How To Plan A Happy Workplace Christmas

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?

Celebrations

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.

Strained Relationships

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!

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Use it or Lose It!  Why you must remind employees to use up their annual holiday entitlement

What if your employees don’t take all their holiday entitlement within the year?  Surely, they lose the right to take the holiday? In most cases, yes, they lose the right to take the holiday, but it depends on various things.  Things such as the reason why they have not taken their holiday. Or what it says in their contract of employment.

If someone has been off sick and so has not been able to take their holiday, then you should consider allowing them to carry the remaining holiday over to next year.  Similarly, if they have been on maternity leave or parental leave then they will still have built up holiday entitlement.  So they must be given the opportunity to take it, or carry it over to next year.

Additionally, you may have a clause in your contracts of employment which allows people to carry forward some of their holiday until the next holiday year.

Isn’t it a good thing for the Business if people don’t want to take all their holiday?

 You might think your business benefits from the additional work you are getting if people don’t take all of their holiday.  After all, you have to pay them anyway, so if they choose to work, rather than take their holiday, then that is surely a good thing?

You should be concerned if people are not taking holiday.  My advice would be for you to find out what the reason might be.  You may not need  to look any further than your mirror.  If you do not take all of your holiday, then you are unconsciously giving out the message that you do not expect other people to do so.

Similarly, is there is a culture in the organisation that people regularly do not take all of their holiday entitlement?  If so, then individuals may be frightened of upsetting their colleagues if they take “too much” time off – even if it is their entitlement!  We all want approval and appreciation from those around us (particularly the boss) and some people may be fearful of the consequences if they do not conform.

What about wellbeing?

 Another major consideration should be the health and wellbeing of your workforce.  People need to have regular breaks from the workplace to maintain their emotional, mental and physical health.    If they are not using all of their holiday entitlement, then they are not getting the most from their opportunities to refresh themselves.

Although it appears that you are getting “more work” from people who are not taking all of their holiday, it may well be that you are actually only getting “more presenteesim”.  They may be in the workplace more often, but will their output be of a high quality? If they are tired, stressed and in need of a break, then they are not likely to be producing their best efforts on your behalf.

But how can I make people take holiday if they don’t want to?

 Of course, you cannot force people to use up their holiday.  But you should be encouraging them to do so.

If you and your managers lead by example and ensure you use up all of your holiday, then your employees will feel comfortable in doing the same.   Make sure you use regular discussion with your employees to reinforce the message that they should be using all of their holiday each year.

Regular reminders about using holiday should be issued during the whole year. You don’t want everyone to leave their holiday until the last minute and all rush to book it in the last quarter of the year.  Regular reminders should help to manage the flow of holiday requests.

Finally, in the third quarter of the holiday year, you could send out a reminder to the whole workforce that there is only limited time to use up their holiday and that you expect them to do so.

Not my responsibility

 You may feel that it is not your job as employer to be reminding people to use up their entitlement.  You do your bit by giving them the entitlement. If they choose not to make use of that, then that is their choice.  This, of course, is true – up to a point.

However, a recent legal case in the EU reminds employers that it is their responsibility “diligently” to give the employee the opportunity to take their holiday and to remind them of their right to take it.

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