Small-business owners work hard to capitalize on the holiday season with a series of incentives –special discounts, extended hours, and a flurry of email/social media communication to drive foot traffic into their stores. But it's equally important for small-business owners to take breaks, do their own holiday shopping and enjoy the season's pleasures.
However, the busy holidays can be one of the most stressful and challenging times of the year for business owners who risk burnout.
What are the signs of burnout for a business owner?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is physical or mental exhaustion caused by overwork or ongoing high stress.
Let's start with a list of some of the early warning signs of burnout:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Difficulty making decisions
- Reduced effectiveness
- Inability to concentrate
- Inability to stop thinking about the business when not working
- Irritability, snapping at people
- Feelings of negativism or cynicism
- Struggling to get a good night's sleep
How can a business owner avoid burnout during the hectic holiday season?
How can small-business owners use the seasonal occasion to boost sales without overworking themselves and neglecting their own needs? These eight practices can help you find that all-important balance between the two.
1. Make every effort to prevent understaffing.
Nothing will exhaust you more than being short-staffed when things get hectic. The holidays are when some employees want to take vacation days, leave early to attend their children's school programs, or take longer lunch hours to do their shopping. Others might call in sick.
Consider some of these tips to avoid unforeseen understaffing problems:
- Set a deadline date for employee time off requests weeks before things get busy to give you time to plan your staffing needs.
- Set vacation blackout restrictions during the holiday season. If you do this, notify employees well ahead of time so that they can plan their life.
- Offer attractive incentives, such as extra pay or special discounts, to encourage some employees to work additional hours during the holidays. Consider also giving extra days off to those who take their vacation at non-peak times.
- Allow employees to swap shifts to meet their holiday obligations and needs without interfering with operations.
Regardless of how well you plan, you may occasionally have fewer hands on deck during peak holiday times. You can reduce stress by asking your employees to adhere to the 80/20 rule, which means that everyone should concentrate on the 20% of their effort that will produce 80% of the results. For example, enhancing customer satisfaction should be prioritized, while organizing stock would be less critical.
2. Hire extra help for the festive season.
One way to capitalize on the season without overworking yourself is to have extra help. Here are a few pointers:
- Look for temporary employees with the personality and work ethic that fits your culture. They will fit in quickly and could be a valuable source for future permanent hires.
- Cast a wide net to attract people you trust to do the job so that you don't unintentionally add stress for yourself and your staff. For example, in addition to using referrals from current employees, don't be reluctant to consider family members to help you manage the holiday rush. Another valuable source could be approaching a customer as a potential hire.
3. Pre-plan everything.
The backbone of a calmer holiday season for any small business is pre-planning. You can prepare ahead to reduce the stress of doing too much during your busiest time. This includes pre-planning social media posts or blogs, finishing your holiday marketing campaign well before the season begins, and placing advance orders for popular items to meet your vendors' deadlines.
Other simple but essential initiatives include stocking up early on gift packaging or extra shipping supplies, ordering client and staff gifts, and having everything on hand for office or shop decorations.
4. Press the pause button a few times a day.
As a business owner, you're predisposed to work tirelessly for hours without thinking of taking breaks. It's easy to convince yourself that you don't have time for breaks, especially when things get crazy. Pay attention to your body and mind and take a break when you need one.
Set a phone reminder to get up at regular intervals to grab five or ten minutes for yourself, stretch your body, pedal your bike, or go for a quick walk and get some fresh air. Taking these short breaks during hectic workdays reduces stress and alleviates fatigue.
5. Don't skip your lunch break.
When you're swamped with work during the busy season, you may be tempted to grab something to eat quickly or even persuade yourself that you're not that hungry and can wait until dinner. Don't short-change yourself—step away from the business to take a real lunch break, even if it's just take-out. Not taking your lunch breaks can leave you feeling drained at the end of the day.
6. Do your personal holiday shopping during your workday.
Don't wait until the end of your business day or use your lunch break to do your own holiday shopping. Arrange for someone to mind the place while you go away for an hour or so. Weekday mornings are optimal times to avoid crowds, as most shoppers are at work or getting their kids ready for school. You can benefit from quieter aisles and shorter lines at checkout. A little foresight can go a long way to satisfy your own needs and lessen your stress.
7. Safeguard your personal time by setting boundaries.
Thinking about your business all your waking hours during the holiday season is a surefire way to lead to exhaustion and burnout. You can develop core habits allowing you to capitalize on the holiday opportunity while still enjoying the holidays. For example:
- Make it a personal rule not to discuss business with friends and family during social events. This is especially important if you run a family business and your dinner companions are also your business partners.
- When you get home for dinner, stop at the door and remind yourself not to bring the daily stresses to the dinner table with your loved ones. Allow yourself 60-90 minutes to unwind by focusing on something other than your business.
- Make your personal time a priority by skipping some holiday social events. Use the time to unplug and focus on self-care, such as getting a massage, going for a walk or a run, going to the gym, or getting more sleep.
8. Collaborate with reliable competitors.
Teaming up with a trusted competitor while you take a few days off is a smart move to allow you to enjoy the holidays while taking care of your customers. For example, I emailed our go-to plumbing company during last year's holidays to book an urgent service call. The company was closed for three days, but they sent me a message directing me to another plumbing company that could handle my emergency service call during the holidays.
Don't forget what the holidays are all about—a time to connect with loved ones and savor the season's joys. Balance your effort to maximize profits for your business during the holiday rush with an equal effort to create joyful experiences and memories for yourself and your loved ones during the festive season.
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