It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And, the most chaotic for many. With the stress of wrapping up end-of-year projects and making plans for next year, it’s more important than ever for business owners and their employees to manage their health through the holiday season. We’ve compiled some suggestions on how to approach time off, create work-life boundaries and keep yourself healthy through the holiday season:

Time off

As the owner, you are an essential part of your business. This might lead you to feel like you just can’t take a day off. However, time off is crucial to not just your own health but the health of your business. A study by the World Health Organization found that working longer hours increases your risk of stroke and heart disease. Time off plays a role in reducing stress, improving motivation, and boosting brain power—but how can you step away from your business when you feel so indispensable?

Communication. The key is communication. Let your team know when you will and will not be accessible, then work to delegate tasks and workload. The truth is that you won’t always be available 24/7 and you won’t always have the time to prepare for time off. Emergencies happen. If you give your employees the chance to learn how to operate the business during a planned absence, you’ll feel more at ease if you have to take a step back in an emergency.

Another key reason to take time off as a business owner is that it helps build a healthy work culture that values taking time away from work. Even a generous paid-time-off (PTO) package is useless if the business does not foster a safe environment where employees feel comfortable taking days off.

Paid Time Off. There are many steps you can take to create a safe space for using PTO. Set a guideline for when employees should notify you when they would like to take days off. Then, help them plan and prepare for their time away by helping delegate work. On the flip side, encourage employees to help cover the work of their coworkers going on vacation. Set expectations on answering emails and phone calls while taking time off. Encourage them to set automatic responses letting people know that they are out of the office and who should be contacted instead. Finally, make plans for their reentry. Returning to an inbox full of unread emails can be overwhelming. Plan for time to allow the employee to get up to speed.

Flexibility. With the impact of the pandemic, you may have heard the benefits of flexible work hours. Flexibility improves retention, attracts talent, increases productivity, and so on. Flexible work time allows employees to work on a schedule that best suits them. It’s especially relevant in a time where work life and personal life tend to blend more and more. Flexible work hours can be particularly beneficial during the holidays when kids are on winter break, family is visiting and shopping is hectic.

Boundaries for balance

Burnout is very real for employees. The “always-on” work culture builds stress and exhaustion for employees that then impact their health and workplace motivation. In fact, a study by Deloitte found that 77 percent of respondents experience burnout at their current job. As a leader, you set an example. At the end of the day, make a point of logging off and going home. Deprioritize responding to emails received after hours. And finally, make sure everyone can manage their daily workload so that they can log off at the end of the day worry-free.

Home/Work Balance. With so many employees working from home, the line between work and personal life is blurry. However, that separation is important for creating a healthy work-life balance. If you have an extra room in your house, use it as an office. Creating this kind of space allows for a clear mental and physical distinction between on-the-clock and off-the-clock hours. If you don’t have an extra room, find any sort of table, desk, or space at home and reserve it solely for work. When you’ve logged off at the end of the day, don’t return to that spot until tomorrow.

The end of Q4 can be the most chaotic time of the year for employees. Not only are they preparing for the end of the year and planning for the next, but they’re also preparing for time off. The last thing anyone wants while opening presents or enjoying a holiday feast is a project hanging over their head or a surprise email from a client. 

Schedule Priorities. You want all staff — yourself, leadership, and employees — to let go of work and enjoy the beauty of the season. First, clearly communicate with clients and customers what your business schedule and work hours are so that everyone is clear about when employees are accessible and not accessible. Second, take the time to prioritize your work. What needs to be done and what can wait? Think critically about your workload and you’ll find more items can be put on hold than you expect. And finally, encourage employees to completely log off, shut down the computer, walk away, and enjoy their time off at the end of the day.

Health

Exercise. There’s a saying that health is wealth. That couldn’t be more true. Your business relies on your ability to think critically and respond quickly. Your health directly impacts your motivation, productivity, creativity, critical thinking, and more. If you want your business to succeed, you have to keep yourself physically and mentally capable of taking on tasks and challenges. That’s why it’s important to prioritize steps to keeping your body and mind in good health.

Regular exercise is also part of your job. Exercise extends beyond the physical benefits to include mental benefits and impact on your productivity. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, exercise positively affects your concentration, memory, learning, and mental stamina. However, many workers don’t meet the guidelines from the CDC recommending at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity. Instead, we sit in front of a computer for our eight-hour workdays. To counteract this, recommend they walk or bike to work; take the stairs; take walks throughout the day, and hold standing meetings. Above all, set an example by doing all these yourself as well.

Mental Health. In a study by the Canadian Mental Health Association, 62 percent of entrepreneurs felt depressed at least once a week and more than half reported that stress impacted their work. Mental health is a decisive element of your business’ success. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to ensure that you stay in prime condition to tackle any challenges you may face. Keeping a journal is an excellent practice for mindfulness. It allows you to reflect on your emotions so that you can control them and respond to various situations appropriately. We’ve covered the importance of exercise and work-life balance, but combining both of those by going for walks outside allows you to separate yourself from your daily life. And finally, when we have our head down with work, we might miss the wonderful company around us. Spend time with friends and family. Social support has a major role to play in handling stress and alleviating other health issues.

Employee Wellness Program. If you’re looking to encourage your employees to get active, setting up an employee wellness program is a great place to start. In 2019, 84 percent of large employers offered a wellness program as part of their health benefits. For some companies, this may include on-site fitness rooms, smoking cessation programs, paramedical services, and so on. Some aspects can be difficult for small businesses to enact.

A wellness program for small businesses can include access to health-related information and resources, such as print materials, an online portal, or an e-newsletter. An additional option includes a rewards program that incentivizes activities such as taking the stairs, getting enough hours of sleep, reaching a step goal, or journaling. Other options include offering healthy snacks around the office or providing wellness furniture around the office, such as adjustable standing desks and ergonomic chairs.