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How Can I Help My Employees Stay Safe During the Holidays?

HR Question:

I hear many of my employees making plans for the holidays, which include family and friends from all over. I’m worried about them contracting COVID-19 and bringing it into our workplace. How can I help my employees stay safe during the holidays?

HR Answer:

It’s no secret that the 2020 holiday season will look drastically different this year for everyone. While many may be feeling “COVID fatigue” and desire a break from the stress with a visit from family, the risk of contracting COVID-19 has not faded away with the holidays. If anything, the risk has spiked, as many get-togethers are held indoors without masks or proper ventilation. It’s understandable that employers will begin to worry about additional COVID-19 exposures in their workplace as employees return after seeing their families and friends.

While employers can’t mandate that employees not see family or friends over the holidays, they can encourage safe practices and share recommendations to protect themselves and those around them. Some recommendations include:

Lead by Example

The first place to start would be with your own company holiday celebrations. How are you adjusting your typical holiday parties and get-togethers to safely celebrate with minimal risk? Depending on the size of your organization, consider small, socially-distanced get-togethers with minimal movement. So, instead of the team potluck from 11:30 am – 1 pm, perhaps try a small, socially-distanced gift exchange from 2 pm – 3 pm. Instead of doing a White Elephant gift swap (where the gifts can change hands multiple times), try a Secret Santa exchange (where the gift only goes to one person) or opportunities to pick from a small pile of gifts. From a virtual perspective, consider virtual meals where individuals on the team each order their favorite take-out, or host virtual Happy Hours. This setting can extend to gift exchanges as well, as long as the gifts are exchanged beforehand or sent virtually. Depending upon the size of your organization, you can safely lead by example and still spread some holiday joy across your team.

Make a Clear Plan

Encourage employees to make a clear plan with their families before gathering. Will everyone have received their flu shot? Will everyone quarantine for 14 days prior to your gathering? Or will the family have to settle for a virtual get-together? If the latter is the choice, Zoom, Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facetime are just a few common virtual video platforms that can be used for gathering friends and families while remaining safe at home. As a bonus, Zoom announced there will be no time limits on Thanksgiving video get-togethers this year.

Getting Creative with (But Still Requiring) Masks

If your employees choose to physically gather with family and friends who live outside their household, it will be important that they take the extra precautions in order to remain safe and healthy. One of the top recommendations from health officials, outside of social distancing and good hand washing, is wearing a mask. While this practice is one that most people realistically do not enjoy, recommend fun ways to encourage mask-wearing for all ages. For example, consider creating spirited competitions where you can vote on the favorite within several categories: who has the funniest, prettiest, scariest, or most festive mask? You can also supply blank face masks that can be decorated, where children and adults can take part and have fun. These are just a few ways to lighten the mood and gamify mask-wearing to help to ensure everyone stays safe while celebrating.

Encourage Time Off to Destress

Even if the holidays look a little different, one thing remains the same – stress. Add on the stress of a pandemic and the interruption of treasured traditions, and it’s easy to see how many may find themselves more tense and irritable during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Share stress relief resources, such as The Mayo Clinic’s recommendations for reducing stress during the pandemic holidays. For those who are interested, find virtual ways of connecting over the holidays so no employee feels “alone.” Another option is to highlight your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which might offer a variety of counseling options for employees to help them handle their stress and mental health.

Get Back to the Basics

As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season come upon us, don’t let your team forget the basics of protecting themselves, and in turn, their families. The following guidelines should be followed:

  • Practice social distancing at all times.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Wear a mask at all times.
  • Self-monitor for symptoms continuously.
  • Continue to check employees’ temperatures and ask about symptoms as they return to work each day.
  • If employees traveled outside of their state, consider additional guidelines before those employees return onsite.

By keeping safety protocols and social distancing guidelines top of mind, you can help your employees keep themselves, and their co-workers, safe throughout the holiday season.

Special thanks to Ashly Avery for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.