A Boss’s Guide to Navigating the Holiday Season at Work

The approaching holiday seasons spells Christmas cookies, snowflake decorations, holiday parties and, hopefully, some good cheer. But if you're the boss, you can't relax entirely – according to an expert from Wake Forest University, supervisors and managers shoulder the responsibility of successfully navigating the holiday season in the workplace.

Evelyn Williams, associate vice president for leadership in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, offers leaders several tips to help set a positive and productive tone at work during the holidays.

Tip #1: Let Your Employees Know They Are Appreciated

The good news is that the gift of gratitude is free, inclusive and isn’t subject to religious or cultural beliefs.

“At the holidays we’re very focused on family and friends,” Williams said. “But shouldn’t we take this time to express gratitude to people we may see for more hours each day than our family and friends? Take the time to tell your employees how special they are. List their accomplishments or share your appreciation for their effort.”

A simple handwritten note or card offering personal, specific feedback, for example, could make a big impact on employees. And be sure to spread the gratitude around by also thanking internal partners or other departments who have helped you throughout the year.

Williams pointed out that while some might scoff at “the gift of gratitude” as a way to avoid holiday bonuses or gifts, everyone wants to hear from a boss or manager how special they are at work. “It’s a rare employee who says they get too much good feedback,” Williams stressed.

Tip #2: Reconsider Indulging in the Christmas Punch

While it might be tempting to unwind at the holiday party with a few cups of eggnog spiked with rum, Williams reminded managers that they are never off duty.

“An off-the-cuff comment after three cocktails might be taken as devastating by a junior employee or give them reason not to respect you,” she said.

Managers must always be 100 percent in control of their behavior, and Williams warned that women tend to lose more credibility than men in drinking situations if there is a perceived loss of control.

Aside from alcohol, workplace leaders must always ensure that they set an appropriate tone and that any gifts they give – or behavior they exhibit – is appropriate. Be inclusive of all employees.

Tip #3: Give Yourself the Gift of Networking

’Tis the season … for networking.

“Networking during the holidays presents a wonderful opportunity to expand and deepen your connections just by saying thank you,” Williams said. “At a holiday party, don’t make it about your agenda. It’s a great time to practice inquiry vs. advocacy. Use your listening skills to really bond on a relational level.”

Mail a holiday card to your colleagues with a genuine and personal message of appreciation. If you send an email expressing your gratitude for the person’s work, consider copying his or her boss to emphasize you are serious about making it known how much their work is appreciated. Finally, offer people within your circle heartfelt gifts, like homemade fudge or cookies, to let them know you’re thinking of them.

“So much of the year we are focused on solving problems at work,” Williams said. “The holidays can be a time that passes by in a blur if we aren’t careful. Taking a step back and focusing on the people we work with, really listening to them, saying thank you and respecting their contributions might be the best way to manage through holidays.”

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