This time of year is filled with fun, traditions and joy. However, it can also be filled with stress. A packed schedule, bad weather, financial worries and other issues can leave people feeling overwhelmed. Added pressures in the office can push people to the brink. After all, many of your employees are working hard to finish the year strong and ramp up for next year, while still maintaining some semblance of work-life balance.
So what can you, as a leader, do to help? It starts by seeing the big picture, says Stacey Engle, EVP of Fierce Conversations, a leadership development and training company. “Most employers believe the health of their employees is critical, but what many may not emphasize is that mental health is a big part of that,” she says. “The culture of an organization is a reflection on the mental state of its employees, and this goes beyond what occurs at the office. It is so important that company leaders prioritize the whole person, and that includes what happens beyond the office regarding their employees.”
She offers this advice you can use to help your employees manage the stress, stay productive and experience the merriment the holidays should bring:
Encourage employees to speak up when they need a break
Engle says that asking for a day off to decompress due to personal or workplace stress is not often accepted in the workplace, and that’s problematic. “There should be no shame in employees recognizing when they need a break, and asking for one,” she says. Why? Because when stressed-out employees can’t ask for what they need (and experience some relief) their performance struggles, their morale slumps and they may eventually quit.
Approve “Mental Health Days”
You could formally allocate some PTO days as “Mental Health Days” or include them under the umbrella of personal time off. Regardless, the idea is to give your employees a break to clear their heads and relax without fear of “getting caught.” Many organizations expect an employee to be ill or have some sort of appointment to claim PTO days. Some even demand proof. As a result, employees sneak around and lie about their reasons for taking off when they simply need a break from the grind to manage their stress. Engle says that “It’s important to encourage a culture of transparency where employees, if they want to disclose that they’re taking a Mental Health Day, feel safe enough to do so.”
That chance to rejuvenate is crucial to maintaining high productivity. At the same time, when employees openly communicate about their stress, you gain the opportunity to pinpoint and correct problems that are hurting your team.
Support team members
It’s critical that you empathize with employees who need to take a day off to decompress. Each time you show support and encouragement, you set the example for the rest of your employees.
Perhaps you heard the story of Ben Congleton, founder and CEO of Olark, who did just that. When an employee emailed her coworkers and him this message “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully, I will be back next week refreshed and back to 100%,” she received a surprising response from him:
I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health. I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
That kind of support is exactly what that employee needed. Your employees need it, too, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed. Go one step further and take your own Mental Health Day from time to time to show employees that it is acceptable and encouraged.
Obviously, you shouldn’t allow people to take advantage of the policies. People shouldn’t taken several “Mental Health Days,” and they should be managing their workloads, hitting their goals and meeting their deadlines. However, most people won’t abuse the privilege, especially if they feel genuinely supported. So do what you can to protect your employees’ overall health all year long.