‘Tis the Season for Employers to Address Skyrocketing Stress
By Kathryn Mayer | SHRM
Experts recommend practicing open communication and touting mental health benefits
Levels of burnout and anxiety are already high this year as an ongoing pandemic, social unrest and other stressors continue to take their toll on employees’ emotional well-being.
Now comes the latest wrinkle: the often-stressful holiday season and end-of-year hoopla.
Consider this year’s unique set of challenges—think holiday spending during record-high inflation, when paychecks are already stretched thin, and workers worried about catching COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or flu during gatherings and events—and it’s shaping up to be quite a tumultuous time for employees’ mental health.
In particular, this holiday season is a unique one in terms of health risks and concerns. The pandemic prohibited many celebrations over the past two years, but with restrictions more or less lifted, a larger number of people plan to gather with families, co-workers and others this year. That doesn’t mean, though, that health risks and concerns have gone away, said Judith Grant, vice president of employee assistance programs (EAPs) and work/life services at Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based Health Advocate.
“People want to maintain a sense of normalcy following the past few years, but due to concerns about illnesses like COVID-19, flu and more, some people may be hesitant to travel and gather,” Grant said. “Coupled with economic challenges and other ongoing issues, as well as comfort levels regarding getting together, there may be tension between family members.”
Add to that financial stresses, personal life situations—like navigating complicated family dynamics or experiencing feelings of grief that may arise more during the holiday months—and work deadlines (for some industries, the end of the year is their busiest season), and it’s a perfect storm of stressors.
In short, despite the cheer of the season, it’s not the merriest time of year for everyone. That makes it all the more important for company and HR leaders to address employees’ mental health challenges during this time of year. Touting available mental health benefits, encouraging employees to use their time off and embracing flexibility are all smart strategies.
Now would be a good time for communication about mental health offerings and other benefits, experts said.
“Employees often forget about the benefits provided to them and how they can be helpful,” Grant said. “With everything else going on during this busy season, employees may not have this top of mind. Reminding employees about their employee assistance program, well-being and other benefits, and how they can help themselves and their family members, especially during this time of year, can be tremendously helpful.”
In general, open lines of communication are beneficial, including providing holiday stress relief tips, asking workers how they’re doing and reminding them about the importance of self-care. Equally important is training and encouraging managers and supervisors to “proactively touch base with their employees to see how they are doing and offer support,” Grant said. “This pulse check can help identify any potential issues early and provide necessary help.”
“When individual employees show signs of a more serious problem, it’s important to step in quickly, as appropriate, to help,” she added. “While many employees may show some signs of temporary stress, prolonged issues should be addressed as soon as possible for the health and safety of the employee.” Grant said managers should guide employees to available resources, including HR and the EAP, to help address or resolve a wide variety of concerns.
Helping employees prioritize deadlines and offering extra support to complete work can help alleviate the mental health issues that are common during the end of the year. Offering companywide breaks can also be helpful, industry experts say.
To read the full article, visit SHRM’s website here.