Lead with Empathy: Supporting Team Members During the Holidays

By: The Humphrey Group

The holiday season is a great opportunity for leaders to show their teams how much they appreciate them. Parties, celebrations and certainly bonuses are wonderful, and they absolutely contribute to a positive workplace culture.

But the holiday season, while joyous and celebratory, can also be a time of heightened stress and emotional strain for many. As a leader, it's crucial to be on the pulse of the unique needs of your team members.

The following actionable strategies are ways that you can lead with empathy to support your team members during the holiday season:


First, cultivate an empathetic leadership style

Cultivating empathy begins with a genuine curiosity and care about others' experiences. Meaning, it’s not something you can or should fake. It involves stepping into someone else's shoes, understanding their emotions, and valuing their perspective.

But demonstrating empathy in the workplace is absolutely a skillset that leaders can develop, and it begins with active listening. By creating a space where team members feel comfortable to express concerns, and by showing genuine interest in understanding others’ perspectives, leaders build trust and foster supportive work environments.

Honing the skills that lead to empathic leadership is the first step. The next step is to commit to taking actions that support well-being during the holiday season.


Create space for people’s unique needs

Recognize that not everyone’s holiday experience is going to be the same. While some team members may be excited and look forward to festivities, others may find this time challenging due to personal reasons such as loss, financial stress, difficult family dynamics or feeling isolated.

When people feel vulnerable, it can be hard to take the first step to ask for help. Encourage open communication by taking proactive steps to create an inclusive environment. That can look like initiating one-on-one conversations to understand individual perspectives and needs during this season.


Mitigate stress to prioritize well-being 

With looming year-end deadlines and increased social and family obligations, balancing personal and professional commitments during the holidays can be overwhelming. In high-volume periods, it’s critical for leaders to maintain realistic expectations.

Be willing to acknowledge added pressures and time commitments. Be proactive in addressing potential work-related stressors. Consider spending time with your teams to triage workflow and determine what must be done now, and what can be dealt with in the new year. Your team will appreciate your help in setting realistic goals for the year, and it will set everyone up to start the new year strong.


Maintain a flexible approach to work/life balance

If you aren’t already, consider offering flexible work hours or remote work options – if feasible. This allows team members to better manage personal commitments and reduces the stress associated with rigid scheduling during the holidays.

The bonus is that a work-from-home approach can even lead to higher productivity. When leaders empower their teams to work within flexible parameters, they are able to show up better in all of the areas of their life.  


Remind your team about their benefits

One way to help care for your team members is to remind them to care for themselves. It’s easy to prioritize others and neglect yourself during a busy time of year. Since many benefits plans set spend limits on an annual basis, December is a good time to use the benefits coverage provided. Encourage your team members to book in with an RMT or physio, or get a new pair of glasses before the end of the year.


This season, lead with empathy and take action

True leadership throughout the holiday season is about more than orchestrating festive gatherings. It's about recognizing the delicate balance between a joyous season and the stressors your team may be facing.

Just by acknowledging the varied emotions this season can evoke, you lay the groundwork for a workplace culture that values the people – the humans – who are behind its success. At all times, empathy is key to leadership.

Embracing flexibility and proactively managing stressors transforms those good intentions into action and demonstrates your commitment to the well-being of your team. Beyond a time to celebrate, the holiday season is an opportunity to show up as an authentic, empathetic leader.