The Year End Slump
It’s that time of year — the 100-day dash between late summer and mid-Fall where employees and managers alike try to complete projects and connect with clients before the holiday season pulls everyone away from their desks.
For many industries, the end of the year is a traditionally slow time. After summer vacation, we get into gear in the early fall months and naturally slow down our efforts as the year comes to a close. But does it have to be that way?
Whether your team slows down because customer requests slow down, or simply from exhaustion from a high-performance year, here are five things you can do to keep their energy up through the impending end of the year slump:
1. Proactively address seasonal depression
While the end of the year slump has many contributing factors, it also one big complicating factor: up to 20% of the population (and therefore your team) suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the more mild form of seasonal depression called “the winter blues.”
It’s not your job to manage your team’s health, of course, but you can do a lot to energize your team just by practicing basic SAD prevention in the office: encourage your team to get moving (especially outdoors in the sun), try to provide an antidote to individual SAD symptoms, and skip the sugary and caffeine-filled holiday treats (which can make depression symptoms worse) for healthy snacks.
2. Approach time with some creativity
Time delivers two blows to employees during the fall and winter: Daylight Savings Time, which snatches an hour of daylight from the majority of the United States and heralds the impending cold weather, and (in client-based industries) a never-ending schedule of holiday parties. These changes seem rather superficial, but there’s a real cost to them: one study estimates DST costs employers $434 million annually, and — depending on how serious you want to get about workplace shenanigans — holiday parties come with their own dangers!
Here are a few ideas to help you approach these time management crunches with a creative mindset:
- Sponsor upbeat events that take the pressure off your employee’s schedules, such as an all-hands hot breakfast for the early hours or a grab-and-go dinner in the evening
- Brainstorm your team’s policy for employees with children who experience child care issues during rougher weather and announce it before the weather gets bad
- Pitch your holiday party as a New Year’s party and hold it in January to free up at least one weekend for your employees
3. Don’t let empty seats affect morale
A mass exodus of team members taking time off at once can make those left behind feel like they’re on vacation, too. And let’s face it, in late December, most offices resemble the set of the apocalyptic I Am Legend than they do It’s a Wonderful Life.
The traditional solution is to schedule time off in waves so that there’s always a core team working and motivating each other to stay on top of tasks. Depending on your location, team size, and resources, you could also boost morale by arranging a working field trip at a more relaxed or exotic locations, such as a local co-working space, sister company, or coffee shop. Being in a new setting will spark a sense of adventure and creativity but also distract from the number of coworkers on leave.
4. Catch year-end goals before they expire
Most companies use the fresh new month of January to set work and professional development goals for the year… and they don’t look at them again until the following January.
If your team makes goals at the beginning of the year, October, November, and December are a great time to check in and push through any last minute professional development or achievements. For example, if you have a group of employees that set a goal to read four business books by the end of the year, November is a great time to check in on the goal and see if they can fit it in before progress reviews come around again in January.
5. Lean into the slower rhythm
These suggestions aside, there’s one more thing you can do about lowered productivity at the end of the year: nothing. After all, no Olympian trains year-round — they all know rest and recovery are just as important as the intense work they do at other times of the year, and creativity and innovation require the same kind of mental downtime.
So, as long as core functions are covered and your team takes action on opportunities that do come up, why not consider leaning into the slump and using it as a found opportunity for culture development? Your otherwise overworked team will benefit from a naturally slower period that allows them to build up momentum for the new year.
When your workflow naturally ebbs toward the end of the year, don’t take it as the end of the world. Use these tips to help your team be as productive as possible whenever they’re on the clock — or as permission to embrace the slump as part of what makes your company perform so well the rest of the year.