Fall 2015
Manage the Stress of the Holiday Season

Top Tips for Dealing with Stress

Plan thoroughly

Don’t overextend personally or professionally

Have systems in place

Understand your product and your systems

Always have a fallback plan

Empower employees

Research business strategies

Calm yourself through breathing exercises

Pre-planning, brushing up on systems and knowing the product mix goes a long way in reducing stress during the busiest shopping season of the year.

As the holiday season bears down, does your stress amp up? Small issues get blown out of proportion, tempers flare, mistakes pile up and sales opportunities are missed. Stress and its manifestations can put a serious dent in your productivity and your profits during a crucial earnings period.

Take a broader view

Long before the season is nigh, you might consider delving into some business books to prepare. The time-management method that New York Times bestselling author David Allen espouses in his book Getting Things Done—The Art of Stress-Free Productivity could help get you to a point
of day-to-day stability. The first of five steps outlined in the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology is capturing or collecting whatever has your attention by taking notes in whatever format works best for you.

“Cognitive science has demonstrated that the mind is not made for holding ideas, it’s made for having ideas. And the brain is really good at pattern recognition but it’s a really terrible storage device,” says Mike Williams, President and CEO of the David Allen Company as well as a certified coach and instructor of the GTD methodology.

While working with a retailer client, Williams helped them create a three- to five-year calendar view of their business. The seasonal nature of their work was plotted out and patterns were identified, indicating what they needed to do when. “Seeing the patterns really helped them do things in an appropriate time frame and manage the seasonality of their work,” says Williams. Remember: the brain is really good at pattern recognition. Later, checklists detailing things that worked and didn’t work could be devised to improve the next season.

Relax and breathe deep

The biggest stress-inducers around the holiday season can be the customers themselves. They’re harried and distracted and sometimes they take it out on store personnel. Kravitz believes if you have a good plan in place, good people and a good product, the customers shouldn’t stress you out. She references Nordstrom’s and their customer-is-always-right approach. “I think what eliminates most stress in customers is just doing what they need you to do. Whatever that is. They need it returned, return it. They need it exchanged, exchange it. They don’t like the product—take it back. That whole ‘do unto others’ thing is a really good way to treat the customer,” Kravitz says.

Ronald Nathan, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Albany, New York, and co-author of the book Stress Management—A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness agrees that customers try to get too much done in too little time and can get very impatient. “Employees really have to expect that rather than be surprised by it. In terms of the employees’ well-being though, it might help for them to breathe in a slightly different way. That’s something they can do right there on the job,” he says.

Nathan advocates a technique called block breathing. “You breathe in to the count of four, you hold it for the count of four, breathe out to the count of four and then hold it out to the count of four. And it feels great when you then breathe in again. Just a cycle or two of that … many find that to be just what they need to calm themselves down to the optimal state of relaxed alertness,” he says. Stress is the body’s fight or flight response to anything perceived as dangerous or demanding or demoralizing and there’s plenty of possibilities for that in the holiday season. Breathing is one of the ways to access the body’s relaxation response—not a bad idea during this busy shopping period.

Start early and be practical

There are plenty of steps you can take to ensure a less stressful holiday shopping season for you, your employees and customers. Not surprisingly, advance planning sits right atop the list. “The more you plan, the less you’ll stress,” says Deborah Kravitz, a 25-year veteran of the retail and shopping center industry and current president of PRI, a retail real estate consulting firm based in California.

Planning doesn’t start a few weeks beforehand or even a few months. Ideally, you should be planning the next holiday period almost as soon as the present one ends. That planning should include product, personnel, location, finances, organization, inventory and your own personal life. Don’t plan a big event personally when you’re trying to ramp up for the holiday season. Kravitz neatly encapsulates this with her second piece of advice: “Don’t overextend both personally and professionally.” Clearly, the big holiday dinner will have to wait if you’re the one planning or cooking it. Similarly don’t go from one location to 10 or 20 before you’re ready, or launch a product you know nothing about during this time.

“The third thing that keeps stress down is having systems in place,” Kravitz states. Having an organizational system, a cash register system, an inventory system, a methodology for handling payroll and personnel—being systematic wherever possible is key. The caveat to systems however, is the planning that must go into them. November 1 is not the time to buy a new POS management system and think you’re going to be able to utilize it properly or train employees to do the same.

“Make sure you understand what you’re selling and that you understand your system,” offers Kravitz by way of a fourth piece of advice. This of course extends to your employees. Stress won’t be able to gain a foothold if A) you’ve planned for hiring people, B) put systems in place to manage those people, C) trained them far enough in advance and D) familiarized them with the product. Weeding out new hires that aren’t able to do what you need them to do ahead of the rush is imperative too.

Having a Plan B alleviates stress as well. What will you do if an employee doesn’t show up? If your POS system doesn’t work? If your product doesn’t sell? If your product doesn’t get to your kiosk or store in time or there isn’t enough product? “The season is very, very quick. You really need to have an alternative in place in case everything else goes wrong,” Kravitz says. She also recommends empowering employees. “They’ll be happier and you’ll be less stressed not trying to do every single thing that needs to be done yourself all
the time.”

June Allan Corrigan

Freelance writer June Allan Corrigan addresses a wide range of topics including business, medicine, parenting and education. She’s a fitness enthusiast and also makes a mean apple pie. Visit her website at junecorrigan.com.
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