don't hear from us they start to panic," said Grant Gosselin, dean of admission.

Most companies turning off the lights offer the week as bonus time off, with pay, but some require workers to use their vacation days.

The California information technology giant Oracle Corp. prompted an outcry when it announced earlier this year that workers would be required to use vacation time during a weeklong closure at the end of the year, according to news reports. Oracle declined to comment.

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For one boss, the decision to close for the week was a stressful one.

Desmond Lim runs an online platform that connects people with moving companies, and the end of the month is a busy time. After working through the holidays last year, Lim decided to shut down his startup, QuikForce, for the last two weeks of this year. The move could result in the loss of thousands of dollars in revenue, he said, but it's the right thing to do.

"I really believe in trying to create a good culture for the team," Lim said.

International Data Group, the technology-focused media, data, and marketing services company, said its holiday shutdown is a great perk when recruiting new hires — a week off, no vacation time required.

Having everybody out at the same time also makes it easier to disengage from work because there's no pressure to keep up with what's going on at the office, said marketing director Jackie Mellen. "From a team perspective, we just sort of hit pause," she said. "Everyone comes back so refreshed and ready to go."

Still, getting more companies to shut down the last week of the year could be a tough sell, especially here.

"We like to be tough in Boston. We don't like to kick back," said Helene Solomon, chief executive of the public relations firm Solomon McCown & Co., which is closing up shop between Christmas and New Year's for the first time this year. "There's a lot of that Yankee puritanical work ethic here that is just second nature."

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Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.