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Five ways to keep your employees focused through the holidays


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By Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Here is a secret that many of your employees don't want you to know about. On the fourth Thursday of every November, your employees unofficially begin their holiday hiatus.

Don't believe me? Just try and locate one of your sales people between late November and the end of December. Is it really possible that your entire sales force is entertaining clients daily over long lunches? Maybe, but most likely they've joined the rest of the US workforce and are dashing through the malls tracking down those hard-to-find holiday items on their family's wish lists.

As a manager, it's difficult to balance the needs of the company and your employees, particularly during the holiday season. After all, no one wants to be known as the office Scrooge. However, as a manager, your job is to make sure productivity flows throughout the year. Here are five ways you can keep the halls decked, while keeping employees focused:

1. Plan for down time

You know it's going to happen, so why not plan for it? Some organizations close their offices the week of Christmas or between Christmas and New Year's. From the outside, it may appear that the company is being thoughtful by allowing their employees time off to spend with their families during the holiday season. Delve a bit deeper and you'll see that experience has shown them that little in the way of work actually gets done during this time period. Is the same happening in your organization?

While you may not have the authority to make decisions regarding office closures, you certainly can manage the scheduling of time off in your work unit. If you want to encourage employees to take time off during the holiday season, then perhaps it's time to revisit your time-off policies.

It's not uncommon for companies to restrict the number of employees eligible to take vacation at the same time. While this makes perfect sense during peak business times, this policy may not make sense during slower periods, like the year-end holidays. Encourage the policy makers to leave some discretion in the time-off policies so managers can control the scheduling of their workforce.

2. Provide a two-hour lunch

Two-hour lunches, particularly during the holiday season, are no longer reserved for executives. You'd be hard pressed to find an employee who hasn't "gotten caught in traffic" on the way back from lunch. Rather than making your employees sneak around, why not provide them with extra time to take care of holiday matters?

Create a schedule and ask employees to choose a date they'd like to take an extended lunch. You'll be amazed how quickly traffic snarls disappear.

3. Limit travel

Most business travel is predictable. Do your best to avoid scheduling meetings around the holidays. Weather is unpredictable, airport delays worsen and planes are filled with kids traveling for school vacation. Even if employees do manage to make it in for meetings, it's unlikely they will arrive well-rested and ready to participate.

4. Avoid launching new projects

By the time the end of the year rolls around, most people are giving all they have just to finish what's already on their plate. Adding a new project to their already full plate can easily send people over the edge. Hold off on starting new initiatives until after the first of the year. Your employees will return from their hiatus refreshed and ready to go.

5. Keep communication flowing

Delivering bad news around the holiday season can darken even the most festively lit offices. But isn't it better to let employees know that forecasted targets will not be met before they spend potential bonus money they will never see on excessive gifts? Some managers think it's better to wait until after the holidays to deliver bad news. Better for whom? The manager or the employee?

Now that you know the secret, you can set goals to keep your team on task. The holidays are here. If you don't take action now, you may find yourself working late into the evening while your staff is home wrapping gifts for their families.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the principal of Human Resource Solutions and is an expert on intergenerational workforce issues. She is also a NEHRA member. She can be reached at roberta@yourhrexperts.com or (617) 566-8978.

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