Caring for employees amidst a Covid Christmas

This Christmas is going to be quite unlike any other we have known. Although the restrictions are lifting a little over the festive period, it is still going to be a tough time for many, and employers will have a crucial role to play in supporting their staff.

Employees may already be feeling isolated if they are working from home or under socially distanced conditions. Some will have been working at home for many months. Others will have been in the workplace but with more stressful commutes, more difficult working conditions, or simply the worry of the unknown. Normally, this is the time when companies come together and have Christmas parties or meals. Obviously, these will not be happening this year and employers must be mindful that this is another missed opportunity to engage with staff and to communicate regarding any issues or concerns.

Combined with the usual stresses of the Christmas season, this could be a very testing time.

The many issues
It is common for there to be a spike in divorce proceedings immediately after the festive period. Indeed, the first Monday in January has even been labelled ‘Divorce Day’ and relationship charity, Relate, cites early January as its peak period for calls. Domestic tension and financial strain are often cited as some of the reasons behind such relationship issues, and this year the Covid crisis could magnify these factors. Looking for a release, rates of gambling and addiction can also increase around Christmas, adding to financial, relationship, and mental health issues. Employees are likely, therefore, to need additional support around this potentially difficult time.

Health and wellbeing support
The good news is that employers are in a position to be able to help. Health and wellbeing have been rocketing up the corporate agenda as a result of the pandemic. The availability and extent of support for employees has been enhanced by many providers, who offer fast-track access to counselling, and 24-hour helplines, better access to virtual GPs, and specialist help for addiction, gambling and debt.

Employee assistance programmes
We urge employers to make the most of employee assistance programmes (EAPs). Indeed, this year has seen a significant increase in the utilisation of such support, which is very positive. EAPs can provide support and counselling on many issues both work-related and personal. Advisers will help to put a framework in place around the problem so the employee feels able to cope and can plan out their steps in resolving the issue. Contacts are also available for further help and expert guidance. All calls are completely confidential, and lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on Christmas day. 

Small but significant gestures
With office parties not happening this year, employers may wish to consider alternative options. Our experience shows that employees really appreciate their own views being sought on such things, so employers may ask their staff what they would like the money to be spent on instead. This may be a charitable donation, or perhaps a small bonus, online shopping vouchers, or an experience day for when things return to normal.

Another option is to offer a health and wellbeing benefit in lieu of the Christmas party. This might be a personal training session, gym discount, remote health assessment, or a fitness tracker. These seemingly small gestures can be of great benefit to an employee’s health and wellbeing, which will in turn aid the business through healthy and happy staff. 

Communication and connection
Engaging with staff will be particularly important this year, especially with those working from home. While many may not be keen on more video conferencing, getting small teams together for sociable online chats is a good option. Picking up the phone can be a very positive move that is often overlooked. Just taking time to talk to staff gives the opportunity for any issues to be raised and for the manager or employer to offer support.

Employers should consider the different religions and cultures within the company. Not everyone will celebrate Christmas, but all will appreciate an extra show of support and gratitude in hard times. This time of year is a good opportunity to thank staff for their work over the last 12 months. 

Forward thinking
Spreading some positivity is hugely important right now. With vaccines now being rolled out it is hoped that 2021 will be a massive turning point. Employees will still need support, but the new year should bring new horizons and a much-needed morale boost.

Brett Hill, Distribution Director – Towergate Health & Protection

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