HR, Leadership

Handling the Holidays Appropriately

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By Brent R. Tilson, CEO & President of Tilson

 “When you’re thinking about the holiday season, start all inclusively with everybody you’re going to communicate with – so that you can be sensitive to not only your employees and the impacts around what could be a morale issue in the company ultimately, but also your customers.”

 In my recent interview with Gregg Stebben, host of The Heartbeat of Main Street, I discussed common HR issues around the holidays, and what conversations companies should be having this time of year to handle the season in a successful way and to avoid pitfalls.

“How to handle the holidays” is an important conversation for business leaders to have this time of year, and equally important to share with their staff throughout the season. Below are five things businesses should consider going into the New Year.

1. Encourage Awareness and Sensitivity

A business leader should begin by thinking about their employees and the holiday spirit they may have and want to celebrate. While it’s OK for them to have personal excitement at home, it’s important staff understand the need to tamper it down at the office in order to be mindful and considerate of those who might not celebrate the same way – be it different cultures, religions or traditions, and the fact that for many the holidays are a difficult time.

A great way to combat this is by encouraging staff to view the holidays through the eyes of their coworkers. This awareness can then lead to sensitivity on how to greet others this time of year and how much to engage in holiday discussions with them. Stress the importance of being careful to understand the audience you are with and how you communicate to that audience.

Regular trainings in diversity will allow companies to have these conversations as they relate to not only holidays but general business professionalism.

2. Manage Expectations on Bonuses

Some people expect raises annually. If a company has articulated this expectation, that’s one thing. But it’s another if a company isn’t clear with its employees on what is to be expected when it comes to year-end bonuses.

Bonuses can be either performance or discretionary-based. The first is founded on merit: an employee improved their position or overall performance. The second is more commonly where companies get in trouble. If an organization has been handing out bonuses for five years straight, it can become an expectation by employees to receive this gift year after year. And if for whatever reason, the company doesn’t do well that year or a change compels the company to take a step back, the company runs the risk of emotionally and financially upsetting its employees who may have planned on that money for gifts or personal needs.

The leadership team needs to set clear expectations for both types of bonuses, then communicate them early in the holiday season and frequently.

3. Inspire and Motivate

The holiday season is a great time to reflect on personal and business successes. With most news feeling like bad news, it’s easy to feel beat up by the negativity in the world. This time of year people are looking for something to celebrate. It’s important businesses use the power of the spirit of the holidays to celebrate the successes of the year to inspire and motivate employees. Business leaders should take time during the season to recognize employees, via private notes or holiday parties.

Giving back as a company is a wonderful way to foster a sense of pride, fellowship and kinship amongst staff. Partnering with local communities through volunteer programs allows the spirit of generosity to flow through the organization and makes employees feel more connected to their community, their company and their work.

4. Support Those Struggling

Depression tends to increase during the holidays. For an employee, it could be family issues or the first holiday without a family member or friend. Demands and pressures may have increased, and as daylight gets shorter, moods get gloomier. Overall, things can personally get tough during the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Business leaders can help support staff who are struggling by not making holiday activities mandatory or all-inclusive. If a manager is personally aware of an employee going through a tough time, a hand-written note, offering words of encouragement without getting into specifics, is a considerate gesture. Being supportive is all about being aware and offering human kindness.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers external, structured counseling to employees. If your company participates, it’s a great idea to remind employees of this program and others that are available to them.

5. Holiday Gotchas

Corporate holiday parties – if not properly planned with clear policies communicated – can be the breeding grounds for several “holiday gotchas”. Principally, mistletoe should not be part of your office décor. 😉

Unwelcome affection and inappropriate behavior and attire are the result of precautions not being taken. When planning for holiday parties, a business leader ought to remind staff that they are attending a work event and set guidelines on what is to be expected, like a two-drink minimum as well as what to wear. This takes the pressure off everyone, making for good clean fun.  Finally, avoid holiday slip-ups by setting the example. Everyone is watching the business leader and they will follow.