As the new year fast approaches, work slows down. But for certain workplaces and industries, it’s necessary to staff a minimal team to keep things running smoothly during the silly season – the skeleton crew.

In this article, we look at how to select your skeleton crew, manage them sensitively, and keep their festive spirits high.

The first port of call is identifying which roles are essential for the skeleton crew, and from that, who to pick. A manager’s overarching approach when deciding these roles is to consider the minimal amount of people needed, without stretching team members into roles they aren’t employed to do or overburdening them with workload.

Without active projects, teams involved in production or development are not necessary over the Christmas period. Instead, maintenance is the key priority, and so importance will inevitably fall on some level of accounts services, administrative support, and customer support. Select one employee for each necessary remit, but also pick two or three backups in case your first choice has holiday plans.

Remember, working over the holidays is always a sacrifice – it’s time away from one’s personal life, and therefore requires a managerial sensitivity when dealing with those undertaking the responsibility.

Once identified, it’s vital to request your skeleton crew as early as possible for the need to work over Christmas, ideally in October or early November (Christmas plans can be hard to change last minute). Key word here is ‘request’ – this isn’t about ‘informing’ or ‘demanding’ staff about staying on, but instead dealing with tact. Ask the question in a way in which it can be turned down without fear of repercussions. The impact otherwise may sink morale.

With the team adequately prepared, continue in this spirit of sensitivity throughout the silly season. Where possible create a casual environment and be lenient – encourage half days, late starts, even working from home. This approach will prove to keep morale high during the holidays themselves.

Be mindful too of the skeleton crew in the immediate aftermath of the holidays, once everything’s back to full swing. Me time is sacrosanct - compensate time afterward and be generous toward time-off requests in January and February from your skeleton crew members to avoid burn out or even churn.

A skeleton crew is an unavoidable side-effect of our 24/7/365 business world. Be sensitive and be lenient to make sure your employees keep meat on their bones.