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Workplace mental health during festive season: Part 1

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The holiday season is fast approaching and, while for many, this can be an enjoyable and busy time, for some people, this is not always the case.

For some, it can also be associated with increased stress, personal or professional difficulty and challenges that threaten well-being.

Supporting employee well-being, happiness and mental health is a growing responsibility for all of business management.

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The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Workplace stress is directly related to physical well-being, with chronic exposure resulting in a range of ailments spanning from fatigue and muscular tension through to hypertension and increased risk of heart disease.

Stress can also have long-term implications on an employee’s psychological wellbeing, impacting on engagement, motivation and commitment.

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For the business, it can translate into increased cases of absenteeism, reduced productivity and negative impact on performance, higher incidences of accident and injury, workplace conflict, increased staff turnover and ultimately negative outcomes on your business bottom line.

Given the risks, what can managers do to protect their staff and businesses in the run up to the holidays?

Firstly, management may embrace the festive spirit. Engage employees and boost morale by embracing festivities and getting the organisation involved.

If a party is not on the cards or you want to go a step further, why not consider in-office decorations or events to mark the holidays, or join other organisations in a charitable cause to give back to the community.

If the organisation has employees who find the festive season difficult, this is a unique opportunity to get them engaged with celebrations and connecting with their peers. Interaction with others and getting involved is shown to improve psychological wellbeing and mental health.

For some employees, the festive period can prove challenging due to a variety of personal reasons; ranging from financial pressures to family problems, loneliness, health worries or increased levels of stress. Whatever the staff may be going through, it’s important to provide support where possible.

If the organisation has in-house support services, ensure these are accessible, promoted and well resourced, with the necessary key information available to staff.

Go beyond an “open door policy” and ensure staff members are educated on where to go for help. Briefing line managers on signs of stress can help people identify any red flags and address concerns before they escalate.

There is a need to show gratitude and celebrate ‘thanksgiving’ at work too. The holiday season is often used by employers to recognise and thank staff for their contributions and hard work over the year.

Recognition can improve motivation and mental wellbeing during difficult periods, improving employee engagement with your business.

We recently came across a memo from the managing director of Castel Malawi in which he expressed gratitude to staff. We can all borrow a leaf from such treats.

For some, however, this can prove a costly approach. Consider some alternative approaches to demonstrating appreciation to your employees over the festive period – or simply take the time to say ‘thank you’, and let employees know their work is important.

Many operating in human resource or business management will recognise the seasonal dip the festive period brings in employee productivity.

Focus switches from reports and sales to gift shopping or what to wear to an office party, with many mentally leaving the office up to two weeks before the doors close.

The stress of juggling home and work demands can cost both business and individual well-being. Rather than burying heads in the sand, it is important to consider working with employees to maximise productive hours and offer flexible working opportunities.

Offering defined periods for festive errands can help staff tick items off the mental ‘to do list’.

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