Tis' the Season...The Truth
about the Holidays!
Michael G. McCourt, CHS-III, CTR
As amazing as it may seem, the 2006 holiday season
is now upon us! With Thanksgiving behind us, we've now fully involved
in the crush of festivities and holiday shopping that traditionally
mark the beginning of the sprint to New Year's Eve. This is the
season of peace on earth and good will towards our fellow man, right?
The Hallmark version...
Historically, the holiday season conjures up images
of happy get-togethers, friends and family, food and spirits, gifts
and parties, and the warm feeling one gets from knowing that all
is well with the world. Everyone we encounter is expected to be
happy and "in the spirit!" But not everyone experiences the holidays
in that way. Talk to any psychiatrist, psychologist, EAP professional
or mental health provider specializing in family issues and they
will undoubtedly paint a less optimistic picture.
Holidays in 2006...
Aside from the pleasant feelings expressed above,
the holidays also have the uncanny ability of producing high levels
of stress, feelings of depression, and sometimes, misdirected anger.
Mental health professionals will tell you that this is one of their
busiest times of the calendar year. Let's be honest; most of us
attempt to do too much during this limited time frame. We have a
tendency to over schedule and indulge ourselves with food and drink,
and often times we spend too much on gifts, leaving a sense of exhaustion
and even resentment towards family, friends and coworkers. Those
without close family or loved ones feel the weight of spending the
holidays alone. Left unchecked, these negative feelings and stressors
can lay the groundwork for short tempers, organizational conflict,
and inappropriate behavior up to and including workplace violence
and suicide. As HR professionals, you are charged with protecting
the enterprise, which surely includes protecting your most important
resource...the human resource! What then can you do to assist employees
during this challenging season?
What you can do...
As guardians of the corporate culture, you are
uniquely positioned to provide a sense of support and inclusion
to those in need through educational programs, immediate intervention,
and psychological support in the form of Employee Assistance Programs.
It is incumbent upon you to provide guidance and counsel to your
managers and supervisors by helping them to recognize the signs
and symptoms of employees who may be in trouble.
We often expect managers and supervisors to know
how to effectively intervene and interact with a troubled employee
without providing them with the basic tools they need to identify
someone in distress. Behaviors such as isolationism, lack of humor,
lack of focus, negativity, excessive conflict with associates, trouble
sleeping, absenteeism, and in general, a bleak outlook on life can
all be signs of depression. These feelings and behaviors can easily
be exacerbated during the holiday season...sometimes, with deadly
consequences. While there may be valid reasons for displaying temporary
periods of questionable behavior, prolonged or intensifying displays
of behaviors similar to those described above can indicate a more
serious problem. Managers and supervisors should be taught to:
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of inappropriate
- Intervene as soon as possible, and/or as soon
- Document all interactions and recommendations
made to the employee.
- Suggest appropriate internal resources and
support programs, usually in the form of Human Resources and EAP
- Impose discipline and corrective actions, as
- Assist the employee in reintegrating into the
Remember...as a manager or supervisor you always
have the right, and in fact the obligation, to intervene around
behaviors that endanger the well being of coworkers or the overall
success of the organization. Your timely intervention might very
well result in getting the employee the help he or she needs to
survive, and even enjoy, a stressful holiday season!
The holiday season can also be a good time to
remind managers and supervisors about the appropriate use of EAP
and Work-Life Programs. These programs, offered as an employee benefit,
can vary widely...ranging from "800" telephone numbers resulting
in immediate referrals, to programs involving three to eight visit
models that include face-to-face counseling and support. Some organizations
support mandatory referrals, while others do not. It is important
that managers and supervisors understand the specific model and
intricacies of the program utilized at their organization.
In addition to extending the services listed
above, Human Resource professionals might also consider the following
- Remember that holidays often center around
families...consider being more flexible with schedules.
- If your organization celebrates with a holiday
party, remember diversity...it's important to honor and include
all of your employees.
- It's a good idea to limit or exclude alcohol
from company-sponsored holiday celebrations.
- Remember that this is not a joyous time for
everyone...monitor employees who may be struggling and be prepared
to extend a compassionate hand.
Following these simple steps can provide the basis
for a happy, healthy and most importantly, safe holiday season.
I invite you now to join me in bidding farewell to 2006...and welcoming
a bright and prosperous 2007! Happy Holidays!