As the days get shorter and the busy holiday season is fast approaching, business owners have a great opportunity to start a conversation about mental health with their employees.
Small Business BC connected with Elspeth Robertson, Registered Clinical Counsellor and Art Therapist at Intrinsic Therapy in Vancouver, to learn more about how the end of the year can affect employees’ mental wellness.
Elspeth provides therapeutic support to youth and adults with anxiety, chronic stress and burnout while helping them let go of perfectionism, inspire self-expansion and uncover their inner creativity through art and play.
In this Q&A article with Elspeth, she shows how small business owners can support their staff and achieve even more success as a team, even during a stressful season.
What is the state of people’s mental health after the switch to Daylight Savings Time and leading up to the holiday season?
I like to call the lead-up to the holidays “the sprint season.” Fall and winter holidays create expectations that we must always be doing something – to plan and prepare for holidays, to go to parties, to work extra hard before the end of the year so we can spend time celebrating. It is a mad dash to the New Year, and then once we crest that final peak into January, there is a natural slump and exhaustion.
Some people really thrive in a sprint season, finding the productivity rewarding. And some people dread this season, especially the never-ending “shoulds” that come with it:
- you should cook this specific meal
- you should give charitably
- you should thoughtfully pick out gifts
- you should have uncomplicated family dynamics
- you should never complain about this joyous season.
Living with constant shoulds contributes to chronic stress and anxiety.
I see many more people reaching out for therapy in the colder months. We have all of these expectations and less support/access to coping strategies, especially if coping strategies involve spending time outside. The dark and rainy season absolutely impacts motivation, and there is a natural inclination for wintering, burrowing, and hibernating – yet, our society demands that we remain productive throughout this time. If this high productivity is not mediated with rest, our nervous system operates on a constant level of high alert, contributing to burnout symptoms.
So whether you are the person that is able to “do it all”, thriving in this productivity, or the person who begrudges this season, or anyone in-between, mental health is impacted by this season.
As businesses face their peak season, what are key staff mental health considerations for owners?
Your staff are your assets. They need to be healthy to create a healthy business.
If your business is experiencing a busy time of year, lay out clear expectations for your staff. Have a meeting to go over upcoming projects and prioritize projects that need to be completed first. Ask your employees for input on how to collaborate to make it work. Ask your employees about their capacity to take on more work than usual and any challenges they anticipate. Maybe hire casual holiday staff to allow for an easier workflow.
And if you have staff work above and beyond the hours of their employment contract, pay them generously for their time. Do not take them for granted.
Remember, you cannot tell someone’s mental health just by looking at them. Humans are adept at hiding their struggles. Creating an office culture where employees feel heard and understood at all times of the year makes it more likely that an employee will seek support from you when they face extreme stress or SAD symptoms.
How can you encourage mental health conversations in the workplace?
A big component of therapy is modelling; a therapist models open communication, empathy, and acceptance to their clients to allow for clients to shift towards a more self-compassionate narrative. Self-disclosure is an aspect of modelling that disrupts the power dynamic and allows for an understanding of common humanity.
I will often reflect to clients when their stories resonate with me or impact me. I might tell them about times in my life when I have experienced similar situations. This is done to remind clients that I am simply a human, and I do not have all of the answers, but I can still sit with what they are going through.
I think that this translates to office culture as well. Remember that open communication goes both ways. You cannot expect an employee to open up about their experiences if you are closed off and unwilling to recognize your own mental health struggles.
This does not mean that you are constantly speaking about your own issues in a way that creates an uncomfortable work environment. It means that you are open, by stating simple facts like “I experience anxiety during this time of the year as well.” Your employees are not work robots, and neither are you. Bring your humanity to work with you.
How can you support employee’s mental health?
Recognition. Small moments of recognition. Recognize their work and recognize their humanity. Lack of recognition is a major contributor to burnout. People need to feel valued.
This includes recognizing capacity and encouraging employees to work within their capacity. If you give your employees extended health benefits, encourage them to use their benefits. Remind them that these are a part of their total compensation and that you don’t want their commitment to their job to contribute to any health issues. Remind them that you value them and their time outside of their role as an employee.
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