Working over the holidays: a survival guide

Figure balancing blocks on each arm - one with work and the other with life written on them

The winter holiday season tends to be seen as the perfect time to wrap up all work-related responsibilities and spend some quality time with our loved ones. However, not everyone can afford to fully disconnect from their job: every year, more than one million people in the UK clock into work on Christmas and Boxing Day, based on ONS figures.

Despite the majority of these workers being employed in the health, social care, hospitality, and transport sectors, industries such as public administration as well as information and communications are also among those expected to swap the roast turkey for some good old emails.

Although working on Christmas Day might seem as the most relaxed day of the year, often accompanied by jolly Christmas tunes and (even jollier) bonuses, not everyone is a fan. Out of the 2,000 professionals surveyed by one of the UK’s largest online job boards, CV-Library, more than half (55%) admitted to not enjoying working at this time of the year. The main reason for this, cited by 77% of respondents, was missing out on spending time with loved ones – many of whom they had not had the opportunity to visit during last year’s holiday season. Out of those taking time off for Christmas, 38.5% admitted to doing so purely to make up for spending last year’s festivities in lock down.

“With Christmas effectively cancelled in 2020, many want to celebrate and make the most of the festivities,” says Lee Biggins, founder and CEO of CV-Library.

However, for many businesses, the holiday season remains one of the busiest times of the year, with a significant impact on annual profits.

According to Biggins, “profits are vital, but a balance is required” – especially in the face of the Great Resignation. Almost seven in 10 employees (69%) recently surveyed by recruitment agency Randstad UK said they feel confident in moving to a new job in the next couple of months.

“The commitment and efforts of staff are key to success, and acknowledgement of this has never been more crucial. With staff retention a big issue, and much movement predicted for the 2022 job market, staff need to feel appreciated, motivated and able to enjoy the festive period this year, where possible,” says Biggins.

However, is it possible to combine work with holiday cheer?

Perspective is everything

According to Kate Hesk, CPO and co-founder of mental wellness platform Cognomie, preparation is “a big factor” in reducing any anxiety ahead of the day.

“Prime yourself with a positive perspective to make all the difference. If you have a line manager, coach or mentor, see if you can ask for a bite-size session to work through this constructively. To have the space to pause, reflect and make the choices to support this time,” she tells IT Pro.

Additionally, it might be helpful to reframe the situation in a positive way, according to Hesk. “If you find yourself having to work over the holidays, do acknowledge perspective,” she says. “Think about how much pressure we put on these days. Take a step back and recognise it’s just a day and there are still so many other ways to gather, connect and celebrate.”

Although you might not be able to take the day off, Hesk says that “it’s beneficial to focus on what you can control”. After all, family reunions don’t have to be a once-in-a-year occasion, and travelling overseas to visit relatives may be more feasible during other seasons, when plane ticket prices aren’t over-inflated due to maximum demand. If you don’t feel like waiting, Hesk says that it’s worth having a conversation with your loved ones about potentially gathering for a meal on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day instead of the 25th.

Reach out to friends and colleagues

Given the latest remote working orders introduced in the UK due to the quickly-spreading Omicron variant, you might want to forgo the office completely and stay at home as a safety precaution. This also presents the opportunity of being able to join your family in the dining room – even if only for your hour-long lunch break. When preparing to work from your home office on Christmas Day, try to find a quiet place where you can focus on tasks without the accompanying soundtrack of newly unwrapped toys and Christmas crackers.

On the other hand, the government’s guidance may also make some employees feel even more lonely than usual. According to Dr Heather Bolton, head of Psychology at workplace mental health platform Unmind, it’s important to “remember that you’re not alone”.

“If you’re at home, consider how you can maintain a connection with someone else through a digital platform,” she tells IT Pro.

Whether it’s a video call or a collectively-compiled Christmas playlist that you and your colleagues can all listen to, even the smallest gesture is likely to be appreciated.

Get some rest

With burnout being a “clear and present threat this year” Hesk says that it’s important to schedule in some rest around your shift.

Bolton recommends taking “regular breaks from work” and getting “as much fresh air as possible, whether it’s through a lunchtime walk or stepping outside for five minutes before or after work”.

She also notes that, at the end of the day, “businesses need to take a proactive approach to supporting employee wellbeing all year round” but adds: “However, it can’t hurt for businesses to give employees a little extra love around the holidays, particularly during the Christmas period when stress can take more of a toll on the employees who are feeling isolated from friends and family."

Lastly, Bolton advises that employees should be sensitive to each other and empathetic. “Be mindful of the individual differences of your colleagues – everyone will react to the day differently; some might have happy or sad memories they associate with the festive period, whilst some might not celebrate it at all, and be operating as business as usual as a result,” she says.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the holiday season is the perfect time to unwind ahead of the New Year – and to remind us, once again, that not everything revolves around work.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.