Beginning a new year is an opportune time to talk to employees about optimistic behaviour modification and, above all else, overindulgence. For most of us, the month of December was likely filled with food, drink, shopping, parties – all part of the whirlwind that defines the season, regardless of the holiday you celebrate.
But the “holiday season” is often the bearer of more than good cheer – anxiety, stress, depression and financial strain are also in the proverbial bag of goodies and are typically at an all-time high. When your employees have a loving family, close circle of friends, good physical health and solid finances, they’re likely quite resilient and are therefore much less susceptible to the negative impacts of the holidays on their mental health.
Unfortunately, those who can claim to be so well supported make up a much smaller percentage of people than you might think. The holidays can be a difficult time for those who don’t feel particularly blessed due to health concerns, estranged family members, overwhelming debt and less-than-ideal living situations.
For the most part, holiday activity surrounds but doesn’t invade the workplace, so employees that struggle with their resilience have a small escape during the work day. That doesn’t mean the worry turns off and they’re able to dedicate their full attention to the tasks at hand though, even after the holidays. Employees who are experiencing consistently high levels of stress, anxiety, depression or any combination of the three are far less productive on average than an employee who experiences mild to moderate levels from time to time.
Worries about personal finances, relationships and health edge out professional duties on a daily basis, eventually putting the employee so far back in performance that additional resources are required – this is a cost to the organization that is difficult to measure but also can’t be ignored. Work time spent on personal finances alone can take upwards of an hour per work day when the employee is considered “extremely financially stressed.” This is costing the employer in salary and lost productivity.
We’ve all heard of “stress eaters” and it’s not an unfounded term – stress attacks the immune system first and then promotes preservation behaviour in people so we feel the need to seek shelter and comfort, and more often than not, we do this through food. This behaviour also extends to physical activity – stress, anxiety and depression sap energy and make it difficult to even attempt to maintain recommended levels of activity. This combination of a compromised immune system, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity is a perfect recipe for illness and, in turn, more time spent not working.
Sleep quality and quantity also tend to suffer due to stress, anxiety and/or depression or just excitement for the events of the season and that has a huge impact on cognitive function, especially decision-making skills. Encouraging employees to maintain a strict sleep schedule may help them keep control over their eating habits and experience less severe symptoms.
Whether indulgence in the holiday baskets, trays of baking and festive libations is being driven by stress, lack of sleep or holiday excitement, employees who overdo it in the last month of the year will feel the effects later (and so will employers).
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.