4 Christmas HR challenges and how to manage them

4 Christmas HR challenges and how to manage them

29 November 2023

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Christmas is a time of year many people enjoy, no matter the industry they work in. Numerous companies outside of retail and hospitality tend to wind down and have quieter periods over Christmas and New Year. However, for employers and HR professionals, it can be quite a stressful time and there can also be several HR challenges to navigate at this time of year. That’s why employers need to stay on the ball and don’t lose focus.

With that in mind, here’s our guide to managing 4 key HR challenges many organisations face in the run-up to and at Christmas.

Work Christmas Party

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine, and therein lies the root cause of many of the problems. Alcohol, or more precisely the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol at work Christmas parties can lead to untold issues. The work Christmas party is an extension of the workplace, and so as an employer, you are responsible for dealing with issues that occur and could be held vicariously liable for the actions of your employees at or even after the event.

Unsurprisingly, there have been several employment tribunal cases around Christmas party-related incidents. For example, in the case of Livesey v Parker Merchanting Ltd, the ruling found that the employer was vicariously liable for the actions of its employee who had sexually harassed the claimant both during the work Christmas party and afterwards in a car on the journey home. The tribunal found that this harassment took place in the course of employment despite part of it being after the work event and the employee was successful in her claim.

It’s therefore crucial to ensure that you set the right tone and behaviour expectations for the party. Having a free bar might make you look like you are being a generous host and employer, but in reality, are you just creating a problem that could end up costing you far more than the bar tab? Striking the right balance between having fun and being Scrooge is important as everyone wants to enjoy the work Christmas party, so make sure to plan and nip any issues in the bud so that the night can pass off without incident.

Work Secret Santa

If you thought that the work Christmas party was a potential recipe for disaster, then work Secret Santa can also be fraught with danger. First of all, make sure that you give everyone the opportunity to be included. If some people opt out that’s fine, they’ll have their reasons, but at least you then haven’t potentially offended anyone or worse still discriminated against anyone by leaving them out completely.

Christmas is often a really expensive time of year for many, so it is important to set a sensible spending limit. Some employers encourage their staff to cut costs by having a Sustainable Santa, whereby employees regift unwanted items that they have previously received, or even make a gift to combat waste and reduce the financial impact, particularly during a cost of living crisis. The choice of gift for a work Secret Santa can also be contentious, what is a fun, jokey item for the giver may be seen as unwelcome and offensive to the recipient which could lead to grievances. It is important to be prepared for such instances or even set out some guidance on what type of gifts are acceptable in advance.

Time Off Over Christmas

Typically, many employees want to take time off to spend with their family and friends over the Christmas and New Year period in addition to the bank holidays, but managing holiday requests can be a bit of a nightmare. It’s helpful if you have established holiday booking rules in a policy and if your holiday requests and records are managed through an HR software system, HRX will do this perfectly for you!

By using an HR software system, employees can see if colleagues already have time booked off and managers can track requests. If the company policy is first come, first served then there is a clear audit trail of who asked for time off and when they asked, so that there can’t be any accusations of favouritism or undue bias. In an ideal world, employers will be able to work with their teams to manage requests and allow everyone to have the time off they want. If that can’t be managed though, don’t sweep the issue under the carpet. Be sure to talk to employees, see if there is any flexibility and try to be as accommodating as possible without compromising the needs of your business and your clients.

Staying Motivated at Work

With the festive period being a quieter time for lots of business, those employees who do end up working can sometimes be left twiddling their thumbs either through lack of motivation or a simple lack of work to do. It’s therefore vital to consider if it is even worth opening for business over Christmas and New Year, or if it is more cost-effective to have a shutdown period. If it is the latter don’t leave that decision to the last minute as staff will need to know where they stand, if they need to save annual leave so that they can make any necessary personal arrangements. If it’s something that you are going to stick with every year, then you can also have it as a contractual clause so that everyone is clear on the situation.

Should you decide to open for business, then try your best to make sure that there is work to do and try and plan certain tasks so that if it is quieter than expected then there is always a fallback option. That could be something as simple as filing or shredding documents that have been put off for the rest of the year. You might task a member of the team with auditing your website to make sure that it is up to date and all the links on it work, or can staff be given work to plan for the new year so that when everyone comes back in they can hit the ground running. There will always be something to do.

Find out how HRX can help you manage your HR challenges

Christmas should be a happy and positive time of year and by following our tips to manage your Christmas HR challenges, you’ll ensure that it can be a time of celebration enjoyed by both you and your team. If you’d like to learn more about our HR software and how it can help manage your HR processes throughout the whole year, contact our team today. You can also sign up for a FREE 30-day trial to test the waters yourself!


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