December 18, 2015

How can HR help employees at Christmas?

Christmas is a hugely stressful time of year for a lot of people in the workplace. Almost half (42%) of the participants in a survey by MetLife Employee Benefits said December is their toughest month in the year.

There were two main reasons cited as the reason for this increased stress. One is that employees find it hard to balance work and home life in this very busy month. Over a third (38%) said it was their biggest cause of stress in the lead up to Christmas. Just under a third (32%) said their stress levels rocket because of colleagues taking holiday time.

The Christmas party, supposedly a fun event and reward for employees for all their hard work throughout the year, can also be a source of stress. One in five (37%) employees choose to not attend their Christmas party, with 41% of them saying they prefer to keep work and home life separate. Just under a quarter (24%) say it clashes with family commitments. The report also found that 18% do not have a Christmas celebration at work.

What can HR do about this sorry state of affairs? The festive period is supposed to be a time of celebration, bonhomie and goodwill to all, not a time of increased stress and job dissatisfaction. HR needs to make December a better month for employees, helping them balance their work and home life and reducing stress levels.

The good news is that a little effort can go a long way. If employees are under increased stress – perhaps it is the busiest time of the year for your organisation – let them know that their contribution matters, that you recognise that stress levels may have risen and make sure the necessary support is in place for those who need it. Encourage managers to manage well and alleviate stress where they can.

If you are laying on a Christmas party, make sure employees know attendance is voluntary and that it is okay to not participate, for whatever reason. If employees are already under a lot time pressure and have other commitments, consider alternatives to an evening bash. What about a free Christmas lunch for everyone, complete with crackers? Invite those who work from home or at a different location too.

Or send round a trolley with free mince pies mid-afternoon to spread some good cheer around the office.

One way that HR can really help employees with children balance their work and home life is by ensuring that they can take time off, whether paid or unpaid, to make those events that they don’t want to miss, such as school nativity performances or concerts. Managers need to be open to such requests and offer flexibility where possible.

Employees might also appreciate the option to take a half day, again paid or unpaid, in order to do some Christmas shopping. Or the option of leaving work at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, rather than working a full day.

It might be a bit late for this year, but there are some other considerations that HR could bear in mind for the festive season next year. Remind employees in plenty of time about taking up annual leave so that there isn’t a flurry of employees using it up in the last few weeks.

Christmas is also a time when employees might like to help others and put something back into the community. Think about what volunteering possibilities there are and how employees could get involved. But make sure taking time out to volunteer doesn’t add to stress levels for those involved or their colleagues.