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Merry Christmas. On some level, everyone loves Christmas. Halcyon memories of childhood, giddiness of our own children….or giddiness of adulthood festive expectation. Or all three.

But for employers/business owners there is a lot of fear. We all know that once the Christmas lights go up, productivity levels tend to go down, mirrored, in all probability, by a drop in revenue, but with no real drop in operating costs. How very Ebenezer Scrooge, but also very real.

There is also the secondary hit that January typically sparks one of the busiest times on the ‘replacement’ recruitment market as employees, fuelled with joyful tidings, festive cheer, close time spent with family are forcibly encouraged to re-assess their own lives by way of New Year Resolutions. Careers/Jobs nearly always figure heavily in people’s “This year I will…..” lists. Add in renewed vigour from better employees/headhunters to increase their talent pool….increased headhunting approaches become even more effective.

The two issues are not unconnected. The more Scrooge-like you are as an employer, the less Joyful & Triumphant your employees will enter this festive season – a time when they will be reminded about the less commercial/more humanistic/family side of their work-life-blend.

We’ve all worked for Scrooge-esque employers. Over the years I’ve had employers that have refused to put any Christmas decorations in the office (or made employees contribute to pay for them); Not afforded any time off and/or insisted that a forced shut-down (when business will be quiet) is taken out of an already Dickensian holiday allowance; Had Board directives to ensure that productivity is maintained and targets upheld regardless; Had Christmas parties either cancelled, unfunded or subject to such terms and conditions so as to remove any semblance of fun. Refused any jovial accommodation. Etc etc

This all sticks in my mind as examples of poor leadership at a time of year when it would be so easy to achieve the opposite. There is no surprise that majority of my job moves have been in the first two months of the year…..all the product of a headhunt approach at a time when I was more susceptible to a career move/acceleration.

Bah Humbug

As an employer, it is a difficult time to balance altruism with commerciality. But whether you have 5 or 500 members of staff, it can be a great opportunity to cement your place as an employer of choice.

So how can you bring Christmas cheer to your business (and it’s commercial performance) AND your colleagues.

Engagement is key. Forcing your version of Christmas on your employees is a recipe for disaster. Find out what they would like, then formulate a festive strategy.

With just the 12 days of Christmas to go, it isn’t too late. Our tips & suggestions:

Be Festive
I’m still surprised how many offices I’ve been into this week that have no decorations and no nod to the festive season. The budget to kit your office out with nice/quality decorations is miniscule compared to any business. Giving a team member £30 and sending him/her to the local market will end in disaster and an office filled with cheapOffice Tree tinsel. You only need to commit a tiny fraction of one-percent December’s revenue to make an office look inviting – and do it yourself (or get someone in) rather than mindlessly tasking an office junior to dance around everyone as they work. Make the office decoration a surprise to employees, it will provide great festive ROI.

Christmas Cards
“This year we have made a charitable donation in lieu of sending Christmas cards”. That can be one of the most unmotivating and uncaring sentiments we hear at Christmas. Even personalized and simple hand-written note to your direct team (as well as clients) to thank them for their effort goes a huge way, especially if the card includes truly personalised comments about the year they have just finished.

Festive flexible working
An OECD study revealed that the UK average working day is 7.8hours, making our global position no 6 behind Mexico and the US however, in front of France and Germany. Over 75% of employers from the study said they found remote workers more productive.

If your company doesn’t have a flexi-time policy, Christmas is a great time to implement one. Make it clear to your team how many hours you expect them to log a day but explain that you appreciate they have other commitments at this time outside of work and want to help them. This will show that you trust your employees to manage their time and should cut down on the longer lunches and any attendance issues, which are common problems around Christmas time.

Personalise
Tailor your Christmas to the team(s) that are there. Make individuals and teams feel special and have an input as to what to do. If the team are not a big ‘party’ team or big drinkers, opting for an alcohol fuelled party won’t win favour. Likewise with time off/early finishes. Finishing early but insisting every one goes to the pub/German markets for 2 hours may not suit everyone – those with small families might appreciate the shopping time.

Personalise (2)AmazaBaubles
Get personalised decorations…personalised to your team, not the business! A great way to personalise the festive season. Personalised baubles on an office Christmas tree is a great option. The best I’ve comes across is from Oli Dunn – “Oli The Choc” the Chocolatier’. Look at his Amaze Baubles ….£5 each, and not only are they personalised, they are Chocolate so they can be eaten afterwards!! Up the game even more by getting your team’s children one as well.

