Wort case scenario ... You have a deadline for a project, but there's no one there to approve it.

Wort case scenario ... You have a deadline for a project, but there's no one there to approve it.

You know why you’re sitting here reading this. You’re marking time until the email arrives and the APS officially takes off for Christmas and stays off for shutdown. We all know Christmas really began last Friday when half your branch started holidays. And we all know that though the shutdown period theoretically ends next Thursday, nobody worth their salt actually turns up until the following Monday – and nobody with a family comes back until mid January. Hell, let’s just say shutdown really ends in February.

But still, here you are.  And here we are. So let’s run through the rituals of Christmas Eve in the public service.

The Dress Code

Casual dress can get taken to extremes on Christmas Eve.

Casual dress can get taken to extremes on Christmas Eve.

The summer heat, the waning of the year, and festive season means that public service dress standards take a sudden descent into the colourful and the attenuated. There’s normal office attire (lanyards and pinstripes).

Then there’s casual Friday (lanyards and jeans). And then there's last day before Christmas, which is Hawaiian shirt and board shorts. If in doubt, a silly Christmas button that lights up and spins around while playing Jingle Bells makes everything seasonal and appropriate. And you’ll be justified in wearing that getup out of the house and into the office because at some point the office air conditioning will break and the person who can fix it will be on holiday leave.

The Morning Tea

Morning tea cupcakes should be plentiful, but may not be the best quality of the year.

Morning tea cupcakes should be plentiful, but may not be the best quality of the year.

Most branches or floors have a semi-epic Chrissie morning tea, brought in by the hard core of EAs and baking types who keep morning teas going when the going gets tough. We say semi-epic because the early run on Christmas leave means there are far fewer people around to enjoy the bounty this week, so the odds of overdosing on cupcakes are well in your favour. But it’s Christmas Eve so the odds of elaborate, reality-TV-worthy cupcakes are not in your favour.

In fact, morning tea is likely to be extremely hit and miss and possibly composed mainly of rejects from the Crisco hamper that nobody in the bringer’s family wanted to eat. On the plus side, the event is likely run a little longer than usual as people discuss how they will be spending their next week. Normally there’d also be a solid discussion of the potential fortunes in the Boxing Day test, although this year that is likely to be a relatively short discussion (and yes, you’ve missed the window to bring out your Swann-related bad puns).

The Email

The go home email ... One secretary featured a Lord of the Rings meme telling public servants it was time to knock off.

The go home email ... One secretary featured a Lord of the Rings meme telling public servants it was time to knock off.

This is really the reason we all came to work today – to be told to go home in a department-wide email from the secretary. Public servants anxiously watch their inbox for that golden missive from the secretary, wishing everyone a happy Christmas and encouraging them to go home early, with all the usual “subject to operational requirements” caveats.

What time will you get yours? Will there be a hilarious gif or meme attached? Some secretaries have a real flair – one departmental email featured a Lord of the Rings meme in which Boromir told public servants that ‘‘one does not simply work on Christmas Eve.’’

For those departments with newer, inexperienced heads, there will be a palpable fear of missing out: “Do you think they know about the email?” In fact, the email is so much of an institution now that some almost treat it as a convention. There’s a point around 2pm where even the most stoic of public servants can be convinced to assume that their services are no longer required and they should, subject to operational requirements, head out of the office.

Work on Christmas Eve?

Believe it or not, some work does get done on Christmas Eve. The worst case scenario is that you, for some reason, have a piece of work or a project which absolutely must get done and pushed through before shutdown.

This can lead to very frayed tempers. No morning tea for you. No joy from the email either – just a very long night and a great deal of gnashing of teeth against the people who managed to arrange their Christmas leave before the insanity of this project’s deadline became clear. Say hello to Santa for us.

But in most cases it is simply impossible to get much done. You might be able to do some reading. You might even prepare a few drafts. But most of the work needs to go to someone else for approval or comments and everytime you send an email you get showered with out-of-office replies. With a skeleton staff on board, it’s highly unlikely that the stars will align enough to allow you to actually complete anything. It’s disruptive enough in any workplace, but in an organisation as hierarchical as the APS it can be completely stifling. Huge holes in the organisation structure means that most work can neither be delegated nor completed.

A time to think

Given the recent change of government, this will likely also be a time in which public servants have a chance to stop and talk through the policy issues that are emerging. With the APS becoming increasingly more efficient and frantic, it is rare nowadays to be able to find a good couple of hours to sit down and talk with your colleagues about an issue, without being distracted by a piece of daily process.

A time to read

But, if you’re stuck alone in a pod or an office and just need to while away those last crucial hours, here’s our top tips. You could try losing yourself down the Buzzfeed rabbit hole (‘‘8 Leathers Bears That are More Fashionable Than You’’, ‘‘41 Cats Who Had a Worse Year Than You’’). Or try the upmarket delights of Longform (‘‘The Dangers of America’s Temporary Workforce’’, ‘‘The Tale of Mexico’s Monkey Woman’’ – did we say upmarket?). Or you could try The Canberra Times’ most-read articles of 2013. Some of these stories (can you say ‘‘pen1s fork’’?) might not make it past your work filter but that’s okay. You won’t be there in an hour or two anyway.