The holidays are here, and chances are, instead of roasting chestnuts over an open fire, you’re putting out fires at your business. Your employees want extra time off this time of year—and you’d like some days off, too. But whether it's clients wanting projects done early so they can enjoy the holidays, or holiday shoppers beating down your door, you and your employees have more demands on your time than ever.
How can you deal with your team, your customers and your own holiday schedule and still keep everyone happy? Here are 8 ways to get a grip:
1. Manage clients' expectations. Ever had clients set unreasonable deadlines (like the Friday after Thanksgiving) only to find out their entire office is closed that week? This happened to a colleague of mine, and she later learned the deadline had been set by an automated calendar—if she had asked, it easily could have been changed. Whenever possible, work with clients to set realistic expectations for deadlines and deliverables. Most clients understand and are willing to be flexible this time of year.
2. Manage employees’ expectations. If your people must work on holidays (or on days they normally wouldn’t have to), or if a big project is going to require overtime during the holidays, make sure your team knows well ahead of time. Even if you're not certain but it's a possibility, let them know. This way, your team can adjust their work and clear schedules in case the last-minute rush or project does appear.
3. Reward efforts. It’s crucial to reward employees who go above and beyond by working those “undesirable” days. This might mean holiday pay, comp time off later on, or just bringing in lunch or dinner for those holding down the fort.
4. Be aware of religious issues. Avoid resentment and discrimination lawsuits by being sensitive when employees request time off to celebrate religious holidays.
5. Be as fair as possible. Employees’ resentment can build at this time of year if they believe you’re playing favorites. Determine how you'll award time off, whether it's based on seniority, accrued time off, job description or some other system, and make that clear to your employees.
6. Prepare for the unexpected. No matter how carefully you work out your holiday schedules, there will always be last-minute sick days, orders to fill or deadlines to meet. Have a backup plan in place for how you’ll handle these situations. This also enables you to be flexible when, say, an employee suddenly needs a few hours off to attend a child’s holiday pageant.
7. Plan morale-boosters. Your employees may feel like everyone they know who works at a big company has two weeks off around Christmas and New Year’s, while they’re stuck at work. This time of year, it’s more important than ever to keep your employees’ spirits high. Be present at your business, walk around and engage with your staff. This shows you’re willing to sacrifice right along with them. Make time for fun activities—if your business' schedule is too busy to allow for a full-on holiday party, bring in a festive, catered lunch, or hold a holiday bake-off contest or company-wide gift grab bag. Set challenges, or hold fun contests to motivate employees to surpass goals and allow them to blow off steam.
8. Use downtime wisely. What if you have the opposite problem: Your business slows down during the holidays but employees don’t want to use their time off? To avoid paying workers to surf the Web and eat holiday cookies on your dime, plan ways for using the time wisely:
- Consider cross-training your team in each other's duties. That will make holiday scheduling even easier next year.
- Organize the office. Year-end is a great time to purge old files, update software and generally get your business in shape to start the new year fresh. Have a company clean-up day where everyone sorts, cleans and streamlines their workspace.
- Strategize for next year. Brainstorming is easier when you’re not stressed about taking time away from pressing duties and deadlines—and nibbling on holiday munchies may aid creative thinking.
- Take care of unfinished business. All the stuff your team never has time to do during the regular workday? Do it now.
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