Navigating the Holiday Effect



  • What is the Holiday Effect? (4:10)

  • Which industry experiences the Holiday Effect in October? (4:35)

  • When does the Holiday Effect hit in the retail sector? (5:15)

  • This industry feels the Holiday Effect in the summer… (5:55)

  • Three holiday feel-goods that can feel bad for others – or maybe you (6:35)

  • Three strategies for navigating this tender, precious (and often challenging) time of year (8:40)

We are entering prime time...

the big show, the period just before the Christmas holiday that extends into the new year – a time known for hustle and bustle and joy and, mixed in with it, our stressors, emotional triggers, anxiety, drama, and conflict. And as we’ve all experienced, sometimes it’s a little tough to tell which moment is going to contain which bevy of emotions.

For me, I can be going about my business, having a great time, and then – all of a sudden – the smell of a fresh Christmas tree or the glimpse of a perfectly tied red velvet bow can bring up all the emotion around how much I miss my mom.

And hearing someone talk about a holiday cookie swap can trigger memories filled with anxiety about the time a group of my friends andI, all young moms at the time, decided to add one more magical event to an already overtaxed time; we decided to have a holiday cookie swap. Well, almost everyone left the party ridiculously angry over the perceived inequity of how the best cookies were rationed out.

I also remember a holiday party or two where I may have said things I regret or had a glass of wine or two more than might have been prudent. But I also have a lot of memories of fun and joy and happiness.

What is no secret, though, is how it surprises us when what brings one person so much joy – like, maybe an office Secret Santa swap or a door decorating contest – can cause someone else to become angry or shut down. Perhaps it’s our feelings that get hurt when we lovingly extend an invitation to a holiday cookie swap and someone declines.

In no way am I advocating that all the wonder of the holidays be left at the company threshold or that you temper your joy and good tidings just to avoid upsetting someone else. 

I am advocating that, during this period, you–

  • Increase your self-awareness around your own triggers, and

  • Balance that with the practice of empathy towards yourself and towards others.

What do I mean by this? Well, when you combine personal tenderness with the inherent seasonal stressors of the business cycle, it’s pretty easy to see why research tells us that drama and conflict escalate while productivity decreases in the period between Thanksgiving and NewYear’s.

According to one study – during this period referred to in the research as the “Holiday Effect” – companies that serve other clients (such as consulting firms) begin to experience the Holiday Effect as early as October. 

This is because not only are those consulting company employees experiencing the Holiday Effect but the clients they’re trying to engage are more difficult to reach and more unlikely to commit, all while the company is putting more and more pressure on because the fourth quarter targets must be hit.

In the retail sector, the Holiday Effect hits a little bit later, in November. That’s when frenetic shopping and gift shipping go into full swing. Due to the shopper frenzy, people who work in the retail sector are operating in this energetic zone higher than they can actually sustain productivity. Many are working a lot of overtime, dealing with incredibly anxious customers and, ultimately, become overtired and sick.

The financial services industry has a bit of a different period for the Holiday Effect. Their slump period tends to come in the summer when consumers are distracted by vacations and time off. For finance workers, the winter holiday season tends to be a time of taking care of deadlines, getting ready for the tax year-end and dealing with customers who are a little bit resistant and kind of hard to reach.

Regardless of what sector you work in, be aware that as you may be endlessly gushing about joyful things like your grown children returning home, you may be engaging with someone whose most profound personal sadness, particularly around family, is held within the holidays.

What you perceive to be the joy of extended time off between the Christmas holiday and New Year’s can be a period of loneliness and isolation for someone else, or contain worries about childcare. For others, time away from work could be a triggering event.

Perhaps you’re delighted about the open bar and endless flowing champagne at the lush company party while your coworker is struggling with addiction.

Also consider how continuous emphasis on the Christian holiday of Christmas and its traditions can make those who have differing beliefs, customs, and views feel invisible and minimized. 

Most of us have learned how to ride out the tumultuous waves in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But even then, the energy can still catch us unaware. So as we approach this tender and precious – and often challenging – timeframe, I want to share three simple strategies you can use as you feel energy shift, ebb, and flow around you. 

Strategy 1: Simply be present

When we are fully present in this moment … and in this moment … and now in this moment, we can increase our awareness. Take a few minutes each workday to simply allow your heart to be present and to pick up data about the emotional climate around you.

If you notice things like stress, anxiety, tension, or sadness, don’t try and fix them – that’s not your job. Your only job in that situation is to take care of yourself in a way that will help you stay in balance.

Remember – energy and emotions are like viruses; they’re highly transferable from person to person. So if you begin to pick up on energy that’s frenetic or uncomfortable, try the balancing practice of grounding your feet on the floor, breathing, and listening for the beat of your heart.
Allow yourself to feel appreciation for that simple heartbeat, and let the energies of balance and gratitude be what radiate from you because, remember, energy and emotions are like viruses – highly transferable.

Strategy 2: Practice empathy

Empathy is the ability to acknowledge and honor the emotional struggle of others without judgment and without fixing.

Often, we get hooked up in trying to fix the sadness, disappointment, or pain of others, but this is always an attempt to relieve our own discomfort with their situation. Most often, trying to fix it for them takes away their power and, ultimately, creates a disconnection and not a connection. 

An empathetic response, however, creates connection and minimizes isolation, and those create space for the other person to work through their struggles in their own way and in their own time. Empathy also relieves us of the burdens of being an expert and the fixer of someone else’s life.

For example, what if a coworker responds to your excitement about putting up your holiday tree by saying, “I’m not getting a holiday tree this year because none of my family is coming for Christmas.” An empathetic response is specific and personal, and it might sound like, “Oh, yeah. I remember one year when I had no family around at the holidays. That was pretty tough.”

A fix-it or pitying response might be, “Oh, that’s horrible! I feel sorry for you. You should go out and get yourself a tree anyway.” As a real-world example, my friend decided not to have a Christmas tree that year, and someone she barely knew could not stand the thought of that. So, they showed up at her house – unannounced and unexpected – with a Christmas tree for her, despite her decision not to get one. This really crossed a boundary and actually ended any opportunity for that friendship to grow. 

Strategy 3: Create a bit more space for yourself

If you feel like you are getting emotionally triggered by a person’s comment or their behavior, create a bit more space for yourself.

Not taking it personally helps me ground myself, and I remember these words, which are attributed to many authors: Be kind, for you never know what someone else is going through.

For me, the kindness can be a pause, taking a breath, and balancing myself. It can also be creating a bit of space by sharing a drop of empathy and transferring the virus of presence and balance. 

As you navigate this time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, remember to be present, practice empathy and create space.

All of us at Beth Wonson and Company are wishing you weeks filled with light, peace, and balance.