The winter holidays can very quickly shift from “the most wonderful time of the year” to being a time of overwhelming holiday stress and anxiety. That’s what happens when we try to make every meal we serve award-worthy. Or when we strive to make every wrapped gift look perfect. Or if we run ourselves ragged to attend every party (or obsess over why we weren’t invited).

That’s just for starters. You can add in the financial burdens of gifts and travel, the stress and headaches of holiday travel, and the upheaval of our usual routines. The holidays can also be an emotional trigger for employees who are spending their first time without a family or loved one who’s passed away in the last year.

No wonder 45% of Americans would prefer to skip the holidays rather than deal with the stress of it all. And that was before COVID-19 hit and added even more stress and things to worry about.

Holiday Stress: It’s a Workplace Issue, Too

A survey shared by the American Psychiatric Association found that 56% of people report that work is their greatest source of stress. Only 29% said their greatest source of stress was at home. That makes the potentially harmful effects of the holidays an HR issue

Employees worry whether:

  • Their work obligations will conflict with their plans for holiday celebrations
  • They will have enough time off to enjoy the holidays with friends or family
  • They should ask for overtime shifts (if they’re hourly employees) or maybe take on a second job

The ongoing uncertainties around moving to a hybrid work model and the continuing swell of employee turnover also challenge companies to help mitigate employee stress over the holidays.

So yes, work can exacerbate holiday stress. On the other hand, a psychologically healthy workplace — a workplace where employees believe anyone can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation — can prevent holiday stress from taking hold.

Tips To Support Your Employees Over the Holidays

One way employers can help reduce holiday stress is by offering greater workplace flexibility. A survey conducted by Accenture and reported by the American Medical Association found that 54% of employees said flexible hours during the holidays would help reduce stress.

Another idea is to give employees a free “shopping day” during the peak of the holiday season to help them alleviate stress — give them time off to go shopping. Of course, not every organization can afford to give people more work-time flexibility or time off. For those, the AMA recommends these simple holiday-season stress relievers:

  • Let employees take care of their personal business at work
  • Allow employees to shop online for presents during the workday
  • Ease up on the dress code in the office around the holidays
  • Add a little cheer in the form of office decorations, even giving employees a budget to decorate their office for the holidays.

Encouraging employees to maintain their exercise routines and mindfulness practices over the holidays can also mitigate the strains of holiday stress. 

The holidays are hard enough on so many of your employees. What can you do to make this time of year better for them — and for your company?