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​CertiPay CEO Denny Wilson featured in Atlanta Business Chronicle

Crunch time

Nov. 27, 2015
By Tonya Layman
Atlanta Business Chronicle

'Tis the season for shopping, eating, merriment and enjoying friends, coworkers and family. Notice slacking off at work doesn't make the list. So while the things on the to do list may be longer than Santa's nice list, some local CEOs say it is not OK to let work duties slide.

While it can be tempting to sneak in a little online holiday shopping from your cubicle or to use company time to search Pinterest for centerpiece ideas, these activities lead to lower productivity. Since many businesses rely on the year-end push to finish the year off strong and to prepare for next year's strategic initiatives, focus can be critical.

Companies can deter the desire to slack off during work hours in December by actually promoting designated fun time. Scheduling a holiday luncheon, team building exercise or other holiday event allows employees to enjoy the holiday season and relieve some of the stress the holidays bring. When fun time is over, employees tend to be re-energized and ready to work because they have had a break.

Rob Jansen, CEO at TekStream Solutions, said this is a critical step in leading a team year around, but especially important around the holidays. "When you have people that like what they are doing and who they are doing it with, you get more productivity, collaboration and teamwork out of them," he said.

TekStream marries strategic planning and fun in the days leading up to the holidays. One way they do this is by flying in out-of-town workers for a strategic planning session that culminates with a holiday party.

"We co-mingle the work and play in such a way that we want everyone to come in and have fun and celebrate the year, but we also take advantage of having everyone here to lay out goals and our vision on how we will work to get there," he said. "I think people really look forward to it. Everyone is geared up and they leave here excited about where we are going in the future. It allows us to close the year strong and get the new year off to a good start."

Additionally, the Atlanta office has a luncheon closer to Christmas. The company buys the main entrees and everyone is encouraged to bring in other items, including cultural dishes. There they do what Jansen calls a goofy gift exchange that elicits fun and laughs.

Another great teambuilding exercise there is the company's adopt-a-family program where collectively the employees provide Christmas to a family in need.

During the holidays, TekStream leaders encourage employees to take advantage of the company's flextime schedule and its one-day-a-week telework policy. "This has helped a lot of people reduce their commute time and gives them more flexibility in their schedule," he said, adding the company also brings food into the office every Monday and Friday which helps reduces stress on the employees. "Our workers are our No. 1 investment and we want to keep them happy."

Even though staff members of Bert's Big Adventure, a nonprofit that takes 15 medically-fragile children and their families to Disney World every February, are busy preparing for their big trip, they take a more laid back approach during the holidays. This starts with "no dress code December."

"The staff can wear whatever they want which means one less decision to make in the morning. It makes life easier in a simple way," said Molly Parrish Darby, executive director of Bert's Big Adventure.

The company also gives each worker an extra paid day off of his choice throughout the holidays to go knock out some holiday shopping or just rest, relax and rejuvenate. "The theory is they won't be worrying about shopping or other holiday things while they are sitting at their desk," she said.

Rather than waiting until closer to Christmas when personal obligations tend to add up, they go ahead and hold their holiday party early in the month. They start the party at 3 p.m. so they don't keep workers out too late and away from their families. At the party — held at Darby's house with a meal prepared by her — they have a Secret Santa gift exchange which adds a lot of fun to the event.

"Since we are a nonprofit we don't spend money on ourselves, so the party is my treat and a way for me to say thank you for their hard work during the year. It gives us a chance to just hang out and enjoy each other," she said.

Darby knows the holidays can be so busy that people can become miserable. Because of this, she works hard to help her staff of five eliminate outside stress. "Little things can make a big difference in how people view the holidays and the stress they associate with the holidays. Showing people you care and understand how hard the time of year can be is appreciated. I find that employees are willing to reciprocate the effort in the office by completing the tasks they are asked to do," she added.

Denny Wilson, CEO of CertiPay, said his company also gives employees flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities throughout the holiday season. "Flexibility is key for our employees," he said. "There are events at their kids' schools and they want the opportunity to go to those."

The company hosts a Thanksgiving luncheon and a holiday present exchange luncheon, along with bringing in massage therapists during the season to help the workers reduce stress. "The holidays can be a tough time for employees personally but also a busy time for the business," Wilson said.

"We try to throw in some good times even though the end of the year is one of the busiest times of the year for us with 40 percent of our business occurring in the last quarter of the year. So we try to plan in advance and hopefully give them a break from having their head down to the grindstone.

CLOSER LOOK

  • Dedicate time for fun holiday activities in the office. By defining when this happens, employees are more likely to focus on their work during the other hours.
  • Reward employees for good work. Now is the perfect time of year to say thank you. Give them something they will like and use and make it thoughtful.
  • Time is a precious gift. Afford employees some flexibility to go shopping during work hours or attend their child's holiday play.
  • Make things easy by eliminating decisions employees have to make daily like their wardrobe choice or provide their lunch so they don't have to plan for it.

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