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Handling the Holiday Season's Time Crunch

Corporate seminars are helping workers stay serene and solvent this month amid the multiple responsibilities of home and job

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 4, 1995


When more than 100 employees of a San Francisco insurance company gather for a lunch-hour seminar on "Breezing Through the Holidays" today, many will be drawn by its optimistic title and by the hope of simplifying the busiest season of the year.

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As she always does when she leads these seminars, Candace Acevedo, director of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Services, will ask participants a searching question: "What does Christmas mean to you?

Is it going out and buying tons of gifts, or giving of yourself?" Urging her audience to consider the spiritual nature of the holidays, she will offer practical solutions for remaining solvent and serene in the midst of multiple demands on budgets and time.

Ms. Acevedo's seminar is one of a small but growing number of corporate-sponsored workshops taking place across the country this month to help workers balance jobs and home responsibilities. The sessions, usually conducted by outside consultants and family specialists, reflect a growing awareness on the part of some managers that workers have commitments during the holidays that add extra pressure to their day-to-day duties.

"Employers want to support their employees, because often people who are conscientious at work are also conscientious parents and spouses who are trying to keep it all together in other areas of their lives," says Lila Steiner, marketing director at Concern, a Mountain View, Calif., program that conducts seminars. "Often the most valuable employees are struggling the most, because they're so conscientious."

In an age of downsizing, when employees may be working longer, efforts to simplify take on even greater importance.

"We're seeing more and more employees who work 12-hour shifts and must do the holidays on top of that," says Diane Mokrzycki, director of employee market services at The Partnership Group in Philadelphia.

In Acevedo's workshops, a primary focus involves keeping spending in check. "We let people know they should set limits and come up with a budget plan before they even attempt to go shopping," she says. "Don't use gift-buying to cover up feelings you might have that 'I should have done this or that during the year.' A $500 leather jacket is not going to do it."

Some topics are predictable: shopping, gift-giving, decorating, and entertaining. Many seminar leaders address the common tendency for families to set unrealistic expectations, then feel disappointed when celebrations fall short of their hopes.

One big culprit during the holidays, leaders find, is a lack of communication. "Tell your family, 'Let's talk about how you want the holidays to be and how we can all pitch in,'" says Lisa Poelle, a principal at Work and Family Focus, a consulting organization in San Jose, Calif. "Involve the kids if you can, so they can help instead of being done for. Really begin to set an example of what the season is about - sharing and caring."

Other discussions involve more-abstract issues, such as relationships. Linda Miller, a corporate trainer at Concern, offers the example of a newly married couple: "His family does it one way, her family does it another way. They're caught in the middle."