The good, the sad, and the ugly of managing employees over the holiday season

Date: 19 Oct 2020

Author: Jemini Team

Hurrah, it’s annual holiday time. And some years, like 2020, it just can’t arrive quickly enough.

For HR professionals though, it’s a season of added complexity. Managing your workforce during the holidays requires a delicate but firm hand to ensure the business has the resources it needs to run while ticking all the boxes for meeting your social, legal, and financial responsibilities.

December page of a notebook with fairy lights and cup of coffee

Leave management

It’s hard to please everyone when it comes to season breaks. Employees can be as upset by being required to take time off (especially without accrued paid leave up their sleeves) as being asked to work through. Some may have children and family they wish to spend time with, while others may want to accumulate their leave entitlement for an extended break later in the year. That’s where an annual leave policy is worth its weight in gold stars and tinsel.

  1. Define mandatory blackout periods for leave applications. If your entire business can’t close (for example, you are in the hospitality, retail, or essential service sector), then lay out any restrictions around when your employees can and can’t request leave. Make sure these are understood at induction, and well in advance of the holiday season.
  2. Specify mandatory close-down dates. It’s not uncommon for businesses to close between Christmas and New Year, and require all employees to take holiday leave over that period. Make sure your employees are aware of these dates, and that they will need to use some of their annual leave allowance during this period.
  3. Set limits. Decide how many people you need as a minimum (and in which roles) to operate effectively over the break. Make sure your staff know that they may need to work their annual leave dates around those of their colleagues.
  4. Be fair. Put in place a consistent policy which makes sure that the same people aren’t required to work through, or take leave, year after year. This can be based on first-come, first-served, seniority, or an annual roster.
  5. Get and give notice. Ask your employees to provide notice when requesting leave. For example, you could require a notice period that’s twice as long as the period of leave they’ve applying for. So, if they wish to take a week off, ask for two weeks’ notice. While you can refuse a leave request, make sure this is done promptly.
  6. Be smart. Review holiday bookings at regular intervals throughout the year to make sure that employees aren’t accumulating too much leave, resulting in a holiday logjam at the end of the year. Remind your staff how many days they have at regular intervals throughout the year, or better still, provide a self-service portal where they are automatically alerted to accrued leave levels.
  7. Be kind. While COVID may have put the kibosh for now on visiting overseas family, it won’t always be this way. The end of year season is a time where, due to public holidays, your employees have the opportunity to take extended travel. Factor this into your reviews.

Tip: Reduce the pain of managing staff holidays by investing in HR software with holiday management functionality to streamline applications and ensure you have the coverage you need.

Colourful party confetti

Oh, oh, it’s party time!

Managing a great end-of-year holiday party is no simple thing! And it’s often a time dreaded by both HR and the less sociable in your workforce.

  1. Don’t pressure employees to attend or penalise them if they opt to give it a miss. If holding a party during working hours, it’s normal to pay employees for their time. But for those who are not attending, you need to decide (and communicate clearly in advance), if you expect them to stay at their workstations or if they are free to go home instead.
  2. The word that spreads fear for so many HR managers. Stories of bad alcohol-fuelled behaviour can haunt a business’s reputation for years to come. If serving alcohol, ensure that intake is limited and that you provide ample food and non-alcoholic beverages.
  3. Set some codes of conduct and explain expectations beforehand. This is regardless of whether the party is to be held on or off company premises. Remind employees at all levels that they must act responsibly and that you will enforce workplace rules, such as dress codes and anti-harassment policies.
  4. As a responsible host, consider providing transport home from events which include alcohol. Uber is a great option.

Tip: Taking care now to minimise potential party pitfalls will pay off in preserving the reputation of your business, and employee positivity.

It’s not always the time to be jolly

The holiday season isn’t all jingle bells and good cheer. In our multicultural society, some employees can feel excluded or depressed. For others, holidays mean time spent alone, or with sad memories.

  1. Act with discretion. If someone obviously doesn’t feel like celebrating, or this isn’t their holiday, don’t make them feel left out or, worse, singled out. Ask your managers to be sensitive to the needs of the individuals in their team.
  2. Offer support. If you have any employee assistance programmes, remind employees about them via the employee intranet or through weekly communications.
  3. Be sensitive. Remind your employees to watch out for one another, to be inclusive, respectful, tactful, and understanding.

Tip: If you don’t have an employee assistance programme, then share details of 24/7 mental health support services on your intranet. 

Perfect your holiday pay

Nothing starts the holiday season off on the wrong foot more quickly than incorrectly calculated pay.

Tip: Make sure your payroll software supports the current Holiday’s Act legislation to reduce stress and eliminate room for error.  

A woman stressed in front of a laptop

The season for plummeting employee productivity and soaring stress

For many, the time approaching holidays is full of distractions like upcoming work and family celebrations, shopping for secret Santa and personal gifts, and organising and preparing for family events or trips. The outcome is frequently a noticeable drop in business productivity and greater employee absenteeism.  

Reduced productivity can also extend to those who are working over the holiday period. A quiet office may seem like an attractive opportunity to ‘get things done,’ but for some, it also generates inertia and lack of focus and purpose.

It’s also a time of elevated stress as employees struggle to maintain the pressure of work performance with personal holiday commitments and responsibilities. A recent study by finance staffing firm Accountemps found that 32% of the 2,700 US workers they surveyed said balancing work and holiday obligations was a factor in their increased stress levels.

  • 23% dreaded the prospect of taking time off and returning to heavier workloads
  • 18% were worried by a smaller staff than usual because of time off
  • 11% felt the pressure of buying gifts for co-workers and contacts
  • 11% were anxious about attending holiday office parties

The result of stress? Absenteeism rises, productivity falls and timekeeping slips.

Tip: Accept and acknowledge the cause. Consider allowing for more flexible work hours, or working from home to reduce employees’ time spent commuting and more time to manage their personal and work obligations. Use a cloud-based HR solution to track, monitor and address employee absenteeism patterns, and help backfill resource requirements.

Make it a holiday to remember for all the right reasons

Stress, pressure, exclusion, depression, payroll and leave management complexity, low productivity and hangovers shouldn’t be the enduring memories of any holiday for your HR/payroll team or employees.

While some issues require a soft touch, your HR and payroll system should streamline and eliminate many of the humps and bumps of the season.

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