The End-of-Year Countdown Begins… Now

Post-Thanksgiving, leaders often fail to realize that more mishaps than usual occur just as 2023 deadlines approach.

In the end-of-year stretch, the manager thought he was on a path to peak December numbers: He’d clearly identified priorities, delegated tasks to his staffers, and motivated the team. The schedule was tight, but they’d make it. Then came a flu outbreak and a storm that knocked out the internet. Suddenly, he was in a crisis. 

This year’s twenty-day span between Thanksgiving vacation and the winter holidays seems luxurious compared to last year’s mere dozen days. But experts say not to get too comfortable. “It’s going to go by extremely quickly, and your key people will be out at inconvenient moments,” says engagement expert Mark Royal, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. 

While most leaders know they should clearly identify priorities and get staffers focused on the right tasks, a common mistake would be to plan for a full twenty days of work. In fact, even in a smooth December, employees will take time off for the raft of year-end child, family, and holiday events—not to mention vacation days that might differ from the company’s allotted days—leaving other staffers awaiting their return to move projects forward. And then there’s illness. “At best, it’s a pesky flu season,” says Maria Amato, associate client partner in the Organizational Strategy practice at Korn Ferry. “Many of the colleagues, clients, or contractors you work with may be out.” 

This leaves employees covering for their coworkers, even as they’re trying to complete their own tasks. Amato advises planning for how much can get done under these circumstances, as well as carefully identifying which members of a team are essential to certain projects—and what work can be completed when those people are out of the office.

Leaders also frequently charge ahead in a push for productivity, failing to plan for reflection—and sometimes forgetting to acknowledge the good work people have accomplished, both individually and in front of the team. “Pause and check in with your people,” says Royal, who suggests that team members be recognized both individually and in front of the group, as is appropriate. The end-of-year timing is helpful, he says, in allowing employees to make a clean break for the New Year, but that can only happen if they’re given time to look backwards and consider the year’s successes and challenges. 

As for how to narrow down one’s own December workload, business psychologist James Bywater, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry, has a targeted method for identifying tasks beyond immediate year-end priorities. He suggests imagining yourself in January, and asking what tasks you’re grateful to have completed in December. Last year, for example, Bywater wrote three webinars in December, which made his New Year smooth. “January will come around, and it will be dark and cold”—Bywater resides in London—"and no longer the holidays, and you’ll thank yourself.”


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Organization Strategy capabilities.