Keeping employees engaged and healthy is particularly difficult during the holiday season. The weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year offer a lot of challenges when it comes to productivity, illness and work performance. Healthy, engaged employees are vital to a company. When employees are over-stressed or dealing with hectic schedules, they tend to drop healthy habits and become disengaged with their work.

While the winter holiday season can be filled with joy and anticipation, it can also be filled with extra food and stress – leading to unhealthy habits. It may feel counterintuitive, but the holiday season could be the best time for employers to double down on employee well-being. By recognizing the holiday season and all the joy – and stress – it can bring to employees, employers can help reduce any extra pressures around the office and keep employees motivated to finish the year strong.

Try out the following tips to help keep employees engaged and healthy over the holidays:

Express Gratitude

Workers who feel appreciated are less likely to be disengaged and unmotivated. In a University of Pennsylvania study observing employees tasked with making fundraising calls, researchers found that grateful leaders motivate their employees to be more productive. Employees who were thanked and felt a sense of appreciation from their leaders made 50% more fundraising calls than their unappreciated counterparts.

Since employees are likely to feel more stressed this time of year, showing them that they are appreciated might be the gentle push they need to prevent them from becoming disengaged and unmotivated. Employers should genuinely thank employees for a job well done. Consider writing personal holiday cards to each employee to remind them that they are appreciated for all that they do.

Reduce The Chance Of Spreading Illnesses

While the holidays bring plenty of joy and cheer, they also tend to bring a flock of germs and viruses. Hopefully, your employees have already received their company flu shot by now – which is the number one way to help prevent a flu outbreak at the office. Besides the flu shot, the best way to keep employees healthy over cold and flu season is to maintain a clean office and educate employees on the risk of spreading illnesses.

Be sure shared office spaces – such as meeting rooms, break rooms and kitchens – are thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. Encourage employees to stay home when they are sick to avoid spreading any illnesses. Employers can also help educate employees about the cold and flu season by posting tips about promoting a healthy immune system along with reminders to clean their desks and any shared spaces as often as possible.

Encourage Paid Time Off (PTO)

While it may seem illogical to encourage employees to take time off during the holiday season, it’s incredibly important. Employees who utilize their PTO during an especially busy time of the year will have lower levels of stress and be able to prioritize their well-being. Employees won’t be productive or able to focus on work when they are thinking about all the last-minute errands they need to run after work. Communicate to employees that it is perfectly acceptable to take the time off that they need during the holiday season. This time off will help keep them mentally healthy and more productive while at work.

Provide Some Stress Relief

It’s no secret that stressed employees aren’t engaged, nor do they perform their best. Stress also comes with many negative physical and mental health consequences. To keep employees healthy and engaged, employers should strive to provide some stress relief at the office. This could include bringing in a professional massage therapist to give massages to employees, practicing deep breathing or meditation before a big meeting or bringing in a healthcare professional to educate employees on managing stress. Employers can also help reduce stress in the workplace during the holiday season by allowing flexible hours, communicating about deadlines and promoting positivity.

Host A Healthy Potluck

A holiday potluck doesn’t have to be synonymous with unhealthy eating. In fact, hosting a healthier version of a holiday potluck is a great way to encourage healthy eating at the office. While normal office potlucks tend to leave employees over-stuffed and sluggish, a potluck full of fresh, nutritious foods will give employees an energy boost, promote productivity and boost concentration. A healthy, holiday-themed potluck will also bring employees together and keep office morale high during the holiday season.

Encourage Indoor Exercise

Busy and stressed employees are less likely to keep up with their exercise routine. Not mention, the weather isn’t optimal for outdoor activity. However, exercise is extremely important over the holiday season to help reduce stress, stay energized and stay healthy. Employers can help employees be more physically active by promoting indoor exercise throughout the workday. Consider starting an indoor walking club and walk with employees around the building for 10 minutes, three times a day. Incorporate daily afternoon deskercise and stretching. Or try bringing in a yoga instructor once a week to help employees move more.

Provide Healthy Snacks

The holidays mean an overload of baked goods, desserts and other unhealthy dishes. Too much sugar and not enough nutrients will leave employees mentally drained, unable to focus and sluggish. To help balance out the holiday treats, provide employees with healthy snacks in the office kitchen and break rooms. Snacks like fresh fruit, raw veggies, hummus, nuts, rice cakes, and dried fruit are all great options. When it comes to holiday office parties, be sure to include healthy dishes and encourage employees to bring in their favorite healthy options as well.

Start A Wellness Challenge

Starting a wellness challenge over the holiday season is an excellent way to help employees feel healthier and engaged at the same time. A 30-Day Gratitude Challenge, for example, will help employees learn the value of gratitude both in the workplace and in their personal lives – which is especially important this time of year. Offer fun incentives to encourage employees to participate.

Focus On Communication

With more employees using PTO, an effective communication plan is essential in keeping employees in the loop. Consider having a weekly or monthly meeting during the holiday season to make sure everyone knows who is in charge of certain responsibilities, and discuss which days teammates are taking time off. Effective, consistent and informative communication is one of the key drivers of employee engagement.

Employers shouldn’t ignore the holidays in an attempt to keep employees focused on their work. A good leader will recognize the holidays in order to keep employees productive, engaged and healthy. While it may be a cause of some distraction around the office, the holiday season is actually a great time to celebrate employees and initiate new wellness goals to end the year strong.

By Allan Kohll, as published in Forbes on 21st November 2017

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