Managing stress in the workplace during the holidays can be a challenge for any employer. The people who work for your business not only have job responsibilities to attend to but may also have the added challenges of coping with family visits, end-of-the-year holiday gift buying, scheduling events, etc. It's a greater challenge for business owners because they have that work and holiday stress as well as a workforce to contend with.
For many decision-makers, meeting deadlines, managing employee schedules amid time-off requests, and payroll and benefits planning during this period can create a perfect storm of holiday stress at work. And end-of-year office stress can not only take a toll on you but also transfer to your team and possibly affect their productivity.
Managing staff during the holidays
Managers have a critically important obligation to pay close attention to the possible toll the year-end holidays can take on workers. In moments where tempers flare, or other incidents of workplace conflict occur, keep the following in mind:
- Be open to receiving constructive criticism and remain neutral when appropriate.
- Be an intentional listener and give feedback in a timely manner.
- Be accountable and deliver on your commitments.
- Understand that you're not going to have all the answers.
Perhaps most importantly, make clear to your team that the company understands that every individual has commitments and responsibilities outside the workplace. While business duties must always be met, you realize that added stress levels can make this goal more difficult at times — and that you're there to help.
How to manage your own work and holiday stress
Workplace stress can happen any time of year, but the holidays can bring even more challenges. If you want to better manage your staff during the holidays and reduce employee holiday stress, you must first deal with your own. To help reduce work stress as a manager, consider the following:
1. Focus on work/life balance
Taking care of your responsibilities at home and work can be even harder if you haven't taken good care of yourself.
2. Manage your time effectively
Use effective time management techniques during the workday and "unplug" and refresh yourself when the workday is over. Schedule time for a team outing away from work. This might be something as simple as a happy hour, a dinner, or a simple lunch with your team. (And make a rule of limiting "shop talk" in the off-site setting.)
3. Ask for help if you need it
Ask for help when you're stressed or overwhelmed, and rely on your team members and other leaders for support.
Take a moment to reflect on your day, tone, words, and actions. You know yourself best, but don't hesitate to ask for feedback from your team. Take steps to readjust if you need to. These all can help improve your approach to leadership, particularly around the stressful holiday season.
4. Practice mindfulness
Encourage managers to practice mindfulness in the workplace. Mindfulness represents a mental state of calm and equilibrium, achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment. Acknowledge and accept the way you're thinking and feeling at any given moment. Make no judgment or interpretation of those thoughts and feelings. Instead, focus on maintaining an awareness of being rather than doing.
Managers who practice mindfulness may be better equipped to handle others burdened with work and holiday stress. They can also serve as a powerful role model to employees seeking to achieve the same balance in their lives.
End-of-year stress in the workplace
Well-meaning managers, of course, understand that stress increases during the holiday season. Sometimes, with even the best of intentions, their solution is throwing a holiday or end-of-year workplace celebration. This event may be meant to let off steam and allow employees to relax, but often just the opposite occurs.
For some employees, a company holiday party only increases end-of-year office stress for the following reasons:
- They have to think about purchasing additional gifts.
- They have to juggle already hectic schedules to accommodate the event.
- They may feel that they have enough contact with coworkers as part of their daily routine, and participating in a high-pressure social event just adds to their overall work and holiday stress.
That's why it's essential that managers and business leaders gain a deeper understanding of what causes holiday-related stress for their employees.
What causes holiday stress at work?
According to a survey conducted by Virgin Pulse, an employee health engagement firm, 70% of employees "are significantly more distressed during the holidays." More than 60% report feeling distracted while on the job because of holiday-related concerns, such as:
- Gift shopping
- Entertaining out-of-town family guests
- Balancing work responsibilities with personal obligations
Also, your employees may be vulnerable to seasonal affective disorder. Symptoms can start appearing as summer turns to fall and fall to winter, with the potential to significantly peak during the winter holidays. Symptoms often include reduced energy, moody behavior, mild depression, sleep difficulties, and a general lack of interest in business or social events.
How to reduce employee holiday stress
Remaining productive during the holiday season can be crucial to finishing the year on a strong note. To help companies better plan for the holiday season and keep employees producing their best work amid holiday-related distractions, consider the following:
1. Plan in advance for flexible scheduling
Businesses need adequate coverage for customer service and production scheduling. Yet employees often want time off, whether it's the holidays to spend with family, accommodating social functions, or getting away for a vacation. Set a clear holiday schedule for the business and communicate it as early as possible to help employees plan their time outside the office.
Also, set an early deadline for holiday time-off requests. This gives managers adequate time to review scheduling needs and accommodate requests wherever possible. It's not always feasible to make everyone 100% happy, but communication and adequate lead time can give you a greater chance of having productive and happy employees.
2. Communicate expectations and actively manage your team
Ensure you're communicating performance expectations throughout the holiday season. While core responsibilities often don't change seasonally, explicit reminders can help draw distracted workers' attention back to what they need to focus on.
If employees are distracted, consider taking a more proactive approach to your management. Ask for daily status updates or set weekly meetings to review project status and progress.
Use deadlines and goals to ensure work expectations are clear and attainable for workers — and easier for management to oversee.
Finally, consider having a frank and friendly conversation about how the winter holiday season can bring distractions and why it's important for your workforce to stay motivated.
3. Make time to celebrate
Businesses often find small ways to celebrate the winter holiday season with their teams (rather than throwing extravagant parties, which can themselves be a source of stress). Methods of celebration can vary, from providing an extra day off to giving small gifts or a cash bonus. Others choose to have a company-catered lunch or after-hours holiday party.
Each company needs to assess what's right for its culture, workforce, and budget. However, acknowledging your team's contributions, thanking everyone for their effort throughout the year, and conveying your excitement about the year ahead can make a real difference.
The end of the year is a busy season for many businesses, and you're asking employees to balance work, family, and other obligations. Keep your team productive this season by proactively addressing performance, working out scheduling details early, and spending time acknowledging and celebrating the previous year's achievements. Investing time in these steps can go a long way — both helping to keep productivity up and giving a boost to employee morale.
4. Sort out work priorities
You can help reduce employee holiday stress by reminding employees to focus on what's most important to accomplish during the season. If necessary, adjust deadlines for lesser projects to help alleviate the stress of meeting near-impossible deadlines.
5. Offer flexible scheduling
Giving employees the option to work from home for part of the day or week can also help reduce end-of-year office stress. Of course, this depends on each employee's individual circumstances. But if flex scheduling is a viable option, check with people to see whether they would like to get more work done in a potentially quieter, less-stressful environment.
6. Talk about stress with your employees
Never pretend that stress doesn't exist, or ignore signs of holiday stress at work when they occur. Hold staff meetings to discuss stress, anxiety, and the best ways to deal with them. Talk about mindfulness and stress management techniques employees can adopt and follow on their own.
7. Encourage employees to exercise
Getting out from behind a desk can be another helpful stress-reduction strategy. Encourage employees to get up and move around — or, better yet, engage in some moderately strenuous exercise. If a gym or workout area is available in the workplace, set aside brief periods of time so employees can make use of these facilities. If not, you could do it off-site too.
Ending the year on a positive note
We all need reminders at some time that the year-end holidays should bring everyone joy rather than stress. Support your managers' efforts to communicate this sentiment to their teams, and do all they can to foster a healthy, productive work environment at the end of the year.