Employees, Holidays, and Engagement

Photo of holiday bow

Photo of holiday bowAs we approach the end of the year, it’s no surprise that your employees have been feeling short on time. In addition to their engagement and commitment to the job, they’re managing a mental checklist of activities, events, and to-do’s from home. Shopping, cleaning, decorating, setting travel plans, and more take up precious downtime and leave workers feeling as though they’ve taken on a second job. For employees with children, they’re likely stressed about childcare during the winter break in addition to attending year-end recitals, holiday programs, and class parties.

And there’s no relief at work, either. With winter illnesses and scheduled vacations, there are typically fewer people to cover the same amount of work. Meanwhile, managers push employees to meet end of year goals and add on extra hours to meet customer demands. Add in budgeting, forecasting, and annual performance appraisals, and it’s no wonder there’s so much excitement about the start of a new year. By mid-December, we’re in survival mode and just hoping caffeine will power us through the rest of the year.

So, it surprised me when I read several blog posts suggesting ways to keep your employees engaged through the holidays. The concept is worthy of a discussion, but the suggestions themselves were mind-boggling. The general theme was to infuse the holidays into the workplace. Make work feel more aligned with the season and get festive where possible. For example, you could organize a cookie swap, suggest volunteer opportunities, hold a secret Santa/white elephant party, or have an Ugly Holiday Sweater contest. By bringing more of a holiday spirit into the office, employees will have a warmer connection to their coworkers and see the company as being more in line with their own personal values. This is expected to generate engagement through December.

Certainly, that’s possible. Or the opposite will happen. In addition to everything else going on, your team will now be distracted by having to find a cookie recipe, scale it to yield 6 dozen cookies, shop for ingredients, bake and package them. Then they’ll scour Amazon for any Ugly Holiday Sweater with two-day shipping and begrudge the extra $100 they spent to celebrate the holiday at work. Then, they’ll gather in a conference room to swap their favorite cookie recipe for ones they dislike as voicemails and emails pile up and await their return. And this is supposed to make employees more engaged?

I believe we’ve confused engagement with excitement. A holiday party is exciting. It’s a break from the norm and theoretically fun. It’s a chance to celebrate and thank one another for a great year. Those are all wonderful additions to the workplace as long as it doesn’t require additional effort outside of the workday. What your employees need this month is less. They need less on their plates, not more. They need fewer commitments and relaxed expectations when possible.

To be more engaged through the holidays, what your employees need is flexibility. They need more time with their families, so encourage employees to take their paid time off, and build in plans for managing the workload while there are fewer workers in the office. They need less time wasted on their daily commute, so offer more work-from-home days. They want to run errands on their breaks, so offer extended lunch breaks and relaxed dress codes so it’s easier for employees to get everything done. And, of course, they need to be recognized and rewarded as much in December as any other month of the year.

In the end, being intentionally flexible is a trade-off for quality over quantity. You may sacrifice more working hours this month, but you gain more focused (and hopefully thankful) workers. Additionally, a flexible workplace ranks high on the list of preferred workplace benefits, so the sacrifice can also lead to a more positive image of the organization in general. Perhaps the goal of driving engagement in December is short-sighted, and we should focus on how we can meet our employee’s needs in December to gain loyalty year round.