I was once asked to provide some tips for people who work in the veterinary industry for how to stay positive during the holidays, with one big challenge in mind: Veterinary team members often have to work when the rest of us are home for the holidays. While it’s true that having to give an alpaca an enema isn’t a great holiday gig (to my mind at least), it’s also true that other folks working other jobs have to work when the rest of the world gets to play. So, here are some ideas for staying positive at work when everyone else is at play. 

Think about who will be working this holiday season while you’re spending time with your family, stuffing yourself with chocolate, cookies, turkey, or latkes. Cops, ambulance drivers and EMTs responding to accidents. Restaurant servers, salesclerks, flight attendants, and call center and hotline workers trying to help customers. Utilities repairpersons, snowplow operators, and road crews cleaning up after someone crashed into a migrating moose and knocked down a powerline. Medical examiners performing autopsies. Firefighters battling smoke and flames. Executives and IT security specialists scrambling to get programs back online. Furnace repairpersons climbing out of their warm trucks into cold houses. Doctors and nurses delivering babies and helping people recover from the flu. Plumbers snaking the clog out of your toilet. 

If you’re one of these workers, you know that it’s tough not only because you have to miss out on all that good holiday stuff, but also, when you are working, your customers aren’t always in the best moods. Here are some ways to make the best of it:

1. Help those lucky people have even more fun over the holidays. I know, it sounds crazy. I’m telling you to forget for a second about how it’s unfair that you’re stuck working and they’re reveling in the holiday break. Watching other people have fun, or hearing stories about it later, can really challenge our holiday spirit. But it’s still important, as a friend, family member, or colleague to help people capitalize on their holiday cheer by being a positive, active listener. Even though you missed out, you can get a happiness boost by helping someone else revel in their experience. There’s no reason why they can’t enjoy their holiday, too, right?

2. Take mini vacations at work. Now, if you’re shoveling moose medley off of Highway 22, this tip might not work so well. But, if you’re part of a team that likes to have fun together, you can have small, short-interval holiday celebrations at work (if allowed by policy). Design them to be fun for one person to set up, two or more people to share, or a whole group to briefly engage in and disengage from. How about stacking holiday cookies Jenga-like and challenge people who have a few seconds to try to extract their favorite cookie from the mix (after sanitizing their hands, of course!). 

3. Remember, no one really wants to transact business at this time. Dealing with people who expect you to extract their appendix ASAP so they can get back to their holiday meal can be annoying, especially when they fail to recognize you’re also away from the feast. But all the regular tips for dealing with difficult customers work just as well—everyone always thinks their own reason for being in a hurry is the most important thing in the world. Strive for an even temper, don’t let yourself get baited into an argument, clarify that some things take time, that some people are ahead of them, that everyone’s working as hard as they can, and that you take their concerns seriously. Then cross your fingers. 

4. Customize your calendar. Eventually, they have to let you stop working. That’s when you can get creative with the calendar. Who says New Year’s Eve happens on December 31st? Set aside time to celebrate in some way with the people who matter to you when you get a chance.

I do a lot of research and consulting around the topic of meaningful work. From this experience, I think that most of the people who are asked to work over the holidays are in a really good position to have work experiences that really matter, and build lives worth living. Work doesn’t have to be something that just sucks your time away from the other things you’d rather be doing. We’ve identified a number of components of meaningful work, and being able to see that your work really helps some greater good is a big part of the picture. So, my last tip is:

5. Make it matter. Over this holiday season, take some time to appreciate the fact that you really are helping people, that your labor matters on a deep level to others (even if those other people don’t express that very well!). Use that appreciation to help yourself and other holiday workers ease through this busy season.


This post was originally published on PsychologyToday.com.

Michael F. Steger, PhD

Michael F. Steger, PhD, is a professor of psychology and the founding director of the Center for Meaning and Purpose at Colorado State University. His research focuses on how people flourish through building meaning and purpose in their lives and work. His published works include two widely used measurement tools, the Meaning in Life Questionnaire and the Work and Meaning Inventory, as well as three co-edited books, The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-Based Approaches at WorkPurpose and Meaning in the Workplace, and Designing Positive Psychology. Mike offers keynotes, lectures, workshops, and consulting around the world on the topics of meaning, purpose, psychological strengths, meaningful w