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

Brace yourselves.

The holiday season is coming.

For U.S. retail workers, the end of Halloween marks the beginning of something much scarier: the holiday season. Business may be booming, but employees are often exhausted, stressed, and missing out on family time due to increased work hours. As a business owner, it probably won’t be long before you realize that the most wonderful time of the year can be just the opposite.

In fact, research found that during the holidays:

Well, that’s enough to keep the decorations in the attic for another year.

So, what can you do? It’s not a question of if your employees will struggle to stay motivated, but how much they do struggle depends on you. By incorporating a few small changes now, you’ll help reduce workplace stress and keep your employees productive until after New Year’s.

First things first: let them have some time off.

With a small business, it can be difficult if even two employees take the same day off. You may be closed on Christmas, but not able to shut down four days in a row. So what’s the best way to manage a holiday PTO crisis? Don’t be a scrooge.

If you want your team to be operating at 100% while missing out on valuable time with their families, you need to make it clear that you respect their work with equal value. Refusing your employees any time off during the holidays only results in resentful employees, who probably won’t be as motivated to stay productive.

Your employees may be clocking in the overtime now, but working more than 40 hours a week actually decreases productivity. Any productivity boost from pulling 60-hour weeks will have a negative impact on your business long-term. The post-holiday burnout is real, and after Thanksgiving, employees will still have an entire month to go.

Instead, give your employees a break. Start discussing with your team now how much time they can take off, and set up a system for popular dates, whether it’s in order of seniority, a lottery system, or who asked for the day off first. You’ll want to set expectations early as to how much time can be requested off, whose requests take priority, and how to handle any PTO blackout dates. If you ask certain employees to work one holiday weekend, consider giving them the first priority in requesting the next one off.

Set a year-end team goal (or not).

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Go ahead and make an end-of-year resolution. By December 31st, what would you have wanted to accomplish for your business? How could you and your employees work together to get there?

Whichever goal you decide, make sure it’s one that every (if not all) employee can contribute to. It could be finally hitting your year-end quota, doubling the amount of orders, or X amount of new customers. Even better? Set a stretch goal – a number that’d require additional effort for you team to hit, but not impossible. Just make sure the reward is worth the extra work. Offer an additional PTO day, a bonus to buy gifts, or the chance to take the holiday party to the next level.

Track progress towards your stretch goal somewhere everyone can see, whether through a daily update email or a physical timeline tacked up in a common area. Cheer your team on as they get closer, maybe tacking on an extra incentive or two the closer they get, like a free team coffee run or lunch ordered in.

However, only you can decide if a stretch goal is a good fit for your team. If your employees are already struggling to stay afloat, it may not be the best idea to add more pressure. But if your employees thrive on competition and have the bandwidth to chase a stretch goal without burning out, full-speed ahead.

Stay organized.

It’s hard to keep up with everything. In a season of trying to balance work, life, and sleep, small business owners can usually only pick two. The key to keeping both your team’s and your own sanity is one thing: organization.

Stay ahead of deadlines. Know what needs to be shipped when. Start planning out the last day customer orders will be available or the final window for last-minute shipping. Make sure everyone is aware of the holiday schedule or who will be taking off when or who is covering for who. Update your list of who to notify in case of an unexpected weather or flight delays.

If employees end up working from home, keep your cloud storage or online files and project management systems just as up to date as your paper copies. When it’s 10 p.m. on the night before Christmas Eve and a customer is wondering where their order is or why work hasn’t been delivered, you’ll know exactly where it is.

Embrace the holiday spirit.

Pretending like the holidays aren’t happening won’t convince your employees that things are business as usual. Bring some cheer into work with an ugly sweater contest or an office gift exchange. Maybe allow your servers to wear hats or costumes on the job. Take a group picture and put it together as a holiday card to hand out to clients and customers.

Even if you don’t physically invite the holidays into work, your attitude will still have the greatest sway on employee morale. When everyone is stressed, employees are pulling doubles and all you want to do is take a nap, stay positive. Tell your employees how much you appreciate them. If your employees (or you) need a safe space or a reprieve from holiday shoppers, create a room they can go to and decompress. It could be cleaning out an unused office, adding some beanbags and extra snacks to the breakroom, or anything that lifts their spirits.

You could even have your team download a meditation app like Headspace and take a few minutes at the start of every shift to collect yourselves together as a group. Research has shown that even just meditating for a few minutes can decrease stress levels. Or bring back the team building activities. Have everyone on your team go around and name one thing they appreciate about their fellow team members. It may feel awkward at first, but participating in a group exercise that encourages open communication can increase employee morale and help them focus on getting the work done – together.

Sign up for a team volunteer event.

What if you could boost your employees’ happiness, decrease their chance of depression, and increase their lifespan? Okay, it may not be something you can do all in one day, but there is one thing that can get them started: volunteering. Volunteering in the community increases activity levels, social connections, and individual happiness – a perfect recipe for productive and motivated employees. Plus, almost 75% of employees already wish their company would do more to support a social issue.  

Give your employees a change of pace during the holidays by hosting a team volunteer day. Check out websites like to get an idea of what volunteer opportunities are available in your area. Visit a local food bank, sign up to deliver meals, sponsor a family in need, or visit a nearby animal shelter. Or, look for a volunteer opportunity that can even get your customers involved in a cause related to your business. It’ll give your employees a break from work and the chance to spend some time together outside of the office during a time that’s typically hard to slow down.

Get your employees moving.

Workplace fitness is another key to happy and productive employees. Regular exercise can give your employees more energy throughout the day, and even more brain cells than their coworkers who don’t exercise. People are also more likely to exercise, and at a greater intensity, when they do it in groups.

Check if your employees already have any favorite workout styles or classes. You might find yourself with a team full of runners or spin class experts. Then see if there’s a holiday-themed race or event in your area you can all train for together. If not, you can always get a head start by challenging your employees to a fit-a-thon and tracking each other’s progress in a shared app. It can be as simple as making sure everyone takes a 15-minute yoga break during office hours. Try anything that will get them motivated to move throughout the winter months, and just like their stretch goals, you can offer a great prize to keep them going into the next year.

Party at the end of it.

Party first, nap later. Whether you’ve reached your end-of-year goals or just made it through Black Friday, don’t forget to take the time to celebrate. Holiday office parties can get a bad rap, but are actually key to boosting company morale. Remember our holiday stress stats from the beginning? Employees want their holiday parties even more than they want Christmas canceled. Nine of 10 surveyed employees would be “disappointed” if the office holiday party were cancelled, and nine out of 10 also said that office holiday parties are “important to team dynamic.”

Host an adults-only bash or invite employees and their families together to exchange gifts. If your team beat their stretch goals, add something extra to the festivities like a surprise location or unexpected present. Keep it simple by doing things potluck style and have each employee bring a special side or dessert, or take your team out to dinner and drinks. However you want to say “thanks” is totally up to you.

The holiday season may be just getting started, but there are long, long weeks ahead. Keep your employees on-task by offering them the time off they need and providing them a clear schedule of expected hours. Find ways to de-stress either through free apps, team building activities, group fitness, or community volunteer events. Don’t forget to focus on the wins, and make sure you take the time to really celebrate all of your hard work afterwards. It may seem like a long time until January 1st, but by the New Year, you’ll be ready to start all over again.

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