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November 30, 2022 • read

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How to manage stress in the workplace during the holidays

As the holiday season approaches, many of us start looking forward to spending time with loved ones, making new memories, and unwinding before the new year. Often, that’s not all the holidays bring. 

At this time of the year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and overscheduled in our commitments, pressured to choose the right gifts, and unable to maintain our health goals. As a result, many of us experience both tremendous joy and significant stress during the holidays.

At work, the-end-of-the-year rush and the scramble to meet deadlines can also add considerable stress to our lives, which may accelerate burnout. One study found that 68 percent of workers were less productive during December while another found that over half of employees expected to lose their focus at work around mid-December. Exhaustion and lack of motivation were the main reasons given to explain the reduced productivity.

So why should companies be mindful of the impact of holiday stress at work, and what are some tips to address holiday stress? Here’s what you need to know.

What are the causes of holiday stress at work?

Research shows holidays are stressful for employees. According to one study, the most common causes of stress at work during the holidays are balancing extra demands at home with hurdles at work, trying to complete projects on time before the holidays, and dealing with stressed-out customers. 

All these factors combined create challenging conditions that can make employees more likely to experience anxiety, depression, or disengagement at work.

With the holiday season seemingly starting earlier every year – some retailers now jump into the fray as early as mid-October – fatigue also sets in earlier, which can impact productivity by the time December rolls around.

What are signs of holiday stress in employees and how can leaders identify them?

Encouraging leaders to keep an eye on employees and stress during the holidays can go a long way in addressing issues proactively before they evolve into something worse. Telltale signs that can indicate employees are experiencing higher levels of stress or anxiety include:

  • Change in usual behaviour, such as becoming irritable or withdrawn
  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • Change in appearance or hygiene
  • ‍Change in quality of work or productivity
  • Abnormal tension with colleagues
  • Absenteeism or presenteeism

Leaders who identify these signs in employees should guide team members toward resources at their disposal, like an employee assistance program, and help them prioritize projects to manage deadlines more easily. They should also seek to remove obstacles at work that may be contributing to an employee’s stress levels. 

To give employees a chance to refocus, managers can also add wellness breaks into the day by encouraging activities such as going for a walk outside. Exercise is an excellent stress reliever.

How employers can reduce employee holiday stress

There are many ways employers can boost morale and reduce stress across their entire organization during the holidays. One effective strategy is simply to provide more scheduling flexibility. Giving employees a more flexible schedule and just a little more autonomy over their hours during the holiday season can help alleviate workplace stress, ensuring morale stays high.  

Some organizations go even further by providing their team with a “shop day” that employees can use around the end of the year to get their shopping out of the way. It’s a perk employees tend to appreciate, as it meaningfully addresses a pain point for them.

Another option is to forgo giving employees a physical gift, such as a gift basket, and replace it with the gift of time instead. While it may not feel as tangible as a physical present, a few crucial extra hours of spare time during the holiday season can make a big difference for employees.

So what other initiatives can employers put into place to reduce work stress? Here are a few ideas to help you set your team up for success.

Educate employees about financial wellness

This year, the financial stress employees usually experience during the holiday season will be compounded by sky-high inflation, which is still weighing heavily on Canadians’ minds (and pocketbooks)

It’s therefore likely that budget concerns will be a source of stress for many employees this holiday season. Employers can proactively address this issue by providing employees access to financial wellness education programs that can assist them with budget issues and give them tools to plan ahead more easily for holiday expenses.

This initiative is likely to be well-received, as over 80% of employees claim they want financial education at work. 

Rethink the timing of the holiday party

Most companies believe that organizing a holiday party to thank their employees for their efforts during the year and show appreciation is crucial. That being said, the timing of the party – often around early December – doesn’t always align with employees’ needs. 

The yearly holiday party should be an occasion to celebrate, have fun, and strengthen social bonds, but if it takes place during a stressful period for employees, it may not have the desired impact. Instead, it can become another social engagement employees feel they need to attend when their schedule is already a little too hectic.

Research shows that around 37% of employees decline to attend their company’s holiday party, and that the most common reason for declining is that it clashes with family obligations. If hosting the company holiday party in December adds stress for a majority of employees, organizations can simply rethink their schedule. Instead of having a holiday party in December, why not in January after the holiday rush? 

Encourage employees to stay home when they’re sick

Coming to work sick can do more harm than staying home. This is true for the employee, their team, and the organization, and it’s especially true during the holiday season. When teams are doing their best to tackle the end-of-the-year dash, an ill-timed illness spreading across the group can cause havoc. 

To avoid spreading illness and giving employees the time they need to get their health back on track, make sure to encourage employees to stay home when they’re sick. 

Motivate the team to work together and share the workload

While the holiday season can add to a team’s workload, employees can use this as an opportunity to bond with their colleagues. They can tackle this challenge together, as a team, rather than as a collection of individuals. 

Leaders can prepare their team for the holidays by encouraging employees to share the workload and monitor tasks to ensure some team members aren’t taking on too much extra work while others are taking time off. This may require reviewing the team’s vacation schedule.

Be inclusive

Organizations must recognize the different ways people celebrate the holidays and encourage leaders to be inclusive and recognize holiday observances that may differ from their own.

Celebrating different holidays and cultures not only makes the workplace more enjoyable for everyone, it also helps foster greater awareness of cultural differences while reducing the need for socially-enforced uniformity and conformity. This can reduce unnecessary stress factors for employees who don’t see themselves as part of the dominant culture while encouraging them to bring their whole selves to work.

How Maple can help employers during the holidays

Providing your team with a quality virtual care solution can help employees solve health issues long before they develop into something worse. A solution like Maple is available 24/7, year-round, including on holidays and weekends, meaning employees can always see a general practitioner in minutes along with other specialists.

As employees find themselves trying to reconcile demands at home with holiday stress at work, a virtual care solution like Maple, which can support both the employee and their loved ones, brings welcome flexibility. It can help them avoid having to take a day off to go to a walk-in clinic or their family doctor just for a prescription or a routine medical problem. Our aggregate data indicates that approximately 76% of issues can be addressed through remote treatment while 65% of visits prevent a workplace absence.

As more and more Canadians discover the joys and benefits of virtual care, there’s now a significant gap between the type of benefits employees report they have versus what they want. In Canada, access to healthcare remains an ongoing issue and employees rely on their employer to close the gap, which is why it’s essential employers add virtual care to their employee benefits package.


Going into the busiest season of the year, organizations should expect employee stress and anxiety levels to increase. Managing stress in the workplace isn’t easy. The strategies above can help you ensure the added pressure doesn’t have a disastrous impact on your team’s well-being, employee mental health, and productivity. 

If you’d like to speak with a member of our team about supporting employees with their health and well-being, the impact of a quality virtual care solution on employee wellness, and how to bring your employee benefits to the next level, please reach out. We’d be happy to share our insights with you as Canada’s leading virtual care platform. 

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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