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How to navigate holiday season workplace issues

Human Resources icon5 min read


The holiday season can be a tricky time for HR professionals and company leaders. Everyone on your staff is likely to feel the crunch of additional professional and personal obligations at the end of the year, and mass burnout may always feel imminent. Throwing a fun holiday party to show appreciation for your staff is a good idea, but it can also be a logistical nightmare. And while hiring additional seasonal staff can help increase productivity, it may also cause confusion about compliance with employment laws.

But fear not! We’ve pulled together a few pointers to help you make the holiday season as smooth as possible in your workplace this year.  

How to handle office holiday parties

Company holiday parties can be a great way to show your appreciation for the hard work your staff has put in over the past year. But without careful planning, they can also open your company up to major expense and liability. Keep your party festive and professional with these tips:

Provide a safe ride home

If you’re planning on serving alcohol at your company party, it’s important to consider how your employees will get home safely. Some companies choose to let employees expense their taxi rides home, or provide credits for an Uber or Lyft ride after the party. However you choose to address it, make sure that your company isn’t left open to liability arising from any irresponsible choices your employees make.

Limit alcohol consumption

Not only will this help your company save money, but it also helps minimize the risks of inappropriate or unprofessional behavior that may come up when employees are drinking together. Consider giving employees drink tickets to limit the number of alcoholic drinks they’re able to get, or talk to event staff about providing lighter pours for the evening. Be sure to provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages as well so that booze isn’t the focus of the evening.

Rethink the traditional holiday party

There’s no written rule dictating that company holiday parties have to be held in the evening, or that they need to be expensive affairs with ample food and drink. You may want to consider taking your team somewhere offsite during the workday for a fun activity, such as bowling or laser tag. Alternately, you can keep the event really low-key by hosting a festive holiday breakfast or luncheon in the office.

These options still provide the opportunity for employees to loosen up and have fun together, but without the associated risks (or costs) of a party with alcohol. As an added bonus, employees with families will likely appreciate that they don’t have to get a babysitter to celebrate with their colleagues.

 Avoiding burnout

Burnout in the workplace may seem inevitable during the holiday season, but there are some steps that employers and HR managers can take to help employees stay engaged and productive through December. Here are some strategies to try:

Provide flexibility

The increased personal obligations at this time of year can make rigid work schedules particularly frustrating for your employees. Between coordinating travel to celebrate the holidays with family, attending school performances or parties with children, and other scheduling challenges, your staff may feel stretched thin. If your office doesn’t already offer a flexible work policy, December may a great time to try it out; you may find that your employees are just as productive, and far less likely to become burned out.

Reduce workloads where possible

While drastic cuts in productivity aren’t doable in most workplaces, it can be helpful for managers and supervisors to look for small ways to take tasks off employees’ plates during a stressful time of year. Try to hold off on assigning any new work items that aren’t mission-critical until January to help your staff focus on getting their most important tasks done well.

Recognize employee contributions

When employees are tired and feeling overworked at the end of the year, they’re at higher risk of losing sight of their role in the company’s success— and disengaging from their work as a result. Managers should make it a priority to touch base with each member of the staff about the value they contribute to the organization.

Read more about how you can prevent employee burnout during the holidays.



What you need to know about hiring seasonal workers

Seasonality presents major staffing concerns in some industries. For many of these companies, this means ramping up hiring to keep up with increased workloads during the holiday season. While this can help with productivity, it also introduces some unique complexities to your workforce. Here are some things to keep in mind as you hire temporary staff this year:

Employment laws apply to seasonal workers

As you hire and onboard additional employees, remember that all federal, state, and local employment laws apply to seasonal workers (with the exception of the FMLA, which only applies to employees who have worked with your company for 12 months). That means you need to be just as diligent about complying with the FLSA and ADA for your seasonal workers as you are with permanent staff.

Keep accurate time records for all nonexempt employees (including temporary staff), and ensure they don’t perform any work duties off the clock. Be diligent about scheduling any meal and rest breaks required by state law, and make sure that your company is providing all needed accommodations for any employees with disabilities.

For more information, take a look at SHRM’s comprehensive list of compliance reminders for seasonal employees.

Familiarize seasonal staff with company policies

Even if employees will only be with your company for a month, they should still be briefed on important company policies and practices. When you’re training and onboarding temporary staff, make sure they’re given a copy of the employee handbook. Familiarize them with your company’s sexual harassment policies, any drug testing requirements, and the procedures for addressing and adjusting scheduling issues.

End the year on a high note

With proper planning, it’s possible to handle all the sensitive issues that arise for employers at the end of the year without experiencing the accompanying dip in productivity or exposing the company to any additional liability. If you can take the time to show your employees that they’re valued and make accommodations for their personal needs in a particularly busy time of year, your company is far more likely to start January on the right foot.  

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