‘Tis the season to be busy. The holidays are here and it’s beginning to look a lot like your employees are more stressed than merry. Many folks suffer from added anxiety during the holiday season. It’s up to employers like you to be mindful and sensitive—and do everything in your power to make the holidays easier on everyone. 

Just like you, your employees are trying to balance wrapping up work projects and meeting end-of-the-year deadlines while taking part in the holiday cheer. Every spare moment between meetings and work is spent shopping for presents, navigating family dynamics, making travel plans, organizing events with friends and family, juggling busy schedules, giving back to the community, and celebrating the holidays. It is the most wonderful time of year, but also the most chaotic.

How can managers and company leaders make life easier for your employees during the holidays? 

How to make the holidays easier for employees

1. Give people extra time off 

According to Harvard Business Review, 45% of employees say that their workplace doesn’t close outside of the federal holidays. That means that if your employees want to spend extra time off or with their loved ones over the holidays, they have to ask for it. But, over half of employees surveyed by HBR said that they’re uncomfortable asking managers for time off during the holidays. Cue the added stress of asking for extra holidays during an already stressful and busy time of year.

If your organization can afford to close for a few extra days over the holidays, consider doing it. This will remove your employee’s fear of asking for and taking time off. It will also incentivize and motivate them to be more productive while they are in the office. After all, holidays or vacations in general boost employee happiness, engagement, productivity, and satisfaction. This is a great way to celebrate the end of the year and start the new year feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to work.

2. Push unnecessary deadlines into the new year

If your employees feel like they cannot take time off during the holidays, then something should be done to remove the blockers before they burn out, disengage, or quit. A MarketWatch survey on taking vacation time found that 40% of respondents worried that if they took time off, they would return to an unmanageable “mountain” of work. Another 35% said that they thought that their organization wouldn’t be able to function if they weren’t present. 

In order for your employees to reap the benefits of extra time off during the holidays, push unnecessary or non-time-sensitive deadlines and projects into the new year. Ask your employees what they have on their plates, assess what’s important and what isn’t, and see where you can make some room in their schedules. Reassigning or rescheduling projects could make the difference between happy employees, jobs well-done, and deadlines met this joyous season. 

3. Plan and schedule ahead for the holidays

This brings us to the next point to look at your upcoming project deadlines and timelines through the holiday lens. Organization leaders and managers should work with project managers to plan ahead for the end of the year, which, of course, coincides with the holidays. 

According to the HBR survey, 25% of respondents say that the holidays are the busiest time of year. It is good practice, therefore, to always anticipate the busy season as well as vacations and office closures. Plan and schedule ahead for both work and holiday cheer.

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4. Consider giving a holiday bonus 

Financial stress is one of the top factors that has a direct impact on the emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing of your employees. If employers can help ease some of the financial worries of the holiday season, employees can focus on their work and enjoy their time off. Therefore, relieving financial stress is one of the best ways to make the holidays easier for your employees. 

If your organization can swing it, consider giving your employees a holiday bonus. This time of year can be expensive with the added cost of presents, groceries, heat and electricity, travel, time off, extra guests, and holiday treats. 

5. Decorate!

Decorating your office space is an easy (and fun!) way to get in a festive mood fast. Rather than being like Ebenezer Scrooge who didn’t take or give holidays, let alone decorate his office, lead by example by sprucing up your workplace and encouraging your employees to enjoy being in the office during the holidays. The simple act of stringing lights can help boost positive spirits among your employees.  

Take some time to get to know your employees and the different cultural celebrations taking place in your office this season. Decorate and celebrate the season with that diversity and inclusivity in mind so that everyone can enjoy the season equally, no matter what they celebrate. 

If you’re remote, decorating may be as simple as switching your Zoom background

6. Be flexible and sympathetic 

If there’s one thing that will help make life easier for your employees during the holidays, it’s being flexible. Give your employees some slack and the benefit of the doubt. They’ve been working hard all year and could use extra sympathy and flexibility in their work schedules. 

For example, give employees the choice of where they work on any given day during the holidays. Many organizations have already moved to hybrid office models to allow for freedom and flexibility of working remotely or in the office. 

If your employees get stuck in holiday traffic which makes them late for work or takes a longer lunch to shop for gifts, give them the autonomy to work when their schedule permits. Trust that they’re doing their best to balance work, obligations, and fun. Again, no need to be Scrooge and count hours this time of year. 

7. Give recognition and thanks to employees

Part of the busyness of the holidays comes, in part, from the year-end. A great way to mark the closing of the year is to give recognition and thanks to your employees. Another year has come and gone and now is a great time to look back with gratitude at all of the work they’ve accomplished. Celebrate and acknowledge wins and learn from (but do not dwell on) the losses with your team. 

It’s easy to get swept up in the chaos of finishing projects, closing out the year, and celebrating the holidays. But rather than have everyone race to the finish line and disengage for the holidays, take this opportunity to be present for a moment. Slow down, gather your team, and notice their accomplishments and hustle.  

Giving thanks to your employees and their hard work will make them feel valued, seen, and engaged. There’s no better way to close the year than with gratitude.

8. Give back to your community—it’s good for everyone

‘Tis the season of giving and caring. Rather than gift-giving and exchanges, consider engaging your employees this season by giving back to your community. Organize food and fund donations, volunteer your team’s time and energy at a community event or non-profit, or donate gifts and winter goods to those in need.

Why is giving so good and important? 

Not only does giving back to your community help others in need during a hard time of year, but it’s also good for you and your employees. The simple act of giving (without expecting anything in return) triggers your brain’s reward system and releases endorphins. This makes you happy, lowers stress, and boosts self-esteem. Volunteering or organizing donations with your team is a great way to bond this holiday season. It will help re-engage, inspire, and motivate your employees around a good cause—and show how much your organization cares.

9. Be inclusive 

Your organization is made up of many unique individuals who all bring their own beliefs, cultures, and celebrations to your team. Celebrate and honor the diversity on your team! Get to know your employees and learn about the holidays they celebrate and when

For example, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated by an eight-day Festival of Lights where candles are lit every night and there are songs, gifts, and feasts. The dates change annually but it’s celebrated in early December. 

Las Posadas is another religious festival that is celebrated in Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Spain, and the U.S. between December 16 and 24.

Ōmisoka, which happens on New Year’s Eve, is the second-most important day in Japanese culture as it is the final day of the old year and the eve of the new. Japanese families gather on December 31st and enjoy soba or udon soup, where the long noodles cross over from one year to the next. 

Establish an open, inclusive, and understanding workplace culture by allowing people to celebrate the holidays how they wish. Use this opportunity to learn about your employee’s cultural celebrations—and be sure to give time off as other important holiday seasons arise throughout the year.  

Ask your employees how you can make the holidays easier

Ask your employees ahead of time how you can help make their lives easier during the holidays. The season can be the best time of year for some and the most difficult for others. Or, they may not celebrate a holiday in December at all. The beauty, and challenge, in working with a diverse group of individuals is how different all of our needs (and beliefs and cultures) are. Ask your employees what they need from you and your managers—and be empathetic, caring, and giving this season no matter the holiday celebrated.

9 ways to make the holiday season less stressful for your employees