how can we keep morale up during our busy holiday season when we’re all at home?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

As we’ve moved into holiday season mode (already!) my team is taking on a huge load of work that is both physically and emotionally draining. I’m looking for some ways to help keep morale up, and help us push through until our holiday break.

I’m a senior team member (non-management) for a busy department of about 20 who works in billing and fulfillment for a retailer of bespoke luxury goods. We’re answerable to the salespeople to take good care of their clients, as well as the clients themselves, who are sometimes the sort of impatient and demanding people you would expect in the luxury segment.

Since our company lost so much business this spring/summer they’re pushing through even more sales than usual now to make up for the loss of income. So our busy season, which usually starts in mid-November, is already fully underway.

It’s extra difficult this year because we’re short-staffed and working from home, and I can feel myself burning out already. We expect to work late (we make overtime), and in the office there’s a kind of camaraderie from being in the office, in the trenches together. If someone has a bad call with a client, people are there to sympathize, and we can laugh and make jokes to keep spirits up. If you’re working until 8 or 9 pm for the third night this week, probably someone else is too. We might even crack open a beer once the client-facing part of our day is done and we’re doing admin work for the last part of our shift. People bring treats to share, and both the company and our department have nice holiday parties.

What can we do this year to help people get through this holiday busy season without our entire team burning out? I’m feeling it already, and we have two months to go. We have a group chat that we use for work and fun, and short, weekly department meetings to check in with the whole team, but is there something else we can do virtually to feel like we’re all getting through this together? This doesn’t have to be material things, the last few years when we hit the point where everyone was in a dark place, we put up holiday countdown calendars around the office. You could stare at the thing that said only 4 more days of this, and at the end of the day you could tear the page off the wall, and I truly think it helped people get through the hard days. Maybe some of your readers have ideas?

Readers, what ideas do you have?

{ 196 comments… read them below }

  1. AnonEMoose*

    Everyone is different, but for me, a simple “thank you” goes a long way, along with an acknowledgement that it’s a hard situation. Encourage people to engage in self-care as they can. If it’s possible, maybe a gift card for a restaurant delivery service or something like that?

    1. C M*

      I like the idea of gift cards for food delivery. Maybe they could then schedule an optional group lunch over Zoom for everyone to chat. If course, the gift cards should still go out to those who don’t want to attend the video lunch.

    2. Snailing*

      I want to jump in here because I see the food delivery suggestion a lot. I live in a really rural area and no restaurants deliver to me during regular times, much less during COVID crazy times! Our regional base is in a city nearby and I’ve received a delivery service credit a couple of times this year and sometimes it feels like more of a hassle to use it. So if any manager is looking at this, be sure to go with a business that will let you use the credit for pickup or even poll your employees for what option they’d like. I would often get a lot better use out of a general grocery store gift card versus restaurants that I can’t take advantage of where I live!

      1. Hazel*

        This is why I think a general gift card that you can use for anything you want is best. Or bonuses in people’s paychecks!

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Something like a general gift card is another great option. If possible, maybe give people a couple of options so they can choose whichever they prefer or works better for their situation? I once got a Visa gift card from work; I used it to help purchase a down-stuffed long coat that I still have and wear when it gets cold enough. It’s lovely to have when you live “where the air hurts my face.”

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Or an extra day or two off after the busy season. I once had a job that had a really crazy couple of months and in the week after the madness ended, which was always deader than dead, the managers would cover our work and we got 2 days off without having to use PTO. It was pretty awesome

          1. 10Isee*

            Yes!! I’m an essential worker in tech support at a bank, so I get no holidays off and 100 hours per year of sick/vacation time. My team gets holiday pay on days when the rest of the company is off, but honestly, I’d rather have a break!

      2. lazuli*

        Yes! Our upper management got everyone grocery store gift cards for a local chain that’s super close to the office — and about a 45min drive from my house. Not driving 90min roundtrip to pick up the card and then go shopping! A bunch of us who live far away ended up asking them to be donated to the local food bank. (Which I’m happy about, in terms of people in need getting donations, but was not much of an employee-appreciation gift!)

      3. Janee*

        Not to mention a lot of those delivery companies take big fees from small businesses and aren’t great, ethically!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes, I wouldn’t be thrilled with delivery service gift card for this reason. Not just the fees, but also the treatment of gig economy workers by at least some of the companies.

      4. wondHRland*

        snack boxes sent to the home – my company did this in lieu of our normal end of year in -person meeting. We did a zoom call and everyone opened their snacks, and we had the meeting.

    3. BadApple*

      Yes, I’m in education and I like the admins who say encouraging things like “you are doing a good job.” I have one boss who’s nice and it makes it all worth it.

      I dislike the admins who act like it is all normal. {We are all teaching multiple periods at the same time, so, i.e., I have a class of 70 kids now, because admin cannot find a person to replace the teacher who is on indefinite medical leave. (And they have given up trying.)

      In a videocall the other day, admin referred to ‘changing everyone’s teaching assignments on a Monday so we got new kids on a Tuesday’ and giving everyone 1.5x teaching loads as ‘moving a few kids around…’ If they just took a ‘we’re all in this together and this sucks’ stance then we would have so much more comraderie…

    4. Lorka*

      I found the on-site restaurant coupon for a project well done that you had to go to the company to get and will have to go to the company to use rather tone deaf given that government has asked all employers to keep/send home all employees that can do remote work.
      I haven’t set a foot in our office building since the beginning of March and am not very happy about the official company line being about how much they care about our health and how we should take all measures to stay healthy when my boss told me that I should consider coming in some time because upper management wants to see people on-site.

  2. LDN Layabout*

    Is this a problem you can throw some money at? Aside from the overtime.

    Take pressure off people by providing food (vouchers, delivery etc) and find a way to make the experience feel more communal?

    1. LDN Layabout*

      If people want to (make anything opt-in, not opt-out) get the team to ‘create’ the countdown and share in the team that.

      Nothing complicated/requiring extra brain power, but maybe a picture of a pet next to a piece of paper with a number on it or office supplies in the shape of a number etc

      1. TechServLib*

        Love the idea of a personalized virtual countdown calendar! With a little planning, you could ask that people submit fun photos for the calendar, slap a number on each one, and then share each day’s photo at a certain time without much effort. So every day at 7pm you get Tahani’s cat in a Santa hat, Chidi’s face on a cartoon elf (remember when that was a big thing?), or Eleanor’s neighbor’s crazy light display to count down the days. Depending on how many days you have you could have enough leeway for people to opt in or out if they didn’t want to send a photo.

        1. This is an anon story*

          Yeah, I just think in this fun time we’re all living in, doing mandatory fun is very much an instant F U to your staff. Some people eat this stuff up, some won’t and that’s for every plan like this.

          I just know everyone’s personal tanks of ‘grin and bear it’ are running close to empty. So don’t force anyone, especially now, to participate in someone that isn’t job related.

          1. Alexis Rose*

            At the beginning of the pandemic, the director was providing daily updates and would share photos/stories that staff would send it. It almost happened organically, he shared a photo one day and then the next day shared a couple more. We had old photos from decades ago showing well-known staff when they were super young and still working there, lots of people shared their makeshift work from home setups. It was a lot of fun, but it was COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY VOLUNTARY!

            Even to the point of it was voluntary to open the photo attachments, so if you didn’t care it was very easy to ignore and just read the info update about work stuff. I thought it worked well to give something to bring people together who cared about that, let some folks participate actively if they wanted or others to just get the little smile from receiving the info, and also allowed other folks to disengage so it wasn’t “forced fun”.

            There are ways to do this well, and I think the fact that this was built into an already work-focused update email it didn’t take away anyone’s time for something extra.

        2. willow for now*

          LW says they would stare at the countdown calendar then tear off one day at a time. I don’t know how many employees you have, but could you send them all the countdown calendar? I’ll bet you would have some people who would zoom each other when they tear today’s page off.

