Christmas is seen to be the happiest time of the year. We spend time with family, give gifts to the people we love and appreciate the many good things in our lives. However, it can also be the cause of a lot of stress… especially at work. Deadlines are often tight because of shifting schedules, workloads can become more demanding, and there may be pressure to increase performance to meet end-of-year business goals.  Put simply, people have more to do during the festive season than at any other time of year. This means that your team’s focus, engagement and productivity could diminish as the year’s end approaches.

The good news is that there are many things that you can do to alleviate the stress your team members experience during the holidays. Here are a few considerations :-

1) Offer flexible work options

Although it might seem counterintuitive, when you give your team members flexibility on working hours, it can pay off with increased productivity due to lower stress levels. So where you sensibly can, offer flexible work arrangements during the holidays to minimise stress for your team members. You could allow them to work from home or work flexible hours. Or, you could shift hours to allow for longer lunch breaks, so that they can run errands.

2) Cross train early

Many people take annual leave during the holiday period, which means that they take their skills and expertise with them. This can cause problems if an issue or crisis arises that only they can deal with. To avoid this, make sure that everyone on your team is appropriately skilled to survive on skeleton staff . This will allow them to react quickly to fill knowledge or skill gaps. Cross-train as early as possible, so that people feel comfortable in different roles before things get busy.

3) Manage expectations

It’s important to be realistic about the expectations you have for your team, and your clients, during the holidays. First, pay attention to the deadlines that you set during this busy time. Wherever possible, shift less urgent projects to after the new year. Also, plan in advance for staffing needs; not everyone will be able to take the same days off. Try to work out a schedule that is fair and balanced for everyone. For example, you could give employees who have to work on a holiday an extra day off in compensation.

4) Account for diverse beliefs

Be sensitive to the diverse religious beliefs of your team. Learn which holidays each individual will celebrate, and adjust schedules and expectations to reflect your team members’ needs. One way to celebrate the holidays is to encourage your team members to decorate their office space to reflect their religious or cultural beliefs. Done sensitively, this can improve morale and engagement, and promote cross-organisational tolerance.

5) Minimise distractions

Because so many people take time off at the end of the year, your team members may need to focus to get everything done before their annual leave. It’s therefore an idea to minimise distractions wherever possible.  For example, encourage your team members to turn off their phones, close personal web browsers, and avoid emails when they need to concentrate. Only schedule meetings or events that are essential, so that your team members have the time and energy to focus on their most important projects.

6) Boost morale

Holiday stress can be a major drain on morale. Your team members might feel frazzled, burnt out and even unhappy during this hectic time of year. Make sure that everyone has a clean, well-lit, and healthy workspace. Bring in plants and artwork that brighten and energise the office, and raise blinds to let in plenty of natural light. You could also relax your organisation’s dress code around the holidays to encourage employees to get into the holiday spirit.

Take the time to sat thank you to your team members for their hard work and accomplishments. Compose a personal, handwritten note to each person, with specific examples of how he or she made a difference this year. This small gesture of appreciation can have a greater impact than an incentive or bonus – although these will be appreciated as well.

7) Plan for the post-holiday blues. Organise a meeting to kickstart the new year when everyone returns , and encourage your team to set important and meaningful goals for the year ahead.