Holidays are a time for family, celebration, and travel — and they’re also a time for stress. More than half of families — 59%, according to the 2019 Care.com Cost of Holidays survey — find the holiday season stressful and overwhelming. Why? Families told us they were stressed from not having enough time (68%), lacking the financial means to afford things like gifts (60%), and dealing with the added complications of travel, hosting, and child care.
And as any employer knows, when stress really begins to mount, it can spill over into the workplace. More than 40% of working parents say they’re less focused at work during the holiday season. More than half (54%) admit they’re holiday shopping while they’re on the clock.
You know what happens next: Distraction and absenteeism go up, while productivity declines. These holiday hiccups happen Every. Single. Year. But here’s the thing: Holiday slowdowns are like any other workplace phenomenon. If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.
For example: Nearly two-thirds of employees (65%) say they’re expected to work during the Christmas and New Year’s weeks—times when their kids are on holiday vacation. That can create chaos both at home and at work, as parents scramble to cobble together child care, just as the other holiday stressors are heating up. One in 3 employees (33%) say they have to take at least some paid time off, according to this year’s Care.com Cost of the Holidays survey—and 30% rely on a partner or spouse (who may also need to take off work). Nearly half (46%) of Care.com parents told us they rely on family and friends to watch their kids during vacation week. Another 9% send their kids to a friend’s house.
Does it have to be like this? Using data from 4,500 Care.com member families and Care@Work’s corporate clients, we’ve identified the December days when working families need the most help — and the types of assistance that will make the biggest difference for your employees.
Gaps in Care
Two-thirds of Care.com parents said they’re expected to work between Christmas and New Year’s Day. And data from the Society for Human Resources suggests the percentage could be even higher. SHRM’s holiday hours survey found most offices (84%) remain open between the major holidays. Helping employees bridge these gaps can eliminate a significant amount of stress and reduce preventable absenteeism.
Unsurprisingly, Care@Work’s client data shows a significant spike in requests for backup child care around these dates. Our 2018 data shows 7 of the top 20 most requested dates fall during late December, during those days when many children are home during holiday vacation but parents are expected to be at work. The days immediately before and after Christmas are when demand spikes the highest. (Zooming out at the whole year, the only days that compare are Veterans Day, Columbus Day, and the gap week between the end of camp and the start of school at the end of August.) For 2019, the remaining dates are:
- Monday, Dec. 23
- Thursday, Dec. 26
- Friday, Dec. 27
- Monday, Dec. 30
Still, most parents aren’t lucky enough to have employer-provided backup care. Only about 5% of employers provide backup or emergency child care for employees when regular care arrangements are unavailable, according to the most recent National Study of Employers conducted by SHRM and the Families and Work Institute. Without backup care, working parents will scramble to line up coverage or risk missing work.
Child care-related absenteeism costs US businesses over $4 billion annually, according to estimates. Access to Care@Work services, meanwhile, have been proven to help employees work 6 days they would have missed due to care-related issues.
Needed: An Extra Set of Hands
Surprisingly, despite their stresses, most families don’t hire additional help during the holiday season. (Even during the Holiday gap week when parents are working while their kids are out of school, only 32% pay for child care.) However, nearly half (48%) say they wish they had an extra set of hands.
Of those who don’t hire help, a housekeeper (69%) tops the wish list, followed by babysitters (66%) and errand runners (38%). Of the 23% of families who do hire help to make the holidays easier, 84% say they’ve hired a babysitter, 49% have hired a housekeeper and 19% paid a pet sitter.
How to Help
Most companies will experience a dip in productivity during the holiday season, but with a few simple steps to support your employees you can minimize the impact on your business.
- Be Flexible A little flexibility goes a long way in helping employees deal with their hectic holiday schedules, when they’ll be juggling last-minute shopping, travel plans and more. Try to emphasize results, rather than worrying about when or where work gets done. The flexibility to attend the holiday concert or work from home will build goodwill that will carry over into the new year.
- Offer Help Family care benefits, like backup child care or free membership to Care.com, are just what your employees need during the most wonderful—not to mention busiest—time of the year. Whether backup care for those school vacation days or the ability to find and hire a housekeeper to help with pre- or post-party chores, a little bit of extra help goes a long way. For those days when you know backup care will be in high demand, you can even work with your benefits provider to offer pop-up child care for your employees. Not only will your employees be able to better focus on their jobs, but they’ll be grateful for the benefits you’ve provided.
- Embrace the Holiday Spirit Nobody wants a boss like old Scrooge. Instead of bah, humbug bad vibes, spread cheer by using this time to celebrate big wins and recognize employee accomplishments. Remind your team of the great work you’ve done in support of your mission. Whether you host a fancy holiday party or cater a weekday lunch, showing your employees you appreciate them will inspire everyone to end the year on a high note.