        3. Emma*

          The sending photos definitely needs to be optional. I would phrase it as “we’re doing a countdown calendar with silly photos, if you have any silly photos you want to be included send them to x” and then second a manager to spend half an hour downloading enough photos from the internet to fill up the rest of the calendar.

    2. Data Bear*

      Unless there’s something weird that I’ve missed, full staffing should cost less than understaffed + overtime. Are you sure you can’t hire extra workers to reduce workload?

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Could be short-sightedness from management, could be the lack of time to provide the training necessary when people are already too busy to handle it, could be a mix of the two…

        1. Morale OP*

          Staffing cuts due to the pandemic, but we do have some temp support in to help since I wrote in

          1. Someone Else*

            Well, there’s your problem. You and your company are trying to “fix” the problem of intentionally shifting more work to your already-busy-season employees with calendars and coffee and pizza parties, when what you really need to do is restore your staffing levels.

            1. Morale OP*

              I think you’re missing something here. Usually, during our busy season, there are treats available, and the camaraderie of working hard together. It’s not anything that takes any more time away from your desk then it takes to grab a cookie and get back to work. (Not sure where you got pizza parties from?)

              I’m not in management, so I don’t have the power to fix staffing levels. If i had the ability to add 5 more perfectly trained people to my team, I’d do it, but that’s not a possibility right now. I’m looking for ideas to improve morale for remote workers.

              1. Someone Else*

                The #1 way to relieve overburdened workers is to remove the burdens. You are the one that asked, so you’re the one getting the answers.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m sure she’s aware of that. It’s still legitimate to ask about other morale boosters she can employ since she doesn’t have the power to hire more people herself. I am fine with her using this space for that question or I wouldn’t have posted it.

      2. LQ*

        So you think that the company should hired several additional staff to deal with 2 months worth of work? If they are temporary staff and the work is actually complex you can’t train them in 2 months, let alone have them actually do anything of value except suck time from the experienced staff. Or you end up hiring a bunch of folks and then laying off everyone who is cheap when January hits.

        Overtime isn’t actually a bad idea and I’m not sure why you’re saying they are understaffed, sometimes the right model is to say, “Hey, we’ve got a busy season that’s about 2 months long and then it’s light the rest of the year, we can’t afford to be staffed for 10 people full time for 12 months and if we tried to do that we’d be laying people off all the time, so during the busy season you get all the OT you want and then everyone’s jobs are secure during the rest of the year. We staff at 7 people full time for 12 months, plus OT.”

    3. Morale OP*

      Unfortunately it’s not really. I’m not a manager, but I know our budget is pretty tight. I think they’re planning some kind of appreciation thing to take the place of our department holiday party (probably some kind of gift card, which would spend the money usually allocated to that) but otherwise we don’t have much of a budget for appreciation activities even in normal times

      1. Someone Else*

        If I received a gift card as a “thank you” from an organization who won’t actually fix problems, I’m much more likely to a) roll my eyes b) get burnout from said job c) leave than I am to swoon in appreciation and love their forced “fun” activities.

        1. Metadata minion*

          You seem to be reading a lot more malice, or at least a lot more hardship for the employees, than I am in the original letter. Plenty of organizations have busy seasons, and it doesn’t always make sense to hire temporary employees just for a month or two, and usually definitely doesn’t make sense to hire extra people who won’t have anything to do for the other 10 months of the year.

          I work at a university, and the beginning and end of the school year are extremely busy. Those are the only times I’ve ever worked overtime, and yes it’s a bit overwhelming. But it’s also weirdly enjoyable, and it’s a good feeling to be getting lots of important stuff done all at once. My employer is really supportive in terms of making sure nobody has more than their share of extra work, and we have a good crew that mostly gets along really well with each other.

          Hiring extra people just for those busy times would mean *more* work for everyone in terms of training (even if we found dedicated people who wanted to do this multiple years in a row, there’s always going to be the “ok, here’s the 47 things that changed since last year” training), and the busy times are also when we tend to get all the really weird complicated stuff so even after basic training a new/temp person would need a lot of support.

  3. wiscolady*

    At my workplace, we created a “Virtual Breakroom” Teams channel for our department. People can opt-in if they want to, but it’s optional. We share memes, laughs about customer conversations, and pictures of our pets there throughout the day. It’s really lovely!

    1. yamikuronue*

      Going one further, sometimes during crunch time we open a conference call that runs all day and we can sit on Zoom hanging out. It helps with collaboration to just be able to call out for someone like you could if you were sitting in the same conference room (which we do during crunch periods for a project). And you get the kind of comraderie the OP is talking about that way.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I like that idea! Sometimes one of my colleagues and I will do this when we’re collaborating on something but I’d never thought of making it a conference call.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        We have something similar, but it’s an hour a couple of times a week, not all day. The stated purpose is “drop in to get help with your coding/analysis issues” but it’s sometimes also less structured hangout times.

        With a small team, the all day format can easily mean no one’s there when you log in to chat, and that’s less likely if it’s a narrower time window.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      OP, is your “group chat for work and fun” all together, or separate? Something like Teams or Slack channels where you can create specific places for purely non-work things can be helpful, I find. Because my team is nerdy some of the stuff we post in the “Water Cooler” channel is fun stories related to our industry, but it’s all 100% not related to the immediate day to day of our work. And having it be separate can ensure that people are free to post silly stuff without feeling like they’re pushing out important work content.

      1. Morale OP*

        Definitely like that idea. We have individual chats and one big group chat where the pet pics and stuff go, but I know there’s also a Bachelorette discussion channel and probably a few other niche interests :)

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Thank you! I really mean it that way.
        Like not a bitch list of terrible things, but it can include,
        “did not hang up on a ranter”
        “tracked a “lost” order, that was never made”
        “was told thanks, you’re the best by caller”

        1. Beth*

          I love this! Definitely have plenty of items along the lines of “survived a given type of terrible encounter”. Include a channel where people can suggest new squares.

    1. Alexis Rose*

      Suggestions for squares (I think it would need to be very PG and kind to clients and staff, nothing bashing clients or your workplace or it reinforces negativity/could potentially cause some embarrassment if it ever got outside the staff using it!!!)

      – client gave a very sincere thank you
      – a pet made a guest appearance on the call
      – technical difficulties with the phone
      – time zone scheduling mishap
      – met sales quota
      – smashed sales quota!
      – coworker said something kind
      – miscommunication that turned into comical circular conversation until it was resolved
      – survived a call with a tough client!

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        I love this! You could even include completely neutral things:

        – Call was about X uncommon product
        – Call from someone with a charming accent
        – Call from someone from X state/region
        etc, etc.

        1. Alexis Rose*

          these are also excellent!

          My thinking with the “nice comment from a coworker” is that it could also encourage some comradarie/support within the team.

      2. Quill*

        – Background noise: someone’s pet
        – Background noise: someone’s music
        – Client cracking jokes during call

    2. Ms Yvonne*

      I was thinking a bingo, too (but then in about 15 seconds totally overthought it and was all bogged down with the specifics of designing a bingo game I have nothing to do with). Often I think forced fun is gross, but in a job like dealing with high end customers (or the public, but high end in particular), you absolutely need a release valve. Bingo could be a very good one.

      1. Katrinka*

        There are websites that will arrange bingo cards for you – you input the words/phrases you want to use and it generates whatever number of random cards you need. I’ve used it for CCD classes for either midyear or end of the year celebrations, using key words from the lessons already covered.

    3. Morale OP*

      That sounds like a fun idea! As other s have said you’d want to be careful about it to make sure it’s a mood lifter, rather than encouraging negativity, but I can already think of some fun ideas that would be relevant for our team.

