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Published on December 6, 2018

4 Effective Ways to Motivate Employees During the Busy Holiday Season

4 Effective Ways to Motivate Employees During the Busy Holiday Season

With the holidays upon us, businesses everywhere will slow or even come to a lumbering halt of eggnog induced inaction. This is good, and it is bad.

Foremost, it is good. Rare enough are the moments of the year when a general sense of compassion and congeniality prevail over nearly everyone. Good tidings are, well, good. But slow-downs reverberate. Organizational slack in December may cause customer delivery problems in January, parts inventory whiplash in February and a cash crunch in March.

Keeping employees motivated during the holidays is like trying to keep a starving person from thinking about food – the distractions are too powerful to ignore. Because of this, it can seem like a losing battle.

Micrel, a company I ran for 37 years, would shut down for two weeks between Christmas and the New Year. Micrel is not alone in this. So many employees travel during the holidays that having enough hands in the office from December 20th through January 2nd can be impossible.

But the holiday spirit starts on Thanksgiving, in later November (earlier if you are in the retail industry and have to wrestle oversized Santa Clause decorations in the back room before the turkey is even thawed). Keeping employees focused and active from then until the New Year is a battle, but a winnable one.

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Here are some ways to motivate employees and keep them focused during the busy holiday season:

1. Remain Passionate About the Mission

If you have done well in identifying and communicating the corporate mission and making it an exciting adventure for all your employees, then this remains your best tool.

In fact, if the work and the mission are engaging enough, holiday activities might come off as being an unwanted distraction to your teams.

The key is not to amp-up the mission. Instead, maintain the cadence of how you communicate and reinforce that the mission is very much worth pursuing. By not letting your employees forget about the common quest, they remain engaged in and excited about it.

2. Differential Bonuses

Some employees must, per their job agreements, work during the holidays. Others do not. Those that do might feel disheartened.

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Though many companies pay a “Christmas bonus” to all employees, some only pay to those working the holidays while other companies pay a high bonus rate to employees manning the ship during break. The goal with the differential bonus plan is to keep those most likely to find distractions and express non-glad tidings within the office.

Alternately, do offer those working the holidays some compensatory time off afterwards.

The point is that removing potential negative reactions to holiday work keeps them from dampening the spirts of other employees.

3. Time the Festivities

There will be office snacks, get togethers, carols and parties. These need not disrupt the 9 to 5 work day.

For small team or department-level events, encourage managers to hold them later in the afternoon as people’s energy and focus tends to fade late in the day anyway.

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For larger, company-wide events, hold them after hours. Involve as few employees in the preparations as possible. This allows everyone to be festive without taking away from their daily duties.

4. Keep the Spirit

Most of all, keep the spirit within you and your managers year-round. Rewriting Dickens a bit,

“Honor the season in your heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

When your leadership is of good spirit year-round, the holidays become less disruptive for they are the nature of your company. And even if your managers do not keep a holiday attitude from January through November, a proper attitude will keep holiday festivities from becoming an overly tempting distraction.

As Scrooge’s partner wailed,

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“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”

Make that what your employees experience in between every paycheck, and you can be distraction free all year long.

More Tips to Get Prepared for the Festive Season

Featured photo credit: Kelsey Chance via unsplash.com

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Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author and the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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