As the popular Christmas song goes, the holidays are supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”—a time for eating, drinking, and being merry with friends and family.
For many people, however, the holidays are defined by negative feelings and mental health struggles, highlighting issues with families, relationships, health, finances, and more. At the end of a year that’s been more difficult than most, this holiday season is likely to be extra difficult. More than one in 10 Americans say they’re “extremely lonely” heading into the holidays, and nearly two thirds of people across age demographics report feeling somewhat to very stressed during the holidays.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to make your employees’ mental health a priority this holiday season, even more so than during the rest of the year. After all, one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year, and the holidays have the unfortunate power to exacerbate them.
With these tips and strategies, you can better support your employees’ mental health during the holidays and help make them a season to remember—for all the right reasons.
Encourage flexible schedules
One in three workers say balancing holiday events and work obligations is the most stressful part of their job during the holidays. What can employers do to alleviate their stress the most? Besides giving higher year-end bonuses, the answer is to allow more flexible work schedules.
Start by coaching managers and team leaders to build in extra flexibility with scheduling so that parents and caretakers, in particular, don’t bear the brunt of extra stress. You can then consider offering loaner laptops, implementing hybrid meetings, or giving employees one day a week for flexible work. As long as employees are doing what needs to be done in the workplace, they deserve the flexibility to work when and where they want. It’ll be a boost to their mental health both on and off the job—and that might be one of the best holiday gifts of all.
Schedule workplace holiday events during work hours
Employers that host holiday events outside normal work hours are taking time away from employees, who may feel compelled to attend despite other commitments and needs. Schedule events during the workday to free up time for employees to do holiday shopping, chores, and relax at home. Holiday events, after all, should feel fun and stress-free to every employee in attendance.
Be inclusive of different beliefs and lifestyle choices
Historically and culturally, office holiday parties have focused on drunken shenanigans. Think of all the movies and TV shows featuring scenes of colleagues tipsily cavorting around a Christmas tree. These days, however, employers need to be more conscious of employees’ various beliefs and lifestyle choices.
Not every employee will want or be able to drink at the holiday party, and that’s okay. Offer selections of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that celebrate the season. By giving equal prominence to alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at your holiday party’s bar, you put less pressure on drinking to fit in.
Be transparent about mental health
As an employer, talking honestly about mental health—and encouraging employees to do the same—is one way to make the workplace feel like a safe space. While some employees may feel jolly during the holidays, those who aren’t shouldn’t feel that they need to hide signs of burnout or emotional distress. Schedule regular check-ins with your employees regarding their mental health, and learn the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues. Remember: communication fosters awareness.
Be sensitive with language
You might be inclined to complain that the holiday season is “crazy” or “psycho,” to call a jammed printer “bipolar,” or to joke that a colleague is being “totally OCD” by cleaning their desk. Words like these get tossed around workplaces frequently and casually, but they stigmatize mental health issues by perpetuating negative stereotypes. An employee suffering from a depressive episode, for instance, might not want to open up about how it’s affecting their work if they hear colleagues call trivial matters “so depressing.”
For a happier and more inclusive holiday season, teach managers how to identify stigmatizing language in the workplace, and gently instruct employees to use alternative words that don’t describe someone’s mental health.
Make mental health resources easily accessible
It can be overwhelming to know where to turn—who to talk to, what websites to go to, what phone numbers to call—when you’re struggling with your mental health, especially during the holidays, when everyone seems too busy and stressed to help shoulder others’ problems. It’s important to regularly remind your employees of the mental health resources they have at their disposal, such as 24-hour crisis hotlines, substance-abuse programs, and more.
The holidays aren’t the only season to prioritize mental health in the workplace. Learn how to support your employees’ mental health year-round with our guide to improving mental health in the workplace.