As the holidays move into full gear, what should be the most wonderful time of the year is often not that way for many employees. The added burden of family obligations combined with the huge push for end-of-year projects in an already shortened work month can make some employees lose productivity and isolate themselves from coworkers.

During this potentially overwhelming season, it is important that employees have access to help. Employers can play a critical role in ensuring workers are aware of resources, such as an Employee Assistance Program, that can provide help not only through the holidays, but all year long.

Bert Alicea, vice president of Employee Assistance Programs and Work/Life Services at Health Advocate, says a number of issues could be putting an employee into the “holiday blues.” From the loss of a loved one to financial stressors, people who are lonely will disconnect, especially at this time of year.

“The question is, how visible is your EAP [in your benefits offerings]?” he says. “If it’s buried and nobody knows it exists, then how is a person going to access that program?”

Benefits and HR professionals have to take a step back and develop a process that heightens visibility of EAP programs on a year-round basis, he says. This will minimize any potential problems down the road, he adds.

Also see: Managers lack awareness, tools to deal with depression in the workplace

Employers and managers can better attune to their employees by just wandering around the office, or having lunch and checking in on their staff, Alicea says.

If workers are feeling disconnected, they’ll often sink further into it and stay alone, creating an even more isolated situation, says Alicea, also a licensed psychologist. “Then, they think this isn’t how it should be and it only feeds into their own depression.”

He also recommends opening an ear to fellow employees. “Employees know how others are doing. They’re often an untapped resource in the organization,” he says. “They know if someone if functioning outside the normal behavior, being irritable or withdrawn.

Alicea equates organizations to a big family – they can be either functional or dysfunctional. “Take a step back,” he advises, “get a temperature by reading your people. [Managers] need to be more aware during the holidays or they’ll just create more dysfunction.”  

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