While many think of the holidays as a time of joy and celebration among friends and family, the holiday season can present unique challenges for HR departments to ensure that operations continue running smoothly amidst a variety of absence requests and holiday celebrations. This article will examine different facets of the holidays that an HR department deals with and describe how to manage these challenges for workplace success.


There is a variety of multicultural celebrations that occur in the month of December, so it’s important that messages coming from an organization are inclusive to all celebrations and don’t favor one holiday more than the other. For example, a sampling of holidays in the western hemisphere includes Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Boxing Day.

Use the wide variety of holidays as an opportunity to lean into diversity initiatives and talk with employees about what type of celebrations they feel comfortable with in the office. This topic should be approached sensitively, yet it can also provide insight and perspective to make the workplace more welcoming for everyone. Don’t be afraid to say “Happy Hanukkah” to someone who is Jewish, or “Merry Christmas” to someone who is Christian!

Aside from cultural celebrations, it’s also important to recognize that holidays aren’t necessarily a time of joy and festivities for all employees. Those dealing with heavy family or personal circumstances or who have recently lost a loved one might feel a heightened sense of sadness around the holidays, and these feelings can be exacerbated by seeing others have a good time. HR departments should take the time to remind employees about available support and resources that an organization offers.


One of the biggest challenges that HR departments deal with during the holiday season is absences. Whether for sickness, travel, religious holidays, or non-genuine absences, HR departments often struggle to accommodate requests while making sure that the organization is not left short-staffed. Organizations are especially negatively affected by unexpected absences when employees fake a sick day if their time off request is denied.

One of the most effective techniques to combat non-genuine absences is proactive communication. HR departments should set parameters for holiday absences and review policies well in advance of the holiday season. These parameters could include determining specific dates for employees to take off, capping a maximum number of days for time off, and closing an organization for all employees on well-known holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s. The parameters should include what happens if an employee is denied for time off, such taking disciplinary action if they fail to show up.

By communicating these policies clearly and early on, both employees and employers are set up to successfully take time off while keeping the company running smoothly, and this eliminates one source of stress during the holiday season.


It’s the end of the year – that means it’s the perfect time to knock out a bunch of items from your to-do list to start the new year off on a good note, right? Though the holiday season can bring a certain positive and uplifting spirit to the office, many employees find themselves less productive or even burnt out entirely compared to other times of the year. In addition to end-of-the-year work deadlines, employees are also doing their holiday shopping, attending celebrations with friends and family, and participating in office gift exchanges, secret Santas, and other festivities.

The sheer amount of tasks to complete during the holidays can be overwhelming for employees, so what can HR departments do to help alleviate this stress? Jana Tulloch of the workplace software company Develop Intelligence recommends identifying priorities that an organization must complete and which priorities are not as pressing. She states, “[Rather than] allowing things to completely slow down, […] allow staff the flexibility to take some additional time or leave early. It will be noticed and appreciated by staff.”

She also describes the value of thoughtful and appreciative messages from upper-level management that positively reflect on the year: “An email from a manager, senior leader, or CEO can go a long way to keep people engaged and productive.” By being sensitive to the unique stresses that employees face during the holidays, HR departments can help reduce fatigue and burnout.

Holiday Parties

When planning a holiday party, HR departments should seek to balance entertainment and fun with employee safety. HR departments should check their insurance coverage and be prepared for any injuries that arise. How does the insurance policy change if the party is held on the organization rather than off-campus?

Similarly, HR departments should check with legal counsel and examine possible liabilities before deciding whether to serve alcohol. If alcohol is served, HR departments should limit the alcohol to beer and wine and make sure there is a limit for employees. They should also provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and snacks.

Lastly, HR departments should clearly communicate the code of conduct and expectations to employees before the holiday party. Regardless if the party is held at an organization or off-campus, employees in attendance should adhere to company dress codes and anti-harassment policies. Throughout the party, HR departments and upper-level management should check that the code of conduct is being followed and that employees are staying safe.

Bhr Consulting

The holidays present a variety of unique challenges for HR departments, from making all employees feel welcome to managing absences to preventing burnout to hosting a safe and enjoyable holiday party. Contact Bhr Consulting today to make sure that your organization can thrive during the holiday season!