    4. Emma*

      Oh god. I like this. I think the people saying it should all be positive/neutral are absolutely correct, but my brain is ignoring me and making a card as follows:
      – incoming call from a client who is audibly on the toilet or in the bath
      – call a client who has missed a payment, client immediately hangs up even though you weren’t calling about that
      – gave client a phone number 3 times, ended up texting it to them because they couldn’t write it down correctly
      – Bob’s mum called to ask us to call Bob because he’s got no credit. Bob makes more money than anyone working here.
      – client left three voicemails giving no name or contact number, then got angry that no-one called them back
      – spent more than 20 minutes explaining basic maths to a client who still insists we are wrong
      – phone system went down, did a little dance

    5. Yet Another Consultant*

      There are so many good ideas for squares here that it made me think you could even do a few rounds of the game with different prizes along the way. I saw some of the concerns with food delivery gift certificates above, so the prizes could be more general gift cards or even fruit/dessert/snack deliveries from a national company.

  4. juliebulie*

    We have a weekly informal (and optional) chat which has slowly turned into a casual show-and-tell. Maybe every shows off a favorite/interesting seasonal decoration or memento or recipe or whatever and briefly tells the story behind it.

    Actually, it doesn’t have to be explicitly seasonal. Maybe it shouldn’t be. People who have been decorating can of course show off grandma’s old handmade ornaments, but people who haven’t can still show off other stuff. A favorite book, a houseplant that got torn apart by the dog but somehow bounced back, etc.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      “Actually, it doesn’t have to be explicitly seasonal.”
      This is a good idea to get the idea started, maybe something about winter or fall…to avoid holiday/holy day issues. I bet from there it organically progresses to people showing things they’d really like to share.

  5. Purple State*

    Since you’re already short staffed, maybe less time spent on group chats and departmental meetings and more time spent on the actual billing and fulfillment duties of your job would make you feel less overwhelmed. If work is backing up on you, why waste time on non-essential functions.

    Also, instead of viewing your customers as impatient and demanding, try viewing them as people with problems or concerns that you are there to help. People buying luxury goods expect a certain level of service. It is what they are paying for. Otherwise, they could just head down to the local Wal Mart and pick up something.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Really? This is so unhelpful. God forbid OP and her colleagues be, you know, humans having to work through a pandemic who are sometimes frustrated by the foibles of their customers. Nose to the grindstone, customer service robots! None of this frivolous “morale”!

      1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        Actually I agree with Purple State. I don’t want your frivolous fake morale boosters. We have enough work and don’t need to be interrupted by ‘let’s play a Zoom game together so you can just get more behind on your work and feel even more stressed out!’ I want my own time, not time where I have to pretend that I want to hang out with my senior manager to make him feel like he’s ‘helping morale.’ A simple ‘thank you,’ or even better a more personalized thank you regarding something work related to show how much my work means to management is a much better morale booster than some happy hour or photo sharing. Plus it makes people feel like management notices the hard work they are doing instead and why they are stressed and noting that they are an integral part of the team. I’m tired of ‘but you have to playyyyyy the President of the company will be there!’ Oh, so glad the President of the company can’t get something my department asked for and desperately needs done, but hey, let’s play Pictionary!

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          There’s a lot of space between “everybody play Pictionary so the boss thinks we’re happy” and “you aren’t allowed to ever describe clients as impatient or demanding because you’re there to put up with it”. I don’t see how chastising the OP for describing (accurately, in my experience) the type of clients and experience they have at the time of year is at all helpful.

        2. Needles to say ..*

          You don’t agree with Purple State but you do make an unpleasant Venn Diagram: Purple State thinks any time at work not spent working is unprofessional and pointless, and has some gross ideas about how service workers should treat their betters; you want to get rid of anything you’ve decided is forced fun, even if that means taking it away from people who do enjoy it.

          Working with the two of you is always tense and more stressful than it needs to be, just so you know.

    2. I edit everything*

      This feels blame-y and harsh to me. There’s no indication that they’re slacking off, just taking time to breathe. The LW is asking about lifting the mood through a difficult time, and I’m not sure “nose to the grindstone,” bordering on “the beatings will continue until morale improves” is a helpful approach.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I dunno, I read it as – don’t *add* to the employees’ workload by holding meetings-that-could-be-emails or work-related chats, even of the morale-boosting kind, but rather prioritize work so that no one is working long hours and/or feeling like they’d rather be doing work than attending a meeting. If the employees are the sort who’d rather get a gift card and extra hour off than spend time at a company-provided lunch spread/hosted Zoom call, this makes a lot of sense.

        I also read the second part as, don’t emphasize an “us vs them” mindset where you fall into the trap of feeling like everyone is so demanding and that makes the job harder, try to reframe it as recognizing that the customers get stressed too and you’re helping them get what they need.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          I don’t know if you’ve ever done anything dealing directly with high-end retail customers, but I have and I absolutely recognise what the OP is talking about. It’s not “us vs them”, it’s recognising that these clients can be difficult in a particularly frustrating way that goes beyond regular stressed-customer stuff and that being able to blow off a little steam about it basically keeps you sane.

          1. Self Employed*

            Agree. There’s a difference between “stressed customer” and “entitled customer”. It is a lot easier to relate to someone who has run out of chill than it is to deal with someone who believes the rest of the world exists to fulfill their whims and also has access to Star Trek teleporters and the TARDIS to deliver things immediately or yesterday.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I agree. Sure, they should think of their customers as people, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t consider customer service workers to be people and are abominable to them. I don’t think acknowledging that is a bad thing. It’s a reality. And the holidays tend to bring out the worst in some people – this year, given the pandemic and everything else, I expect that to be worse than usual.

        1. Katrinka*

          And people who are used to being able to get what they want immediately are having a very hard time with items being completely unavailable or having to wait longer for delivery. It’s not a problem they can throw money at to fix and it’s thrown some of them for a loop

      3. The Rural Juror*

        Shoot, sorry. Great minds think alike, but you beat me to the punch. I didn’t read your comment until after I had posted mine above!

    3. CallMeTired*

      Boy do you sound fun to be around. Have you even ever worked this kind of customer service role? I’m sure they probably are getting exhausted and demoralized sitting at home and get yelled about frivolous things when people are dying and losing their homes and jobs.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        And that they “expect a certain level of service” doesn’t mean those expectations are reasonable or appropriate.

        1. Self Employed*

          Yes, I’ve even had Etsy customers who think I have Star Trek teleporters instead of USPS, UPS, and FedEx. Or that I can go back to last week in the TARDIS to paint something and let the paint cure in time to ship. (If I had a TARDIS, I would have better things to do than run a craft business!)

          1. Shirley Keeldar*

            IRATE CUSTOMER: Where is the thing I ordered? Why wasn’t it here yesterday?
            YOU: Oh, it was. I just used my TARDIS to deliver it.
            IRATE CUSTOMER: It was?
            YOU: Yep, it’s inside your house right now. Do you see it.

    4. Tía Teapot*

      Speaking as someone who’s worked christmas retail: yes, sometimes the customer is not only wrong but WRONG and so long as you keep it together where customers can see, being able to share “omg did you see that was it nuts?” and get validation from other employees that yes, that was an inconsiderate customer treating you like an object and/or taking out their personal issues on a complete stranger — that’s what gets you through.

      What you’re suggesting is close to gaslighting. Employers should never insist that employees didn’t actually experience the thing that they experienced, or require that they only use happy-talk in all situations.

      And while some people are quite happy staying heads-down and performing their assigned tasks in isolation for the employment equivalent of 24/7, many others need what I call people-breaks.

      1. Birdie*

        Camaraderie with people who fully appreciate the absurdity or humor of the job goes a long way. In a past job, we had a customer service-heavy busy period every quarter, but my colleagues and I were in separate offices and during those weeks generally wouldn’t see each other from 9 until 4, when we stopped dealing with people directly for the day. We all kind of craved having a moment to commiserate, and we would end up congregating in the hall at 4 and debriefing for 5-15 minutes. It wasn’t a formal thing, and it was flexible – it was always fairly short since we had work to do, and you certainly weren’t expected to show up if you didn’t feel like you had time for a breather. Sometimes I would just pop out, say hi, and then return to my office, just because it was nice to see a friendly face even if it was only for a minute.

