Supporting wellbeing and mental health in the workplace, particularly during the festive season

Posted on: 14th Nov 2019 by: Dêmos HR Solutions

The Government's Department of Health advises that one in four of us will experience a mental health illness at some point in our lives, and the latest large-scale survey in England suggests that one in six people experience the symptoms of a mental health problem in any given week. It is therefore important that employers and managers take steps to promote positive mental health, recognise the warning signs, and support anyone experiencing symptoms.

The estimated cost of mental health related illnesses to UK employers is £33-£42 billion each year. The impact such issues can have on an employee and their work include:

  • Being more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • Finding it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • Difficulty in concentration therefore taking longer to complete tasks
  • Potentially less patient with clients resulting in customer service issues for the company.

Whilst supporting staff when it comes to wellbeing and mental health should be an all-year-round initiative, employers should pay particular attention during festive season, now approaching, which can add to stress with the increased pressure to socialise, temptation to overindulge and added financial strains.

Value mental wellbeing as a core asset of your organisation

Employers should commit to developing an approach that protects and improves mental health for everyone. It should run through the whole organisation and not just be an afterthought. Designate board champions and ensure senior leaders and managers are responsible for implementing mental health programmes.

Appointing a Mental Health First Aider as part of your policy can help create these cultural changes around mental health. Having people in your organisation that have a deep understanding of what mental health is, the practical skills to spot the signs, and the ability to have non-judgmental conversations to guide people to the right support will raise awareness and assure employees that mental health problems are something they can share and not have to hide.

Create a culture of openness and shared responsibility

Mental health problems traditionally tend to be disclosed during long-term absences that are initially attributed to physical health conditions. It can feel taboo to discuss mental challenges and managers are often not equipped with the tools to identify and address potential mental health issues. This can be overcome by:

  • Creating a culture which increasing acceptance of mental health as a discussion topic
  • Increasing manager’s confidence to deal with mental health issues
  • Aiding the disclosure of mental health conditions at work
  • Improving understanding of the interaction between work-related and home related causes

Engaging the whole organisation with a range of complementary initiatives over time will ensure that everybody comes to understand that promoting positive mental health is a long-term organisational commitment.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

During the winter months, people can often feel down and less able to cope. Not only does our physical health take a hit due to low immune systems, but depression and mental health related issues such as SAD tend to be more common. Sufferers of SAD often find they experience negative changes in mood, they pull away from social activities and have low energy levels.

Raising awareness of the symptoms of SAD in the workplace is the first step to helping employees manage it. Other ways to alleviate the symptoms could be as simple as allowing employees to take short walks during the day. Is it possible to hold walking meetings instead of sitting in a meeting room? Can work patterns be altered to allow affected employees to leave work in daylight? Providing healthy options for employees and access to treatment when needed is key to reducing the impact of SAD and perhaps avoiding substantial periods of absence in severe cases.

Workplace events and alcohol

Having a busy calendar, particularly over the festive months, can mean less personal time for employees. Lack of sleep can affect a person’s mental health, so ensure employees do not feel obliged to overstretch themselves and attend every company, supplier and client event. Spread the load amongst a team and give people the option to opt out of attending parties or events without scrutiny.

Social events also often mean free flowing access to alcohol. Many workplace cultures encourage drinking, whether through informal socialising or workplace events where drinking is considered the norm. However, lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion each year so it is important to manage it.

Ensure your organisation has a workplace alcohol policy setting out how the company expects employees to behave to ensure their alcohol consumption does not have a detrimental effect on their work. It should also detail confidentiality and the support available.

A recent article by Laura Willoughby, a leading voice in the Mindful Drinking Movement, offers helpful tips on dealing with pressure on going ‘alcohol free’ when socialising which may be useful to share with employees this party season.


There are many ways for employers to understand and promote positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. At Dêmos HR Solutions we’re here to help. Contact Debbie on 07974 695 365 or email debbie@demoshr.co.uk if you need assistance in reviewing or implementing policies, particularly in the lead up to Christmas parties.

Tags: Employee wellbeing, mental health, staff christmas party etiquette, alcohol, support, policy,