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Seasonal Stress: Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Christmas and the festive season is, normally, a time of cheer, goodwill and good wishes for all.

Of course, this is not always the case for our modern society. – with social and cultural pressures often unintentionally placed on individuals during the festive season, Christmas can be a stressful time for many people.

An estimated 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year, the most common of these being forms of depression and anxiety.

Christmas can introduce extra pressures on us all, whether personal or professional, which are sometimes overlooked. This is especially prevalent when it comes to the festive period within businesses. This can be the busiest time of year in working environments, which in turn brings its own set of stressors, pressures and expectations in addition to those we may already be feeling across our social or family life.

According to studies, the ideological narrative that Christmas should be ‘perfect’ leaves 1 in 10 people feeling unable to cope during this period. The assumption that Christmas is a joyful time for everyone leaves many people feeling lonely and anxious.

Research by a government charity found that over a quarter (28%) of young people feel stressed during the festive period, with a third (34%) divulging that they would not reach out to friends to discuss their emotions.

While ensuring that social pressures are reduced is not the responsibility of the workplace, taking time to noticing changes in colleagues, asking how they are and taking the time to listen can have a significant impact, alongside a supportive mental health programmes.

In this article, we will explore how to support mental health in the workplace, and the benefits of increased mental health awareness regarding how it affects people during the festive period:

  • The Importance of Supporting Mental Health During Christmas
  • Getting The Right Support At Work

The Importance of Supporting Mental Health At Work During Christmas

Managing and supporting mental health at work should be at the top of the list in workplaces. For all of us, the holidays are filled with a mix of joy and pressure, but for those already suffering with poor mental health, this festive stress can increase existing issues and enhance their impact.

Increasingly organisations are understanding the importance of considering mental health as part of business as usual in the same way that we consider physical health and implementing programmes to ensure that employees are equipped with both knowledge and skills to manage and support mental health.

This is not simply a response to ensure your business is compliant with the Equality Act 2010, under which both the organisation and individuals have a duty of care to each other, but also from a social perspective. As mental health awareness increases within our society, organisations that promote positive narratives around this topic will receive a higher level of recognition, positively impacting employees, recruitment and retention, suppliers and customers.

A company that invests in its workers’ mental health is more likely to be successful, retain its employees, and have a team of staff that are more satisfied within their working environment. Workplace mental health can often be compromised during the festive season, either through seasonal role pressures or a perceived lack of ‘personal time’, increased responsibilities, and customer retail and e-commerce deadlines. 

Not only are the days shorter which leaves us a perceived reduction in non working time, but often our immune systems take a hit, and this can impact our mental health with increases in  depression and anxiety, and health-related issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

This can impact the workplace, increasing presenteeism and sickness absence during a particularly busy period, which in turn can put pressure on colleagues. If an employer has an increased understanding and consideration of their employee’s mental health during this time and encourage early, open conversations, it can help to mitigate the impact.

But why support mental health at work during this time?

The costs, financially and socially, of not supporting mental health during the festive period are clear.

A study by the American Psychological Association discovered that 38% of people say their stress increases during the festive period – and that only 8% of people actually felt happier.

A 2018 study of 15,000 employees in Europe, the UK and USA found that 7-10% of people suffered reduced productivity for the entirety of December, while 3-40% experienced a ‘slump’ by mid-December. This has huge impacts on not only employee happiness and satisfaction, but costs the industry sector billions. Employee stress and lost productivity cost the UK around £11 billion in 2016 alone.

From a legal perspective, businesses are required to consider reasonable adjustments for their employees (at all times of the year) under their duty of care responsibilities within the workplace. Also, ensure that they are fully compliant with the Equality Act 2010, in which some mental health conditions are a protected characteristic. The impact of not complying can be both time consuming and expensive.

However, as fellow human beings, supporting employee’s mental health during the Christmas period can mean that a business retains talent, and increase their reputation around good diversity and inclusion policies. Positive working environments with supportive programmes and structures for managing mental health are also three times more profitable than organisations that don’t promote mental health awareness.

Getting The Right Support At Work

Work-related pressure during the festive period can impact our lives both socially and professionally, whether this stems from existing mental health issues or the increased expectations that comes with living up to the supposed ideals that Christmas entails.

From an employer’s perspective, many do not know where to start to bring increased understanding on how to support mental health at work and promoting workplace mental health awareness.

When it comes to mental health training, organisations such as Mental Health At Work provide bespoke programmes tailored to individual organisation and team needs to ensure that the right support is in place.

MHAW programmes bring an understanding around mental health in the workplace and the skills that are necessary to be able to manage it effectively. With the right programme, managers are equipped to notice changes in their team and understand the importance of taking the time to ask how they are and then listen to the answer.  Sometimes this may be enough, but it can also open a conversation around signposting and support both external to and within the organisation.  

This may involve an introduction to an Employee Assistance Programme or consideration of reasonable adjustments including the nature of work or flexibility in work location or pattern.MHAW apply a framework approach of Understand, Manage, Promote in designing workplace programmes which enables a customised approach to every business and drives the outcomes and changes in behaviour which start to make the difference around mental health at any time of the year.

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