Twas a month before Christmas, and all through the place, not a creature was working, not even in one space. The paperwork was flung about with despair, with hopes that the boss wouldn't notice that no one was there.
Yes, it's that time of year again. So much to do. The Thanksgiving feast to plan, Christmas cards to mail, mistletoe to hang, cookies to bake, eggnog to make, guests to entertain and gifts to buy.
It's enough to distract the most conscientious of employees -- and bring out the bah-humbug in the kindest of office managers.
Don't think they don't notice. Just like Santa knows who's naughty and nice, managers can sense who's slacking and who's not.
In a 2010 survey by Accountemps, a California-based staffing services firm, 34 percent of senior managers found their employees to be "somewhat" or "much less" productive the week before a major holiday. The poll was based on phone interviews with more than 1,000 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees.
"We start to see it about that week before Thanksgiving, when people start to look at taking time off," said Andrew Sassaman, manager of the Pittsburgh branch of Robert Half International, a specialized staffing company.
That doesn't mean the holiday season, work-wise, has to be as unfulfilling as a Christmas fruitcake. There are ways to keep the time festive without it becoming a drag on productivity, Mr. Sassaman said.
He offered some tips to employees -- and employers -- to keep the holidays a holly, jolly time of the year in the office.
• Make a list. No, not for Santa, but for you to chart what work must be done, what deadlines must be met and how to accomplish both.
"People have a tendency to lose focus during the holidays. Because so much else is going on, keeping lists keeps you focused and on task for the holidays," Mr. Sassaman said.
• Tie up loose ends. Don't push off work simply because you have a lot to do around the holidays. If you're taking time off, find a co-worker who can cover for you while you're gone and offer to do the same for another co-worker who is going on vacation. If you're going to be off, make sure your voice mail and email alerts reflect that.
"No matter what happens, work still needs to continue. You don't want to be that employee who just leaves and abandons work. Find someone who can cover for you, back you up, and be that person for someone else as well," Mr. Sassaman said.
• When it comes to festivities, check that list twice -- and purge some of it. Mr. Sassaman recommends that employees be selective in deciding what parties, family gatherings, concerts or other holiday happenings to attend. "If you try to do all of them, it can be overwhelming," he said.
For managers, Mr. Sassaman offers this advice: Don't be a scrooge.
While employees have work to do, managers need to be flexible with them, remembering that the holidays are a time for family and friends.
"It's important to have these distractions around the holidays," Mr. Sassaman said. "It's important to have something outside of work. You don't want work to be your entire life."
He recommended that managers spread some holiday cheer themselves by awarding achievement and hard work with gift cards or some other form of recognition.
"It can help keep people on task during the holidays," he said.
Workers who spend too much time rockin' around the Christmas tree when they should be working most likely will be recognized as well, but maybe not in a way that reflects the spirit of the season.
"That will get you noticed in a bad way," Mr. Sassaman said.