Getting Your Team Through the Holiday Season
Relieving Holiday-Induced Stress
The holiday season is often the happiest time of the year. We spend time with family, we give gifts to the people we love, and we appreciate the many good things in our lives.
However, we can also experience a lot of stress during the holiday season, especially at work. Deadlines are often tight because of shifting schedules, customers and workloads can be more demanding, and there may be pressure to increase performance to meet end-of-year business goals. Family demands and travel can also take a toll.
Put simply, people have more to do during the holidays than at any other time of year. This means that your team's focus, engagement, and productivity can diminish as the year's end approaches.
The good news is that there are many things that you can do to alleviate the stress your team members experience during the holidays. In this article, we'll look at what you can do to help your people cope.
While most people enjoy love, happiness, and peace during the holidays, people can experience problems as well. For instance, a 2006 survey found that:
- 61 percent of people reported being more stressed during the holiday season.
- 68 percent said that they felt more tired.
- 52 percent felt more irritable.
- 67 percent reported that lack of time was a source of stress for them.
- 47 percent said that the pressure of giving and receiving gifts was a major source of stress.
In another survey, 68 percent of workers reported that managing their workload (to be able to take time off) was a significant source of stress.
What happens in your own organization during the holiday season? Possible sources of stress might include the following:
- Reduced staff numbers due to vacations and absenteeism.
- Increased or decreased workload. (The holiday season can be the busiest time of year, for retail businesses in particular.)
- Shorter deadlines, due to vacations or end-of-year business goals.
- Lower morale and engagement. (This is especially true if some team members have to work during the holidays.)
- Changes in team dynamics.
All of this can make the holiday season feel like a race to the finish line.
Many people also experience the "post-holiday blues," or even depression once the celebrations are finished. This can be due to unmet expectations, increased loneliness when friends and family go back home, or guilt, due to overindulgence.
Strategies to Assist Your Team
Do the following to reduce the stress your people experience in the run up to, and during, the holiday season.
Offer Flexible Work Options
Many people travel, or host relatives during the holidays. There are also additional demands on people's free time due to shopping or family commitments.
Where you sensibly can, offer flexible work arrangements during the holidays to minimize stress for your team members. You could allow them to work from home, telecommute, or work flexible hours. Or, you could shift hours to allow for longer lunch breaks, so that they can rest or run errands.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, when you give your team members flexibility on working hours, it can pay off with increased productivity due to lower stress levels.
Many people take annual leave during the holiday period, which means that they take their skills and expertise with them. This can cause problems if an issue or crisis arises that only they can deal with.
To avoid this, make sure that everyone on your team is appropriately cross-trained. This will allow them to react quickly to fill knowledge or skill gaps. Cross-train as early as possible, so that people feel comfortable in different roles before things get busy.
Manage Expectations and Prepare Early
It's important to be realistic about the expectations you have for your team, and your clients, during the holidays.
First, pay attention to the deadlines that you set during this busy time. Wherever possible, shift less urgent projects to after the new year.
Also, plan in advance for staffing needs; not everyone will be able to take the same days off. Try to work out a schedule that is fair and balanced for everyone. For example, you could give employees who have to work on a holiday an extra day off in compensation. Or, provide cakes, lunch, or dinner to make the workday feel special.
When you recruit, let new employees know that they may be expected to work over the holidays. Include this in a team charter and in people's job descriptions, to make certain that your team members understand what will be required of them in advance.
Although many organizations get busier during the holidays, some industries slow down. If an end of year slowdown is common in your organization, prepare for it in advance. Plan tasks and projects that your team can work on to get ready for when work picks back up again. (This might also be a good time to focus on training and learning activities.)
Many organizations hold holiday parties as a way to celebrate the season and build morale. However, it's unrealistic to demand or expect everyone to attend, or to expect everyone to be productive on the day of the event (or the day after, if it’s a working day).
Account for Diverse Religious Beliefs
Chances are, your team will celebrate a range of religious or non-religious holidays, and some people may not celebrate at all during this time.
Be sensitive to the diverse religious beliefs of your team. Learn which holidays each individual will celebrate, and adjust schedules and expectations to reflect your team members' needs.
One way to celebrate the holidays is to encourage your team members to decorate their office space to reflect their religious or cultural beliefs. Done sensitively, this can improve morale and engagement, and promote tolerance. You could also hold a party themed around a particular holiday celebration.
Our Managing Around the World articles in the Team Management section have more information on the holidays and events that people from different cultures celebrate.
Because so many people take time off at the end of the year, your team members may need to focus to get everything done before their annual leave – this can make the run up to the holidays a great time to coach people on time management.
First, work with them to minimize distractions. For example, encourage your team members to turn off their phones, shut their office doors, close their Web browsers, and avoid email when they need to concentrate. Only schedule meetings or events that are essential, so that your team members have the time and energy to focus on their most important projects.
It can be hard to remain focused in a cluttered workspace. Prepare in advance for this busy time by working with your team to get organized. Delegate and assign important projects in advance, and make sure that everyone knows how to use time management tools like Action Programs and To-Do Lists to stay on top of tasks and responsibilities.
Holiday stress can be a major drain on morale. Your team members might feel frazzled, burned out, and even unhappy during this hectic time of year.
A healthy workplace will help people manage stress and raise morale. Make sure that everyone has a clean, well-lit, and healthy workspace. Bring in plants and artwork that brighten and energize the office, and raise blinds to let in plenty of natural light. (This is especially important if the holidays fall in winter in your part of the world!) You could also relax your organization's dress code around the holidays to encourage employees to get into the holiday spirit.
Take time to say "thank you" to your team members for their hard work and accomplishments. Compose a personal, handwritten note to each person, with specific examples of how he or she made a difference this year. This small gesture of appreciation can have a greater impact than a store-bought gift, or a bonus – although these will be appreciated as well.
You could also consider doing something different and more meaningful than the traditional office party this year. For example, host a charity event, or cook and hand out a meal at a community soup kitchen. Charity and community events can be powerful morale boosters.
Last, plan for the post-holiday blues. Organize a small party when everyone returns from vacation, and encourage your team to set important and meaningful goals for the new year.
Although the holidays can be a joyful and fun time of year, they can also contribute to stress through shortened deadlines, increased workloads, reduced staff, and time pressures.
Offer options such as telecommuting or flexible work hours to make it easier for your team to get through the holiday season. Boost morale by helping people create time to shop or run errands, or plan a charitable or community event that allows your team to give back to others. And, use cross-training to fill skills gaps when people are on annual leave.