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Resource Center / Mental Health

The Manager's Guide to Leading Through Seasonal Stressors

The winter season can be particularly stressful for managers and employees alike. Discover how managers can support employees and take care of themselves.

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Dec 01, 20207 minutes

Winter can be a stressful time of year for many people, even under the best of circumstances. In light of COVID-19, quarantines, social distancing, uncertain economic times, and societal division, it’s hard to describe 2020 as “the best of circumstances.”

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For people managers, balancing the needs of your employees with your own needs can be especially tough. Read on to discover what managers need to know to provide team members with the support they need this time of year, and a reminder on just how important it is to care for themselves as well.

Helping Employees Cope With Wintertime Stress

Managers need to be aware of the stressors that impact employees during the winter months (as well as throughout the rest of the year). It’s important for managers to recognize when employees are struggling and to continually show empathy towards team members, whatever challenges they may be facing.

Dealing With Holiday Stress

The holiday season impacts people in different ways. Some people love Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and other wintertime holidays. But the holidays aren’t a happy time for everyone. For many people, this may be their first holiday season without a loved one. Others may be dealing with family rifts brought about by political divisiveness. For many, holidays can lead to stress, overwhelm, sadness, and depression — try some of these ideas to help minimize the impact:

  • Ensure that any workplace or work-related holiday parties or activities are truly inclusive and that people don’t feel pressured into participating.

  • Let employees know that you’re there for them, and are willing to listen to any concerns they’d like to share.

  • Ask employees if a companywide employee resource group (ERG) would be helpful for people who find holidays to be difficult or stressful, or who may be coping with a recent loss.

  • If your company is one that must be staffed on holidays, try implementing a floating holiday system or a procedure that makes it easy for employees to trade work days with people who observe different holidays than they do.

Let employees know that you’re there for them, and are willing to listen to any concerns they’d like to share.

Suffering With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression linked to changing seasons. This condition is most prevalent during the winter, likely due to the fact that days are shorter and nights are longer this time of year. SAD affects millions of Americans. It seems to be most prevalent in the northern parts of the country where conditions are the most extreme. To help support the mental health of your employees during this time, try implementing some of these suggestions:

  • Include light boxes designed to help mitigate the impact of SAD for in-office workspaces.

  • Provide remote employees with light boxes or light visors, which serve the same purpose.

  • Place light boxes in employee break areas or other common areas during the winter season.

  • Let employees use flextime to help adapt to the new season in a way that works for them.

  • Schedule work-related outings during daylight hours to provide employees with opportunities to be outdoors during times that are not dark.

  • Set up a page on the company intranet with SAD resources and tips so that employees have quick and easy access to helpful information.

  • Outfit a well-lit conference room with basic gym equipment that employees can use to exercise during their lunch break, or before or after work.

  • Offer virtual training focused on best practices and tips for coping with SAD or related concerns, including general wintertime blues.

Coping With Winter Illnesses

Winter has long been the time of year that influenza cases are the most prevalent, along with other ailments like colds and respiratory infections. In 2020, it seems that an increase in COVID-19 cases will also be a defining characteristic of the healthcare landscape this time of year. Consider supporting the health of your employees during this time by taking some of these actions:

  • Clearly outline the procedures for taking time off due to illness and post them on the intranet. This will make it easier for employees to find and understand expectations when they need to take time off due to a seasonal illness or the pandemic.

  • Publish wellness and infection control tips on the intranet, focused on common wintertime ailments and special considerations specific to COVID-19.

  • Provide hand sanitizer, disinfectant, tissues, and face masks in the workplace.

  • Continue to emphasize the importance of social distancing for infection control.

Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression linked to changing seasons.

Supporting Managers for Success

Just as employees are facing more stressors than usual this winter, so are managers. The winter season of 2020 is just as unprecedented for managers as it is for employees, so supervisors and other leaders might also need a bit of extra support along the way.

Manager Support Structure

Consider establishing a support group just for managers, to function as a safe space where managers can seek advice and assistance from their peers. Establishing this type of informal approach for managers to share best practices, tips, and advice can provide individual managers with the support and outlet that they need while also strengthening the overall management team.

FAQ Guide for Managers

Set up a guide of frequently asked questions on your intranet that’s accessible only by managers and executives. This should be a frequently updated question-and-answer document where managers can pose questions to their peers and company executives at any time, with answers and information provided on an ongoing basis.

Relevant Management Training

Managers can benefit greatly from training that aims to help build their competence and the skills they’ll need to be able to support employees through the unique stresses specific to this winter. As one example, emotional intelligence training can improve skills related to empathy — which is a critical managerial skill.

  • If you manage other managers, consider what skills managers need now more than they ever have before, and offer the relevant training.

  • If you‘re an individual manager, consider what skills you need to develop in order to best support your employees and seek that related training for yourself.

Managers should know and follow best practices for discussing mental health matters with employees, but there are limits to what they can be expected to do.

Provide Resources for Referrals

At times, the challenges employees are facing will be beyond the scope of what a manager can or should handle. Managers should know and follow best practices for discussing mental health matters with employees, but there are limits to what they can be expected to do. This is why it’s important to include mental health benefits in your company’s benefits offerings. An employee assistance program (EAP) provides employees with no-cost access to mental health professionals while also providing managers with a constructive resource to suggest to employees who need support beyond what they are able to offer.

Self-Care Support

Managers often have a tendency to put employees’ needs above their own. The reality is that you also need to focus on making sure your needs are met as well. It’s important to recognize that employees are not the only ones who might need help. Even the boss may need help coping with the unique challenges of the season. Be proactive in seeking any support you might need, reaching out to a trusted advisor, mentor, counselor, or the company’s EAP provider. Remember — you can’t take care of other people if you don’t take care of yourself!

Meeting Employee Needs

Being a good leader requires engaging in dialogue with employees and focusing on continuing to build positive, productive relationships with the team members who report to you. By regularly communicating with employees, you’ll develop a strong sense of what their needs are during the holiday season. Focus on empathizing with the challenges each individual is facing and adapt as needed to help employees thrive, even during a season characterized by unique stressors.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.