Managing absence during the festive season

In Wales, Black Friday is NOT the last shopping Friday in November with big discounts – it is the last Friday before Christmas, and the most popular night for office parties.

The day is called ‘Black Friday’ for two reasons, firstly because it is one of the busiest nights in the year for emergency services, and historically, miners coming out of the pits covered in coal (and therefore black) would go out for a drink after work. Every city in Wales will be busy!

My staff always look forward to our Christmas meal on Black Friday. In my capacity as a manager and team player, it’s an event I look forward to as well (though I hide the cameras!).

As an absence management specialist, it is a day my customers dread. Not only do staff ‘phone in sick’ so they can party earlier, but Black Friday is the start of a winding-down that can escalate into further sickies, poor performance and a general lack of care as the holiday approaches. After the party, it is indeed fair to say some staff are there in body, but not in spirit – and some won’t come in at all.

It’s already a challenging time for HR. It’s the end of annual leave year, which for those still on spreadsheets means an admin nightmare. There are more alcohol related incidents and often a flurry of annual leave requests before the new year starts – and the wisdom of Solomon to determine who can be off when.  For HR, it’s a little harder to join in with the party feeling when it creates so many problems.

Our advice is, don’t try to fight a complete culture that is reinforced wherever your people go.  If Christmas is causing a problem, creative HR Managers need to find a way to recruit Christmas as the cure!

Trying to stifle the season will only breed resentment and decrease motivation – for the sake of a tenner and ten minutes of putting a tree up, you are better to reinforce the season and make work a fun place to be so that the ‘sickie crew’ feel left out.  

Remember, too, for those who have to work on ‘special days’, like Christmas Day, the day is special and working will most likely feel like a sacrifice. You can at least do what you can to make the day feel special at work, breaking from the normal routine. If the day involves caring for or serving others, they will appreciate that too.   

Simple gestures like buying a Christmas tree for the office and running a ‘Secret Santa’ can lighten the mood at work – and happy staff generally make for happy customers. As an added bonus, the business gets all manner of social media opportunities to exploit, (pictures of the tree, pictures of gifts and opportunities to network with other businesses keen to talk about Christmas etc.)

The season is supposed to be fun, so being a little more flexible for those who don’t take advantage can pay dividends. It doesn’t have to be anything massive. One local council (unnamed) hosts a Christmas quiz in their tech support team on Christmas Eve, who have to support the few staff who are still working. Since the quiz was introduced, very few staff want to book the day off, because it gets quite competitive! Those who work the day are allowed to finish half an hour early.  

As always, HR managers are fantastic jugglers and there are many managers that keep all their elves happy.  

For unhappy elves who are calling their HR team killjoys and scrooges, remember that it’s the nightmare before Christmas for them and that they too are only human, with their own deadlines and pressures. Don’t judge them too harshly. Include your manager in the mince pies and do what you can to spread a little seasonal joy.

Merry Christmas, Tech Dragons readers – and Cardiff, we’ll see you on the 18th!

Adrian Lewis is the commercial director for welsh software developers Codel Software and has been advising businesses on how software can best manage HR challenges for more than 10 years. 

Image credit: Bert Kaufmann