Author: Rob Leonard
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
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