2020 holidays are looking blue — here’s how to help stressed-out employees

The pandemic is going to have people celebrating this holiday season at a distance.

This isn’t going to be a normal holiday season. With the pandemic raging on, employees are bound to catch the holiday blues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people not to travel for the holidays, and to consider celebrating virtually to avoid spreading COVID-19 to loved ones. While following those guidelines will help keep people safe, being away from friends and family is unlikely to improve mental health. More than 80% of American employees have already experienced mental health issues due to the pandemic, according to a study by Lyra Health and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

Matt Verdecchia, a senior trainer for Health Advocate’s EAP program, says employers need to help lift their employees’ spirits if they want to continue having a productive workforce.

“People are mourning the lack of predictability, especially with the holidays,” Verdecchia says. “Employers have the resources to help maintain resilience and adaptability — they need to remind employees they won’t be dealing with this alone. You’ll have happier, more engaged employees when their needs are met.”

SEE ALSO: Lyra Health adds Calm app to ease COVID-19 mental health strain

Employers need the right benefits and management strategies to help employees make the most of this unconventional holiday season, Verdecchia says. Scroll through the list to see his tips for combatting workforce holiday stress:

Be flexible

“Employees have a lot to manage right now: taking care of children and their schooling, caregiving for elderly loved ones — and now, trying to figure out how they’re spending the holidays,” Verdecchia says. “The usual nine to five schedule might not work for them, so give them the flexibility to work outside that so they can take care of their work and personal responsibilities.”

Be empathetic, manage your expectations

“Work still needs to be done, but it’s important to remember that people are going to be feeling down because they can’t be with loved ones this year,” he says. “So naturally, productivity isn’t going to be at its best; take it easy on employees and don’t expect too much of them right now.”

Financial wellness programs

“So many people have lost their jobs or businesses because of the pandemic,” he says. “Financial wellness benefits are a great way to help employees and their families take stock of where they are and make plans for the future — which could mean taking it easy on holiday spending.”

Mental health programs

“There are people who believe the virus is fake, others believe the world is coming to an end — employees are either going to be dealing with those feelings themselves, or from family,” Verdecchia says. “Not everyone is going to support having virtual celebrations, and it’s going to take a mental toll on employees. Make sure they have access to programs that help with resiliency.”

Substance abuse programs

“Substance abuse and mental health are tied,” he says. “As people are dealing with feelings of isolation and loneliness, substance abuse is likely to increase. The holidays have always been a tough time for this, but this year it’s likely to be worse. Make sure employees know help is available so they can stay healthy.”

Benefits for the whole family

“People often forget that their loved ones qualify for their other benefits, besides health insurance,” Verdecchia says. “Whether it’s individualized, or through a digital benefits fair, be sure to communicate to your employees that you offer benefits that can help family members deal with holiday stress too.”