When Workers Suffer from ‘Turkey Hangover’

Acknowledge post-holiday slump, adjust tasks accordingly

By Tamara Lytle Dec 15, 2014
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You can call it the “turkey hangover”—those few days, or weeks, after a holiday when workers head back to the office and find it difficult to focus.

But many HR specialists say it’s the pre-holiday time frame when productivity can really suffer. Employees are balancing shopping, entertaining, holiday events and travel preparations. And—oh, right—they’re also supposed to be working.

“At the end of the year, people are ready for a break. That’s when we see productivity slip,” said Jill Havely, the Americas practice leader for communications and engagement management with Towers Watson, a global financial services company based in New York City.

Post-holiday times can actually be very productive. Time off can re-energize workers, according to Bill Driscoll, New England district president for Accountemps, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm.

An Accountemps study looked at the times of day and days of the week when workers are most productive. It found that the best time to start a new project is 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on the Tuesday after a holiday.

Many companies operate on calendar-year budgets, so this time of year involves not just holiday responsibilities, but also a sprint to the finish line at work.

Here are some tips for keeping people engaged during the holiday season:

  • Plan ahead. Make sure deadlines are reasonable given vacation schedules and that someone is available to help customers when other employees are off. Coming back to work to 500 e-mails and looming deadlines will make workers feel overwhelmed, warned Dave Jones, president of the employee engagement company PassionWorks!, based in Ottawa, Canada.
  • Keep things simple. You want workers to stay focused on the task at hand, advised Havely of Towers Watson. For instance, reduce “noise” by whittling e-mail communciations down to just the people who really need the information and putting the key points at the beginning of the message.
  • Acknowledge the challenges of work/life balance. That balance can be especially hard to strike during the holidays, Havely said.
  • Celebrate. That can mean holiday parties, employee recognition, or letting workers have the flexibility to go to their kids’ Christmas play during the day and then work from home later in the evening. “Use it as a team-building [exercise] to celebrate the end of the year and everything people did,” advised Jones. “That’s what people want at this time of year.”
  • Consider a company retreat. It may seem counterintuitive to add more to busy schedules, but Cheryl Kerrigan, vice president of employee success at Achievers, said it worked well for her company, which is an employee engagement software platform. Her Toronto office and the San Francisco headquarters staff met just after Thanksgiving to celebrate their successes from the year and think about company goals and where they are headed.

After the holiday, acknowledge the so-called turkey hangover for a short while: Give workers a chance to catch up and talk about their vacations. Driscoll likes the idea of a “Bagel Monday” so people can socialize.

Managers make a mistake if they try to rush people back into work mode.

“Instead of avoiding it, embrace it,” Jones said. “They need to transition. If you feel shortchanged in that transition, you end up losing the benefit of what people got from the [vacation] recharge.”

He recommended using the post-holiday time to revisit action plans and talk about the shared purpose and progress the team is working toward.

Employees at Achievers who are coming back from vacations don’t have to rack their brains to remember what they need to focus on. Every day, the company holds a nine-minute meeting (at 11:51 a.m. EST). Different departments rotate hosting the video conference each day so workers can quickly hear of metrics and other news in each department.

Achievers also uses quarterly—instead of yearly—goals. So for workers coming back after the first of the year, having a goal just three months away serves as a worthy motivation.

Tamara Lytle is a freelance writer based in Falls Church, Va.

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