For many people, it doesn't get much more exciting than the winter holiday season. And even the "grinches," who refuse to enjoy the festivities, are likely counting down the days until their summer vacation. But, there's no escaping the fact that holidays in any season increase the pressure on those left behind.
Think about your own working life. Are there any jobs you've held that haven't been affected by seasonal pressures?
I spent my teenage summers serving drinks in the stylish setting of an opera house in peak season. But later, when I was an English teacher at a private school, the quiet months between academic years were far more frugal.
And then there was the month I spent picking grapes in an Italian vineyard, which – as anyone who's done this work knows – is far less romantic than it sounds! We were up at the crack of dawn, laboring at the vines until the scorching midday sun made it impossible to continue.
For the owner of the vineyard, this was a crucial period that he could not afford to mess up. He needed flexible but reliable workers to complete the harvest safely and on time, bringing a year's hard work literally to fruition.
It's not just in the foothills of the Apennines that the pressure is on. Across many industries, employee stress, job dissatisfaction, and even burnout are all real risks at peak times of the year.
Maybe you're in the retail sector and have to deal with your biggest workload during the holiday season. Or perhaps you're trying to hit your production targets at the end of a difficult quarter, or preparing a new course for the approaching college semester.
Whatever your sector, you'll likely suffer when several of your co-workers take a vacation in the same month. And, if you're one of the people who's going to be absent, you'll be working extra hard to get things done before you go.
There are other risks, too. External factors, like changes in the weather, can affect practicalities such as transportation and sourcing materials. And sufferers of the dreaded "winter blues" know all too well how the changing seasons can affect individual performance and health.
Our article, Dealing With Seasonal Changes in Workload, has some great advice on how to cope during difficult times of the year. But, as a new member of the team here at Mind Tools, I wanted to hear directly from my co-workers, and from our friends and followers on social media, too.
On Facebook, So Khalifa shared her strict rules on staff vacations: "I won't let myself be short-staffed. There is a system for any vacation, so only one member from any department will take a vacation. And when he or she comes back to work, another can take a vacation."
Mind Tools' Senior Content Editor, Keith Jackson, was somewhat puzzled by the concept of a slow season: "I'd like to know when the quiet times of the year are supposed to be! It seems that the demand for learning is year-round, so the Mind Tools learning locomotive chugs along unceasingly!"
Keith recommends planning your tactics well in advance, so you're prepared for the times when seasonal pressures take hold.
"For example, requests for vacation time will be high over Christmas and New Year, so you need to start thinking about deadlines and staffing levels several months in advance," Keith says. "That means creating work schedules for high-pressure periods, and approving holiday requests early – and fairly! – to ensure that the organization's commitments to customers are fulfilled. Sometimes, that can mean running work pipelines in parallel. That is, getting work due over holiday periods prepared early, in addition to team members carrying out 'normal' duties."
On Twitter, @Dwyka_Consult highlighted the importance of looking after yourself. She said, "I appreciate quiet times at work because I get all kinds of things done that I don't normally have time for. My busy times aren't always predictable, and I make sure that I eat healthily, drink enough water, exercise, breathe, and think positively while I work."
On the Mind Tools Club forum, frequent contributor Zuni talked about a time of great pressure in a previous role. "I used to work in an industry where all the stops were pulled out to hit the year-end financial targets. The final quarter is always the big push. Inevitably what happens is that people get run down. When you take your foot off the gas, you get sick."
So how did Zuni cope? "What worked for me may seem a bit counterintuitive. I did work long days but I took rest breaks throughout the day. While my colleagues were working through lunch, I took a brisk walk outside. And I kept to my fitness schedule. On days I was more fatigued, I would cut back on my workout. But, I still went, and it certainly helped relieve stress."
There can also be a positive side to seasonal fluctuations, according to Mind Tools' Charlie Swift. "I've benefited from other people's seasonal pressure several times, by getting temporary contracts, either to support overloaded teams or to be part of a short-term pop-up team created just for the season," Charlie recalled. "This made for engagingly varied work, cultures and colleagues, and lots of appreciation and thanks!"
But, when the pressure's on, "You have to put the rest of your life on hold. Make sure you get enough sleep and decent nutrition, and keep calm until reinforcements appear, or the tide of work finally ebbs."
"No one can keep going on an emergency setting long term," Charlie continued. "So, fiercely honest contingency planning and resilience building are key to both individual and organizational performance."
And, when the workload eases, you can start to prepare for the future. This final thought came from Midgie, from the Mind Tools Club forum team, who uses quiet periods to "review the past year and think about the new year, my goals and objectives, my priorities, and how the best version of me can shine."
How do you deal with seasonal pressure in the workplace? If you have any thoughts or suggestions to share, leave a comment, below.
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The often griped-about "winter blues" may not sound like something to worry about, but as the days get colder and shorter, Seasonal Affective Disorder could be infiltrating your workplace without you knowing!