The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But for some of your employees, it might not be all holly and jolly. While this time of year provides plenty of excitement and joy for many, it can also be overwhelming or heartbreaking.
Luckily, employee assistance is where HR can (or should) really shine. And while caring for those who are struggling through the holidays is simply the kind thing to do, it’s also something that can help your organization on a strategic level. Like it or not, employees don’t check their emotional state at the door when they clock in.
To help your employees through the holiday season, consider some of the common struggles people face at this time of the year:
Whether or not you agree with your employees’ spending practices, the pressure to give and spend during the holiday season is intense. In fact, during last year’s holiday season, the average person took on more than $1000 of holiday debt. For those already struggling to make ends meet, the financial stress of the holidays can be all-encompassing.
Nearly one-third of employees report “that issues with personal finances have been a distraction at work.” What’s more, 46 percent of those distracted employees report spending “three hours or more at work each week thinking about or dealing with” personal finance issues. If this is the way financial stress impacts your employees throughout the rest of the year, imagine the compounded impact of financial stress during the holidays.
Since a hefty raise (and a Christmas goose!) for everyone isn’t always possible, there are other things HR can do to help ease financial stress:
- Provide Financial Education: While this solution isn’t the quickest, it might be the most effective. Helping employees gain the skills necessary to manage their finances effectively throughout the entire year will give them more peace during stressful times. At BambooHR, we pay for employees to take a financial class and provide access to a financial advisor to help them make and meet financial goals.
- Coordinate Donations: Perhaps you know certain employees who have been hit especially hard financially this year by medical emergencies or other unexpected expenses. Consider giving all employees the opportunity to give a little to that coworker. Donations can be made anonymously and gifted discreetly. Perhaps the leaders at your organization would even be willing to match the employee donations. If gathering cash donations doesn’t feel right for your organization, consider making a wish list of relatively inexpensive items (a toy for each child, new pajamas, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, etc.) with an employee in need and giving coworkers the opportunity to purchase and anonymously gift those items.
- Minimize Internal Gifting Expectations: Gift giving among coworkers can be awkward. Many employees feel obligated to at least get something for their managers. Throw in a bunch of coworker gifts, and the expense can add up quickly. Work with the leadership team to find an appropriate way to ease the burden on employees by letting them know that they don’t need to gift anyone anything. And if people just can’t resist, encourage them to give something free instead—like a quick act of service or kind “thank you” note.
Unfortunately, the holidays can hold a magnifying glass up to frayed family situations, loneliness, and other painful, personal tragedies—over 40 percent of people report feeling exhausted and inadequate during the holidays. For some, the chasm they perceive between their own lives and the joy others experience during the holiday season can be crippling.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to remove the personal struggles and pain employees face. However, your organization can provide a safe space and resources to buoy them up.
While you’ll want to be careful when addressing issues like depression with employees (check out the ADA and FMLA guidelines to make sure you’re acting appropriately), there are some steps you can take to help increase emotional health during the holidays:
- Remind Employees About Benefits: Look into your health insurance plans and create a list of emotional resources your employees have access to. If your plan has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), make sure you communicate about it to your employees. Mental health shouldn’t be ignored, and it’s highly likely that many of your employees could benefit from the counseling resources or addiction recovery programs available through this benefit.
- Be a Friend: Sure, you have a job to do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take time to be a good friend. You can provide a sincere compliment, write a note thanking an employee or appreciating their attributes, or leave a treat for someone who could use a pick-me-up. For something a little extra, set up a group lunch outing where you can get to know them a little better and possibly help them make connections with other coworkers at the same time.
- Develop a Supportive Culture and Relationships: This can’t happen overnight. If you don’t currently have a healthy, supportive culture, it’s likely a goal that will take strategic planning in 2018. But it is absolutely worth the effort. We’re not saying that every day has to be the best day ever for everyone, but employees should feel emotionally safe and secure with their coworkers and at your organization. Plus, there are strategic benefits to encouraging employees to develop meaningful relationships. Employees who have a best friend at work are more likely to report being able to take on anything and are more satisfied with their jobs. Creating a healthy culture is more than just humane—your entire organization benefits when employees can focus on their work instead of politics.
Between shopping, baking, decorating, parties, traveling, and stopping by the post office to ship off holiday cards, the holiday season is typically packed with to-dos. And work doesn’t slow down to give employees a break. Whether you work in a retail shop or a corporate office, the end of the year provides plenty of extra work.
Chances are, your employees are stressed about getting everything done, and this stress can lead to poor productivity and disappointment throughout your organization. HR can work with employees to help them understand what is expected of them while enabling them to enjoy the season.
- Set Clear Expectations: Clarity is always important, but around the holidays, it’s especially vital that all expectations, deadlines, and policies are understood. This means working with managers to make sure that there are no surprises. So if all employees are expected to work a shift on Christmas Eve, or if all 2018 budgets need to be submitted before anyone leaves on break, setting clear expectations for your employees helps them plan accordingly.
- Be Flexible When Possible: While you shouldn’t accomodate all-day online shopping or absenteeism for the entire month of December, you should be flexible where you can. Employees will feel more positively about the organization, which will pay larger dividends. It’s about striking a good balance. So, do what you can to advocate for a fair balance that will allow the organization to get what they need while allowing employees to enjoy the season more fully.
- Provide Time and Stress Management Training: While this one isn’t a quick fix, it can help your employees to better manage their stress and time in the long run. The training can be as simple as a company meeting where you discuss proven techniques and tools for effectively managing time like the Pomodoro Technique, time blocking, or Trello. Or, at BambooHR, we recently had a voluntary lunch meeting where a stress management expert came and presented ways for us to manage our stress effectively. Talk to your health insurance provider or broker to see if they provide any training options.
This year, before you launch into full-out holiday mode, take a bit of time to consider the tough situations your employees might be facing. By providing a little bit of support, you can help them battle the financial, emotional, and time stresses that many are feeling and help your organization have a more productive season.