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5 Ways to Keep Morale High When Working during the Holidays is Mandatory

Q. The holidays are upon us. Many people expect time off. Unfortunately, I run a retail operation. This is our busiest time of the year and I need my people to work. Further, I need them to be happy and motivated. In the past, I have had problems with this. Do you have any suggestions for how to navigate this time of year?

A. Most of us are looking forward to spending time with loved ones this holiday season. We take for granted that most employers will close their doors for some or all of the Christmas holiday. More than 90 percent of businesses responding to a SHRM (Society of Human Resources Management) poll, said that they will close for at least some portion of the holidays. However, others will spend their holiday at the workplace.

Roughly 25 percent of workers are in organizations that require coverage regardless of the calendar. Healthcare, retail, security, hospitality and the armed forces are included in these ranks. While people who work for these organizations know this requirement when choosing these professions, it doesn’t lighten the hardship of missing out of special moments with family and friends.

While personally, we have always had time off on the traditional US holidays, members of our family haven’t been as fortunate. We boast a nurse, a bartender and a National Park Ranger among our family members. We have needed to accommodate their varying schedules over the years to make sure they have been included in family celebrations.

The challenge to employers is to keep their employees focused and happy during these times. To do this, we offer the following five suggestions.

1. Culture – One of the most important aspects to keeping employees motivated is to create a pleasing work culture. While even the best coworkers are not likely to replace spending time with family, when colleagues enjoy each other, it can take away some of the sting. However, a great culture can’t be manufactured quickly, it takes time. Creating a company where employees feel dedicated to customers starts with solid leadership and a commitment to service. Employees look to leadership for the examples. Therefore, if you want employees to own their jobs, management needs to lead the way. Management should consistently focus on the mission and vision of the organization, on serving the customer and rewarding employees who embrace the same. Committed employees are much more likely to feel accountable for their work.

2. Cash or Other Incentives – Money can’t buy happiness, but it can help to assuage the pain of missing out on holiday activities. Review your leave and holiday pay policies. Consider paying a premium to employees who are willing to come in on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. You may also want to buy a special meal or snacks, play music, put up decorations or have some fun activities prepared if these can be done without compromising the work.

3. Alternative Time Off – Offer employees who are willing or required to work during the holidays additional days of leave that can be taken at another time. We know a woman who has a business providing personal trainers and instructors for yoga and other types of classes. First, she always takes one of the classes herself. But, for those instructors who are assigned to teach on a holiday, she offers to work for them at another time and gives them the money for the class. It is her way of supporting her instructors and making working on the holidays more palatable.

4. Fairness – Time off and leave policies should be fair to all employees. Many businesses use a first-come-first-served or seniority system to dole out leave. However, there are pros and cons of both. Seniority systems can penalize younger workers who tend to change jobs more frequently. First-come-first-serve systems benefit those few employees who are always very quick to reply while disadvantaging others who make their requests hours or sometimes minutes later. It can be okay to ask employees to volunteer to work on a holiday, especially if you are offering incentives to do so. You may find that there are employees who would prefer additional money or time off at a different time letting those who really want to be off on the holiday have that opportunity. The only caution is to make sure that the system is truly voluntary.

5. Say Thank You – Finally, no matter what other incentives or systems are involved, say thank you. Employees who work on a holiday deserve your sincere thanks, regardless the reason. If possible, thank them on the day, in person. If this isn’t possible, be sure to give a personal thanks both before and following the day. People need to be appreciated for the sacrifice, even if they volunteer for the duty.

While no system or policy will make everyone satisfied, you can lessen the pain of working during the holidays. Create an environment that is enjoyable, offer incentive or other rewards to those who work and give a personal thank you. If you are fair, fun and sincere, you are likely to keep your workforce focused and motivated even when the workday is mandatory.

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