        It would’ve been nice if we could hang up the phone and immediately say, “You won’t believe the call I just had,” but that wasn’t an option, so we’d just make a mental note to tell everyone when we gathered at 4. I think a similar principle could be used for OP’s office – maybe at 4:30 everyday (for example), there could be an short, optional video call for anyone who wants to hop on for a few minutes and talk directly instead of over chat, share ridiculous (or nice!) customer stories from the day, etc.

        I also co-work with a friend sometimes, just for company since we both live alone. We’ll have a video call going but we’re not actively engaging with each other, just occasionally exchanging words or telling each other a funny story (sometimes just over chat instead of speaking out loud, even). Definitely not for everyone, but some people might like something similar for that after-hours admin work.

    5. SarahKay*

      Years ago when working in a department store I had a customer quite literally yell at me over a phone call “I want my lamp! I want my lamp! I want my lamp!”.
      This was a grown woman yelling like a three-year-old having a tantrum, over a table lamp costing about £30 that hadn’t been delivered when she expected.
      I really don’t care that she was a real person with problems and concerns, there’s no excuse for that sort of behaviour, and yet it happens. And that was at a department store – think Sears or similar – not anything high end where I imagine people can be significantly more entitled and unreasonable.

      1. Persephone Mongoose*

        I once had a customer yelling down the phone at me because the delivery crew had called and cancelled her furniture delivery. Because it was in the middle of a freak snowstorm, and her road was completely snowed in and inaccessible. She even acknowledged that it was impossible for her to leave home, she was stuck, but she still expected the delivery crew to make it work somehow.

    6. LTL*

      I think people are piling on Purple State a bit unfairly. They may have been off-base, but I do think their comment was well-intended.

      I’ve had cases where the least stressful thing to do was to just put my head down and get the work done, and cases where dealing with unreasonable people was helped by looking at them with empathy. OP’s situation may not call for those things, but no need to attribute malice to the advice.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        There’s a useful point in what Purple State has said, which is that efforts to boost morale need to not be required and need to not take additional time from people. But I think they took it a step farther and made it sound like none of this stuff is worth doing at all, and that doesn’t feel right to me. Some people will really value the camaraderie and support and it can really make a difference in how it feels to slog through a rough time.

        So a group chat that people can drop in on when they feel like is fine, but mandatory zoom happy hour is not. Cute pet pictures or a song of the day in a daily email (as others here have suggested) are good. Requiring people to submit entries to office contests is not.

    7. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      It isn’t about giving everyone a reward for doing their job, it is about recreating the support tools in the new wfh paradigm.
      Respectfully, I think OP is trying the inverse of this:
      “instead of viewing your customers as impatient and demanding, try viewing them as people with problems or concerns”
      and after viewing the staff as overworked and overwhelmed people with problems and concerns, is trying to find a way to acknowledge this by recreating the peer camaraderie and the management support the staff had available in the office.

  6. Someone On-Line*

    I’m having similar questions. I work for state government, so it’s not like we have a budget. And with quarantine and lock down, a lot of people are missing family and friends and struggling. I have no idea how to inject a little cheer.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      One of the commenters suggested a Teams channel (or similar app). I like that and will suggest it at our next meeting. Not all day, but open for a period of time. Or just even open to posting funny things, things we want to share whenever!

    2. Quinalla*

      Others have said above, but just a little acknowledgement that things are not great to actively bad right now can go along way. Not being super pessimistic, but just acknowledging that this isn’t normal, we’re all more stressed than usual, we are all missing out on whatever our normal traditions are right now and if you can give a little grace to everyone right now – cut them a little slack where possible – that will probably go a long way on its own.

    3. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      I work in a large local gov’t org. We recently spent most of a team meeting sharing as much or as little as we wanted of the following:
      – What we have been doing to make it through the pandemic
      – A favorite thing we have purchased during the pandemic
      – Any new hobbies picked up during the pandemic

      And one guy straight up said that he was just making it through! But overall it was nice to spend some time getting to know people’s lives (and pets, some people showed off their pets) and hobbies a little better and getting some ideas of fun things that are uplifting during this time. It was the best team meeting I’ve ever been in.

  7. I edit everything*

    How about a voluntary swear jar? When someone gets off a call with a particularly difficult client or otherwise needs to vent, they can let loose, then add a buck to the jar. After your busy season is over, use the money for a group thing for the whole team–ordering in better-than-usual food, a high-end coffee machine for the office, some sort of stress relief thing (desk toys, arcade machine [if you really swear a lot], team outdoor activity).

    Or have a jar that’s full of slips of paper with five-minute stress relievers on them. It can be silly things that might perk up the whole team (group chicken dance), or quiet individual meditative things. Maybe two jars, one more silly, one more quiet, and people can pick from either. No compulsion to participate, of course, but things that give permission for a team member to step away for five minutes, to move, to close their eyes and shut off their headset.

    LEGO station or LEGO Advent calendars.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I was going to suggest something like an Advent calendar — something to make the countdown to the end of the season a bit more tangible (or at least perceptible). There could be some kind of ritual to the countdown, if your team would be into it.

    2. I edit everything*

      Sorry, I missed that you’re working from home. So some of these won’t work. But maybe they can be adapted.

    3. Tía Teapot*

      It’d take work on someone’s part, but: virtual countdown calendar, in the advent calendar mode but not so specific (& starting earlier) — a new cute animal video or something every day. Or, not sure how this’d work with everyone working from home (& of course $), a coupon for a free coffee or whatever.

    4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Someone years ago sent me the Jacquie Lawson digital advent calendar. It’s a little village scene with a Christmas themed video or game you can do every day, and as you complete each day’s video/game, the empty village comes to life. There are bonus games that aren’t anchored to a date so you can play them whenever, and educational information that goes over the origins of the Christmas traditions mentioned in the games and videos.

      It’s from England so it’s not 100% secular but it is delightful and I love it.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        My father sends this to my kids every year and they love it. Agreed that it may not be appropriate for a secular workplace, though.

      2. BubbleTea*

        I’m intrigued by the connection between England and “not completely secular”, my sense has always been that there’s more overt religuousness in the USA than the UK. Or were you meaning because we don’t have separation of church and state? Oddly, it seems as though that actually makes it less of a dominant thing.

        1. Tía Teapot*

          My vague impression: while yes in a lot of the US overt religiosity is a big thing (but very much not everywhere), the “holiday season” is less about a specific religious message. Which is why the annual “was on christmas” thing – having blue coffee cups (instead of red and green), or things printed “happy holidays” instead of a specifically christian message is interpreted as an insult. UK seems to be comfortable with specifically christian messages/observances in public/outside-church-or-home spaces.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            That is what I meant. There’s a lot more church hymn Christmas carols and manger scenes in the Advent calendar than would be appropriate in a secular American celebration of Christmas.

            It isn’t preachy or pointed the way some American religious expressions of Christmas get that are rude in tone to people who aren’t as interested in the Jesus aspect of the holiday. It is just there, in a matter of fact sort of way. But I thought it was worth flagging, so anyone purchasing it could make an informed decision if it lined up with how they celebrate.

            1. Emma*

              There’s plenty of secular christmas/holiday stuff in the UK, it just sounds like this particular advent calendar is intended to be explicitly Christian.

              It wouldn’t be appropriate in a UK workplace either (unless it was a Christian organisation)

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I’d never heard of these before, but I got one for myself and it’s already making me so happy.

      4. miss chevious*

        I was a member of the team who made that calendar originally (I haven’t worked there for many years now) and it warms my heart that you enjoy it!

