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Ask HR: How Can We Keep Morale Up During the Hectic Holiday Season?

A man in a suit sitting in front of a window.

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

The restaurant I manage is busiest on nights, weekends and holidays. As we roll into the holiday season, our staff tends to get weary and stressed while working long hours and hectic days. Even the heightened income during the holiday season doesn't soften the blow to morale. How can we improve morale through the holidays? —Dion 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Restaurants are unique workplaces facing equally unique challenges during the busy holiday season. Recognizing the sacrifices and contributions of your employees, especially during holidays and peak times, is a crucial first step in creating a positive workplace experience. Enhancing their morale will benefit your staff as individuals and your business as a whole.

Expressing gratitude for your staff's dedication can significantly impact morale, particularly during the holiday season. Simple gestures such as thanking employees for their hard work on holidays can go a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated.

To further elevate the work experience and foster a sense of community, consider implementing the following ideas:

  • Charity fundraisers. Organize events or fundraisers associated with the holidays to allow your staff to participate in a good cause. This promotes teamwork and adds a meaningful aspect to the holiday season.
  • Holiday meals and treats. Whether bringing in doughnuts or bagels in the morning or catering a pre-shift dinner, treat your team to meals or snacks. It's a small but impactful way to bring a festive atmosphere to the workplace and demonstrate appreciation.
  • Holiday trivia contests. Arrange a holiday-themed trivia contest with prizes. This can be a fun and engaging way for employees to come together, showcase their knowledge and win some rewards.
  • Personal story sharing. Create a platform for employees to share personal stories about what the holidays mean to them. This builds a sense of connection and allows team members to learn more about one another's traditions and experiences.
  • Gift cards and other rewards. Consider offering gift cards or personalized rewards to commemorate holiday shifts. Items such as T-shirts, patches or mugs can serve as tokens of appreciation and create a sense of camaraderie among the staff.

I'll add this: Ask them. As you approach the holiday season, ask your employees about their challenges and needs. Even if you don't receive an immediate answer, you can get a heads-up on what to look for as you move through the holidays. Asking can also give you some perspective and understanding as you make day-to-day decisions impacting the business and your workers. Establishing a dialogue when times are calmer is easier than in the midst of a storm. Creating a line of communication gives employees an avenue to approach you when something needs addressing.

By embracing these ideas, you can transform holidays from potential sources of stress to opportunities for your team to come together, bond, and make the most out of their work experience. Ultimately, it's about turning these occasions into positive events, contributing to a vibrant and supportive workplace culture.


Our previous group manager left the company, and instead of promoting someone within the team or hiring a direct full-time manager, they brought in an outside contractor, who used to be one of our consultants, to act as acting manager over the group. Can or should companies have external employees directly supervise full-time direct employees? —Blais

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Bringing in an external contractor as the acting manager for the group understandably will raise questions and concerns among the team. While it's not a common practice to have external employees directly supervise full-time staff, the legality of such a decision depends on various factors, including behavioral control, the relationship between the parties, and financial control, as outlined by the IRS.

This situation may be disappointing, especially when there might have been expectations for internal promotions. Unfortunately, these decisions often stem from reasons not readily apparent to the team. Using the term "acting manager" suggests a temporary role, and it's possible the former consultant was chosen for their familiarity with the company's goals, values, strategies and objectives.

This temporary appointment may involve providing recommendations for changes within the group, including considerations for promotions. If you aspire to a managerial role, take this opportunity to get to know the acting manager. Consider it a mutual learning experience where their external perspective may complement your firsthand knowledge of day-to-day operations.

Engaging in open communication with the acting manager can be beneficial. Seek clarification on the expectations for the role you seek, and express your interest in contributing to the team's success. Your understanding of the internal dynamics can be valuable, and the acting manager may appreciate your insights.

Remember, the company is likely evaluating potential long-term solutions for group management. Use this period to showcase your skills, build a positive working relationship and position yourself as a strong candidate for future opportunities within the team.

I hope this perspective provides some clarity, and I encourage you to approach this situation as a chance for growth and collaboration. Your group can build confidence in the new manager once a permanent decision is made. If you have further questions or concerns, consider discussing them with HR or seeking additional insights from company leadership.


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