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How to Keep Employees Productive During the Holidays

“You can’t fight gravity.” That’s how Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of a book on design thinking, talk about unsolvable problems. There are problems you simply can’t “fix.” But you can accept that they exist and reach your goals in spite of them.

That’s kind of how the holiday season is, too. You can’t make the holidays go away, nor the distractions, social commitments, and sense of overwhelm that come with them. But you can accept that they are a reality and work with them instead of against them. In this article, we share some tips to help you keep your team focused and productive without fighting reality.

Shut down your business  

The best way to go with the flow, so to speak, is to shut down over the holidays if that’s possible in your business and industry. Make calendar holidays company holidays, and give employees the days surrounding the festivities off, too, so that they can fully enjoy the celebrations and travel to visit family. Giving employees days off has a huge impact on morale. Employees who are given time off during the holiday season tend to come back to work re-energized and more productive than ever.

Work at minimum capacity

Can’t close down during the holidays? Then determine how many employees need to work over the holidays in order to keep your business operational. Consider what needs to happen and who needs to be there to make those things happen. Next, use fair criteria—the order in which time-off requests came in, seniority, team member holiday preferences etc.—to decide who will work and who will get time off. Ensure those who work this time around have an opportunity to take time off on other holidays or receive an incentive for taking one for the team. 

Let employees work from home

Letting people work remotely during the holiday season can be a way to keep business operational while giving employees the possibility to travel. Employees are likely to be as productive working remotely as they are in the office—sometimes even more so—and will appreciate being able to run errands, shop, and spend time with family while still getting work done.

Give employees flexibility over their schedule

If it doesn’t affect the service you provide, consider letting employees work on whatever schedule suits their needs during the holiday season. Let them come to physical offices early and leave early if they want to. If they’re remote, let them work whenever they like as long as they remain responsive and meet their deadlines.

Don’t make December just one big retrospective of the year

Focusing on the past year’s accomplishments can have a demotivating effect on the team. They could start seeing the final month of the year as just one big retrospective and become disengaged. While it’s important to reflect on what you achieved, aim to strike a balance between the past and what’s to come. Talk to your team about what’s next for the company. Get them excited about the next year’s goals.  

Have weekly check-ins

At the start or the end of the week, ask each team member to share what they worked on throughout the week and what they will be working on next. In meetings, these updates don’t have to take up much time—each person should only get between 1-2 minutes. Employees can also provide their updates in writing and share them via email, Slack, or Basecamp. Weekly check-ins encourage people to get work done since no one wants to be the guy who clearly didn’t do anything.

Say thanks and have some fun

Words of appreciation, rewards, and positivity can help keep employees motivated during the holiday season. Consider treating your team to lunch or organizing a fun activity—see 11 Ways to Show Employee Appreciation for ideas. Gifts are also an effective way to make employees feel valued. Even small ones, such as Amazon gift cards, can be exciting to receive. One company gave each member of the team a FitBit, encouraged them to compete throughout through a 6-week challenge, and encouraged healthy competition by announcing winners in their newsletters. By keeping things light and fun around your physical or virtual office, you’ll ensure employees keep wanting to come to work every day.

Don’t be too demanding

Don’t ask too much of employees during the holiday season. For example, avoid asking employees to work overtime—unless they want to, for extra cash. Be mindful of employees’ needs surrounding the festive days, and try not to overburden them with extra work unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Guarantee employee productivity during the holidays 

You can’t make the holiday season go away, but you can accept it and adopt strategies for keeping employees productive, including:

  • Shutting down during the holidays
  • Working at minimum capacity
  • Allowing employees to work remotely 
  • Giving employees flexibility over their schedule
  • Talking about the future
  • Having weekly check-ins
  • Saying thanks and having fun

How are you staying productive this holiday season?

For more on keeping employees motivated, check out Boost Employee Morale with These Science-Based Strategies.