How small businesses can power through the holiday season

The holiday season is the most productive time of the year for online retailers like Amazon, which are expected to rack up $117 billion in sales over the next few weeks. Most people, though, may struggle relating to that feeling of increased productivity during this festive period. Here are a few best practices that businesses can adopt to keep the sailing smooth as the holiday season and the distractions it brings set in for employees.

Embracing the holiday spirit

Starting from the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the mood around the office changes. Employees become more aware of the time left until each holiday break, while the excitement from their personal lives comes up to the surface. There’s also a measure of stress over unfinished vacation plans and the work that needs to be completed before everyone goes home. Generally speaking, it’s much simpler for businesses to embrace this atmosphere than to try pushing it all into the background.

Having an organized game plan is essential to making the most out of the situation. A company can hold an office party or some other special event to end the year on a positive note, which also presents a useful opportunity to bring the team closer together. Another option is to take advantage of the slower days to change up the pace and do things that might not fit into a regular week. Employees could, for example, spend extra time talking with customers about their needs.

There also more casual ways to infuse holiday cheer into the workplace. Decorations, giveaways and employee contests are a few of the time-tested methods businesses use to tap into staffers’ excitement. Any holiday office plan should ensure that all these activities remain within reasonable limits so that important work can still get done. Staying on top of the situation is particularly important when it comes to employee attendance, which is a topic in and of itself.

Balancing flexibility and output

Research shows that most employees want flexible working arrangements, even when they don’t have last-minute holiday preparations to take care of. As a result, it can be beneficial to give personnel some extra time off between festivities. Certain teams without much to do could potentially even be allowed to go home and leave their responsibilities to a skeleton crew. The payoff is a boost to employees’ morale and their overall perception of the business that can carry over to the new year.

With that said, companies should make sure that the personnel who are needed during the holiday season don’t become too distracted. It’s especially important that those essential workers don’t all use their time-off all at once, which becomes a very real possibility starting around Thanksgiving.

Certain industries have developed specific policies for avoiding this scenario that are worth examining. As we discussed in an October article, factory operators often require workers to submit their vacation plans at the start of each year to preempt last-minute schedule changes. Other companies, meanwhile, let personnel pick the times when they wish to take a break on a “first come, first served” basis. This approach makes it possible to limit the number of employees  who are away during the holiday season while still being fair to everyone.

Managing seasonal workers

Balancing employee vacation plans with the needs of the business can be tricky. However, companies that scale down operations during this time of the year still have it relatively easy compared to their peers in industries such as retail, which must do the opposite. Managing the extra personnel who are hired to help deal with the increased holiday demand brings a whole new set challenges.

The biggest is effectively onboarding so many new workers on a short notice. In an illuminating interview on the topic, Performance Optimist Consulting founder Matt Heller said that the usual practice of front-loading training sessions isn’t necessarily the best approach. That’s because compressing everything into a worker’s first few hours on the job doesn’t give them time to properly internalize the required skills. For the best results, Heller said that businesses should take it one step at a time. Splitting up training into small chunks makes it possible to check that a worker has mastered one aspect of their job before moving onto the next.

Moreover, a company can draw lessons of its own in the process. Seasonal workers bring an outside perspective to the table that is often quite valuable. Doing exit interviews with temporary staffers at the end of their stints is a cost-effective way to uncover potential ways of improving operations.

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