It may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” full of joy and excitement as we gather with friends and family. However, it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year, especially for overworked employees.
From juggling demanding work deadlines to experiencing immense financial stress from holiday shopping, emotions can run high around the holidays, impacting your employees’ mental health. In fact, nearly 90% of U.S. working adults currently stress the most over the holidays, according to the American Psychological Association.
And to make matters worse, seasonal depression can add another layer of distress to employees as the days get shorter.
But you don’t have to let the holiday blues impact your workers or your organization. Read on to learn how you can help your employees manage heavy feelings over the holidays while also improving your office morale.
What Causes Holiday Stress and ‘SAD’?
Before we dive into tips for helping employees navigate holiday stress, it’s important to understand some of the common causes, symptoms, and signs that are most noticeable in employees around the holidays.
While the causes of holiday stress are often apparent—increased workloads, family gathering obligations, financial strain from holiday shopping, etc.—the holiday blues aren’t always as noticeable. The latter often manifests in feelings of sadness or isolation and can be caused by elevated stress, loneliness, or in some cases, seasonal affective disorder.
The Ins and Outs of SAD
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, impacts most individuals during the fall and winter months, typically as sunlight gradually decreases. According to the APA, SAD can actually last for up to 40% of the calendar year, with about 5% of adults experiencing it annually.
On top of causing individuals to feel a little more blue around the holidays, SAD can also lead to additional health issues, including:
- Heightened anxiety
- Changes in mood
- Sleep problems
- Feelings of isolation
- Fatigue or exhaustion
The prevalence of SAD can also manifest in some individuals based on where they live, affecting up to 10% of the population in more northern areas that receive less light during the winter, per Mental Health America. Employees in these parts of the world may be even more susceptible to increased stress or fatigue than employees from other areas.
Identifying Signs of Stress and SAD During the Holidays
While stress and other mental health conditions can creep up on employees at any time of the year, employers have a responsibility to look out for increased anxiety towards the end of the year. The repercussions not only manifest in individual morale and work performance, but also in the success of teams and organizations as a whole.
To help prevent stress levels from rising, here are a few signs to watch out for in employees:
A lack of focus can be a big giveaway, especially when employees are distracted by planning holiday activities.
Becoming more distant
It’s common for employees to withdraw from social situations as a natural stress response, leading to increased isolation among teams.
Impacted work performance
From missed deadlines to unusual mistakes, quality and timeliness of work can suffer as a result of holiday stress.
Employees dealing with stress can also exhibit uncharacteristic changes in behavior, becoming more irritable, impatient, or overwhelmed.
Changes in appearance
In addition to personality changes, employees managing holiday stress might also show changes in appearance.
10 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress, Ease Seasonal Depression, and Keep Productivity High
As employees face both personal and professional challenges this holiday season, it’s crucial for you to provide them with the tools and resources they need to reduce stress levels and thrive.
To help, here are 10 proven tips for managing holiday stress and seasonal depression:
1. Help Teams Prioritize Projects and Check In Regularly
When employees have a clear list of priorities and room to breathe in their workloads, they’re better able to accomplish the tasks they need to. It’s also important for managers to conduct regular check-ins and offer sources of emotional support, adjust expectations where necessary, and create a manageable workload. The main goal here is to reduce the pressure teams often face with tight deadlines around the holidays.
2. Recognize Hard Work and Achievements
As employees complete their work, it’s crucial to acknowledge and appreciate all of their contributions. From day-to-day hard work to concrete achievements, a simple expression of gratitude can go a long way in motivating employees and boosting morale.
Beyond individual recognition, managers can also organize social opportunities or rewards for a successful year. Not only does this validate everyone’s individual contributions, but it also helps foster a sense of belonging, commitment, and community.
3. Prioritize Clear and Open Communication Lines
Maintaining transparent and open channels of communication is vital, especially during the holiday season when time off varies widely and workloads can become untenable. Teams should prioritize opportunities for dialogue as often as possible to ensure everyone is well-informed about project updates, deadlines, and schedules.
Outside of communicating around specific projects, it’s also important to keep an open door—virtual or physical—for employees to voice their thoughts or concerns. Booking weekly check-ins can provide a structure for this feedback, but it’s important to not overwhelm schedules with too many meetings.
4. Encourage Short Breaks During the Day
Employees don’t need to be working on a project every second of the work day—in fact, that’s a fast track to burnout. Instead, offering short breaks throughout the day allows team members to rest for a moment, recharge, and refocus on the task at hand.
For example, taking a short walk or stretch break during the day or joining a virtual yoga session can significantly improve their mental health and energy levels.
5. Create a Fun and Inclusive Environment
Inclusivity and belonging are a given year-round, but it’s especially vital during the holiday season with so many different cultural celebrations and traditions. No employee should feel left out, meaning managers must make an active effort to highlight everyone’s lived experiences or incorporate observances into the company calendar.
It’s also important to give employees the choice of participation. If they don’t want to join a holiday gathering or don’t feel comfortable with a specific observance, they are allowed to sit out.
6. Foster a Sense of Community
By creating an understanding and inclusive environment where employees belong, teams can also develop a stronger sense of community. This is particularly important around the holidays, as some employees might not be able to get together with their loved ones.
Extending the idea of community outside the workplace, organizations can also participate in charitable events or initiatives to give back. Not only do these team-building exercises allow members to bond, but they also create a shared sense of purpose.
7. Encourage Taking Time Off in Advance
While managers should always encourage employees to stay home when they’re sick, the holidays can be a hectic time for everyone’s work schedules. Encouraging workers to plan their holidays and take time off in advance will save everyone the stress of last-minute time-off requests. Employees will have their plans confirmed and work schedules balanced, while managers will have peace of mind knowing who is working and when.
8. Promote Financial Wellness for Holiday Spending
A common theme among almost every winter holiday is giving—but in today’s world, that often means spending—not just on gifts, but also on travel. As a result, almost 60% of working adults cite financial stress as a top concern during the holidays.
End-of-year bonuses can certainly offset these stressors, but organizations can also offer programs focused on financial wellness to help employees manage holiday spending. It’s important to take an empathetic approach with these topics, as personal finances can be a touchy subject for some employees.
9. Consider Flexible Work Arrangements
One of the key ways to combat holiday stress is by prioritizing flexibility. Allowing employees to work from home or adjust their schedules as needed can lead to huge benefits in terms of work-life balance. When employees are able to tend to their personal needs without worrying about their work, they’ll be far less stressed and even more productive.
10. Celebrate the Season with a Holiday Party!
Finally, one of the best methods for stress management during this time of year is, of course, hosting a holiday event. When employees have something to look forward to that isn’t tied to work or performance, they’ll be far more motivated to finish the year on a positive note. Organizing a holiday party is also a great way to incorporate almost all of these tips, from fostering a stronger sense of community and inclusivity to recognizing hard work.
Quell Your Employees’ Holiday Stress with Holistic Wellbeing
Help your employees manage their holiday stress by taking a holistic approach to workplace wellness. Discover what a wellness program can do for your organization by talking to one of our experts today.