According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, the most commonly reported sources of stress include money (71 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (59 percent). 

With people worrying about holiday spending, scrambling to wrap up year-end work projects and some failing to take vacation for fear of losing their jobs or getting too far behind, the holidays often magnify these statistics. 

But K. Palmer Hartl, author of the Ten Commandments of Management, said there are some things business leaders can do to help their employees get through the holidays without losing their cool.

Management Cheat Sheet

Hartl shared his five stress-busting tips with CMSWire — and even offered a bonus tip.

1. Mandate Vacation Time 

“One way to make the holidays less stressful is to make people take the vacation that they did not take during the rest of the year,” said Hartl. “People need the time off. They need a break to decompress, and to get a different perspective so that they can come back refreshed. When they don’t, they just keep slogging along.”

That idea is all well and good, but what about those of us who sneak a peek at email during vacation to be sure we’re not missing something or simply to cut down on the email backlog that inevitably grows during vacations? 

Hartl cited the story of German car and truck maker, Daimler: In an effort to help employees disconnect from work while on vacation, the company gives employees the option to set their emails to auto delete during the time they’re not working. 

According to an article in Time, auto-responders provide senders with contact information for alternative staff at Daimler if the request is urgent.

The post-vacation result? A refreshed worker, and an empty inbox. 

2. Don’t Try to Mind Read

Because employees have a range of beliefs and traditions, it’s wrong for management to assume that everyone will be worrying about the same holiday-related issues at home, said Hartl.

“We may might think that we know what everyone in our unit is going through during the holidays, but the likelihood is that we don’t,” he stated.

One way managers can better understand what might be affecting an employee’s work during this stressful time: Ask.

The thing that might be useful during these holidays, and especially to deal with the stress of holidays is to spend a little time with each person and ask, ‘What’s going on for you during the holidays, and is there any way I can be helpful to you?’” 

By doing so, Hartl noted, managers can help employees keep productivity and morale up without feeling overwhelmed.

3. One Size Does Not Fit All

Related to the advice that managers shouldn’t assume things about their employees, Hartl suggested that managers learn what is unique about each of their employees, including whether or not the holidays are important to them.

Learning Opportunities

“That could really be useful in balancing the workload,” he said. For example, if one employee doesn’t mind working during the holidays, that person could cover for others who do want to take the time off to celebrate. 

4.  Agree on a Holiday Plan

Once leaders have had a chance to understand a bit more about their individual employees, Hartl advised getting the work group or team together to talk about plans, both personal and professional. 

With this kind of collaboration, he said, members of the group can then see if there is a way to distribute the workload so it would be less stressful on everyone.

5.  Oil the Machine

“One of the best ways to cope with stress is to have a well oiled machine,” said Hartl. 

This means, if you have a problem with your organization, or an employee, it’s best to deal with it early, so you’re not “limping through the holiday season when many people are stressed,” he noted.

Bonus Tip: Rethink the Christmas Party 

Hartl wraps up his list with this final tip: Even though you may have thrown a company Christmas bash year after year, leaders should take a step back to find out whether or not employees really want to have such an event. 

“A lot of people, even if they are Christians, aren’t particularly interested in a Christmas party,” he said. “They find it tedious and they’d rather be at home. I would check with my people to see if this is still something they want to do.” 

Title image by Sally Crossthwaite  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.