Managing the holidays when you’re the manager

When you’re the boss, the holidays can mean more than a long-awaited vacation. Managers, supervisors, and executives often find themselves having to set the tone for the holidays for everything from determining who gets time off to hosting the holiday party. Wake Forest’s Evelyn Williams says finding the balance can be the difference between leading through the holidays and landing in the pitfalls.

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Williams, who is associate vice president for leadership in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, teaches undergraduate and graduate students about leadership. Her research into conflict management and team dynamics prepares her to offer three tips for leaders to thrive through the holidays.

The best gift you can give employees: gratitude

“At the holidays we’re very focused on family and friends,” Williams says. “But shouldn’t we take this time to express gratitude to people we may see for more hours each day than our family and friends? Take the time to tell your employees how special they are. List their accomplishments or share your appreciation for their effort.” Williams says the message of gratitude might accompany a holiday gift, or stand alone.

  • A handwritten note or card giving personal and specific feedback will have a huge impact.
  • Gratitude is inclusive and isn’t subject to religious or cultural beliefs.
  • Don’t forget to thank internal partners or other departments who help you throughout the year.

“Sending a thank you to internal folks that serve your department or your customers used to be the tradition, but budget cuts and organizational changes may have changed that,” Williams says. “We should bring that back. Tell them specifically how they have helped you through the year and you couldn’t imagine doing the good job you do without their help. It really makes a difference in how they’ll perceive your department and interact with you in the future.”

Williams says some might leap on this idea of expressing gratitude while others scoff at it as a way to avoid holiday bonuses or gifts. “Who doesn’t want to hear from their boss how special they are? It’s a rare employee who says they get too much good feedback.”

The best gift at the office party: sobriety

“From a leadership aspect, you’re never off duty. People have different expectations of you,” Williams says. “People weight your words differently. An off the cuff comment after three cocktails might be taken as devastating by a junior employee, or give them reason not to respect you.” While it’s natural for the boss to want to mix and mingle with employees at the holiday office party, Williams suggests you remind yourself the leadership mantle never leaves.

  • Be 100% in control of your own behavior.
  • Remember women lose more credibility than men do around drinking situations when there is a loss of behavioral control.
  • It’s OK to delegate certain tasks around the holiday office party, but leaders should set the tone and make sure behavior and gifts (such as secret Santa) are kept appropriate.

“Make sure you reflect the culture of your group, not just your own interests,” Williams says about the holiday party. “Be inclusive of all your employees, since not everyone celebrates the same holidays.”

The best gift to give yourself: networking

“Networking during the holidays presents a wonderful opportunity to expand and deepen your connections just by saying thank you,” Williams says. “At a holiday party, don’t make it about your agenda. It’s a great time to practice inquiry vs. advocacy. Use your listening skills to really bond on a relational level.”

  • Reflect what you’re hearing back during conversations: “Sounds like you’re doing a really amazing job,” or “Gosh, sounds like it’s been a frustrating year,” to enhance your listening skills.
  • Be heartfelt and real. Give people in your circle something homemade like fudge or cookies, or even a small package of chocolates to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Send a holiday card with a genuine message of appreciation. Emails with earnest messages of thanks can work too, in a pinch. Consider sending a sincere message to a colleague and copying their boss because you want their manager to know how much their help has meant.

“So much of the year we are focused on solving problems at work,” Williams says. “The holidays can be a time that passes by in a blur if we aren’t careful. Taking a step back and focusing on the people we work with, really listening to them, saying thank you and respecting their contributions might be the best way to manage through holidays.”

Categories: Staff