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How to support employee mental health at Christmas

Those dealing with financial stress, grief and loneliness may require extra support during the festive season.

Over the 2022 festive period, Samaritans responded to over 250,000 calls for help in the UK and Ireland. Suicidal feelings were expressed during almost one in four calls for help where emotional support was provided

Sarah McIntosh, director of people at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, told HR magazine employers must step up to support mental wellbeing around the holidays.

She said: “While Christmas is an enjoyable time of the year for many, it’s important employers recognise some people find the festive period challenging for a variety of reasons.

“From the cost of living crisis and the added pressure of gift giving and festive socials to increased loneliness during this time. Employers need to be mindful of these factors and adapt policies to help and support their people.”

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Money worries

As the cost of living crisis has continued to hit employees, 5.7 million low-income households had to cut down or skip meals, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

Those going without items such as food, heating or basic toiletries (63%) has remained around 7 million for more than a year.

An open and supportive attitude towards financial wellbeing around Christmas is important, according to Sarah Conlon, assistant director of people and organisational development at Samaritans said.

She told HR magazine: “While Christmas is often described as the most wonderful time of the year, we know that it can be challenging for so many people and with the ongoing cost of living crisis, things may feel even harder this year.

“The financial impact of the festivities as well as the time off work can put additional pressures on many employees so it’s important that workplaces foster a safe and supportive working environment that gives employees the opportunity to say things are not okay and that they may need help.”

Read more: Navigating the mental heaalth maze: the corporate world's new challenge

McIntosh advised against any work-related Christmas plans which require employees to spend money.

She said: “You should also ensure that any activities attached to a social are opt-in. Rather than leaving the office for our Christmas social, we provided an opportunity for colleagues to catch up over festive crafts and our senior leadership team put on a panto. None of these activities incurred a cost to our staff.

“I’d encourage employers to ask their people what their needs are so they can update and create policies as needed to successfully support all employees at this time of year.”



Julia Lyons, senior counselling psychologist at Onebright, said the holidays can be particularly difficult for those suffering the loss of a loved one.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Raising awareness about grief at this time of year is pertinent. The holiday seasons are often particular points of remembrance of lost loved ones. Sometimes these memories can be celebrated and remembered with joy and love. However, these times can also bring an intensity of grief and loss that is difficult to experience.”

She said therapy, additional leave and flexibility may be required.

She said: “Talk to the individual about how they feel and ask if they require any form of support from you or a third party. Have patience with the individual as they may not know in the early stages of grief what support they need. Bereavement counselling or psychological therapy can be helpful.

“It may also be helpful for the individual to have more time off work than the contracted compassionate leave.

"Ask them about making adaptations to their daily tasks and workplace setup to help the individual continue working – this can include 100% remote working, flexible working hours or fewer external meetings.”

Read more: Back to basics: bereavement support 

Working parents and carers

McInstosh said HR should consider flexible working for parents and carers over the holidays to allow them to prioritise family time.

She said: “You could consider providing more flexibility for parents and carers juggling work and childcare, or ensure socials are affordable or available to take part in in-person or online. This can help people unable to travel or who are worried about costs stay connected with their team.”



As offices are often closed over the holidays, loneliness can become a significant issue for employees.

Lyons said regular correspondence with those working from home during this time and fostering open communication can be helpful.

She said: “Arrange a video call for 20 minutes and have a tea and chat session, for example. You don’t need to talk about work necessarily, but make sure the person is free to talk about their feelings, as doing so can make individuals feel less alone and more supported.

“Remember, looking after others in their time of need is another good way of improving your own mental health.”