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How you can support employees’ mental health at Christmas

For many people, the festive season can be a difficult time. Those who may be struggling with their mental health can find Christmas to be an added source of stress, rather than a chance to rest and recuperate.

This year, of course, we’ve already all been challenged like never before because of the pandemic, and while it looks like there’ll be some easing of restrictions for the celebrations, there’s no getting away that Christmas 2020 is going to look very different for a lot of us.

Of course, it’s crucial to support your employees all year round. Building a rapport and a sense of trust is vital. But with Christmas just around the corner, it’s worth thinking about the additional stress that some of your employees may be facing on top of everything that’s gone before at this time of year.

Looking out for employees at Christmas

The average UK household spends over £800 more in December than any other month, according to the Bank of England[1]. With many people feeling the pressure to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas – especially given the restrictions we’ve lived with for most of the year – it’s little wonder that the prospect of such an expensive month is so daunting.

At work, productivity can suffer when employees feel stressed or anxious. Learn to recognise early signs of these issues, and you may be able to help employees before they become overwhelmed.

Health provider Bupa highlights unusual behaviour patterns that might suggest stress[2]. Some of these include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions
  • Tearfulness
  • A lack of energy
  • Avoiding social situations

You should never automatically assume that these signs mean an employee is suffering from poor mental health. But if you recognise a series of symptoms, it might be a good time to check in with how they’re doing.

By being proactive you can help your employees to feel supported, engaged and able to do their work well.

Poor mental health at work

Understanding that Christmas can be stressful, and helping anyone struggling at work, is one step. But it’s also vital to look at the wider picture of what causes stress in the workplace, and consider whether the culture at work might be contributing to stress overall.

The CIPD found that 41% of people surveyed cite management style as a source of stress[3]. Managers, whatever their seniority, must take responsibility for the way that they interact with other employees.

Compounding this problem, almost a third of workers (30%) don’t feel able to speak to managers about mental health[4].

Developing a supportive and empathetic environment at work could help to change that – and a good way to start is by equipping managers with training in people management.

Think as well of the workload that employees are expected to take on. Presenteeism (where employees feel the need to come to work even when ill) is rife in most organisations – a huge 89% say they’ve seen it, according to the CIPD, which in itself can impact on an employee’s mental health.

Some steps that businesses take to counter this are simple. From managers sending people home when they’re unwell, to senior leaders setting an example by not working when ill, the answers and examples should be reinforced from the top down.

What can employers do to help?

As the new year approaches, factor employee wellbeing into your business. Piling too much pressure onto employees is counterproductive – output is likely to fall if employees feel under more strain.

It’s worth assessing the way that employees are managed, as well as the workload expected of them.

Getting to know your team is also key. One way to engage people with the topic is to hold team-building sessions focused on mental health, to help get the conversation flowing and to increase trust between colleagues.

Given the extra burden that Christmas can have on some employees, make sure that extra support is on hand – perhaps with an additional conversation session or workshop.

Sessions like these should then be continued throughout the year, as you build good mental health support into the everyday running of your business.

With a little more awareness of what causes stress, and how to recognise the signs that an employee might be overwhelmed at work, employers can take steps to ensure good mental health and enhanced workplace wellbeing both over the festive period and throughout 2021.

[1] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/knowledgebank/how-much-do-we-spend-at-christmas

[2] https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/workplace-mental-health/signs-poor-mh

[3] CIPD Health and wellbeing report 2020

[4] https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-your-staff/

 

 

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