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The Productive Manager’s Guide To The Holiday Season Slump

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The holiday season provides both opportunities and dangers for employee engagement. Excitement and distraction can get in the way of work, but festive fun can be a great way to bond people together.

Here are some tips for achieving the best employee engagement this holiday season.

Think Before Enforcing Rules

Terry Pratchett once wrote “rules are there so that you think before you break them”. That’s especially true on special occasions.

Maybe you have a rule that every team needs to have someone present throughout business hours in case there’s an enquiry. But are your B2B sales team really going to generate any leads between Christmas and New Year? Is anyone going to be contacting the internal auditors when other teams are down to skeleton crews? Maybe at this time of year some teams can be let off the hook while vital services like IT keep someone on site.

Whatever the rule standing in the way of the holiday spirit, think it through, and then clearly explain why it will or won’t be enforced. Flexibility and understanding are great ways to show employees that you see them as human beings, and so to encourage engagement.

Make Space for Silliness

People will want to have some fun in the lead-up to the holidays. Maybe it’s sticking a flashing reindeer on the desk, wearing a Santa hat, or racing tinsel-covered wheelie chairs down the office ten minutes from closing. Stamping on all the fun will make people grumpy and disengaged. Letting them get away with too much will stop any work being done.

So let people express their sense of fun in controlled ways. Festive decorations, but not ones that will intrude on other people’s concentration. Let people mess around a little in the last week, but keep an eye out for too much time being lost. In short, let things be fun as long as work still gets done.

Really Reward Good Discipline

With people so easily distracted, this is the perfect time to give rewards and praise for those who stay focused.

Some people are going to behave themselves no matter what. Some will have big deadlines they still need to hit. Some may just not be in the mood for frivolity. Whatever their reasons, the efforts of those who stay focused on work should be rewarded. Public praise or something from your regular reward system will make them feel validated rather than left out for working instead of slacking off. It’ll also encourage others to knuckle down once their lunchtime trip to the Christmas market is over.

Join in the Fun

As The Office so often demonstrated, trying too hard to be the “fun boss” can backfire badly. But holding yourself at a distance, never letting people see your human side, means that they will feel less engaged by you and your leadership.

The holidays are a perfect time to show your fun side. Join in with festivities, but do it as an equal. For the length of a team Christmas dinner or an office drinks do, let yourself be just one part of the crowd, talking about sports, TV, and holiday plans. Don’t try to dominate – that will remind people that you’re the boss. Just be.

Let Employees Control Their Celebrations

It’s a good thing for the business to facilitate work festivities. An early Christmas lunch together can help a team bond. An after work party fosters connections across the business as people relax together.

Funding this helps. A relatively small investment creates a nice show of goodwill. If you’re paying, at least in part, then employees are more likely to turn up, rather than choosing other festivities over work ones.

But there’s a big difference between paying and running the show. If possible, let employees shape the celebrations for themselves. This might be a team picking where to go eat or an improvised social committee planning the party food and decorations. The more people feel in control of the event, and the more it’s to their tastes, the more they will engage with it, relax, and have fun.

All of which adds up to better engagement with the business and their work once the party’s over.

Be Flexible About Time

Christmas and other seasonal festivities can put a lot of pressure on people, especially on their time. They’re shopping for presents, attending the school nativity, making travel arrangements, trying to attend a host of social functions, all while working. So try to avoid adding to that pressure.

Where possible, be more flexible about time. Let people take long lunch breaks to shop or leave early to attend school plays. Shuffle schedules around so that people can let off some steam at those social events. If you use flextime, let employees make up the time in the New Year, once the pressure is off. They’ll feel less stressed and more positive about work, which leads to far better engagement.

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