How to make the holiday season less stressful for you and your team

It’s hard to miss the festive spirit which is everywhere during the holiday season. Some people can’t get enough! For other’s however, it is actually the most stressful and lonely time of the year. A survey carried out by Healthline in 2015 found that 44% of people are stressed during the holidays whilst a further 18% of respondents stating they are ‘very stressed’. Just under half of respondents blamed their finances as the main source of stress. Other reasons included being over-scheduled, picking the right gifts and staying healthy.

Dr Ellen Braaten states that “the holidays are filled with both joy and stress”. Dr Braaten blames multitasking throughout the holidays as the reason our prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive Over time this can cause a decrease in memory, stop the production of new brain cells and can eventually cause existing brain cells to die. The upside is that holiday stress is temporary, and we are more capable of dealing with this kind of stress. Braaten says “Once the holidays are over,” “we have ways of relaxing. The stress of the season goes away.”

It is already difficult enough dealing with personal stress, however when you add in workplace stress it’s no wonder some people don’t get into the festive spirit! A study carried out by the American Psychological Association found that only 8% of people feel happier during the holidays whilst 38% stated that their stress increases. Employees are often trying to meet deadlines or dealing with stressed customers which are just a couple of reasons why their anxiety is increasing. This can actually be quite costly for employers.

Research carried out by Peakon of over 15,000 employees across the UK, US, Germany and the Nordic countries found that 10% of respondents experience reduced productivity for the whole month of December and between 30 and 40% reporting a drop in productivity by mid-December. In his article Festive Celebrations: Human Resource Impacts and Costs of Christmas, Dr. Chris Rowley states that by December 18th nearly half of the workforce hits ‘festive fizzleout’, where the spend more of their time worrying about the holidays than about work. Rowley states that over two thirds of employees were less productive throughout December with almost half of employees admitting that they did between 10-20% less work. When asked why, employees cited reasons such as lack of motivation, exhaustion and even hangovers! It seems as though women are affected the most with almost twice as many women than men stating they were stressed about Christmas.

It seems that some of the tools employers use to improve company culture are backfiring. Take for example the annual Christmas party. A survey carried out by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. found that 80% of companies planned to throw a Christmas party. However, research from MetLife Employee Benefits has found that 37% of employees don’t attend the Christmas party, the most common reason being that they are held in the evening which clashes with family commitments. In relation to the employees who do attend, there is a 77% drop in productivity the following day, with over half of employees wasting the first 4 hours because they are still recovering and a further 20% calling in sick. In the UK in 2016, lost productivity and employee stress during the holidays cost companies approximately £11bn.

How can managers help to keep spirits as well as productivity up during the festive season? Here are a number of ways this can be achieved.

Reach out – Why not ask your employees how they would like to celebrate the holidays at work. You could set up an anonymous survey online and ask your employees to fill it out. This is very easy to do through online tools such as survey money.

Be inclusive – Leaders must be conscious of the different ways people celebrate the holidays. SVP and Chief Culture Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Walmart Inc, Ben-Saba Hasan, stated that “As leaders, we need to create an environment where our team members feel comfortable and safe, so that we foster greater awareness among those in the dominant culture for those whose holiday observances look different from their own.”

Personal time – You could offer your team an extra day off in the run up to the holidays so that they can attend to personal needs such as family demands or gift shopping. One extra day off to deal with personal needs could make a huge difference in relation to employee stress levels. A gesture such as this is very small from the employers perspective but would be greatly appreciated by employees and can increase the gratitude and loyalty of your employees.

Rebalance workloads – At the top of an employees stress list sit competing demands. Pressures from both work and home merge during the holiday season and time seems scarce. As a leader, try to review the workload of your team and see if it would be possible to extend some project deadlines into the new year. Chief People Officer at Kronos, David Almeda suggest that “tactics such as rebalancing workload among team members, or allowing atypical works hours for a set period of time, will deliver results, increase employee commitment, and materially decrease employee stress.”

Give time not gifts – Research carried out by neuroscientists Dr. Jorge Moll and Dr. Jordan Grafman indicates that we are instinctually made to give. During their research, when participants who donated to what they felt was a worthy organisation, their brain scans showed that parts of the midbrain lit up. This is the same part of the brain that controls food cravings and that becomes active when money is added to a person’s personal reward accounts. Ben-Saba Hasan took this thinking and applied it to his team who all volunteered in their community during the holidays. He says “I believe one of the best ways to manage stress and care for yourself is when you turn your focus toward caring for others first.”

It is important for employees to remember that most holiday related stress is self-imposed and as a result preventable. You could perhaps avoid financial stress by purchasing less, multitasking can be avoided by reprioritization and exclusion can be prevented by reaching out to co-workers.

Moss, J. (2018) Holidays Can Be Stressful. They Don’t Have to Stress Out Your Team. [Online] https://hbr.org/2018/12/holidays-can-be-stressful-they-dont-have-to-stress-out-your-team

Braaten, E. (2018) Holiday Stress and the Brain. [Online] http://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/holiday-stress-and-brain

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (2006) Holiday Stress [Online] https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf

Young, J. (2018) The Great Christmas “Click-Off” – It’s Here to Stay, but at What Cost? [Online] https://peakon.com/blog/peakon/christmas-productivity-2018/

Rowley, C. (2016) Festive Celebrations: Human Resource Impacts and Costs of Christmas [Online] http://www.kellogg.ox.ac.uk/blog/festive-celebrations-human-resource-impacts-and-costs-of-christmas/

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. (2018)  2017 Holiday Party Survey Report: Companies Plan Less Showy Shindigs [Online] https://www.challengergray.com/press/press-releases/2017-holiday-party-survey-report-companies-plan-less-showy-shindigs

Isokariari, M. (2015) Nearly half of employees decline Christmas party due to workplace stress [Online] https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/news/nearly-half-employees-decline-christmas-party-due-workplace-stress

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