Employee Expectations of Management During the Holiday Season

Dealing with your staff during the major holidays can be a little like dealing with unruly offspring. Your goal is to make the most of this profitable time of the year, while their goal is seemingly to get away with as much as possible. What can you do?

According to Anne Harrington,[1] a “placebo effect” can occur in many types of situations in life, including time intervals. The placebo effect is a term originally coined to describe doctors giving their patients sugar pills and the psychosomatic result that the patient would then receive neurological “backing” of their definition of healing, and the body would engage the healing process more aggressively, resulting in a cure without actual medication. Harrington determined that the psychosomatic placebo effect can engage in various situations, such as times of the week and year.

Just as endorphins release in the body at the end of the work week on Friday and stress hormones increase at the beginning of the work week on Monday, physiological changes can occur at different times of the year. [2] Around the major and even minor holidays, the “Friday effect” can engage physically within the brain and body, temporarily increasing employee energy levels, speeding up production, and producing sensations of excitement and joy.

In research performed by Peter Henle,[3] the declining number of working hours within a day or a week was investigated. Since the Industrial Revolution, employees have required less working time within the day in order to make a livable income. Since the mid twentieth-century, the focus of the productive day has been less concentrated on getting all of the work done and the resulting feelings of accomplishment, and more focused on “getting through” the workday and the resulting permission to relax and enjoy oneself afterwards. This is partly due to the fact that modern employees have far less control over their environment of labor and receive far less responsibility than their predecessors. They can control and manipulate their environment of relaxation, which makes them enjoy this scenario much more.

During the holiday season, the placebo effect is induced by the anticipation [2] of family bonding, time off of work, bonus cheques, a potential raise, and the holiday season. Typically, children and adolescents receive long periods of time off from studies and work due to the holidays, and this can be an additional factor which carries these feelings of joy into adulthood, even if little or no time off of work is received. These are strong physiological changes in the body and even if employees do not receive a three or four week vacation, the constant sensation that they “should” receive one can further affect the endorphin release.

It is at this time of the year that employees can become less discerning about the quality of their work, more fickle with their employer-employee relationships, and can be more motivated to increase and continue the endorphin release with alcohol and drug abuse. Understanding their mindset is important in developing effective production and service methods during this time of the year.

1. Harrington, Anne. The placebo effect: an interdisciplinary exploration. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Print.

2. Rotgers, Frederick, Daniel S. Keller, and Jon Morgenstern. Treating substance abuse: theory and technique. New York: Guilford Press, 1996. Print.

3. Henle, Peter. “Recent Growth of Paid Leisure for U.S. Workers.” HeinOnline.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2010. http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/month85&div=42&id=&page=.

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