Learning & Development

6 Steps to Help Employees Manage Stress Around the Holidays

We’ve all been there. Deadlines are piling up at work, you have five holiday parties on the calendar, and you haven’t even thought about what to buy for the office gift exchange. The holidays are stressful, and a growing number of people have the additional stress of being a caregiver to a parent, a child, or another loved one. For the millions of employees who consider themselves caregivers, this creates a stress trifecta that can spill into the workday.

Nearly a quarter of Americans report feeling “extremely stressed” during the holiday season, which can have a long-lasting impact on employee health and a company’s bottom line. The influence of stress during the holidays can cause employees to be more lethargic, less productive, and more prone to mistakes on the job, which comes at a price. Between stress-related medical costs, employee turnover, and absenteeism, caregiving can cost organizations more than $30 billion annually.

For the 70% of working caregivers who say helping loved ones affects their work situation, three stressors are often the cause: finances, health care, and the emotional turmoil of caregiving responsibilities. Complex financial terms and out-of-pocket expenses create financial frustration. Confusion around health care can be just as tiring. Add in the emotions that often come along with caregiving, and employees need broad-spectrum solutions to handle this chaotic time.

Tips to Help Employees Manage Holiday Stress

Taking steps to mitigate holiday stress is crucial to helping employees stay healthy, happy, and productive. As HR professionals, you can demonstrate empathy and understanding for employees by taking the following simple steps.

1. Increase mindfulness and breaks: When things are feeling hectic, encourage employees to take breaks to alleviate stress and restore a healthy mind. Introduce mindfulness courses or opportunities for meditation that allow employees to recharge their minds and create a sense of calm. On-demand, virtual training makes it easy for employees to fit mindfulness into their schedule. You can also help employees stay sharp by advocating for water breaks. Reward employees with reusable water bottles as a challenge prize, or install a watercooler in the office that makes it easy to stay hydrated while working. Alternatively, think of ways that staff can take their minds off work and other stressors by scheduling teambuilding breaks or happy hours.

2. Promote physical activity: There are mountains of evidence reinforcing the connection between exercise and physical health and mental well-being, and when it comes to the holidays, physical activity is a great way to balance holiday meals and treats. Physical activity contributes to productivity and can decrease company healthcare costs by more than 25%. You can help employees stay active by offering virtual fitness classes that are accessible to a broad range of ages, interests, and ability levels. Even better, offer courses that engage not only employees but also their loved ones of all ages, from school-aged children to older adults.

3. Provide flexibility: Giving employees much-needed flexibility can help them manage schedules and be more productive when they are on the clock. When deciding how to demonstrate flexibility, ask yourself these questions: Can your organization provide flexible hours, allowing families to take 3-day weekends throughout the month of December? Can you offer employees a flexible schedule that allows them to get their work done around the demands of their caregiving schedule? For those back in the office full time, can you add a hybrid or virtual option that gives employees a choice in how they want to work? Flexibility and choice can boost productivity, and they have also been demonstrated to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.

4. Boost nutrition: The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for healthy eating. Aside from all the holiday sweets, busy schedules make it harder for families to cook healthy meals. Poor eating habits can make employees more prone to stress and loss of productivity.

Use internal communications to educate and remind employees about nutrition during the holidays, and consider ways to promote healthy eating. Cutting down on sweets in the office is a great first step. Try replacing donuts with fruits or other healthy alternatives. Away from the office, you can instill confidence by helping employees get back to the basics. Video tutorials are an easy way to teach foundational cooking techniques. Encouraging meal planning helps alleviate the stress of last-second meals. Help employees with grocery lists, nutrition information, and incentives to hit their goals.

5. Empower employees to navigate caregiving challenges: Caregiving creates complex challenges, from finding safe housing for an older loved one to dealing with bullying and the strain the pandemic has placed on our children’s mental health.

Employers will help their workforce by providing caregiving tools and resources that offer personalized support. Some of this can be accomplished through an employee assistance program (EAP), such as lists of backup care centers and crisis counseling. More complex caregiver challenges need a decision support tool. For example, many employees with aging parents need to understand the safest place for them to live given their changing medical needs. By providing employees with personalized solutions to their challenges, you can help ease the heavy strain of caregiving and help them navigate this busy season.

6. Acknowledge the pain of loss: The holidays can be difficult and emotional for employees who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Instead of avoiding these emotions, HR teams can offer extra support to employees. Grief counseling or therapy has proven to be extremely effective in helping individuals deal with loss, and virtual and online options make it easier to find support and participate in therapy during the busy holiday season. Taking time away can also be just as effective, so offer bereavement leave and flexible hours, as able.

Recognizing that the “happiest time of the year” may actually be taxing or painful for employees is the first step toward giving them the support they need during the holidays. With the right guidance and resources, you can help employees find balance, alleviate stress, and maintain good mental health while building a healthy culture for your organization.

Aimee Gindin is head of brand and communications at LifeSpeak Inc. A trained mental health crisis management clinician, Gindin is a recognized expert, author, and speaker.

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