I've never understood sitting in a cold tree waiting for the chance to see an animal walking by. But I do understand that many people miss work this time of year to do just that. And many miss work or slack off a bit while planning, experiencing, and retelling holiday events.

While the ebb and flow of social diversions is a year-round reality, the fourth quarter is hit especially hard. Combined with the common end-of-year push to hit the numbers, hunting and holidays can increase conflict, confusion, apathy, and expenses. You know it's coming. So how do you keep it from interfering with output, profits, and customer service?

As with any other predictable interruption to your supply chain, you can suffer through it, you can try to prevent it, or you can make alternative plans.

1. Suffer through it
The victim mentality of "there's nothing I can really do" does not help your bottom line. Bad choice, if the absenteeism and holiday spirit are likely to interfere with your business. Piñata as corporate icon does not inspire confidence by your employees, customers, or suppliers.

2. Try to prevent it
One of my college jobs involved the management of high school students. I soon learned that when they asked for Friday night off to attend the football game, I had two choices. I could give it to them and they would return to work on Saturday, or I could refuse it, and they would not show up Friday night anyway, and I would be shorthanded. I also noticed that as the event approached, they talked a lot about who was going with whom, and following it, they talked about who left with whom, and who wore what.

Adults also are very capable of finding a way to do what is important to them. And they also talk with co-workers about life matters that are significant to them personally. While losing a job over it may be a much bigger decision for an adult, a work environment that doesn't support their personal needs to at least some degree can limit the ability to hire and retain the best talent.

You can remind people of your attendance policies, you can tell them that they need to concentrate on their work, you can plead that they not lose focus. Yet it's rare to legislate behavior successfully. You have a better chance of preventing the problems presented by hunting and holidays with a long term rather than episodic approach.

3. Make alternative plans
Size up the potential problem. Look at prior years behavior -- yours, your employees', your competitors', and your customers'. Has your company's performance traditionally suffered during this kind of social diversion? Have your customers and competitors traditionally experienced a drop off in focus and efficiency? If they have, you may be able to utilize this period to enhance your value-added to customers and step in front of your competitors. Not just maintain, but also gain ground.

Talk with your employees about the challenge, and the opportunity, that this type of personal distraction presents to the organization. Discuss with them the potential impact on the competitiveness of your company. They want your company to succeed so they can retain good jobs, they want to have fun at work, and they want to take time off for things that are important to them. This combination does not make them bad people. It does help them understand the problem. It can also help them help you develop the solution. Find out.

Providing a fun place to work, with a focus on innovation, safety, quality, delivery, and cost should be a year-round venture. Take the opportunity of these next few weeks to work with your employees to begin to institutionalize both fun and success. "Job" does not have to equal "misery," and "fun" does not have to equal "costly." You can have a pleasant work environment as well as a profitable one. You owe it to yourself and your employees to make sure you do.


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