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  • Writer's pictureMarissa Badgley

Compassion at Work During the Holiday Season

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Joy. Celebration. Gratitude. Merry. Jolly. Happy. Magic…

These words are front and center during the holiday season. Our social media feeds reveal smiling children and joyful traditions. Storefronts are transformed into winter wonderlands. People seem to be nicer to each other. Friends and families are reunited. And the Lifetime and Hallmark channels continue to make us believe that happy endings are made possible by mistletoe, snow days, and holiday magic. This time of year is positioned as a time of celebration and new beginnings, and yet for many it is anything but. In fact, the holiday season produces higher levels of depression, anxiety, and sadness than any other time of year.

Recognizing this reality in workplaces is an important step, and leaders have a responsibility to pay attention and create environments that are safe, inclusive, empathetic, and supportive (not only but especially during the holiday season). Reloveution believes that compassionate and human-centered practices are at the center of this type of workplace, and we know that there are several powerful ways to cultivate compassion at work during a potentially stressful, overwhelming, frustrating, or generally unhappy month. Here are our top ten strategies!

(1) Give time off and mean it; (2) Honor the traditions of all employees (even if there aren’t traditions or they aren’t your traditions); (3) Give the gift of gratitude; (4) Maintain boundaries, recognizing that this time of year isn’t joyful for everyone; (5) Give opportunities to be outside in the daylight; (6) Provide free childcare at your holiday party (7) Provide spaces for listening; (8) Avoid talking about your extravagant plans; (9) Celebrate the year together; and (10) Forecast 2023 and give opportunities to reset.

  1. Give time off and mean it. Every company is different and has its own policies for vacation and time off during the holidays. Some organizations give everybody the week between Christmas and New Years off. Others offer an extra mental health day to give staff the opportunity to catch up on holiday errands. Still others encourage people to take vacation during this time of year to reboot for the next year. Whatever your policy, encourage people who take time off to actually take the time off. This means not emailing or Slacking them and expecting to get a response when you know they are on vacation, and it means respecting boundaries and giving people the space they need to truly rejuvenate and reset. There are very few things that cannot wait one week, and we encourage you to honor the hard work your staff does year-round by giving them time and space for rest and renewal.

  2. Honor the traditions of all employees (even if there aren’t traditions or they aren’t your traditions). It is important to remember that in the United States, we live in a Judeo-Christian society and it is easy to forget that while this may be the holiday season for some, it is not for others. Take time to get to know the December traditions and preferences of your team and colleagues, and avoid projecting your own traditions and values onto others. Pay attention to the calendar and try not to schedule events or important meetings on holidays that do not fall between Christmas and New Years Day (Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, and Las Posadas to name a few), and consider how you can create unique end-of-year office traditions that are non-holiday specific to ensure that people who don’t celebrate anything this time of year are included, represented, and acknowledged. Use this season to build understanding and awareness of the traditions and beliefs of others, and to celebrate the diversity of your team!

  3. Give the gift of gratitude. We should express gratitude at ALL times of the year, and the end of the year is an especially good time to say, “thank you” for the work and dedication your team and/or colleagues have given this year. Provide specific praise and celebrate accomplishments in ways that don’t require much extra work for your team. A note of gratitude (even if only on a sticky note—we love these) goes a long way. And in-office food, games, and time for community-building are also great ways to show appreciation.

  4. Maintain boundaries, recognizing that this time of year isn’t joyful for everyone. For every person who gets a holiday bonus, there is another person who gets laid off, and for every employee who is excited about their baby’s first Hanukkah, there is a person grieving their first Christmas without a loved one. It’s important that leaders don’t pressure people to feel happy or dismiss/ignore unpleasant feelings. The best thing we can do is demonstrate both in word AND action that our people are not alone, even if they feel sad or lonely. In the holiday hubbub, it is easy to get caught up in the joy and activity, and we often miss opportunities to connect meaningfully with our staff and colleagues who may be struggling. We encourage you to pay attention to uncharacteristic behaviors, and to make space for connection and relationship building whenever possible.

