Extra hours. End of year reports. Long lines. Lots of visitors. While the holiday season is a wonderful time of year, it also happens to be one of the most stressful--both personally and professionally, whether you're an entry-level retail clerk or a Fortune 500 CEO.

In fact, employees are 70 percent more stressed during the holidays, a figure that doesn't bode well for performance during a crucial time of year for many organizations. More than half of employees who report high stress are disengaged, compared to just one in ten employees who report low stress levels, according to Towers Watson. 

Many organizations attempt to combat seasonal stress with holiday cheer: happy hours, office present swaps, company parties. While these traditions are fun and valuable, they're also distractions more than defenses. Company leaders should also take this time to provide employees with a more meaningful holiday gift: tools to proactively combat stress.

A couple of years ago at my company, Cornerstone OnDemand, we introduced a "Stress Management" curriculum into our internal learning management system under the premise that we can't remove stress, but we can learn to control it. While it wasn't specifically designed for the holidays, it's become an unofficial tradition as Q4 rolls around for managers to share it with their teams.

Leaders should take the time to address stress with employees--whether that means creating a similar curriculum, setting up afternoon workshops, or simply sending a reminder email with stress reduction tips. No matter your approach, here are a few lessons from our program on how to manage seasonal stress, decrease end-of-year burnout and strengthen community.

1. Be Transparent About Stress

The first step in any effort to decrease stress should be to destigmatize the topic. In our Stress Management course, we often start with a group discussion (either in-person or virtually through the platform). By proactively acknowledging that the holidays are a stressful time, you invite people to seek resources instead of finding unhealthy ways to cope with pressure.

Group discussions should be supplemented by one-on-one check-ins with managers--if these aren't happening regularly already, the holidays are a great time to start. Remember, stress is relative. There may be two salespeople on a team equally burnt out for different reasons: One has only reached 30 percent of his quota, and one is striving to get President's Club for her first time ever. Providing both employees with a listening ear and tips for destressing is critical for company-wide engagement.

2. Step Away from Your Desk (and Screen)

When we set goals at Cornerstone, everyone is encouraged to make 10 percent of their goals physical. Whether that's biking to work, practicing yoga or even walking once a week, we believe an active body contributes to a healthy mind. And science agrees: Multiple studies point to exercise as a healthy stress reliever.

During the holidays, finding time to exercise becomes admittedly harder, but ever more important. One of my favorite hacks is to have "walking meetings" instead of booking a conference room, whether it's a walk around the block or a trip to the downstairs lobby. Or you can take a page from companies like Mediacom and host a "healthy hour" instead of a "happy hour" after work. 

3. Curate Outside Resources

Last but not least, let the experts on stress speak for you. In addition to discussions and in-house perks like yoga, meditation and massages, our curriculum offers a curated selection of outside resources on stress management, from TED Talks to articles and studies. A resource hub--even if it's just a bulleted list in an email--allows employees to hear directly from people like Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe on the importance of mindfulness.

With employees putting in overtime, dealing with cranky coworkers, clients and customers, and likely losing time with their own families, company leaders should proactively find ways to help employees find balance during the holidays. And, of course, don't neglect your own well-being: Managing your own stress is a prerequisite to helping anyone else.

Published on: Oct 31, 2017