General News — 04 December 2013
The silly season and mental health – top tips to keep staff safe and happy

It’s not surprising that Australians call it the silly season. After all, November and December are the most dangerous months for workers.

As reported recently by SmartCompany, VicSafe has launched a campaign urging employees to be vigilant in the lead-up to Christmas. With workers stressed about competing demands, psychologists are saying now is a good time to start a conversation about good mental health in the workplace.

Nicola Reavley is a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health. In her view, employers should learn about the risks and protective factors relating to mental health and then apply that knowledge to the Christmas period.

“If someone could leave early one day to go buy Christmas presents for their kids and make up the time later, that would alleviate a lot of stress,” she says. “There are also school holidays and for people with kids, juggling that is stressful. So perhaps they could be given some more flexibility.”bigstock_Thumb_Up_1037090

Reavley is a big believer in the responsibility for good mental health in the workplace being a joint responsibility.

“People need to be aware of their own mental health,” she says. “Get plenty of sleep, do a bit more exercise and relax. For others it might be professional help if they need it. And if you notice a colleague is having a problem, speak up.”

Reavley says good social support is also beneficial. Before people go on leave is a great time to check in and see how they are going. It is also a good opportunity to thank them for their hard work throughout the year.

“Christmas is a good opportunity for giving someone a present or taking them out to lunch. It doesn’t need to be financial – even a verbal acknowledgement will make it clear you appreciate what people do.”

Leanne Faraday-Brash, an organisational psychologist, agrees.

“Make sure your staff know you are supporting them,” she says. “Let them know you are happy they’re taking a break for their effort throughout the year.”

There are also plenty of things employees can do to look after their mental health. Given that Faraday-Brash owns her own consulting business, she knows firsthand how difficult it is to take a break even once you are actually on holiday.

“When you’re working; really work. And when you’re not working; really relax. The last thing you want is for your family and friends to feel as though they only have 50% of you.”

For some people, working over the summer break might be inevitable. Faraday-Brash says the fair thing to do is negotiate with loved ones, even if they are little children. It’s also important not to spend the last week or so of the holidays worrying about returning to work.

“It’s important to be disciplined and live in the present. Defer any catastrophic thinking about what’s waiting for you when you get back because you’re just going to ruin the end of your holiday. Make the most of that holiday and understand and appreciate that other people need a break too.”

These are Faraday-Brash’s top tips on how business owners can manage workplace stress in the lead-up to Christmas:

  1. Prioritise with your staff what is really important before everyone goes on leave. Don’t get the trivial tasks out of the way first. Instead, focus on what is urgent and important. However, still be realistic.
  2. Make sure you show support and appreciation to your staff. This way they are more likely to do their best right up until the holidays. But also don’t guilt them into feeling as though they have to work harder in order to earn the right to go on leave.
  3. Go around and wish your staff a fantastic holiday. Let them know you’re happy they get to take a break for all their efforts throughout the year.
  4. Catch up with your staff a few days before everyone goes on leave to clarify what work is outstanding and if there are any circumstances in which they would want to be contacted while they are away. If they don’t want to be contacted, they should be allowed to have ownership over their choice not to be.

This article first appeared on Smart Company on 29, November 2013.

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