6 ways to make the most out of working during the holidays, according to a career expert

Imagine doing last-minute holiday shopping without a sales clerk to ring up your purchases. Or getting in a fender-bender on the way to Thanksgiving dinner and not having a police officer respond to your call. Or how about heading out to a bar on New Year’s Eve only to arrive with no host in sight to seat you and no bartender to pour you a flute of Prosecco. The reality is, we should be mindful that the majority of Americans have to work during the holidays, even though most traditional offices are closed. And while we wish everyone could be home for the holidays, unfortunately, it’s just not the case right now.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of Americans in service occupations—which includes everyone from housekeepers to firefighters to waiters to home health aids—and 47% of workers employed in sales have to work during the holidays. And even though helping others feel joy during this time of year can be an amazing feeling in and of itself, it shouldn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday season with or without your loved ones just because you’re working—if anything, you deserve to feel the joy most of all. 

If you happen to be working during any of these holidays, and aren’t looking forward to it, don’t worry, we got you. We tapped career coach, Emily Eliza Moyer, to see how she’d suggest making the best of this situation. 

Here’s what a career coach has to say about making the best of a less-than-festive situation.

1Take care of yourself.

The holidays can be stressful enough, even if you spend them at home with family. But if you’re at work, needing to handle your personal responsibilities on top of the heightened expectations of your clients or customers during an especially busy time of the year, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Moyer stresses the importance of finding time to stick to your routine in order to stay healthy and sane: “For me personally, that means doing yoga and meditating every day. For others, it might mean taking a walk or making sure you have 20 minutes to read before you go to bed.”

Moyer notes this is especially important for people in customer-facing roles. “We absorb other people’s stress. If someone’s angry with you, your reaction may be to get angry back. But remember that this person’s emotions aren’t yours,” says Moyer. “They usually have nothing to do with you—you don’t need to take on what they’re feeling.” So how exactly can you respond during these not-so-great situations? Moyer suggests you try to answer with extra compassion or patience instead.

If you find yourself especially worn out after being on your feet all day or dealing with grumpy customers, let yourself recharge. Schedule a pedicure appointment, have a special meal after you get off from work, or give yourself free rein to take a nap after your shift instead of moving directly into your own holiday tasks. Let’s be honest: Present-wrapping can wait—or, better yet, be skipped altogether.

2Be flexible with your own holiday celebrations.

Who’s to say the holidays have to be celebrated on the day they happen?

Ask your friends and family if you can schedule the holiday celebration at a slightly different time. A big ole brunch on the first day of a new year personally sounds five times more appealing than drinking overpriced well cocktails in uncomfortable shoes while frantically searching for a ball-drop kiss before midnight, does it not? 

If your loved ones are married to the idea of a holiday dinner and unwilling to switch to another day, Moyer suggests trying to be as present as possible for whatever time you are there. “Even if you can only spend an hour with them, let that hour feel like ten hours. Be extra present [with your loved ones]. Set an intention about how you want that time to look like, and let those moments you do have feel long and full,” she says. If you’re unsure how to magnify these brief periods of time, ask yourself if you can be more engaged with the people you’re with instead of being on your phone. And every time you walk into a room, take inventory of who’s there and ask yourself how you can best connect with them in the time that you do have.

3Make new work traditions and deepen your relationships with your coworkers.

Before Moyer was a career coach, she was head of brand and content at Remote Year, a company that offers travel programs to location-independent workers. Her first year there, she found herself working during the holidays from Vietnam. Her task? Hosting a Christmas dinner for 60 people.

“I not only wasn’t with my family and friends back home, I was also in another country, trying to create a holiday experience for our customers along with other staff members. But I remember feeling [how] beautiful it was that I got to create that experience with those people,” says Moyer.

Chances are you won’t be the only employee working over the holidays. See if you can make your own traditions to pass the time and enjoy your co-workers’ company. Dr. Dana Lindemann, senior staff veterinarian at SeaWorld, often has to work holidays—animals need care whether or not humans would like the day off. She and her team do a gift exchange and a potluck dinner every holiday season. “These activities provide special moments to bond with colleagues and share holiday memories, which there may not be an opportunity for during regular workdays,” she says.

4Enjoy the extra money and envision how you want to use it.

Working on holidays often comes with making extra money (though not always—U.S. law does not require employers to pay non-exempt employees who work on a holiday, but they often offer it). If you are making time and a half or overtime pay, bank that extra cash and think about what you’d like to use it for. “Do you have more of a security buffer for 2020 because you made some extra money?” asks Moyer. “Can you save up for something specific and [see it as an] opportunity to make extra money and spend it on something that is meaningful to you [or someone else]?”

Even if you’re not getting paid more money, Moyer suggests switching the narrative you’re telling yourself. While you may not be eager to head into work, this can be a great opportunity to view this situation from a more positive point of view. 

5Make a positive impact.

Maybe working over the holidays isn’t ideal for you because you’d rather be eating mashed potatoes or watching movies with your family. But Moyer reminds people in service and sales positions that they will be interacting with other people who may not have families to spend the holidays with. “Try to see it as your opportunity to give back. Can you make someone’s day or holiday season better?” she says. At the end of the day, you just never know what someone might be going through. Maybe they recently lost someone and are experiencing grief or maybe they need a little pick-me-up after having a long, rough day. Either way, connecting with others can make the holiday experience better not only for them, but also for you—and isn’t that the whole point of the season?

6If all else fails, plan ahead for the next holidays.

If all of my (and Moyer’s) well-intentioned advice hasn’t yet made you feel better about having to work over the holidays, let this last suggestion redeem the time you’ve spent on this article: Remind your boss of your time served.

If you couldn’t get out of working a holiday, ask if you can get the next holiday off—or better yet, if you can have the days off around the holidays as well. It honestly doesn’t hurt to get ahead of the curve. Hopefully, they will be receptive and you can lock down some work-free celebrations for the future. 

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