Small Business Saturday (Nov 24, 2018) was founded by American Express in 2010 and is now considered “the annual holiday shopping tradition that gets communities everywhere out in support of their favorite small businesses.” This publicity is a boom for small businesses that may not have the biggest of marketing budgets. However, it can also be a burden if staffs are small and resources are limited.

Small businesses don’t always have a dedicated HR department, so when the holidays hit there will likely be unexpected HR challenges. Whether business that day is unexpectedly slow, or perhaps November 24th will be a day that is busier than any other day you’ve experienced, how you treat your employees before the day, during the rush, and afterward may have a bigger impact on your success than you expect.

Besides stocking your shelves, take a moment to stock up on a few HR best practices. Here are a six HR tips for small business owners during the holiday rush:

HR Tip #1: Enforce meal and rest breaks

This time of year can be hectic and demanding, so ensuring employees have (and actually take) their mandated breaks is very important. There are times when business may be incredibly busy – staff is running around and time is flying by– that’s when you want to be extra vigilant about employee breaks and meal times.

In addition to the legal ramifications of not providing appropriate breaks, making sure your employees have time to rest and nourish themselves has additional important benefits:

  • Prevents burnouts
  • Promotes higher job satisfaction
  • Ramps up employee morale
  • Reduces emotional exhaustion
  • Encourages social relationships
  • Promotes better physical health (standing, stretching, resting eyes and less forearm, wrist and hand discomfort)
  • Improves Alertness

Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath published a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that stated: “Employees who take a break every 90 minutes are 30 percent more focused than those who take no breaks or just one during the day.”

Tip: Understand and ensure your staff is following not just federal break and meal period guidelines but those of the state you are in as well.

HR Tip #2: Appropriately classify seasonal workers

When businesses get hectic around the holidays, there may be the option of taking on seasonal employees. Ensure you’re classifying those employees correctly. There are differences in how to classify, schedule and pay contingent workers and knowing the variances is very important.

Misclassifying labor is something that can happen to anyone, from the largest of businesses to small startups and mom-and-pop shops. If the person is working on regular, day-to-day business, they are most likely not an independent contractor. Additionally, even if they are working on what you would consider a project; if they don’t have their own business, work for other companies and continually market themselves as an independent business ---they are likely not an independent contractor and should instead be engaged as a temporary employee. If you’re in doubt, work with a local staffing agency or payroll company to ensure you’re properly classifying interim/contingent labor and paying them correctly in accordance with State and Federal laws.

For additional clarification, please see: 4 Things to Know about Hiring Contractors in the Gig Economy

Tip: There can be severe financial repercussions if temporary employees are misclassified. If you’ve never done payroll before – get help! Hire a company or engage a bookkeeper to structure and set-up accounting systems (such as QuickBooks, Xero, NetSuite, etc.) to ensure that you are taking out appropriate taxes and following all the payroll laws. It’s easy to make payroll mistakes, so make sure you have all the right forms and have payroll fully set up. We’ve all heard of operations that go out of business when taxes weren’t paid appropriately so take the proper steps to ensure your business is safe.

HR Tip #3: Hone your leadership skills

Small business owners find out quickly that business success demands more than just resilience, passion, and hard work. There are many soft skills that are fundamental to reaching goals and exceeding expectations. Developing soft skills, such as communication, leadership, empathy, and caring are vitally important to creating an engaging workplace where employees feel valued and are willing to help you reach your goals and represent your brand in-front of customers and vendors. 

What can you do to make sure your workplace is conducive to positive business interactions? Here are a few:

  • Communication: Take a minute to get to know and understand your employees to create a small company workplace culture that can feel closer, more nurturing, and more engaging. For example, you don’t need to jump into business conversations the minute you walk in the door. It just takes a moment to actively listen and engage with employees on a personal level to let them know they are valued. Before you start talking about the tasks at hand, greet your employees, ask how they are doing, and really listen to their answers. It’s easy to skip this important step when work is crazy. However, if you take the time up front, you will reap the rewards with your employees and your customers. 

It just takes a moment to actively listen and engage with employees on a personal level to let them know they are valued. @EmilyM_Elder #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart

You may be surprised to find how these interactions are reflected in the customer service employees give. If they get positive attention and kind words, they will tend to reflect that attitude back and give your customers the same positive attitude and attention. Don’t be so busy that you forget to interact with employees on a personal level.

Also remember body language: smile, don’t cross your arms, and be aware of your facial expressions. A warm and welcoming demeanor can make all the difference in employee satisfaction and willingness to go that extra mile for you.

