Article

HR Answers: How to Keep Your Employees Engaged Through the Holidays

Stressed businessman celebrating Christmas in the office
By Rob Cannon, SPHR

5 minutes

Holiday stress and end-of-year tasks can make December a tough time of year for your staff. But you can help.

Eggnog and sugar cookies. Bing Crosby and Burl Ives. Sledding and shopping. Although most of us (nine in 10 of Americans, according to a 2016 Consumer Reports poll) look forward to the holiday season, they’re also a major source of stress for many people as well, with concerns like finances, family tension and jam-packed schedules on people’s minds just as much as glad tidings of joy. 

In fact, a 2015 poll by Virgin Pulse found that 70 percent of employees say they are significantly more stressed during the holidays than the rest of the year. 

No one wants to be a Grinch, but the holiday season can be a time of frustration for many employers as they see their productivity take a hit around the same time each year. All that holiday stress your staff is about to start feeling can compound and turn into a real employee engagement (and productivity) problem for your business as employees are consumed with holiday happenings. 

So what can employers do to minimize the impact of the impending holiday employee engagement slump? The best place to start is understanding the many reasons why employees tend to disengage during the holidays. 

Four Reasons Employees Are Less Engaged Around the Holidays

While employee engagement is something employers should be focused on all year, the holiday season can be a particularly challenging time due to all the other things (besides work) that are competing for your employees’ attention. Holiday parties, upcoming travel plans and the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list to name a few. But these seasonal strains aren’t the only culprits behind the engagement slump employers often experience this time of year. 

Aside from gift-giving and holiday festivities, here are some of the less expected reasons employees tend to be less engaged and productive during the holidays:

  1. The business gets busier. While not every business is seasonal, the end of the year tends to be a busier time for many companies, especially for those whose fiscal year matches the calendar. For employees at these companies, the arrival of the holiday season can be an abrupt reminder that they only have a few days left to accomplish that year’s goals, meet their annual quotas or close out those requests they’ve been meaning to get to all year. 
  2. The arrival of flu season. Cold and flu season can sideline even the most dedicated employee for days or even weeks – especially for employees who might be working longer hours to keep up with a busier workload. And, unlike vacations, employers have a much harder time planning for illness and so these absences can have a much bigger impact on productivity than planned PTO. 
  3. Wintry weather conditions. While snowstorms might not be a problem for every office, winter weather can cause major issues for those in colder climates, particularly when conditions make it hazardous for employees to make it into the office.
  4. End of the school session. For employees with children, the end of the school semester can compound the stress of holiday time for two reasons. First, working parents will likely want to spend as much of their children’s time off with them as possible. Second, they may need to make childcare arrangements during the workday, the cost of which can be particularly burdensome at the holidays.


Five Ways Employers Can Boost Employee Engagement During the Holidays

Even though the holidays can compound workplace stress, there are effective strategies employers can put to use to minimize the impact of any holiday-related slumps in engagement:

  1. Plan ahead as much as possible. The single most important thing employers can do to prepare for the holiday season is to actively plan for it as early as possible. For example, in addition to any standard notice the company may require for PTO requests, employers should ask their employees to plan and submit their holiday time-off requests earlier in the year. Forecasting for a lighter staff or arranging additional coverage and adjusting timelines for projects during the holidays may help employers meet their year-end objectives without intensifying their employees’ stress levels. 
  2. Be flexible and understanding. Keeping in mind all the things on employees’ plates during the holiday season, it’s important for employers to try to be as accommodating as they can (within reason). Between potential illnesses, family responsibilities and added financial burdens for those buying gifts or travelling, employees will appreciate a little more flexibility and understanding from their managers during the holidays. It may seem counterintuitive, but allowing employees to work from home, adjust their schedules, or even work overtime to complete projects can substantially build employee morale and ultimately have a positive impact on your bottom line. And if you can’t accommodate employees’ requests, communicate early and keep an open dialogue to help them understand. Loyal employees want the company to succeed as much as you do. 
  3. Encourage employees to stay healthy. Initiatives like wellness programs, hosting an onsite flu shot clinic or simply encouraging employees to get one from their health care provider, providing general tips and education about the importance of getting enough rest, and making sure common areas are cleaned thoroughly can go a long way towards keeping staff healthy, happy and productive during the holidays. 
  4. Embrace the holiday spirit at the office. While it may not be appropriate for every employer to focus on a specific holiday tradition in the workplace, ignoring the holiday season isn’t going to improve engagement, either. Instead, employers may want to host intentional, inclusive activities to help employees decompress and encourage camaraderie and collaboration, such as an office potluck, a low or no-cost gift exchange, or even a food drive or community service activity. Even better, make it an opportunity to initiate cross-departmental team building. 
  5. Take this opportunity to show appreciation for employees. A little extra employee appreciation or recognition is never a bad thing, as long as it is genuine and aligned with the company’s culture. Celebrate your employees’ successes whether it’s with an end-of-year bonus, a complimentary meal, a meaningful gift or simply a handwritten note. The holiday season is a great opportunity for employers to show their appreciation for all the hard work their employees have put in throughout the year. cues icon

Rob Cannon, SPHR, is senior HR advisor at G&A Partners, Houston.

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