As we enter our second pandemic holiday season, it’s a great time for leaders to reflect on how well they’re supporting their workforce. Companies have certainly come a long way over the past year and a half, with many now offering mental health support, flexible work arrangements, and other ways to alleviate worker burnout.

However, the holidays are a source of added stress for many employees. They may be crunched to get all of their work done before taking time off, overwhelmed with shopping or making travel plans, dealing with children at home on their winter break, or experiencing more financial strain than normal. The holidays are also an especially challenging time for people who suffer from loneliness, depression, or other mental health issues.

It’s no surprise, then, that 84% of workers find the holiday season stressful and 88% say it’s the most stressful time of the year. Adding to this are concerns about COVID-19, which continue to be a source of anxiety for most people. In fact, those who are scared they’ll contract the virus are over two times more likely to report that they anticipate a stressful holiday season, compared to those who aren’t as worried.

Given these ongoing challenges, it’s more important than ever that you offer support and empathy for your employees during the holiday season. And this isn’t just the right thing to do — it can also help you retain your top talent during what’s likely to be a critical period for your business. That’s because not only are we in the midst of the “great resignation,” but we’re also approaching the new year, which many people see as the ideal time for a fresh start.

Realistically, there’s a good chance that some of your employees are contemplating leaving your company over the next few months. After all, January and February is the best time of the year to look for a new job. Hiring managers have received their new hiring budgets, and they’re often behind on filling roles because of the holiday break. In addition, employees know that it makes sense to wait until after they’ve received their annual pay increase to leave their job, so they can use their new higher salary as a negotiating tool.

The key takeaway is that now is not the time to dial back your support for your team members. In fact, the success of your business in 2022 and beyond could hinge on how well you help your employees navigate the holidays this year — whether you lead with empathy and kindness, or whether you instead drive people to the conclusion that they’d be better off working for another employer.

Here are 12 ways to support your workers this holiday season, with a special focus on remote employees. It can be more difficult to pick up on the stress of your virtual team members, but they’re in need of your support just as much as your on-site staff, if not more.

1. Offer more schedule flexibility

Giving your team members more control over their schedules is a great way to help them keep up with their work and still find time for personal tasks, family time, or self-care. It’s also one of the top things employers can do to help people stay more productive during the holiday season. While it’s generally easy to let knowledge workers define their own schedule, remember that you can also offer flexibility to hourly workers by letting them have more say over the days and times they work.

2. Give people the option to work remotely

If your employees aren’t already remote, consider letting them work remotely a few days per week over the holidays (if it makes sense for their role). Or if your company has adopted a hybrid approach, you could simply increase the number of days that your staff are permitted to work from home during the next month or so. Not only will this allow employees to handle some of their holiday or family-related responsibilities, it also demonstrates that you trust them.

3. Encourage your team members to take time off

A survey from Robert Half reveals that 23% of workers aren’t planning to take time off over the holidays — and the reasons why may surprise you. While some employees say they just have too much work to do, over half (51%) are uncomfortable asking their manager for time off. With this in mind, I’d recommend that you take each of your employees aside — but especially those who have a lot of vacation time left — and remind them that you genuinely want them to take a break.

4. Do what you can to decrease people’s workload

Among workers who aren’t taking time off over the holidays, 27% say it’s because there’s nobody to cover for them and 14% have too much work to do. I know that managers don’t always have the ability to adjust people’s workload, but do what you can to be proactive about this. For example, try to focus on only the most important tasks right now, rework project timelines if possible, or bring on a few temporary staff members to cover for your employees over the holidays.

5. Get creative with how you support parents

Having kids at home during the holidays can add an extra layer of stress for your team members, especially if they’re remote. They are many ways to help working parents, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box too. For example, Sendoso, a sending platform, offers a weekly children’s story hour over Zoom, where one of their staff members reads picture books to other employees’ children. Meanwhile, the parents get an extra hour for heads-down work or to take a break.

6. Ramp up your communication about mental health

While 98% of companies have added or plan to add mental health resources, there’s no guarantee that people will use them. It’s a great time of year to remind your staff about the support that’s available to them, especially any short-term benefits you offer. For example, Johns Hopkins gives employees and their family members up to five free counseling sessions for concerns such as social isolation or stress during COVID-19 and the holidays, without requiring the use of health insurance.

7. Help your employees give back

The holidays are a time for generosity and helping those in need, and studies show that people who demonstrate prosocial behaviors are happier and healthier. However, some employees may not have money to spare or time to volunteer — so consider giving them an emotional boost by putting your company’s donations toward the causes they support. At Gravity Payments, for example, every employee receives $500 dollars a year to donate to the nonprofit of their choice.

8. Be generous with holiday gift-giving

The shift to remote working has allowed many companies to cut costs on perks like on-site amenities, free snacks, or the occasional team lunch. Because of this, employees are likely anticipating a little extra generosity this year. You can’t go wrong with money or gifts, but giving your team members some extra time off is also a great idea. One study found that employees at companies that close additional days during the holidays report much higher productivity during the time that they’re actually in the office.

9. Use virtual tools to bring teams together

While it’s important for employees to disconnect during the holidays, remember that some people may not have a large circle of family or friends to spend time with. And even if they do, they may still see their colleagues as their “work family” and want to keep up with them over the holidays. This can be challenging for remote teams, but technology can help. For example, you can hold virtual gatherings via Zoom, or you could create a Slack channel where people can share the unique ways they celebrate the holidays.

10. Check in often with your employees

As a manager, you’re probably overwhelmed right now too, and you might be tempted to cancel your regular one-on-one check-ins with your team members. Perhaps you think that employees would also welcome a break; however, the reality is that this could actually lead them to feel isolated or even abandoned. So keep those check-ins, ask people how they’re really doing, and express your gratitude for their support. A little empathy and appreciation can go a long way in today’s workplace.

11. Promote well-being and self-care

Amidst rising levels of employees stress — research from my company and Oracle finds that 62% of people say 2021 was the most stressful year ever at work — promoting self-care is absolutely critical. Remind your teams how important it is to stay active, take breaks, and prioritize their mental health, and offer them tips for how to safely celebrate the holidays. And if your budget allows for it, consider giving your employees wellness-related gifts or discounted gym memberships.

12. Take care of your own well-being too

Remember that to truly help your employees, you have to focus on your own well-being first. That’s because whether or not you recognize this, your team members look to you as a role model — and if you’re working long hours over the holidays, they’ll think that that’s what’s expected of them too. My new LinkedIn Learning course, Managing Your Well-Being as a Leader, is a great place to start if you’re looking for inspiration, advice, and real-world examples to help guide you on your journey toward better well-being.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn! I’d love to know how your company supports employees during the holidays.

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