How to Keep Your Employees Motivated and Productive Through The Holiday Season

Ready or not, here it comes.

No, it’s not a hideous end-of-October monster. It’s…the Holiday Season. It’s that special time of year when almost every person is overrun with school, work, family, and social obligations, all wrapped up in the expectations and traditions of the holidays.

In the United States, retailers start to see the uptick at the end of September as Halloween approaches. There’s no let-up until after the New Year is fully rung in. Each holiday is as varied as the next, meaning employers have to not only plan for customer expectations, quickly shifting merchandise and adjusting pricing as the next holiday roars in, but they also have to keep their employees up to speed.

Keeping your employees motivated and productive during the holiday season is tough. After all, they’re experiencing their own holiday-related demands in their personal lives. They have holiday expectations of their own, and for most of them, it’s probably to enjoy the holidays and not work 24/7.

Here are a few things to keep in mind during the holiday season if you want to keep your whole team motivated.

1. Focus on the positive.

The holiday season hits at the end of the year, and that can bring about a lot of negative thoughts for different reasons.

Your employees are reminded of what they did or didn’t do the previous year. They might feel anxious about the upcoming year. There’s the stress of wrapping things up and rebooting, a kind of weariness that sets in when it seems time just goes on and on. All of that, mixed with the craziness of customer demands at the holidays.

Your team desperately needs you to counteract the negative with the positive. They need you to help them keep a positive attitude. And no, the answer isn’t putting on tinny holiday music on a loop at your store (seriously, no).

You have to be positive. You have to encourage your team to focus on the positive, and help them see it in everything. You have to speak positively.

In other words, what comes in and what goes out should be positive.

2. Keep everyone on the same page.

If you aren’t already doing so, the holidays are a good time to be sure everyone is on the same page.

This is not an excuse for long meetings that bore people to death. Instead, it’s a decision to make sure your whole team knows what is going on during the holidays, and why.

Tell them when and why a sale starts. Explain why you’re changing your return policy just for the holidays. Let them know if you’ve instituted any new policies, and when they start and stop. Introduce any temporary employees, and match them up with a mentor. Give people a heads-up if there’s an emergency (e.g. “the public restroom is not working right now”).

Communication isn’t relegated to in-person meetings only.

Communicate using your When I Work scheduling app. Use text or email. Use an old-fashioned bulletin board if you must. Use the mail room. Use small team or shift meetings. Just communicate well:

  • Be clear in what you communicate so that you don’t waste time.
  • Don’t over-communicate so that you train your employees to ignore you.
  • Have fun with how you communicate. Make it themed. Make it fun. Make it something literally rewarding (“…and for anyone who read this far, stop and see me in the office to get a free $5 coffee card”).

The idea is to make sure your team stays a team. You want everyone working towards the same goal with a complete understanding of everything that’s going on. The holidays are not the time for employees to compartmentalize what they know.

3. Decorate to fit the holidays.

The mad rush of holiday after holiday at the close of the year can actually work for you.

People quickly become bored with the same surroundings, so if you work hard at keeping your business decorated appropriately for the holidays, the calendar itself will force you to keep things fresh.

You can get employees interested and have buy-in by:

  • Allowing them to design, plan, and/or decorate.
  • Allowing them to share a decoration from their culture.
  • Voting on the best decorated cubicle.
  • Having them dress up on special costume days to win prizes.
  • Letting them team up to design and decorate the windows.

Sometimes it’s easier to get into the spirit of the holiday when your surroundings match.

4. Counteract the holiday sweets push.

We all know that all kinds of treats and sweets are the norm during the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of the fun.

However, all of that sugar can lead to sugar crashes (and sleepy employees) during the day, or even employees made more susceptible to illness during a time you need them the most.

Definitely do NOT turn your Christmas party into all kale and tofu; this is not an admonition to reject all of the holiday food fun. Instead, find a way to make it easy for your employees to keep moving and pick up some other healthy habits on the side.

  • Give them step trackers, and reward the most active employees after the holidays are over.
  • Give them a short-term (or long-term, your call) membership to a gym so they have a place to work out before or after work.
  • Bring in a fitness coach to show your team small exercises they can do right at their work stations throughout the day.
  • Create a wellness competition to spur on those who are competitive. Be sure to reward a variety of accomplishments so that winning is possible to employees who aren’t already fitness buffs.

Anything to keep the blood moving!

5. Respect employee family time, and those without families.

You will have employees who may need more flexibility in their schedule due to family requirements. You may also have employees who don’t have those family requirements who you tend to lean on more to fill the gap.

If you’re not careful, you could end up with employees who are resentful that they have to do more whenever the holidays roll around.

Let your team know that:

  • You understand some may need fewer hours because of family expectations.
  • You understand some may be able to fill those gaps.
  • You will reward those who are able to help out their fellow co-workers.

