There are plenty of good reasons to unwind in all that downtime at the end of the year, but sometimes it is false downtime. In other words, you've stopped working when there are things to be done which creates stress before and after the Christmas period. Somehow you need to reduce this downtime and strike a balance between fun and work.
One of the main reasons for causing an uneven workload is through too many employees taking leave during the Christmas period, so you need to have a clear leave strategy in place.
This enables you to plan to make sure work gets done — and that co-workers who are left behind are not overloaded — thus ruining their Christmas period.
Let's take a look at some ways you can minimise downtime.
Planning in Advance
Set expectations early. If you haven't got a leave strategy in place, then at least block off some critical dates in advance where employees cannot be absent.
You can always use some form of bartering or trading of leave so that your company is covered — and perhaps those who do forego their leave at critical periods are rewarded in some way (perhaps with extra leave in other periods).
Your strategy should aim to let everyone know what the situation is and that some people are not being favoured unduly.
Critical — non-critical?
Don't forget, it's healthy to have some fun and a little downtime during Christmas — if only for the sake of morale and a chance to wind down rather than working flat out right up until Christmas Eve.
In this case, develop a critical workload path so that you are not carrying out non-critical projects in the Christmas period. This enables a more even flow that could be done before and after the Christmas period.
Stay on top
If necessary, get written project updates so that you can stay right on top of what's being done. Sometimes it is easy for key workers to disappear without others knowing what has to be done (especially where unexpected illnesses occur).
Knowing the status of all projects helps you determine what actions need to be taken during leave.
If there is simply nothing to be done — in which case customers and promises aren't being left unfulfilled, then instead of reducing downtime, you may have to start thinking ahead — or thinking creatively to make best use of it.
Look ahead to anything that may be coming up and see how you can prepare manpower or resources to cope with it. This could simply mean having these resources contacted and made aware well before time. It might involve simply researching information you are going to need or merely tidying up existing files and contact details. In other words, it is best to do anything, however small, to make the forthcoming workload more manageable.
When it's over
When the Christmas period is over, there is always the 'return to work' lethargy to cope with. People have been away from jobs and the work routine en-masse, and so need to refocus.
You can help encourage this by allowing people to catch up with their emails and voicemails rather than leap into any new projects right away. It's all a question of planning with a little insight and creativity.
Remember, there's always something that can be done in downtime and there's no reason why Christmas downtime can't be fun and productive.