Christmas is coming, and around our offices Christmas parties are being held, teams are bringing in secret Santas and I’ve also noticed tinsel and even fairy lights decorating some people’s desks. These visible signs of the season of good cheer exemplify what, for many, is a very happy holiday and a chance to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the end of the year.
The associations of Christmas (in a broad, secular sense) of kindness, love and charity are inarguably good things, and celebrating them seems absolutely right. However for the one in six people in the workplace who at any given time are struggling with some kind of mental health problem, this might be a real challenge.
Mental health is, more often than not, an invisible problem, which we tend not to see, even in ourselves (and I speak from experience) often until it is at crisis point. At Christmas this will likely be truer than at other times of the year. We might hear loud laughter and see bright lights and garish colours, but some of our colleagues may not be laughing or celebrating – at least not on the inside.
At KPMG we respect the individual and strive to make every colleague feel not only that they can bring ‘their whole selves to work’, but that they belong. At this time of year colleagues, and especially managers, have a duty to show that Christmas kindness to those around them who may be experiencing a mental health problem.
Take time to check-in
As the Christmas period approaches, managers can take extra care to be sensitive to the individuals in their teams and notice if anyone is perhaps quieter or more withdrawn than usual. Take time to check in with your team members (or with your colleagues) and ask if you can offer any support. Extending this offer of support openly and showing that you care makes a real difference.
If you know or suspect that one of your team may be experiencing (or may have) a mental health problem, have an informal, open conversation with them. Listen and ask open questions. Offer to find out what help is available – if they would like that. Schedule a follow up conversation and keep talking about it – be kind, considerate and open about this.
At KPMG we have a Wellbeing intranet page with information for managers and employees specifically on the subject of mental health. Managers do not need to be experts about mental health (just as they do not need to be experts about physical health) but they should be supportive, considerate and respectful. Managers are role models for their team, so caring for colleagues in this way demonstrates that kindness is important.
It may be the case that some of our colleagues choose not to participate in social gatherings such as the office Christmas party. Crowded, loud, boozy functions are not the ideal activity for anyone feeling anxious or stressed. Managers can make it clear that there is no need for unhelpful social comparisons about what Christmas ‘has to be’ about and reinforce the respect for the individual.
During the run up to Christmas there will inevitably be some days where all colleagues are out of the office at the same time. Managers can support their teams to prioritise the activities which need to be tackled before the break, and to set aside others for the New Year. Just the offer of this support tells colleagues, “You are not alone. I want to help,” and is a help in itself – again, an act of kindness.
In addition to the extra chocolate and cake in the office comes the temptation to forget to take care of ourselves in our efforts to get everything done at work, socialise and complete Christmas shopping etc. Encouraging your colleagues to continue healthy habits by organising, for example, brisk lunch time walks or ice skating set a positive example that self-care must not be de-prioritised during busy periods, because it supports productivity in all of us.
I often notice colleagues trying to store up holiday to carry over to the next year. We sometimes forget that the reason that we have holiday is so that we can rest and restore ourselves to continue to be as healthy and well as we can at work. Even for those who do not enjoy Christmas there is an opportunity to replenish energy reserves depleted during the autumn months.
During the Christmas season itself, managers can ask colleagues to switch off their technology! We are all (myself included) almost fully contactable 24/7 and able to check our email at anytime from anywhere, but this does not mean that we should be doing this, or that we are expected to. Managers can remind their teams of this and set the expectation that the Out of Office reply should mean it, and that you will respond to emails when you return, rather than before the first cracker is pulled on Christmas day.
Our role as colleagues or managers cannot be to make everyone have a merry or happy Christmas, but by working with our colleagues, offering support and help, and overall being kind and considerate to each other, we can create a mentally healthier work place for us all.