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The festive season can be a tricky time for workers, especially when it comes to mental health. So how can small businesses help?
As the Christmas period approaches, it could be tempting for many small businesses to try and make up for lost pandemic time and revenues by not taking time off. However, this added pressure and stress may lead to wellbeing issues for employees, particular those for whom lockdowns, closures and restrictions have had a significant impact on their mental health.
“The effects of the pandemic will stay with us for a long time to come, and sadly for some, life will never be the same,” says Christine Husbands, managing director for nurse-led wellbeing service RedArc. “If we add in additional work pressures as small businesses try to make up lost ground and the financial and emotional strain of Christmas on home life, it’s understandable why some employees could feel overwhelmed at this time of year.”
So what can small business owners do to take stock of how their employees are feeling and help stressed-out staff?
Appreciate that people are impacted differently and cope in their own way. “A large new order or a big client win is great from a profitability point of view but may be the straw that will break the camel’s back for a team already working at capacity,” says Husbands. “Be mindful of this before speaking to staff.”
Check for signs that an employee may be struggling, even if they do not raise any issues when asked. Unusual behaviour can take many forms such as being slow to respond, having poor timekeeping, lacking motivation, or being unusually short-tempered or withdrawn. Employees could also have physical symptoms such as sweating or shaking, or extreme fatigue due to lack of sleep.
“Small businesses usually know their team exceptionally well and so should be fairly quick to identify changes in their staff,” says Husbands. “If behavioural changes are identified, the employer should approach that individual and sensitively explain what they’ve noticed. Employers may have to ask how the member of staff is several times before they get a genuine response, as most people will initially say they are fine.”
“It’s often difficult for owners to prioritise or justify their own self-care, but this is key to maintaining wellbeing and being in a good place to deal with the many challenges of running a small business,” says Christine Husbands. “No one needs to justify seeking wellbeing and mental health support for themselves but if they need additional motivation, small business owners could reframe it as being important for their business, their employees and their family too.”
Simply being heard and understood is enough to make some employees feel better about a situation. RedArc suggests it’s important to have these conversations with the employee at a location and time to suit the individual. Asking them to attend a meeting in a much-needed lunch break or during a busy shift could only serve to exacerbate the problem. It’s also important not to make assumptions or pre-judge a situation either in terms of the problem or the solution. The employer needs to be mindful of thinking they know best or taking responsibility for the issue unless it is something in their capacity to control. Asking the employee what help they think they need is often best, as it makes them feel valued and encourages them to take some responsibility too.
Employers should familiarise themselves with their employee benefits programme in order to steer their staff towards any expert help available. There are also excellent charities for circumstances when an employer has serious or immediate concerns about a member of staff, such as Mind and the Samaritans, as well as lesser-known ones such as For Men to Talk or WISH for women’s mental health.