small group of employees meetingOne of the simplest ways to ease year-end stress is to maintainworkplace routine as much as possible.(Photo:Shutterstock)

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The holiday season is filled with spending time with loved ones,delicious food and celebrations. However, the pressure to find awork-life balance, coupled with year-enddeadlines, can also make this one of the most stressful times ofyear for many people. One in five U.S. adults experience mentalillness each year, and another 64 percent of people with mentalillness report the holidays exacerbate their condition, accordingto the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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It's important to remember that many employees will be copingwith additional obstacles during this busy time. Luckily, there areseveral steps employers can take to serve as a mental healthresource and keep employees happy and productive as we make itthrough the year's final stretch.

Set realistic business expectations and encourageself-care

Holiday preparations, business deadlines, and last-minuterequests create the perfect storm for employees to feel overwhelmedand stressed toward the end of the year. However, employers canhelp make responsibilities manageable by setting realisticexpectations for employees and offering their support whenpossible.

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Related: Holiday cheer: 'tis the season to focus on employeewell-being

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One of the simplest ways to ease year-end stress is to maintainworkplace routine as much as possible. Because employees haveplenty of personal responsibilities this time of year, be mindfulof what can realistically be accomplished in the final few weeksand avoid adding unnecessary tasks. For instance, the end of theyear is not the time to begin implementing initiatives that are notimperative to meeting yearly goals. Encourage employees to startsmall and focus on a few tasks a day, rather than tackling a longlist of assignments all at once.

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Employees should also be encouraged to continue their normalself-care activities, such as getting enough sleep and exercising.To help with this effort, maintain a healthy office to keepemployees at the top of their game. Although it's tempting to givein to holiday indulgences, healthy snacks, stretch breaks, or walksduring the day can have a marked effect on morale and reducestress.

Create a stigma-free workplace

Too often, we forget the power of language. In order to create astigma-free environment, employers would do well to pay attentionto the words they use to describe stress and responsibilities.Phrases like, "this is a crazy time of year" or "I'm losing mymind" are invalidating to employees who may have a diagnosed mentalhealth condition and reinforce the stigma that conversations aboutmental health are discouraged.

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Instead, companies and managers should create opportunities fordialogue among employees about mental health and model a positiveculture. For instance, encouraging senior leaders to share theirown struggles and strategies for managing stress can have aripple-effect on the entire workforce. These leaders often have aplatform and the respect of their teams, and their honesty may bethe push struggling employees need to open up and seek help.

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Senior leaders should also be trained to "Know theFive Signs" of emotional suffering and be equipped to step inwhen needed. To that end, workplace mental health training programscan be invaluable. For example, the Mental Health First Aid program trains employees torecognize and respond to a mental health problem or crisis. Leadersshould be on the lookout for indicators of when offering support isimportant, such as changes in personality (behaving erratically,withdrawn, short-tempered, seeming emotionally distant, agitated,or nervous) or neglecting self-care.

Highlight available resources

If employees do need support, leaders and teammates should feelempowered to direct them to available resources. In addition totraditional, in-person counseling, there are many digital resourcesavailable to maintain resiliency and address mental healthconcerns. For instance, services like AbleTo offercustomizable online counseling with a live therapist for one-on-onesupport. Similarly, employees who are interested in daily supportwith mindfulness may like the Calm or Headspace apps, which provide guidedmeditations and other resources to help manage stress andanxiety.

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Occasionally, there may be situations where companies willrequire longer-term assistance for at-risk employees. In thesecases, companies should consider turning to resources designed tomaintain a safe and healthy work environment, such as Aetna'sOrganizational Risk Management Center (ORMC). This group worksdirectly with HR functions and managers to help employees in needby connecting them with appropriate resources such as counselors,telephonic support, and trauma and coping resources.

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Lastly, because maintaining mental health is a year-roundeffort, it's important to continue promoting resources and engagingwith employees regularly about mental health. Opportunities forteam dialogues about mental health can be scheduled monthly orquarterly to assess employee morale and address any company issueswhich may be causing unnecessary stress. If employees realize thattheir company values their individual happiness and success, theywill feel more supported and encouraged to open up about mentalhealth concerns with their colleagues.

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Although the holiday season is a time to celebrate with familyand friends, it can also be one of the most stressful times of theyear. However, by setting realistic expectations for employees,encouraging a dialogue about mental health, and promoting availableresources, employers can support their employees' mental well-beingand set them up for success in the new year.

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Cara McNulty, DPA is president of Aetna Behavioral Health.


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