How can employers support employees’ mental wellbeing during the festive season?

  • Employers should be aware that the festive season does not mean the same thing to every employee.
  • Creating a supportive, flexible work environment can help employees with increased stress and emotional challenges at this time of year.
  • Providing employees experiencing loss and loneliness with opportunities to give back to the community can offer a sense of purpose during a tough time.

While for some it is full of joy and celebration, the festive season can bring different emotions for employees due to a variety of circumstances, such as experiencing Christmas without a loved one, feelings of loneliness or worries about affording presents. Given that it can be a vulnerable time for some, mental wellbeing support from an employer can be particularly valuable at this time of year.

Awareness and communication

Employers need to be careful of taking a broad-brush approach, as the festive period does not mean the same thing to every employee. They should also be mindful that some could be struggling with their mental health on an ongoing basis, or have it particularly affected by the time of year.

Keira Wallis, head of clinical operations at Healix, says: “It’s imperative to have open and honest conversations with every member of the team to be aware of what this time means to them and offer any flexibility, whether that is annual leave reallocation due to not celebrating the holiday at all, or not wanting to attend the Christmas party.”

Being aware of employees’ circumstances and acting in a preventative manner can help employers to have support in place that can cater for all at this time of year. Manager training can help them to notice changes in individuals’ behaviour, such as socialising less or struggling more with day-to-day work tasks, and they should be sensitive to those with different feelings towards the festive season.

The first thing an employer should do when they spot a change in behaviour is to have a conversation with the individual, says Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president of research and client insights at Telus Health.

“The most important thing managers can do is show that they are concerned, because they want the best for the employee,” she says. “They should also be specific about the changes that they have observed. When the employee understands that their intentions are to support them, then a conversation can begin about what that means and available help.”

Assistance through benefits

Workplaces should actively promote their mental health support all year, but as the festive period can be a time of increased stress and emotional challenges for some employees, showing empathy and creating a supportive work environment can go a long way. This can include offering flexible hours or remote working, so employees can be with their families where possible, while setting boundaries with times worked and tasks taken on.

Other examples include allowing employees to take mental health days if needed, being aware that those who are neurodiverse may not adjust well to the lack of structure between Christmas and New Year and prefer to work, and reminding staff of access to counselling and mental health resources through employee assistance programmes if applicable.

Simon Miller, international partnerships director at Headspace, says: “Employers could offer yoga sessions, mindfulness classes or team-building activities that focus on relaxation, connection and communication. Ensuring there’s a robust programme in place to support employee mental health is not just for Christmas. Anything done during the festive season should be an extension of year-round efforts to ensure it doesn’t feel tokenistic.”

Employees’ financial anxiety is also likely to be exacerbated this year due to soaring inflation and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. For many employers, benefits such as pay rises or a Christmas bonus may not be possible. They could instead consider support such as discount schemes on regular daily items, targeted financial education or saving schemes.

Support for loss and loneliness

As Christmas is often associated with being together, employees who have experienced loss or do not have a family around them may feel a lack of purpose.

Employers could hold workshops for employees to discuss the topics of grief, loneliness and anxiety around Christmas, to show that support is available and to bring awareness to those who do not experience these feelings, says Allen.

“Putting an onus on festive initiatives such as a Christmas meal for teams can go a long way in helping employees feel connected to one another during a time which may prove lonely,” she says.

Employers could also highlight any volunteering opportunities the workplace may offer around the holidays or point them towards volunteer charity work to help them find community and meaning, when they may otherwise feel alone, says Miller.

“It may be the perfect time to remind employees about any wellbeing resources on offer,” he adds. Prioritising mental and emotional health during the holidays is key, especially for those who will find it more difficult.”

As many employees reflect on the year and look to the future during the festive period, employers should ensure there is solid mental wellbeing support in place now and for the year ahead to guide them through difficulties.