It’s the most wonderful time of the year! At least, so sang Andy Williams in 1963. Of note, Mr. Williams was, by trade, a pop singer and not a human resources professional. For, alas, even as December brings with it divine feasting, family togetherness and general merriment, it also presents disagreements over nomenclature, fierce debates on the true meaning of carols yore, and, most hazardous of all, stressful situations in the HR department. Before you say ‘Bah Humbug’ to the lot of it, consult our Holiday season HR guide. A little bit of forethought will prevent stress and have you singing Joy to the World in no time flat.
Flexibility, Productivity and Showing Up on Time
Santa’s elves are famously busy in the latter half of December. Office staff? Not so much, or, at least, not with work.
HR professional and owner of Develop Intelligence, Jana Tulloch, outlines some of the challenges, “Not only are employees trying to take some time off to attend school concerts, get some shopping done, and attend celebrations they’ve been invited to, there are also the in-house festivities – gift exchanges, secret Santas, holiday lunches, and so forth.” 
Providing staff with flexibility during the holiday season can be a big morale boost, particularly if projects have slowed and time off can be afforded. What’s key is clear communication of expectations. This way, employees will know what to expect and can plan travel, family duties, social activity and errands accordingly.
When staff are in the office, the potential lack of pressing work can provide an excellent opportunity to complete more general items from the to-do list that may have been neglected during busier work seasons.
When dealing with late arrivals and the like, context is important. Is the employee typically diligent, or a constantly tardy staffer utilizing the calendar as a convenient excuse?
Rocking Around the Christmas Tree (or other suitably seasonal decorative fixture)
Another staple of the holiday season is the staff party! Copious alcohol intake … what could go wrong?
“Visions of company holiday party catastrophes dance in the heads of HR professionals this time of year, and with good reason,” says labour lawyer David Miller. “Even if no one exposes the company to possible legal liability, improper party behavior can be grist for the rumor mill for a long time. Ghosts of holiday parties past can haunt the workplace for years.” 
This doesn’t necessarily mean that your holiday party should be dry or dull, but steps can be taken to avoid having things get out of control. Expectations for behaviour can be communicated beforehand. Unlimited free drinks is probably not a good idea. And, of course, taxi chits or other modes of free and easy transportation should be available.
Planning your party should involve consideration of your staff and their unique personalities; this might even include a consultation with the staff themselves. It’s important to remember that not everyone is in the same frame of mind come holiday season, which leads us to our next point…
Diversity, Inclusion and Depression
“Not everyone celebrates Christmas, so make sure that your company culture doesn’t discriminate,” writes Daniel Paylor for Sage People. “Include everyone in the festivities but don’t force them to join in. Also, consider offering flexible public holidays. People can choose to work over Christmas and take their public holiday on a day that has more significance to them.” 
Indeed, diversity should be celebrated, for both ethical and legal reasons. According to ERC’s website, “Refusal to accommodate an employee who wants to display a religious holiday symbol or decoration to commemorate a holiday should be considered very carefully as these can be minor religious accommodations that are protected under law and generally acceptable.” 
For others the holiday season can be a time of loneliness or sad reflection on loved ones lost. For this reason it’s a great time to highlight various counselling programs that may be available to staff. Simply being aware of these issues is certainly a good first step.
Here Comes Santa Claus: Policies on Office Gift Giving
While Secret Santa programs or modest gift giving can be fun office activities, guidelines should be communicated. Lavish gifts, either within the office or to clients, can be interpreted as bribes, and, of course, inappropriate gifts are in poor taste.
A Season of Thanks: Acknowledgement for Staff
Not only does December bring a host of seasonal celebrations, it also marks the end of another year. Each company will have its own policies regarding holiday bonuses but, aside from financial considerations, it can be a great time of year to acknowledge twelve months of hard work. Highlighting successes from the year past and praising the contributions of those involved can go a long way towards bringing good cheer to the workplace.