It’s a southern hemisphere thing, I think. Or maybe a New Zealand thing – I can’t be sure – but has anyone else noticed that our business year seems about nine months long, at best? I know a glance at the calendar would have us believe it’s twelve months long, but it isn’t.
And my rationale for saying this? I’ve noticed the wind down to the Christmas break becomes obvious about November each year. It’s apparent in peoples’ thoughts, speech and actions. I’ve observed also that so many businesses are not fully functional again until the first few weeks in February. So, there are approximately three months of every year that features reduced productivity, planned staff absences, holiday mode atmosphere and inaction, in some cases.
My research on this phenomenon in 2002 revealed that the first traces of fatigue and wind-down appear in late October. I heard statements such as ‘we’re looking forward to the end of the year’, ‘everyone’s getting tired, it’s been a busy year’ and ‘thank heavens it’s nearly Christmas’.
In November, the traces vanish and more definite signals appear. Comments abound along the lines of ‘well, let’s wait on this, it’s nearly Christmas’; ‘we’re too busy now with the end of the year stuff, lets wait until next year’ and ‘we’ll put this stuff on hold because we don’t want to think about that at this time’.
December arrives and the signals morph into clarion calls. ‘There’s no point on beginning this, it’s nearly Christmas’; or ‘we’re so busy with end of year functions and winding down, it’ll have to wait’ or ‘it’s only (fill the number) of weeks/days before Christmas, we can’t think about that now’ or ‘well, we close on the 15th, the 20th (fill the number), no can do’. So December finally passes, having been so thoroughly anticipated and well, prepared for, for weeks.
And January is no better. It is filled with the aftermath of Christmas. ‘Well, most of our staff or key persons are away until the 6th, the 13th, the 20th, the 27th’ or ‘the person handling that is the only one who can help you and she/he is away until the (fill the space)’. So too, January passes, with numbers of staff on leave and a skeleton crew holding the fort. And there is the tendency too that although the skeleton crew may be physically back at work, they may be mentally still on leave.
Of course, there are a number of contributing factors to the seasonal slump. It’s the norm and an art form to use the minimum amount of leave around the Christmas and New Year public holidays to get the maximum holiday break.
It is the summer, after all, so add in school holidays and public holidays and the result is a great many people take their holidays. It suits many to do this as it may be the only time available for family holidays and good weather. All are valid reasons – however workplaces do suffer because of it.
My concern is that many businesses can’t afford to lose their momentum and focus, even for a short time. Customers miss out when their supplier is unavailable or ill-equipped to meet requests at this time of year. It means some clients will choose to go elsewhere for better service and not return. Some customers may stay, yet be very irritated at knowing decision makers aren’t available or something can’t be done, The first seeds of discontent are therefore sown.
There are some steps that could be taken to use the seasonal slump to gain an advantage – the least of which is to shut down for a minimal period of time. If you can, stay open around the public holidays and let existing and potential customers know you’re open.
Limiting the number of staff who can be absent in January and ensuring remaining staff are authorised to make decisions, advance issues and well, continue to work, is also useful.
Doing some serious thinking and annual planning in perhaps September each year, is another tactic, so that there are plans for a September-September operational year. This is to enable work to continue through December and January, to minimise down-time and keep the focus. Thinking about beginning the annual planning in February will be way too late – two months of the year is already lost.
Encouraging and requiring staff to take regular leave throughout the year is also useful. It is one way for people to keep their energies up as personal tiredness can be a major contributor to seasonal slump. While a business can carry one person suffering from personal fatigue, it cannot do so for a whole team. Staggered leave ensures staff being available who are fully competent and enthusiastic.
Do know that the whole country doesn’t shut down in December/January. Life goes on, in all facets. Not every person takes all or any of their leave at this time. And slowing down in November, in preparation for December and January, isn’t the best business practice either. There are people in businesses across all sectors and customers everywhere, who need to and want to do business throughout this time. As I see it, any place that avoids the excesses of seasonal slump and minimises its impact from twelve weeks to maybe one, will be a winner. ©