It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so a popular Christmas song proclaims. But from a business standpoint, people often think of the holidays as something of a dead zone. After all, many offices are closed, and even if they’re open, half the company is usually on break. You can’t do much to advance your firm or career when the whole world is on vacation, can you?
Or can you?
According to Darcy Eikenberg, career coach and author of Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job, if you really want to get ahead in your career, the holiday season is, surprisingly, one of the best times to make it happen.
“We often have a mindset that nothing happens in business during the holidays, but that’s just not true anymore,” Eikenberg said, noting that with fewer people traveling amid the pandemic, more people are alone and looking to connect. “So it’s actually a great opportunity to reach out to people, reconnect with those you may have lost touch with, be visible—visibility equals viability, after all—and build those relationships that can help you in your career.”
“There’s value in showing up and connecting with others, not just to see and be seen, but because there might be someone else who can benefit from the ideas you bring or the kind words you share,” she said.
Whether you’re finishing up last-minute holiday shopping, or trying to enjoy a rare silent night, there are still plenty of ways to “show up,” career wise, in the holiday season. That might mean participating in a company food drive or charity event, attending holiday parties (both live and virtual) or sending out cards (Eikenberg is a big fan of physical cards rather than emailed versions, noting that they are less common, and therefore more memorable and powerful).
She also sees downtime as a way to recharge, but instead of just using it to catch up on laundry or do taxes or other chores that leave one feeling neither inspired nor rejuvenated, she believes that quiet time should be used thoughtfully. “Time for reflection not only leaves you rested, it may also give you new perspectives and ideas,” she said.
Long Island resident Nancy Hassel, president and founder of American Pet Professionals, concurred. Although she officially closes her doors for a break after a long year of attending pet events and taking care of clients and members, she said, “My business mind is always going, and I can only binge watch and chill for so long. So I use my downtime during the holidays strategically, and try to take advantage of the quiet to solidify plans for the next year for our organization. It’s also a great time to go through some of those contacts I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while and create a schedule to reach out in the beginning of the New Year.”
Certified kitchen designer Susan Serra is careful to use her down time wisely.
“The break will be a time specifically set aside for intense yet contemplative focus, as I feel I am at a crossroads,” she said.
As the owner of Susan Serra Associates, as well as scandinavianmade.com, which sources Swedish rugs for the home, Serra recently began looking at developing her passion for photography into a third business. She is using this time to consider hiring a business coach to help her get—and keep—focused. “The holiday break will enable me to implement a GTD-based system [Getting Things Done] to prioritize goals, timing, wants and needs,” she said.
Marcia Boxenbaum, office manager at the Hicksville-based Creating Cabling Solutions, loves to take advantage of the holiday season’s relatively empty office to clear the books and get the company on track for the coming year. She said, “I actually enjoy going into the office during the holiday season when it’s quiet, so I can get things organized. That way we can go into the New Year with a clean slate. This is a great time of year to do tasks that you normally don’t have time to do, like purge the old files and update the current ones. It’s also a great time to update computer systems and software.” She believes that many of these “little things” can end up becoming “big things” if they’re neglected for too long, and sees tremendous value in taking time to ensure they are updated and organized.
Even for those taking things at a slower pace over the holidays, Eikenberg believes spending at least some time at work when fewer employees are around can provide opportunity for deeper conversations with colleagues or with senior managers who might normally be less accessible. The warm and fuzzy holiday feelings tend to permeate the office, making things feel a bit less formal, which she said “can make it a great time to build or strengthen those relationships.”
She suggested the following tips for using the holiday season to maximize career growth:
Show up at all company holiday-related events. If your company is looking for volunteers to staff the local soup kitchen and feed the homeless, offer to help. If the company is throwing its annual holiday party, show up. To get ahead in your career, you must show that you care, participate in outside activities and be a true team member. Plus, there’s no better way to get noticed than rubbing elbows with top executives outside the office.
Express your gratitude. It’s the season of giving thanks, so whether you work directly for the executive team or hardly know its key members, let them know how thankful you are for your job. You don’t have to shower them with expensive gifts, either. A handwritten note that expresses your sincere gratitude is the simplest and most effective way to do it, while standing out from the crowd.
Focus on next year. While your colleagues are out sitting on a beach someplace warm taking it easy, start planning for the coming year. Consider your professional goals, your department’s goals and what you would like to see the organization accomplish in the coming year. Share your outline with your supervisor and, if possible, get in front of key decision makers with your insights.
Reconnect where you’ve lost touch. The holidays offer a perfect reason to send an email, make a phone call or even send a snail-mail greeting card to people in your network whom you haven’t talked to lately. People often feel awkward “warming” these contacts back up during the year, so a reach-out during the holidays can hit the reset button and help you reconnect.
Make time for yourself. While putting in some extra effort during the holidays can benefit your career, take some time for yourself. The highest acheivers, whether entry level or executives, know the importance of resting, relaxing and recharging in order to deliver their best. You deserve this time to unwind, and it will make you that much more effective when you return.