BY AMY CASTRO
The holiday season should be a time of peace and joy. However, for most retailers it is one of the most stressful times of the year. Customers are cranky and rushed, and you and your staff are bearing the brunt of their stress while trying to manage your personal and family expectations for the season. In a 2015 survey conducted by Healthline, a consumer health information site, 62 percent of respondents said their stress was “very or somewhat” elevated during the holiday season. Only 10 percent of respondents said they had no stress during the season.
As a business owner or leader, your employees look to you to help them stay focused on what’s really important this holiday season and your customers expect, at minimum, that their stress won’t increase when they come into your business. To keep happiness up and stress down, here are some things you can do to avoid the “holidaze” this year.
Plan Your Holiday Schedule
One of the best things you can do for your customers and your business at this time of year is to plan holiday scheduling well before the holiday season. Talk to your employees about time off so expectations can be set and everyone has time to plan. Lisa Barclay and Glenna Becknell are co-owners of Mann’s Best Friend in Oklahoma City.
“We try to plan ahead and make sure everyone has their requests to be off submitted by the end of October; that way we know where we stand for the holidays,” Barclay said.
Although it’s tempting to be a martyr and work straight through the holidays, you owe it to your loved ones and your employees to ensure you get some time off to relax and rejuvenate, too.
Get Extra Help
Hiring extra help can be a great way to take the pressure off existing staff when things get busy during the holidays. If you know you’ll need extra help for the season, start interviewing and get temp staffers on board early so you’ll have time to properly train them. Waiting until the holiday rush increases rather than decreases stress because your temps don’t know the job well enough and the extra work of helping them falls on your staff.
Lauren and Michael O’Hanlon of Ruff House All Natural Pet Food and Supplies in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are a one- or two-person operation most of the time. When it comes to getting a break, Michael said they have a third person they bring in on a temporary basis so they can get some needed time off.
“Once we know where we need help, we have college students who come back to help us year after year for the holidays and for special events,” Barclay said.
Spend Time Communicating
As a communication expert, I know great communication with your staff is especially critical this time of year. It’s tempting to take the “Everyone just pitch in and do what needs to be done” approach, but your best bet is to take time each day to ensure everyone clearly understands their roles—especially if you’re shifting responsibilities or adding new ones.
Since the season is about giving thanks and being grateful, it’s also important to communicate your appreciation to employees for the good work they do by giving them lots of positive feedback.
Set the Tone
As a leader, whatever mood you bring to work in the morning is the one that sets the tone for the day—not only for your staff, but your customers too. Take some time in the morning to focus on the positive aspects of your life and what you’re grateful for. Greet your staff when you come in and tell them why it’s going to be a great day. Of course, no matter how positive we are, things are not always going to go perfectly. When things go wrong, don’t dwell on the problem. Instead, take a deep breath and focus on the solution.
Michael O’Hanlon said one of the ways they set the mood for the holidays is with fun decorations and by playing holiday music to get people in a good mood. They also make it a family affair, bringing their two children to the store.
“Our customers love seeing our kids here. We also get a lot of families with kids that come in and they enjoy the decorations and interacting with our kids,” he said.
Since the holidays are a time of giving, create opportunities for your employees and customers to give back to the community. Two years ago, the Ruff House started a program where customers who donate $5 get a Christmas stocking the store fills with treats and donates to local rescues and shelters. Michael O’Hanlon said, “Many of our customers take the stockings home for their kids to decorate and then they bring it back to us to fill and donate. It’s something people seem to really enjoy participating in.”
Customers Are Stressed, Too
Holiday stress can turn a customer who is normally patient and kind into someone who is cranky and on edge. When you’re faced with an unhappy customer, you and your staff have a choice to make. Do you want to be the gasoline or the water on customers’ smoldering emotions? In other words, the things you do and say can either make the situation worse or make it better. Especially at the holidays, employees need to be on their best behavior and exhibiting their very best customer service and communication skills.
Since finances are one of the biggest stressors at the holidays, if you can help customers save money at this time, they’ll really appreciate it. Both the Ruff House and Mann’s Best Friend offer special coupons and discounts during the holidays as a way to surprise and delight their customers.
It doesn’t take much effort or money to help reduce stress levels for everyone in your store. Fun contests are one way to do that. You could try a decorating contest for employees, having individuals or teams take responsibility for a different department or section. You can get customers involved in the competition, too, by asking them to vote on their favorite decorations.
It’s also important to take time to have a little fun or help employees relax. A holiday lunch or breakfast can help put everyone in a festive mood. Consider having employees bring in their favorite holiday treat.
“We try to stock up on food and goodies, so when employees are rushed, they can grab something,” Barclay said. “We don’t want them hangry and it really helps with morale.” Barclay said they also provide food to customers to “give them a burst of happy!”
Barclay noted that her store’s two resident cats help with stress reduction, too: “People will just come in to pet them. It helps with stress and creates a friendly and more relaxed atmosphere.”