Balancing personal and work obligations is a struggle for busy professionals any time of the year.
But the holiday season — when intense work deadlines collide with a whirlwind of shopping, parties, travel and more — adds an extra layer of pressure and stress that can make employees feel, shall we say, less than festive.
And then, just like that, the holidays are over. Employees are back at their desks, facing a mountain of to-dos that they were desperate to finish before the break but just couldn’t find the time to get to. Silently, they promise themselves that next year will be different: “Next year, I will do everything I can to make sure I have time to actually enjoy the holidays.”
Managers can help them out. Supervisors can make it easier for their workers to find time to experience the joy of the season by rethinking office traditions such as the company-hosted holiday party. While this annual celebration can be fun and meaningful, it is also one more commitment for employees in an ultra-hectic season. In fact, only about one-third (36 percent) of workers surveyed by my company, OfficeTeam, describe this event as entertaining. A nearly equal percentage of professionals — 35 percent — give it a big thumbs down.
However, there shouldn’t be a rush to cancel the eggnog and tinsel just yet. Taking a different approach to how the office celebrates the holidays could be all that’s needed to make employees feel they’re attending an event that’s well worth their time — and for the company to feel satisfied that its budget is well spent.
Take Justin Gray, founder and CEO of LeadMD, a marketing and sales consultancy company based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He brings his entire team together for an annual holiday weekend at a local resort. The company pays for remote team members and their significant others to travel to the event.
“It’s a great team-building exercise, and it lets people know that we care,” Gray said. “I think of everything we do for our teams as an investment. If you want the best from your employees, you have to create experiences where they feel appreciated.”
Hosting a low-key get-together before the holiday break can be a good option for employers, too, said Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources expert and writer. Heathfield is the owner of two Michigan-based businesses: management consulting firm Heathfield Consulting Associates and software company TechSmith Corp.
“We decided a long time ago that the holiday season is the absolute worst time of year to have a company party,” she said. “It’s so hard to get people together. They just don’t have the time. Plus, they would rather spend what time they do have with their family and friends.”
Heathfield said TechSmith officially closes for the holidays at noon on Christmas Eve and hosts a casual lunch at a local tavern for any employees who want to attend — and they are welcome to bring their family members, too. Then, in February, the firm really pulls out all the stops.
“We hold an extravagant party to celebrate our company’s founding birthday,” Heathfield said, adding that almost all of TechSmith’s 285 employees usually attend this annual event, and most invite their family and friends along, as well.
Giving All Employees a Break
Shutting down the office between Christmas and New Year’s Day has become a common practice for many employers. Heathfield and Gray both agree that doing so has a strong, positive impact on employee morale — and can help with retention and recruitment efforts, too. Gray said he has received “so many notes ” from staff members over the years, expressing their appreciation for this simple gesture. “And we have an unlimited paid time-off policy, too!” he said.
For companies that can’t close down their office during the December holidays, Gray offers a suggestion: “Consider providing a ‘floating week’ option that can be used around Thanksgiving, during the Christmas holiday season, or during the summer,” he said. “There are low productivity valleys in every business. You can capitalize on them to provide big value for your team while still providing great service to your customers. Just be sure to clearly communicate to your teams the number of staff who can be off at a given time.”
Flexible scheduling practices throughout the year can also help workers maintain their work-life balance — and prevent them from facing a mad rush during the holidays, said Heathfield. “A lot of pressure at the holidays is self-imposed,” she said. “People are trying to do too much in too little time.”
Like Gray, Heathfield also encourages employees to take their vacation at less busy times of the year, when they can really rest and come back to work recharged.
Welcome in the New
While the end of the year is a logical time to reflect on team accomplishments and set new goals, managers might want to wait until after Jan. 1 to dig into numbers and talk strategy with their staff. However, they need to be careful not to pile on too much too soon in the new year: Taking time off and then coming back to heavy workloads can be stressful for professionals during the holidays.
Instead, managers can consider planning a team celebration to ring in the new year and get energized for the first quarter. This event could take the place of the traditional team celebration in December — thereby also helping to reduce employees’ end-of-year stress. In early January, when all staff members are back from the holiday break, everyone can be taken out to a restaurant. Just going out for burgers doesn’t cut it: Supervisors should try to invite employees somewhere special.
During the meal, people are encouraged to talk about their holiday experiences. After everyone has had a chance to catch up, the conversation can shift to business. Leadership should outline the company’s objectives for the year and get everyone focused on working toward them.
“Goal setting is important at both the individual and departmental level,” Heathfield noted in an article that discussed the New Year’s lunch strategy. “Employees also need to see where their job and goals fit into the bigger picture.” She urges employers to keep the atmosphere of the post-holiday lunch “positive, uplifting and forward-looking.”
Managers should also make a point to let all their employees know how much they are appreciated — both before and after the holidays, and really, all through the year. Failing to do so could not only undermine employee morale and productivity but also jeopardize the firm’s ability to retain talent.
The top three types of recognition that employees value most? Money, paid time off and a personal thank-you from their employer. And the return on investment for a sincere thank-you can be significant for managers, according to Gray. “I hand-write notes to each employee every year, and that has been one of the most appreciated activities I do — beyond even big commission checks, charitable donations and sharing stories of customer success,” he said.
He added, “To create a connection with your staff, you have to be willing to go one-on-one. I know that if I foster individual connections with my employees, in return, they are going to go deep when I need them to.”