Days of praising
Engaged, inspired and happy staff can lead a 12% increase in productivity (EY study 2014). The same survey highlighted that only 3 in 10 UK employees feels engaged in their role. Christmas is a great time to focus on individual and team successes and ensure simple but effective praise is dished out, and done so publically. A great way to keep staff motivation levels at a high over the weekend is to praise employees on Friday. Ensuring that they return on a Monday morning feeling encouraged, refreshed and ready to work. The combined efforts lead to the same feeling over the Festive Break.

Charity
Christmas is more about giving than receiving. A mantra chimed out to children across the land, but having a nominated Charity to focus some collaborative efforts towards on the run up to Christmas is a huge motivational tool, as well as a great altruistic gesture.

Don’t overlook the Christmas Party
Sage UK’s 2014 survey revealed that almost 40% of UK businesses did not having a Christmas party the previous year, despite their widespread benefits of maintaining employee loyalty. The opportunity to boost staff motivation in order to return in the New Year energised and engaged is invaluable and well worth factoring in a budget for it. Conversely cancelling your Christmas party or watering it down can instantly dent staff morale, something which can take months to build back up.…

….but make sure the joviality and positivity is not dented by penny-pinching or overzealous ‘HR’. Nothing hits the Christmas spirit by announcing a £15 per head allowance, or forcing employees to read and sign a ‘contract’ to confirm their agreement to set behavioural rules and impending disciplinary action for too much Christmas Spirit. Employees treated like adults, act like adults.

Provide free food
Food is the way to everyone’s heart. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, try having one day a week where the company provides breakfast for the team? According to a survey conducted by Seamless, 60% of employees feel that having company-provided food in the office would make them feel more valued and productive. Breakfast is a great tool as it gets the day off on a collegiate basis. An alternative is to lay out a spread of food in the boardroom one lunchtime and encourage everyone to eat together from the boardroom to the mailroom. Small gestures like this can have a huge effect on the mind-set of your employees.

Secret Santa
Easily scoffed at, but Secret Santa is a great tool to bring individual teams together Take turns with picking names out of a hat and set a budget, then let individual creativity take over. This can create a real buzz around the office and ensure workers stay happy at work, which is essential to how they will perform.

The Christmas Bonus
Christmas bonuses used to be de rigueur. Nowadays bonuses form a standard part of most packages and are no longer perceived as a ‘bonus’. That said, a Christmas incentive scheme aligned with your business goals will be warmly received by workers. The promise of some extra money in their December pay packet in turn for them hitting set targets is a sure-fire way to ensure motivation stays high. As long as targets set are realistic and achievable.

Even better – surprise staff with an unexpected Christmas bonus on the last working day before Christmas, as a reaffirmation of your appreciation to them. It doesn’t need to be budget breaking.

Gift your shut down
Most offices now have Christmas shut down between Christmas Day and New Years Day – but many still force employees to use their holiday allowance (typically 10-15% of their annual allowance). Gifting these days is a huge gesture.

12 Days of Christmas
I ran this for one of my teams a long time ago. For the two weeks leading up to Christmas, there was a treat on eveyone’s desk first thing in the morning. It cost less that £250 for the whole programme. Some days an ‘order form’ for a festive Starbucks that I went out and got mid-morning, other days a Mince Pie, other days a bottle of mulled wine to take home…other days a hot mug of mulled wine.

Ease Modern Day Logistics
As parenthood gets a grip, time and logistics becomes more and more difficult. Another programme I ran was to employ a Christmas Elf ‘gift wrapper’ to come in to the office for the afternoon of the 23rd Christmas to wrap everyone’s presents. They could bring in their own paper, or we provided a selection. Most of the team brought anything from the odd gift in from home, to almost their entire haul to get wrapped.

Another welcome zero-cost gesture is to allow employees to have online deliveries delivered and stored at work. You can up the ante even more by approaching key suppliers (Perfume/Cosmetics/etc) and arranging centrally acquired discounts.

Have Fun!
Above all else, use the festive season to create a more positive, lighthearted environment. At a time when most employees will have celebrating on their minds, you will find it hugely beneficial to create a fun and friendly atmosphere in the workplace; it could make all the difference to morale, and tip into the New Year.

Insignificant Small gestures such as playing festive music, having a Christmas Jumper day (and competition), have a family half-day after schools have broken up, even if just for the last hour then host a mini-family party with gifts for Children and a visit from Santa; or simply just getting mince pies in the office and a Christmas cake to take-away are all ways of demonstrating to your staff that you care for their well-being.

Ultimately, by making your workforce feel valued and appreciated over Christmas, you’ll be keeping morale high and productivity levels at their best.

Ensuring that you balance work with the holiday season for your employees by keeping things fun and friendly, whilst making sure you are clear about what is expected in terms of workload, especially on return in the New Year, should keep motivation strong and staff happy…and less likely to be calling me in the January.