Every employer knows that there is a balance to be found in defining the optimal benefits for their team, covering pay, paid time off and other benefits. In every culture and team I have worked with there is a natural cycle that ends in the winter holiday season. Recognizing this and using it to your advantage, rather than fighting it, brings opportunities to improve the environment and your relationship with your teams.

1. Make the 24th and 31st holidays

Not all days are created equally. On a year when both Christmas and New Year's Day land on Fridays, you can be certain that your teams will be practically switched off and ready for 2 long weekends. So surprise them and give them the extra day or half day that is not currently in your thinking.

2. Consider a complete shutdown

If you can't articulate what is to be delivered on December 28-30 this year, and are not a consumer service business, let reality come into play in your thinking. Give the team a chance to shut down completely.

The majority of businesses accept teams taking days off on an ad hoc basis and indeed generally value people staggering time off. In a project based environment this can actually be counterproductive. Having the whole team out at the same time might be more productive as it then increases the number of days all the team are in and working together.

As well as the benefits to the staff, you can save yourself money too--reduced power bills.

3. Try out working from home

Many firms are still uncomfortable having teams working from home on a regular basis, and that is fine. But over wintry periods, and with longer, darker and harder commutes, as well as most people having to juggle their personal and family commitments to holiday events, there is no better time to give it a go.

Allow your teams to choose to work from home on days that make sense to them over the coming month. You will likely find they will be so keen to prove that they can be trusted with this benefit that you actually see significantly improved productivity on these days, plus freed from the commute they may have more time to put in.

4. Talk with them about the past

Your people may be lucky enough to be walking away with an end of year bonus. Whether you do or do not do this, this December period is an ideal time to reflect on the past year, and thank your team collectively and individually for their efforts.

A manager who can show the team where they have specifically advanced the business over the prior year is likely to engender the type of loyalty that is required to build a long term sustainable growth picture.

5. Talk with them about the future

Not many business leaders avoid strategy and planning sessions in December. Don't keep the results and thinking just to the management team though. Recognize the important part these sessions and their results can have in the thinking and loyalty of your teams.

Present to them the challenges and opportunities for the coming year. Make them want to take them on with you. Help them avoid any soul-searching that may lead them to question their place in your company and start looking outside the firm. Be aware of the fact that many employees will be taking stock of their internal and external options in the New Year.