“I have an odd question,” she told us. “During the holiday season, I spend most of my time trying to look busy. And, I’m too nervous to tell my boss that I have nothing to do. What should I do?”
These words came from a friend of ours. And, although the two of us spend most of our time focused on researching and writing about people who do extraordinary things at work, we wondered, “Are there some external influences that are simply out of our control? Are there certain times we all need to be better at being ordinary?”
Nearly every business faces seasonal lulls and hotspots. For example, 61% of restaurants notice a decline in patrons during a seasonal holiday or major event. This is according to a report by Blue Sky Local. On the flip side, the National Retail Federation reports that November and December sales can make up to 40% of a retailer’s annual business.
The holidays, for some of you, might feel like chaotic craziness. The holidays for others, might feel like long hours of trying to find things do or watching funny cat videos on YouTube.
Curious of our friend’s dilemma, we posed the question to our networks. We asked: “Is the holiday season your slowest or busiest time of year at work?”
Not surprising to us was the even divide of answers depending on the industry where each respondent worked. What was surprising however were the comments related to those who responded with “Slowest.”
“All my clients have already checked out for the year,” replied one sales executive.
“Nobody wants to do anything serious through the holidays,” replied an attorney. “Our clients want to enjoy the season like everyone else.”
“Our budgets have already been spent. Most of the work is already done. We spend a lot of time celebrating at work during December,” said a marketing department manager.
All of the responses we received from those who replied “slowest time of year,” were viable (out of their control) reasons for not being very busy. And, although we were offered a few tactical “ways to stay busy” pieces of advice, like clean out your email inbox, clean up you work area, and back up your hard drive, we were curious to find activities, backed by research, proven to add value to the employee and the organization.
1. Learn something. Slow periods at the office are perfect for expanding your business knowledge. According to the American Society for Training and Development, investments in employee training greatly enhance an organization’s financial performance. Based on analysis of 575 companies during a three-year period, researchers found that firms investing the most in training and development yielded a 36.9% total shareholder return as compared with a 25.5% weighted return for the S&P 500 index for the same period (45% higher than the market average). These organizations also enjoyed higher profit margins, and higher income per employee.
2. Make an improvement. In the midst of the hectic flow of work when things are crazy, we don’t make enough time to pause, think and innovate. We all think of things that need to be done but they sit in the “when I have more time” pile. Well, slower times present the perfect opportunity to dive in and tackle an improvement initiative. Whether its fixing a struggling process, solving a customer need, getting a new product idea to the right person, or simply finding a better way to organize your work flow, now’s your time.
3. Take a field trip. There’s really no point to sitting around at the office without anything to do. Because you have the time, ask your boss and coworkers if they would like to take a field trip and go see where your work is typically received. The Great Work Study, in conjunction with Forbes Insights and the O.C. Tanner Institute studied award-winning workers. Those workers who go see where and how their work is being experienced are 17 times more likely to be passionate about their work than those who don’t see the impact their work has made.
4. Appreciate. It is the season of giving thanks. So if you find yourself looking for something to do, make a list of people who impact your work, who have made your job easier—those who have helped you during the stressful times. Write a hand-written note. Go over and thank someone without asking anything of them. They will probably be surprised! Research by The Cicero Group showed that employees who feel appreciated are 33% more likely to be proactively innovative. In fact, they generate 2 times the number of creative ideas per month as their counterparts.
Yes, all businesses and industries will have their seasons of stress and chaos, as well as seasons of slacking. Whether the holiday season is your lull or your high-point, keep these ideas for productive slacking in your back pocket—because even the funniest cat videos on YouTube get old after a while.