Tips for helping your employees manage stress during the holidays

Posted November 28, 2016

By Kyra Kudick, associate editor, J. J. Keller & Associates

The holidays can be very stressful for many employees, as family and personal commitments often increase during this time of year, making the elusive goal of work-life balance even more challenging.

While you as a manager, supervisor, or team leader are not ultimately responsible for the mental health of your employees, you can take steps to help ensure that the health, wellbeing, and morale of employees are maintained during the holidays. Such actions can help keep productivity high, which helps you ensure that business needs are met.

Here are a few ways leaders can help their workers during the holidays:

Be accommodating and flexible in terms of employee work hours. Obviously, this depends on your company policies, but if you can accommodate changes to employee schedules, you should do so.

You should also have an established policy for processing requests for time off. Do you approve requests based on seniority, or is it on a first-come, first-approved basis? The holidays generally lead to multiple employees requesting the same time off, and employees should understand how these requests will be considered so they can plan accordingly.

Be transparent about schedules. Let everyone on the team know who will be off, and when. This is especially important because work schedules change more during the holiday season with requests for time off, and members of your team may be responsible for an absent coworker’s duties. You may want to post a public calendar or create a shared digital calendar everyone can access. Also, when you as a leader take time off, make sure someone else handles this communication function.

Be on the lookout for warning signs of stress in your team. If someone is talking about being stressed, that’s a clear sign, but you will also want to look for indicators such as increased absenteeism or lateness, irritability, withdrawal, impatience, or a lack of tolerance, overt sadness, or anxiety.

Sometimes there will be a clear performance issue that can be addressed, but sometimes performance will be maintained even though there are other clear signs of distress. Don’t ignore distress just because performance hasn’t suffered. While you shouldn’t be diagnosing your employees’ mental health, you can ask them how work is going, or if they need help.

Be mindful of personal life events. The holidays are usually thought of as times of joy, but they can also bring sorrow. For example, the first holiday after the death of a loved one can be very difficult for the survivors. If you know an employee has recently suffered a loss, be on the lookout for this sort of situational sadness.

Be empathetic in communication. If you notice some employees struggling or displaying these signs of stress, you can talk with them in an empathetic way. Ask what’s going on and listen attentively to the answers. You may be able to help them think about alternative ways to manage their work duties.

Again, your responsibility is not to diagnose or counsel employees with mental health concerns, so if there isn’t a work-related solution to the issue at hand, you may want to suggest a referral to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a community counseling program.

Be open to outside assistance. If you notice that multiple team members are struggling with holiday stress, or you just want to be proactive in managing it, you might consider inviting a speaker for a lunch-and-learn presentation about managing holiday stress. Your company may even have coaches available as part of your company wellness program who would be happy for the opportunity to assist you and your team to have a productive, healthy holiday season.

About the author:

Kyra Kudick

Kyra Kudick is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. Kudick specializes in employment law/HR issues such as employee relations, hiring and recruiting, and training and development. She is the author of J. J. Keller’s Employee Relations Essentials manual and SUPER adVISOR newsletter. For more information, visit