Full Disclosure: I write this on the morning of our office holiday party. The afternoon is a write-off, and from here until the New Year Executive Platforms will probably never have a working day where all hands are on deck again. From now on, everything will be done with an understanding that things may take a little more time or even need to be put away for a while.

Businesses everywhere are entering a period where productivity is going to fall off, and there is nothing even the best manager can do to prevent it. In fact, the best managers know they shouldn’t fight against the current on this one.

For someone who writes a weekly blog about business issues, you can either be an optimist or a pessimist about things like this, and I have certainly read my fair share of ‘What Not to Do’ articles over the years covering the gamut from humour to horror illustrated by everything from statistical probabilities to stammering pleadings for better behavior.

This is not going to be one of those columns. We are going to talk about the good things a break from the normal rhythms of working life can bring to you and your company.

Now let me start off with an obvious disclaimer: There are a lot of businesses where this is actually the busiest time of year. My hat goes off to the retailers, the logistics providers, the entertainers, the people who work in the food service industry, and everyone else whose hard work is powering everyone else’s good time. To you I say, “Read this when things slow down for you. That’s your holiday season.”

I am not writing specifically about the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, even though that is when this is being published and is what most people think of as ‘The Holidays.’

I want to talk about ‘The Holidays’ as when normal work is interrupted as people start taking vacation time. The big projects of the year have been wrapped up. A general understanding exists between ownership, management, and the rank-and-file workers that something a little different is happening, and the definition of realistic goals and expectations is moving in the direction of ‘less is more.’

Things are going to move a bit slower. People are thinking a little more about their personal lives, and a little less about their professional lives. Some important business decisions internally and externally are going to be put off until after the holidays because not all of the key decision-makers are present at the same time, and not all of the key performers and top talent are available to action and deliver on any big new move even if a bold new direction were to be decided on and approved.

To that I say, “Good!”

Why Losing Productivity is a Good Thing

It is a good thing to have a time of the year where companies pause and take a breath to regroup.

It is a good thing for busy people to know the most important day-to-day tasks and even long-term projects are going to be either set aside or done at a reduced cadence, because that gives a much-needed opportunity to do the little things that are always pushed to the side during the rest of the year, while also making time to look forward and think about the year to come without worrying about the normal things that always need doing.

It is a good thing that the different teams and departments get up from their workspaces to mix and mingle. Think back over your working life. How many of those, “Break down silos! Communicate throughout the organization!” initiatives really found their footing when the people from the front office socialized with the people from the warehouse, or the accounting department got to hang out with the sales team without making it about the dollars and cents?

It is a good thing that there is some structured and unstructured fun —and even ‘goofing off’— happening during the holidays. Work should have an element of fun. People should enjoy their coworkers and share special moments that become happy memories. How much virtual ink has been spilled lately talking about talent attraction, development, and retention in the New Normal of Work? Letting people have a good time is an important contributor to holding onto the people you have and creating an attractive environment to gather together the people you need for the future.

The Great HR Elephant in the Room

As long as we are talking about talent retention, let’s name one of the great HR elephants in the room: Most people who are looking to make a change in their careers are job hunting in December and January. Some joke it’s the same ‘New Year’s Resolution’ power that drives people every year to get a gym membership they will not use, but I would argue what is really motivating the move is the feeling that a year of work is over. Was it a good one? To have a better year to come, does the best way to get there involve staying or going?

Taking a moment and allowing your workforce to slow down and enjoy themselves is an opportunity for every employer to put a ribbon and bow on the end of a year and say, “This was good. It was good because of you. Thank you!” People like that, and happy people do not go looking for greener grass the next pasture over.

There is a truism that people don’t leave hard jobs. They leave hard managers.

There is such an opportunity during the unusual, malleable, generally pleasant time known as ‘The Holidays’ for leaders to show their teams that they care, that they are valued, that what they do matters.

It is so much harder to do that on a normal Tuesday in the middle of Q2 than during the holidays. Of course, a good leader should be trying to do it all year long, but a special emphasis during the holidays makes an outsized impact. There are also ready props and old standbys ready and waiting to be pulled out of the happy toolbox: There is a built-in excuse for recreational activities; there are easy opportunities for gift exchanges, for ugly sweater contests, for team-building charitable work, for unusual music and food and, yes, perhaps even some festive libations in moderation; there is a general mood from the get-go that people are ready to opt-in to having a good time together.

Just try getting everyone on the same page to do that with the normal demands of a Tuesday in Q2 hitting different people different ways.

Intangibles and Tangibles

The Holidays are not the time of year where companies should expect to hit their maximum performance metrics, but they are the best time of year for leaders to improve morale, build esprit de corps, and shape culture, all of which pays dividends all year round.

With that said, let’s move on from the ‘Happy People Work Better and Stay Longer’ portion of this to talk about actual productivity gains that can be made in a famously unproductive time of year.

Here are a few ideas you and your team might consider doing during your holidays, and for the purposes of making what could be viewed as extra work sound fun, we’re going to use some festive holiday exclamation marks:

  • Review your processes and workflows from the past year. Where are the common bottlenecks, sticking points, and stumbling blocks you experienced over and over again? If you could do it better next year, what would that look like? Maybe have a conversation with people up and down your processes to talk about what people would want to do if you were starting things over from a blank sheet of paper. Did things get complicated over time accidentally? Downtime is a great time to simplify and optimize!
  • Install and learn the new tool or technology you have been putting off. What do you want to do with it? Feel free to noodle around and really get to know how it works. Maybe run through a few scenarios just for fun with a coworker. You are not wasting time. This is banking productivity for next year’s projects!
  • Take a look at what some of your competitors and companies you admire have been doing over the past year. What are they doing, and what can you learn from it? Have a conversation with a peer or even a mentor about what you would do differently based on this example if you had the freedom to do so. Brainstorming is never a waste of time!
  • Read that article. Watch that webinar. Listen to that podcast. Walk through that tutorial. Learning is never a waste of time, but far too often we don’t make time for it. Plutarch said the mind is not a vessel to be filled by a fire to be kindled. Throw some fuel on your mental fire!
  • Get to “Inbox Zero” even if only just to come back from the Holidays with a fresh start is an incredible investment in good mental health. Make part of your holiday reset about creating a respite from unread and unknown demands on your time and attention. Get on top of your inbox, even if it takes a whole Friday afternoon to do it. The view from the “Inbox Zero” mountaintop is a beautiful sight!

How should I end this week’s blog? I suppose there is only one way that makes sense.

From all of us here at Executive Platforms to all of you reading this, Happy Holidays! May the days to come be the most productive unproductive days of the year.

Geoff Micks
Head of Content & Research
Executive Platforms

Geoff joined the industry events business as a conference producer in 2010 after four years working in print media. He has researched, planned, organized, run, and contributed to more than a hundred events across North America and Europe for senior leaders, with special emphasis on the energy, mining, manufacturing, maintenance, supply chain, human resources, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, finance, and sustainability sectors. As part of his role as Head of Content & Research, Geoff hosts Executive Platforms’ bluEPrint Podcast series as well as a weekly blog focusing on issues relevant to Executive Platforms’ network of business leaders.

Geoff is the author of five works of historical fiction: Inca, Zulu, Beginning, Middle, and End. The New York Times and National Public Radio have interviewed him about his writing, and he wrote and narrated an animated short for Vice Media that appeared on HBO. He has a BA Honours with High Distinction from the University of Toronto specializing in Journalism with a Double Minor in History and Classical Studies, as well as Diploma in Journalism from Centennial College.