        Re: the not 100% secular comment — that is correct. The calendar is designed by Jacquie and her team and reflects her religious beliefs. It’s not t00 heavy-handed (in my personal opinion as a non-practicing person who was raised Northern Baptist), but there are mentions of Christian traditions and Jesus and the like, so it may not be appropriate for a work team.

        1. Chinook*

          In that case, let me tell you that I am another Jacquie Lawson fan and love how that, while it is Christian, it is not obviously so and I see it as more a reflection of British culture in winter. I always look forward to receiving these and giving them. They bring a true smile to my facce when I see them.

      5. GoryDetails*

        Another Jacquie Lawson addict here! I do adore their Advent calendars, and in general they focus more on the holiday traditions of the locale of the year (this year they’re doing a Nordic one, which I’m really looking forward to), but I expect they’re not to everyone’s taste, whether for the religious aspect or just because not everybody likes the e-card model, however beautifully it’s implemented. But if you wanted to go that route, the company offers a couple of other game-type things – the Curio Shop and the Garden – each of which is crammed with games to play and things to do.

        Whether this would fly as a cheer-up-the-office thing certainly depends on specific people and office culture, but there are usually enough little surprises scattered throughout the apps that people could have fun checking in: “Have you found today’s sheep yet? Did you see the snowman whose outfit changes? Did you see the squirrel?”

  8. sv*

    This is objectively a very silly and juvenile idea, so bear with me – how about creating a paper chain to count down the remaining days of the busy season? You could make one for yourself and invite other coworkers to make their own as well.

    Several years back, my sister was a high school teacher in an underperforming school and she had absolutely no support from her department. She was a first year teacher, and the job was bad in just about every way it could have been bad. At my suggestion around January or so, she made a paper chain and let herself tear a link off when she got home from school every day. It was small, and silly, but it really helped her visualize how much of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad school year she had left. (The happy ending – she’s now in her seventh year of teaching, and she couldn’t be more satisfied with her career!)

    1. Xenia*

      This sounds like a very good idea, actually—take out your stress on a paper link rather than a person. Even better: burn the links.

    2. Morale OP*

      What a great story! That’s kind of what the countdown calendar was for our team. It was a page each day, and at the end of the day you could rip off the page and throw it away and it felt like progress was being made :) I like the idea of a paper chain, maybe I’ll add that to my holiday decor!

    3. joriley*

      My mother did this with a chain of paper clips during the last months in her old career–I like the idea of using a paper chain though, because the ripping up of things is so satisfying!

  9. Professor Plum*

    >> we’re short-staffed

    Is there any way to hire more staff or temps to get through the busy season? Surely seeing part of the actual problem being addressed would boost morale.

      1. Self Employed*

        And there are probably plenty of people looking for work from home right now. I don’t know if there are technical issues with adding temps: computer specs, headset quality, VPN, bandwidth. But if that can be sorted out, I think it would be a big win all around if your regular staff were not overloaded, you weren’t paying them OT and might have better response times or whatever, and some folks had work now after the PUA payments ended.

        1. Morale OP*

          Since I wrote in, our team has brought in some temps to help with admin support. It’s definitely been a help but there’s no way to train someone quickly enough that they can do the job that my colleagues and I do. There are other factors beyond our control that make Nov/Dec a stressful time in retail. For example, all our shipping services are running slower and have earlier deadlines than usual because of the pandemic.

          As I mentioned, I’m not in management, so I don’t have power over staffing decisions, I’m looking for more how my colleagues and I can support each other.

  10. Mama Llama Ding Dong*

    I work in a government office and I vote for silliness, such as: (1) Pet Beauty Contest, where anyone who wants to can send in a photo of their animal companion; (2) the Doodle, where anyone who wants to submits a drawing of a designated item (e.g., your favorite beverage, your favorite pair of shoes, etc.); (3) Foolproof Recipes, where anyone who wants to submits a recipe for a foolproof item (the winner in our office was the person who submitted popcorn sprinkled with Emeril’s original seasoning, which actually tasted good — and was foolproof). I’m sure you can think of others.

    1. Web Crawler*

      My office had a pet beauty pagent that was set up in brackets. It was a lot of fun! The contest organizer gave commentary on the results every week.

      I got second place with a picture of my floofy cat chasing string- the winner was a corgi who wanted belly rubs.

  11. Green great dragon*

    Can you do a remote pizza night? Choose a night that’s likely to be busy and order pizzas for everyone and their families, so at least no-one’s having to make dinner on top of working late. If that’s too much, a delivery of sugary snacks might help.

  12. 2legit*

    Address the issue maybe, even if you can’t fix it?

    Have you actually said to everyone, while everyone is on the same call/meeting/whatever “I know you are stressed (or working 2x as much as normal or whatever is the case)…. and I just want to say that I see that and I appreciate that and this hard phase is not permanent. Thanks for what you are doing”

    Have you?

    1. Data Bear*

      Yes. I think explicitly acknowledging problems, even if you can’t solve them, is meaningful and important.

      If my boss says “Look, I know that X is a problem, and the right way to solve it would be Y, but we can’t do that because Z, so it’s going to be difficult and I’m sorry,” that does a lot for my morale. (Especially if we can then discuss whether there’s anything that can be done about Z…)

    2. Morale OP*

      Totally agree, and our management team has been great (as I mentioned, I’m not in management). They are acknowledging the struggle and doing what they can to support us. That’s not going to be the only solution to the problem, but I can confirm that we have support from our leadership and that everyone is acknowledging it’s a hard time all around and our work is appreciated.

  13. blink14*

    I used to work a terrible holiday function at my old job that really required more than 1 person to manage it (my boss “managed” me managing it, which made everything take twice as long and be far more difficult than need be), along with managing staff and dealing with customer service.

    I would be “on call” every other weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, having to go into work both weekend mornings to make sure everything was set up properly, sometimes staying hours to cover a missed shift. Sometimes I would be dealing with it at night during the week, even having to go back in a several times every season. I was salaried so I didn’t get overtime, and while I received comp time, it was calculated down to the minute, and my boss would never round up an extra 15 or 30 minutes to get in a full hour or a full day. Our holiday bonuses, which came from the parent company, were pathetic and basically covered a dinner at a mid-priced restaurant.

    All that being said – I had a mental countdown every single day for this part of my job (and really all year, it was an awful work environment). It literally was what got me through – knowing there were only X amount of days left. Some free meals, an extra bonus, a day off after the season ended in addition to the comp time, would all have been relatively inexpensive ways for the company to acknowledge and appreciate the extra work.

    Suggestions for this situation? Free meals are always appreciated – whether that’s a gift card that can be used on a delivery service or to an employee’s favorite spot, dinner deliveries covered by the company when working overtime, etc. A day off for people would probably be the most appreciated in terms of managing burn out or getting some extra rest after the holiday season is over. If it’s feasible, maybe it makes sense to schedule people, if they want, for that day off during the season now to mitigate burn out, or give the option to take it after the busy season is over. Even a half day would be nice, people are working from home anyway, logging off at noon and enjoying an afternoon off can really help as well. If your company can afford it, a large bonus would also be welcome, along with a sincere thank you.

    1. Self Employed*

      There’s been at least one recent letter where the consensus was that right now, people need extra cash or Visa cards that don’t have to be spent on treats if they are having trouble paying the bills. Just because this employee has this job doesn’t mean everyone in the house has a stable employment situation or they didn’t lose someone’s good medical insurance when they were laid off.

      1. blink14*

        I agree- but many companies also don’t have the financial ability right now to give monetary bonuses that are substantial. A day off could mean trading childcare with a partner, taking care of important errands or medical appointments, refreshing mental and physical health, etc. There are a lot of people who would trade a small bonus or gift for a day off.

