How to make sure the holiday season is good for business

With Summer holiday now in full swing organisations will be more than aware of the huge impact, both positive and negative, that the holiday season can have on productivity.

Businesses tend to factor in six to eight weeks for the duration of the summer period which equates to up to four months of reduced activity out of every business year.

But it’s not just productivity that can take a hit. In this article we look at the how the holiday season can affect both organisations and their individual employees and we offer some suggestions for how companies can mitigate the negative effects and take advantage of the inevitable seasonal lull in business.

Rest and Recuperation

Holidays afford staff the chance to switch off from their day-to-day responsibilities, recharge their physical and emotional batteries, and hopefully come back to work rested, refreshed and reinvigorated. And of course the knock-on for companies is that they benefit from having a healthier, better motivated workforce, lower absenteeism and an increase in employee engagement.

However, there’s a downside as well. We’ve already talked about reduced productivity during the year’s various prolonged holiday periods. And with senior management normally taking annual leave at these times as well, the lack of strategic and tactical business decision-making during the holidays can also be a significant issue for organisations.

But in addition to the impact on companies, employees themselves can experience a range of holiday-related problems which will also prove detrimental to the smooth running of the business.

Losing focus

For example, with a holiday approaching there is often a danger of employees losing focus and not being able to complete work satisfactorily. Similarly, where staff members are rushing to finish off tasks before their departure date, mistakes can inevitably occur.

And when employees return from their holidays, whilst some will be bursting with renewed energy, others might struggle to get back into the work habit. They may also be faced with a seemingly daunting backlog of work and emails, threatening to reverse the benefits of their holiday at the outset. Furthermore, staff may even have temporarily forgotten some aspects of their work whilst away, further hampering their ability to quickly get back up to speed again on their return.

And for those employees remaining at work during these holiday periods, an empty office and the possibility of an increased workload and decreased support can often lead to a loss of motivation.

How can these issues be addressed?

Planning is the key to mitigating the impact of the holiday season on workplace activity and performance. Companies should ensure they carry out proper scheduling well in advance so that team members’ leave is evenly spread out over the period, resources are not over-stretched and key projects and deadlines remain achievable. 

And as an individual’s holiday draws near a proper handover of their workload should take place, with the goals and tasks for the period clearly established for the benefit of both the colleague covering the role and the person going on holiday. And where there are clients or customers likely to be affected, give proper consideration to them too, ensuring that they are made aware of the impending holiday, who their interim contact will be and the correct contact information to use.

Businesses can also help office-based staff prepare for the inevitable email overload when they return by making sure they understand how to set up rules, filters and folders in Outlook (or whichever email system they use) to assist with the efficient management of messages. Out of Office is also vital when someone is away, and should be properly set up, showing the contact details of whoever is covering the employee’s work in their absence.

Equally, companies should aim to ensure that people throughout the organisation are aware when colleagues have annual leave scheduled, in order that they can plan their own work accordingly.

The immediate return from leave can often be overwhelming. So businesses should allow their employees a little slack to begin with and ensure they haven’t got any critical meetings or deadlines planned for the first few days back.  A formal “hand-back” and workload review of what has been happening in the employee’s absence (rather than them having to trawl through endless emails to try to work it out) will also enable staff to resume their normal activities as quickly as possible.

Maintaining Motivation

For those employees left behind, business should take steps to keep staff motivated and engaged. Promoting training and other personal development at this time is a great approach, as is running team-building activities and social events. Other measures, such as the introduction of flexitime and a temporary relaxation in dress code will also be helpful to staff.

It is particularly important, however, that senior managers maintain an active and visible presence during the holiday period – and even increase the frequency of their communications during this time. Morale-boosting messages celebrating company and employee achievements, and a re-emphasis of the organisation’s goals, values and vision, will show staff that whilst there may be a lot of colleagues away on holiday it’s still “business as usual” – and their role is as vital as ever to the success of the organisation.

And remember that to be truly engaging, such communications should aim to be two-way, allowing employees the opportunity to contribute to the conversation, to have their say, and to feel really part of the business.

Embrace the Lull

As well as looking to alleviate the potential downsides of the holiday season, there are a number of ways that companies can actually take advantage of these less active periods of the year.

This quieter time provides the perfect opportunity for businesses to focus, for example, on product and service development, formulating new marketing plans and materials and gearing up for a major burst of promotional activity when everyone is back at work after the holidays.

Where there are any significant IT projects coming up, such as the launch of a new website, the introduction of a new system or the major upgrade of an old one, these should always if possible be scheduled for the holiday season, especially where there may be periods of down time and the possibility of disruption for staff and customers alike.

Similarly, companies should aim to carry out building maintenance, decorating, workplace reorganisations or any other potentially disruptive work during this time.

Ebb and Flow

Holidays clearly have a number of different effects on people and organisations. But the ebb and flow of the business year is a good thing for both – indeed it would be near impossible to maintain normal levels of work 365 days a year. Holidays provide a chance for employees and businesses to take stock (sometimes literally), catch-up and kick-back. But there are also some significant challenges that accompany the holiday period. Managers must therefore create the appropriate strategies to address these seasonal issues in order to ensure the smooth running of their business – and the wellbeing of their staff – the whole year round.