Christmas and the festive season can be a difficult time, but this year especially there are likely to be additional issues of isolation and depression, and employers will have a crucial role to play in supporting their staff.
Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health & Protection, says: “Employees may already be feeling isolated if they are working from home or under socially-distanced conditions. With heavy restrictions still likely to be in place over Christmas, combined with the usual stresses of the season, this could be a testing time for many. Employers need to act now if they want to support their employees.”
With financial strain and domestic tension, relationship issues are common at Christmas and it is not unusual for there to be a spike in divorce requests immediately after the festive period. In fact, the first Monday in January has been dubbed ‘Divorce Day’ with relationship charity Relate citing this as its peak period for calls. Research from Richard Nelson solicitors found that searches for ‘I want a divorce’ rose by 230% in the first week of January 2020, compared to December 2019.
As such, employees may need additional emotional support around Christmas. However, issues at this time of year don’t just relate to relationships. Gambling, addiction, financial worries, physical and mental health concerns can all increase at this time, and there is a lot that employers can do to help.
Health and wellbeing support needs to include access to help for all such issues. Indeed, the availability and extent of support has been enhanced by many providers since the pandemic, specifically to help with these kinds of problems, such as fast-track access to counselling, 24-hr helplines, virtual GPs and specialist help for addiction, gambling, debt, and signposting to additional support.
This year has seen a significant increase in the utilisation of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) as companies have found them to be a great help in so many areas. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on Christmas day, they can provide confidential support and counselling to employees for personal as well as work-related issues at a time when they most need it.
Building resilience is particularly important at this time, and such support can help put a framework in place around the problem so the employee feels able to cope and to take the next step in resolving the issue.
Morale boost in lieu of parties
With Covid restrictions in place, office parties are unlikely to be happening this year, however this can provide an opportunity for employers. Where costs have been saved, it’s an opportunity for employers to ask employees what they would like to receive instead of an office party. This might be a small bonus, an experience day for 2021, online shopping vouchers, or a donation to charity.
Some employees may be keen on a health and wellbeing benefit in lieu. Options employers could offer might be a fitness tracker, personal training sessions, discount on gyms or cycles, or a remote health assessment.
Small gestures mean a lot at the moment and can benefit employees both physically and mentally, as well as boosting morale. This can increase engagement at a time when it’s most needed, and in turn also prevent the business from being affected by a slump in productivity.
Brett Hill comments: “Now is the time for employers to communicate and connect with their staff. While many of us have had our fill of video conferencing, getting a team together online for drinks and a social catch-up, or spending time just to talk to employees can enable managers to detect areas of strain and to offer support.”
2020 and beyond
The year 2020 will be hard to forget, mostly for all the wrong reasons. Employers should take this opportunity to show staff that they are appreciated and supported, and that such support will continue into 2021. Although it’s difficult for companies to get together socially now, it is still possible to show thought and give encouragement.
Employers should be aware of different cultures and religions within their company. Whilst not everyone will celebrate Christmas, this is still an opportunity for employers to convey their gratitude to staff, to thank them for their hard work throughout 2020, and to have some social time, albeit probably online this year.