As we approach the end of the calendar year, many of us will be looking ahead to a well-earned break after a long, and at times, challenging, year. Do you, as a leader, find the lead into the Christmas holiday a uniquely challenging time of the year?
December can be a hectic period for workplaces. There’s pressure to wrap up projects and hit those final targets before the year ends, and it doesn’t help that many of us are already running on empty after a long year’s grind. While some are getting into the holiday spirit, looking forward to parties and time with family, many will also be fighting against stress, tiredness, and emotional highs and lows, which can make the workplace a complex place to navigate in the final weeks of the year.
Although the festive cheer is infectious, we must also acknowledge that this season is not universally joyful. For some, this time of year can be particularly challenging, distressing or downright painful. Earlier this month, Beyond Blue1 released new data illustrating the impact of the rising cost of living on mental health. The survey reported that 77% of people feel stressed heading into the end of the year, with financial pressures named as the number one stressor for people. For those who live alone, loneliness and isolation can have an equally detrimental impact. Last year, a Red Cross2 survey reported that 31% of people feel lonely around the festive season.
These hidden pressures that can weigh heavily on us, as leaders. Even at the best of times, those in leadership roles can find themselves stretched with the competing demands of their teams and the business. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report3 revealed that 50% of managers in Australia and New Zealand reported daily stress in their jobs, and almost one in five reported daily feelings of anger. At year’s end, these pressures are amplified. In the rush to finalise projects and meet year-end goals, we too can experience mental fatigue and feel the strain of high expectations.
Balancing the emotional and mental wellbeing of our team can also draw on our limited emotional reserves. Leaders may feel as though they are indeed languishing under the weight of expectation. Once the domain of caring professions, such as doctors and nurses, workplaces are now seeing an increase in compassion fatigue4, especially in middle management. The holiday season presents a challenge and an opportunity for leaders to find new and innovative ways to lead engage and inspire. But how can we engage and inspire when we may ourselves be tired, burnt out and running to the finish line? Leading others is an adaptive challenge and one that calls upon all leaders to put themselves first. While it might sound counterproductive and self-centered, it’s just like when we need oxygen in an airplane, we must apply the oxygen mask to ourselves first. Only then can we truly help others, our teams and colleagues.
With this in mind, how can we navigate through this period with positivity and intention?
We have some thoughts:
- Make time for reflection. Set aside time to reflect on the past year. Reflection can be a powerful tool – allowing you and your team to consider lessons learnt, how you’ve adapted, and how far you’ve journeyed over the last 12 months.
- Celebrate the wins. Make the time to recognise the individual and collective contributions through the year. Acknowledging the hard work, dedication, and even the setbacks that your team has faced together reinforces the value of each member’s effort.
- Lean into empathy. Empathetic leadership is about understanding your team’s emotional landscape. Practising empathy can create a supportive environment where employees feel heard and understood, which can significantly enhance morale when mental fatigue kicks in.
- Practise self compassion. Extend the same kindness to yourself, as you would others in your team. Model self-care, and encourage your team members to take breaks, use their annual leave, and actively disconnect from their work by engaging in activities that recharge them outside of the workplace. This self-compassion can also include being kind to yourself about your leadership journey – the progress made, the learnings gained and the growth opportunities ahead.
We understand the nuanced challenges this season presents. At Vitality Works, we advocate for tackling employee health and wellbeing challenges, including end-of-year fatigue, with a holistic lens. We strive to help organisations identify and address the underlying triggers for mental fatigue and emotional strain and empower them to navigate these trying times with a proactive plan for prevention, rather than reaching a crisis point.
With relevant, year-round supports in place, leaders can help their teams to be better equipped to move through the silly season with resilience and good humour, ready to face the New Year with renewed outlook and energy.
Here’s to a holiday season that renews our spirit and prepares us for a bright year ahead.
 Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report
 Harvard Business review workplaces are now seeing an increase in compassion fatigue,