6 Christmas HR challenges and how to manage them | HR blog

Published on December 13, 2021 by Kate Marchant
    HR · HR management

The festive season can present many HR challenges, from Secret Santa mishaps to festive hangover-related absences and clashing holiday requests! Learn more about how to handle some key Christmas HR challenges with this article from HR consultant Kate Marchant.

Christmas comes but once a year, a season full of joy and merriment! Or is it?

The festive period is upon us once again and who doesn’t enjoy an opportunity for some fun times with their colleagues, right? Well, not wishing to put a dampener on things, but the festive season can often present many HR challenges. In this blog post, we will look at the following:

  1. The perils of the office Christmas party
  2. Secret Santa shenanigans
  3. Festive hangover absence pain
  4. Managing motivation
  5. Handling holly jolly holiday clashes
  6. Staying safe over Christmas

1. The perils of the Christmas office party

The perils of the Christmas office party

At the time of writing, we are seeing rising concern over the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, yet no directive to ban the annual office party. So, if you are planning to go ahead with an in-person party, some wise precautions businesses can take to help things run smoothly include sending out a communication to all staff reminding them their conduct should be as if they were in the office and that any poor or unacceptable behaviour may be considered a disciplinary issue, reminding employees about the type of behaviour that may offend or constitute harassment.

Remember to invite everyone, including employees on maternity/paternity leave and those on long term sick leave. Also, if the Christmas party is activity-based, check to ensure everyone can join in.

2. Secret Santa shenanigans

Office secret santa gift

Whilst this can be lots of fun, an inappropriate gift may leave an employee embarrassed or offended (possibly both), so it is important to set some parameters around this. Again, make everyone is invited but be clear that participation is voluntary. Set a budget (maybe £10) for gifts, so people don’t go over the top. To help, a gift guide could be provided or you could even ask employees to add requests to a gift list.

Learn more: What’s the line between workplace banter and discrimination?

3. Festive Hangover Absence pain

Festive Hangover Absence pain

Clear communication around expectations is useful here. In connection to any office party, it is a good idea to remind people the next day is business as usual and they are expected to be at work to prevent any sudden unauthorised absences. Of course, any employer has the option to allow their employees to come in a little later the day after the party if it is held on a ‘school night’. Otherwise, remind employees that anyone who fails to attend work the next day may face disciplinary proceedings for misconduct.

If the thought of attending work with a hangover is too much for some employees to bear, then remind them they can always book the day after off as annual leave in advance, subject to the tips on managing holidays below!

4. Managing Motivation levels

Managing Motivation levels

This can be tricky over the festive period at the best of times, but may be even more difficult when you consider events of the last few years. There are simple things employers can do to help with this, relaxing dress codes, having Christmas jumper days, holding team events or even offering an element of flexible working in the weeks before Christmas.

Learn more: How to tackle the winter productivity dip

5. Handling holly jolly holiday clashes

Handling holly jolly holiday clashes

This can be yet another challenge over the festive period, as employees seek to take any remaining holiday entitlement rather than lose it. This can often result in clashing requests for leave. Effective management of this often starts earlier in the year with communications reminding employees to take their entitlement together with advice that requests over any peak periods will be granted on a first come first served basis.

To alleviate any potential issues, employers could be flexible around Bank Holidays to allow those who don’t celebrate Christmas to swap to days that are more meaningful to them. Employers allowing ‘carry over’ (remember this is also allowed due to recent issues with COVID-19) may wish to state a date by which such carry over needs to be taken in the next holiday year.

Manage holiday requests easily and track remaining entitlements with an online holiday management software tool.

6. Staying safe at work over Christmas


Where possible, and especially at any company events, it is important to encourage employees to be vigilant and look out for each other. If the office party is to finish late, then consider covering the cost of taxis or provide a coach to and from venues to help keep people safe. Send out communications to employees to remind them to be alert to any dangers, such as drink spiking or taking lifts from unlicensed cabs, and encourage them where possible to buddy up on any journeys.

In these COVID times, employers should remind employees of any guidance and/or restrictions in place and set out that employer expectations are the same.

Ultimately, employers cannot prepare for all eventualities, but they can at least set expectations around behaviour and give guidance on activities that seem harmless but could run the risk of offence or harassment.

Read more from the myhrtoolkit blog

Christmas holiday entitlement: 3 policy tips for organisations

What are the main health and safety responsibilities of employers?

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Written by Kate Marchant

Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.

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