Yes, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year … But It’s the Most Stressful, Too

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YOU KNOW HOW the song goes — “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But, it’s the most stressful time, too.

Everyone knows that the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is pretty crazy for a great many people, and, that the stress of it all spills into other parts of our life, including work.

But, just how stressful is it, really? A few years ago, a survey from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Pulse tried to pin it down.

According to the report it was titled Tis the Season For Stress: The Holiday’s Impact on Employees’ Health & Happiness (& What It Means For Employers) — here is just how stressful it seems to be:

“When it comes to the year-end holiday season, there’s no doubt about it: Employees are frazzled. In fact, more than 70 percent of survey respondents said they’re over 21 percent more stressed during the holidays. Of that, more than 10 percent said they’re between a whopping 60 and 100 percent more stressed.

What’s more, nearly 34 percent admit they anticipate being somewhat or a lot more stressed this year, in comparison to years past. The stress begins early for employees, too. One in five respondents say they start worrying about the winter holidays in October, with a third saying their stress spikes in mid to late-November.”

The huge price of stressed out employees

Well, we’re deep into November when so many people really start to feel the stress building, and a long holiday weekend of Thanksgiving, and shopping, and all the other early season activities probably have you feeling pulled a lot of different ways.

But what really stayed with me about the Virgin Pulse report on the impact of holiday stress was the analysis of the problem. For example, here’s how the report described the scope (and impact) of the holiday stress problem:

“The holidays provide the perfect excuse for delicious dinners and desserts, sharing special gifts with loved ones, and planning parties that bring everyone together. But if employees spend the whole season indulging,  reaching for candy canes in favor of fruit, blowing their budget on extravagant gift lists, or losing sleep over the holidays’ hectic pace, it can directly impact their physical energy, mental focus and emotional drive – and wreak havoc on your business.

In fact, unhealthy habits like poor nutrition from eating too many sugars, fats and carbs can cause cognitive impairment, and unhealthy workers cost businesses $153 billion in lost productivity annually.

Fortunately, the perks of supporting employees’ well being extend far beyond the holiday season. With stress accounting for up to 90 percent of doctor visits supporting your peoples’ health and happiness can help companies tackle the $300 billion price tag tied to stressed out employees. And with 70 percent of employees’ saying their healthy habits impact their ability to focus at work investing in well-being can drive more focused, productive people – and better business results.”

A little common sense to cope with holiday stress

Like any good survey, of course, the Virgin Pulse research on holiday stress also had some tips and details on just how to battle the holiday stress problem with a focus on keeping a balance on the push and pull of work and life.

Although the tips are aimed at bosses and managers because this is a workplace survey, you probably have heard them all before. However, it never hurts to get them again — especially with a little research to back them up.

  1. Pick a priority. From the survey: “When employees’ attention is on their holiday to-do list rather than their work, help them get back on track by encouraging them to highlight their most important task for the day. Making progress on meaningful work is one of the biggest motivators for employees, and pinpointing one top priority each day can help them make headway on what matters most.”
  2. Crank up the competition. From the survey: “If employees’ health has flown right out the window this season, encourage them to pay their well-being some attention. Educate them on the importance of getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising – and then show that you practice what you preach. Consider a friendly company-wide competition to see who can take the stairs every day or log the most sleep through the week.
  3. Take time to reboot. From the survey: “With hectic holiday schedules, it’s all too easy to neglect the need for downtime. Be sure your workforce unplugs this season – and all throughout the year. Encourage employees to submit and plan for vacation days well in advance, and make it clear that you support their time away from work by keeping emails and other messages mum, if possible.”

Make well-being a holiday priority

Here’s my take: For most people, the notion that we should make sure and take time to reboot is the most critical and important advice for both employers and employees to focus on during the holiday season. And as the survey analysis rightly points out,

“Managing pressure and making well-being a priority is key to employees’ health and happiness. But when seasonal stress levels strike, keeping everything under control isn’t as simple as it sounds.”

We all know that keeping control of everything during the Christmas holidays is easier said than done, but as I reflected on this survey again, I found that the advice is still as timely and relevant now as it was when the research was compiled four years ago.

And, there’s still time to get on top of it. We are just at the real start of the holiday season, so it’s not too late to step back and spend a little time on how we’re going to cope with the seasonal stress before it gets out of hand.

We want this to really be “the most wonderful time of the year.” The trick is to make sure that we don’t get so stuck on what we need to get done that we lose sight of the fact that we ALSO need to set aside a little time to step back and enjoy ourselves too.

I’m going to try to make this year the one where I really work to make that a reality. It would be great if you tried to make that happen, too.

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