It’s the holidays again! That time of year when we eat, drink, and make merry with friends and family, with home cooked meals and exchanges of gifts. At least, that's the image in our heads—but for low wage workers, this time of the year is not just parties and presents. It can be a stressful time.
Imagine an employee who works an hourly job doing light assembly at a manufacturing plant. This year they were given the day after Thanksgiving off. While she is excited to have an extra day with her kids, losing a full day of pay is a big hit on her monthly income. She’s now going to have to figure out whether she can get some help from a local food bank to cover her family’s meals.
Or consider a retail worker. He’s not worried about losing hours; it's his company's busy season and he’s being asked to take on extra shifts restocking shelves. Because of the automated scheduling system his company uses, the extra shifts are not predictable and he often receives just a day or two of notice, so he has to juggle child care options for his two kids at the last minute.
The issues that these employees are experiencing are on top of stress they might have related to being able to afford extra food, buy gifts for their family and friends, or deal with stressful family relationships at holiday gatherings. Add in the fact that heating bills climb as temperatures drop, and the holidays can feel less like a jolly time of year, and more like four weeks of frustration and anxiety.
As business leaders, HR professionals, and managers, we can help our employees by considering these circumstances when setting policies and processes. Here are few things you can do to make things easier, not harder, on your employees this time of year:
- If you give people unexpected time off, make it paid for your hourly workers just like it’s a comp day for those on salary. Yes, it costs more, but it can make the difference for some employees between being able to make ends meet that month or not.
- Have holiday gatherings onsite. If you are going to throw a holiday party, don’t make it during off hours at an offsite location. This puts stress on people who have other commitments outside of work, and may not be easily able to travel to another location.
- Create schedules early. Extra holiday work hours can be a great source of extra income, but if they change unexpectedly or vary wildly, it can be hard to plan things like child care and family gatherings.
- Be inclusive of the many ways people choose to celebrate (or not) at this time of year. Don’t limit yourself to recognizing a single holiday tradition. Be open to a range of preferences, and be flexible about decorations, food, and activities.
While the holiday season is often a time of celebration, a time to be with family, and a time to share what we have, it’s important to recognize the potential for stress, and take this opportunity to be mindful of the needs of your workers as well as the needs of the business.
For workers coping with changing schedules, affording gifts, and hefty heating bills, the holidays can feel less than jolly. How can you support your employees so they're able to focus on the important things?