Festive fatigue and WFH distractions: Employees struggle with winter blues

'Allowing employees to attend to personal tasks during business hours can help boost job satisfaction'

Festive fatigue and WFH distractions: Employees struggle with winter blues

Working hard or hardly working? The rise of remote models has left many employers concerned that their staff are ditching their duties in favour of relaxing at home, leading to a surge in surveillance tech.

And while a lot of that anxiety is unfounded (the data shows people are actually working harder in hybrid), the advent of the festive season is only stoking new concerns.

A recent report from Robert Half Canada found that 25% of employees admit to online shopping before the holidays, with 61% already distracted planning their winter vacations. With the temptation to slack off in December niggling away at employees, what should leaders do to prevent a mass productivity slump?

“Making sure your team is aware of year-end business goals and what they need to do to achieve them is key, as is communicating company policies around activities like online shopping,” says Sandra Lavoy, regional director at Robert Half Canada.

“Allowing employees to handle small tasks, like making a quick purchase during work hours, can help them balance personal and professional responsibilities and feel trusted and in control. However, if online shopping is getting in the way of completing tasks, encouraging staff to use some paid vacation time to focus on preparing for the holidays may be worthwhile.”

While you don’t want to be painted as the office Scrooge, HR leaders need to stay on top of time theft. In remote work, it’s harder to spot distracted and unengaged employees, with many employers already snowed under with their own workloads. It’s about walking the line between festive empathy and strategic planning.

“Some distraction this time of year is expected, as people prepare for the upcoming holidays,” says Lavoy. “However, signs that it may be turning into a problem include missed deadlines, lower quality of work, and general decreased productivity and engagement. Allowing employees to attend to some personal tasks during business hours can help boost job satisfaction and promote balance, but it shouldn’t be impacting the quality of their work and ability to meet business needs.”

Festive fatigue crippling morale

But it’s not all tinsel and eggnog for some employees, with half of the workforce citing December as the most stressful time of the year. A recent report from Visier found that 57% of employees are more burned out now than they were at this point last year, with “festive fatigue” on the rise. Worrying data indeed when you consider that January is the most popular month for job hopping. 

“Stress is a major issue at work, and the repercussions can be huge for business performance,” says Ian McVey, EMEA MD at Visier. “December should be a time of celebration, a time to unwind, spend time with the family, and celebrate the successes of the past year. But 2022 has not been a normal year.

“Understandably, employees are tired, and feeling concerned about the current economic climate we find ourselves in. The challenge for businesses is the knock-on impact that these feelings of fatigue will be having on employee morale, and overall business performance.”

And, as HR leaders know all too well, morale has only been dwindling since the pandemic. While you may be forgiven for assuming mental health would improve post-COVID, the opposite seems to have happened. The stress of returning to offices after months of isolation, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation has culminated in a perfect storm against psychological wellbeing.

A recent survey from Manulife found the percentage of those on long-term disability has increased by 22% since 2019, with the number of employees submitting mental health-related claims up by a staggering 27% in just one year. For many Canadian employers, this is leading to a talent shortage as well as a morale problem – something that needs to be HR’s number one priority heading into 2023.

Burnout a symptom, not the disease

Employers should approach this productivity puzzle from a compassionate angle. Consider that burnout is the symptom of the disease – not the disease itself.

“If people are so in need of an end-of-year holiday that they’re noticeably distracted and unproductive at work, it might be a sign of burnout,” says Lavoy. “Managers should be encouraging regular breaks and time off throughout the year, and cultivating a culture of healthy work-life balance, so employees aren’t running on empty by the end of year.

“Finally, while work holiday parties may cause some short-term distractions, they can help cultivate team bonding and offer an opportunity to celebrate teams wins from the past year. These benefits typically outweigh the potential distractions, and can be key factors in improving workplace morale and retention.”

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