HR tips to make the holiday season less stressful at work

Unused vacation days are at a record high in the U.S., according to a survey of more than 5,000 workers conducted last year by market research firm GfK. 

In an analysis of the GfK findings and related data, Oxford Economics calculated that Americans historically took 20.3 days of vacation each year up until 2000. After the new millennium began, vacation time began dropping, settling at just 16.2 days in 2015. 

holidaysEmployees often stress about taking paid vacation time – especially during the winter holidays.

Workers may be taking less vacation time because the thought of missing work during such a busy period is anxiety-provoking. One survey by Healthline found that 62 percent of respondents said the holiday season was "very" or "somewhat" stressful for them. 

This a real crisis for employees and companies, because vacation time can ease stress, refresh the mind and ultimately increase engagement and productivity. 

HR has a large influence on how much vacation time employees use because of the steps they can take to cultivate an environment that prioritizes work-life balance and encourages employees to take time off, even during the final weeks of the busy fourth quarter. Investing in your employees' health and well-being not only creates a happier and more productive workforce now, but a more successful company down the line. 

Here are some ways can make the holiday season less stressful for employees:

Make it easy for employees to log their PTO time
Skip the headaches and endless rounds of email inquiries by making it easy for employees to check their PTO balances and submit vacation plans. A centralized HR module with employee self-service simplifies PTO paperwork processes while giving employees greater insight into and control over how and when they choose to use their vacation time. 

"Vacation time can ease stress and refresh the mind."

Review scheduling to ensure coverage 
Employees may be on vacation, but the work still needs to get done by someone. This worry wards off many employees from choosing to take a well-earned holiday. Ease their concerns – and those of their managers – by using intuitive tools that help you improve scheduling across your organization. By being able to see a comprehensive view of when employees will be out of office as well as any critical talent gaps, you can better plan for coverage during the winter holidays. 

Hire seasonal staff 
If after reviewing scheduling and attendance you realize sufficient coverage just isn't possible with your existing workforce, you can hire seasonal staff to step in and keep the gears turning. Zero in on the specific skill sets, technical abilities and knowledge bases that you'll need in temporary support staff. An online career center complete with resume screening and applicant tracking speeds up the recruitment process without sacrificing quality of recruits, while enhanced communication enables the new hires to be productive right out of the gate. 

Spread the word 
Because of work pressures, mounting end-of-year deadlines and long-held cultural attitudes, employees at your company may be under the wrong impression that taking time off will be a bad mark against them. Create communication materials that underline the message that using earned vacation time is not only allowed, but also encouraged. Stress that work should not be completed while people are on vacation. Share this information with managers if necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page. By creating a more PTO-friendly work culture, you can help ensure employees get the time off they deserve. 

Taking vacations to clear the mind is essential for employees to be happy, healthy and productive. Unfortunately, many workers fear taking time off, especially during the busy and often frantic holiday season. HR professionals, however, can take the steps above to help make the season less stressful for employees and ultimately have them not only take – but fully enjoy – their well-deserved time off.