Christmas should be a really happy time of year. It is a holiday period and we all look forward to a break from work.
Or do we?
For some people, Christmas is a nightmare. For others it can just be a time of chaos and confusion. Some think it is no different than any other time of year. Others wish it would all just be over quickly. Some want it to be Christmas all the time.
Employers have an added dimension. We need to try and keep productive, but allow our staff some leeway and time to enjoy themselves. But what should we allow, or not allow? What are the pitfalls that face us as Christmas approaches? How can we make sure our business doesn’t suffer over the holiday period, but our employees have a great time?
How should employers start to plan for Christmas in the workplace?
There are so many things to think about which can make working at Christmas either great or horrible. It can be your most successful time of year, or your slackest time. Of course, you may not always be able to plan which of these is the case.
Do your employees want to be at work at Christmas? Or not? Do you have enough volunteers to cover peak times? Or do you need to work out a rota? Can you allow everyone to take time off or holiday over the period? Maybe you need to stop all annual leave. What about time off for religious festivals? What about time off to support family activities (school carol concerts, nativity plays)?
Have you thought about cultural diversity? Your staff may not all want to celebrate Christmas or to have time off. It maybe the case that they prefer to keep their annual leave for other occasions, or to have time off for other religious or cultural activities. Can you accommodate all of these wishes?
Time out at Christmas
One contentious issue is time off work. Do you want to close the business down for a few days? And can you afford to do so? If so, does everyone who works there want to have time off forced on them, or would they rather work over the holiday period? If you are shutting down, has everyone got to use up annual leave? Have they got enough annual leave? Will you give extra time off?
Will you let people leave early on Christmas Eve, or do you expect them to work the full day? Is your business going to be shut on Christmas Day, or will you be open as usual. If it is the latter, how will you organise who works on that day?
Things you need to consider under the heading of celebrations are many and varied.
Your employees may want to have an office party, or a meal out. You need to consider whether this should be in their own time or whether you will give additional time off. You might want to contribute to the cost.
What about music in the workplace? Some people like to have Christmas music while they work. Others hate it. Some like the popular Christmas music which is played on the radio and in shops all through December. Others would prefer classical or religious music or carols. Will you allow music all the time, or only at certain times, or not at all?
Many people like to bake cakes and food at Christmas and bring sweets, chocolates, cake or other food into the workplace. Are you happy for that, or do you need to lay down some rules? What about drinks? You may not normally allow alcohol in work, but would you make an exception at Christmas time? If so, what rules will you set around it?
Gifts and Giving
People like to give cards and presents to each other at Christmas and that, of course, is a personal decision. But some workplaces organise a “secret santa” where each person receives a gift. Of course this can be fun, but again you may need to set some rules about cost or type of gift. Some people may choose not to take part and that is fine, but you need to make sure they are not made to feel uncomfortable about that decision. I have been on the receiving end of some fairly questionable gifts through secret santa. People think it is funny to give an offensive gift when it is done anonymously and it can be very difficult if it is not properly controlled.
This might be a good time of year to make some corporate contributions to a local charity or to encourage employees to volunteer to help others in some way. Your employees and clients will be very supportive of you if you can give a little extra at this time of year.
Getting to Work and Flexible Working
Whether or not you already have a culture of flexible working, this might be a good time of year to relax the rules.
In the UK, the weather can be bad at this time of year and the days are short. We have darker mornings and earlier evenings. Travel can be difficult for people in the dark and in poor weather. In the final run up to Christmas, there is the additional worry of drunk driving as many people have too much alcohol and don’t realise that one extra glass can make their driving very dangerous.
People have children who are taking part in seasonal activities and parents may well want to be able to take time out to attend a carol concert or school play. School holidays are an additional problem for parents to deal with and they may need some flexibility to manage childcare. Or people may have other caring responsibilities, hospital visits or older people to consider. Unfortunately, these arrangements can become more difficult at holiday times.
Christmas should be a time to relax and enjoy ourselves. But for many, the stress just piles on us before and during the holiday period. There is so much to organise, so many calls on our time and our money. We sometimes dread spending time with difficult family relationships or unwelcome guests and we put pressure on ourselves. All of these things can cause major health and wellbeing issues.
Additionally, the increased likelihood of colds, flu and seasonal illnesses. Not to mention self-inflicted problems from too much alcohol or too little sleep.
All of these things are generalisations and will not affect many of us. But they will definitely affect a large proportion of our workforce.
Giving employees their best Christmas ever
Christmas needs careful planning – as with so many other things in the world of work!
As always, if you want to give your employees the best Christmas present, then consult with them about what works and what doesn’t work. You will never please everybody all the time. But if you know what the majority of people want, then you have half a chance of giving them a happy Christmas at work.
And who will benefit most from that? The employer, of course.
This could be your best Christmas ever!
If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.
Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list? Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.