There is no doubt about it. It is hard to keep things moving along during the holidays. Clients are busy trying to wrap up their year-end and are pressing with last minute requests before budgets disappear. There are projects that they need to get rolling in 2014 after the long holiday season. There are extended vacations. There are stops and starts because Christmas and the New Year fall within the week. Let’s face it… it is a wonder anything can get done. Staying productive during this or any holiday season requires a huge effort. There are a few different schools of thought about how to accomplish that.
I have a number of clients that shut down completely during the holiday season and require employees to take vacation. This works well if you have an operation that needs most of your employees to function-for example manufacturing companies or teams working on collaborative projects. Depending upon your workforce they either love the “forced break” or hate it. The school of thought here is that productivity suffers when you are not at a critical mass so it is best to stop down completely rather than try to cobble together a group to get work done. Some small business owners I know try to match their holiday shut down schedule to their large client’s vacation schedule.
Some businesses keep a skeleton crew working throughout the holidays because they must stay open or to deal with emergencies. Deciding who works and who gets to take vacation can be accomplished a couple of ways. It can be done on a first request basis, seniority or lottery. Truthfully, there is no ideal way to do this but hopefully you can avoid hurt feelings by planning this well in advance.
For my company to stay productive I have found that flexibility is critical. Conditions vary from year to year. Some years the workload is so big that we need people to work right up to the holiday. Other years things are slower and we can give people additional time off. That’s why I vary the schedule. We might close Christmas Eve day at noon… or stay open until 5. This might drive some people crazy but I think it works. First, we do not set any precedents and there are no false expectations. No one can say, “But, we always do it this way.” At the same time, I am conscious of the fact that some employees need to travel to be with family. Others have family coming to town and want to spend time with them. This is where it gets tricky. To make it work you have to know your people and your operation. Here is how I have managed to make almost everyone happy.
Get a plan in place early. I look out at our scheduled work and try to be proactive so that it does not get pushed to the last minute. We sometimes work a few extra hours in the weeks leading up to the holiday to get ahead. If you do this, you need to remind employees that this is important so that you can serve your clients and accommodate them as well.
Communicate with clients. If you don’t know your client’s holiday plans reach out. Make sure they know what your plans are for a shut down or reduced workforce. Be sure that you send e-mails in advance and have a plan in place in case there is an emergency.
Communicate with employees. Ask about their plans and if they have any special circumstances. I have had employees volunteer to cover for others who have a special need. They know it will come back to them when they have a request.
Be generous, but firm. This past year I gave employees a gift- extra time off. They work hard and sometimes it gets to be a grind, so I know they really appreciated the time- maybe even more than any other type of gift. I was also firm in saying this was a special circumstance and that I probably would not be able to do it every year. They understood.
Get back in the swing quickly. There are years when it feels like our “re-entry” is slow. To solve that, schedule a start-up meeting for the first day back. Create the agenda before you leave for the holiday. It’s amazing how even a few days off can blur the memory and let things fall through the cracks.
Holidays are stressful both personally and professionally, but we still need to be productive. It’s not too late to get a plan in place so that you can get the work done… and still celebrate the season.