During the Christmas period, employers and HR managers can face a minefield of challenges, especially while keeping the team engaged. Starting mid-December, and sometimes earlier, businesses are prone to low employee engagement levels. In a survey of 3000 workers, it was found that starting the 9th of December, 26% of employees would have lost their focus, building up to leave only 7% of them maintaining focus on the final Friday before Christmas. 

This comes as no surprise when everyone is busy planning their holidays, shopping for gifts, and trying to figure out what to cook for Christmas dinner. 

If you’re wondering why you should care about employee engagement levels, think about how team engagement can affect retention and turnover. The less team engaged are the more likely to look for a job elsewhere, and once they do, they’re not only costing your company time and effort, but you’re paying for it in cash! SHRM cites on their website an insightful statistic from “Work Institute” to shed light on how much employee turnover actually costs a company. Taking into account expenses such as fees of recruiting agencies, temporary replacement employees, and lost productivity, companies will end up paying about one-third of a worker’s annual earnings upon their departure.  

All this leads to the holiday season, one of the times during the year when employers & HR managers themselves can fall into the trap of disengagement, let alone the disengagement employees feel. 

Think of your business for just a minute. Do you have HR policies set specifically for the holiday season, or do you treat it like any other time of year? Are there guidelines on what is acceptable within your business during the holidays, or are there blurred lines? Will your team appreciate your procedures, or will you upset them without noticing? Also, are you aware of engagement levels after your employees return from their holidays?

If not, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered on the top HR practices to keep in mind during the holiday season. Keeping a team engaged is crucial, we usually like to keep our tips real and actionable, meaning you’ll be able to actually implement these tips at your business starting today.

TIP #1:

Don’t skip the (Socially distanced) Christmas party

To thank people for their hard work throughout the year and to keep the team engaged, many employers organize a Christmas Party. Whilst this may be a little more difficult during the pandemic or remote working, many organizations are still planning to celebrate with staff over the festive season by hosting virtual / Zoom-style parties. 

If you are a manager, make sure you familiarise yourself with the company policy on Christmas parties or work-related social events. Even with online options, you might consider issuing a statement to employees in advance of the event reminding them of conduct matters including the dangers of excess alcohol consumption and poor behavior. The Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimization carried out by their employees in the course of employment unless they show they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts. 

Tip #2: Gifting your employees? Make sure you go TAX-FREE!

Everyone enjoys receiving presents at Christmas but employees are unlikely to appreciate gifts from their employer with a tax charge attached! Luckily, there are some statutory exemptions from tax and national insurance. The current rules (6th April 2016) state:

  • The cost of the gift (hampers, turkeys, alcohol etc.), including VAT, must not exceed £50 per employee. If it exceeds this, the full value is taxable under the usual benefit in kind rules. 
  • The gift must not be cash or a cash voucher (a voucher that can be exchanged for cash). A non-cash gift voucher which can be spent in retail outlets should be fine. 
  • The gift is not provided under a salary sacrifice or other arrangement. 
  • The gift is not provided in recognition of particular past or future services performed.

Where the benefit is provided to a group of employees and it is impractical to work out the exact cost per individual, then the average cost must come under the £50 limit.

The exemption can also be used to cover a staff meal or party costing under £50 a head if the normal staff party limit of £150 per annum either doesn’t apply or has already been used in the year.

Tip #3: Manage gifts from clients 

Your employees may receive Christmas gifts from clients or suppliers in recognition of their hard work and/or support during the year. It’s a good idea to remind your employees of the rules on gifts ahead of time to ensure you comply with the Bribery Act 2010 – the acceptance of gifts does not give the appearance that staff may be unduly influenced when making decisions. 

You may keep a register of all gifts and hospitality received and that no personal gifts of a value in excess of a set limit should be accepted without express permission from their manager. Alternatively, you may wish to put gifts received into a raffle and donate the proceeds to charity. 

Tip #4: Provide extra holiday time

Employees are likely to appreciate being able to take some additional time away from work to get their Christmas preparations done. For example, over the festive week leading up to Christmas, employers could inform staff that provided essential work is done, they will be able to leave early.

In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, it was found that employees who get extra time off actually report extra productivity when they’re back in the office.

At Prescient – we give all of our employees a half-day of paid time off to go Christmas shopping during December 😊

Tip #5: Organise fun, festive Christmas activities. 

If you’re not up for the regular Christmas party or would rather do something that is more budget-friendly, there are lots of fun activities that can be done either remotely or in the office which can keep the team engaged. 

The people at The Balance Careers put together a few lovely ideas besides the traditional party to build up employee morale during the festive season.

At Prescient, we like to look good and feel good by taking part in Save The Children’s Christmas Jumper Day. We’re all wearing our woolly warmers and pledging our pennies to support this fantastic charity, particularly in a year when many charities have struggled with fundraising during the pandemic. 

Kate and David in Christmas Jumper

If you’d like to help support this worthy cause, text “TEAMPBC” to 70050 – £2 donation plus standard network rate message charge.

Tip #6: Allow flexible working 

With Christmas presents and food to buy and children out of school for the Christmas holidays, you may see some employees struggling to keep up with all of their outside commitments. Employers may want to consider offering temporary, flexible working hours – allowing staff to start later or leave earlier – to help their work/life balance. 

While this could prove to be popular with employees, it is important to be consistent and not favour one employee over another.

Tip #7: volunteering days

Employers may wish to consider allowing employees to take additional time off to volunteer at local charities over Christmas. This can be a real ‘win-win’ as the employer benefits from a positive company reputation (internally and externally) as well as keeping employees happy – it also boosts the employer brand to help attract future talent!

You could also think about internal volunteering where members of management support other areas of the business – working on retail counters, serving meals in staff canteens etc. 

Tip #8: Combat Post-Christmas Blues

What happens after staff return from their Christmas holidays? A survey cited in the Independent found that it takes British people an average of 4 days to fully adjust to working after the holiday period.

Whilst company Christmas festivities are all about improving staff morale, loyalty, and thanking employees for all their hard work and efforts over the previous year, spare a thought for ‘Blue Monday’ and start to plan!

Taking place on the third Monday of January, Blue Monday is supposedly the saddest day of the year, due to a combination of bad weather, long nights, and the lingering aftermath of the festive overindulgence. 

Next year it falls on Monday 18th January 2021 so make sure you communicate with employees to share your highlights of the previous year, set out your strategy and goals for the coming year, and focus on all the positive and exciting things to come!

To wrap it all up

The festive season is not like any other time of the year. Employees are in a different state of mind given the stress of keeping up with both work responsibilities and personal activities. This makes HR managers, line managers, and employers responsible for keeping their team engaged, motivated and productive before and after the holidays. Failing to do so might cost businesses in terms of employee morale, productivity time, and eventually, money. Our above tips will pave the way for a smooth holiday season, keeping both employees and employers happy.


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