Helping Employees Get Through the Holidays


We often think of the holiday season as a festive, fun-loving time. There are decorations, parties, cookies, gift exchanges, and sometimes year-end bonuses! Everyone should be having a great time. However, that’s not always the case.

The end of the year can cause greater stress, anxiety and depression. Each person deals with the holidays differently and it is important that HR professionals understand how to assist employees. Here are several reasons why holidays can be hard:

  • Work pressure to finish the year strong, meet sales goals or complete projects.

  • Employees who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues may find dread in the weeks prior to a major holiday.

  • Losing a loved one is always difficult but is often made even more so when confronting the first, or second holiday without them.

  • Some employees find they are running on empty by always putting others first and ignoring their own wellbeing.

  • Financial stresses can be triggered when people believe they must give gifts to others or buy extra food for a party, even if it means putting themselves into debt.

  • Family gatherings (enough said).

The list can go on and on. While we can’t do anything to stop the holidays from coming, there are steps we can take to recognize potential concerns in our employees.

Look for changes in behavior such as missing deadlines, tardiness or attendance issues. Mood changes such as irritability, deteriorating engagement with others, an increasingly bad attitude or comments about hopelessness, sadness or harming oneself can also be signs of a worsening impact on mental health. In addition, difficulty concentrating, boredom and work performance issues can be signs of concern. Once noticed, it is important to support the employees and provide needed resources, but don’t try to “fix” the problem. These are not issues we can solve, rather, we should provide encouragement and tools that can help manage stressors and assist employees through the holidays.

  • Listen to the employee. Sometimes they just need to come to talk to about how they feel and for you to acknowledge their feelings.

  • Offer support by talking about their concerns and suggesting possible temporary measures that may help them over the next few weeks. This could be taking a personal day, extending upcoming deadlines and offering to assist them through a project.

  • Acknowledge a grieving family member. Everyone goes through grief in their own way, so just because a loved one passed away many months or even a couple years ago doesn’t mean the holidays will be any easier. Here is an excellent resource to understand the grieving process during the holidays: Healing Through The Holidays | AFSP

  • Refer an employee to an Employee Assistance Program. They can help with mental health issues as well as provide resources for emergency financial aid, food assistance programs and other social services.

  • If someone is showing signs of increasing depression, provide the needed resources, and help them seek help if needed. This article can help employers better understand depression in the workplace: Workplace Mental Health - Depression