Tuesday 13 December 2016 6:00 am

Merry Stressmas, and an anxious New Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year! But it can also be a very stressful time for many.

For people already suffering from common mental illness (mild to moderate depression or anxiety), Christmas can be difficult because of the expectation to be happy, with existing feelings of inadequacy and isolation being compounded.

For others, financial strains and family tensions can cause stress. There’s a reason divorce lawyers are so busy in January.

Stress at home is not an employer’s responsibility, but it will be when it manifests at work. And after a long year, employees have stress buckets that are already full to the brim – it does not take much to tip a manageable situation into a health and employee relations disaster.

Managers can take simple steps to manage stress and potential mental health issues in the office which will benefit staff but also the bottom line.

None of the initiatives are costly, most are common sense and yet many businesses don’t bother. Sometimes all that is needed is a little extra attention and some TLC.

These initiatives will help you get the best from your people, and who knows: they might even make them eager to return to work.

Pay attention

First, encourage staff to ask you for help prioritising tasks. A long to do list can be overwhelming. A little guidance will relieve stress.

It is important not to ignore someone who is not coping with their workload. This could signal a mental health issue. You might also inadvertently discriminate if you avoid giving them work because they are not handling stress.

Equally, pay attention to anyone coming in early and leaving late on a regular basis. This is a red flag. Find out what is going on and reallocate or delegate if possible.

If a person is visibly stressed (tears, temper, shortness of attitude, general grumpiness), ask them what is the matter. If you do nothing you may create a legal liability.

Take a Festive Digital Detox

Encourage staff to take a digital detox overnight and at weekends. They will come to work more refreshed, more focused and less stressed. People are not machines: they cannot work 24/7 and be healthy.

Support and thanks

It is also important to praise, approve and thank staff. Most Type A personalities who are at risk of breakdown respond incredibly positively to such support.

It can be the difference between becoming ill and staying well. Make them feel valued. It costs nothing and engenders huge engagement.

Encouraging staff to do an online mindfulness course can be helpful in managing stress and recognising it can be an issue. Studies demonstrate reductions of 40 per cent to 59 per cent in stress, anxiety and depression. The success rate for mild to moderate depression in using mindfulness is a staggering 70 per cent.

Or, if you have one, remind staff that they have access to Employee Assistance Programmes to help them manage stress.

Christmas cheer!

And finally – it is Christmas after all, so lighten the atmosphere in the office if you can: Christmas music, some extra foodie treats (satsumas and dates, not just chocolate and mince pies), try to bring a bit of levity while still focusing on getting the job done. Create a team focus which has as its reward a nice long break over the holidays.

Karen Jackson is director at Didlaw, a boutique employment law firm.