As Halloween comes to a close and attention turns to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, you’ll probably notice a perceptible dip in employee productivity.

With Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—and expectations—your team members are pulled in many different directions.

Unfortunately, work productivity tends to suffer during this period. Although it’s impossible to avoid the holidays altogether as a business leader, there are some proven methods to keeping a workforce on track and focused despite the mad crush to January 1st.

The key is to have realistic expectations while still demanding a high quality of output. You shouldn’t work your team into the ground, but you can foster an environment where social obligations aren’t ignored and your bottom line still remains strong.

Here are a few suggestions you can use to make this happen:

Map out holiday vacation time in advance

Many employees save up their vacation time until the end of the year, hoping to spend one or more weeks at home with their families, or traveling to meet with loved ones.

This is their prerogative; after all, they have the vacation time for a reason. Still, a business leader has no obligation to allow all his or her employees to leave during the week after Christmas en masse, turning the office into a ghost town.

Before the holiday season gets into full swing, make it clear that you expect a certain number of team members to be present each day that your office is open. This sets up expectations upfront and alerts everyone to more efficiently make decisions on how and when they can use vacation or personal days. In the end, everyone can get a little time off without the company suffering.

Be cautious about allowing work-from-home options

Unless a worker is normally allowed work-from-home options, be careful about granting this privilege during the holidays. The problem is that the employee is likely to be distracted by all his or her demands when working from a residence. You may seem like a Scrooge if you deny this option, but it’s worth a little grumbling from team members to keep your customers happy.

On the other hand, if you feel that your workers are well-versed in successful work-from-home techniques—perhaps they have shown their mettle in this area before—you may wish to grant limited work-from-home opportunities. These can be doled out on a case-by-case basis. Just make sure all work-from-home individuals are monitored for productivity.

They still need to get their daily tasks accomplished, be available to their colleagues during working hours, and so on.

Plan a workplace celebration

The holidays are a time for celebration—you cannot and should not ignore that fact! Most people expect to have some workplace festivities, so don’t let them down. With this being said, your celebration doesn’t have to be over-the-top. A potluck luncheon that lasts well into the afternoon hours can be a perfect way for everyone to take a step back and enjoy some chatter among coworkers. You can even decorate the office; just don’t let decorating take precedence over serving your clients.

Whether or not you engage in a gift exchange is up to you. If you haven’t in the past, poll your employees to see what they want to do. Don’t forget that it’s always nice to get a little present from the business, even if it’s just a gift card to a local coffee shop.

Don’t launch major corporate initiatives in November or December

The end of the year can be a bad time to launch any new initiatives unless they are related to the holiday season. Most employees can only focus with half their brains because of all their other familial and personal commitments; this means your initiative will be difficult to get off the ground.

However, brainstorming during the holidays can be a fun activity toward next year’s planning. Gather your thought leaders together for a discussion of what you can do in the coming 12 months to ratchet up sales and blow the roof off your revenue stream. This technique will also work to create more buy-in from employees who are preoccupied with other items.

Manage client expectations

Clients can be a huge source of stress during the holidays, but only if their expectations haven’t been managed. Never promise—or allow your team members to promise—services or products that absolutely cannot be delivered due to the craziness of November and December. Remember that the adage of “under-promise, over-deliver” has stood the test of time.

Although your customer base may grumble, they cannot argue if you have set up their anticipated delivery dates from the beginning. By being realistic, you will ensure that clientele will still get a high level of service from your company.

Encourage your team members to take breaks

If you have some workaholics on your team, you may notice that they are getting a little overwrought during the holidays. Chances are good that they are burning the candle at both ends, plus the middle. This can lead to illness or serious mental fatigue.

Instead of allowing them to just pick up the slack, encourage them to take breaks. If someone has been pulling a lot of overtime, you may be in a position to give him or her the afternoon off on a Friday. This will help foster a sense of balance and avoid burning out key employees.

Be reasonable

Finally, it’s important to remind yourself that the holidays are a time when you have to be reasonable. You can’t expect employees to stay late every night if they have kid-related holiday programs to attend, parties to go to, or shopping to engage in.

Unless it’s necessary, as in the case of a lawyer who absolutely has to prep a client for a hearing the next day, be understanding about the time that workers can put into their jobs. As long as they are delivering on their expected daily and weekly work hours, they should be allowed to leave at a respectable time.

Don’t forget to take time for yourself

Make sure to take time for yourself, too.

As you focus on your business, you may start to forget that you have responsibilities at home and within your social community as well.

Take pleasure in the holidays, and don’t be tempted to become a martyr so that everyone else on the payroll can enjoy the festivities.

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Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a business blogger with a passion for green initiatives and workplace satisfaction. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter, or at her blog Productivity Theory to learn more about her.