Tips for preventing and managing potential HR challenges during the festive season

The holiday season will soon be upon us, and with holiday parties and other workplace festivities having been put on hold last year, many organizations are looking to resume them this year.

While for many, December is the most festive time of the year, particularly as the pandemic continues, it can also lead to many HR challenges. In this post, we outline some of these challenges and discuss how careful attention can help address and prevent issues from arising as we head into the holiday season.

Managing competing requests for time-off during the holidays

Whether your vacation policy is based upon first-come, first-serve or length of service, in the spirit of collaboration, we encourage you to be fair and support employees to work out the best options among their teams. For example, if the same person has taken vacation over Christmas for the last five years at the exclusion of other employees, it may be time to let someone else have an opportunity. Those sorts of conversations, however, should be handled respectfully, collaboratively, and well in advance of the holidays. In doing so, address those who have time left to take before the end of the year – perhaps because their workload has prevented them from doing so.

There may also be employees who prefer to work over the holidays. If you tend to have several employees who want to take the same time off, make a point of finding out early who intends to stick around (assuming it’s okay for them to do so) so that you can accommodate others.

The holiday party

If you’re planning to throw an organizational event in December, hopefully you’ve already got it planned! But whether preparations are still in the works or fully solidified, we encourage you to review our post on the topic of holiday work parties.

Managing absences after holiday parties

Whether it’s the day after the party you throw as an organization, or the myriad of other events that your employees may attend over the next month, absences (or varying versions of presence) may be an issue. If your party is on a weeknight and alcohol will be served/consumed, set your expectations in advance about their timeliness or attendance the next day (or whether you’ll allow some flexibility). With other employee events, unless they book vacation in advance, it should be business as usual where attendance is concerned, and ideally, your Substance Use Policy addresses the “after-effects” of alcohol and substances in the workplace.

Holiday libations in the workplace

Whether or not you host a formal holiday party, some organizations may host drinks at work in the days leading up to the holidays. A little nog’n’rum here, a little coffee and Irish cream there, perhaps? If this is your practice, remember your obligation as an employer to ensure those who may overindulge (or who are particularly sensitive to effects) get to their next destinations safely.

Closing early on December 24th and December 31st

It’s a tradition for many organizations to close early on the 24th and 31st. If closing is ad-hoc in the sense that it depends how things are going on the day of, we recommend any vacation requests for those days be considered full-day requests. Generally speaking, only if you always shut down operations at noon, without fail, should vacation requests be considered half-day requests.

Supporting inclusivity during the holidays

In the spirit of inclusiveness, if your business can accommodate it (i.e., employees can work remotely, alone in the office, and/or their positions allow them to still work even though your operations are closed), consider allowing those who do not celebrate Christmas to swap for the holidays they do celebrate. This not only recognizes diversity and encourages inclusivity, it can also be a good way to ensure coverage during the holidays. Doing so may require that employees who choose to work take on reasonable duties (e.g., being available to take emergency calls) that wouldn’t normally fall on their plates – so long as it makes sense, and they have the skills to do so.

Setting parameters around gift-giving

If your workplace has a tradition of gift-giving before the holidays, be sure it continues to fit and that employees want to take part (consider a quick confidential survey). If you intend to proceed, put in place some reasonable parameters. For example, set a clear upper value limit (and don’t require a minimum) and discourage “gag” gifts that may be unintentionally offensive. Allow employees to opt out of gift giving, if they choose, and prevent awkwardness by allowing them to take time off during the exchange, if it occurs during work hours.

Christmas gifts versus bonuses

A Christmas bonus – whether money, gift, or gift card – can be a welcome surprise to employees at the end of the year. They do not, however, come without their challenges. Unless the bonus is clearly attached to a measurable performance plan that has been communicated to employees well in advance, Christmas bonuses should, ideally, be positioned as gifts, rather than bonuses. With that in mind – and to avoid making subjective decisions about who gets what – give everyone the same amount/value. Further, make it a real gift by providing it along with a card (either cash, separate manual cheque, or gift card) instead of simply adding it to their year-end direct deposit. $100 in cash or in a Visa card is much more of a gift when in-hand versus being absorbed with regular pay. Where gifts can be converted to cash, keep in mind that whether you call it a gift or a bonus, it’s still taxable in the eyes of the CRA.

Managing the stress of the year-end workload

For many organizations, departments and/or individual employees, the end of the year can signal a stressful, mad rush to complete projects – either due to project/organizational completion requirements or one’s own personal expectations. With the former, work with teams to take a step back and consider how they can collaborate to support completion of projects. For example, is there a team with less to do who could step in and take some aspects of the projects on? In the latter case, help employees set realistic expectations for themselves. While there’s often a break at the end of the year, and the calendar rolls into a new number, the end of the year should be handled no differently than any other long weekend or vacation. This shift in mind-set can be helpful for employees to manage their stress.

With a little intentional effort and attention, in addition to setting and communicating clear parameters where necessary, December and the holiday season can be festive and fun, even while at work!

Feel free to contact us for help anticipating and navigating your holiday season challenges!