Staff motivation presents a holiday challenge

Time off, a dip in activity, and end-of-the-year bonuses are what come to mind for most employees in December.

Time off, a dip in activity, and end-of-the-year bonuses are what come to mind for most employees in December.

However, figuring out ways to keep staffers motivated becomes the focal point of management throughout the holiday season.

Michael Kempner, president and CEO of the MWW Group, says addressing his employees' inevitable frame-of-mind shift begins as early as October.

Even before holiday items hit the stores, Kempner speaks with his staff and executive committee in formal and informal meetings during October and November to "validate the issue that it's hard to work [during the holidays]."

Kempner says being transparent with everyone is the key to seasonal stability. He also explains that despite a scaled-down staff and motivation not being at its peak, the firm must still provide a high level of service and value to clients.

"If we don't, we are cheating our clients and the firm," he explains. "So this is something we talk about every year, and [we're] conscious of the feelings [employees] have."

And Kempner isn't immune to some of those feelings.

"Who really wants to work during Christmas? They don't and I don't," he admits.

But Kempner is also fully aware that he establishes the tone for the agency, and his attitude has a direct effect on everyone else.

"I set the example," he stresses. "I need to work the hardest and need to be the most upbeat."

Still, MWW isn't all work and no play at year's end, Kempner notes. The firm holds holiday parties for its employees, he says, and everyone is presented with some type of bonus, whether it's a gift certificate or cash reward.

Maureen Lippe, president of Lippe Taylor, believes the best gift she can give her staff is vacation time. For the past 10 years, the firm has closed its office between Christmas and New Year's.

"Philosophically, I think time off is important to keep people motivated, energized, and still loving the agency," Lippe explains.

Even when the office is closed, however, Lippe says there is always a receptionist working, adding that the agency is open for any staff member who wants to come in and "get double pay" during the holiday week.

"Our clients know we're closed, but they have our cell-phone numbers and we are all on call 24 hours a day [if need be]," she adds.

As an extra bonus this year, Lippe says she recently announced that the agency would now pay for every staff members' insurance.

"We have had a great couple of years," she says. "It's something we can afford to do and we feel it's the right thing to do."

Of course, seasonal staff-enthusiasm issues can surface more than once a year, warns Kempner.

"It's not just [at] Christmas. People don't really want to work in August, either," he says. "But we understand there are rhythms and cycles of every business, and the cycles don't change that much from year to year.

"As long as you are conscious of them," Kempner adds, "you will put in those programs, incentives, and motivations that are necessary during those times."

Key points:

Keeping staff motivated to work is an inescapable holiday-season challenge

The attitudes of senior-level executives set the tone for the rest of the firm

Despite your end-of-year challenges, clients still expect and deserve high-level service

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