How company-wide holiday breaks support well-being within an organization

The busy start to our year has me reflecting on the importance of our organization’s company-wide shut down during the last week of the year. I don’t have to tell you that the holidays can easily become a frantic, stressful time of year. While the holidays are a time of celebration, gratitude and coming together with loved ones, they can also be filled with anxiety and exhaustion. Because of the high expectations that are tacked onto the holiday season – from the perfect meal to hosting or traveling to family – the time that goes into the holidays often leave people a cup short of cheer if respite isn’t deliberately incorporated into the mix.

Now, more than ever, I stand firm in my view that a long weekend over the holidays is not enough time with loved ones or to truly unwind before returning to work.

While I entirely support a flexible, remote work environment, I also understand that working from home leading up to the holidays has the potential to create chaos. Distractions are abundant. Add to that the feeling of pressure to always be accessible, as we often do in a service business, and we’re working toward a recipe for disaster. Business leaders must be realistic in acknowledging that their employees have families, and the end of the year is a heavily family-centric time. Client service is a top priority at Sikich, but I still believe we can deliver meaningful results for our clients without sacrificing family commitments or our mental health.

This was something the leaders here at Sikich recognized a few years ago. Immediately jumping back into work after traveling to see family or hosting a celebration was detrimental to the mental health of our team members and rarely resulted in groundbreaking work products. The days leading up to the new year that we were all obligated to work were lackluster, exhausting and counterproductive.

Four years ago, we decided to implement a paid, company-wide shut down during the last week of the year. Zero expectations were set as to what to do with this time: many people used it to relax, spend meaningful time with family or to travel. Rather than having people coordinate additional time off around the holidays with supervisors or team members, we closed our doors, allowing everyone to unplug as much as possible. And it worked.

While we’re still learning, after a few years of leveraging the company-wide winter break, I’ve realized a few things:

  1. As a leader, you have to prioritize your employees’ mental health.
    In my career, mental health has never been given the attention it deserves until now. We are in an era where it’s not only okay to talk about mental health, but it’s encouraged. To prevent burnout and to build an organization employees want to be a part of, mental health needs to be openly addressed, and opportunities to prioritize it need to be taken.
  2. People want to work for a company where their personal lives are just as – if not more – important than their professional lives.
    People are no longer satisfied working for companies where the only recognition they receive comes from putting in extra hours over the weekend or replying to emails late in the night. Employees want the freedom to spend time with their families or to travel without feeling an obligation to put their work first every time. This requires leadership to actively promote an equal balance between work and family.
  3. A healthy culture is necessary for engaged, productive employees.
    Meaning, if an organization only values the work product its employees’ create, the culture will suffer. Without a healthy culture, employees’ performance can decline, and they may even start looking for other job opportunities.
  4. Engaged employees generate success.
    At the end of the day, a leader’s primary job is to maintain a successful, profitable business operation. I firmly believe this is only attainable when every employee understands the objectives of the organization and enthusiastically embraces them. A company that puts employees’ well-being first will be more successful at building this needed enthusiasm across its workforce.

The need for a reset around the holidays and at year-end is abundantly clear. While it may not eliminate the stress of the holidays, it creates a better opportunity for us to enjoy the end-of-year celebrations and enter the new year with a clearer, resolved perspective.


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