Whether you create a system where employees have to find someone else to fill the gap they left or not, you should make it known that the perk of more time off during the busiest season means that there is also a perk for those who put more time on the clock during the busiest season.

Let your team talk to you about it. Get feedback on what seems fair or what ideas they might have. Do they want a monetary reward? Do they want extra paid vacation time after the holidays to equal the extra time the filled in?

Do what you can to avoid this particular conflict where employees with families get a kind of perk that employees without do not. This well-intentioned effort to work around family needs can create bitterness and resentment for others.

6. Give your employees gifts.

Why not give your employees actual physical gifts?

Obviously you want to give something they’ll enjoy, something that isn’t offensive, and something of equal value.

  • Custom travel mugs.
  • T-shirts or jackets.
  • Step trackers.
  • Books on leadership or other interesting topics.
  • Branded journals.
  • Something completely impractical but absolutely fun.

While you need to keep legal and tax issues in mind when it comes to choosing what you give, most of us appreciate a fun surprise. This is especially so when we start to feel overworked and under-appreciated. If there was ever a time for it, it’s during the holiday season.

7. Keep an eye on employee morale.

Low morale is a kind of infection. When one employee has it, soon others do, too.

If you’re not sure you can identify it, low morale isn’t that difficult to spot. You’ll find:

  • Lots of gossip or background talking of specific employees or groups.
  • Attitude changes, which might show up overtly or passively. If it seems like you’re suddenly working against the current with an employee, that might be a passive attitude shift.
  • Reduction in effort or energy. Employee output plummets, and any employee reward programs that you’re running will seem to have no takers.

Essentially, you have zombie employees. They need the job because they need the money, but they don’t care much beyond that. They’ve checked out and are mostly apathetic about everything.

Morale can easily tank during the holiday season when it seems as if, instead of being able to enjoy time with family and friends and take in the fun of the season, your employees have to put in more work and hours to meet demand with little or no additional return. The additional stress is only over when the holiday is over.

Effectively, the holidays have become a time of dread and weariness.

There are many ways to boost employee morale.

First off, remember that while the holiday season is a time of high revenue for you, it is also a time of either happiness (or sadness) for people. How can you give your employees a taste of the good aspects of the holidays?

  • Have more than one holiday party. Maybe some will be mini-parties. This makes it more likely that everyone can participate.
  • Make breaks and the break room a fun place. Let your employees have a say in what that might be.
  • Give generous bonuses and perks, even if they are “cashed in” after the holiday rush. This creates something to look forward to.
  • Reward great work during the holidays above and beyond your usual reward programs.
  • Talk privately with employees who are struggling, and encourage them while listening to them.

8. Show that their work is helping others.

Current generations of employees are socially conscious. They want to know that the work they do and the money they spend is helping, not hurting, the people and the world around them.

Consider that almost 75% of your employees want their company to support an environmental or social issue, and, in fact, that same percentage would actually like to be able to actively help!

If you’re not already letting your employees know how the business is actively involved in the community, start now. Let them know how you’re giving back, helping, and supporting the community. Tell them where you send donations. Let them know the organizations you support.

And then, open the door for them to be more actively involved.

Maybe you give each employee a bonus that, if they want, you’ll match when they give it to a local organization. If you are in the food industry, perhaps you will cater a meal for free for the local soup kitchen and let employees know they are directly helping. Perhaps you’re able to let some employees volunteer at a local event.

Be creative. Be active. Be open to suggestions from your employees on how they can make sure the holiday season isn’t just about revenue, but about giving back.

9. Allow for early finishes.

One of the best surprises for an employee is simply being allowed to go home early. In fact, nearly one-third of employees said that that would be the best gift an employee could give them.

While you can’t do this all the time, watch for every opportunity.

  • Spread the love. Make sure it’s not the same employee going home early every time.
  • Don’t dock their pay. As long as everyone is going to get a chance to leave a bit early, don’t reduce their pay when they do.
  • Work it into your schedule. This gives employees something to look forward to, and it provides a fair structure to the method.

If you can’t make early finishes work across the whole holiday season, consider at least closing early so your employees can go home early on the evenings of the holidays themselves.

10. Celebrate when it’s all over.

It’s become fairly common for workplace holiday parties to happen after the holidays, so there’s nothing unusual about that. However, what if you made the party something of a kick-off to the “non-holiday” season?

Remember, this is the end of the old year, beginning of the new. There are all kinds of ways you could celebrate the achievements of your employees from the previous years, and all kinds of ways you could incentivize others for the coming year.

Most importantly, you want to end the year with a positive note and a team that isn’t at each other’s throats. It’s not a win if you have great sales and lose half your employees over the course of the holidays.

While you and your employees are likely going to be tired at the end of it, you can bring everyone together, wrap up the season, encourage and reward, and look forward to the coming year.

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