Leading through the Holiday Stress

Leading through the Holiday Stress, by Ryan Hansen

It's that time of year again! The air is changing, the leaves are changing colors, and the days are getting shorter. Joyous holiday plans are coming together, families and friends are gathering around tables, and belts are loosening across the country.

It's that time of year again. The calendars are filling, deadlines are piling up, and the final business days of 2019 are bearing down. Schedules are unpredictable, clients and coworkers are unreachable, and tensions are increasing across the country.

If your workplace is anything like mine, both of these cases are true for you in November and December. The holiday season brings a slew of stressful scenarios, unlike anything the rest of the year has to offer. In many cases, it's the necessary trade-off for spending more time with family and friends to celebrate the season. As team members at every level - from the production floor to the boardroom - spend more time out of the office, their absence ripples through the organization and even into the organizations they work with.

Let's consider what happens when a manager is out of the office to enjoy some hard-earned time with his or her family. Another manager might be responsible for overseeing the vacationing manager's team, in addition to their own. As the replacement manager splits time, their primary team has reduced access to a manager. If the manager serves on a committee, meetings or committee work may be pushed back to account for the absence. An outside sales rep, patiently working to close a deal, has to wait for the manager to return to sign an agreement. And when that manager does return... well, just imagining the to-do list makes me queasy.

This is a good time to clarify something - I really love the holidays. I love the weather, the food, the music, the time with families, and I really enjoy the respite from the usual breakneck pace of work. I also know the reality of staring down a sales quota in mid-December when your clients are out of the office, and the tension that comes when meetings are rescheduled two and three times because the various parties involved are traveling. 

So, what can leaders do to work through the holiday season without adding stress to their team members? Here are a few tips.

1. Know Your People, and Know their Preferences

This is much more than knowing the names and faces of everyone on your team. What do those people like, and how do they think? Some of your team members want community and connection - are you providing that? Others will want the time and space to clear their to-do lists before they leave the office. Most of us can flex outside of our preferences for a time, but too much will strain our minds. Be mindful of the personalities on your team and look to give them what they need to thrive.

2. Practice Your Feedback Skills

Ah, feedback. We love to give it, and we love to say that we love to receive it. The truth is that feedback provides an opportunity for growth. I wrote a full-length piece on feedback earlier this year. The basics: focus on behaviors, ensure it's a two-way conversation, and maintain a balance of positive and negative feedback. Don't let an emphasis on growth create undue stress for your people during this busy season.

3. Be Ready to Manage Conflicts (Constructively)

Simply put, stress breeds conflict. This will vary from company to company and team to team, but it's an unavoidable fact. I often teach the HALT principle in my conflict management courses, which highlights four conditions under which a) conflict is more likely, and b) we are less equipped to manage conflict. The four conditions are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. I'll admit that I rarely find myself hungry during the holiday season, but I have certainly found my emotions and patience to be particularly strained. So what can a manager do? Deliberately, proactively deal with conflicts by:

  1. Identify the Problem, and Initiate a Conversation
  2. Investigate Both Perspectives
  3. Collaborate on Potential Solutions
  4. Determine a Course of Action
  5. Follow Up

This is a simplified model for conflict management, and one that our team loves to elaborate on in full-day and half-day classes, but it's a great foundation for stressful times.

It is my hope that you, your team members, and your organizations can peacefully navigate the holiday season and start 2020 on a high note. If stress happens to find you in the next few weeks, I believe in the tips and tools outlined above to guide you through those rough waters. If there is any way that I or the Solutions Team can assist you, please don't hesitate to contact us via email ([email protected]) or any of our social media pages.


Happy Holidays from Alloy Solutions!


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