How to make it a healthy holiday season

a group of friends sitting around an outdoor table covered in the late afternoon sun

If you feel like you’ve arrived at the festive season feeling a little bruised from a trying year, you’re not alone.

We may often feel like we’re running on empty in the race to the end-of-year finish line, and there’s no doubt this year our collective exhaustion is exacerbated by the extraordinary stresses we’ve faced throughout 2020.

“2020 has seen multiple unprecedented and sustained events, like the devasting bushfires, COVID-19, and the related economic and personal challenges,” said Mark Oostergo, General Manager of Communicorp, Australia’s leading workplace mental health organisation.

“These have understandably put people under significant pressure. This pressure has been compounded by the uncertainty and consistent change and understandably people appear to be emotionally, physically, and mentally drained.”

COVID-19 and burnout

A survey of over 1500 employees, by FlexJobs, reported 75% of workers experienced burnout at some point in their careers - 40% of those polled said their burnout was a direct result of COVID-19.

With 37% of respondents saying the pandemic has resulted in much longer working hours than usual.

For many of us, December is already frantic and filled with urgent demands to achieve and multiple (real or arbitrary) deadlines – often making it the busiest month of the year.

Add must-attend social events and it’s no surprise we quickly go from being tired to plain worn out.

As the FlexJobs study shows, our teams already feel pushed to the brink – so as leaders, how do we help our employees, our family and ourselves survive and thrive through December?

Be party positive

Work Christmas parties may be different this year, but they’re still a great way to recognise the efforts of your team. Make time to plan an event that celebrates and works for you and your colleagues.

Here’s some things to consider this year:

  • Outdoor events will be popular, especially due to venue capacity restrictions. Try pairing with activities such as a scavenger hunt or group dance lessons.
  • Provide plenty of healthy food – with a small selection of alcohol for those who want.
  • Holding a remote or online party? Arrange a local catering delivery to keep everyone included. A virtual MasterChef/Bake Off challenge is how many teams have successfully come together online.
  • Check in with team members who may be living alone, especially ahead of the Christmas public holiday.
  • Keep up to date with local COVID-19 rules on gatherings – your State/Territory health department website will have all the details on how to stay safe and compliant.
  • And don’t forget that moderation is key to avoid embarrassing, career-damaging or HR investigating mistakes from you or your team.

Support the home team

For many of us Christmas is a daunting time. Figures show at any single time, around 1 in 4 Australians are lonely, and 1 in 10 are lacking social support.

Add an overload of social media posts, pop culture entertainment and endless advertising featuring imagery of happy families enjoying Christmas together, and the festive season can have a harsh impact on those of living alone or facing stressful family situations.

In fact, the strain of the season reportedly affects 30% of Australian family relationships.

Now is the time to check in with team members who may be vulnerable to the pressures of the season.

And also check in with your own mental health and the wellbeing of your family.

  • 30% of families are affected by stress
  • 1 in 4 Australians are lonely
  • 1 in 10 Australians are lacking social support

Below are some useful tools to support good conversations and problem-solving:

  • Beyond Blue provides great advice here to those wondering ‘Am I normal?’ for feeling stressed at Christmas
  • HealthDirect offer help around stress and anxiety
  • Relationships Australia offer a range of information for those navigating heightened family or workplace tensions
  • Your Employee Assistance Program provider can provide tailored, individual counselling and resources

Think recharge not discharge

It seems 31 January is the most popular day to quit a job.

The down time and reflection that often comes after the New Year is perfect for us all to question our happiness in many aspects of life including work.

Which leads many unhappy employees to make a change.

Familiar reasons which usually surface and add fuel to the career change fire include:

  1. Poor relationships with managers
  2. No fulfilment or purpose in current role
  3. Need or desire for better work/life balance

As leaders, December is the time to shore up our teams and help them move into January with a positive and excited sense about coming back to work in the new year.

Or at the very least we can help reduce the post-holiday anxiety of the first day back.

Acknowledge our changes

70% of Australians experienced a change to their working circumstances this year, as a result of COVID-19.

Some of us welcomed positive changes. But for many, the impact brought negative if not downright devastating changes.

Safe Work Australia has shared guidance for workplaces hit by heightened demand – healthcare, retail, warehousing and logistics, education and public service.

Employees in these industries in particular may be experiencing stretched coping mechanisms and lack of stability or sense of balance – putting them at a very high risk of departure in January.

What did we learn?

This year we’ve shared information from multiple experts in several of our mental health businesses with the goal of helping you and your team stay ahead and stay safe and well.

For many, the challenges of 2020 have fuelled enormous learning – about what is (and isn’t) important to us, about who we want to be, and how resilient and flexible we can be when tested.

These lessons can be quickly forgotten if we don’t use them to guide meaningful and lasting change.

Take time yourself to reflect on your personal learnings, and how you plan to make changes in your own life as a result.

Ask what lasting changes to your approach, structure or team you will make to maximise success in 2021.

Reflect, Rest, Rejuvenate

Putting 2020 in the rear-view mirror is an enticing prospect – it’s been a tough year. But we all know our challenges won’t magically disappear as the clock ticks past midnight on the 1 January.

COVID-19 will still bring widespread restrictions and precautions for much of 2021 and the lessons of 2020 will be crucial for success.

Making a strong start to 2021 requires a team that is well-rested and resilient.

Studies show that exhausted and burnt-out teams experience higher turnover and lower productivity.

The World Economic Forum is strongly recommending employers make improvements in how they support people now, to drive productivity into 2021.

Now is the time to help your team walk into 2021 with realistic optimism by giving them the structure and support they need.

“With the end of the year fast approaching, we are working closely with our own team, and our clients, to chart a path through. We want to help people and organisations to be prepared to thrive in 2021,” Mark from Communicorp added.

Shape your team’s path to stronger year with Communicorp’s Reflect, Rest, Rejuvenate program to build purpose and positivity for the challenges of 2021.