The holiday season in manufacturing is a double-edged sword. While I’m a sucker for Christmas carols, holiday parties, and general merriment, this time of year can be fraught with seasonal issues in the manufacturing industry.

The National Retail Federation predicts we’ve spent 4.8 percent more than last year. That’s great news for manufacturers who ramp up to meet those product demands, but it can also mean challenges and chaos for companies that aren’t prepared.

When I worked in manufacturing, it seemed that these same operational and productivity issues came up every year around this peak time:

  • Year-end inventory: Many companies have their fiscal year-end as December 31. Logically, this makes a lot of sense. The issue, however, is often year-end prompts mandatory inventory. Manufacturers stop production, shut down for a day or two, and get all staff to count inventory. It’s a necessary process but it can eat away at production time. Obvious solutions are to change the fiscal year-end or schedule more staff to do this job so as not to disrupt production. Creative employers, however, can look at their downtime trends and schedule inventory during less hectic times of the day


  • Unplanned absences: Absenteeism can be a challenge all year round, but the holidays prompt heightened levels on unplanned time off. Whether it’s due to illness, stress, or motivation, employees tend to take more time off during this peak time. In fact, 72 percent of U.S. employers noticed a marked increase in time off close to holidays, weekends, and sporting events. Savvy HR departments look at ways to reduce these unplanned days off with flex shifts, engagement initiatives, and holiday incentives.


  • Planned vacations: Even when the days off are planned, it still means fewer people on the shop floor during busy times. While it’s a pain in the short term, vacation days typically boost both morale and productivity in the long term.


  • Fluctuating demand: Once the rush of order fulfillment is over, there’s much lower demand after the rush of holiday orders. Staff can feel like they are not getting enough hours at a crucial time of year. Being transparent about expectations can help limit any surprises.


  • Motivation: This is the single biggest production issue I faced as a shop floor manager. How do you motivate teams to work at capacity when there are so many other competing interests during the holidays? This is where manufacturers should look at the big picture – happy, engaged and rested staff members are more productive. This is not a seasonal issue, it must be a year-round focus.

When I worked at a window coverings company, they’d blast Christmas music through the speakers in the weeks leading up to Christmas. While I doubt it improved productivity, it sure improved my mood.

From all of us here at Raven, have a wonderful and restful holiday. We hope your 2019 is off the charts!

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