Check in on your employees' mental health this holiday season

For many Australians, this Christmas may not hold the same excitement as previous years. COVID-19 has left numerous people feeling nervous about what their festive season will look like, with financial stress and loneliness acting as key concerns. As workplaces close for the holidays, business leaders should look to proactively support their employees.

“People have spent nearly a whole year in prolonged isolation, and while loneliness isn’t a mental health problem, it can contribute to issues such as anxiety and depression,” says Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director, AccessEAP. In a recent study, Australians reported feelings of loneliness had almost doubled from 8% in 2019 to 15% this year.

“For many, work has been their primary source of social interaction, so as businesses begin to close down, for the holiday period, employees may feel especially isolated, while also losing the sense of purpose that their jobs give them,” adds Marcela.

While it can be tempting to focus on negatives such as isolation, a positive outlook can have major benefits for mental health. Positive psychology helps people build on the good in their lives allowing them to thrive and flourish. Made up of five core tenants – Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement (PERMA™) 2 , each block can be applied to the workplace, even during the holidays, to foster a more positive outlook. Here, AccessEAP provides advice on how employers can take care of themselves and harness positive psychology over the festive season.


Positive Emotions

Positive emotions not only boost our job performance, they also have a ripple effect into our everyday lives. By focusing on the positives, especially thinking about gratitude, people will experience less stress and fatigue, therefore are more likely to maintain an optimistic outlook. Managers should lead by example and model a positive mentality up until the holidays, while encouraging their team to think the same way.


Engagement

A key requirement for employees’ workplace wellbeing is their engagement, which is often derived from their ability to play to their strengths when contributing to their team’s goals. While keeping staff engaged could usually involve managers creating challenges for staff, encouraging them to try something new that plays to the strengths they display in their work, this year leaders should look to urge their employees to recharge over the break, ensuring the team feels rejuvenated on their return.


Relationships

Interacting with colleagues is the largest social connection some employees have, meaning that the holidays presents a large span of isolation. Encouraging optional activities for staff in person, or over video call, can provide a relief from loneliness. These could include virtual drinks or trivia, online gaming sessions, or team movie nights.

Another great way people to stay connected over the festive break is to create an opt-in ‘buddy system’ where Employees are paired with a peer they can check in with, meet up with and confide in, over the holidays.


Meaning

When there is a shared sense of purpose in the workplace, people tend to feel more satisfied with what they are working towards. Business leaders should consistently communicate to their team about their role within the organisation and how it contributes to the vision and mission of the
business, providing a sense of meaning to the work they do. Reinforcing this ahead of the holidays and outlining the opportunities for the collective group in 2021 will give employees who feel isolated over the holidays a sense of being valued and something to look forward to.


Achievement

People thrive when they feel that they are succeeding, achieving goals and bettering themselves. Employers should celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of their team as they enter the festive period. Feeling valued and encouraged has many benefits to a person’s mental health and as
they leave work over the holidays, it can give employees the peace of mind that they are doing a good job, reducing any stresses they may be feeling ahead of the break.

Talk to someone

Encompassing PERMA may contribute to a more positive outlook and better personal wellbeing for employees facing isolation. However, business leaders should provide all employees with information on mental health resources and helplines. Employee Assistance Programs, such as AccessEAP, can be enlisted by businesses to provide their teams and their families with out of hours support from accredited psychologists.

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