’Tis the Season for Making Your Employees’ Lives Easier

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

The workplace ranks dead last among the places people express gratitude, according to research from the John Templeton Foundation. So if you own a small business, there’s a good chance your workers are feeling less than fully appreciated on the job.

’Tis the season, employers, to step up and turn this tendency around. The holidays provide a perfect opportunity to create an attitude of gratitude around your office that increases employee retention and improves morale. Here’s how to keep employees happy.

Be Flexible with Scheduling

“Most people are overwhelmed with stress at the holiday season,” says Laura Gmeinder, a human resources consultant in Madison, WI, who works with small businesses to improve employee morale and engagement. “There is never enough time to do everything to get ready.” Employers can help alleviate that stress by providing a little time off — assuming workers aren’t paid by the hour, of course. After all, she continues, “many people are living paycheck to paycheck, so the cost of the holidays weighs heavy on their minds and hearts.”

Lauren Griffin, senior vice president for Adecco Staffing USA, a human resources solutions company, says, “employees tend to get worn down during the holiday season because there is so much going on, in and out of the workplace. Supervisors and managers can engage employees in simple but thoughtful activities that will lessen stress for a bit and, in turn, boost morale.”

For example, she suggests allowing your team to head out a bit earlier on a Tuesday or Wednesday. “Employees will find this time useful for taking care of personal holiday to-dos or to rest. They’ll also appreciate the possibility of running errands at a time when stores aren’t as crowded.” If afternoons are busy at your office, give the time off in the morning to show employee appreciation. Rotate days if staffing is a concern.

Another option: telecommuting. Kenny Kline, a New York–based entrepreneur and founder of Slumber Sage, a sleep and sleep-product review Website, says, “The option to work from home can be huge. There are a great number of errands to run during the holidays, so having a day to work from home where time can be more flexible is important.”

And think about your official schedule. For many businesses, workloads during the holidays are expected to be lighter. If yours is one of those, give an extra day on either side of the holiday if possible. “No one wants to work the Friday after Thanksgiving, and it feels wrong to take a vacation day for a day when no one” — except in retail, of course — “is working anyway,” Kline says.

Reduce Tension and Stress

“Encourage employees to do something for themselves to recharge their batteries,” Gmeinder suggests. Remind them they don’t have to use that afternoon off for shopping. “By taking time for themselves, they’ll be able to give more to others.”

Or take matters into your own hands and offer stress-reducing activities at work. Invite a masseuse in to provide 15-minute neck and shoulder massages. Or schedule lunchtime holiday karaoke. A study by the American Psychological Association found that singing raises our spirits and improves overall health.

There’s another important benefit to keeping stress under control. As Gmeinder points out, when people get run down, they’re more likely to get sick, and “no one wants a cold or the flu passing around the office right before the holidays.”

Plan Festive Activities

As for that holiday party? Sure, but give it a twist. “Order in lunch and encourage everyone to take time to order gifts online,” Gmeinder says. Then gather everyone for dessert and camaraderie. She’s also a fan of “Coffee Fridays.”

“Powering through the workweek is hard, but it's especially a challenge during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season,” she reminds us. Every Friday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, serve employees specialty coffees, teas and cocoa. “End the week on a high note, with a little buzz to get everyone through.”

Or just schedule some time to chat, Griffin encourages. “Something as simple as being able to laugh at work or engage in casual conversation during work helps employees feel less stressed. Schedule 15 extra minutes for your next team meeting and bookend it by asking team members about their holidays.”

Feed the Bottom Line, and the Soul

A study conducted by Harris Interactive for Glassdoor indicated that more than half of employees would stay in their jobs longer if they felt more appreciation from their boss, and four out of five employees said they’re motivated to work harder when their bosses show that they care.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, that message isn’t quite getting across to a great many bosses. Some, the WSJ reports, are afraid their employees will take advantage of them if they show too much appreciation.

Oh, but it is the holiday season. Now’s the time to take that risk and show your gratitude. It just might make you feel all warm inside.

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