Managing Work Stress Prior to Christmas
It’s around about this time of year that many people in organisations look at their calendar and realise they’re on the downhill run to Christmas.
It’s a time when managers and HR professionals notice an increase in the number of employee complaints, performance issues, absenteeism and team conflict. In the counselling and psychology professions, Christmas / New Year is also when we see a sharp increase in the number of people reaching out for help.
So I thought it timely to explore some of the common challenges your staff may be facing during this time and how, as leaders, we can support our team members through it to help them enjoy their break and to welcome them back refreshed in the new year.
For some people who are just keeping their head above water during the year, living month to month with a maxed out credit card, Christmas can be an anxious time. Many people worry about how they’ll give their family a nice Christmas experience with the associated cost of food, drinks and gifts.
Presence or absence of family
Extended families coming together over the Christmas holidays can be a source of stress, be it from arguments or conflict between family members, or a keenly felt absence of a family member. Quite often people feel dragged back into old family roles and dynamics that they have worked hard to distance themselves from and this can be very frustrating.
On the other hand, absence of family and friends is also an issue. Employees who are estranged from their family or have few friends outside work can feel isolated and despondent over the Christmas break as they’re left with their own thoughts and without their usual routines to distract them.
‘Wrapping things up before Christmas’
Christmas is one of those deadlines that seem tidy and appropriate, but unless you are in fact Santa Claus, can be fairly arbitrary. When clients, project managers and senior managers are all requesting a ‘pre Christmas’ deadline, it can certainly crunch the employees further along the value chain who then need to put in the extra hours.
It’s no surprise that the pace of work these days is intense, and getting to the end of the work year can feel like crawling across the finish line of the Hawaiian Ironman. The realisation that after a week or so of rest, a person must back it up and do it all over again, can be overwhelming.
So given we now know this is going on for some people in our team, as leaders and as team members, how can we help?
3 things we can do for our staff and colleagues
1. Be on the lookout for warning signs
While some level of stress is normal — actually desirable for high performance — there is a point where it stops being ‘just stress’ and becomes something more. Symptoms like irritability, conflict with coworkers, angry outbursts, avoiding people or difficulty completing tasks, where these symptoms present for an extended period and are out of character for the individual, can indicate a mental illness.
2. Review workloads
Under-resourcing is one of the fundamental contributors to chronic stress and burnout in organisations — particularly those with a fast-paced, ‘just get it done’ culture. Leaders who see patterns of stress claims and absenteeism in parts of their business might look closer to see if the workload and resourcing are appropriate in those areas.
3. Say thanks
Send a personal email or better yet, sidle up to the person and let them know you appreciated their help this year and that you’re looking forward to working with them next year. Whether you’re a leader acknowledging a team member or a team member saying thanks to a colleague in a support department, it shows that we respect that person’s abilities and their contribution to the team. It doesn’t have to be a formal presentation or elaborate awards night — sometimes a quiet, genuine and personal thanks works better.
3 things we can we do for ourselves
As leaders, if we stay calm and unflappable when the pressure is on, our staff will follow our lead. And the things we can do at the end of the year to restore ourselves are the same things we can do throughout the year to remain resilient to the challenges that crop up.
1. Do what restores you
Is it reading a book? Listening to music? Throwing a party? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as they say. Try getting some regular exercise and quality sleep — both are proven ways to combat chronic stress and improve your mood.
2. See a counsellor or psychologist for some practical strategies
Say you have a challenging relationship with a family member, and you’ll be spending a bit of time with them over the Christmas break. And say you’re worried they might end up in a shallow grave under the mango tree at your hand. Well, a good counsellor or psychologist can help unravel the dynamic between you and that person and give you some strategies to resolve the issue or at least lessen the likelihood of being triggered.
3. Undertake some structured life planning
New Years resolutions are a great idea, but lots of people go about them the wrong way, and that’s why many are in tatters by the second week of January. Consider doing some structured life planning, where you set a goal for each domain of your life: career, family, relationship, artistic, spiritual, etc. Consider involving your partner and family in the process (and with meddling auntie now under the mango tree it should be easy). Set small, achievable and measurable goals that will help you build confidence and therefore momentum to tackle the bigger ones.
The concerning statistic that we’re hearing more and more these days is that 1 in 5 adult Australians suffers from a mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate in who it chooses and it can happen at any time. But there are things we can do to minimise the chances of it taking hold in our most valuable business asset — our people — and degrading creativity, productivity and happiness.