How to stay merry in customer service during the Christmas period

Tuesday, 21 November 2023

For most, Christmas is something to look forward to: good food, good people, good gifts, and the time to make the most of it.  

If you ask your average hospitality or retail worker, however, they’re likely to have mixed feelings about the whole situation.  

A holiday centred around gift giving, food, and merriment means there are a lot of families making mad dashes to the shops in the desperate hope their Christmas will live up to their yearlong expectations.  

This insane surge of shoppers means hospitality, retail, and customer service employees can hit a period of severe stress. Customers can become impatient, demanding, and rude, and rush hour is all day, every day. 

It’s important during periods like these to have strategies to manage your mental health and make sure the holiday pressure isn’t proving too great. 

Be open about your situation with your boss 

If you’re aching to spend a Christmas with your family, don’t feel forced to keep that to yourself. Asking for leave will vary from workplace to workplace, but you won’t lose anything from being transparent about your want to be close to friends and family on the holiday centred around it. 

Know your rights 

If you’ve spent a while in customer service, you know that an unfortunate occupational hazard can be dealing with people at their worst. Despite how amplified this problem can get especially around the holiday period, it’s important to remember that you are not obligated to put up with abuse. Whether it be verbal or physical, it’s important to know when a customer has crossed a line and how you will respond. 

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst 

Come to your shifts with a strategy in mind to de-stress if the situation gets dire. Practice some calming breathing techniques, have a mantra in mind that you can recite to yourself. Perhaps you can take the time in your lunch break to take a walk and get some air to clear your head. A great tip that works for a lot of people is having pre-work and post-work rituals. Devoting time to helping your body and mind both prepare for and unwind from the workplace.  

A crowded cafe viewed from the top down.
Crowded workplaces full of customers and employees can feel stifling and cause anxiety episodes and panic attacks for people with mental health conditions.

We’re in this together 

Make things easier by creating or contributing to a support system with your colleagues. Check in with each other after a rough shift or customer, crack a joke to ease the tension in the aftermath of a hectic rush. These small acts can create a healthy culture based on open communication, compassion, support, and teamwork. 

Don’t neglect yourself physically 

In periods of stress, it’s normal for our physical well-being to drop low on our list of priorities. In actuality, when stress hits us hard, it’s never more necessary to keep yourself physical. Working in customer service can drain your mind and body completely, standing and pivoting on your feet all day and keeping your brain alert, it becomes very tempting to switch off once you clock off. Make sure to eat healthy foods with enough carbs, protein, and fats so that you have the energy to get through your shift. A good 8 hours of sleep and regular exercise can be the difference between feeling like a zombie through the holiday period and keeping afloat. 

Spend your free time with friends and family 

In the limited time you have, spend it with those close to you. While it’s not ideal to be working through the Christmas period, if you make an effort to spend your free time with those you love, it can lessen the blow. Sometimes, it can make the idea of leaving the merry environment a little harder, but in hindsight you’ll be glad you made the most of your limited Christmas time. 

A family putting up a Christmas tree in their living room, illuminated by Christmas lights.
The presence of family and friends can do wonders to ease the stress of a hectic work week.

If you’re a Christmas casual, look at the situation like an opportunity 

With the Christmas period comes the Christmas casual. It can be easy to view this experience through the lens of employment with an expiry period around January/February. A more optimistic spin to the situation could be that you’ve entered a sort of employment ‘trial’ stage.  

Many employers utilise the Christmas casual period to sample new employees. They’ll be taking note of how well you are performing under the holiday pressure. Be sure to check in with your employer if there’s a chance this might be the case. If the answer is yes, then be sure to take that as a motivator. Put in the hours and show the effort, and one of your Christmas gifts might be a brand-new permanent position! 

If it’s starting to feel overwhelming, seek support 

With the closure of therapist offices during the Christmas period, support can feel out of reach when you might be needing it the most. It’s important to have some foresight and speak with your therapist or mental health professional and have a plan in place if the situation becomes dire over the holidays. 

If you haven’t yet spoken to a mental health professional, but the tough work and separation from your family is making you feel isolated or alone – reach out to someone. People can struggle with opening up about their issues at the best of times, and with everyone celebrating Christmas, it can be tough not to feel like you’d be ‘ruining’ someone else’s holiday with your problems. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The people close to us care about us, and an important part of Christmas is making sure that we’re all enjoying ourselves. And getting the help you need can only be a text or phone call away. If you’re still uncomfortable with discussing your mental health with those close to you, there are several support and mental health services that remain open over the holiday period.

Mental health national support lines

  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 
  • Kids Helpline (up to 25 years): 1800 551 800 
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14 
  • Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978 
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 
  • Q-life LGBTQIA+: 1800 184 527 
  • Lifeline Text (6pm-12am): 0477 131 114 
  • GriefLine: 1300 845 745 

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