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'Tis The Season

Keeping your employees productive during the holidays.

The winter holiday season is traditionally the busiest time of the year for most businesses, with parties, decorating, gift exchanging and year-end administrative requirements all competing with the seasonal demands of your customers and the general needs of your business. With all the distractions, how can you keep your employees on track?

The first step is to decide exactly how productive your employees need to be, says Peggy Isaacson, a human resources consultant in Orlando, Florida. "Think about what productivity levels are really necessary," Isaacson says.

Next, review previous holiday seasons to determine whether business suffered. "What were the hassles last year?" asks Isaacson. "Was too much time spent on party planning? Were you short-handed because too many people took time off? What did your customers complain about?"

With this information, you can develop a plan that allows you to maintain productivity and avoid repeating your mistakes. Make it a companywide effort; people are more willing to buy into a solution they've helped create. Isaacson says you may need to come up with a fair way to allocate vacation time, and you may want to set limits on gift-giving and parties.

Finally, be especially sensitive to your employees during the stressful time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Remember that as challenging as holidays can be in the workplace, they can be even more difficult on a personal level. Look for ways to help relieve stress, such as having lunch catered or paying for a massage therapist to come in and give back and neck massages to employees.

"Above all, talk to your employees frequently, and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts," says Isaacson. "This is something you have to do yourself--don't delegate it, and don't just write a memo. Walk around and make personal contact."

Once January arrives, provide your employees with feedback to let them know how well the plan worked--and start thinking about how you can make next year's holidays even better.

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This article was originally published in the November 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 'Tis The Season.

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