When do you start planning for the holidays? The week before? A few months in advance? Or do you start planning for next Christmas the moment this Christmas is over? We’re of the view that it’s never too early to start planning for the festive period – not for organisations trying to keep their employees motivated, anyway.
With Christmas less than three months away, this is when most people start planning for the holidays. In a 2015 survey of UK adults, 42% of people said they started planning within one to three months – compared to just 21% who start within three to six months, 11% who plan ahead by six months to a year, and 2% that start over a year in advance. This means a small group of people are planning for the Christmas after next before the next Christmas has even happened!
There’s no set date for the best time to start planning for the upcoming festive period, so if you were hoping we’d tell you an arbitrary day then we’re afraid you’re out of luck. But provided you leave yourself enough time to cover everything, from party planning and leave arrangements to gifts for staff, you’ll be off to a good start. Of course, depending on your workload, resources and the size of your team, that could be a month, or even the better part of the year.
The office party
Despite 15% of people in our recent festive motivation survey saying work events like the office party distracted them from working, and 8% saying the thought of attending made them feel actively stressed, the end-of-year Christmas do is unavoidable.
Booking a venue in advance is essential, particularly if you have a large workforce to wine and dine for the evening. Venues book up quickly – so unless you want your Christmas party to take place in the middle of November, give yourself plenty of time to research and organise multiple options..
The downside of this, of course, is that many people won’t be willing to commit to a date months in advance, making it hard to estimate numbers. But many venues will allow you to book for a minimum number, with the option to add more later, if you discuss it with them.
Staff absences are a major cause of stress for businesses. Ill health is at a high over winter, with coughs, colds, flu and other conditions caused by the chilly weather accounting for 30% of the working days lost to sickness each year. In a survey of HR professionals, 28% said they had to work longer hours in December to ensure staffing levels were met, with stress levels soaring as they try and ensure everything runs smoothly.
While you can’t plan for sickness (whether real or imagined!), it is easier to plan for the holiday days your employees will be taking throughout December. A last-minute hurry to book days off in November could leave you understaffed, or with some severely disappointed employees who aren’t allowed their desired days off – encouraging your staff to book in festive time off well in advance gives you enough notice to allocate holiday fairly, and arrange for any necessary cover.
If you’re the kind of employer who likes to reward their employees for a job well done throughout the year, make sure you give yourself enough time to ensure it’s something worthwhile, rather than a last-minute rush job.
Our survey found that for many people, the gift itself isn’t actually the most important part of receiving a gift. Over a third of UK employees (38%) said that the most important thing about receiving a gift or reward from their employer was that it made them feel valued, compared to just 9% who said the most important part was receiving something fun.
Rather than a fairly thoughtless gift idea that you can sort out on December 23rd if need be – like the standard bottle of wine, which isn’t all that appropriate for the 21% of UK adults that don’t drink – take the time to plan ahead.
Whatever employee Christmas gifts you choose – whether it’s personalised vouchers, books, food hampers or gift cards – one of the most important things is presentation. Ensure it arrives in good enough time that you can hand gifts over in person, rather than rushing around on Christmas Eve to leave things on people’s desks. If employees are taking an extended holiday, make sure they get it before they go.
Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year, caused in no small part by having less time to get work done before taking time off – something cited by 29% of those who took part in our festive motivation survey.
Will typical lead times allow any new work to be completed in good time before the holiday period? If you’re taking on two-month long projects at the end of October, for example, you may run into issues as you approach the end of the year.
Do you need to hire temporary holiday staff to ensure workloads stay manageable? Do you need to reassess monthly targets to keep the pressure on your employees from building up too much? Ask these questions sooner, rather than later.
Don’t stop at Christmas
Once December is over and done with, you’ve got a new set of challenges to face. January blues, employees struggling to get back in the swing of work, New Years’ resolutions inspiring potential career moves, and stressed, cash-strapped employees who can’t wait for the January payday.
Putting all of your efforts into planning for the end of the year without considering the beginning of a new one is risky, so ensure you have a plan in place – and communicate it to your employees in advance. Letting your employees know what’s coming in the 12 months ahead could be a simple way of reducing stress as the year comes to a close.
Some organisations spread their Christmas budget over December and January, ensuring there’s enough left over for sales incentives and staff rewards to help people get back into the swing of things. Could this work for your organisation?
Have you started thinking about all of these factors already? When do you begin planning for the holidays in your organisation? Let us know in the comments below.
 If you really need one, how about August 29th? It’s exactly two-thirds of the way through the year.
 Survey of 1,004 UK consumers employed full or part-time aged 18+, The Leadership Factor, 2016.