One of the keys to maintaining a safe work environment is having employees who are focused, clear-headed and feeling well. But for many people, the holiday season is an especially emotionally sensitive time of year in which they are distracted and overwhelmed by their feelings.
The barrage of idealized images of perfect holidays and families can leave us feeling like there is a vast difference between what other people are experiencing and what we’re experiencing. For those who don’t have the Norman Rockwell family, it can be a lonely season. And studies show that people who have experienced loss, divorce or alienation from family tend to struggle more during the holidays.
Let’s also not forget the financial pressure of gift-giving and the stress of trying to find the perfect present. Then to top things off, let’s pile on the shorter days, gloomy or snowy weather and believe it or now…. a reduced amount of sleep!
Employers need to keep in mind that all these emotions that people are feeling in their lives also come with them to work. When seasonal stress, sadness or depression set in, we as people are not programmed to simply flip the switch, shut it off and leave it at home. Where we go, our feelings and emotional state go.
So how can employers be aware of this and address it at work?
Employee Support Strategies
According to the research, there are a few things that many professionals with a lot more insight than I recommend. As an employer ask yourself:
- Does your company allow alternative scheduling and encourage employees to attend family events, school programs, class concerts, etc.? Accommodations to help reduce stress as we try to manage an infinite number of things in a finite period of time can make a big difference.
- Does your company encourage volunteering or charitable work? Do you encourage and allow employees to volunteer on behalf of the company (collecting children’s gifts, serving food, volunteering at a shelter, etc.)? Not only can it provide positive PR for the company, but community service can be a great morale booster for employees.
- Does your company offer or provide full-spectrum lighting or lamps? Many studies show that if you work indoors and days are short, the lack of sunshine can affect your mood. There is a wealth of information available about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Check it out.
- Are you able to offer your employees time off, not just around the holidays, but periodically? If you have a use-it-or-lose-it policy, remember the importance of time away. If you allow employees to cash in or sell back vacation time, consider not letting them sell “all” of it. Vacation time is essential to preventing burn-out, even if some of your employees don’t realize it.
- Is it possible to schedule big project deadlines so that they do not fall around the holidays? If you can, try not to add stress to this already stressful time. But if holiday deadlines are unavoidable, provide enough resources and extra help to distribute the workload.
- Are you caring for your employees? Check in with those who’ve experienced a loss or emotional trauma. Don’t forget that people who have experienced a tragedy, death or significant family/relationship issue are more susceptible to holiday blues or depression. Acknowledging you are aware with something as simple “I know this time of year can be hard” or “How are you doing? I’m thinking about you” is much appreciated. But remember, be GENUINE.
As an employer, it may be easiest to put on the “blinders of production” and only focus on the wellbeing of the business. But if you truly believe that your employees are your greatest asset, then show them, especially during the holiday season. You just may alleviate some of the stressors of the season and have happier, more productive employees who are able to keep their minds on the job – and keep your workplace safe.