The holidays can be a stressful time, even when mental health issues aren’t part of the dynamic. However, when employees are also dealing with things like anxiety and depression, coping with the challenges of both work and the holiday season can be overwhelming.

The good news is that when employers provide the right mental health resources, a healthier and happier workplace can be the result.

Mental Health and the Workplace

Most employees consider themselves to be in good psychological health, but 18 percent of respondents to the 2017 “Work and Well-Being Survey” conducted by the American Psychological Association said mental health challenges made their jobs “harder to handle” in the past month. Furthermore, 21 percent of respondents said they felt “more cynical and negative” during the workday.

While employees struggle with mental health challenges, many employers fail to offer the necessary support. Just under half of survey respondents said their employer “provides the resources necessary for employees to meet their mental health needs.” Even fewer respondents said their employer “provides sufficient resources to help employees manage their stress.”

The lack of mental health resources may contribute to a widespread perception among workers that they aren’t valued by employers. Forty percent of respondents to the survey said their organizations do not make them feel valued, and 28 percent said they wanted to find a new job outside of their current employer in the next year.

Unfortunately, employees who are in the most need of help may be the most reluctant to speak up. According to Dr. Eric Beeson, a core faculty member at the online Master of Arts in Counseling program from The Family Institute at Northwestern University, concerns about job-related consequences and the opinions of others often prevent affected workers from letting their needs be known.

“There’s sometimes the fear of repercussions,” Dr. Beeson told the Counseling@Northwestern blog. “There’s a fear that people will be viewed as weaker, ‘less than,’ or, depending upon the mental illness, maybe [having] a moral failing of their own.”

The Additional Burden of Holiday Stress

For some, the holidays can be a positive and uplifting time. For others, long to-do lists, unrealistic expectations, travel, and the loss of loved ones can make the season more difficult to bear.

Additionally, a 2015 survey indicated that financial worries are a top holiday stressor. More than half of respondents said holiday spending would create financial stress, with 11 percent saying it would create a significant financial burden.

According to Dr. Michele Kerulis, who is also a core faculty member with Northwestern, common signs of stress during the holidays include depression, grief, fatigue, loneliness, anxiety, and physical discomfort or pain.

Supporting Your Employees During the Holiday

All employees can benefit from effective workplace support throughout the year, but during the holidays, more of your workers may be in greater need of help. This is true not only for employees who have underlying mental health issues, but also for those who are simply having a stressful holiday season.

Even if your company doesn’t have a formal program for providing stress management or mental health assistance, you can still support your employees during difficult times. On the Counseling@Northwestern blog, Dr. Beeson offers the following five steps managers can take to maintain happy, healthy workplaces:

  1. Create a culture of acceptance.
  2. Raise awareness about the reality of mental health challenges.
  3. Support employees through formal training and education.
  4. Incentivize wellness initiatives.
  5. Promote wellness in benefits packages.

When employees feel valued and receive the support they need to deal with stressors and challenges, everyone wins.

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