Over the river and through the woods toward the fiscal cliff we go…

It may be the holiday season, but the ride is an unsettling one. The news is depressing. The possibility of sequestration and higher taxes — downright scary. That’s why I really had to think about how to spread some much-needed holiday cheer and thank my team for their tenacity, while at the same time doing as little damage as possible to our budget. That’s the holiday dilemma I believe many small business owners face this year. I refuse to be a Grinch!

Kay is giving employees a little extra time away from the office next year instead of a little extra cash for the holidays. (Andrew Hensler)

Last year, we celebrated what we called the “Six Days of Christmas.”  Yes, it is typically 12 days — but we’re a small company and very efficient.  Each day, the employees received a great gift. On the sixth day, it was a really nice bonus. That stretched the budget but it was worth it to see the surprised looks every day.

Our corporate year-end is September 30. This year, we made contributions to our employee retirement plans and gave out hefty bonuses. So what more could we realistically do for the holidays given the economic uncertainties? I needed some help. I asked one of my long-time employees what he wanted most. His answer was simple — more time to spend with family, relaxing or just doing nothing. Funny. That’s what I, along with most business owners, also want.

This past year was grueling. It feels as though we worked non-stop, lived on planes and delivered more product faster than ever before. According to a recent National Small Business Association survey, “stress levels more than triple other employee well-being concerns.” 

The stress levels at our firm this past year were definitely high. No one is complaining. We feel fortunate to be doing the work we love and getting a paycheck for it. Still, there is no doubt that time off is critical for employee health and wellness, not to mention productivity. So the holiday gift this year is the gift of time.

Every employee is getting an extra week of paid vacation in 2013. It’s a great way to reward them for all the long hours they put in this past year and, at the same time, preserve cash for whatever might happen with the fiscal cliff.

There is no doubt that extra cash is great at the holidays, but I think the extra time will be — to steal a line from those well-known commercials — priceless!

Cynthia Kay is owner and president of Cynthia Kay and Company, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based media production and communication company that provides a broad range of services to Fortune 100 firms and small and mid-sized businesses. 

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