  5. Give opportunities to be outside in the daylight. We understand that it is cold out in most places in the United States this time of year. And Seasonal Affective Disorder is real for many people. Some of your employees may never see the sunshine between November and February because they get to work before the sun is fully up and leave after it has already set. So, bundle up and encourage people to get some fresh air and daylight when it’s available. It might just be a walk to a coffee shop or a quick stroll around your building in between meetings. But one of the best ways we combat the holiday blues is by getting some much-needed Vitamin D!

  6. Provide free childcare at your holiday party. Recognize that any out-of-work obligations during this time of year can incur major costs and stress for parents who need to secure childcare while they are at your (or your clients’) holiday events. One easy way that you can show that you see and care about the needs of your employees with young children is by getting a few volunteers (or paid babysitters) to provide free childcare at events. This allows your staff to fully engage and participate in your celebration, and has the added benefit of acknowledging a huge part of their identities.

  7. Provide spaces for listening. Research shows that the directed act of listening enriches workplace relationships, improves group productivity, and even boosts your own mood. While it might feel like work isn’t the place to unpack people’s grief or depression, it is important to acknowledge the pain that people may be experiencing and to create space to listen and respond to that suffering. You might consider scheduling more office hours for your staff to talk, debrief, or reflect with you, or your company could put together and share a list of counselors for people to call on if they are struggling. Some company’s bring in a therapy dog or puppies to boost morale (here’s a cool company in Washington) or contract with a therapist to provide free listening sessions for people in the office on a few days during the month. No matter what you do, creating space for listening helps staff feel cared about, heard, and seen, and de-stigmatizes mental health challenges while creating a safe environment for people to ask for the help they need.

  8. Avoid talking about your extravagant plans. The holiday season is a time when the divide between the haves and the have-nots becomes particularly pronounced. While we shouldn’t be cagey or shady about our plans, we should at least consider the unintended consequences of discussing big gifts, extraordinary trips, or exclusive experiences. Studies show that trust depreciates when inequity (real or perceived) is sensed and it would behoove us all to be a little more conscious of how our privileges show up and influence interpersonal dynamics, even when we are just really excited about our new car or our family’s upcoming trip to Bali.

  9. Celebrate the year together. In a world where many workers are highly stressed about their work and burdened by workload and interpersonal challenges at work, we could all use a little celebration. Celebration encourages employees to keep performing at a high level and shows them that you’ve been paying attention. Create a bulletin board with the year’s biggest accomplishments, have an end-of-year dance party, get out of the office to do something fun as a team, give small but meaningful gifts to your staff, or create a virtual space for teammates to shout each other out and celebrate each other’s awesomeness. End-of-year celebration rituals might be the last thing that your employees remember about the year, so make it special and make it count.

  10. Forecast 2023 and give opportunities to reset. While the media like to focus on new beginnings and opportunities, many people experience intense anxiety about the new year. Some become hyper aware of what they have and have not accomplished in the last year. Others feel pressured to make resolutions that they know they won’t keep. And some feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty that comes with the blank slate promised after midnight on January 1. To ease this anxiety at work, organizations can share their goals for the new year, revisit their longstanding and unchanging values, and preview activities and opportunities for a new year together. When our employees know what to expect, they feel safer, more at ease, and less anxious! You might also consider organizing a team retreat or off-site early in the new year to give your team space to take a timeout, innovate and explore opportunities, reboot and reenergize, or navigate crisis or challenges. Reloveution would be happy to fully organize or co-facilitate a retreat with you!

There are many more ways that you and your company can cultivate compassion during the holiday season, and we encourage you to explore and experiment in the coming weeks. You probably won’t be able to fully counter the stress and overwhelm of December in America, but you may be able to add a little magic and a little joy to a season that isn’t always easy. At the very least, creating a more compassionate and human-centered workplace, will keep your employees from applying to new jobs during their time off. And when you’re ready to think about strategies to use during the rest of the year, Reloveution is here to listen and support!

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