How to keep decking the halls from wrecking your career

’Tis the season to be jolly distracted.
Many employees hit a productivity slump this time of year as visions of gift-giving and taking time off dance through their heads. A recent OfficePulse survey by the Captivate digital media company found that more than 58% of workers plan to do some sort of online shopping from the office on Cyber Monday alone, and more than one in four (29%) said that working the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a “waste of time.”
Last year, three in four workers confessed to holiday shopping at work on their company computer, according to staffing firm Robert Half Technology. And a U.K. survey found that most employees (61%) were already “checked out” at work by November last year, distracted by Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday ushering in Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s. Four in 10 also admitted to holiday shopping online at work; another one-third were planning holiday trips and get-togethers during office hours; and 16% even confessed to making their spirits bright by drinking on the job.
A Colorado worker in the landscaping industry, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted he recently spent a slow snow day on the job browsing Amazon and HSN on his phone. “The snow accumulation wasn’t enough for us to do snow removal, but just enough to prevent us from doing any of our normal duties,” he told Moneyish. “(So) I was doing Christmas shopping for my girlfriend, parents and brother. I did some shopping during our break time, and occasionally looked at some things with our down time.”
And separating personal and professional time during the holidays is especially tough for remote workers like Kimberly Back, a content division manager for telecommute jobs service Virtual Vocations. The Kentucky mother of two juggles editing and team-leading with taking care of her 3-year-old and 10-year-old year-round, but Thanksgiving and Christmas takes the daily hustle to new heights.
“The shopping lists are the most distracting, because it’s really convenient for me to use Amazon and other sites, because I’m always here to get the deliveries,” Back, 33, told Moneyish. “And I find that sometimes that 15-minute break might turn into 25 if I find a sale or start looking for something for the kids.”
But then she’ll also eye her living room window and feel compelled to decorate it with twinkling Christmas lights. Or she’ll start meal-planning for Thanksgiving, which then leads to an hour-long detour to the grocery store while she’s picking her kid up from school. So she crams in work before her kids wake up early in morning, and after they go to sleep at night, and then she also blocks off alternating hours to focus on work and holiday play throughout the day. “I’ve learned that if you really plan out your day that way, you can multi-task and do some cooking or some decorating while you’re working, and it helps break up the monotony of just working all of the time,” she said.
Of course, it’s easier than ever for even the most focused person to get sidetracked into comparing prices on toys or flights when they’re getting bombarded by emails, push notifications, tweets and ads across their devices 24/7. “The biggest challenge we have in business is not a lack of talent, or a lack of ability, or a lack of desire — it’s a lack of focusing on the right things in general, even beyond the scope of the holidays,” said corporate consultant Weldon Long, the author of “Consistency Selling” who trains employees at Fortune 500 companies like FedEx and Home Depot.
And a recent survey from team messaging app RingCentral Glip found that one-third of today’s workforce (including managers and C-suite execs) disengage or “check out” at work for at least one hour each day. “We see that people are being bombarded by information, which is great because so much information is available, but now we need better ways to manage it,” said Mike Pugh, the vice president of collaboration at RingCentral Glip. So he suggests that employers “make lemonade out of lemons” by recognizing that workers will be distracted, and giving them the flexibility to check off their holiday to-do lists, plus incentives to keep working.
“Figure out how to work with the holidays — like calling the Wednesday before Thanksgiving a work-from-home day, so people can prepare their big meal and get the house ready for guests … but people who have projects or customers who need support can still work,” he said, adding that this is also a great way for your business to take letting employees work remotely on a test-drive, since it’s just one day, and a day when not much work often gets done anyway. The same could be done on Christmas or New Year’s Eves.
Or he suggested that businesses throw a Cyber Monday party by giving workers an hour in the morning or the afternoon to do their online shopping all at once. “They’re going to do it anyway, so let’s put it in a ‘box’ where we can have some fun (like getting snacks in the break room) … but then when that hour is up, it’s back to work,” he said.
That’s why Cathy Decker, 53, leans into these seasonal distractions at her Manhattan PR firm. She lets her Decker/Royal Agency staff run errands or make holiday plans on company time as long as they get their work done. “All employees have access to cloud-based computer and phone systems, which means they can work at any time and from anywhere,” she said. “This ‘always-on’ mentality also means that we give our team the freedom to make their own choices that suit their lives; a 3 p.m. yoga class, a trip to go holiday shopping during the ‘traditional workday’, or working from home to get started on holiday cookies –- all fine as long as deadlines are met.”
Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock
Many workers report a productivity slump around the holidays.
But the big no-nos are missing an editorial deadline, skipping conference calls or meetings, dropping the ball on a group project and letting calls or texts go unanswered for too long. “It’s one thing to step out for 30 minutes, maybe an hour (which we do encourage for exercise or whatever), and another to be gone for the afternoon with no warning or advance notice,” she explained.
And feel out your workplace culture to get a sense of whether coming in a little late or leaving a little early to get some shopping done is OK, or if it’s all right to browse some steal and deals on your work computer. Ask what your colleagues or doing, or check with your manager about company policy. “If your company has certain sites like social media and Amazon blocked (on your workplace devices), that’s a pretty strong message that you should not be messing around,” said Long. “And obviously if I’m working on a production line, I’m not going to have that luxury,” of spending time swiping through your phone.
You also don’t want to be caught browsing a retail or travel site while in a meeting, or to be seen slacking off while the rest of your team is rushing to get a project done before the holidays. “There’s nothing worse than when you’re working hard, trying to get stuff done -- and then you look across the room and seeing someone else shopping on Amazon,” said Long.