Whether it be Ebenezer Scrooge refusing to give his employees time off at Christmas in ‘A Christmas Carol’ or replacing the employee Christmas bonus with a Jelly of the Month Club subscription in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, in some modern festive films, the company ‘boss’ plays the role of the adversary of Christmas spirit. The countdown to Christmas can be an intense time for employees, as there is lots to do both outside and inside the workplace, so it’s good for employers to support their staff in every way they can.
A survey of 15,000 employees across the UK, Europe and US found half of the workforce reported experiencing “festive fizzle-out”, a significant fall in productivity and attention to work matters, by 18th December. The reasons given by the survey participants for this festive fatigue included: burnout, end of year exhaustion, stressing over holidays plans, and post-Christmas office party hangovers.
According to social media and Hallmark festive movies, Christmas is meant to be a time of merriment, community, and celebration, but December also ushers in the winter blues. A 2019 survey from YouGov found that 26% of people say that Christmas makes their mental health worse, whilst the Mental Health Foundation estimates that 54% of people get worried about the mental health of someone they know at Christmas.
Causes of Christmas Stress
- Christmas is a shorter working month, so there is an extra added pressure to finish up everything at work before the end of the year. According to a survey conducted by the workplace consultancy firm, Peldon Rose, 49% of workers reported an increased workload to complete before Christmas Day to be the main reason behind their festive anxiety.
- All I want for Christmas is… gifts. Christmas is undoubtedly the most expensive time of the year. The UK spends approximately £821 million on Christmas gifts each year! Whether it be the pressure of presents all round, buying the right sized turkey and all the trimmings for the family Christmas dinner, or attending all the required social gatherings that take place around this time, it all costs. As a result, Christmas drives people into debt and financial stress: In 2021, 36% of Americans incurred Christmas debts, owing on average $1,249 on credit cards. 25% of Britons also report feelings of ‘gift guilt’ at Christmas – the worry that comes with not being able to afford to buy your children or loved ones the presents that they really want.
- ‘Tis the season to get sick. Coughs, colds, and flu are particularly common during the winter period, which means that more working days are lost to illness, at a time when business is at its busiest and people use their annual leave. This causes feelings of stress to mount up amongst the present workforce by adding more items to their ever-growing to-do list. Dr Anna Phillips, lecturer in Behavioural Medicine at the University of Birmingham, also warned that, ‘A breakdown in usual routines, less sleep, more alcohol and immense pressure to be the perfect host can combine to create a very real risk of Christmas making people ill’.
- Finding Childcare. Between school breaking up for the holidays, planning Christmas day, finding the time gift-shop for the children, wrapping the presents, and working full-time, it is difficult for employees to achieve a healthy work-life balance during the festive season. The 2021 Childcare Holiday Survey found that only 33% of full-time working parents reported having sufficient childcare resources during the school holidays.
- The weather outside is frightful. The gloomy weather and the lack of exposure to sunlight commonly found in December, January, and February, can adversely impact your mood. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that is linked to the changing of seasons and reduced exposure to sunlight. 1 in 3 people in the UK experience SAD, noting symptoms such as low energy-levels, sleepiness during the day, difficulty focusing on work, weight gain, and a persistent low mood.
The Office Christmas Party
The annual office Christmas party is as established a festive tradition as pulling Christmas crackers. Office-based festivities can boost morale, build team spirit and are generally just good fun! Workers, however, have mixed feelings about the event.
- 28% of British workers in a Cartridge People survey reported having to leave the party early for being too drunk. In fact, Christmas is the booziest time of the year – one in five Britons report suffering more hangovers and over-indulging in alcohol over the holidays.
- 65% of staff said they enjoy their Christmas office parties.
- In a survey of 600 UK based employers, 60% do not ask their employees how they would like to celebrate Christmas in the office.
- 28% of workers feel like their employer could do more for the staff at Christmas.
- Employees aged between 18 and 34 years old are most likely to attend the office Christmas party.
How to Promote Employee Wellbeing at Christmas
A 2019 study undertaken by Oxford University found that workers are 13% more productive when they are happy. There is an incentive, therefore, for employers to consider how they can help keep Christmas merry and bright in their workplaces. The good news is that combatting festive anxiety is much simpler than untangling the huge ball of Christmas lights you use to decorate the office tree each year.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (in the Office)
Help your employees know it’s Christmas by creating a festive atmosphere in their workspace – it’s all about the small touches.
- Put up a Christmas tree in the office, break out the baubles, throw on the tinsel: ask if any of your employees would like to join-in decorating the workspace (but no pressure). Make sure to bring a plate of mince pies and other festive snacks for all to share in the office.
- Writing a personalised, handwritten Christmas card to your employees is a small gesture of goodwill that lets your team members know they are valued.
- Try a more casual, and perhaps festive, dress code to foster a relaxed working environment: think Christmas jumper day!
- Overall, the office Christmas Party remains a popular event amongst employees due its opportunity for social interaction and unwinding at work. However, there are ways employers can make this occasion a more enjoyable experience for all:
- Ask your team how they would like the Christmas Party to be organised: would they prefer restaurant meal or a Christmas potluck in the office where everyone brings a dish each; should the party be in the office or in a nearby venue? Mulled wine tasting, anyone?
- Get creative with Christmas party games like Christmas quiz, charades, Pictionary, singing Christmas carols, pin the nose on the Rudolph, or perhaps hold a Christmas present wrapping competition!
Prioritise Employee Mental Health
It is important for employers to manage their expectations at Christmas, and not place added pressure on their teams. Ask your employees how they are feeling, and what support they would find helpful in the run-up to Christmas.
- Cut back on Communications: resist the temptation to send out any non-essential work emails while staff are on their Christmas break or out of office. Also, suggest to your employees that they turn-off work related phone notifications and switch on their automatic out of office responses.
- To combat the winter flu, consider a fruit box delivery to the office for that extra vitamin boost!
- Prepare to adjust workloads well in advance of December, so your employees do not feel overworked.
It’s normal to say “Bah Humbug” to the holiday season from time to time; Christmas has the potential to make everyone at the office feel stressed for a variety of reasons. As this article has shown, employers ought to prioritise an employee’s welfare in order to avoid burnout and exhaustion at Christmas, going into the next working year. Embrace the festive season in the office and harness the joy it has to offer. Christmas only comes but once a year, if you can make it as relaxed as possible for your employees, they will return refreshed and ready to take on new challenges at work in the new year.
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