    2. joriley*

      And if it’s a day/half-day off, make sure people can ACTUALLY take it. I know too many people who feel like they can’t take time off right now because of their workload, who put in for vacation time but then end up answering emails on their phone all day, or who take a day off but then work extra hours the rest of the week because otherwise things won’t get done (guilty).

  14. Jady*

    Really encourage people to take breaks during the day. If people would get up and talk over cupcakes in the breakroom between calls, they should be encouraged to go outside and walk the dog, or feel free to do things around their house to clear their head. Make sure people know they aren’t tied to their office desk any more than they would in the office.

    Any money for convenience that the company can throw at them. Subscription services for food delivery or snack boxes would be a nice treat.

    Fun opt-in non-work related chatrooms. Pet picture chatrooms, video game chatrooms, dad-joke sharing chats, etc. I prefer chatrooms over zoom calls myself, because you can participate at your own convenience.

    Encourage people to use and respect statuses. If someone’s marked as “busy” or “away”, leave them alone.

    Ensure people will be compensated for the crunch (and remind people of the light at the end of the tunnel). Especially in this stressful time, earning some extra days off they save for post-pandemic would be exciting.

    Encourage any kind of opt-in games, the kinds of things people might do during lunch break. Fantasy football, maybe a few rounds of Jackbox games sometimes, etc. People at my last office played board-games and card-games during lunch. Jackbox games are great cause only 1 person needs to actually own the game and everyone can participate.

    In general, just relax the environment. For example, assuming they aren’t on zoom calls with customers then let people wear sweatshirts and hoodies, don’t make a fuss about their offices being clean or professional, things like that. Remind people that dogs are going to bark and kids are going to make noise and that’s no big deal these days.

    1. Morale OP*

      Thanks, I think all of those are excellent suggestions. My manager said this the other day too, but I think making sure people are taking breaks throughout the day is SO important and definitely something I’m guilty of forgetting to do!

  15. D3*

    Hire temporary help so your staff ISN’T overburdened.

    The whole “we put put huge, difficult, horrible demands on our staff and they are miserable and struggling so what frivolous and superficial things can we do to make it seem less horrible?” question is just really, really off putting to me.

    If you are placing really high stress demands on employees, the answer isn’t a countdown calendar, the answer is adequate staffing.

    1. Someone Else*


      FIX the problem. Don’t just say “Thanks for dealing with all these problems we won’t bother fixing! LOL! Here’s a starbucks, luv ya!”

    2. LDF*

      OP is not management so that’s not really in their control. OP is not placing any demands or creating the problem here.

    3. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

      The overtime is paid and if this is an annual thing people may be relying on it – staffing up might damage morale in other ways.

      1. Beatrice*

        And there are some jobs with seasonal elements that are expected, predictable, and not worth staffing up for. And cases where staffing up is possible, aren’t always 100% fixed by extra staff, at least to the level that there wouldn’t be morale or stress problems to think of and solve for.

    4. Elenna*

      Yes – but it sounds like OP isn’t in charge of staffing and doesn’t have the authority to hire more people, so IMO some optional fun things, thank you’s, etc is better than nothing…

    5. Anon for this*

      Sure, temporary help might be workable if:
      * The tasks are easy enough to not need extensive training or a large group people trained in that area exist
      * The company doesn’t have many “it’s not standard but we do it this way here” things. Or proprietary software / systems that you *couldn’t* learn elsewhere. This is basically training too, but company-specific not job-skills in general.
      * People with the requisite skills are both available and willing to take short-term jobs.
      * Adding people would make a positive difference to work-flow and you wouldn’t end up in a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation.

      But for many jobs, those conditions are prohibitive. For example, there does not exist a convenient pool of qualified but currently-unemployed atomic/optical physicists willing to take on a 2-month stint in person at our location (or any other really). This is not management refusing to staff adequately; this is just business reality. The company cannot support an extra ‘just in case’ employee or two for the once-a-year crunch times. If we hire someone, we have to be able to keep them continuously employed for way longer than 2 months.

      That being said, while food in the break room was a frequent flyer in non-COVID times, a countdown calendar to a deadline might stress people out more. All we can really do is take as many non-critical things as possible off the crunch-time groups’ plates and delay what other tasks we can until the deadline passes.

    6. Verde*

      I wholeheartedly agree. And then I look at my sad little nonprofit budget and sigh, and go back to my three jobs. :(

  16. Snacks snacks snacks!*

    One thing my org just did to help us get through a busy period (when they would normally provide snacks and food at the office) is sending a “remote breakroom box” of snacks to every employee with a nice note inside. Here’s the company they used:

  17. EEB*

    This idea costs money, but if you have some funds that would normally be spent on a holiday party, what about hiring a chef or bartender to do a virtual demonstration? You could even send people the ingredients for the meal or cocktail so they could follow along of they want to. My organization just hosted a virtual conference and in lieu of an in-person reception, we hired a bartender to make cocktails and mocktails over Zoom, and it was surprisingly fun.

    1. WellRed*

      Retail places don’t typically have holiday parties during the holiday, though. I don’t see where they would have time (or the desire) to stop and do this until after the season, which defeats the question.

      1. Verde*

        We used to do an annual staff party in February, as everyone was so busy at the holidays with work and family stuff. It was actually a big hit, got great attendance, and people appreciated having the time to relax together in a calmer time frame. It also gave us a chance to really make it about the staff.

    2. Ms Yvonne*

      Ohhh, I love this so much. Even if it has to wait until after the rush, it’s a nice thing to look forward to. I’d love it if someone dropped me the supplies to make something nice and then do a virtual cook / drink mixing together. It’s the “the dropping off all the supplies stuff and I don’t have to be arsed to do it” part that’s very wonderful.

  18. Jennifer*

    Wine in the coffee cup in the morning works for me!

    In all seriousness, gift cards for food, coffee, or wine. Let people pick.

  19. automaticdoor*

    I really love the idea of still having a countdown calendar — whether that’s shared virtually or whether you send everyone a paper version for their homes, I think that would be great!

  20. NomadiCat*

    I love that you’re thinking of this!

    Every year at our worst crunch time I would send out a Song of The Day in the morning to get people pumped. I would make a list of songs I thought might be fun, as well as audience requests, and by the end of the month we would have a long, fun playlist you could put on to keep people upbeat and motivated.

    I learned later that my team had been sharing them with folks in other departments and they had become sort of legendary in our company. So if you’re looking for something that the whole team can get in on, works in a virtual space, and can keep your spirits up, I highly recommend a Song of the Day playlist!

    1. willow for now*

      I love the song idea. After a hard crunch time, I sent everyone on the team a link to the YouTube video of Robert Plant “Little by Little” where he sings “I can breathe again” a LOT.

    2. Delta Delta*

      This is a fun idea. It costs nothing and requires very little effort. And if you need songs to get people pumped you can always find runners’ playlists full of really upbeat songs.

  21. SomebodyElse*

    Do you use sharepoint or other intranet platform? I am admin for my team page and I will post a countdown clock. So that is something you can do virtually.

    I’ve done virtual bingo games… find an online bingo card generator, fill in with words or phrases of your choosing, then use an online randomizer to ‘pull bingo numbers’. You can do this all ahead of time and set up pre-timed emails to send out the bingo calls at specified times (I stretch out through the day, so every 20-30 min). The nice thing about this is that if you choose a standard subject, people can opt out and ignore the emails (by rule if they want). So I’ll use something like Subject: BINGO: “B12” with nothing in the subject. Then anyone who doesn’t want to participate can build a rule to automatically delete anything with “BINGO:” in the subject. Even those that are participating can move them to a folder and check when they have time. If they want to play real time all they have to do is glance at the email subject.

    This is a tough one, and I’m also looking for some ideas this year!

  22. Uhdrea*

    I think sincere and specific praise and thank yous would go a long way for me, if I were in this kind of situation. A general, “Everyone’s doing great,” is definitely nice, but being you handled an upset client well or even being assured that a client was wrong and I did what I was supposed to goes a long way when it feels like the demands of unreasonable customers is piling up.

