Ask the Expert : How can I protect my team’s wellbeing in the run up to Christmas?
Dot Gourlay, a senior In Equilibrium trainer and consultant, offers practical tips and advice in answer to our latest Ask the Expert question.
“Christmas is a really busy period in our business. We lost some very good staff at the start of this year and feedback told us it was due to the long hours we expect year round but particularly in the run up to Christmas. What actions could I take this year to protect my team’s wellbeing?”
Let’s face it – we all know what the ‘run up’ to Christmas feels like! Is it really the season to relax and enjoy ourselves – allowing us to feel refreshed and able to face the New Year ahead? If you hear a resounding ‘NO’ in your head, and also being verbalised by those around you, then take note … you are not alone …
In fact, around 42% of working individuals would say that December is their most stressful time of year.
Picture this – as the festive period approaches we can:
- Battle to complete current projects, endeavouring to leave a ‘clean slate’ as we take a festive break from work.
- Feel under increasing pressure to be incredibly organised, to buy the correct gifts, to spend copious amounts of money.
- Wonder how we will cope with spending a prolonged period of time with our family members.
- Be struggling with a lack of sunlight and the long dark nights.
- Worry that we might not be able to separate ourselves from work when we are not there.
It’s an all too familiar picture for some. So it is therefore incredibly important for managers to support teams and individuals to take a much needed break at this time of year. It is also very important for managers to acknowledge their duty of care to effectively support individual employee wellbeing, minimising any potential health risk resulting from increased seasonal stress.
As managers, we need to be very aware of the signs and dangers of this seasonal stress, also making sure that our teams know what to look out for in themselves and others, and where they can readily access support. These signs can include:
- an increase in physical fatigue
- decreased engagement, motivation and commitment
- an increase in mistakes and safety errors
- decreased performance and productivity
- a change in mood and diminished enjoyment
In order to begin to consider how to protect our team’s wellbeing from this risk, we need to consider what the causative factors are, and the most commonly cited contributing factors to workplace stress are:
- increased workload
- coping with a skeleton workforce
- a perceived lack of support from managers
- feeling undervalued
So what can we do?
Below are some suggested actions for managers to consider taking to minimise the impact of any festive season stress.
Plan Ahead and Get Prepared Now
- Consult with your team, create awareness of the business expectation, and get everyone involved in decision making to support this.
● Agree on which projects to prioritise – also agreeing on work schedules and task completion requirements ahead of seasonal holidays. Do not be too ambitious.
● Consider redefining role responsibilities (tapping into each individual’s skill set), as appropriate, to cover holidays – and be clear about business expectations.
● Communicate next year’s business initiatives, and discuss how these can be introduced as everyone returns in the New Year.
● Create a ‘return to work’ plan, and agree on responsibilities and timescales as the New Year begins.
- It is suggested that individual thoughts on ‘gift shopping’ and ‘celebration planning’ can result in them mentally leaving work up to two weeks before actually going on holiday – so to avoid any seasonal dip in productivity consider:
● Offering more flexible working hours and/or early finishes in these two weeks (16% of employees would choose this instead of any form of Christmas bonus).
● Agreeing on times for high street or online shopping.
- Agree on an email policy during the holidays, and if feasible could you be radical and ‘pull the plug on your servers’ over a shared holiday period to allow your team to really rest?
- Distribute management annual leave dates to appropriate members of staff, and define who can be contacted when – in case of any kind of emergency.
Provide Additional/Proactive Support
- Increase 1:1 management support to:
● Help with workload planning and prioritisation.
● Provide opportunities to ask – ‘Is everything ok?’ – creating opportunities for direct or facilitated psychological support as necessary.
- Promote internal and external avenues of support (e.g. counselling; debt management), detailing benefits and accessibility via online or poster advertising.
- Consider having a small rewards ceremony – as 84% of employees state that attention and value would:
● motivate them to increase their efforts
● increase their feelings of value, and decrease their inclination to leave
- The rewards need not be financial, but could, for example, include:
● an extra long lunch break
● additional time off to manage personal festive planning
● internally publicising an individual’s or a team’s achievements
Embrace the Festive Spirit
- The benefits of an office party of some kind can be amazing – increasing:
● individual feelings of value
● team engagement
● team relationships and working practices
- Even just a team meeting in a different venue/location and including some festive ‘eats’ can have a very positive impact.
- Get everyone involved in decorating the office/work space.
- Get your team involved in some ‘festive fundraising’, with the central objectives of:
● engaging everyone in a fun and enjoyable interactive activity together
● engendering peer connection and support
● creating community awareness (within whichever charity has been selected to collect for)
Increase Wellbeing Awareness at this Time of Festive Indulgence
- As a team, consider (as above) supporting your wider community by perhaps:
● organising a festive fun run or winter walk to raise funds for a local charity
● tapping into local events such as a ‘Loony Dook’ or a ‘Santa Dash’
- Could you organise and hold an internal Christmas raffle with some great prizes?
● a massage
● a colourful fruit bowl
● a spa experience
● reduced gym membership ………
- Offer some healthy festive food alternatives e.g. flavoured teas, coated fruit.
- Very importantly – create awareness of safe drinking limits.
Please remember that there is no one solution to fit all workplaces and all teams, but even the smallest supports/conversations/ positive inputs can make a huge difference to how individuals feel, and also their ability to cope with festive pressures while maintaining productivity.
And also … please don’t forget that ‘laughter is the best therapy’ – so always make time to enjoy yourselves as a team at this wonderful time of year – with the added benefit of increasing peer support, and engendering a positive mindset which will bring a highly valued workforce back through your door in the New Year.
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