The festive period brings with it a chance to unwind, rest up and recharge the batteries in time for the New Year. While it’s a time that many of us relish and certainly one that’s savoured up and down the country, businesses should also be aware that it can also pose significant operational challenges.
Companies and organisations need to be mindful of the preparation that’s required to deal with closing down for the festive period. They might face shortages of staff and lower sales, as well as the inevitable downturn in productivity as your team look towards a well-earned break. To help with the preparation, we asked industry experts for their top tips on how to prepare for the upcoming holiday closedown.
Plan everything in advance
Alan Lynch, CEO of package holidays provider, Compare and Choose, says: “It’s vital you’ve done all the ‘heavy lifting’ in advance; schedule everything. By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail – so the old adage goes – but it’s something that’s worth heeding as the time off is coming up.
“If you’re a business that’s active during holidays but your suppliers are shutting for Christmas, make sure you’ve got all your supply in early. Get your inventory in order!”
Stock and staff are obviously important, but Alan also advises having a contingency plan in place. He says: “Make sure you’ve arranged a communication channel in case there are any emergencies or something time sensitive that need to be resolved. Additionally, are your staff aware of what they should be doing in case of any unexpected issues?”
Alastair Brown, Chief Technological Officer at HR software company, BrightHR, suggests that knowing how many members of staff there are, and where resources may be lacking, should be confirmed in advance by managers:
“A whole company shutdown needs to be confirmed to staff in advance with the various rules being set out – including whether they are required to reserve part of their holiday allowance to cover this period, what will be considered if employees have insufficient holiday, and whether employees can choose to work if they don’t want the time off for whatever reason.”
It’s undoubtedly a period of busy schedules and limited time off; a potentially risky combination if things aren’t spelt out as clearly as possible. Reduce uncertainty by getting a head start and make sure all staff stay abreast of everyone’s plans if possible.
Deal with cash flow issues
The Christmas period is often a critical time for businesses, not least because many managing directors, clerical assistants and finance department staff are out of office for the holidays.
Sarah Musgrove, Writer and Digital Editor at Brighter Business, says: “As a result, payments often don’t get made, cheques don’t get signed and small businesses often experience real problems with cash flow at this time.”
It’s important to resist making hasty decisions just to weather this time of the year. As Sarah notes: “Many business owners have to resort to costly bank overdrafts to see them through or, worse still, the company credit card – both of which can exacerbate their weak cash flow positions in the short term.
“Try to forecast potential financial problems to ensure you, or your staff aren’t caught short this Christmas.”
Be aware of reduced business hours and staff
Whatever industry you’re in, the amount of time clocked in at work will inevitably be less than usual due to reduced hours and staff. That lack of manpower can obviously have an effect on productivity and meeting targets.
Sarah mentions one way of remedying this situation: “The best thing you can do to prepare for this slow period is to account for it in your business calendar. If that means you need to adjust your sales targets to be slightly higher for the rest of the months of the year, to make up for that reduction, factor that in as well.”
Whenever you choose to set these goals, it might be a struggle to get them done, but the results will be more than worth it. As Sarah notes: “It can do wonders for your psyche to go into the holidays knowing you don’t have to achieve goals between December 24th and January 2nd.”
In order to clear things up, Alastair advises making information about the time off as concrete as possible: “It is useful to communicate staffing requirements in a policy, such as a Christmas holiday policy, or through formal communications from managers.
“They can also provide guidance on how annual leave requests will be dealt with during this period, for example, whether the ‘first come, first served’ rule continues to apply or if another method is used over the festive period.”
Balance tighter budgets
“End of year bonuses, annual donations to charities, lower sales – budgets always feel tighter at this time of year,” notes Sarah, “financial prudence is good practice at most points in the year, but during the festive period, when things are hanging comparatively in the balance, it’s essential.
“The best way to deal with that stressor is to plan for it. Start setting a small amount of money aside right from the beginning of the year, and create a special account for it, so you know you can’t touch it. Preparing financially for the holidays, over the course of the entire year, will make your financial strains a thing of the past.”
Be careful with expectations
As we’ve noted a few times so far, preparation is key. It is not enough to simply hope for the best upon your return, especially when you have stakeholders who are expecting results.
Alan says: “Chances are, if you work with monthly targets, they may not be reached in December due to the holiday closedown taking up a significant chunk of December. There is nothing more unprofessional than promising something and then not following through with it.”
If you’re used to forward planning, it may be that you can reach the targets offered to stakeholders. But if you aren’t in such a position, let stakeholders know. They’ll appreciate honesty over an attempt to deceive them.
Cater to distracted employees
It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say everyone in your office is looking forward to getting a bit of a break. As such, this is probably when productivity starts to dwindle and you’re unable to get the best out of people.
Sarah says: “We all have extra things on our plates, and your employees may be spending company time planning the party they’re hosting, or making their shopping lists.
“Rather than resisting, help out your employees by freeing up their schedule. Why not give them longer lunches for a week, so they can get things done that they might have otherwise tried to do at their desks?. It’s a time for giving, so why not give back to them in a way that will incentivise that last little push at work.”
Combat lower sales
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may be facing a slower sales period as the holidays approach, due to the industry you’re in. To combat this, Sarah suggests:
“One way to prepare for that is to run a holiday promotion, to convince people that now is the time to spend their money on what you’re offering. Whether it’s a holiday sale, or a buy-one-get-one-free event; getting the word out that your business is offering deals can help invigorate what might be a sluggish month for some businesses.”