Managing a direct-to-consumer business with millions of licensed sales can evoke unwanted stress, especially during the busy holiday season. While sometimes the stress is unavoidable, you can take steps as a business owner to mitigate the lingering effects. The busy season of retail is both a blessing, sales-wise, and a challenge, time and logistics-wise.

One of the most important things to remember is to manage your time efficiently. This can help you avoid workplace fatigue and make your work hours more productive. Our office often has sales-related monthly tasks that can be very time-consuming and somewhat mundane. When these are being performed for long periods, it is essential to mix them up with various tasks that allow employees to find a new focus when they feel themselves starting to check out mentally.

Time management also helps to prevent employee burnout, which can be prevalent during the holiday season. However, you must be careful not to overwork your team, even if they accept the overtime offered. As discovered even more since 2020, some work/life integration level is essential for an employee’s health. Businesses should use integration because “balance” can be difficult to achieve- there’s simply no way to give equal amounts to both sides of the scale.

In a detail-oriented business like ours, consistency is essential. Losing employees to burnout, frustration, or any number of reasons not only affects the bottom line but can also hinder office morale. When a business must replace an employee, you find a modicum of lost productivity with the new person, as you must spend time training them to perform the job. Even if the new employee is incredibly proficient, if there are complicated systems to learn, it can often be a few months before they are up to speed and in a position to contribute to productivity the way you need. Additionally, there are significant costs associated with employee turnover.

When possible, examine your employee workload and determine if there are tasks that can be done remotely. The last two years have taught us that more can be done “from home” than we ever thought possible. Allowing employees to balance working in the office and remotely can help alleviate stress. This can also allow you to address employee health concerns, especially if they are worried about exposing their family members to illness during the holidays.

If it can be advantageous to your business, often, the busy holidays call for seasonal help. When tasks like fulfillment require minimal training, part-time, temporary workers can help alleviate stress on your core team, allowing them to manage the holiday rush more efficiently.

For many businesses, the fourth quarter and holiday are the busiest. Setting “blackout” restrictions are one way to ensure that your business is fully and efficiently staffed for the season. Preventing employees from taking time off ensures that businesses can fulfill orders and continue to operate at the high level they desire. When restrictions are in place, it ensures everyone is “all hands on deck” and communicates our expectations. In this situation, adequate communication is essential. Giving notice about this restriction in the summer can give employees plenty of time to plan accordingly.

You must provide details of your company’s holiday party when announcing the holiday season. This gives employees something to look forward to. An end-of-the-year party for your employees can be a great way to celebrate the final quarter and reward the team for a job well done. Although office parties look slightly different now than before 2020, there are several new ways to celebrate.

One often used tool for alleviating holiday stress offers your employees holiday pay and/or bonuses. These can be used at your discretion and provide extra motivation for the team to go above and beyond during the busiest time of year. However, for some small businesses, this is not achievable annually.

To help lessen the sting of a “blackout period” in the fourth quarter, it can be beneficial to

give incentives for using PTO during less busy times- for example, if an employee takes three days off during less busy times of the year, you can add a day (four days total) to their time off without counting against their balance.

Creating an inclusive environment is even more critical in 2021 than ever before. By considering everyone’s circumstances and holiday season traditions, one can better balance accommodations that might need to be made. For example, if you have an employee who celebrates the Jewish high holidays, letting them take time off before the blackout is a great way to ensure that the workplace stays balanced. Ensuring a holiday season that considers preferences that may be nontraditional helps us welcome employees from all different walks of life.

With holiday celebrations comes an influx of snacks and treats being brought into the office. Before 2020, the major concerns regarding shared food had evolved to include considerations about gluten and allergies. Still, since the pandemic, people are even more aware of consuming something when they have no control over the preparation. Providing your employees with gifts and treats can be tricky, but it does create a more festive atmosphere and can break up the long, busy days.

I have found that setting realistic expectations is key to achieving holiday success throughout my years in sales. This covers everything from hiring the right person to employee productivity to logistics. When hiring someone for your company, ensure they fit the job you want them to do and not just fill a hole. This can be a costly mistake if not taken into consideration. You certainly wouldn’t expect to hire “a landscaper who is also an architect who is also a doctor,” so why would you try to hire a sales manager who is also a logistics expert with excellent graphic design skills? The reality is that by hiring the right person for the job, your team will be stronger and more efficient. Realistic expectations also help in forecasting and operations and can ensure you avoid frustration. For example, giving an employee two days to complete two weeks’ worth of work is unreasonable. In this case, it is certainly better to under-promise and over-achieve.

Finally, if your business has clear and achievable goals, this can mitigate the stress that permeates the holiday season. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) that are clearly communicated with your staff will help guarantee the whole team's success. Goals can be set for the day, week, quarter, or season, allowing for acknowledgment and reevaluation of each achievement.

Depending on your business, holiday stress may be unavoidable for you. While the tools listed above may not prevent all of them from coming your way, observing just a few can lessen the strain of what should be a successful, profitable quarter. Good luck!

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