Employee Mental Health During Christmas Time in the Workplace

Home Health Employee Mental Health During Christmas Time in the Workplace
Avensure Mental Health at Work

During the 2022 Christmas period, the Samaritans answered over 250,000 calls for help across the UK and Ireland. Whilst it’s a time of year a lot of people look forward to, for many, however, the holidays can lead to negative feelings and mental health struggles, from factors related to work, family, relationships, health, finances, and more.

In this article, we look at ways employers can be extra mindful of the mental well-being of their staff at this time of year.

Mental Health organisation Mind has outlined some of the ways in which Christmas can affect people’s mental health:

  • Feeling alone or left out because everyone else seems happy when they’re not.
  • Finding Christmas stressful because of other events in their life, such as being bereaved or feeling lonely. The pressure to enjoy the ‘perfect Christmas’ during the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Access to usual mental health services that may be closed during the Christmas period.
  • Someone celebrating other religious festivals or holidays may feel overlooked if it feels like Christmas is given special attention.
  • For some, it provides a sense of direction and anticipation, but post-Christmas can be challenging to come to terms with.
  • New Year is also difficult because it makes people look back at difficult memories or worry about the coming year.

(mind.org.uk)

To maintain employees’ mental health at Christmas, employers should be mindful that not everyone celebrates Christmas, be that because they are not of the Christian faith, or they may not be religious at all, and for some, workplace festivities can make them feel excluded and lead to them feeling depressed at Christmas.

Workplace Christmas stress takes many forms, but it is especially challenging for workplaces in retail and hospitality, for whom the Christmas trade is vitally important, it is essential to be sensitive to the diversity of your workforce, even if the Christmas tree has been up on the shop floor since October.

Remember, not every workstation needs to be decked out in tinsel, and if you are having any Christmas activities in the workplace, to protect these employees’ mental health over Christmas, you should make clear that Christmas decorations on desks are optional, and no one is pressured to get involved.

The Christian celebration of Christmas is not the only religious festival to fall at this time of year. The Jewish Festival of Hanukkah also falls in December.

To uphold the mental well-being over Christmas for all staff, please appreciate both Hanukkah and Christmas are key events in the calendars of each religion, and employees will very much want to ensure they can partake in attending religious services and spending time with loved ones.

Do employers have to accommodate time off for religious festivals? There is no automatic right to take time off. However, employees should not face any detriment for observing their religious beliefs. If you receive an annual leave request for religious observance (at this or any time of the year), it is important that you have a compelling business reason for turning down that request and that you are consistent in your approach.

To avoid placing yourself at risk of a discrimination claim and placing strain on the mental health of your workforce, please ensure you seek advice from our experts before turning down a request for annual leave for religious observance.

The UK is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis which is resulting in record numbers of people in work relying on the support of food banks and facing high utility bills. It’s important that business do not inadvertently place additional financial strain on their employees this Christmas by adding to the existing pressure on their staff to spend money this Christmas.

If you usually run Christmas collections for gifts, Secret Santa, or ask staff to bring in food items for an office buffet- consider if that is appropriate this year or if changes can be made to place less pressure on staff and their mental health at Christmas.

Here are our top tips for reducing Christmas-related financial pressures in the workplace:

  • Ask staff for their suggestions on how (or if) they want to celebrate Christmas at work-you may find that everyone is thinking the same thing, but no one wants to be the first one to speak up. You may get some interesting suggestions!
  • If you do want to have a Secret Santa, consider lowering the spending limit. Our recent guide to Secret Santa can be found here https://www.avensure.com/articles/secret-santa-is-visiting-town-8-workplace-tips-for-festive-fun-not-tribunal-trouble/
  • As bizarre as it sounds, does a Christmas meal/lunch have to be before Christmas? We all want to support the hospitality sector and our high streets, but prices can be steep (and venues busier) at Christmas, so many people opt to put celebrations on hold until after the new year. This approach can also make your gathering more inclusive.
  • No one wants to cancel the fun, but rather than having a Christmas buffet in the office, you may decide to make donations to a local food bank- again, ask staff what they prefer to do.

