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Managing Staff Stress Over the Holidays

people drinking hot chocolate in front of fire on christmas

You know the drill. You’re in your office, gazing out the window at holiday lights across the street. You love this time of year—the lights, the music, the food, everything. You’re excited about the opportunities to engage new people during the holiday season. 

But let’s face it. The holidays are stressful. For the same reasons that it’s a great time of year for you and your church, it’s a busy time as well. You have Advent and Christmas services, concerts, and parties to plan. Plus, many people in our church communities are dealing with supercharged emotions during the season. Of course, that puts extra stress on church leaders who are trying to walk congregants through those valleys.

You know you’re not the only one either. For just about every person on your staff, this is a busy, stress-filled season. 

Often these struggles start small and snowball as the season goes on. Before you know it, your stress—and the stress level of other church leaders around you—has ballooned into something you don’t recognize. 

But don’t worry. There’s hope. 

Practical Strategies for Stress Management

The holiday season brings an added burden of stress for Christian leaders, intensifying the pressure you already face. Often the systems that work so well for leaders throughout most of the year struggle to keep up during this season. Here are a few actions you personally can take to keep your holiday stress minimal.

Prioritize High-Impact Activities

You can’t do everything. You’ll have more opportunities—important opportunities—to help people and serve your community during this period than other times of the year. The problem is, no extra hours will go on your schedule during the holidays. In fact, you’ll likely have an even smaller pool of hours to work from!

Prioritize the tasks that best correspond to your church and personal mission. Not all tasks are equal. Sit down and list all of the tasks that need to get done before the end of the year. Now circle the items that clearly correspond to your church and personal mission.

Look to delegate where you can (realizing that everyone is experiencing a time crunch during this season). It takes some humility to admit to others that you need their help, but many will be glad to pitch in where they can.

Say No More Often

In your position, it can be tough to say no. You don’t want to offend anyone. You want the opportunity to minister to as many people as possible. So be transparent about your limitations. It’s a matter of stewardship. God has given you a limited amount of time, and you have to use it the best way possible.

Prioritize Your Family

Do first what only you can do. That starts with your family commitments. Other staff members will come and go to your church. You are truly one of a kind to your family. Make sure they don’t get the short end of the stick this holiday season. At the beginning of the season, clearly mark out the important family times you can’t miss. Clearly communicate them to both your family, your staff partners, and your congregation (if necessary). 

Your time is a gift from God. Steward it well over the holiday season for a more fruitful, joyous experience. 

Building A More Stress-Resistant Culture

Effectively dealing with holiday stress isn’t solely a one-person job. While you can make important changes that will help, some stress is out of your control. For that, your staff will need a new culture. The good news is, make this shift during the holidays and it’ll serve your staff well the rest of the year.

These five shifts are critical to building the stress-resistant culture that will help your church thrive during the holidays.

Emphasize Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is more than just something you promise when you add a new staff member. It’s about a thousand tiny choices leaders make throughout the person’s time with the ministry.

For example, it’s about providing as much flexibility in where and when people work as possible. It’s also about affirming—even publicly when possible—the choices people make to prioritize a healthy family life.

The truth is, your church likely talks about the importance of family time with your congregation from time to time. Don’t be hypocritical. Model a healthy work-life balance with staff policies and work practices.

Allow Open Communication

The earlier time management recommendations mentioned saying no to projects when an overload was a possibility. Let’s be honest though. That’s easier in a situation where you’re the supervisor.

It’s important everyone feels the freedom to be transparent about their workload. That means no one is shamed or looked down on if they need to offload a project. Hire people you trust to do their best and be open to hearing them say, “I can’t.”

Provide Opportunities for Recognition/Appreciation

Part of what adds to ministry stress is how much of the work is done under the radar. Many staff members will routinely say they don’t like the recognition (that’s what they are supposed to say, right?). A Reward Gateway study showed that close to 2/3 of U.S. employees say their work wellbeing would increase if they were thanked more often. Note the study doesn’t say you need to provide an elaborate reward structure or impressive raises to improve your office culture. You need to be more liberal with two words: “thank you”!

The holidays are a great opportunity to recognize staff (and volunteer) leaders through Christmas parties and other seasonal activities.

Leverage Technology

Sure, technology has its drawbacks. But the right technology saves time and multiplies effort. For example, a strong church management system allows you to automate regular tasks so you don’t even have to think about them. They also allow you to take the headaches out of scheduling holiday events. Technology can’t do ministry for you. But it can help you be more efficient and effective, as you and your team ministers during the season.

Prioritize Relationship-Building

Relationships help ease the pressures of the holiday season. You have lots of options to invest in your team. Focus on opportunities that enhance the ties between people. Depending upon the size of your staff, that might mean creating times where specific teams can get to know one another.

Just remember team-building isn’t just about spending time in proximity to one another. It’s about providing space for people to learn trust and vulnerability in how they relate to one another. 

By the way, just because you’re not in a leadership position doesn’t mean you can’t help your team or your church staff’s culture. Every person contributes to staff culture. When you prioritize work-life balance, communicate openly, show appreciation to coworkers, and build relationships with co-workers, you’re not just making choices to improve your holiday experience but helping to create a stress-resistant culture for your whole team. 

Holidays are a wonderful time of the year, full of once-in-a-year opportunities to spread the good news about Jesus and show God’s love to your neighbors. 

Don’t let seasonal stress get in the way of those opportunities.

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