How Leaders Can Help With Holiday Stress

Association staffers and volunteers are often overwhelmed, especially this time of year. That makes it a good time to think about your organizational culture.

The noisiest time of the year, for better or for worse, is now in full swing. Black Friday has worn down our collective feet at the mall, and this blog post is fighting to be heard among the ever-honking airhorn of Cyber Monday. It’s the time of year that can get a lot of leaders feeling competitive. (“Why aren’t we launching the big membership campaign those other folks are?”) But it’s also a time to take a deep breath and not get seduced into a herd mindset.

Listening to employees explain what resources they need—and then making a good-faith effort to provide them—can make a big difference.

Indeed, this might be a better time to think about the stressed-out people within your association’s community at this time of year—from employees to members to stakeholders—and consider what you can do to make that culture less overwheming. I come at this after reading Ron Carucci’s essay in Harvard Business Review on the difficulty of balancing business goals with employee satisfaction. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, says Carucci, an author and business consultant. But connecting the two requires some culture work.

Part of the solution involves getting away from a perks-oriented mindset to one that focuses on processes that build employee satisfaction. Carucci cites the example of one company that addressed disengagement among its ranks by empowering more middle managers to speak up and share concerns and by making decision-making less top-down. Listening to employees explain what resources they need—and then making a good-faith effort to provide them—can make a big difference. Efforts like those “helped dramatically restore a sense of pride and personal ownership,” he writes.

In addition to that sense of ownership, Carucci writes, employees also want a feeling that their work is being seen. One company he’s worked with had “talent showcases” at executive meetings, the better for top leadership to see the efforts that people across the organization are making. The initiative is a “great way for executives at the top to meet and enjoy the perspectives and contributions of people they would never know otherwise.”

It’s not hard to see how this approach can be more broadly applied across an association, beyond staff. Hardworking volunteers might be grateful for the opportunity to share their successes with both the staff leadership and the board, which can only help with volunteer engagement (and perhaps help you vet future board talent). That’s not a cure-all, but with on-the-job engagement often at low levels, efforts to give everyone more opportunities to be seen and heard can only be an asset for an organization.

That is, if all of it is done in a spirit of sincerity and authenticity, out of a genuine belief that this kind of engagement improves your association. This week brings us #GivingTuesday, an online effort to encourage charitable giving after the Cyber Monday hangover. The initiative feels completely leaderless, like it emerged from a collective upswell of good feelings, but it in fact has its genesis at a nonprofit: The 92nd Street Y in New York. Henry Timms, former CEO of the organization and keynote speaker at the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, explained to me earlier this year that the Y made a point of playing a background role in #GivingTuesday, the better to help participants feel a stronger sense of ownership in it.

“We never branded it,” Timms said. “We encouraged people to shape it and share it, so it never looks the same as it moves around the world.”

In that same spirit, it might be worth avoiding the holiday-season instinct to blast and promote every good effort you make to improve employee engagement and instead simply … improve employee engagement. Have the conversations and create the environment where members of your team can work in ways that make them feel both more valued and productive. After all, they already have plenty of noise in their inboxes to attend to.

(nito100/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!