Sleighing Holiday Stress: Top 10 Tips to Help Employees

Navigating workplace stress during the holidays can be a challenge for any employee. The pressure to meet end-of-year deadlines, the need to balance work with family and social obligations, and the added financial pressures of gift-giving can contribute to increased holiday stress levels among employees. This can impact productivity, lead to absenteeism, and even encourage presenteeism – showing up at work even when feeling sick. To ensure a healthy and productive work environment during this hyper-busy time, consider implementing these practical and cost-effective stress management strategies.

Recognizing Stress Signals

Most employees feel some level of stress this time of year. According to a recent survey by Virgin Pulse, an employee health engagement firm, 70% of employees experience heightened stress during the holidays. More than 60% admit to feeling distracted at work due to holiday-related activities, like shopping or entertaining.

The signs of holiday stress mirror day-to-day stress, manifesting as anxiety, sadness, headaches, body aches, insomnia, and irritability. Some employees may also grapple with seasonal affective disorder which peaks during the winter holidays. Symptoms often include reduced energy, mood swings, mild depression, sleep troubles, and a general lack of interest in business or social events.

Top 10 Strategies to Alleviate Holiday Stress

Although some stress may be inevitable, there are some tactical things employers can do to help keep holiday stress levels down:

1. Plan Ahead for Time Off

Employees often want time off during December and January to enjoy holiday activities and spend time with family. However, businesses need to ensure adequate staffing. Set an early deadline for holiday time-off requests to give managers adequate time to review scheduling needs and accommodate requests wherever possible. It’s not always feasible to make everyone 100% happy, but communication and adequate lead time can make a big difference.

2. Offer Flexible Schedules

Allowing employees to work from home can help reduce end-of-year stress. If flex scheduling is a viable option, ask employees if they’re interested in working in a potentially quieter, less stressful environment in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

3. Make Time Off Non-negotiable

Many employees feel uncomfortable taking time off during the holidays due to work demands and the fear of falling behind on their work. However, time away from the office is important. It helps employees to recharge and rejuvenate, which can lead to increased productivity and creativity when they return. It also helps reduce stress, improve mental health, and enhance overall well-being.

If possible, consider giving all employees a block of time off, for example, closing the office between Christmas and New Year’s. Or give employees a half or full day off in the days before or after the holiday. If that’s not feasible, create a schedule that ensures every employee gets at least a few days’ break. 

4. Remind Employees to Use their PTO

Holiday stress is compounded at the end of the year when vacation days go unused – a trend that has reached epic proportions. A U.S. Travel Association study found that more than half of workers don’t take all the PTO available to them, leaving a staggering 768 million vacation days on the table.

Research shows that vacations are linked to better health outcomes, including lower rates of heart disease, reduced stress, depression, and anxiety, improved productivity, and overall higher life satisfaction.

5. Help Employees and Teams Prioritize

One of the reasons employees tend to get stressed this time of year is that they feel the need to wrap up every project and check off every item on their to-do list before taking time off. These pressures and deadlines, even when self-imposed, can feel overwhelming.

Help employees prioritize their to-do lists and let them know what does — and does not — need to get done before the holiday. Give them as much leeway as possible to get projects completed. Adjust deadlines for lesser priorities to help alleviate some stress. 

6. Emphasize Taking Breaks

Breaks are necessary not only for peak productivity but also for physical and mental health. Remind employees that it’s okay to take breaks throughout the workday. (Employers could even consider providing a company-sanctioned midday pause to run holiday errands.)  

Company leaders can set an example by incorporating breaks into their own schedules. Employees who see their manager taking breaks will feel more comfortable doing it themselves.

7. Encourage Daily Physical Activity

Exercise is an excellent stress reliever for employees at any time, but especially during the holidays. It can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and boost energy levels. Even short bursts of movement, such as taking a brisk walk, or a few minutes of stretching can make a difference. 

“We embrace the ‘movement is medicine’ mantra,” says Bob Allison, CEO of PEAR Health Labs, the AI program that powers Aaptiv. He adds, “Movement in any form can serve as a powerful tool for preventing and managing various health conditions, as well as help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.”

“Because of the profound impact that physical activity has on overall health and well-being, we continually focus on inspiring, motivating, and supporting our employees to be physically active both in and out of the workplace.”

8. Provide Yoga and Meditation Resources

Yoga and meditation are excellent ways to help employees reduce stress and anxiety. In addition to lowering blood pressure and heart rate, yoga and meditation can also improve sleep, enhance mood, boost the immune system, and improve focus and concentration. Accessible and convenient, practicing for even a few minutes a day can help lower stress levels. 

9. Promote Mental Health Benefits 

The holidays are a good time to encourage employees to take advantage of your company’s mental health resources. 

  • Remind them that accessing the company EAP or mental health program is confidential.
  • Highlight available resources via email or during a company meeting. 
  • Provide employees with access to stress-management resources such as webinars, wellness tips, or programs. 

10. Make Time to Celebrate

There are ways employers can celebrate the season besides throwing extravagant parties, which can themselves be a source of holiday stress. Consider catering a holiday breakfast or lunch, providing an extra day off during the busy season, or giving a small gift or cash bonus. 

Proactively addressing holiday stress involves a combination of thoughtful planning, flexibility, and a genuine appreciation for your team’s well-being. By implementing these strategies, you can create a work environment that not only survives but thrives during the holiday season.

Aaptiv as a Tool for Stress Relief

Aaptiv offers an all-in-one wellness solution that includes personalized workout plans, access to a network of 19,000 national and local gyms, and over 9,500+ on-demand fitness and mindfulness classes. With PEAR’s Training Intelligence, Aaptiv’s adaptive coaching helps users stay motivated and engaged with their exercise routine. As users progress through their workouts, it adapts to their performance in real-time, providing feedback and adjustments to ensure they are getting the most out of their workout. This hyper-personalized approach can help anyone achieve their fitness goals and improve their overall health and well-being.

Learn more about Aaptiv employer options

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