Deflating Holiday Stress

Ah, the holidays! A time of good cheer, gift buying … and lots of stress on jewelers and their staffs.

“It’s an enormously stressful time for jewelers, more than any other time,” says Paul I. Karofsky, founder of Transition Consulting Group Inc. (transition-consulting.com) and a family business consultant to jewelers. “It’s when they do a huge proportion of their year’s business. There’s more to do, more customers, and more potential high-ticket sales, requiring great sensitivity to customers’ needs. The store’s people—both managers and staff, who have their own holiday plans—must work longer hours at an intense pace. All this creates pressures that are very stressful, making it more difficult to exercise professional skills.”

So, he says, owners and managers—and staffers too—must “anticipate and prepare,” taking steps to minimize stress. Here are some suggested by Karofsky, jewelers, and business and health experts.

Think deep. A few minutes of spiritual meditation in the morning (or sometime during the day) can help you relax, put matters into perspective, and start the day with a confident attitude, say mental health experts.

Meet regularly. Staff meetings are especially useful as stress reducers during the busy sales season, says Karofsky. He recommends a weekly 30-minute meeting to deal with current issues and a daily 10-minute meeting to recap what went well yesterday, what didn’t, and what to do differently. Staff meetings are also good places to role-play stress-inducing problems, like difficult clients, he notes. “Salespeople should know in advance how to deal with unexpected situations and manage the moment.”

Stretch! “The biggest reducer of stress is some type of exercise,” says Judith Whitehead, an Arizona gemstone dealer and yoga instructor who teaches relaxation techniques to bench jewelers at the AGTA GemFair in Tucson. Exercise reduces excess adrenaline while releasing endorphins (proteins with analgesic properties) into the body. Just 20 minutes a day of exercise can calm you for up to 24 hours, say fitness experts. “Get your legs moving, especially if you stand or sit a lot during the day,” suggests Whitehead.

Even during busy sales days, walk a bit to get the blood moving. Weather permitting, go outside. Fresh air and a change of view help you think better. If you can’t go out, walk briskly up and down a flight of stairs or hallway. Do some easy exercises. During a break, sit in a chair and sit and stand at least 10 times.

Breathe! An easy way to reduce effects of stress is to slow your breathing. “Stop a moment and take three deep breaths, inhaling deeply, exhaling slowly, and relaxing tense muscles,” says Whitehead. “On a break, take five minutes to direct your mind away from your responsibilities and focus on breathing. Take 10 breaths, inhaling deeply to fill your lungs, like pouring water into a vase, and exhaling slowly, as though emptying that vase from the top to bottom. Stay focused on your breathing, relaxing tight neck and shoulder muscles, as you draw your mind away from stress to think of something peaceful.”

Leave your troubles at the door. Don’t bring problems home or to work. Karofsky suggests managers and employees prepare spouses for the heightened stress period, so they’ll understand and support you. “If there are problems at home that could affect work, staffers should tell their managers so they’ll understand,” he says. “Heightened candor and openness can help both at home and the store.”

Some experts also suggest marking the transition between work and home with a ritual or routine, like removing your shoes inside your front door or immediately changing into casual clothes.

Gimme a break. Working long hours and assuming added responsibilities creates stress. So, suggests Karofsky, schedule frequent daily “mini breaks” (in addition to lunch and the usual breaks in the morning and afternoon) for the staff. This gives them time to relax, grab a snack, or make a phone call. Encourage salespeople to take brief breaks after every few customers. This includes the boss, too.

“If you feel ready to blow, take a time-out, go to a ‘safe haven’ in the store and take some moments of respite,” says Karofsky. He also suggests scheduling an hour or two weekly during the season for each employee to take care of holiday plans and shopping. “This is very important to relieving stress,” he says.

Let’s eat. Food is comfort. Hold a holiday lunch for the staff at the start of the season. Bring snacks for staffers, especially on expected busy days. (Eating mini meals or snacks throughout the day, instead of a couple of big meals, also reduces stress, suggest some nutrition experts.) On the hectic days just before Christmas, have catered lunches or dinners brought to the store for the staff, advises Karofsky, so they can relax, eat, and return to the floor invigorated. “This is very conducive in minimizing stress” and a definite spirit-booster, he says.

What are you drinking? Skip that next cup of coffee or caffeinated soft drink, and drink water or fruit juice, say health experts. Caffeine in only two cups of coffee makes your heart go 16 beats faster per minute and boosts anxiety and adrenaline.

Watch your mouth. A poor diet—lots of junk food or fast, fat-laden meals—causes fatigue (a stress inducer), weakens your body’s immune system (targeting you for winter illnesses), and can even contribute to depression, say doctors. Instead, suggest some experts, keep nuts or fruit handy and take a short break to enjoy them. Also, go easy on cigarettes and sugar, both known stress-builders. “If you or your staff bring or give snacks, instead of candy, bring energy bars and apples, which are great, or fruit baskets,” suggests Whitehead. As Karofsky puts it, “Everyone in your store—you and your employees—should eat, drink, and breathe healthy.”

Have fun. “Humor can be enormously helpful to you and your staff in defusing holiday stress,” says Karofsky. “Be as light as possible in dealing with your people and stressful situations.” Make the season more fun for staffers. One jeweler, for example, gave staffers “Selling Season Survival Kits” containing fun and useful things, like breath mints, foot lotion, pocket calculators, and small packs of M&Ms.

Another idea, says Karofsky, is holding contests and special events, with rewards, for staff throughout the season. These include guessing how much business the store will do in a promotion and the number of sales rung up in a day. The winner receives a prize, like cash, merchandise, or a gift certificate. Or, points can be given (and prizes awarded) for reaching or going over a sales or repair quota, or above commission. “The possibilities are only limited by the owner’s imagination,” says Karofsky.

What’s the good word? One of the best, and simplest, support mechanisms during any high-stress period, says Holly Wesche Conn, of Wesche Jewelers, in Melbourne, Fla., is “a word of praise or recognition, whether from management to staff or from co-worker to co-worker. A sincere, positive comment always lifts your spirits.”

Karofsky says there are six important words any jewelry store manager should say to the staff. “Those are, ‘How can I help you today?’ Then, listen to what they say. These words will make the day easier for you and for them.”