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Internal Communications and Holiday Season Burnout

It’s the end of the season and I’m really looking forward to the break. For a variety of reasons, many of which involve a two-year old, December is hitting me really hard this year. It has made me more aware of the effort required to think creatively and to keep doing my best work.

In short, I’m burning out. It feels weird to write this, as though there’s some shame associated with admitting fatigue. But the process of becoming fatigued can result from the energy expended in work and being engaged.

A few weeks back, we posted our Insight article, Understanding Engagement, which looked at engagement and burnout through the research of Christine Maslach and her colleagues.

Maintaining the psychological presence that characterizes engagement is energy-intensive. In the engagement-burnout model presented by Maslach et alengagement is described by three dimensions: vigor, dedication, and absorption. A person is engaged when they report high levels of feeling in those three dimensions. When energy levels are scraping bottom, the ability to experience sustained periods of vigor just doesn’t happen as often. It’s actually harder—either mentally or physically—to be engaged and some down-time is needed to get back on your game.

For many people, there will be a chance to recharge over the holiday break. For others, such as those working in the retail industry, this will be the busiest time of year and people need to be “on”. To help carry employees through the season, this is a perfect time for us as business leaders and communicators to reinforce some of the other factors contributing to engagement. The Maslach Burnout model identifies six factors that significantly influence engagement:

  • Workload
  • Perceived fairness of the organization
  • Community and social support of the employees
  • Personal control over the work
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Alignment of values between the employee and the organization

If we work on the assumption that, for whatever reason, workload can’t decrease at this time, we need to identify other ways to make engagement possible. Perceived fairness relates to trust and organizational justice which are processes and can only be affected over time. While every workplace is different, I see the greatest general opportunities in connecting with employees on values, support, recognition, and control (as it relates to ownership of the role).

Retail Employees
For those in the retail crunch, staying focused on the short-term is paramount, and there is a huge opportunity for connecting with customers on an emotional level. For many people, this is the most stressful time of year, and purchasing gifts is one of the most anxiety-ridden activities. The female customer is often caught in a dual role today; she is frequently holding down a job but also holds most of the responsibility for covering the holiday domestic responsibilities as well as the bulk of gift purchases. Her “to-do” list is staggering.

For many men, shopping is an ordeal at the best of times, on par with some of the most stressful activities they will experience. Venturing into stores during the holidays can actually be accompanied by dangerously high blood pressure levels.

This is a chance for us to reinforce to retail employees how much impact they have at this time of year on peoples’ lives. More than ever, they have the power to make people happy. And not just “satisfying retail experience” happy; the expectations of the holiday season go deeply into family dynamics and personal feelings. The helpful gesture to the harried parents, the extra touch for the rushed career-woman, the guidance for the shell-shocked boyfriend, they all go further now than at any other time of year.

For employees to go that extra distance for customers,  they need to refresh and replenish themselves. If there was ever a time to take care of your people, this is it. Not only is this their busiest time of year at work, but they are also sons and daughters, partners in relationships, and parents. Whatever you can do to help your retail frontline through their holiday season frees them to do their best work for your customers. Make sure they know about the support and resources available to them; make it easy for them to use it. Help them stay happy and healthy through this seasonal “slam”; your people will appreciate it and your customers will feel the benefit.

Non-Retail Employees
For businesses that don’t experience a spike during December, this is an opportunity for the company leadership to reach out to employees, to reflect on why the company does what it does, on the values that underlie the actions, and to recognize the successes and performances of the past year. Open the company culture up to simple and genuine appreciative expressions. Being appreciative has a bigger impact on a sense of well-being than being appreciated; create opportunities for people to say “thank you”. Send people into their holidays with a sense of the meaningfulness of their work, of the big picture, and of the value they bring with their efforts. Help them come back refreshed, enthusiastic, thinking about what the company is trying to accomplish overall and feeling empowered to innovate in their roles to do that better.

Best Wishes
Livewire offices close for the holiday season (a special and enthusiastic ‘thank you’ to Briare, Mark and Scott for that!). I’m looking forward to the break for my family’s Christmas, and the fresh perspective of the New Year.

On behalf of myself and all of us at Livewire, happy holidays.

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