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How does Christmas affect staff performance?

It comes and goes like a flash. If we’re lucky we’ll have had at least a few days off to spend with the family, eating too many roast potatoes and watching old James bond movies. Christmas. Is our post-holiday productivity taking an unintended hit? We ask, how does Christmas affect staff performance?

Whether it’s Christmas, summer or a random week in the middle of Spring, holidays have a considerable impact on how a business operates. Holidays are an essential part of our working lives, letting us rest, recuperate, and spend time with loved-ones. But, between pre-holiday excitement and the back-to-work adjustment period, they can also be a bit disruptive.

There are of course some great benefits of time off:

Work performance

Employees taking regular holidays benefit from an overall performance boost across a year. Productivity increases by around 15% for staff taking at least two weeks holiday a year. But don't make the mistake of thinking it's just a matter of that 15%. If your people couldn't take time off, their performance would keep deteriorating until they all burned out and quit. So, in a broader sense, time off is why we're able to be productive at all.

Wellbeing and health

Staff who take annual holidays have far better levels of physical and mental wellbeing. Holidays have been found to reduce stress levels by more than 80% with a lasting effect post-holiday. Interestingly holidays can have significant health benefits, cutting the risk of heart disease by 50% in men and 30% for women when 2 or more holidays are taken per year.

Employee engagement

Employees taking time away from work actually helps them to become more engaged at work. Gallup found that a week’s paid vacation could strengthen engagement by around 10%.

So, holidays are clearly necessary for the long-term wellbeing of your people. But there are negatives beyond the potential disruption of losing a particular staff-member for a week or more. Let's face it, there's a little bit of an adjustment period coming back from any big holiday or vacation. There's a reason they call it "post-holiday blues."

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people report experiencing post-holiday blues. It's partly a feeling of depressing wistfulness. We've all had holidays we wish could last forever. But it's also the fact people have to readjust to their daily routines. Holidays are a time to stay up and then sleep in. And fixing a messed-up circadian rhythm is easier said than done.

The impact of Christmas holidays on performance

Enough about holidays in general. How does Christmas affect staff performance?

Christmas tends to be one of (if not the most) disruptive holiday of them all. While not everyone celebrates it, most businesses traditionally give employees Christmas off in Europe and the US. And, perhaps more than any other holiday, it's a time when people drink, make merry, and generally eat way too much.

While it is traditional for many employees to get time off over Christmas, that specific holiday can have some negative impacts. And let's not forget that people often keep the celebrations going through Boxing Day.

The hangover that comes afterward can cause distractions at work, to the point that 62% of companies have reported dips in workplace productivity post holidays.

78% of employees even admit to shopping online during work hours in the build-up to Christmas and searching of gifts and post-holiday deals.

And research shows that in fact productivity is lower for the whole month of December as well as January. 

Project management software company Redbooth published their own research into the December/January productivity dip in Forbes. They found that during these two months their users completed 22.8% of their tasks, compared to a yearly average of 27.3%.

How to beat the Christmas performance dip

So, really, how does Christmas affect staff performance?

Even when they're midway through January, many employees can still have a hard time readjusting to the daily grind. Employers need to strike a balance between flexibility and productivity after the holiday season while keeping morale high and engagement strong in 2023.

Here are five ways companies can help employees more effectively plan and manage their time to overcome the post-holiday productivity hangover:

1. Anticipate Downtime

Your employees will inevitably be taking time off or returning from time away.

Try to anticipate when you’ll be short-staffed and how to best accommodate this.

Collect historical attendance and performance data to pinpoint when during the year your company has traditionally seen productivity downswings and higher numbers of employees on leave.

Use this data to create a plan of attack, like staggering vacation days or hiring temporary help.

An employee check-in or performance management software can be extremely useful here.

2. Close down the office

This feels counter-intuitive right?

Well research shows that a large part of the productivity dip over Christmas is linked to employees who are actually working.

Unsurprisingly staff who find themselves working over Christmas are prone to becoming a little less motivated as they think of their colleagues taking time off and enjoying some downtime. This impacts their productivity levels significantly.

It’s not going to be feasible for all companies out there, but if you can get away with shutting the office and giving all your people a well-deserved rest, you may find productivity in January jumps.

3. Set a Year-End Goal

Goal-setting is key in driving great performance and helping to boost engagement.

What do you want to accomplish for your business? What are the big three objectives? How can your employees help you get there?

Set some goals or targets that are relevant, achievable, something every employee can contribute to, and something that can be easily tracked and updated.

You can increase employee engagement by empowering workers with the knowledge of how they personally contribute to company goals, thus keeping productivity high.

4. Be flexible

If you’re not already doing so, consider flexible work arrangements – work-from-home days, flexible schedules – to meet employees in the middle.

Odds are employees are trying to juggle family obligations and holiday plans in addition to their usual workloads.

Allowing some flexibility can do a lot to reduce stress and keep everyone on track both before, during and after Christmas.

Even something as small as allowing someone to come in early and leave early can seriously boost company morale, grow engagement and drive better performance.

5. Go with the flow (a little)

If employees are going to slack off a little anyway, why not put it to good use?

Taking the office out to lunch or setting aside some time to acknowledge people’s accomplishments can help keep morale high.

No one likes a Scrooge at Christmas, so bring some cheer into the office.

A little pre-Christmas effort can help build a more resilient attitude towards performance post-Christmas.

6. Compensate your Christmas workers

Speaking of not being a Scrooge, reward your people fairly. While you should definitely give your people the Christmas holidays off if possible, it's not feasible for every employer.

But that doesn't mean it isn't a pain when you have to work through them. Giving them the equivalent of overtime pay means employees can still do something nice for their family, even if they aren't there in-person.

Giving them a seasonal pay bump may be the simplest way, but it's by no means your only option. They drew the short straw for the Christmas season, so consider giving them some extra paid time off, or first pick on the year's new holiday rota. If possible, you should probably make sure they don't get picked to work the holidays next Christmas.

So, how does Christmas affect staff performance? The truth is, it's all down to how you prepare. It's not like you don't get adequate warning. Ultimately, it's worth remembering that the holidays are meant to bring your people together. In the long-term, they do more harm than good. The down-sides are manageable,so long as you don't let them sneak up on you.

Merry Christmas, and have a happy new year!