This time of the year presents some interesting decisions for businesses to make in terms of what to acknowledge, say, leverage, or ignore. With so many different constituencies to consider (employees, customers, suppliers, and even competitors), the holidays are fraught with opportunities to stumble.
Employees often come to expect that they will be recognized during the holidays with some combination of the following:
- time off from work – it is not uncommon in some manufacturing companies to take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off as vacation without charging that time against the employees’ vacation time. Establishing expectations upfront so that there are no surprises is of paramount importance.
- Bonuses or additional pay – through the years it has become expected that employees will receive some additional compensation out of the largesse and spirit of the holidays. Except, that when the “gift” is not given – the employer is then cast into the role of being a Scrooge.
- Parties – Many employees come to expect that there will be some get-together or holiday celebration. Depending on the culture of the organization, it may be a more formal occasion where people get dressed formally, invitations are sent, significant others are included; or it may be a simple afternoon meeting in the conference room or an employee’s home where people bring their own home-baked goods or create a potluck meal. The obvious issue for many is the use of alcohol at these functions and what it may lead to in a social situation occurring at work.
- Grab bags – a tradition of exchanging gifts among or between employees. However, the cost, obligation, and tastefulness of gifts often leads to conflict in many companies if the “rules” are not clear upfront.
Customers often expect some sales, promotions, or discounts at this time of the year. The hysteria around Black Friday being the most visible of this expectation. However, there is another issue that businesses have to determine in communicating with their customers at the holiday time. How should the holiday be acknowledged?
- Should it be ignored and not referenced for fear of offending someone?
- Should the neutral “Happy Holidays” reference be used?
- Should a specific reference to a holiday be used (Merry Christmas/Happpy Hannukah/Kwanzaa)?
Unfortunately, the chance to offend some segment of the customer population exists no matter what choice is taken (those that will be offended that nothing is said, that something is said, that the wrong thing is said). However, that possibility exists throughout the year as well. The important thing is to align with YOUR customers and not try to please EVERYONE. Only market to those you wish to retain as customers or hope to solicit as future customers.
Suppliers often have an expectation that is more of an end of the year expectation than a true holiday expectation. In order to make quotas or sales projections, some suppliers will expect their customers to make a large order. Incentives (promotions, discounts, modifications to delivery or payment, etc.) will be offered to try to induce the customer into making a purchase. The holiday will be invoked as a pressure to “get in the spirit of giving” or to act in a way consistent with the intention of the holiday. The subtlity is often removed as suppliers attempt to “load” their customers up with inventory to “make the year.”
Competition will often keep an eye on what others are doing to either mirror it or to differentiate from it to the market. Be aware that in the current age of social media – there is even less that can be kept secret about plans. While there is little that can be done to eliminate it entirely – be aware of the possibilities and plan for it.
Finally, act in a way that is consistent with the company’s (and often, that means your) values. If the holiday holds a significant religious or spiritual meaning to you and that is part of the company’s “DNA” – then wave that flag. If the holiday is a chance to leverage or harness business building opportunities – then do the things that allow you to do that successfully. Should the holidays be a time when the company shows appreciation for their good fortune by doing charitable deeds or making donations – then do that.
Finally, no matter what – may your company know only success and may you personally have happiness and pleasure this holiday and into the New Year.