To improve mental health in the workplace during Christmas, be mindful of the language used at work. Not everyone wants to celebrate, and some just prefer to keep things a bit lowkey.

If someone doesn’t want to attend the Christmas party, wear a Christmas jumper, or contribute to the boss’s collection- they aren’t ‘scrooges’ ‘the Christmas Grinch’ or a ‘party-pooper’- if you hear this, act on it, it may be ‘banter’ in the eyes of some but to others it can be upsetting affecting their mental wellbeing over Christmas and could even be discriminatory.

Avensure Mental Health at Work

Whether it is the first Christmas without a loved one or not, bereavement is one of the hardest life-events people face and for some, the emphasis on togetherness at Christmas time seems to amplify feelings of loneliness and grief.

Employers have a tricky task in that they cannot please everyone, but it is important to be sensitive to the feelings of staff who are going through a bereavement and for whom Christmas is very hard.

Check in with a bereaved member of staff, and ask them how you the employer can help them to navigate their way through Christmas. It’s not an easy conversation but often it is better to say something rather than nothing or make assumptions because reactions to grief vary considerably from person to person.

They may simply want to maintain as much routine and ‘normality’ as possible, they may wish to take some time off or find it easier to work from home (where possible). Aim to be as accommodating as possible and remember, you’re not showing favoritism, you’re being supportive and exercising your duty of care.

It’s essential to keep good lines of communication open, mainly when supporting employees with mental health problems. This is even more important with many employees continuing to work remotely, for whom loneliness and having issues with mental health at Christmas can be even more prevalent.

You can only act on what you know about, so good communication gives an opportunity for employees to inform their employer if they feel under pressure, whether that be in their home lives or if they are having issues with mental health in the workplace during Christmas.

Good, regular communication also allows the employer to assess workloads and ensure that employees are not being unfairly overloaded, which can create additional workplace Christmas stress and contribute to higher levels of sickness absence.

Employers are not expected to medically assess their staff or be an expert in mental health, but they do have a legal duty of care when it comes to the health, safety, and well-being of their workforce.

54% of people are worried about the mental of someone they know at Christmas and 26% say Christmas makes their mental health worse. Symptoms of depression and anxiety vary from person to person, but the common symptoms are:

  • Intense sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy
  • Changes in appetites and weight fluctuations
  • A persistent sense of worry, apprehension, or dread
  • Feeling fearful, paranoid, and tense
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or light-headed
  • Increased heartbeat or palpitations

(sources YouGov, Mental Health Foundation, Mind and Priory)

Signs of poor mental health in the workplace during Christmas can manifest by employees staying late frequently, appearing not to take time away from the workstation for breaks, looking tired, being irritable or generally appearing distracted.

You may notice a sudden decline in someone’s mental well-being; this could be due to the pressures associated with the time of year- often, employees just need someone to talk to and confide in. However, do make sure that employees are encouraged and given the appropriate time off to seek any medical support they need.

If you see it, don’t ignore it, check in!

Also, Christmas may be a very busy time of year for your industry but it’s vital that employees take the breaks they are legally entitled to and are not pressured into coming into work if they are genuinely unwell.

Talking to employees about their mental health, whatever the time of year, is difficult, and employers are just as likely to be suffering as well as their staff.

Many employers are investing in providing access to EAPs for their employees. These services are ideal for supporting staff mental health in the workplace over Christmas as well as providing confidential advice and support on a wide range of areas such as

  • Family- carers, child custody, and relationship problems
  • Health- both physical and mental health; many offer counseling services to assist with combating symptoms of depression and anxiety, bereavement, stress
  • Financial matters
  • Addiction

Contact, our Experts at Avensure for information on Zest- Avensure’s EAP programme.

We don’t need to cancel Christmas, but there are many ways an employer can be proactive in supporting employees with mental health problems, particularly at this time of year.

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For further advice about employee mental health and Christmas, our experts are always on hand to provide bespoke guidance and advice on this and all employment law/HR matters. Click here: Avensure Contact!

For more information on how the Samaritans can help, please visit https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/

author avatar
Elena Boura