4 Sticky HR Holiday Issues & How to Handle Them

Inappropriate party behavior? Leaving early each day? While many of us look forward to the holidays, this season also brings challenges to human resources departments everywhere. Here’s a quick rundown of some issues that may crop up in the workplace during the holiday season as well as some tips on how to handle them. #1. […]

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Blurred Lines: Sticky Holiday HR

Inappropriate party behavior? Leaving early each day? While many of us look forward to the holidays, this season also brings challenges to human resources departments everywhere.
Here’s a quick rundown of some issues that may crop up in the workplace during the holiday season as well as some tips on how to handle them.

#1. Low Productivity

Cooler weather and shorter days, holiday planning, and distracting (but fun) seasonal events can mean lower productivity at the office during the holiday season, despite what managers may hope for.

“More often than not, people look forward to the office being ‘quiet’ during the holidays and plan to get a lot more done than is realistic,” says Jeni Corso, Senior HR Business Partner at Zenefits. “I recommend taking a modest approach to the downtime, and plan to finish one or two items that have been hanging out on your ‘to-do’ list for too long.”

“Productivity is absolutely one of the top challenges during the holidays,” says Jana Tulloch, human resources professional and owner of Develop Intelligence, which designs and delivers workplace training programs. “Not only are employees trying to take some time off to attend school concerts, get some shopping done, and attend celebrations they’ve been invited to, there are also the in-house festivities – gift exchanges, secret Santas, holiday lunches, and so forth.”

Tulloch says that if there are deadline-bound priorities for the organization, managers should make sure employees are aware of specific timelines when it comes to their projects, and to discuss any roadblocks that may impede getting it done on time. However, if there’s nothing pressing, Tulloch suggests relaxing a little.

“If there are no major priorities, a lot of good-will can be had by letting staff enjoy the season,” she says. “This doesn’t mean allowing things to completely slow down, but rather to allow staff the flexibility to take some additional time or leave early. It will be noticed, and appreciated, by staff.”

Corso says that a well-timed message from company leadership can help keep organizations on track during the holiday season.

“Never underestimate the value of reflecting on the year and acknowledging the hard work of employees,” she says. An email from a manager, senior leader, or CEO can go a long way to keep people engaged and productive.”

#2. Holiday Season Attendance Issues

Along with sluggish production, attendance is another sticky holiday issue for many human resources departments as workers try to manage their personal holiday responsibilities and workloads. A recent study found that 32% of workers find balancing work and holiday obligations a factor in increased stress levels.

“People are trying to coordinate any shopping that might need to be done, make travel arrangements to see family and loved ones, or even preparing to host a houseful of guests,” says Tiffani Murray, a human resources and career consultant and owner of Personality on a Page. Murray says to expect time-off requests and/or attendance issues, and take steps to prepare.

“It should really be no surprise to an HR team that issues arise during this period of time.  People may come in late or call in sick — which could be legitimate, it’s cold and flu season — more often. You might have people sneaking out earlier to take care of end-of-year personal tasks like doctors appointments or gift shopping.”

According to Murray, the best way to handle issues is to acknowledge the cause. “Some offices will allow for more flexible work hours during this time, including more work-from-home or telecommuting options. When employees feel like the company understands their needs, they are less prone to resort to bad behavior.”

However, as Murray points out, “in some cases, it isn’t the season, it’s just the employee.” If an employee is attributing their spotty attendance to holiday responsibilities, Murray says to think back over the past few months. “If the employee has been coming in late all year, this isn’t new behavior. Don’t let up on performance discussions if the issue you see is an ongoing one. Many employees in this case are just taking advantage of the time of year to excuse things they’ve already done.”

Related: The Most Wonderful Time of Year…for Time Off Requests?

#3. Bad Holiday Party Behavior

Are you an HR leader who just dreads the holiday party season? If so, you aren’t alone, says David Miller, an attorney and partner in Bryant Miller Olive’s Labor and Employment Group.

“Visions of company holiday party catastrophes dance in the heads of HR professionals this time of year, and with good reason,” he says. “Even if no one exposes the company to possible legal liability, improper party behavior can be grist for the rumor mill for a long time. Ghosts of holiday parties past can haunt the workplace for years.”

While some holiday work party incidents may result in some harmless teasing and funny stories, Miller says they also can be hurtful, spiteful, and corrosive to working relationships. “If the conduct was committed by a manager, the loss of respect can sap [his or her] effectiveness,” he says. “HR has to take ownership of making sure the company party is fun, but not memorable – at least not in the bad way.”

Murray says that while holiday parties can be an excellent way to show employees appreciation, it’s important to remind everyone of your company expectations regarding behavior.

“Make sure policies on drinking and conduct are clear to employees as it relates to these festivities,” she says.

And Corso says to be mindful of how you address alcohol distribution at your company holiday event.

“Often, a company will offer a limited number of ‘drink tickets’ for a holiday event and in the end, someone, somehow has access to extra tickets. If you are worried about people drinking too much, limit the bar to beer and wine.”

To make sure everyone arrives home without incident, plan to provide rides if your event includes alcohol. “These days, services like Uber and Lyft make it a lot easier for companies to sponsor rides home after holiday events,” says Corso. “I recommend companies take full advantage of this to ensure people get home safely.”

#4. Exclusion and Depression in the Holiday Season

Between joyful songs, decorations, traditions, and food, it’s easy to forget that the holiday season is difficult for some, especially when everyone else seems to be having a great time.

“Family circumstances and personal issues can seem worse when everyone else is having a good time,” says Miller. “Also, not everyone in our multicultural society celebrates the same things at the same time.”

Related: How to Create an Inclusive Company Holiday Policy

Miller says that if someone doesn’t feel like celebrating or this isn’t their holiday, they shouldn’t be made to feel left out or, worse, singled out. “It seems like common sense and simple humanity, but HR should be on the lookout and ready to whisper a timely word in managers’ ears when they see a situation developing,” he says.

Murray says to also be aware of employees who may be reminded of lost loved ones during the holidays. “This may cause them to disengage from work, which could impact quality and deadlines.”

This may also be a good time to remind your staff of all available support. “For employees who may have a tough time during the holidays, it may be good to remind them via the employee intranet or weekly communications about any employee assistance programs available to them.”

Remind your human resources team members of the challenges you may face during the holiday season. With some planning and forethought, you’ll successfully navigate the holiday season in your workplace and find yourself ready for the new year!

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