Guest Column

Houston expert: How to keep your employees engaged during the holidays

Maintaining employee engagement can be tough this time of year even pre-pandemic. Here are some tips and considerations from a local expert. Photo via Getty Images

When you combine standard holiday distractions with a year of prolonged and intensified stress, it can result in an exhausted team and real employee engagement (and productivity) problems for your business.

So, what can you do to minimize the impact of this year's holiday slump? It starts with understanding why employees tend to disengage during the holidays.

Reasons your employees are less engaged around the holidays

While employee engagement is something to be focused on throughout the year, the holiday season can be a particularly challenging time. Pre-pandemic, common distractions included holiday parties, upcoming travel plans, and the pressure to find the perfect gift.

This year, travel and large holiday gatherings will likely take a back seat to burnout, pressure to keep family safe, and a different kind of shopping stress (like factoring in delivery times), which could pull employees away from work commitments.

Plus, the business gets busier. While not every business is seasonal, the end of the year tends to be a busier time for many companies, especially for those whose fiscal year matches the calendar. For these companies, the arrival of the holiday season can be an abrupt reminder that they only have a few days left to accomplish the year's goals, meet their annual quotas, or close out requests they've been meaning to get to throughout the year.

We also have the arrival of flu season. When you combine cold and flu season with a very contagious coronavirus, you can be looking at sidelining even the most dedicated employee for days or even weeks. And, unlike vacations, employers have a much harder time planning for illness.

There's also the end of the school session. Working parents are looking forward to spending quality time with their family, and prior to time off from work, they may still need to make childcare arrangements during the workday, the cost of which can be burdensome at the holidays.

Ideas for boosting employee engagement around the holidays

Even though the holidays can compound workplace stress, there are effective strategies you can put in place to minimize the impact of any holiday-related slumps:

Plan ahead. The single most important thing employers can do to prepare for the holiday season is to plan ahead. If you haven't already, make sure you have all PTO requests in. Forecasting for a lighter staff or arranging additional coverage and adjusting timelines for projects during the holidays can help you meet year-end objectives without intensifying the strain on your already stressed team.

Be flexible and understanding. It's important to try to be as accommodating as you can (within reason). Between potential illnesses, family responsibilities, and added financial burdens, employees will appreciate a little more flexibility and understanding during the holidays. Allowing employees to adjust their schedules or even work overtime to complete projects can build morale and have a positive impact on your bottom line. If you can't accommodate employees' requests, communicate early, and keep an open dialogue to help them understand why. Loyal employees want the company to succeed as much as you do.

Encourage employees to stay healthy. We've all come to understand that more than ever this year. Keeping any wellness programs in place (online or otherwise) can make a big difference. To help keep your staff healthy, happy, and productive during the holidays, you can:

  • Host a flu-shot clinic or encourage employees to get one from their healthcare provider
  • Provide general tips and education about the importance of getting enough rest
  • Make sure common areas are cleaned thoroughly for those present in workplace facilities

Embrace the holiday spirit. While it may not be appropriate for every employer to focus on a specific holiday tradition, ignoring the holiday season isn't going to improve engagement. In fact, a little holiday cheer is exactly what most of us need this year. Even if your team is fully remote you can host intentional, inclusive activities to help employees decompress and encourage camaraderie and collaboration.

Show appreciation for your employees. A little extra employee appreciation or recognition is always needed and welcomed. Your team has worked through some very difficult times in 2020. Celebrate their successes with (if possible) an end-of-year bonus, a complimentary meal, a meaningful gift, or simply a kind email or handwritten note. The holiday season is a great opportunity to show your appreciation for all of your team's hard work. It can be a much-needed reset for what we all hope is a much-improved 2021.

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Susan Crowder, senior HR adviser at Houston-based G&A Partners.

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Self-driving pizza delivery goes live in Houston

Domino's and Nuro announced their partnership in 2019 — and now the robots are hitting the roads. Photo courtesy of Nuro

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Steam the episode here.

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