    If you don’t have anything like this already, maybe you could set up a slack channel or forum for the whole team to be able to pop into and put thanks and appreciation into as well.

  23. Jennifer*

    I’m assuming your are short-staffed because there is no budget to hire anyone new. But if there is, please consider getting in some contractors for a few months to work through the backlog. Also, support your employees when they have a difficult customer if you don’t already. I hated customer service because customers were allowed to be nasty and treat you like trash because all the company cared about was money. The customer isn’t always right.

    1. Self Employed*

      Yes, the idea that “the customer is always right” has morphed from “don’t argue with the customer when it’s obvious the baby clothes they’re returning don’t fit because the baby grew out of them, or the combination of toppings they’ve ordered is gross” into “the customer can abuse the staff”.

  24. Double A*

    Would it be possible to offer everyone an extra “personal holiday” during this time? When you’re courting burn out, time off is often the only thing that can help alleviate it. Sometimes just knowing you ~can~ take a day off relieves some of the stress.

    I know you’re short-staffed so this might sound counterintuitive, but time off that increases productivity can pay for itself.

    1. SofiaDeo*

      This. On our busiest, often short-staffed days/weeks, my staff had the tendency to skip breaks/lunch, “because there is so much to do”. Which meant by the end of any particular day, they were exhausted & more likely to make mistakes. I insisted they take their breaks! If you can (you mentioned you aren’t management), see if you can get your managers to encourage people to take their breaks, lunch, etc……especially after dealing with a particularly officious customer. I remember one particularly annoying client; whenever she called, she got put on a brief hold while we determined whose turn it was to deal with her. She was so awful, the only solution was to spread interacting with her around so no one had to deal with her too much/often. Then take a short break after!

    2. Hydrangea McDuff*

      I was going to suggest a comp day. Just knowing you have a day off ahead can be motivating. As long as they don’t come back to a huge pile of emails and tasks that makes climbing out of the hole harder.

  25. Formerly Ella Vader*

    Personal and individual thank-yous from people who know my name. Especially if they have credible detail.

    Early shutdown on the day before a holiday, without losing pay. And as much as possible, including the lead/shift supervisor in the shutdown too.

    Other ad hoc breaks (like, “we’re all caught up, you can all come in an hour later or leave an hour earlier tomorrow, without being docked pay”)

    Reminder that existing break/leave policies will be upheld. “You should always take your 15 minutes morning and afternoon. You shouldn’t stay logged on while taking your lunch break. Please talk to me if this isn’t working, so we can add some more support. If you need time off for a medical appointment, see if you can schedule it when we have good coverage – but if not, let me know and I’ll cover for you.”

    Ask the staff for suggestions about how to make the processes better. Consider the suggestions. Acknowledge the originators if the ideas get adopted. Explain why you aren’t adopting them, when you aren’t. “Thanks for the suggestion to hire teenagers. Unfortunately, provincial law prohibits us using under-16s after midnight or during school hours, and those are the shifts we have trouble filling.” “Thanks for pointing out that shipping would be going more smoothly if we had ordered more envelopes ahead of time. We tried to order more, but unfortunately our supplier was not adequately prepared for this year’s rush. We will definitely be ordering ahead for next year.”

    And the best thing of all, a cash bonus. I know it’s taxable, but when I need money, the gift basket of cheese and chocolate kind of feels tone-deaf. And when I need money, I’m embarrassed to talk about it. (I don’t like shopping at Walmart, but if a gift card from Walmart would help me get a turkey or presents for my family, I’d use it while still feeling a little aggrieved that I had to.)

    No games, nothing that makes me feel obligated to socialize especially when I’m not on the clock. If they want to play games, someone other than the bosses should organize them – although you could chip in some supplies or prizes.

  26. Pretzelgirl*

    What about sending a series of small holiday gifts throughout Nov and Dec. Coffee, snacks, desserts, gift cards, wine. Space them out so the employees get a little pick me up.

  27. WonderWoman*

    This is possibly a tangent, but it would be nice to see this level of consideration during busy periods year round. Not everyone celebrates Christmas or the Gregorian New Year, but they might find it really challenging when a busy period overlaps with the High Holy Days or Ramadan (for example.)

    Also, a bonus goes a long way towards boosting morale.

  28. Idunnoaboutit*

    I know this may sound contradictory, but sometimes hiring temps can have the opposite effect you need it to have. If people have to spend time training and their real job on top of it, it could add stress. Also if yours is a job that takes months to learn it may not be feasible. People making mistakes=more stress.

    Unless you have some super easy, time consuming tasks that pretty much anyone could do. Then it may help. Otherwise I would be nervous to go the temp route.

    1. Self Employed*

      If this is basically inbound sales, there are probably enough basic, straighforward orders that it would not be a big thing to get some temps and train them enough to do the basic orders and forward anything else to the regulars. I did inbound phone orders (back in the mid-90s, when people would still get catalogs and call to order) and it didn’t take much training to get to that level. Like, half a day or so.

      Otherwise, if I misunderstood OP, I agree that having to train someone during the busy season could be a hassle. Does OP train people in these positions?

      1. cmmj*

        The letter writer indicates this is a bespoke product with a high level of customer interaction, so it certainly seems to require a high knowledge level of the product and procedures, which would entail more training than straight forward inbound sales.

        But I agree that a temp for any sort of (easily trainable) admin work that could lighten the load for full-time sales people could be a help.

  29. drpuma*

    I’m thinking about the after-hours admin work. What about opening a personalized, private livestream to “broadcast” a holiday movie or soothing nature documentary that the whole team can all have up at the same time? Get the feeling of watching the same thing together even if you can’t all be in the same place.

    1. LilyP*

      That would be cute! Another idea is setting up a long-running opt-in video call sometimes where people can drop in and out to chat or just have background noise or someone to roll their eyes at when a client says something ridiculous. I think that would also work well for the evening catch-up time. Completely optional and opt-in obviously.

  30. Scott D*

    When my boss thought we were burning out, she called a meeting at 1 PM (on Zoom of course) and said “we’re having a scavenger hunt and once we’re done, I want you all to take the rest of the day off.” The hunt involved finding things in our house (a coat hanger, a paperclip, a blue shirt, etc.–things that most people have that, surprisingly, you can’t find all that quickly when told to). We had to hold them up to the camera to show we had found them. The winner got a $25 gift card.

    This may not work for you, but when employees are burning out, it’s nice that a manager recognizes it and gives them recharge time.

    A previous job I worked in had very long and stressful periods, too. When they were over, our boss would sometimes call us at home unexpectedly and say “take today off with pay” or, when that wasn’t possible, would buy us a meal or even have us take a break in the middle of the day to go to a movie and then back to work.

    This year, we’re going to try a “white elephant” where we mail a cheap gift to a random employee’s home (participation is voluntary) and those participating will be opening their gifts on Zoom.

    These sound like trivial things but they really make a big difference. If you’re facing a huge workday, a break in the middle can be helpful!

  31. Toaster_strudel*

    As someone who worked this type of job honestly the best thing you could do is convince management to bring in seasonal help so you’re not burning everyone out. I worked in the online department of a high end department store for 3 years and the holidays were M I S E R A B L E. I’m a Christmas person through and through and have since recovered my love for the holidays but for those 3 years, I hated them. When you’re forced to take on 10+ hours per week of OT just so that whiny entitled people can yell at you for “ruining Christmas” because they can’t wave a magic wand and make the designer shoes that they absolutely don’t need appear on their doorstep during a snowstorm, it’s depressing in a very existential way. That really can’t be fixed with coffee gift cards or ingenuous sounding emails.

