Merry and Bright… but Unproductive: How to Keep Employees Engaged During the Busy Holiday Time


The holidays are known for a lot of things: Giving back, spending time with family and friends, and maintaining good spirits. What it’s not known for? Productivity and employee engagement.

It’s easy for all of the holiday cheer to become a distraction to employees this time of year. While you don’t want to completely remove all joy from the season, as an employer, you still have to make sure that employees are productive and your business can thrive. In fact, ignoring the festive season can cause resentment and may lead to employees to be even less productive.

Here are some ways employers can strike a balance between recognizing and embracing holiday spirit, and keeping employees engaged and productive.

Set goals and keep employees motivated. Experts agree that people respond to numbers. With that being said, share the target numbers for the end of the year to help give employees something to work towards. Make sure that whatever goal you set involves all team members, so everyone feels valued and motivated. When the team accomplishes the goal, be sure to celebrate the win.

Don’t just rely on one holiday party. Some employers host one single holiday event but don’t otherwise acknowledge the holidays. This sometimes causes employees to counteract by dedicate more working hours towards non-work holiday activities, like gift shopping. Sprinkle additional holiday events throughout the season, like fundraisers or a cookie exchange, for a better balance.

Take time to reflect on the year. Simply acknowledging all that employees have accomplished throughout the year can be enough to keep them engaged in their work. They will feel motivated to maintain their quality and pace of work, while getting to enjoy the holiday spirit of gratitude. Make these acknowledgements as personalized and detailed as possible -- this is a great exercise for employers to see just how much their employees have accomplished in the past year, individually and as a company.

Communicate about time-off policies and blackout periods. One of the biggest challenges facing employers during the holiday time is the abundance of time-off requests. Even if your company has a generous time off policy or no blackout days, it’s important that everyone clearly communicates attendance expectations during this busy time. Ask employees early when they plan to take vacation or PTO, so you can plan for any extended absences and make sure all work is accounted for. This might be a good opportunity to introduce a temporary flex time policy to reduce the number of employees taking days off at once.

...but be accommodating. Allow employees the time they need to tend to personal obligations. Not allowing any time off during the holidays can breed resentment. Whether it be as simple as allowing a long lunch here or an early departure there, or as complex as offering alternative work schedules and telecommuting, the accommodation will be appreciated and will keep employees engaged when they are working.

The best way to set the tone for holiday workplace expectations is to lead by example. Be sure to show your employees that you are enjoying the holidays, but are still engaged with work. Hold them accountable for year-end goals and expectations, but also balance the need for increased focus on personal obligations. The key is to strike a balance, and with these tips in mind, it can be easier than you think.