Yule school: Handling workplace distractions during the holidays

Holiday distractionsNo manager wants to come across as Scrooge, but all of the interruptions to “business as usual” during the holiday season can make any leader not so jolly.

Before reining in the merriment, though, remember that seasonal activities in the workplace can contribute to morale, employee bonding, and company loyalty.

Might there be a way to have your sugar cookie and eat it too? Consider these possibilities for handling common Yuletide dilemmas:

Treats and activities

Secret Santa exchanges, potluck lunches, wrapping presents for needy kids, endless plates of goodies . . . how does productivity (not to mention your waistline) stand a chance?

Consider forming a committee early in the season (before impromptu celebrations start popping up) to develop a plan that takes both company needs and staff desires into account.

Things members should consider include:

  • Limiting disruption of work time
  • Utilizing lunch periods (or perhaps the last hour of the day on Friday)
  • Costs
  • Keeping the number of activities reasonable (perhaps one a week or one large gathering)
  • Inclusiveness/variety
  • Setting up in a conference room or other designated area away from colleagues who are trying to work.

By establishing an agenda, everyone will know what events are ahead and can budget their time (and calories) appropriately.


What’s the harm of adding holiday cheer to one’s cubicle? Plenty, if a motion-activated snowman croons “Frosty” every time a co-worker walks past.

Offices that allow (or encourage) individuals to decorate should establish ground rules. Anything that makes noise, continuously diverts attention (think blinking lights), extends into another person’s territory, or poses movement challenges (no blow-up Bumble Snow Monster blocking the doorway, please) needs to stay at home (and ditto for religious objects).

To set a festive mood without the workplace turning into a hodgepodge holiday village, consider springing for professional-looking additions such as wreaths and poinsettias.

Online shopping

Yes, you could monitor computer usage or block certain sites. However, such measures can make employees feel like untrusted children eager to rebel by hiding out in the bathroom using their smartphones instead.

Focusing on performance may be a better option. As long as workers are meeting goals, treat them as professionals capable of watching their own behavior.

They’ll appreciate your trust, and you can spend time on more important things than playing detective. If problems do arise, speak with individuals rather than punishing the group.

Or, consider this novel approach from Cristian Rennella, CEO and co-founder of oMelhorTrato.com: “After many years of struggling with this problem, what we determined is that on Tuesday and Thursday you can take the last 30 minutes of work to look for gifts online.

“This way no one is hiding. We do it as a group activity where we search and recommend websites where to buy (with promotions and discounts) and the best ideas for gifts. The truth is that this way of doing it has been excellent for everyone as a team!”

External obligations

Employees thinking about costumes for the upcoming church pageant or how to get the house prepared before the in-laws arrive probably aren’t giving work projects their all. Managers may want to allow extra flexibility during this busy season as a way to promote staying on task.

“During the holidays, it is hard for everyone to pay attention because while you are at work your mind can fly out of focus,” says Joanna Douglas, owner of Clean Affinity Cleaning Service.

“I notice that my employees talk about buying gifts, how to save up on the holidays, and how many family members they should invite to a Christmas party. Although these are pretty innocent things to talk about, in the midst of talking they completely forget about what they need to do. So what I do is tell them to finish their work first. If they are able to finish all their work for the day, I will let them leave early to finish all of their errands for the holidays.”


Between “use or lose” vacation days and personal obligations, Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a peak time for people being out of the office. A central calendar that shows who will be gone on what days gives others on staff a heads-up and allows for much more efficient scheduling.

And when the office isn’t bustling, encourage those remaining to use the situation to their advantage. “Holidays can be a great time to focus on projects that continually get pushed to the side during the rest of the year,” says David Waring, co-founder of Fit Small Business.