November 18, 2020

Why employees need support from their companies this holiday season

By Nika Kabiri, JD PhD


The COVID pandemic has ruined a lot of things in 2020, and it’s not done yet. An ongoing pandemic – one that’s expected to run alongside the traditional cold and flu season – seems likely to short-circuit holiday plans for many American families.

Many of us don’t feel safe flying, so we can’t be with distant relatives this year. Many of us don’t feel comfortable strolling the mall or local retailers for gift shopping or hosting dinner parties for our friends. Add in the fact many households are on tighter budgets this year, and the 2020 holidays are on pace to be even more stressful than a normal holiday season.

A lot of people are encountering aspects of this already, and it’s more than anecdotal. According to research recently conducted by Accolade and Kabiri Consulting, stress levels are particularly high this year across America. And this heightened stress can have an impact on how employees perform at work.

Here’s what’s going on with many Americans right now, and how your company can support the mental health of employees during what is likely to be a stressful end of the year.

Employee stress outside of work is particularly high this holiday season

The holiday season has always been a stressful time of year for many families, but until now, that stress has been expected and predictable, and we’ve all been able to adapt and plan around it. We’ve rolled with the punches, made it through the holidays, and often even enjoyed ourselves doing it.

But this year, thanks largely to COVID, holiday stress has leveled up. According to our research, half of American adults (48%) say that they’re more stressed about the holiday season this year than they were this time last year, and half (51%) say that COVID will have a negative impact on how they experience it. 52% of Americans say they will cancel or significantly alter their plans this year because of COVID.

Among those who are employed, one in every three (34%) say they’re worried about working over the holiday season. And this isn’t specific to essential workers: while 32% of essential workers say they’re worried about working over the holiday season this year, that’s barely more than the 31% of Americans who are able to work from home that say they expect to be working through the holidays.

Employee stress outside of work impacts performance at work

Aside from having a negative impact on health, stress has a negative impact on the way people make decisions, including how they make decisions at work. These decisions can cost their organizations time, money, and energy.

For instance, stress can lead to black-and-white thinking or the inability to clearly see all available options. Stressed-out people are also more enticed by all the benefits of their options and less focused on the drawbacks. This leads them to make more risky decisions. Research has also shown that stress impacts our ability to effectively absorb new information , and that while people are under stress, it’s harder for them to recall knowledge they already have.

If employees are under stress outside of work, which is more likely this holiday season, they’re at risk for making worse decisions when they’re at work. And given that there can be significant costs from even with the smallest of decisions, it makes sense for companies to ensure their teams are managing stress well.

Your employees need your support

Employers are in a unique position to offer much-needed support to employees over the holidays, and in fact, many employers are already doing this. According to our research, one in three employed Americans (32%) – and 31% of essential workers – say their employers offer programs to reduce stress and anxiety over the holiday season.

Some Holiday support programs can be implemented with little planning or cost. Offering wellness breaks during the day is a quick way to relieve the stress, as is providing extra leniency to employees who get sick over the holidays.

Other solutions have benefits beyond the holiday season. Offering guidance on personal budgeting can help employees improve their financial wellness over the long term, reducing stress that can show up at work well into the new year. Businesses can also offer employees training sessions on how to effectively prioritize their many work obligations, manage conflict, or improve their time management – all of which have long-lasting benefits. Services that help connect employees with mental health professionals for virtual coaching or counseling sessions can also provide benefits during the holidays or any other time of year.

Whatever your company chooses to do, it can’t lose by doing something. Helping employees manage their stress levels is the best way to ensure that good decisions are made, leading to more efficiency, time saved, and improved performance.