This time of year is meant to be a joyous occasion, but there's always some caveats. Whether your employees’ holiday season is filled with countless friends and family members or a small, close-knit circle, they likely have some unwelcome visitors too: stress, anxiety and depression. What's the best way to handle this?
According to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), 38% of people say their stress levels increase during the holidays. The pressures of gift giving, cooking meals for large groups, baking a plethora of sweets, putting up decorations, attending or hosting parties and even feigning holiday spirit can affect anyone.
From the employees who put up their decorations before Halloween to those muttering “bah humbug” right through to the New Year, we all feel a little extra tension during this time of year. While wellness programs are important year round, they are an excellent tool your employees can use to maintain a sense of calm and serenity throughout the holiday season.
Leverage Your EAP
Beyond the transactional aspects of onboarding and offboarding employees, HR professionals can impact the lives of the company’s workforce by offering and facilitating the use of myriad benefits.
Foremost on the list during the “most wonderful time of the year” is the EAP, or Employee Assistance Program. Often available to all employees and their family members, the EAP is a confidential and free program that supports members in a broad range of issues affecting mental wellness and emotional wellbeing.
While many companies offer EAPs, utilization prior to the pandemic was estimated at just 5.5%. With a few extra reminders to take advantage of the EAP and descriptions of holiday burnout signs to be on the lookout for (feeling sad or irritable, trouble sleeping, feeling unable to face daily tasks, etc.), your employees’ mental and emotional health could improve right along with your EAP utilization.
Mental and emotional support are not the only services EAPs offer. Many robust programs include financial counseling services such as budget planning or debt management. Inflation is at the top of the list of concerns for holiday shoppers this year, according to a holiday forecast by professional services firm KPMG, and consumers expect to spend more this holiday season than last year.
With 53% of people feeling financially stressed by holiday spending, providing a free and confidential professional source for debt and budget counseling can help employees create a plan and stay on track.
Use Accrued PTO
In addition to your company’s Employee Assistance Program, encourage your workforce to take advantage of any available vacation or PTO as a way to unwind from holiday stress.
The World Health Organization found working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a work week of 35 to 40 hours.
Even short vacations can reduce stress. A Canadian study found vacations reduce depression while a Japanese study found something as simple as a three day leisure trip reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and perceived levels of stress.
With all the additional demands on employees’ time during the holidays, November and December are crucial months for your workforce to use their earned time off. Factoring in any calendar based benefits that expire at year end and reminding your team to “use it before they lose it” is a step that simply cannot be overlooked.
Emphasize Healthy Lifestyles
You may want to also consider additional creative wellness benefits you can offer to employees.
Having healthy snacks such as fruits or nuts available in the breakroom can provide a nice change to the deluge of sweets and treats filling up the holiday diet.
Creating a walking group employees can join during lunch or encouraging walking meetings as part of the office culture can increase daily step counts and reduce stress, especially if you live in a climate where November and December are good for outdoor activities.
Volunteering or doing things for others can lift everyone’s spirits. Making angel trees, community donation drives or signups for shifts at a local soup kitchen are all excellent ways to boost morale and make a difference in the lives of others.
Your company’s internal benefits are not the only options for improving employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing. Encourage your workforce to look for community groups, religious support, social events, online forums and social media sites they can become involved with during the holidays and into the new year.
It’s important to remind them that stress, anxiety and depression are all normal challenges everyone deals with at some point in their lives. Destigmatizing mental and emotional struggles is a crucial part of ensuring they are acknowledged and treated instead of hidden away or ignored. Let your employees know that if they don’t want to talk to their friends or family, they can talk to you or the confidential counselors available through their EAP.
In a season filled with so much joy and cheer, no Scrooge should be left behind.
Make the Most of Your Benefits Plan
Whether an employee feels like Ebenezer or Tiny Tim, the holidays carry an element of tension for nearly everyone. With the support of an EAP counselor, some extra time out of the office and a bit of focus on helping others, the holiday blues can be turned into Whoville woohoo’s.
As an HR professional, your role goes beyond offering programs that will benefit your employees. Make it your goal to ensure every person in the company knows about the program and feels comfortable taking advantage of them. And if inspiration strikes, go ahead and organize some holiday volunteer outings, donation drives, or office caroling. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly!