For some people, the holidays can be the loneliest and most stressful time of the year. Coping with personal stress is already challenging, but when combined with workplace stress, it’s no wonder holiday cheers soon devolve to holiday sneers. Employees are often contending with shortened deadlines and meeting other expectations for the end of the year. Hence, productivity typically slips in December. So how can leaders help combat stress during the holiday season?

That’s the question we’ll answer in this issue of Howe’s Now Monthly by reviewing Harvard Business Review article: Holidays Can Be Stressful. They Don’t Have to Stress Out Your Team.


Many employees report holiday stress.

According to a 2015 Healthline survey, 44% of people say that they are stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they’re “very stressed.” Almost half the respondents cited finances as the main culprit for their tension, while being over-scheduled, choosing the right gifts, and remaining healthy also contributed to people’s holiday woes.

Based on an analysis by Peakon of more than 15,000 employees across the U.S., the UK, the Nordic countries and Germany, 7-10% of people reported reduced productivity for the entire month of December, with 30-40% reporting a fall in productivity by mid-December.

So how can managers help combat stress and keep both productivity and spirits up during the holiday season? Here are a just a few ways:


Talk to your staff.

Ask your staff how they want to celebrate the holidays at work this year. Poll your team and learn what’s important to them. Maybe they want an office holiday party or maybe they would prefer to leave work early to conquer holiday shopping.

The holidays should always be an important time at companies and your poll indicates this importance. Ensuring that employees have the ability to recognize national or other holidays, at work and in their personal lives, helps to make the workplace enjoyable for everyone.


Be inclusive.

Leaders must recognize the different ways people celebrate the holidays. We need to create an environment where our team members feel comfortable and safe. To enhance this safety, we can foster greater awareness among those in the dominant culture for those whose holiday observances look different from their own.


Protect personal time.

Why not offer one extra day off leading up to the holidays for employees to attend to personal needs like gift shopping, family demands, or down-time to regroup — whatever they need.  One mandatory day off can make all the difference in employee stress levels. These small but much-appreciated gestures increase loyalty and gratitude on your staff and offer long-term payoffs. Why does this matter? Research has proven that grateful staff are more engaged, community-minded, and happier at work.


Whenever possible, rebalance workloads.

Competing demands sit at the top of employees’ stress lists. Work and home pressures converge at this time of year, and time seems highly compressed. Plan a review of the workload and see if some project deadlines can be extended into next year. Periods of high stress such as the holiday season represent an opportunity for managers to treat employees as individuals by understanding and appropriately responding to their specific needs. Tactics such as rebalancing workloads among team members, or allowing atypical works hours for a set period of time, will deliver results, increase employee commitment, and materially decrease employee stress.


Give the gift of time.

Research by neuroscientists Dr. Jordan Grafman and Dr. Jorge Moll demonstrates that we are instinctually made to give. When the subjects donated to what they considered worthy organizations, brain scans revealed that parts of the midbrain lit up — the same region that controls cravings for food, and the same region that becomes active when money is added to people’s personal reward accounts. Hence, one of the best ways to manage stress and care for yourself is to turn your focus toward caring for others first.

What is important for employees themselves to remember is this: most holiday-related stressors are self-imposed and preventable. Financial stress can be avoided by purchasing less. Overcommitting can be averted by saying no. Multitasking brains can be managed with reprioritizing. Exclusion can be prevented by reaching out.


Start today. Ask someone how they’re doing. Listen with compassion, empathy, and kindness. If needed and if possible, offer help. Give another person the gift of your time, and both of you will reap the benefits.

How to mitigate holiday stress for your team