Keeping staffers motivated, productive during the holidays

The holiday season can be a motivation and productivity killer at some small businesses. Staffers may spend time chatting or shopping online, ask to leave early for children's holiday events or just not be in the mood to work.

The companies with the most holiday problems are likely to be ones where November and December aren't a particularly busy period — they're not retailers, restaurants, caterers and other companies where staffers understand when they're hired that this is prime time and everyone has to be physically and mentally present. At any company, if employees are distracted, owners may find that being firm but flexible will help keep everyone focused.

Human resources professionals say holiday issues, like any matters that involve employees, are easier to resolve when staffers know in advance what the expectations and limits are. So, owners who sense that their workers are likely to be sitting and talking about parties and gifts may want to remind everyone now that chatting needs to be kept to a minimum. And if the owner or managers are seeing people giving in too much to temptation, a friendly, "hey, we have work to do," is in order.

It's probably going to be impossible to completely stop staffers from shopping online. The solution may be to remind staffers that they should wait until break or lunch times to do their ordering. And if the owner sees someone shopping at other times, don't make a big scene, but remind the staffer of the rules.

Staffers who want to leave early for children's plays or concerts should be given the chance to do so, but they also need to give the boss advance notice that there's an event coming up and they must be held responsible for getting their work done. It may require some flexibility from an owner — allowing staffers to work remotely, come in early or leave late on another day. If the staffer needs a co-worker to cover for them, it's the employee's responsibility to set that up.

HR pros warn that there's a caveat about letting staffers leave for family events but not allowing others without children to take time to go to an event they're interested in. Some employees can feel discriminated against if they see others getting what they feel is special treatment, and that could mean legal repercussions down the road. It's best not to judge what kind of event is OK — as long as staffers are getting their work done, they should have permission to take part in an extracurricular activity.

Some companies that have flexibility at holiday time give staffers an afternoon of their choosing off. Employees will consider that time to be a real gift — and knowing they'll have a little free time may help them stay focused the rest of the holiday season.


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