Don’t Be a Scrooge: Learning to Enjoy the Holidays as a Manager

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Dec 13, 2013
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: The holiday season is here, and TLNT is celebrating with classic holiday posts from the past. Look for them through Christmas Eve.

Just call me Scrooge.

While it wasn’t my official nickname, you could have called me that my first few Decembers as a manager and an HR practitioner. I came into work grumpy, I left grumpier, and I tried to not be grumpy at home. It was a futile battle though.

Don’t get me wrong either: I like the holidays. I love spending time with my wife. I like spending a limited amount of time with family. But December just rubbed me the wrong way.

The Holiday attitude

I generally expect people to be unavailable from December 23rd through January 2nd. It’s a tough time of year to catch anyone. In fact, if I’m going to try to contact anyone during that time, I usually call. I get that.

What I don’t get is this general feeling of malaise between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The turkey has worn off by this time, right? There is hard data to support this too. And while I’d love to say it is just an employee problem, it is a problem with everyone I’ve dealt with (outside of retail and hospitality).

Vendors, contractors, tech support, customers: you’re all guilty of slow and inadequate responses during this time of year. Add to that a schedule that has managers working from before sunrise to after sunset, a crush of year end housekeeping chores, and personal pressure to travel or get presents, and you get a grumpy person — like me.

Nobody cares about Scrooges

What I learned very quickly is that nobody cares that you’re grumpy in December and want stuff done.

My protests to friends and family has had a resounding “Get over it!” feel to it. And, I can at least understand this a bit. The first and second quarter for many companies are brutal, so the recharge time of some reduced productivity now can be helpful to sustain the marathon first six months of the year to come.

And while I have been frustrated in the past, I’ve actually enjoyed the last four years of holidays thanks to a couple of tips from colleagues and superiors.

1. Control what you can control

I called tech support on December 23rd a couple of years ago and waited for over an hour for a wait that was usually less than five minutes. I asked the person on the other end why, and they said they had a lot of people out on vacation and had underestimated their call volume.

I was, in a word, infuriated.

Yes, they messed up but what could I do about it (especially right then)? I had to let go of it.

2. Use December to find balance

Maybe it is a commitment to leave every day on time (even if it means going in early some days or leaving something on your to-do list). Maybe it’s about not stressing about administrivia and just hunkering down and getting it done in a couple of days. Maybe it is simply a time to reflect on the last year of business and what you’re happy for and what you’re looking forward to in the next year.

In any case, since you can’t control that many aspects of the holiday attitude, maybe it is time to take advantage of it yourself and use the time to recharge and find some balance. I’ve organized my files, written down accomplishments and goals for the next year, and even done an audit or two during this time of year. I made an effort to not doodle on projects or get distracted by things like e-mail (whose volume should be a lot less).

Even if you’re not a long-term disciple of balance, it can be helpful as a way to recharge and prepare for the next year.

3. Spend some time with your employees

I always found that this was the best time of year to catch up with employees. Talk about how they’re enjoying their job. Talk about family life. Talk about cheeseburgers.

I’ve always thought December is underrated as far as a month to connect with fellow employees but I’ve found that, assuming they are at work, it is easy enough to have a 15-30 minute conversation with them (that you probably should have had anyway) or to just grab lunch with them.

It doesn’t have to be formal (unless you want it to be) nor do you have to go crazy. Just going out of your way to have a pleasant conversation with employees is enough.

What are your thoughts? Do you have an easy time staying positive during the holidays or do you cope using techniques like this?

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.