9 Ways to Prepare Employees for the Holiday Season

Whether you’re in retail and preparing for the seasonal rush — or you’re in an industry that slows to a crawl during the holiday season — preparing employees for the upcoming festivities and challenges can be key to a healthy, productive workforce.

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As you prepare for the holiday rush (or perhaps a lull), use these tips to keep your employees healthy and engaged.

Holiday work can mean opening early, closing late, or reconciling the books for the end of the year. It could also mean a work lull that makes employees want to sleep at their desks.

For employees of small- and medium-sized businesses, the holiday season may mean stress more than a celebration.

Factoring in the personal demands of the season — family, friends, obligations,  and party prep — can put additional pressure on employees. Giving them a helping hand at this time of year shows you appreciate the hard work that gets them through the season, and the work they do all year long.

Here are our top tips.

1. Prevent the flu at work

Along with the merriment come the germs. As companies close their windows to fend off the cold, germs, and bacteria take hold. With more traffic in your facility comes more chances to get sick. Consider bringing onsite or offering nearby company-wide flu shots.

For employees of small- and medium-sized businesses, the holiday season may mean stress more than a celebration.

A bit of prevention could help employees stay healthier and reduce absenteeism. If you can, plan a family flu shot day at work and encourage employees to invite their families.

Another way to keep the germ count down is to keep the office clean. Have restrooms and break areas well stocked with cleaners, disinfecting sprays, and disinfectant wipes.

2. Encourage employees to get enough sleep

If your employees like contests, consider starting one that can have a direct and impactful benefit on their lives.

On average, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, but 30% report averaging less than 6. A sleep contest challenges employees to rack up a minimum of 7 hours per night for at least 30 days. Employees can track their hours online or on a company board, with winners getting small tokens and awards.

Get creative with prizes — they can be silly sleep masks, onesie pajamas, or lush Egyptian cotton sheets for the all-time sleep winner.

For business, there’s a method in the madness. It’s estimated that U.S. companies lose the equivalent of over 1 million working days due to insufficient employee sleep. Working while tired costs American companies over $400 billion in lost productivity.

Even better, a 30-day challenge may seem like short-term fun, but it can take less time to reboot sleep cycles. In addition to being better ready to face the day, studies suggest the well-rested are better able to fight off disease, better manage stress, and even lose weight.

Managers can help prepare employees for the holiday rush by creating schedules well in advance so employees can make any necessary changes and arrangements. Consider staggering lunch and break schedules to provide those on the floor with more coverage and to assure everyone gets to take a break. And remind employees to take their lunch and break periods. They need a breather!

3. Re-evaluate employees’ work/life balance 

If at all possible, schedule as much time off as possible to help employees manage their personal needs along with work (the holidays are synonymous with getting together with family and friends).

Talk to the group about what could help — some employees will ask for more days off during the week or a long weekend — others will want the opposite. Work together as a team to find the best scheduling possibilities.

4. The customer isn’t always right (but they’re still customers)

If you’re in retail, call a meeting for front-facing staffers to discuss what you’ll be up against and how to manage the days ahead. Ask employees to share situations that challenged them, like unruly or irate customers. Remind employees you’re there to brainstorm, not blame-storm. How can we manage these situations that will probably come up again?

Have management or HR facilitate a discussion that is solutions-oriented, but doesn’t chastise employees. It’s important to remember that, at the moment, it can be difficult to think things through professionally and with a customer-first frame of mind. But difficult situations occur. Discussing common problems and preparing for these scenarios give employees the tools they need to be ready for anything.

Decreased performance, lack of focus, absenteeism, or emotional outbursts can be a sign that the staff member needs a day off or some coping tools and resources.

An example might be a customer who is angry that an advertised item is no longer available. They may have demanded a staffer to call all the other stores in the area to see if it’s still on the shelf, but the employee didn’t have that ability. Rather than argue with the customer, refer them to the customer service desk or encourage them to see if the item is available online.

If you can’t get everyone together in one place at one time, consider an online chat (facilitated and mediated by a manager) to discuss potential scenarios and plan ahead for how to deal with them.

5. Stay hydrated

It’s a small fix that could stave off big problems — staying hydrated.

Consider providing water bottles for staffers to keep around their work area, especially for stockroom/warehouse employees and front-facing staff.

A water bottle tote they can keep on their hip with an energy bar could be a nice way to show you appreciate their work, care about their well-being, and remind them to drink up.

6. Overdo it (in a good way!)

If possible, overschedule.

With the rush of the holidays, the germs in the air and the stress of the season, anticipate call-offs and overschedule. Adding 10 to 20% more staff to the schedule may result in a few extra hands to lighten the load, but more likely it will just cover those employees who call off at the last minute.

7. Consider temporary workers

If possible, add temporary workers to manage the holiday season rush. While you may not be able to compete with the major players who’ll be adding tens of thousands of seasonal help, tap into your employees for a few elves.

They may have teenagers in the household who could use a few holiday bucks or friends or neighbors who could help.

Nothing motivates more than appreciation — surprise your staff with holiday treats, meals, and snacks in the break room as often as possible during the season.

Scheduling friends/family together on the same shift can make it easy to share the ride — and maybe even the babysitter. You could even offer your staff a small bonus for everyone they refer who makes it onto the payroll.

9. Spread holiday cheer

Nothing motivates more than appreciation — surprise your staff with holiday treats, meals, and snacks in the break room as often as possible during the season.

When staffers know you recognize their effort, they put in even more. The small price of eggnog and hot cider, or a giant sandwich with chips, shows you care.

9. Watch for the signs

Make sure you and your management team watch for the signs of an overworked or overstressed employee. Remind employees to look out for themselves and their coworkers.

Decreased performance, lack of focus, absenteeism, or emotional outbursts can be a sign that the staff member needs a day off or some coping tools and resources. When staffers signal the pressure is too great, intervene to make sure the cycle is broken.

The holiday season can see a spike in anxiety and depression as well. Again, look for the early warning signs — indifference to or reduced pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable, anger or irritability, loss of confidence, or expressions of negative thoughts.

Making sure the holiday season is as bright as possible may mean directing staff members to wellness program assistance. Be ready to make the recommendation if you see any signs employees are struggling.

The holiday season means different things for every company. Some see their highest revenue months, others see slowdowns. Preparing employees for whatever the season brings professionally can help reduce workplace stress and make their personal celebrations easier and more festive.

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