Christmas is 74 days away.
I was reminded of the inevitable return of that annual winter-time festival during an early morning bike ride this past week with my friend, neighbour and workout buddy Lisa.
“Do you like Christmas?” Lisa began.
It was about 6:45 a.m. on Monday. Light rain was falling. Despite the weather, we were cycling to the southern tip of Dublin Bay, otherwise known as “The Forty Foot,” or that place where crazy people jump into nearly freezing water in October to go for a swim. I say crazy because the perfectly sane people like myself stop sea-swimming once September is over. So, although I agreed to join in the bike ride with Lisa to meet our mutual friend Jane and then cheer those two crazy swimmers on, I was certainly not planning to dip even one of my toes in that icy water.
“Sorry, what?” I questioned Lisa, asking her to repeat herself as the enquiry was swept away by the wind which, of course, was accompanying the rain.
“Are you looking forward to Christmas?” Lisa asked again.
“Oh yes!” I gushed. “I absolutely love it. Imagine the Coca-Cola Santa meets Mr Fezziwig from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I love the food, the decorations, the socialising; the entire figgy pudding.” I could practically feel the warmth from a log fire, the cinnamony aroma of something baking in the oven, the sound of Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas.
“I hear you,” Lisa interrupted my thoughts. “but I think it’s going to be especially hard on a lot of people this year.”
I was jolted out of my self-absorption by more than the cold rain and wind. Lisa’s words prompted the startling realisation that this Christmas holiday – like practically everything else we’ve been experiencing since the Corona Virus pandemic struck – will be unlike that of any previous year.
Large office parties, out. Travel to sunny after-Christmas destinations, limited. The notion of welcoming several extended family members or friends into your home, a memory from the ghost of Christmas Past.
So, what can we do now to begin to prepare?
Understand this holiday season will have difficulties
As head of the global HR team for Pac J Investment Services, Phildelia Johnson oversees a workforce of 1,100 people. I spoke to her through Whatsapp from her home near New York.
She said her company has already put in place many new policies designed to provide wellbeing care for employees during this time of remote working, and the holidays demand extra support.
“We are offering Fridays as a half-day every week. We also make sure our employees block out their lunch time when they take it, so they don’t receive messages or meeting requests.
”For the holidays, we are considering a range of supplemental support ideas including gift packages to go to employee homes full of things to help them know they are valued and our greatest asset.”
Focus on your employees as individuals
Based in Belfast on this side of the Atlantic, executive coach Ricky Drain cautions we haven’t yet seen the real emotional effect of Covid.
“When this began, the sun was shining, and we were getting into brighter, longer days. But now we’re heading into the depths of winter. And even though we’re not spending time in our cars commuting home, when we complete the day’s work behind our screens, it will be dark. There are plenty of studies about the effects of lack of sunlight, and now you couple that with the anxieties of Covid and remote working isolation, it’s going to be tough. For those reasons, leaders need to be much more mindful about how their employees are.
“Start now to begin noticing the individuals who have really healthy attitudes and notice the ones who are struggling. Offer immediate help to those who appear to be experiencing challenges. This includes other leaders too, not only those down the food chain. If you have a strong awareness of others as well as yourself, you’ll be able to notice changes.
Provide regular surveys
“A survey can be helpful,” Ricky encourages, “as long as you don’t offer basic ‘yes or no’ questions. Craft open-ended questions so your team can share their thoughts and feelings. Also, if you’re going to create a survey, first understand your purpose. Then, after you conduct a survey, make sure to take action around it. If you don’t, people will lose trust in you.
Capture the learnings
One of the silver linings of this whole experience, Ricky contends, is that we have the opportunity to connect back to ourselves. “A lot of organizations were operating pre-lockdown at a pace that was too fast. Now in Covid, the brakes have been put on and we’re more aware of the speed. Focusing on the simpler things allows a person to become a new version and more efficient version of themselves.”
As the holidays approach, then, focus less on the pressures of what you think you need to do and more on gauging how you feel you are. Only then should you decide if you want to go for that Christmas Day sea swim. Or not.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon