Good cheer may be abundant during the holidays for your employees, but so are stress and anxiety. Get ideas on how to take care of your people’s financial and emotional wellbeing needs toward the end of the year.

Authors: Rob Leonard Emily Schneider

Good cheer may be abundant near the end of the year as holidays approach for many employees, but so is stress. During this period, adults are five times more likely to say their level of stress increases rather than decreases. They worry most about finding and affording gifts, and anxiety about celebrations is often attributed to missing their family members, feeling socially uncomfortable and not being able to get enough rest.1 Sadness or loneliness may also clash with a cultural emphasis on joy, creating dissonance.

This increased stress can lead not only to anxiety, but also depression, physical illness and substance misuse. More than 3 in 5 individuals (64%) living with a mental health illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays in 2021.2 Seasonal affective disorder may also be a factor for a relatively small part of the population, usually starting in late fall or early winter. Oversleeping, overeating, weight gain and social withdrawal are some of the most common symptoms.

On average, employees experiencing mental distress use nearly $3,000 more in healthcare services per year than their peers. Costs for employers, per year per employee, average $4,783 in days lost and $5,733 in turnover. Mentally distressed workers are also 3.5 times more likely to have substance use disorders.3

Employee mental distress costs an average of $4,783 in days lost and $5,733 in turnover per year.

The link between lower consumer sentiment and healthy or unhealthy employee financial behaviors

Weakened purchasing power strains personal savings. Nearly 9 in 10 consumers (89%) expect inflation to affect their 2022 holiday shopping — and about 3 in 5 (59%) believe that impact will be moderate or significant.4 Inflation fears can change typical behaviors. For example, an impulse to buy before prices rise may override an instinct to save money.

Too much spending and not enough saving on the part of employees may also be expensive for employers. When financial stress causes persistent work distractions, it sometimes sets in motion a chain of events including reduced engagement, lower productivity and higher absenteeism rates. The associated costs can add up quickly, and turnover risks often increase, too.

How a little imagination can make a big difference in emotional wellbeing

Some organizations bring emotional wellbeing to the forefront during the holiday season by staging a mental health week or promoting available services and resources. Although employers may offer year-round access to support for managing stress and grief, building resiliency or improving financial wellbeing, year-end timing can be especially helpful for many employees.

Closely matching wellbeing options to workforce needs and analyzing utilization can illuminate opportunities for improvement. Before an extended holiday period, identifying and adding resources to fill potential gaps in mental healthcare helps ensure ready access. Doctors, clinicians and other professionals may also be taking time off and have limited availability.

Virtual or telephonic mental health counseling is offered by 2 in 3 employers (67%). And about 1 in 3 (36%) provide stress management, resiliency or meditation programs.5

Before an extended holiday period, identifying and adding resources to fill potential gaps in mental healthcare helps ensure ready access.

With school often closed at the end of the year, benefits such as childcare discounts, enhanced paid leave, additional flex scheduling or remote work days focus on reducing the burden on caregivers. Setting policies for time-off and other allowances encourages participation by employees who may have qualms about taking advantage of these opportunities. A management review will confirm that employees honor the rules, and usage can be monitored to help ensure equitable access with no denials or special conditions imposed.

Scheduling one-to-one check-ins gives managers a chance to identify employees who are struggling emotionally or financially during the holidays. And gestures like providing a stipend to buy a small gift for someone who lost a family member during the year is a way to express empathy and show support. More inclusive options for connecting with others outside of traditional settings can also be provided, such as employee resource groups, volunteer opportunities or other organized gatherings.

Holiday policies and practices that consider religious diversity

Influenced by the religious traditions of the American majority, holiday calendars have long coincided with key Christian holidays. But an increasing percentage of the U.S population doesn't identify as Christian and now stands at one-third. Organizations will want to consider what this trend means to them and their employees as religious affiliations among their workforce grow more diverse. An alternative to designating specific days is allotting floating holidays, which flexibly honors different preferences.6

Not only does this change align with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) principles, it can also be a competitive advantage. Studies show that when employers are attentive to recognizing and accommodating their employees' religious traditions, levels of employee engagement and retention increase.6

Other practices for increasing inclusion while decreasing stress include delaying organization-wide or team holiday parties until January, or scheduling an annual gathering during a different month. Selecting a date that doesn't overlap with widely celebrated religious traditions supports neutrality.

Regardless of religious traditions, recognizing that employees often need a little time to recharge at the start of the year may also ease stress. A measured approach to launching campaigns, sending communications and assigning training gives the workforce a chance to refocus on priorities as they return to a normal routine.

Financial tune-ups and benefits decision-making support

An opportune time for a financial check-in with employees is before or during benefits open enrollment. It's important for them to know how to align their decisions with budget planning for the upcoming year. Once they do, the connection to financial wellbeing becomes clear.

Choosing the right benefits is one part of the equation, and allocating a portion of each paycheck to checking, savings and retirement is another. Support resources such as webinars, lunch and learns, or an interactive decision guide can also help in selecting benefits based on individual financial risk tolerance.

Assistance with immediate money matters often boosts a sense of personal security, and 87% of employers offer at least one financial wellbeing service. Options commonly include financial literacy education, discount programs, and legal services such as will preparation and estate planning.5 For employees concerned about long-term interests, individualized financial coaching offers guidance. Sessions can provide access to a qualified assessment of their current financial standing and advice on both setting future goals and mapping the steps to achievement.

Less frequently, benefits may include counseling, refinancing tools and education, student loan forgiveness, 529 plans, student loan repayment programs and emergency savings programs.5 These options do support healthier finances and may be especially valued at a time when the cost of living is rising.

Besides educating employees about benefit elections, scheduling a webinar series or offering other learning opportunities on holiday spending and personal financial resolutions helps instill better habits. Together, they build momentum for financial wellbeing in the new year.

Key actions that prepare employers to help employees handle the holidays better

When managers receive training on empathetic leadership, they can significantly influence the wellbeing of their employees. A core skill is the ability to identify signs of stress, burnout and other mental health issues. But just 43% of employers consider their managers well prepared to recognize these indicators and refer employees to support services.5

Assigning accountability for assisting direct reports who show signs of coping difficulties can raise management awareness and understanding of available wellbeing options, and reduce stigma for employees. Outcomes are improved when responsibilities are defined.

There's good evidence that an emphasis on improving wellbeing pays off. Efforts made by employers to support mental health return $4 for every dollar invested.3 And the availability of services and resources is extensive. After current needs are evaluated, employees can narrow potential options based on the ability to meet distinct capability and compatibility requirements. It's important to coordinate the responsibilities of online vendors and providers of behavioral health point solutions to help ensure that employees are routed correctly.

Raising awareness of the value of wellbeing benefits by using strategically chosen communication channels targets messages more effectively, no matter where employees are located. To promote utilization, it's helpful to educate HR and managers about the options available to the workforce and enlist their support as information touch points. Routinely emphasizing how to access benefits adds another measure of assurance that employees and the organization, together, will be well situated to ring in a healthier and happier new year.

Author Information


Sources

1"Holiday Stress," American Psychiatric Association, Nov 2021. PDF file.

2"McLean's Guide to Managing Mental Health Around the Holidays," McLean, 22 Dec 2021.

3"New Mental Health Cost Calculator Shows Why Investing in Mental Health Is Good for Business," National Safety Council, 13 May 2021.

4"Know More About Upcoming 2022 Holiday Consumer Trends and Predictions," Numerator, accessed Aug 2022.

5Gallagher. "2022 Workforce Trends Report Series: Organizational Wellbeing," Sept 2022. Gated PDF.

6Hacker, Amber. "Are Non-Christian Employees Represented in Your Holiday Policies?" Harvard Business Review, 20 Oct 2021.


Disclaimer

Consulting and insurance brokerage services to be provided by Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. and/or its affiliate Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as "Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services" and in Massachusetts as "Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services." Neither Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor its affiliates provide accounting, legal or tax advice.