Tackle the Holiday Blues and Leverage an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

It’s the most wonderful time of year… but not for everyone. While many are filled with joy and excitement there are many individuals ridden with anxiety and sadness during the holiday season. From financial stress, family and relationship issues, to the pressure to find the perfect gift in a sea of crowds, the list of stressors during this season is endless. This is the time for HR to flex their knowledge by communicating and educating staff during the heightened emotions of the holiday season.

An article in the Harvard Gazette stated that work related stress has negatively affected the economy by $30 billion dollars each year in the United States. So how can you help? If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), refer employees to this resource first.

Management is often focused on performance, but it is important to train them to recognize poor mental health warning signs that could affect your company’s bottom dollar. This is an opportunity to arm managers with knowledge on how to have those tough conversations with employees and assist them when HR isn’t present or available. Additionally, employers should provide EAP information in easily accessible areas where employees feel comfortable. Organizations can post information to an intranet, send in an email, leave flyers in common areas, or send out mailings.  Also be sure to reinforce the employee’s confidentiality if someone comes to HR or management for EAP information.

Warning Signs of “Holiday Blues”

  • Change in appearance
  • Substance abuse
  • Frequently missing work
  • Lack of participation or engagement
  • Personality changes from their norm

Common Benefits of an EAP

  • Completely confidential
  • 24-hour support
  • Counseling services – substance abuse, stress, grief, financial issues, family problems, mental disorders
  • Referrals and follow-up care

Alternative Options Employers can Provide

  • Encourage volunteering on or off company time
  • Support employees to take time off
  • Allow flex time to accommodate appointments
  • Avoid having major deadlines, if possible, around the holidays
  • Check in on employees you know have experienced grief or loss
  • Provide in-office stress relief; massages, full-spectrum lamps, time with emotional support animals, etc.
  • Cover gym membership costs or a portion

HR’s role during this time is to educate management and employees to be sensitive during the holiday season. Each company has their own unique culture that sets the tone for the holidays. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the holidays at work or talking openly about mental wellness. However, employers do have the responsibility to be inclusive and respectful to all cultures, traditions and to keep an employee’s best interest in mind. In fact, this needs to be remembered throughout the year and not just the holiday season.

We recommend all organizations take some time to look at their company’s culture, policies, and the message being sent to employees in order to help prevent insensitivity and provide a low stress holiday season.

The International Association of Employee Assistance Professionals found that 65% of employers offer EAP benefits, and of companies larger than 5,000 employees, 97% provided EAP assistance.