It’s not too late to get your clients and your staff settled into a holiday schedule.
The holidays are definitely an exciting and fun time, especially with all the extra gifts, treats and gratuities! But they can be a big, hairy ball of chaos too if you don’t have a few decisions nailed down tight and policies to support them. Here are a few of the biggest tanglers for both clients and employees, and some suggestions to help you get through the holidays without wanting to close shop entirely for December 2014!  

Scheduling and Availability  
Clients will be concerned about their plans for the holidays and will expect you to modify your schedule somewhat to meet their needs. Suggestion: send a bulk email (BCC, of course) stating your policy and asking for their requests one month before the actual holiday. If you are closed and would like them to move a cleaning vs. skipping altogether, then just give the options of moving before or after. Call anyone who hasn’t responded by two weeks before so you are able to firm up the schedule and make appropriate staffing decisions.

Employees will be concerned about getting time off to spend with friends and family. Suggestion: six weeks before the holiday, post black-out dates when nobody will have approved time off, and announce in meetings and newsletters also. Looking for times/ways to support your people in getting the time off they need/want will go a long way toward garnering their loyalty to you and your company.  

Clients will have more sentimental items out, which the employees will encounter, and which will be much more sensitive to damage and carelessness. Suggestion: Send a holiday prep email incorporating the above along with your policies and precautions for anything that may be sentimentally-valued.  Remind them how you will be handling the demands of additional work related to trees, decorations, parties, etc.

Employees may be nervous about cleaning seasonal items as well as concerned about additional demands on their time. Suggestion: Reassure them by reminding them of your policies regarding additional work needs and also that the spirit of the season will be impacting them in positive ways as well.  

Clients are rarely expecting anything from their cleaning team other than a simple card perhaps. Suggestion: Keep it simple by sending a card or possibly a photo card of your team members. If you feel compelled to give a gift, keep in mind that you are setting a precedent and your clients will still be expecting one each year. The cost should reflect the amount you will continue to be willing to pay based on your estimated client count in 5 years. Keep in mind that branded items feel more like marketing than gifts. Candles, baked goods, candies, small stockings/towels all make reasonably priced gifts.

Employees will generally be expecting a gift in the form of a bonus or a personalized gift. Suggestion: If it bothers you that this is an expectation, steer clear of bonuses because you may begin to resent that they are not as appreciative as you expect them to be. A simple gift purchased for all with a short note of appreciation will generally provide more satisfaction for giver and receiver alike.

Clients will want to give gratuities in the form of gifts or money. Some will be adamant that their gifts go directly to the person of their choice; others will want to thank the entire team/company. Suggestion: In the email referenced before, state your gratuity process very clearly, commenting on who receives the items and any concerns you may have regarding type of gift – consumables, cash, checks, alcohol, etc.   

Employees who are normally very gracious may appear to become greedy or materialistic. There may be concerns about the handling of money especially. Suggestion: Have the employees decide as a group how they would like to have gratuities handled. You will find that there is less upset when everyone is following the same procedures that they themselves agreed upon. Bonus suggestion for teams that change is to have a policy that includes perishables being allowed to be consumed by the team that cleans, and anything not consumed during the course of the day is returned to the office with everything else to be dispersed accordingly.  

Clients may be having more parties, complicating their service expectations in the form of scheduling or increased work load. Suggestion: Look for ways to use this to your advantage. Offer party clean-up days, catering, etc.

Employees will appreciate any party/celebration you provide on their behalf. Different company cultures will be widely divided on their preferences, from a homestyle party where kids and Santa are the main focus to an elegant evening out for adults only. Suggestion: Do not assume that you know what they want. Get their input. They may want something different from year to year as well. Some may want to celebrate before the holidays; some may prefer to celebrate when the hustle and bustle dies down. You won’t know what will truly be appreciated unless you ask. Make sure any suggestions that you give or receive meet your budgeting needs.

Clients have varying religious preferences and beliefs. While the majority of American families (95% Gallup Poll) celebrate Christmas, over half of them (51%) describe it as a “strongly religious” holiday while the rest see it as something else entirely. Suggestion: Try using the phrase Season’s Greetings for a less emotionally-charged salutation and be mindful of your clients’ beliefs. Making assumptions about what people believe is generally not a good idea, but a token of your company’s sentiments are typically accepted well by the vast majority of people.

Employees also have varying religious preferences and beliefs. It is very important to be aware of these and to be respectful of your employees’ beliefs. They will expect it and may have certain limitations on what they are willing to do or participate in. You may be required by law to accommodate your employee’s religious beliefs. Suggestion: Be respectful of your employees throughout the entire year, and the holidays will not be a point of contention.

Last Note
As you can see, it is very important around the holidays (and always) to make firm decisions regarding what your policies will be and to stick to them. The suggestions provided are designed to support your policy decisions. If you make a plan for the holidays, you’ll find that they are very much like your family holidays: exciting, fun, a little stressful at times and something you look forward to year after year!

Liz Trotter is founder of American Maid Cleaning as well as an entrepreneur and leadership trainer based in Olympia, Washington.  She is also a former ARCSI baord member, a partner in Cleaning Business Builders, creator of the HiPEP employee development system and a charter member of Cleaning For A Reason.