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What's Holiday Brain?

Rachel Reed
11/30/18 11:13 AM

Ah. The Holidays. The feeling many people get during the winter months–the coziness, twinkling lights, fireside evenings with family and friends–can be deduced to a particular area of the brain, according to a recent study. So what does that look like for employees? 

A small functional MRI study in Copenhagen, Denmark found that there is, indeed, a “holiday center” in the brain. It’s reported that there are five interlinked areas of the brain that are activated when thinking about or experiencing Christmas-related things. “These cerebral areas have been associated with spirituality, somatic senses, and recognition of facial emotion among many other functions,” according to the study.  It’s also worth noting the study dubbed this area of the brain the “Christmas Spirit Network.” It’s also worth noting the activation of the “Christmas Spirit Network” was more highly correlated with participants who celebrate Christmas.

So what does that mean for employees during the holiday season?

One study conducted by Randstad last year found that many employees’ feelings during the holidays are clouded with confusing etiquette norms like “do I get my boss a gift?” and “how am I supposed to act at the holiday party?” many of which are incredibly relatable. The study aimed to identify what about the holidays in the workplace employees like the most and interestingly enough, 75% of respondents cited philanthropic initiatives like food drives and charitable donations as what they value most about.

Most organizations are made up of a diverse group of workers. During winter months in the US, Christmas remains the dominant December holiday. Religious celebrations, from Hinduism to Judaism and in anywhere between occur at different times throughout the year, with several falling in the fall and winter months. Company holiday parties are well-intentioned efforts to bring employees together and celebrate a shared tradition, yet oftentimes some employees who don’t celebrate Christmas, for example, may feel excluded in such celebrations. Enter: The PC Holiday.

The PC Holiday

Maintaining political correctness can oftentimes be perceived as intimidating by many, and organizations are no different. Overtly Christmas themed celebrations can unintentionally exclude employees of various religions. Getting to know your employees on a human level will tell you everything you need to know about how to make holidays inclusive and festive for everyone. SHRM suggests making holiday celebrations optional, or providing an option to participate in a charitable activity or donation to bring the organization together.

Regardless of varying religions and holiday celebrations, the things that activate the center of the brain identified as the “Christmas Spirit Network” can be tapped into to bring employees together during the month of December. Tap into the giving spirit of the holidays by focusing on the celebration of community or the end of a successful year and make it about gratitude for your hard-working team. As it turns out, simple employee recognition and gratitude are proven to motivate employees and can even boost bottom line results.


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