We asked a few friends how they look at holiday perks and employee motivation.
It’s a perfect time to reward teammates for a great year and celebrate the season. But how much extra time can I request off before productivity halts? How many perks are too many where employee motivation starts to dip? We checked in with some fellow escape artists to see what they said across industries.
As the employee looking to skip town:
- Know what days you automatically get.
- Officially: review the company handbook
- Unofficially: check if your manager designates a specific day to work from home or to take as a comp day. See if there’s an unwritten standard, like “Everyone leaves by 12pm on Christmas Eve.”
- If you’re low on vacation days, your boss could allow you to work longer hours up front to take comp days at the end of the month.
- Ask your peers or check with your manager, whoever you feel more comfortable asking. As long as you’re doing it politely and respectfully, it rarely hurts to ask.
- Provide context and frame it as optional if the manager decides against it. It’s better to pose the request as a flexible question versus a concrete demand. In my last job when I first started, my manager allowed me to work remotely from San Diego for two days between Christmas and New Year’s so I could go to a family reunion. I framed the question with full background info and humbly asked before the flights were booked so the trip wasn't final.
- Be strategic with the rest of your vacation time.
- Think further out. Are there days you want to take immediately after the holidays to go for a long weekend in Florida? Are you planning a three-week hike in Machu Picchu next year? Rank your time off so you save some time for the stuff you’d rather be doing. Maybe that means the end of year holidays! But, maybe not.
- Understand your workload, responsibilities, and end of year goals.
- What can you accomplish outside of the time you’re considering taking off? If it’s the end of the year, that means performance reviews are right around the corner for most of us. Is there something you have to finish before you head out? Is there anything else you can surprise your manager with before the year closes? While the holidays can be relaxing, it can also be a great time to crank out one more project and show off your employee motivation.
Tip! In a customer facing role? A friend in software sales told me, ““I would recommend taking time off when your customers are also off. And when you are out of office, it's important to be as plugged in as possible. If you help a customer out when everyone else is out, you gain a lot of respect. They will turn to you in the future.”
- Talk to your family.
- My family never knows what the holiday schedule is until last minute. They also live within driving distance of me. Because of that, I don’t often take a lot of time off during the holidays.
- If you’re traveling home by plane, get a schedule locked in early with the fam so you know when you need to be home (and can maybe save money on flights).
- Don’t be shy to take time with family though. A pal in the nonprofit world says, “I’m a big advocate of personal time - so try to take at least a day or two to be with family and friends.”
- When you decide how much time you’ll need, put the request in early.
- Especially if you are new to your company, it’s always good to get ahead of the curve.
- Even if you’re not new -- requesting time in advance makes everyone’s lives easier from your boss and your teammates to you and your family. You don’t want to leave anyone hanging.
- One friend at a startup said, “We have to formally book the time. If it’s on the calendar, you can leave. If not, there’s definitely not a ‘sneak out early’ culture...but my workplace is nuts.”
For the managers and supervisors looking to keep up employee motivation:
- Select specific half days or entire days off for the whole team.
- One idea is to choose certain days that the whole team takes off, assuming the team is not in a customer facing role. This way, the team is all off together and more collaborative projects don't slow.
- This tactic is also an easy mood boost. A friend of mine in a government role says, “I’ve also been let out by the gov't at 2pm on the day before a holiday and it’s such a morale booster.”
- Don’t stress about the requests.
- This is the most wonderful time of the year. If people are requesting time off, try to make things work. If you’re concerned about group projects, maybe try the bulk day off approach. If you’re worried about customer support, be sure to stagger time off between the teammates. But denying time off around the holidays can be heavy for an employee to stomach.
- Make the team’s holiday schedule visible to plan around it.
- Get your reports’ holiday schedule published early on so everyone knows when the rest of the team is out. Encourage people to use days when others are off to work on independent projects.
- Understand workload implications.
- Accept that the standard monthly workload will be smaller. Between time off and holiday distractions, over 68% of employees in the UK reported being less productive throughout December.
- Set reasonable goals knowing there will be less output. If you have three high priority projects to complete by the end of the year, see if your team can do one or two instead. A fresh start after the New Year can help reset brainpower.
- Be realistic with timeframes.
- Schedule the deadline for a project before the mass exodus happens. If you won't finish the full project before the holidays, set up a key date to complete part of it.
- Keep your team healthy.
- Eating and drinking can get excessive during the holiday season. Offer hangover help with breakfast or juices after holiday parties. And lead lunchtime walks/runs to keep people moving and getting vitamin D.
- Check-in one-on-one to make sure spirits are high.
- Dedicate some of your own time to meet one-on-one with your team members. Allow your reports to share questions and concerns in private about the holiday schedule or workload.
- In some companies, employees wait for their bonuses at the end of the year and then consider jumping ship. Putting extra effort to keep up morale through the turn of the year can be helpful. Have open and honest conversations before the formal reviews happen.
Can you taste the eggnog already? You could be making gingerbread houses sooner than you think, assuming your manager and team are open to your time off request. As a boss, keep expectations realistic and your team should come through on the priority projects. Employee motivation can stay strong through the season of holiday parties and time off, with the right mix of generosity and inspiration.