Sleighing Stress: Navigating the Holiday Hustle in the Workplace 

Deck the halls with boughs of jolly, or is it holly? Either way, the holiday season is upon us, and it’s not all sugarplums and sleigh rides. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 40% of people are more stressed than a turkey on Thanksgiving during this supposedly festive time. Why the holiday headache, you ask?  

Reasons behind the Lower Engagement Level 

First off, let’s talk about the financial stress that comes with the season of giving. With inflation rates skyrocketing and year-end discounts tempting us, it’s no wonder our wallets are feeling the strain. And speaking of parties, the pressure to pick the perfect present at those festive gatherings can turn even the most spirited elf into a stress ball. 

Additionally, as the year winds down, companies are in a race against time to meet their annual goals. Employees find themselves sprinting towards the finish line, juggling deadlines, expectations, and managing customers. 

And let’s not forget the delicate dance of balancing work and family life. Colleagues are jetting off for holiday vacations, leaving the office looking like a deserted gingerbread house. This leaves those left behind with the tricky task of managing professional and personal responsibilities. 

Now, let’s get scientific for a moment. The multitasking and stress that accompany the holiday hustle can do a number on our brains. The prefrontal cortex takes a hit, memory takes a nosedive, and the production of new brain cells comes to a screeching halt. Even though seasonal stress that leads to such disastrous effects is acute, the HR department should never hesitate in remedying and preventing this from happening. 

HR’s Role in Motivating Employees 

1. Spread the Love 

Humans are instinctively made to give, and one of the best ways to manage stress and to care for oneself is to care for others. However, according to a survey done by MetLife in 2023, 42% of the employees don’t feel cared for by their employers.  

To address this issue, HR should provide support to employees and motivate the managers to show care and support to the juniors. Being supportive is easy, just start with asking someone how they are doing, and then listen with compassion, empathy and kindness. If that person needs help, just offer them a helping hand.  

Additionally, giving others compliments and recognition, which are often more impactful than material rewards, can motivate employees to perform at their best. Creating an environment where team members feel comfortable and supportive, can heighten employees’ sense of well-being and increase job satisfaction. 

Hence, survey forms should be made to collect employee’s stress and performance level from time to time so that managers could have a better understanding on how their juniors are doing and feeling. This enables them to adjust the workload and provide care accordingly. 

2. Balance the Scales

According to Dr. Chris Rowley, Professor Emeritus at the University of London Cass Business School, 30 – 40% of the employees report a fall in productivity by mid-December and one-half of the workforce hits “festive fizzle out” by December 18th, where they spend more time worried about the holidays than about work. To address this issue, managers should flexibly adjust the workload and goals according to the low productivity of their employees. Sticking to high and unattainable goals would only worsen the case of demotivation of the employees. 

Periods of high stress during the holiday seasons is a good opportunity for the managers to review the workload of their team members. Rebalancing workload from time to time according to their needs can increase employee commitment and materially decrease employee stress. 

3. Respect employees’ time 

Christmas parties did little to relieve this stress. Although holding Christmas parties seems to be a good idea in team bonding, a survey indicated around 37% of the employees would not attend the parties as they prefer spending time with their family at home.  

Furthermore, a 77% drop in productivity was recorded the following day for the ones who attended the party as it takes time for employees to recover from the night before. Since everyone values their time differently, HR should organise the celebration during working hours, for example, lunchtime, before weekend or after the holidays to make sure the celebration creates a positive impact on employee’s wellbeing and is effective in improving employees’ productivity. 

Rather than holding celebratory events, offering a half-day or extra day off leading up to holidays for employees to prepare for the festivals can also make a difference in employee’s stress levels.  

These small but much-appreciated mandatory day-offs increase loyalty and gratitude of employees, offering long-term payoffs to the company. Research also shows that employees’ gratefulness towards the company would lead to a happier working environment and a more engaging working community. 

4. Goal Setting that’s SMART, not Silly

The culmination of year-end stress is primarily attributed to the imperative of achieving annual objectives. To mitigate the impact of diminished employee morale on business outcomes, it is imperative for the HR department to advocate for the implementation of company goals aligned with the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based) strategy.  

The establishment of attainable goals serves as a motivational catalyst for employees, fostering sustained commitment throughout the year, as opposed to the imposition of unrealistic expectations towards the end, thereby averting the pursuit of unattainable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). 

In a nutshell, the holidays may be the season of stress, but HR is here to sprinkle a dash of joy and sanity into the mix. While they can create a festive workplace, they can’t do it alone. Employees also need to channel their inner Santa and take responsibility for managing their stress levels. 

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