Diversity Insight

Watch Out for the Effects of Holiday Stress on a Diverse Workforce

Are the holiday blues a diversity issue? At first thought, the busyness and stress of the holiday season doesn’t seem directly related to workplace diversity, but delve a little deeper, and the connection becomes clear.

stress

Source: pathdoc / Shutterstock

Certainly, the religious aspects of the season must be considered. Employers need to take care that religious decorations and celebrations focused on Christmas or Hanukkah don’t make employees from different traditions feel bombarded or left out. But holiday concerns go beyond religious observances. The holidays also can bring financial and family stress, as well as feelings of fatigue, sadness, and loneliness—all problems employees bring with them to work.

And there’s even more to consider: Having a diverse workforce means more than taking race, religion, and gender into account. Having diversity of thought in the workplace means some people are more prone to the stresses of the holidays than others. And since people deal with stress in different ways, the potential for conflict may be heightened around the holidays.

A December 2017 article in Psychology Today points out that a survey by the American Psychological Association found that 56% of respondents said they experienced the most amount of holiday stress at work, with just 29% reporting greater amounts of stress at home. That makes the holiday blues an issue for human resources.

Recognize Signs of Trouble

HR professionals aren’t mental health experts, but they can be on the lookout for trouble. A December 2018 blog entry from Randstad’s career transition services firm RiseSmart says the first thing HR needs to do is learn to recognize signs of a problem more serious than typical workplace stress.

Such signs might show up as an employee who no longer seems interested in company activities; someone whose dress and grooming habits have changed; or an employee complaining of physical problems such as frequent headaches, panic attacks, anxiety, sleeplessness, or fatigue.

Also, look for employees who were once outgoing but have become withdrawn. Another sign of trouble: an increase in an employee’s absences or an employee showing up for work under the influence or hungover.

What HR Can Do

EAP options. The holiday season is a good time to make sure employees are aware of help available through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). RiseSmart notes that typical EAPs offer services including 24-hour crisis support via telephone, confidential short-term counseling, referrals for specialized care, stress management services, and substance abuse information.

Flexibility. In addition to making employees aware of EAP services, HR also can help by stressing to management the benefits of giving employees flexible scheduling when possible. Flexibility can help employees manage both work and family demands during the busy season.

Sometimes a flexible schedule isn’t possible but other options can help. A January 2019 article from the American Management Association suggests allowing employees to take care of at least a little personal business at work—maybe allowing limited time for online shopping.

Also, a workplace newsletter offering gift ideas and where online to make those purchases can help. The article also suggests relaxing the dress code around the holidays.

Other ideas. A December 2017 blog entry from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that employers encourage employees to volunteer. Letting workers volunteer on behalf of the company in activities like collecting gifts for children or spending time with the elderly can help stressed employees feel better by serving others.

SHRM also says to encourage workers to take time off, especially if the company has a use-it-or-lose-it policy.

Dark and dreary winter weather can be a downer for almost anyone, but it especially takes a toll on employees who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression related to the change of seasons and most common in fall and winter when there are fewer daylight hours. Offering full-spectrum lamps might help those employees cope.

The article also suggests checking in with employees who are facing the holidays after suffering a loss during the year. Just letting them know someone at work cares can be a comfort.