The Holiday Effect

November 19th, 2013

There has long been anecdotal evidence that things tend to slow down in the business world come November. It’s as if the falling leaves change more than the season.

To answer the question of why employees are more likely to be distracted or discouraged during the holiday season, Theresa Welbourne, PhD, executed a fourteen-year study of what has come to be called the Holiday Effect, exploring what causes these changes, how long they last, and what managers can do to mitigate the effects.

Dr. Welbourne’s research outlines several reasons why employees tend to be less productive during the holidays.

  • Family issues tend to come to a head over the holidays. Family members fight more, and stress levels tend to increase when people feel pressure to spend money on gifts.
  • The holiday season tends to include an increased number of parties and events, which can leave people feeling sleepy and distracted the following day at work.
  • Many people suffer from seasonal depression, which often goes untreated and can be compounded by the stress of family, gift giving, and social engagements.

According to the study, the Holiday Effect can last as little as three days, or as long as three months, and has a lot to do with what industry you work in.

Consulting firms begin to feel the effect just after Halloween, citing that clients are harder and harder to get ahold of as the season progresses. Companies in the financial services industry do just fine in October and November, but tend to experience a drastic fall in productivity come December.

Retail companies usually see a steady increase in activity starting in August. By early November companies in this industry are operating at peak productivity levels, but as demands increase after Thanksgiving employees begin to burn out. Long, hard hours take their toll, increasing stress and fatigue.

Managing employees through the holidays requires a thorough understanding of when your organization hits its slump. While some businesses resist doing employee surveys during the holidays (knowing that scores will be lower than in other parts of the year), such surveys can be very helpful in determining when your staff is struggling.

Employers can help minimize the Holiday Effect by training supervisors to recognize the signs of stress, burnout, and depression. Encouraging staff to seek help when they need it is an important part of managing at the end of the year.

Organizational changes can also help make the season brighter. Offering flextime can go a long way toward minimizing stress for employees with families. Ensuring that team members understand what is expected of them is a good practice any time of year, but is particularly important during the holidays. Making an extra effort to give timely feedback and being open to employee input can help avoid any buildup of tension.

Simply understanding that the holidays are a unique time of year is a huge step. Talk to your employees about the weeks ahead, try to anticipate challenges, and if all else fails, keep in mind that before long the leaves will sprout again and spring will come to lift our spirits once more.

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