Why the artificial Christmas deadline is pushing staff over the edge

| December 16, 2021

The worst Christmas present any leader can give their team is a project in December and a note attached with a Christmas deadline, says a corporate leadership coach.

Team Buffalo CEO Travis Thomas says it’s a sure-fire way corporate leaders create resentment from their staff, damage their company culture and even risk staff not returning after the holidays.

Mr Thomas accepts businesses can have a rush of activity in the lead up to Christmas but says leaders need to honestly ask themselves what the intent of any new project or deadline is – and if it’s work for work’s sake.

“Trying to take on new projects is a totally understandable impulse,” he says, “but it’s actually counter-productive to inundate staff with targets and deadlines before Christmas and New year; especially when it’s simply to clear the to-do list.”

Mr Thomas says leaders have a responsibility to prioritise what deadlines and targets they need to meet and make sure they’ve set achievable goals for their employees that are within the limits of the end of year season.Leaders that set realistic goals are much more likely to engender the respect and affection of their team, which is a far better result in the long-term.

“Leaders, like anyone, are prone to the spectre of December 31 and feeling like they haven’t done enough with their year. So many will decide that now’s the time to tick off some projects or get a start on a 2022 strategy.”

“it seems like a good idea on the surface – ‘let’s finish the year on a high!’ – but it doesn’t take the emotions and energy levels of the team into account.

“The idea of creating a strategy for the following year in December is especially counter-productive, because not only do you create additional stress, but you lose all momentum on the strategy because the team immediately goes on holidays.”

“That means you’ve actually created two problems instead of solving any, and all for an arbitrary deadline.”

He says loading up teams with unnecessary new projects is only likely to add to the impending ‘great resignation’ as staff head off on holidays with time to reflect on how negative they feel towards their workplace.

“It’s not the way to end the year on a high note,” he says. “Instead, you jeopardise staff retention and skills and it just reflects poorly on the workplace.”

Mr Thomas’ advice on how to manage the Christmas season workload:

  • Streamline workload in December:  December is stressful because people are tired after a long year. Instead of adding to their stress levels, ensure they are focusing on achievable KPIs and make sure they are remaining productive on the key things that matter, rather than stressed.
  • Ask ‘why’ a project or deadline matters:Is it genuinely important a project is finished by New Year or is the calendar date not material for the goals of the business or project? Whenever thinking about taking on new work in December, honestly assess if the work is worthwhile.
  • Create realistic, achievable targets: Having deadlines only makes sense if the deadline is realistic and the project is genuinely required by Christmas. If your customers, suppliers, investors and pretty much anyone else outside retail is on leave over summer, that’s only going to add to the stress of the employee. On the other hand, a team member who feels like they’ve kicked goals in December is going to feel happy about their role and more likely to be enthusiastic to return.
  • Plan ahead: A leader who gives their team new projects with little to no notice in December is only eroding the respect their team has for them, because they don’t seem like they’re forward planning or thinking strategically. A good leader will have prepared for December and set clear goals.
  • Behave like a leader:Good leaders set achievable goals, empower teams, build up their self-confidence and set them up for success by trusting them and giving them a sense of control over how to do their jobs. They also have a responsibility to optimise the workflow performance of their employees. Throwing a new task into the mix with a 10-day deadline is not the best way to manage workloads or budgets.

“The best leaders look at the big picture, and making sure your staff feel positively about their workplace and morale is high as they head off on holidays is the bigger picture than a short-term to-do list.”

“Why not make sure everyone finishes the year on a high note?”


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