For many workers, Christmas can be a time to unwind, kick back and immerse themselves in the festivities.
But for businesses, the festive period can turn into a minefield of obstacles, from organising the work Christmas party to dealing with staff absence and ensuring employees remain focused and motivated.
Planning ahead and clearly communicating expectations with staff can help businesses avoid potential pitfalls, however, and make the festive season more relaxed and enjoyable for everyone.
The end of the year often sees a last-minute rush among employees to take annual leave, with many organisations operating a January-December holiday policy with no carry over.
An employer can refuse a leave request, but they must give as much notice as the leave requested. Refusing leave can be a sensitive issue and businesses face the challenge of being understanding and accommodating while balancing the needs of the business.
One way to deal with holiday requests is to keep a close record of everyone’s leave and encourage staff to take time off throughout the year. Not only will this help avoid the December deluge, but it will also enhance employees’ work-life balance, with research showing that employees who take full annual leave are happier and more productive.
Communicating what will be expected of staff in the run up to Christmas and what percentage of staff absence can be accommodated at any one time will make sure everyone’s expectations are managed. If employees understand the lay of the land, made clear right from the early recruitment stage, and see that everyone is treated equally and fairly, there is likely to be less resentment if they can’t have time off.
The countdown to Christmas can prove a juggling act for many employees, with school plays, family commitments and an array of social events to factor in. Adverse weather can also impact staff levels, with snowfall or heavy rain often wreaking havoc with public transport.
For roles that do not necessarily require someone to be based in the office, flexible working can be hugely beneficial. Working from home, free from the distraction and noise of the office and daily commute, can help incentivise people to be more focused and creative. Research found that nearly half of workers believe that introducing flexible working hours would reduce their stress levels, while employees who work from home were found to be 13% more productive.
But, as with all things, even flexible working requires some form of structure in order for it to be effective.
Managers should be clear about what they expect of staff working from home and this comes down to clear delegation and output. Regular communication is key, but it should be a matter of checking in, rather than checking up, on staff. The former shows support and trust, while the latter can act as a constraint, impacting both motivation and job satisfaction.
For employees, being away from the office means they can’t see who is on hand to help them, so it is important managers put in place a support system. Technology needs to be up to scratch too, so that employees can log in at the same time from different locations and communicate with clients and their internal team seamlessly.
Ironing out all these factors will make the whole process more effective and ensure bosses get the best out of their teams.
While getting into the Christmas spirit can be a great way to boost team morale, bosses need to be mindful that there will be employees who may not wish to celebrate.
It can therefore be a good idea to ask employees what they want from their Christmas celebrations and go with the majority, while letting each individual decide whether to join in. Secret Santa has become a rite of passage for many organisations, for example, but it is important employees do not feel forced into taking part.
Similarly, some people do not drink alcohol, so consider what alternatives could be offered to ensure everyone feels catered for.
But making sure no one feels left out isn’t simply about Christmas; it’s about making diversity and inclusivity intrinsic to the company culture. Senior management should embrace the different cultures and religions of their workforce, ensuring all employees are given time off to celebrate if they wish. By making everyone feel a valued part of the team, management will instil an ethos of inclusivity right across the company.
Throwing a Christmas work party can be a great way to celebrate the year’s achievements and thank employees for their hard work.
But while staff should be encouraged to let their hair down and enjoy the party, they should be reminded that it is still a work event and inappropriate actions could have serious implications. However, with alcohol often flowing and excitement high, issues can still occur, with as many as a quarter of employees regretting something they did at a work Christmas party.
While some employees may wish to deal with inappropriate behaviour informally, managers have a duty to ensure their grievance policy is well understood. All too often, people are afraid of making what they perceive to be a fuss and getting into trouble, so business leaders need to communicate that they will support people who choose to use formal channels.
It’s also not uncommon for employees to call in sick the day after the Christmas party but to reduce the risk of having everyone off at the same time, businesses should be clear on what they expect. A sprinkle of seasonal goodwill in the shape of working from home or shifting start times back by an hour will likely go down well with tired staff, while ensuring work still gets done.
The moral of the Christmas story? Finding the right balance between Santa and Scrooge will keep employees feeling motivated and appreciated and the business running smoothly all the way into the New Year.
About the author
Aliya Vigor-Robertson started her HR career in 1996 and co-founded JourneyHR in 2010. Aliya has predominantly worked in the communications industry reporting in at board level at Aegis Media, Naked Communications, Media Planning Group and lastminute.com. She applies commercial focus and business psychology to HR and continues to influence business owners in the marketing and communications industry on innovative people practices.