by Shayne Thomas
17 Dec 2020
HR Managers: Set a New Tone This Holiday Season
Help your employees take a much-needed breather before 2021 rolls in
If you’re tired of hearing people talk about “how different” every aspect of this year is, then you might find what I’m about to say to be like a broken record.
The 2020 holiday season will be unlike any other. With surging COVID-19 cases and new lockdown measures popping up around the United States every day, saying “happy holidays'' to each other, even if merely out of habit, seems almost laughable. Let’s face it, there’s simply not a lot of “happy” going around these days—and we’ve got to accept it at face value.
But knowing this, as an HR professional, you have a responsibility to ‘read the room,’ even if that room happens to be a Zoom call. Like the rest of your company’s employees, you know that this year has felt like an endless rollercoaster ride. It hasn’t been easy for anyone.
So while the holidays usually signal a time to celebrate the end of the year, look back on past accomplishments, indulge in seasonal festivities, and disconnect before a new year begins, the truth is, it’s really hard to look at this holiday season through those same rose-colored lenses.
HR’s role is more important than ever right now
As challenging as this year has been—and we know, HR managers have had to run the gauntlet almost non-stop since the COVID-19 pandemic first sent ripples around the world—it’s not the time to simply throw caution to the wind and hope that next year will be better.
Employees need this holiday ‘wind down’ time, even if purely psychologically at this point, to prepare for a new year and take a breather before facing whatever new challenges lie ahead. And it’s your role, as HR leaders, to set the right tone this holiday season and trickle it down to employees across your company. In other words, because this season is just a bit different than we’re all used to, you need to create some new rules of engagement—and perhaps even set new expectations—about what’s required from employees as they head out for the holidays.
Obviously, different businesses have different employee-related needs, so by no means are these recommendations below an exhaustive list of what you can do to keep morale up and make the most of this strange holiday season. But it’s a starting point and, if anything, we hope it will also help you to stay mindful of the challenges your employees are facing as we all finally say ‘sayonara’ to a year that many of us would rather forget.
Here are a few important things to consider as you ‘set the tone’ for your workforce:
1. Productivity might be at an all-time low
Although technology made it possible for millions of remote workers around the world to stay employed and productive this year, it has also been a double-edged sword. For years, many businesses with a more traditional mindset believed that remote work was a slippery slope for decreasing employee productivity, engagement, communication, and collaboration.
But that myth was quickly busted during the COVID-19 pandemic: Around 77% of remote workers said they were more productive when working from home (versus at the office). However, many employees, this writer included, oftentimes found themselves working longer hours or having a harder time separating ‘work life’ from ‘personal life.’
What does this mean? It’s quite simple. Your employees are tired and, in some cases, probably on the verge of burnout, if they’ve not already crossed that threshold. While the holidays are typically a time when people start to check out, this year, it’s less a result of general “holiday cheer” and more because your employees need a serious break.
To ensure no one drops the ball on anything mission-critical, be sure to convey to managers the importance of setting realistic expectations with their teams, so all employees have a clear understanding about what it’ll take to get across the finish line and into vacation time.
2. Encourage team building in place of holiday parties
It goes without saying that we all—well, at least, most of us—love holiday parties. In fact, many companies do a pretty stellar job of giving the gift of a pretty fantastic end-of-the-year event.
Unfortunately, social distancing measures and other safety concerns are going to require putting a momentary pause on holiday parties this year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage managers to get their teams together for a little bonding time.
You may be thinking to yourself, “If I get invited to one more Zoom happy hour, I might…” (I’ll let you fill in the blank with your own dramatic finisher to that sentiment). Trust me, we all feel that way. Though, at a time when technology is our only conduit of human connection, we’ve got to get creative.
Think of fun ways to turn these Zoom calls into opportunities to boost team morale. For example, did you know that people are hosting virtual cooking, cocktail-making classes, and floral arrangement classes—because who doesn’t want to sip on a festive cocktail alongside a holiday wreath? You get the point. There are a lot of fun ways to use technology to get everyone together and actually help people forget about the pandemic (even if for only a hot second).
3. Be flexible with time-off requests
Some people haven’t seen their families in months. And although COVID-19 cases are surging across the United States, many employees may see the holiday period as the only time they’ll have enough of a buffer to get in some quality time with family while also getting through quarantine requirements. So don’t be surprised to see a lot of time-off requests pop up, even more than you’d typically see around the holidays during normal circumstances.
The most important thing for companies to do right now is give their employees the support they need to get through this tough time. If taking a little extra time off is what it’ll take, then try to be as amenable as possible, while also putting a solid plan in place to ensure that no one still at work is left ‘high and dry’ and that team productivity doesn’t come to a screeching halt until early next year, as a direct result of a sudden exodus of employees.
It’s also important to stress COVID-related safety precautions at all times, reiterating the guidance and recommendations of state and local authorities whenever possible. While you can’t stop employees from making their own decisions to travel this holiday season, even if all indicators are telling people to stay put right now, you can give them advice on how to stay safe during their travels as well as what precautions they may need to take upon their return.
4. Support personal enrichment
Sometimes the best way to give productivity a boost is to take your mind off of work. It may sound counterintuitive to say this, but the truth is, we’re not robots. Focusing 100% of our attention on work at all times isn’t healthy and, in the long-run, won’t create happier, more motivated, and more engaged employees. Everyone needs a creative outlet.
That’s why this is the perfect time to leverage learning and development resources, like Cornerstone Learning, to their fullest. Create a space for personal enrichment by encouraging employees to take courses that aren’t directly relevant to their day-to-day jobs. If someone wants to brush up on soft skills, advance their coding prowess, or learn a new language, there’s likely a number of courses in your LMS’s course library to help them do just that (and more!).
After a year where many of us have felt like we’ve been going non-stop and staying surprisingly busy, albeit while not really moving forward in our lives as though we’ve been stuck in quicksand this entire time, encouraging outside learning is a great way to help employees feel a sense of personal accomplishment. And as humans, when we feel like we’ve accomplished something great, we get that extra spring in our step. That alone can go a long way towards overcoming the emotional, psychological, mental, and physical hurdles of this tough year.
HR managers, it’s your time to shine
Just because this holiday season is a tad different than what we’re all used to doesn’t mean that we all can’t make the most of it. As HR leaders, managers and employees look to you to help navigate these crazy and uncertain times. While the holiday parties of the past might not be possible this year, there are different ways you can support and thank employees for all their hard work and perseverance. With a little creativity on your side, anything is possible.
Remember, nothing about this year has been easy for anyone. Everyone needs a break—and the holidays, quite frankly, couldn’t have come soon enough. So take the time to set a positive tone of compassion, understanding, and empathy across your workforce. By giving your employees the time they need to recharge their batteries now, the better off your business will be when everyone starts logging back into those Zoom calls once the new year gets into full swing.
And most importantly, have a safe and happy holiday!