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How SMEs can look after staff wellbeing during the festive season

As the festive season approaches, it is tempting for many small businesses to see this as an opportunity to make up for lost time and lost revenues following the pandemic and not take time off. However, this added pressure and stress may lead to wellbeing issues for employees, particular those for whom lockdowns, closures and restrictions have had a significant impact on their mental health.

RedArc, the nurse-led wellbeing service, is reminding SMEs to look out for signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety and mental health concerns among their staff and to take steps to support employees this Christmas.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says: “The effects of the pandemic will stay with us for a long time to come, and sadly for some, life will never be the same. If we add in additional work pressures as small businesses try to make up lost ground, and the financial and emotional strain of Christmas on home life, it’s understandable why some employees could feel overwhelmed at this time of year.

“Small business owners can often do more than they think to help stressed-out staff, but under pressure themselves, they may not always take stock of how their employees are feeling.”

Tips to help manage employee wellbeing at Christmas:

  1. RedArc’s first word of warning is that SME owners and managers should avoid viewing things through their own lens and appreciate that people are impacted differently and cope in their own way.
  2. Take time to talk to employees and listen to their concerns. Simply being heard and understood is enough to make some employees feel better about a situation.
  3. A well as dealing with specific workplace issues or situations, always take time to ask how things are with employees outside of work. It could be that home life, relationships, family or other out-of-work issues are affecting them which would not be covered off if the conversation is focussed solely on the working environment.
  4. Encouraging a flexible and understanding workplace through the company is key: a sympathetic boss’s efforts are wasted if an employee’s day-to-day line manager doesn’t take the same approach.

Husbands added: “A large new order or a big client win is great from a profitability point of view but may be the straw that will break the camel’s back for a team already working at capacity. Be mindful of this before speaking to staff.”

RedArc also warns employers to look out for signs that an employee may be struggling, even if they do not raise any issues when asked. Unusual behaviour can take many forms such as being slow to respond, having poor timekeeping, lacking motivation, or being unusually short-tempered or withdrawn. Employees could also have physical symptoms such as sweating or shaking, extreme fatigue due to lack of sleep, and there may be evidence of misuse of alcohol or drugs.

Husbands said: “Small businesses usually know their team exceptionally well and so should be fairly quick to identify changes in their staff. If behavioural changes are identified, the employer should approach that individual and sensitively explain what they’ve noticed. Employers may have to ask how the member of staff is several times before they get a genuine response, as most people will initially say they are fine.”

RedArc suggests that it is important to have these conversations with the employee at a location and time to suit the individual. Asking them to attend a meeting in a much-needed lunch break or during a busy shift could only serve to exacerbate the problem. It’s also important not to make assumptions or pre-judge a situation either in terms of the problem or the solution. The employer needs to be mindful of thinking they know best or taking responsibility for the issue unless it is something in their capacity to control. Asking the employee what help they think they need is often best as it makes them feel valued and encourages them to take some responsibility too.

Employers should familiarise themselves with their employee benefits programme in order to steer their staff towards any expert help available. There are also excellent charities for circumstances when an employer has serious or immediate concerns about a member of staff, such as Mind and the Samaritans, as well as lesser-known ones such as For Men to Talk or WISH for women’s mental health.

Husbands concluded: “It’s often difficult for owners to prioritise or justify their own self-care, but this is key to maintaining wellbeing, and being in a good place to deal with the many challenges of running a small business. No one needs to justify seeking wellbeing and mental health support for themselves but if they need additional motivation, small business owners could reframe it as being important for their business, their employees and their family too.

“Christmas in the workplace is often lots of fun, and many staff thrive under the additional pressures of the festive season. However, this year more than ever, employers need to keep an eye on those members of staff who aren’t quite their usual selves.”