Thursday, July 5, 2007

Are You Working This Holiday Week?

Hey -- you’re working on the last day of the year! Experts disagree – does that make you a hero, an efficient worker, or should your whole company have simply shut down?

As many as 70% of your colleagues are out on vacation. Still, some look at this time of year as good for organizing your work area, figuring out priorities for the coming year, and -- not least -- reflecting.

Michael Fox of Fox Architects in St. Louis will read from his stack of newspapers, clean his office, and enjoy not hearing phones ringing. "It's almost like a vacation week that's not charged as a vacation," he says of the time between Christmas and New Years.

Sure, many will complain about how dreary it is to work during the deadest week of the year, particularly when talking to returning vacationers. But this lowly, unproductive, quiet-as-a-mouse week is a terrible week to miss at work.

Why wait in long ski-lift lines, get stranded at airports or pay peak-hotel rates when you can have a perfectly relaxing vacation this week at your very own desk?

The body doesn't have to travel a thousand miles away for the mind to take a vacation. The phones are dead. Meetings are minimal. Best of all, there's the workplace equivalent of a full body massage: blissfully low expectations. There's also a pity bonus: even a 10-to-4 day makes you a hero .

In fact, everyone isn't really gone for the week. It just seems that way. A survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive found that more than two-thirds of those surveyed who worked outside their homes were back at work the first Monday after Christmas. Working wasn't always the first thing on their minds, though. Personal phone calls, shopping and holiday thank-you notes sometimes took precedence. But another poll found that 51% of workers rated their productivity level just as high for the holiday week as the rest of the year, and 25% said it was higher.

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Still, some employers find that productivity tapers off drastically in the last two weeks of December. Many people seem to disappear, and everyone has come to expect that, which raises a serious management question:Why not simply close the doors for the week between Christmas and New Year's and let everyone go? Employees' minds already are elsewhere, so why not make it official? Monsanto took the plunge about 10 years ago. Like Boeing, Monsanto considers the down time an extended holiday. Instead of giving employees time off for lesser holidays such as Presidents Day, Monsanto gives them the week between Christmas and New Year's.Boeing started the practice 25 years ago. Boeing uses the down time to recalibrate and clean equipment used to make commercial and fighter aircraft and other defense-related products. However, in our increasingly global economy, shutting down may not be an option.

A recent survey by Accountemps found that 44% of executives feel employees are less productive the week before a major holiday. While this may be true, there are ways to counteract all of the distractions and stress and help people to be as productive now as at any time of the year.

As you assess how productive (or unproductive) your team has been this December, here are some suggestions to ESCAPE the problems:

Expect good results - Set high expectations and you will typically get great results... Give people a sense of where they are on their annual goals, and encourage them to finish the year strong.

Share spirit - Most people find their spirits lifted and thoughtfulness is at an annual high during the Holidays. Encourage people to show their spirit and sense of goodwill when communicating with others inside the organization.

Celebrate! You probably had a holiday party at a restaurant or hotel. Did you consider doing an on-site workday event to? A little time spent here can help build relationships, bring people closer together and focus them on their work.

Acknowledge the challenges and distractions - Let people know that you realize the holidays are a tough time of year to stay focused. When people know you understand their situation, you gain credibility when talking about expectations and year end goals.

Present positive anticipation for the New Year - Give people something to look forward to. Giving people this forward focus will help the focus now, but will really help people past the doldrums that can come after January 1.

Engage outside your organization. - take the lead by organizing a group to do something as a team in the community.

Full ESCAPE Story

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