  • People Management: Set clear expectations for what you expect during this busy holiday season. Some key points could be times for starting and leaving work, how to behave at work, how to treat customers and escalations, and the dress code. Communicating your expectations, goals and strategy will ensure that your employees understand and can help meet your needs. Get their agreement on those standards for a smooth holiday season.
  • Team Building: Motivating your employees and keeping them engaged during stressful times can be a challenge. Set a common goal for everyone to work towards and communicate that goal to every employee. Use team building exercises and ask team members for their input on how to improve processes. For example, if you need to get 50 new customers in the next two months – that’s a common goal – what is the path to get there?  Integrating simple steps to reach stated goals will keep your team more engaged in the process. 
  • Rewards: If you have it in your budget you could also think about holiday rewards and bonuses.  Money and gift motivators are shown to be very successful, but monetary rewards are not in every budget. If you can’t provide monetary gratuities, set goals and expectations and praise individuals or the team when those goals are met.

TIP: No matter the size of your company, your people are your greatest assets. How they treat your customers and what they say about you to their friends and acquaintances can have a lasting impact on your business success. Take the time to treat employees well and take pride in an engaging and friendly workplace.

HR Tip #4: Don’t skimp on the onboarding

This is the beginning of the employee and employer relationship, so having your goals in place and properly integrating employees with the workplace culture is key.

How often has someone walked in with a resume that shows the experience and skills you need, you’re busy and in desperate need of hiring someone, and you hire the person on the spot to start immediately? How often have you quickly regretted the hire, realizing that the person is not a great fit for your business?

Although time constraints are looming and you’re feeling the stress, it is important to take the time to interview properly and introduce any potential new hire to the existing team before progressing.  Before you hire, take the time to understand and define what you need done in this role. In other words, base your hiring on what you need versus what is standing in front of you. As long as you are clear on what you need, potential employees can determine if the job is a right fit for them as well – saving save you the time of having someone start and then quickly leave because they didn’t know what to expect.

Before you hire, take the time to understand and define what you need done in this role. In other words, base your hiring on what you need versus what is standing in front of you. @EmilyM_Elder #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart

Whether you’re preparing current or new employees, you want to set expectations on every aspect of your business – from dress code to customer treatment to the expectations of each role and how individuals are expected work as a part of the team.

Tip: With the holiday season already here, try to take a moment to plan if you need help.  Will you hire directly or bring in someone on a temporary basis? In either case, clearly define what you need, what you expect when the person starts and how you will know if they are successful.

HR Tip #5: Establish a positive workplace culture

What are some things small business owners can do to make sure they don’t have turnover in the middle of the season?

If you are setting clear expectations upfront, you will lessen the possibility of turnover. As things get busy, pay attention to your team and be aware of actions or communication that might indicate a problem is on the horizon. There can be incredible strain and stress in the workplace during the holidays. Helping employees manage that stress includes helping them understand expectations, staying consistent in your communications and fairly managing the expectations you’ve set.   

Related content: How to Build Employee Engagement

If problems do arise, address the issues immediately and privately. If you are noticing a trend with the team (i.e. people are consistently showing up late or everyone seems stressed out), talk to your employees to identify why this is happening and what you can do to make it right.

Tip:  Be aware of your own behavior and interactions with your team.  It is easy to either hide in your office or to “take over” on the floor. Try to keep your behavior consistent with how you would act in less busy times. Be aware of your tone of voice as well as the words you choose and pay special attention to how your feeling rushed can be perceived as rudeness.

HR Tip #6: Bring on the cheer!

Knowing and engaging your staff can have a huge impact on their satisfaction and performance – offsetting some of the stress and strain of the holidays that seem to creep into everyone’s lives. Some ideas to consider:

  • Occasionally bring in breakfast or lunch - especially during the busy season. This act will be viewed as incredibly compassionate and thoughtful by your employees.
  • Schedule holiday-themed events like a cookie swap or a potluck. This cuts down on the business owner’s costs and lets your team socialize.
  • Ask employees to invite their families to holiday parties. Connect with them on a personal level by meeting partners and kids.
  • Remember that there are more holidays than just those that are recognized with time off from the majority of businesses. You may want to incorporate Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza into your holiday celebrations to show inclusiveness.

In November and December, there is usually an uptick in school events that family members might want to attend. Where you can - allow employees extra time without forcing vacation or docking pay. It’s a nice gesture and the flexibility goes a long way in developing employee satisfaction.

Related content: Holiday Workplace Heart of the Matter Strategies

Tip: The holidays are busy, stressful, and chaotic so if there’s anything you can do to show your gratitude, your staff will appreciate you and your company more. I always liked it when companies offered daily amenities like beverages:  juice, water, coffee, and tea. Or even breath-mints or small snacks. It is something extra that is relatively affordable and is met with great appreciation.

Extra Small Business Saturday tips for success:

In addition to the suggestions above, think out-of-the-box for ways to grow your business during the holidays including:

  • Encourage digital sharing: Stay on top of social media during the holidays
  • Get festive: Decorate and spread holiday cheer
  • Small Business Saturday Promotions and Advertising
  • Giving locally: Volunteering, charity events, and fundraising


21 November 2018

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