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As the festive lights go up and the holiday season approaches, there’s an undeniable buzz in the air. But beneath the surface of holiday cheer, a significant number of employees face heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Recent studies from 2022 have shed light on this often-overlooked aspect of the holiday season. According to a report by Sesame, 49% of individuals reported an increase in anxiety during the holidays, a slight decrease from 60% the previous year, while 41% felt an increase in depression. Furthermore, a survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that 31% of adults expect to feel more stressed this upcoming holiday season compared to last, marking a 9-percentage point increase since 2021.

These statistics highlight a critical challenge for HR professionals: addressing and mitigating holiday-induced stress in the workplace. In this blog, we’ll explore compassionate HR strategies designed not just to recognise the festive spirit, but to actively support and alleviate the end-of-year pressures faced by employees. From flexible scheduling to mental health support, our focus will be on creating a balanced and empathetic work environment that truly understands the complexities of the holiday season.

12 simple gestures that HR teams can consider this holiday season to make it special and meaningful for their employees:

  1. Extended year-end break: Offer an extended holiday break or additional days off, allowing employees more time to rest and rejuvenate without using their vacation days.
  2. Flexible work hours: Implement more flexible work hours in December, allowing employees to manage their work around holiday commitments and reduce the feeling of being rushed.
  3. Mental health support: Enhance access to mental health resources during the holiday season, including counselling services, stress management workshops, and mindfulness sessions.
  4. Holiday bonuses or gift cards: If feasible, provide holiday bonuses or gift cards to help alleviate the financial burden of the holiday season.
  5. ‘No-Meeting’ days: Designate specific days in December as ‘no-meeting’ days, allowing employees to focus on wrapping up year-end tasks without the interruption of meetings.
  6. Employee Assistance Program (EAP) highlight: Remind employees of the EAP and its benefits, which can include support for personal issues, financial advice, and mental health services.
  7. Recognition and appreciation events: Host virtual or in-person events to recognise the hard work of employees throughout the year, emphasising appreciation and celebration over work-related discussions. Northreach hosts a Christmas party each year to recognise exceptional talent and thank the team for their unwavering support and dedication. It has helped boost the team’s morale and brought us closer together.
  8. Family-inclusive events: Organise family-inclusive virtual events, acknowledging the importance of family time and allowing employees to share their holiday traditions with colleagues.
  9. ‘Give Back’ days: Encourage employees to use one or two days during the holiday season to volunteer for a cause they are passionate about, supporting community engagement. A shining example of this initiative is our annual Christmas campaign, Gifts4Kids. Each year, our team unites in a heartwarming effort to bring joy to the children and staff at Basildon Hospital. This year, we’re introducing a festive and engaging ’12 Day Challenge’—each day featuring a new and exciting task—to raise awareness and funds for this noble cause. Over the past four years, our collective efforts have raised over £10,000, and this year, we’re setting our sights on a goal of £2,500. The Gifts4Kids campaign not only brings us closer as a team but also instills a profound sense of giving and community contribution, truly embodying the spirit of the holiday season.
  10. Global Holiday cultural exchange: Create a program where employees from different global offices share how they celebrate the holiday season in their culture, promoting diversity and inclusion.
  11. Personalised appreciation notes: Encourage team leaders to write personalised notes of appreciation to each team member. This small gesture can have a significant impact on employee morale.
  12. Flexible scheduling: Recognise that the holiday season can be busy and stressful. Offer flexible working hours or the option to work from home, allowing employees to balance their professional and personal responsibilities more effectively.

As we draw the curtains on another year, employers and HR professionals must step into the shoes of their employees and view the holiday season through a lens of empathy and understanding. The festive period, while filled with joy, can also be a time of heightened stress and emotional strain. By implementing compassionate strategies like flexible scheduling, mental health support, and initiatives like our ‘Give Back’ Days, we can significantly alleviate these pressures.

As we move forward, let us remember that the greatest gift we can offer our employees this season is the gift of empathy and consideration. By doing so, we not only enhance the well-being of our teams but also strengthen the core of our organisations, building a foundation of support and understanding that endures well beyond the holiday season.