Supporting Employees Through the Holly, Jolly Hol(low) Days

No matter where in the world you find yourself, the last quarter of the year is particularly challenging, for many different reasons.

The Halloween decorations have only just come down, yet it looks like Santa’s workshop has exploded all over every shopping mall and department store. Our friends in the US will be celebrating Thanksgiving, immediately followed by the biggest shopping frenzy known to humankind – the dreaded Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Whoever came up with that song that says “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” has clearly never had to stress about entertaining relatives they can’t stand, or spending money they don’t have, on things they don’t need.

These holidays are supposed to be all about family and love and cheer, but for many of your employees, this is the most dreadful time of the year. As a leader and a kindness crusader, there are a few small things you can do to alleviate the holiday season blues in a big way.

Loved Ones and Logistics

Your employees may be suffering from additional stress brought on as a result of the fact that they either have to travel to be with family and are expected to stay in close quarters with people they may not have much time for, or they have to make room for hyper-critical Great Aunt Edna who smells of mothballs and asks horribly personal and inappropriate questions about their personal life. They may be hosting massive family meals and stressed about all of the logistics that go into pulling off the ‘perfect’ Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas lunch.

There’s nothing you as their manager can do about Aunt Edna and unless you’re Jamie Oliver, perhaps its best you stay out of their kitchens and event planning as well.

However, what you can do is be mindful of how stressful these holidays and the loved ones and logistics can be for most people, and cut your employees some slack. You may even want to find out who is dreading a visit to or from Aunt Edna and who is hosting any celebratory gatherings, and you may want to consider giving those employees some paid time off work to attend to some of the logistics (like getting the mint humbugs Aunt Edna likes and they secretly wish she’d choke on). As little as two hours off from work on an afternoon, could make a major difference and really alleviate some of the stress.

Financial Pressure

Aunt Edna’s mint humbugs aren’t cheap and neither are the air mattress and the new towels for the guest bathroom or the turkey and the trimmings – not to mention the tree and all the gifts. Globally, we are all feeling the pinch and we’ve been experiencing some tough economic times. The holiday season only adds to the stress that your employees are already feeling.

You don’t need to pull any kind of Robin Hood antics at work to help your team get through this. Perhaps consider scrapping the dreaded ‘secret Santa’ or encourage everyone to share handmade gifts. You could even use this is a great team building exercise and take your entire team to learn candle-making or some other fun craft that will allow them to blow off some steam and possibly even learn something that could help them save money on gifts this year.  If you have an incentive programme, now is a really good time to be handing out those gift cards and spa vouchers.


As anyone who has lost a loved one will tell you, it’s always hardest around birthdays and the holiday season. These celebrations bring back memories of happy times spent with people we can never see again and that tends to open up old wounds and just make us miss them even more. If you truly care about your employees and you know them on a more personal level, you would know whether they’ve lost parents, siblings, friends or anyone else they really care for. Be mindful of how difficult it is for them to be listening to the plans everyone has for the holidays. A little bit of empathy goes a long way here and it’s best not to harp on and on about your fabulous plans for the holidays or your fun family traditions with employees who are likely missing the departed even more than usual at this time of year.


Not everyone has a family to go home to or an exciting trip to an exotic destination planned for the holidays. Some of your employees may be alone and lonely during the holidays and this can lead to worsening depression. Suicide rates have been known to increase dramatically over the holiday season. Now is a good time to have a chat with your entire team about wellness and mental health issues and to remind your employees of the assistance that is available to them or anyone they know who may need a friendly voice to talk to. Perhaps you’d like to have a special team lunch to celebrate the holidays. You don’t have to invite people over to your home to spend the holidays with you and your family (although that would be a really nice gesture). I know of some tech companies where all the ‘holiday orphans’ get together and have their own celebrations or have gaming weekends or some kind of hackathon or challenge. I’ve even heard of colleagues all taking a trip together to somewhere fun or exotic and really making memories that last a lifetime.

No matter what you decide to do over this holiday season, you have the opportunity to be truly human and really put your people first by being mindful, empathetic, encouraging and understanding. You can do your small part in alleviating some of the holiday stress for your team, thereby ensuring that they return to work in the New Year more motivated and engaged than before. When it comes to supporting your employees during this silly season, it really is the thought that counts.

Happy Holidays!


Deborah Hartung - http://www.deborahhartung.com/

Deborah Hartung is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

She has spent almost 20 years advising corporates on matters relating to employee relations, corporate culture and leadership development. Deborah is passionate about people and technology, the human experience in the workplace and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age. 

Especially popular with young or first-time leaders, entrepreneurs and women in leadership, Deborah encourages all those she meets to align with their purpose and to be brave enough to be authentic in all their interactions. She writes about life, love, leadership, workplace culture, the future of work and the importance of making the world a kinder, more tolerant place.

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