The holiday season is joyful, stressful and exciting for most everyone, especially as employees countdown to Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah.
"I love the holiday spirit and the positivity it brings both to life and work. It brings energy, and energy brings creativity and motivation," said Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, a project management service.
As a manager, it can be fun to join in the excitement, but it can also be challenging to keep everyone on task. Filey noted that ending the year with the completion of a big project or milestone can be especially motivating. He advised planning your final quarter with a big project the team can rally around. Furthermore, it helps if it's a project that's going to make your company be more competitive in the following year.
"If the whole team is aligned and excited about ending the year with a celebration and starting the next year strong, it's going to help them convert the fun holiday spirit into having a great time at work, too," Filev said.
Filev acknowledges the holiday season comes with more than gift exchanges and large feasts; it can also include families grieving their departed loved ones, and a lot of nostalgia for the past. This is something managers should also keep in mind when engaging office staff.
"It's important for managers to have compassion and empathy and to acknowledge that the holidays are an emotional season, both with positive energy and also people missing their families, he said. "It may not be ideal that those feelings happen to occur during one of the most important times for businesses, but that's the reality."
Keeping engagement high during the holidays
Here are a few ways to keep your team's momentum going throughout the season and finish out the year strong.
Celebrate successes. This can be as simple as using positive reinforcement, such as thank-you cards, phone calls or a congratulatory email when you see an employee performing well, said Brian Sutter, director of marketing at Wasp Barcode Technologies. If the accomplishment is much larger, you can treat the individual or entire team to an impromptu get-together for lunch or even drinks at a local pub. You can also celebrate the holidays by taking the team to a seasonal, festive movie, he said.
Set challenging goals. Goals are a great way to keep your employees and team members on track, said Sutter.
"By setting the bar high but still within reach, everyone will be striving to achieve his or her set of goals," he said. "Make sure goals are clearly communicated and in writing, so employees can refer back to the list as necessary."
Oyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings, notes his team has "very clear goals, and what I see is that people are even more productive during the holidays to complete the major projects we’ve been working on throughout the year."
Filev advised acting as a coach, rather than a manager: "Your job isn't to tell people what to do, it's to put people in a position to be successful. That means offering support and carrying some of the load yourself."
Encourage time off. The holidays incorporate travel, family obligations, parties and a need to decompress after a year of working hard.
"I absolutely encourage [employees] to take time off to be with their families during the holiday season. It's critical to put work aside for some time and recharge the batteries," Birkenes said. "I always encourage employees to plan holidays well in advance so there is always something to look forward to."
"In general, make sure people have the flexibility to work around families and holiday needs. If someone needs to leave work to see their kids' Christmas play at school, be flexible. Families support your business all year. You can be flexible around the holidays," Filev added.
Keep them in the loop. When employees feel that they are playing an active role in the development and progress of their company, they are less likely to resist authority. Plus, you never know what insightful information they may have to offer that could make a significant impact on your small business. Schedule a short-but-sweet weekly or monthly companywide meeting to keep everyone on the same page, Sutter suggested.
Create an enjoyable atmosphere. By creating an atmosphere of acceptance, camaraderie and unity, your employees will feel more motivated to complete their work, Sutter said; "You’d be surprised at how hardworking one can be when they walk into an office every day and feel welcome."
Positivity is key, he said — remember, your staff takes cues from you, so be sure the right attitude starts at the top.
"To get the right mood, we do simple things like offering gingerbread cookies by the coffee machine and arranging a Christmas dinner for all employees and their significant others," Birkenes added. "I [also] always encourage employees to plan holidays well in advance so there is always something to look forward to."
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.