Recently, Wal-Mart announced that it would remain closed on Thanksgiving Day for the fourth year in a row. Target has also reversed its practice of offering “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving Day, announcing that employees would have the holiday off from now on. The decision makes permanent a change initially driven by the pandemic in 2020. Other retailers remaining closed on Thanksgiving Day include Costco, Kohl’s, and TJMaxx.
The decision to close on Thanksgiving Day began as a response to the stress and overwhelm of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers wanted to address both physical and mental health.
Now, however, employers everywhere are recognizing and grappling with ongoing employee burnout and mental health struggles. A report from March 2023 found that 42% of employees are experiencing burnout; the groups with the highest rates of stress and burnout were employees between 18 and 29 and women in all age groups. Other surveys have found rising rates of financial stress and mental health struggles across the workforce.
For leaders who want to keep good employees, the news about rising stress, burnout, and mental health challenges can feel dire. While there’s no solution to the widespread challenges, employers get a head start on wellness initiatives by prioritizing well-being during the holiday season.
Here are five ways to prioritize employee well-being during the holiday season.
1. REASSESS HOLIDAY SCHEDULING
It may not be possible to close every holiday from November through January. Still, employers can look at scheduling and bring employees into the conversation to find out how best to balance individual and company needs.
For instance, in healthcare or public services, employers could consider limiting how many holidays employees work to ensure they have at least some time to spend with friends and family. Remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, and allow employees to choose which holidays they work and which they want off wherever possible.
2. REMIND EMPLOYEES OF WELLNESS BENEFITS
‘Tis the season for open enrollment, which provides a natural opportunity to remind employees of their options for mental health care and treatment, wellness programs, and other support for their physical and psychological well-being. If your organization offers these benefits, encourage employees to sign up for and use them.
3. CHECK-IN WITH TEAM MEMBERS
In remote work environments, it’s easy to forget that people have real-world concerns beyond Zoom calls and Slack messages. Many people are physically distant from friends or family; others could have relationship struggles that mean difficult or non-existent opportunities for holiday gatherings. Some employees may be facing the first holiday season without a family member, or the holidays may renew feelings of grief and loss that are easier to deal with during the rest of the year.
Leaders can demonstrate emotional intelligence and compassion by checking in with all team members to determine if they need additional support during the holiday season. Such conversations don’t have to be awkward, rehearsed, or rote. Leaders can use one-on-one meetings to strike up organic and casual conversations about holidays that may lead to more substantive discussions.
4. ENCOURAGE REST
It’s easy for anyone in a rapidly moving business environment to get caught up in productivity and results and forget to rest. The reality is that everyone needs downtime. Encourage team members to take time for real rest and rejuvenation over the winter holidays. Give them explicit permission to turn off notifications, shut down instant messaging, and ignore e-mails so that they can spend time doing something to refresh their energy and mental health. Even machines need recalibration every now and then, and human beings are not machines!
5. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Of course, employees aren’t the only people who struggle with burnout and mental health issues. Managers and other leaders have experienced a sharp rise in such challenges in the last few years.
Rather than expecting everyone to be strong and stoic, leaders from the top down can be vulnerable and transparent about their struggles. As much as possible, leaders should rest, share their own stories, and talk about steps they’ve taken to improve their well-being. Encourage others to be transparent and assure employees across levels and functions that their stories are valid and important.
While there’s no wrong time for leaders to show compassion and kindness, the holiday season presents a unique annual opportunity to focus on treating employees as whole beings—people who not only work but people who have friends and families, people who struggle with mental health and burnout, and people who feel grief and loss. This year and beyond, choose to prioritize employee wellbeing during the winter holidays and set your team up for a strong start in the coming year.
- Do our employees know about and use wellness benefits? How can we remind them?
- Can I share one story with my team to demonstrate a commitment to my own mental well-being?
- Is there one person on my team who could especially benefit from connection right now? How can I respond?