Reactions to the holiday season can run the gamut. Some people are brightly cheerful but busy with holiday plans, while others dread the chintzy gift exchanges, poppy music and obligations of the season – meaning it isn’t always easy to manage employees effectively during an already manic, often rushed time.
HR Dive spoke to Brady G. Wilson, co-founder of corporate training company Juice, Inc., to discuss ways employers can help guide their employees through the holidays – and beyond. It all starts with rethinking employee engagement, he said.
Where engagement went wrong
The engagement we have now is not sustainable, Wilson said.
When employee engagement first became an industry buzzword, employers were excited, thinking it would be a great way to inject energy into a company’s culture. But over time, the definition of expected “engagement” largely devolved into a policy of “come in early, stay late,” Wilson said, with employers expecting more commitment, more loyalty and more effort.
“What’s missing from that definition is resiliency, passion, vitality, being able to do the type of work you feel like you can do….this sense of bringing spirit and verve to your work,” Wilson said.
In other words, people are engaged, but they are depleted – exhausted.
That means managers need to approach engagement, especially around the holidays, with careful, meaningful conversations with their employees. Managers need to understand what will help their employees return to work feeling rejuvenated and ready to work, instead of setting up a work environment that only allows employees time to escape the pressures of work and return still mentally exhausted.
One way managers can help their employees: learn how to do “energy checks” one-on-one, as Wilson calls them. If managers can help employees “manage their energy,” important neurotransmitters can be released, including serotonin, which helps employees feel creative, confident and more connected to one another, he explained.
Strategies to ‘manage energy’
“The amalgam of people during the holidays creates a funky energy,” he said. “Cortisol and adrenaline start to create a toxic soup in our brains that causes us to be a little more rigid, defensive, shut down and not as open.”
In turn Wilson provided three strategies that managers can use to help employees open up and feel more connected.
First: Opening up the definition of innovation. Everyone says it is a priority, Wilson said, but “significant masses of employees” don’t understand what employers mean when they ask for it. Wilson’s group provides a way for managers to help bring out “group brilliance,” where each employee is encouraged to bring his or her unique thinking style to the group.
Second: Conversation practice. Many managers are trained on how to handle “difficult conversations,” but then only use that training during those difficult “episodes” throughout organizational life. The same amount of awareness and skillfulness that is applied during those episodes should be applied during daily life, Wilson said. Listen intently to employees, be respectful and always start conversations with the facts first – no assuming.
Third: Energy checks. While many managers are keen on speaking to employees about their goals, managers should also ask their employees, “What energizes you at work?”
Starting with this question can lead to a deeper line of questioning that gets at the core of what employees want in their work environment – and what they don’t want. Once an employee starts talking about what is energizing, a manager can ask why that action is important, and so on.
Ultimately, a manager should be asking, “How can we preserve the things that are energizing you and get rid of the things that aren’t?” Wilson said.
Such lines of questioning are particularly important around the holidays, where a genuine interest in the well-being of employees can go a long way, he added. An employee who dislikes the holidays may need a manager who recognizes the difficulty of the season and asks what they can do to help. On the other hand, an employee who has a lot going on during the holidays may need help feeling more “even.”
And for employees who may be new to the American holiday season, simply acknowledging that the time is a little mystifying can help.
“It has a capacity for being a time that could be great for us, or not,” Wilson said. “Could we be more mindful of how to deal with each other so we all feel rejuvenated when we return? It needs to be an honest team conversation.”