As the year comes to a close, many organizations find themselves caught in the chaos of holiday festivities, erratic schedules, and looming project deadlines. The end-of-year and holiday season can be particularly overwhelming for HR teams, who are tasked with managing a myriad of responsibilities. This includes the standard HR burden, plus the normal year-end duties, in addition to all those miscell responsibilities which are unique to every organization.
But the end of the year mayhem is not an inevitable fate. This season can be an opportunity for HR professionals to reflect on the challenges faced, learn from the stressors, and craft a plan that ensures a smoother ride in the coming year. The beauty of this challenge lies in the realization that many of the deadlines and pressures are self-imposed, offering room for flexibility and the chance to reshape the narrative for December and the new year beyond.
We’ll explore five strategic HR solutions that will help alleviate the year-end burden on you and your HR team, and generally create a more manageable and harmonious environment during the holiday season.
Prioritizing certain HR functions is an essential component of crafting a less stressful end-of-year experience. Deadlines around open enrollment for health plans and new benefit packages can seemingly creep up, but prioritizing pushing information out early will help ensure that employees have the necessary time and resources to make informed decisions about their benefits. This not only streamlines administrative tasks for HR teams but also contributes to the overall well-being and satisfaction of the workforce. By thoroughly communicating changes as early as possible and providing ample support to help employees navigate these adjustments, HR teams can mitigate potential confusion and alleviate the burden of last-minute inquiries and snags.
Just about everyone defaults to January 1st as an arbitrary deadline when given the opportunity. It’s clean, it’s easy to remember, and it’s become culturally recognized as the time to make changes. However, New Year’s resolutions and self-imposed deadlines can often create more stress than the benefits they provide. We can reduce some of this burden by taking the time to determine which goals and timelines are necessary (or even possible), and which goals are more aspirational. Recognizing and reassessing self-imposed deadlines allows HR professionals to strike a balance between productivity and well-being. This will help foster a healthier work environment during the year-end rush, as well as set the stage for a more organized and harmonious start to the new year.
Postpone and Eliminate
In the pursuit of a less stressful end-of-year for HR professionals, postponing and eliminating certain tasks can make a big difference. An often poorly-timed example of this is when to do performance reviews. While crucial for employee development, employee performance appraisals can be shifted to a more opportune time, allowing HR teams to redirect their focus during the hectic year-end period. Typically, year-end bonuses are paid out in the new year anyway, so in most cases, related performance reviews can be strategically postponed to the new year without sacrificing their impact on employees’ holiday spending needs. HR professionals can effectively alleviate the pressure associated with coordinating these financial incentives amidst the chaos of the holiday season.
Recognizing that various timelines may be more flexible than initially perceived allows for a more realistic and achievable workload distribution. Not only does this kind of thinking reduce the strain on HR teams, it promotes a culture of empathy and professionalism throughout the organization. Probably more appealing right now though, by embracing a mindset of flexibility and agility, HR professionals can create a more manageable year-end workload.
Another key for a less stressful December lies in proactive planning that begins earlier than you might think. Planning for employee time off during the holiday season well in advance ensures that staff members can enjoy their well-deserved breaks without disrupting essential workflows. Setting early deadlines (with some flexibility, of course) for PTO requests can help facilitate appropriate staffing and project planning at year-end. This also rewards those who proactively plan ahead, thus bolstering that “culture” thing we keep talking about.
Similarly, organizing client gifts and cards ahead of time not only fosters thoughtful gestures but also prevents the added pressure of last-minute preparations. Taking the initiative to plan the holiday party well in advance enables HR teams to create memorable experiences without the stress of impossible deadlines or running around at the last minute. Start thinking about these things in June and July to take the pressure off of November and December.
Finally, staying ahead of the curve on compliance and legal updates for the new year ensures that the organization is well-prepared to navigate any regulatory changes seamlessly.
Implementing streamlined processes throughout the year can significantly ease the HR burden for both HR teams and employees alike. For example, creating and educating employees on processes to assist with benefits administration not only facilitates smoother operations but also empowers individuals to manage their benefits effectively. Regular reminders throughout the year about utilizing FSA accounts, PTO, insurance deductibles, and scheduling doctor visits help prevent a last-minute rush and encourage proactive planning.
Setting up these processes at the beginning of the year ensures that the groundwork is laid for a well-organized and stress-free year-end. Compiling standard operating procedures for common tasks, such as enrolling in benefits or updating personal information, reduces the need for constant HR intervention and provides employees with a roadmap for handling things on their own. Setting up automatic emails can be done in just a few hours for the entire year. By instilling a culture of self-sufficiency and clear guidelines, HR professionals can mitigate year-end stress, fostering an environment where employees are empowered to take charge of their own responsibilities and minimize the influx of inquiries during the busiest time of the year.
Accept the Non-negotiables
It’s why we all do what we do. Amidst the year-end hustle, it’s crucial to acknowledge the existence of non-negotiable obligations that inevitably surface during this season. In fact, we need to accept and encourage ourselves and employees to not negotiate on the things that are most important to us and/or are out of our control.
Sickness, for example, is often exacerbated by the cold weather, and is an unfortunate reality that requires attention and self-care. Religious and cultural obligations should be respected and prioritized. Moreover, the return of children from college and days off from school produces responsibilities that extend beyond the workplace. These commitments, whether attending school events or simply spending quality time with family, are indispensable and should not be sacrificed for work-related activities. By implementing strategic HR planning, streamlined processes, and a proactive approach to year-end tasks, employees will have more time and bandwidth for their non-negotiables.
Start fixing your HR burden today…
December doesn’t always have to mean “Crisis Mode.” Armed with strategic HR prioritization, planning, streamlined processes, and an understanding of non-negotiable commitments, the HR burden of year-end tasks can be transformed into a manageable and even harmonious experience.
Consider taking a couple of minutes to jot down all that needed to be accomplished by the year’s end. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and wallow in despair for a little while! As my dad used to say, “Give yourself a 24-hour pity party, then it’s time to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
Then, make yourself a promise: “Whatever chaos we had to work through this year, we’re going to make it better for next year.” Use this commitment as fuel to jump in and get a head start on the upcoming year.
Confronting an overwhelming list of tasks can be daunting, but you don’t have to face it alone. At Flynn Barrett Consulting, our strategic HR consulting services focus on tackling, categorizing, and prioritizing your challenges. Let’s discuss what problems you faced this holiday season and make a plan for smoothing it out in the future.
Give us a call, and let’s pave the way for a more organized and stress-free 2024.
But in the mean time, we hope you have a Happy New Year!