Not taking leave this year?

During December, the half-empty office can be a downer. Here are some tips to survive,and celebrate, the festive season at work.

Lighten up
As we all know, not everyone can be on holiday; someone has to keep the office fires burning. And when that time is here, it is best to develop a positive attitude – don't moan about being at work. Lighten up and go with the mood. Roshni Pirbhoo-Seetha of the Depression and Anxiety Society says working over the festive season is not all that bad.

"Don't be depressed about it; you are not the only one who's at work. Look around you; even at the shopping malls, restaurants or hotels where you plan to go, people are working," she says.

Masechaba, 30, a nurse at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital who works on weekends, Christmas and public holidays says, "I think I love my job too much because I never stress about working on holidays. When I entered the profession, I knew that a nurse's job is to look after sick people. And who said people don't get sick during the festive season?" Roshni adds that as you are at work at this time, you won't spend as much money as you would if you were on leave. "The fact is you will do the same thing that others have done, but a month later. The good thing is that when you take leave early in the year; it will be quieter and cheaper. I think it is best to organise your own party at your office with your colleagues. That, I promise, will get you right in the mood."

Dress the part
What you wear says a lot about you and the company you work for, hence most companies enforce a certain dress code. Mpho, a personal assistant to the CEO of a financial institution, says her boss goes on holiday overseas around this time of the year and she has to be in the office. "Both of us can't take leave at the same time. When she's not there I have to be in the office to answer telephones and do a little bit of admin work," she says. "Our office has a strict dress code that is not negotiable. We wear a navy blue pencil skirt, formal shirt and jacket. This time of the year I am sometimes tempted to dress more casually because I want to fit in when I meet with my friends either for lunch or after work."

Professional image consultant, Doris Msibi, says there is nothing wrong with dressing down for work around the festive season, "But make sure you dress down well. Don’t rock up at the office looking like a movie star or in slip-slops or spaghetti-strap tops," she says. "Your dress code should still command respect and stay close to your character. Don't dress to shock; people still need to respect you."

Team up
This is the best time to be a team player and build your relationship with your colleagues. When you all get along, you can do things together, like having lunch as a team. Lerato, 28, says she prefers to work at this time of the year because it is not a mad rush, and she gets to bond with her colleagues. "The office is quiet and there are a few of us. We get onto the job but in a very casual manner. It's nice because we either go out for lunch as a team or we order in."

You can work your hours so that you are all able to have time to attend to your personal errands, like getting a Christmas turkey for your family. Your coworkers could help you when you need to pop out of the office quickly. You can also speak to your boss as a team about restructuring your work schedule to suit the festive season.

Flexitime
Because most of the country's workforce is on holiday in December, you could negotiate flexible work hours with your boss. Some people prefer to start early and leave work early. "I own a small communications company, and we work throughout the holiday season to prepare for the following year," says 32-year-old Thembela.

"But most of our clients are on holiday, so we mainly do office work. This allows us to restructure our working hours and I allow my employees to take half days off to do their errands. Obviously we do this in consultation with everyone so that we have a system among ourselves," she says. "We all work hard, so we can finish quickly, which allows everyone to take time off."

Go mobile
Thank the Lord for technology; instead of staring at your computer screen waiting for emails, try a mobile office. You can connect your work network to your cellphone, laptop or Blackberry, a wireless application that allows you to receive email on the go. Lebo, 38, a CEO of a construction company, says the festive season is the best time for her to take leave. "But I still need to know what is happening in the office. I will only be able to do that if I am connected to the office network."

This way you are always in touch with your office and all your important emails and documents are easily accessible. All you need is a laptop computer or a mobile phone such as the iMate phone, or Blackberry device, which has Microsoft Windows and other office features. A cellphone service provider can connect you to the Internet at a monthly rate. Setting up a mobile office can be expensive, but some companies will supply you with the equipment and connect you to their network. Find out from your manager if this is available to you. If your cellphone is connected to the 3G network, you can make live video calls to family. While at the office, you can also keep in touch with your children and share special moments.

Be ready for the pressure
If you work in retail shops, working during the December holidays can be very stressful as it is the busiest time of the year. The crowds can be overwhelming, and irritated customers are numerous as well. Customer service consultant Lungile Bam, 27, who works in a retail shop, says she has learnt to cope with her work during the festive season. "I plan ahead. I do all my shopping before the end of November, so that when December kicks in I am ready for it. It's easier to deal with customers if you don't have personal stress like worrying about your shopping," she says.

Headaches can sometimes be a sign of dehydration, and unhappy customers and a busy work environment can aggravate it. Ensure that you take good care of your health during the holiday season. Drink water, eat well and use your lunch break to catch your breath and relax.
Shop assistant, Kgomotso, 27, says she spends 10 minutes of her lunch break in the shop's stock room where it's cooler and quieter. "This helps clear my mind and unwind."

Detox your workspace
Author of the book The Great Office Detox (Penguin Books), Dawna Walter says cluttered workspace can create a stressful environment, which can affect your productivity. "Organise the important stuff and clean away the accumulated dust and dirt that lurks in every corner," says Walter. Once done, you will breathe better, gain new perspective and feel more energetic."
Bring in a bunch of flowers; it will help lift up your mood if you're feeling down. When detoxing your office space, especially your desk, you'll be able to see what needs be done more clearly. This will increase your productivity, which might allow you to have some time to share with your family. "There's no easy way to feel dramatically better about working or living in any space than to clear it out from top to bottom," advises Walter.

Allow visitors
As school children are on holiday, it is nice to take your little ones with to your office. This can lighten up the dull office environment, and having visitors pop in during the day can be a joy for everyone. Before you bring your children to work, ask your colleagues how they'll feel about it. "In our office we have many people who bring their kids in to visit for a couple of hours," says Thembela. "It makes the office seem less of an office, and we can still get work done as well."

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- Women24

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