Workplace stress is a problem all year round, and in recent years it’s become worse for many employees across the UK. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive show that, between 2008 and 2015, 44% of UK workers reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety, while in 2013, the Guardian found that staff were more stressed at work than they had been at any point in the last 20 years.
The Christmas period is meant to end the year on a festive note, but for many it’s a time of ill health and increased pressure on time and finances. Research finds that the Christmas period is often the most stressful for employees, and our 2016 survey found that 23% of UK employees feel more stressed in the run up to Christmas. Concerns about loss of job status and pay reductions are also becoming increasingly common, and these issues are particularly in the forefront of employees’ minds as they approach the new year.
Combating Christmas stress is essential for ending the year in a positive way, ensuring your staff come back refreshed, engaged and motivated in the new year. Here we’ll look at common causes of stress at the end of the year, and what you can do to support your employees through them.
Everyone knows that money can be tighter around Christmas. One of the biggest causes of stress in the festive period is not having enough money – something cited by 32% of respondents to our survey.
Presents, food, parties, travel, nights out and more all add up. The average family spend an average of more than £800 on Christmas each year which, for some, is a significant portion of a monthly wage – leading 50% of people to use credit cards, savings or even payday loans to help fund Christmas.
Alleviating financial pressure for your staff can be difficult. Traditionally, the end-of-year bonus was seen as the best way to give a little extra at the end of the year, but are they actually effective? An extra lump sum can often push employees over a tax threshold, meaning they don’t see as much of their bonus in their bank account as they expect – and what remains will likely be swallowed up by everyday household bills.
Vouchers, gift cards and pre-paid debit cards can make an ideal reward or gift for employees at the end of the year, giving staff something they can set aside. Whether it’s discounts at a supermarket to help cover Christmas food costs or vouchers to take the family out to the cinema, these little things can really make a difference when money is so tight.
Salary reduction programs can also help reduce financial pressures. Employees could be making savings on childcare or parking throughout the year, helping them to save a little extra, or putting aside a portion of their salary to pay for a new phone, tablet or laptop as a gift.
The British love a good grumble about the weather, but as winter sets in it can impact people in serious ways. People may be at risk of flooding, or affected by snowfall – particularly if they travel to work on public transport.
The lack of light in winter can also impact a person’s mental health. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a debilitating, depressive illness that seriously affects about 3% of people in the UK, with a further 20% of people experiencing milder symptoms. It’s more than just winter blues – SAD causes depression, irritability and lethargy.
How can you deal with this? It’s impossible to control the weather, of course, but it is possible to maximise natural light in the office by fighting the urge to keep the blinds closed through the winter months. There are also specialist lightbulbs, usually called daylight bulbs, which provide a stronger light source that better simulates natural light.
Many workplaces use daylight bulbs because they have higher Colour Rendering Index ratings, which removes the headache-inducing faded, fluorescent light effect – and there’s the added bonus that SAD-sufferers really will feel the benefit.
It’s also important to be lenient on staff who are battling the elements to get into work in the morning – train delays are much more common during the winter, and childcare commitments may mean it’s difficult for some to leave earlier in the morning to compensate. Be understanding of your employees’ struggles through the winter weather, and you’ll surely see a reduction in their stress levels.
Almost a third (30%) of the 130 million-plus working days lost to illness each year are caused by coughs, cold and flu – illnesses particularly common in the winter. Ill health was cited as a cause of stress by 16% of UK employees who responded to our survey.
While many HR professionals believe that the real cause of increased absence in December is overindulgence (otherwise known as hangovers!), illness undoubtedly does result in some extra days off. Jenny Leeser, clinical director of occupational health at Bupa, suggests the following:
“All businesses should think about preparing themselves ahead of this December dip, supporting employees who are being placed under increased pressure and putting advance measures in place to prevent the drop in attendance, such as offering ‘flu jabs and encouraging a healthy lifestyle.”
Our tips for a healthy lifestyle? You could replace your office’s cake culture with fruit deliveries, provide corporate gym memberships to help employees afford some extra exercise, or organise some festive charity ideas that encourage people to get active.
A poor work/life balance in the lead up to Christmas was cited as the biggest cause of stress for UK employees, with 34% of people citing balancing work and family activities as being stressful in our survey. At work, the pressure is on to get everything finished before the holiday period. At home, the pressure is on to get the shopping done, get involved with kids’ festive school functions and plan for the years’ celebrations.
One way to combat this cause of stress could be to introduce some flexible working policies for December – allowing staff to work from home to receive deliveries, start earlier in exchange for an early finish to make it to a child’s school event or a longer lunch to do some Christmas shopping.
P&MM Employee Benefits have a great blog on getting the Work-Life balance right in your organisation all year round – it’s well worth a read if you need any extra tips.
For more information, be sure to read our Work mode vs. holiday mode whitepaper, which is full of research on how staff are impacted by the holiday season, and packed with ideas that can help you support staff to stay happy, motivated and productive in the forthcoming festive season.
 Survey of 1,004 UK consumers employed full or part-time aged 18+, The Leadership Factor, 2016.
 Survey of 1,000 UK consumers employed full or part-time aged 18+, Rostrum, 2015.