  32. Maxie*

    You said that you’re understaffed, and you seem to have a lot of business, so the logical response is to hire additional staff, even if it’s temporary, to handle the workload. What is preventing you from doing that? I also recommend looking at why admin work is seen as an additional might time function. That sounds like a position you could create that would pull work off of each one of your employees.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Probably the fact that OP isn’t management? She says “I’m a senior team member (non-management)”. That means that she probably can’t unilaterally decide to hire temps, although she might be able to bring it up with her own management.

  33. Beth*

    Another possible channel for the in-house private Teams area: on one of the forums where I hang out, there’s a long-running thread titled “That thing you just can’t say”. It’s for blowing off steam, ANY steam, for any reason, completely protected from any kind of judgement. Chat is barred, no replies are allowed, and the only responses available are supportive icons (Agree, Love, etc.) Also, what is expressed in the thread stays in the thread.

    I don’t know if this kind of thing can be kept as a sufficiently safe space in a work environment, but if it can, it can be a real help.

  34. RB*

    As a small token of appreciation, what about a really nice bouquet delivered to their house right before Thanksgiving or Christmas. Everyone loves flowers, and they could use it to decorate their table if they’re having people over for the holiday.

    Also, I don’t really use meal services so I don’t know what the options are, but what about hot prepared meals delivered at lunch or dinner time for a week or so during the biggest holiday push.

    1. DD*

      I’m sorry but not everyone loves flowers… I do not.
      I cannot appreciate the flowers because I already see them fading and crumpling and molding and.. Bouquets are a waste, just the death of nice plants for a few hours of human pleasure. It just makes me sad.
      I know that I am unconventionnal, but still.

    2. Grand Mouse*

      I would worry about flowers because some people have allergies and some common flowers are toxic to cats! (With the holiday season coming up, doing my psa about being careful bringing plants into your home with pets)

  35. The Disenchanted Forest*

    Sometimes just acknowledging the work people are doing can really help with morale. Especially with more people working from home, it is difficult for others to see the work that individuals are doing. Whether it’s done publicly (mass email, team meeting) or privately (individual email, 1:1), just having your work and effort acknowledged can go a long way. It doesn’t have to be for anything extraordinary either. But if you’re going to do it in a public way, be sure to acknowledge everyone AND make sure the appreciation is sincere.

  36. Yorick*

    If you’re looking for virtual holiday activities, my husband’s company had a cookie decorating contest for employees and their families over the summer. They sent a small kit to everyone who signed up (it had cookies and some decorating supplies), we sent in pictures of our cookies by a certain date, and a few days later they had a meeting where they showed all the pictures and then announced the winners they had already chosen. There were a couple of categories and prizes for the winners. It was a lot of fun.

    Of course, these kinds of things won’t solve any work-related problems that are leading to burnout. But some people are lonely and bored on top of any problems they’re facing at work, so opt-in social activities might be beneficial in some cases.

  37. Antigone*

    Honestly, just ask your staff what would help them, in individual private discussions, having made it clear that you genuinely want to hear and are trying to figure out how to ease pressure on everyone, even if you may not be able to come through with everything that would help.

    You’re going to find that people want different sorts of support. I would just want a thank you, some flexibility about scheduling where possible, and to not have my inbox filling up with invitations to social things, songs/pictures of the day, virtual countdowns, multi-hour Zoom hangouts, gift cards for services I don’t already use or that don’t have appropriate options for other people in my household, etc. I’d appreciate the thought but in practice you’d be making me more stressed, not less, with most of these options.

    It sounds like your usual workplace culture is heavy on the social aspect so probably your people won’t feel this way quite as strongly as I do, but you probably do have some range in what people want/need, and the best way to find out for your specific people is just to ask.

  38. not responding*

    Any chance you can hire temp/term/seasonal workers to help you out? Working until late every single night for several months going is, alas, not gonna be solved by gripping and commiseration. It might be helped if you could work fewer hours.

  39. Andy*

    My company just hit the 25 year milestone. Unfortunately there is absolutely no budget at all for any kind of celebration, let alone the lavish one we had at 20 years. Not to mention, the majority of people still working from home.
    However, they did what they could – an extra day of leave to be cashed in anytime up til June 30, a voucher for a free lunch (which I’ve already missed the deadline on, working from home outweighed that one :p), and a three month subscription to one of our services, to pass on to family and friends.

    Being around 5 years ago to compare this to the previous milestone, but also understanding the current financial position of the company, I think it was a nice gesture using what they had. Employees get something, the business entices people back to the office (I’m in a country where Covid-19 is nowhere near the threat other countries have), there’s a means to bring in new customers — everyone wins.

  40. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I truly don’t have suggestions, but I am heartened to hear of the compassion that leads to this letter. We need more of that in this world.

  41. Pond*

    This is something that I sometimes do with friends/family/classmates to get work done, and I realize it might not be okay for a work setting. Actually, I think it would not be good at all for a work setting unless it was completely optional and done in a way that didn’t feel intrusive or weird, so perhaps only a couple co-workers who are already comfortable with each other and perhaps know each other outside of work.
    I will get on a call (usually video such as FaceTime, sometimes voice only i.e. standard phone call) with a friend, and after talking for a few minutes we will each do our own work. We stay on the call, and occasionally make a comment related to our work or something we’re thinking about. If one of us is watching a video/listening to music/anything that makes noise, we mute ourselves so as not to distract the other person, but unmute if we have something to say, even if it’s an exasperated sigh at a frustrating problem. These calls can be short or, most often, last for several hours.
    The point is not that we interact very much, but that we are present with one another and can feel that someone is listening and we’re not alone. It is also motivation to stay on task, as you know the other person is working. Occasionally I will also use it for accountability, if I know I will be very tempted to get sidetracked and not actually do the work. Accountability can be done as formally as checking in with each other every 15 minutes as to how much has been done, or as informal as noticing when one person is laughing and asking what’s so funny, since it’s unlikely to be work-related.

  42. Rouge Reader*

    As this thread was going, I immediately thought of Google’s Santa Tracker!!!
    Every year, a new game or activity is released each day of December – things like decorate Santa’s beard, or a Drop the gifts from the Airplane game. Fun, relatively short, and just a great mental break. Maybe you can have a mini competition among your team members (who want to participate) with these? (Who can create the most awesomely amazing haircut and style for Santa?) And yes, I know this doesn’t help now, but you can totally save it for next month!

  43. Workfromhome*

    I’m not going to suggest items or games or anything else. I don’t know the people. The question for the OP is do you really know the people and what they want? Whether you think you do or not ASK THEM FIRST before you do anything.
    I can tell you from experience the only thing that pissed me off more than management not acknowledging my issues was management doing something to make me happy without asking if it would actually make me happy! Just because the manger likes fruit baskets doesn’t mean that giving me a fruit basket will make me happy. Maybe i’m allergic.

    The most memorable ones that come to mind was that my former employer used to give out a cyz electronics gift card as a Christmas bonus because we are all tech savy people. Well I was the only one in the country that didn’t have an cyz electronics within 500 miles of me. They never bothered to ask so it didn’t make me happy because I couldn’t use it it made me pissed off because I couldn’t and everyone else could.

    But it got worse because the next year instead of that $100 gift card that everyone looked forward to (except me :-)) was replaced by instead of a gift card we at Bigcopr have made a donation to charity Idontcareabout on your behalf. So they got a tax break and I got a piece of paper that a charity that I don’t care about got money. That did not make me happy.

    Moral of the story is the first people you should ask about how you can keep moral up are your employees. Fund out what they want and if you at all can give it to them. If 90% of your employees don’t like playing games over zoom then don’t do that it makes the stress worse not better. Sorry for sounding so bitter just so many experiences with management throwing guilt trips “why aren’t you grateful for this great wine tasting event we put on what other employer does that for you” when I don’t drink wine or we need to bond as a team so lets all go to a restaurant together after we’ve worked a 15 hour day when id rather go home and see my kids.

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