The holiday season is getting closer, so I'll start with a little personal holiday story that still makes me shake my head. I worked at a company that made everyone work the day after Thanksgiving.

It seemed that literally nobody else was working (save the poor saints working retail), but there we were, clocked in at 8:15 a.m. like always. And what did we do that day while our peers and competitors slept off a turkey hangover? We set up the Christmas tree and got drunk together by lunchtime.

The moral of this story is that nobody wanted this. We were forced to be there, and under the fake facade of loyalty we showed up. What did my employer expect? Certainly not that I would be three martinis deep tangled in strands of twinkly lights. Small seeds of resentment become sown every time leaders don't take into account what's best for their people.

With that in mind, here are a few things that could be killing employee productivity:

Your people likely aren't wired like you

Now the tables are turned and I'm the business owner. I've always given my staff the flexibility to work from home as long as it's not abused. Despite by best efforts, I quickly got the reputation that although the flexible work edict came from me, I was still pissed if they weren't in the office. Because it's how I work best.

Have you ever heard the saying, "No one will work for your company as hard as you do?" I have. And I used to buy into it. But the truth is, I wasn't always giving my employees the right opportunity to work as hard as I do because I expected them to be like me.

Performance will suffer if employees don't understand their role

Because your staff isn't just like you, it's difficult to know what motivates them. There's one simple thing that can be done: set clear expectations -- something that, according to Gallup, can't be said for half of all employees today.

If only half of employees know what is expected of them, defining what success looks like has the power to make or break employee commitment. Even if your staff feels energized and motivated, without clear expectations they'll waste too much time working on the wrong things and in turn provide zero value within your organization.

It's up to leadership to take a hard look at the individual and realize that just because they may not be succeeding right now doesn't mean they don't care or are unable -- they may just be miscast.

Don't let the competition communicate better than you

If you've spent time pulling out all the stops to turn customers into raving, loyal fans, consider the same strategies to your own teams. In an ideal world, your employees would be bought in fully by the mere idea of just showing up for work every day.

We all know that's not reality. Why? Employees first have to be engaged -- and it's up to you to find ways to engage them. Engaged individuals are more likely to tell positive stories not about what they do, but how they do it and whom they do it with.

Companies that demonstrate that they care about their employees will keep their best people from contemplating the shade of grass on the other side because they'll know exactly what their company offers and, more importantly, what they can offer as a part of it.

I launched LeadMD in 2009 and for the first time ever I've decided to close down the week between Christmas and New Years' this year. And here's the thing--it was a really hard decision. We are a service-based business and our customers are used to having us on hand.

I also don't love the lack of productivity that week brings, but I hate even more the human capital loss that happens when someone is forced to be where they don't want to be.

The biggest lesson from this decision? I learned that they really cared about this week. Like, really cared. Once I sent out the company-wide message via Slack, I was bombarded with grateful gifs full of Will Ferrell doing the Carleton in ugly Christmas sweaters.

Funny? Yes. But when one of my managers sent a note saying that she was so happy to not have to deny requests off for her team, I realized just how much the path to engagement runs directly through empathy.

To activate and engage your team, you have to think like them - put yourself in their shoes. People wait all year to send time with family at Christmas. Do you want to be known as the barrier or the enabler of that expectation fulfillment?

You need to trust your staff -- so give them opportunities to earn it

It all sounds great, until you realize that the workload doesn't take the week off. Setting guidelines and expectations for individuals not only increases a sense of self-value, but it solidifies a two-way trust.

It's saying, I trust you to get all your stuff done now because you trust me to give you a week off. At the same time, keep expectations high and communicate clearly so you don't feel like your goodwill is being taken advantage of. I find that in the majority of situations, people respond more positively to "figure it out" than "I've figured it out for you." You hired these individuals to solve problems - give them the opportunity to do so.

From a business perspective, the true meaning of the holiday season is ensuring that your people find meaning in what they do. Your job as a leader is to inspire employees to care as much about their jobs as you care about running a successful company, and that requires clarity, communication and trust. If you provide all of those, then go ahead and close down shop for a week - everyone will have earned it.

Published on: Nov 22, 2017