Christmas is coming, and in offices throughout the country, parties are being held, teams are partaking in secret Santas, and people are decorating their desks with tinsel.
These visible signs of the season of good cheer exemplify what, for many, is a very happy holiday, a chance to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the end of the year.
The typical associations of Christmas (in a broad, secular sense) include goodwill and charity, and celebrating them seems absolutely right.
However, for the one in six people in the workplace who at any given time are struggling with some kind of mental health problem, this might be a real challenge.
Mental health is, more often than not, an invisible problem, which we tend not to see, even in ourselves, until we reach crisis point. This will likely be especially true at Christmas.
We might hear laughter and see bright lights and garish colours, but some of our colleagues may not be laughing or celebrating – at least not on the inside.
At KPMG, we respect the individual and strive to make every colleague feel that they can bring “their whole selves to work” every day. At this time of year in particular, colleagues – especially those with managerial responsibility – have a duty to show Christmas kindness and respect to those around them who may be experiencing a mental health problem.
As the Christmas period approaches, managers should take extra care to be sensitive to the individuals in their teams and notice if anyone is perhaps quieter or more withdrawn than usual. Take time to check in with your team members and ask if you can offer any support. Extending this offer of support openly and showing that you care makes a real difference.
If you know or suspect that one of your team may be experiencing (or may have) a mental health problem, have an informal, open conversation with them. Listen and ask questions. Offer to find out what help is available, schedule a follow up conversation and keep talking about it.
Managers do not need to be experts on mental health (just as they do not need to be experts on physical health), but they should be supportive, considerate and respectful. They are role models for their team, so caring for colleagues in this way demonstrates that respect for the individual is important.
It may be the case that some of our colleagues choose not to participate in social gatherings such as the office Christmas party. Crowded, loud, boozy functions are not the ideal surroundings for anyone feeling anxious or stressed. Managers can make it clear that there is no need for unhelpful social comparisons about what Christmas “has to be” about.
During the run-up to Christmas, there will inevitably be some days where many colleagues are out of the office at the same time. Managers can support their teams to prioritise the activities which need to be tackled before the break, and to set aside others for the New Year.
This offer of support and guidance helps relieve some of the pressure on colleagues, and is even more valuable when managers lead by example.
In addition to the mountains of extra chocolate and cake in the office comes the ability to forget to take care of ourselves in our efforts to get everything done at work, socialise, and get ready for the holidays.
We sometimes forget that the reason that we have holiday is so that we can rest and rejuvenate, to continue to be as healthy and well as we can. Even for those who do not enjoy Christmas, there is an opportunity to replenish energy reserves depleted during the busy autumn months.
Our role as colleagues and managers cannot be to make everyone have a merry or happy Christmas – we know that is out of our hands.
However, by offering support and help we can create a mentally healthier workplace for us all 365 days a year, which is surely top of everyone’s list.