Switching the lights on, turning the brains off

Christmas offers the perfect opportunity for employees to switch off and recharge. As we down tools and head home for Christmas, the constant pinging of emails hitting the inbox shudders to a halt. The offices are empty and, for once, work is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind. But does the Christmas break really leave us refreshed and recharged?

In an ideal world, we would slow down gradually through December, enjoy some Yuletide bonding and find plenty of time to find a perfect tree, put up the decorations, buy presents, watch the school nativity plays and order the big food shop. The pre-Christmas activities should be fun and make us hum, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” followed by a snuggle on the sofa to watch ‘Elf’ yet again.

It rarely happens like this.

For many businesses, pre-Christmas is a time when employees are needed to work harder to fulfil orders, meet end-of-year deadlines and squeeze in extra work to make up for a few days off. People aren’t winding down to enjoy the Christmas break, they are busting a gut and then crashing.

There is often an expectation from employers that employees will squeeze four weeks worth of work into three so the office can close between Christmas and New Year. An extended break sounds nice, but it’s counter-productive if you are too stressed to relax and enjoy the holidays.

Wearing a Christmas jumper to work does not lighten the spirits if the to-do list – at work and at home – is overwhelming.

Employers want their staff to enjoy the Christmas holidays – and for their team to come back in January raring to go. So what can employers do to help remove the stress and encourage seasonal jollity?

Relieve the pressure

It’s no good giving your teams a few extra days holiday if they have to fit in the work they would have done on those days in the days leading up to the break. You may as well not bother.

Does that report really need to be done by Christmas? Who is going to read it anyway! If the work really needs to be done, then plan ahead. It’s much better to re-organise workflow in the months leading up to December to prevent a mad panic and heavy workload just before the festive holidays.

Impose a digital detox

The digital world is increasingly difficult to escape from. In addition, the line between personal lives and work is blurring. It’s a recipe for burnout. Stressed employees are everywhere.

A break from our screens is hugely beneficial to well-being and productivity. Employers need to encourage this. The volume of emails does drop dramatically over Christmas, so why not remove the out of office access to email.

Too many of us are in the habit of systematically checking our emails on our phones at all hours of the day. If you can’t access your inbox, then you are forced to have an email detox.

Realising the benefits of downtime, screen breaks and time away from work is the first step. Once employers grasp this, then workload and availability expectations can become an intrinsic part of the company culture. Time off should mean time off and it shouldn’t mean working harder to get it.

Show appreciation

It goes without saying that you should always appreciate your employees, but at Christmas your team should never leave for the break without a sincere ‘thank you’. The end of the year is often a time to reflect and look forward. If one of your employees does not feel valued, then you may get a nasty surprise when they return to work in January ready to hand in their notice.

Whatever an employer puts in place to lessen workplace stress in December, you can’t force someone to relax. Employees need to play their part too:

Finish the job

Don’t start what you can’t finish. If a job really needs to be done, make sure you have enough time to complete the task. The last thing you want is to be laying awake on Christmas Eve worrying about a job that is only half done.

Stay off the screen

Your boss may tell you to stay off the email over the holidays (if he or she hasn’t blocked the access, which isn’t always easy), but it’s down to your willpower as well. It’s up to you to step away from the screen!

The only time you should get on your phone or tablet over the break is to wish long-lost friends and relatives Happy Christmas on Facebook.

Keep it all in perspective

Work dominates our lives and it is hard to switch off, but Christmas really is the time to down tools. Even if you were to send a work email, let’s face it who’s going to reply? If you are trying to avoid the family, go for a walk or stick on a movie. Christmas and New Year may seem to go on forever, but it’s only a few days.

The message is clear: Switch the Christmas lights on and turn your brain off.

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