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How to help employees deal with the demands of the ‘holiday spirit’

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The holidays are supposed to be a time of good joy and cheer, but that’s far from the case for everyone. Maybe they’ve suffered a loss. Maybe they live far from their families and can’t see them. Some employees may not celebrate holidays this time a year, have sick kids at home, are still dealing with pandemic-related stresses or they’re just facing additional pressures in their personal lives and at work with year-end responsibilities.

“All of those things over the last few years can make this a really hard time,” said Luck Dookchitra, VP of people at Leapsome. “It adds a lot of pressure to people.”

That doesn’t mean employees should flail around on their own. Employers can help.

Check in with workers

To start, if someone has year-end work responsibilities, managers should be “ruthlessly prioritizing only the things that really matter for end of year” and “taking some things off someone’s plate if it’s not super urgent,” said Dookchitra.

They can also look at scheduled meetings and ask if they’re really necessary. “If there’s a way to remove meetings so people can get things done, it will probably feel like a big relief for people,” she said.

In an ideal world, managers would know their employees well enough to understand what’s going on in their personal lives that may affect them during the holidays, said Meisha-ann Martin, senior director of people analytics and research at Workhuman. But not everyone feels free to be open with mangers at work, and getting a baseline reading on employees who may work remotely or in a hybrid format can be difficult.

Right now, “managers can be vigilant and not assume that everybody is okay during this time, and provide a safe space for people to say how they’re struggling,” Martin said. “That means a wellness check in — a genuine check in — on how people are doing and feeling.”

With a hybrid workforce, “you have to have the discipline to set the time aside for a conversation. It’s more important to get that check in on the calendar” to proactively check in, she said.

Now is also a good time to also review employee PTO usage, she added, and look for patterns in how it’s being used — or not. “This is a time of year where lots of people lose their PTO because they haven’t taken it,” Martin said. If possible, a manager can encourage a worker to use the PTO before they lose it, and also work with those employees who aren’t using their PTO to see if there’s anything that can be done to encourage them to do so in 2024.

Lean into year-end employee camaraderie 

Despite these stresses, and some workers feeling disconnected from holiday cheer, they may still be feeling grateful about work. In its November “Human Workplace Index: Transforming Culture in the Season of Giving” report, Workhuman found that 60.8% of workers feel more thankful for their colleagues round the end of the year, and 75.9% say there is a greater sense of gratitude and camaraderie in their workplace at this time.

That may still be the case for workers who are struggling, Martin said. “If you have the right community, it can be a period of time where you’re looking at the people around you, and you’re grateful for those people that you work with,” she said. “If you like them, it can take the edge off some of the stressors that you’re experiencing in other areas of your life.”

Workhuman also found that 42.9% of employees said that learning a new skill would improve or maintain their well-being at work in 2024. Given that January is New Year’s resolution time, employers can ask workers what kinds of skills they want to work on or develop next year and map out a plan for how they can achieve those goals.

Through a combination of these efforts, “you’re equipped to start 2024 off on the right foot in terms of growing your employees but also in terms of supporting their well-being in them taking time off and recharging as needed,” said Martin.

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