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Giving Grace during the Holidays: Managing with Mental Health in Mind

A bearded man sits in an arm chair next to a window, reading papers and looking at a Christmas tree in his room to the right.
Holidays can be isolating, stressful, and hard to handle for some people. Photo courtesy of WIX

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Or is it?

Almost as soon as Halloween was over, we started seeing Christmas creeping into the stores, malls, advertising on social media… It was everywhere, and with it came the holiday stress. This time of year is drenched in a feeling of intensity regardless of whether you even celebrate holidays in December. As a friend of mine put it, she felt as though December was two weeks long with two months of requirements. This can weigh heavy, especially with the added factor of not having very long moments of sunshine in the day (we need that vitamin D, people!).

Addressing the mental health of yourself and those around you (looking at you, managers) is essential to keeping stressors from affecting your employees. It doesn’t have to be big moves, either. Often just letting your coworkers know you’re open to conversations regarding stressful moments can work wonders on employee morale. As managers, you’re approaching employees from a position of power, and this can sometimes cause a dynamic that doesn’t encourage vulnerable conversation. By leading these conversations, even casually, with your coworkers, you’re opening the proverbial door and could be encouraging someone who is struggling to open up to you and therefore be open to receiving help.

When working from a position of leadership, you have the ability to affect positive change. With regards to mental health, you can achieve this by modelling healthy behaviours to members of your company. Having casual conversations about self care strategies, moments where you created boundaries to protect your mental health, ways you’re connecting with family and friends to boost emotional interaction can encourage those around you to do the same. Self care moments can be integrated into Zoom calls as well, if working in a hybrid model, which can look like creative or active breaks during work calls that encourage movement and mental stimulation. Plus it’s a great way to laugh and have fun!

Never underestimate the power of a short check-in with your employees. Demonstrating that you as management care about the team you’re working with can work wonders on team morale, build your relationship with your people, and help you learn more about them as humans rather than employees. Short check-ins during team meetings can help get a general feel on progress as a whole, how people are handling stressors within the scope of work, help you address problems as a cohesive unit. More in depth check-ins might be necessary, and these are much better to do in a personal interaction rather than as a group. If you notice performance changes with an employee, or that their bubbly personality has started to diminish a little, open that proverbial door to them again and create a space that allows for them to communicate the stress they may be feeling. In these situations, lead with compassion; opening a dialogue with your employees can lead to a much more productive conversation and an improvement in your interpersonal relationship.

Depending on your company policy and available resources, be sure to remind employees what they can take advantage of to reduce their stressors and interact positively with their mental health. This can look like creating a poster mentioning mental health resources and hanging it in the break room, or including a list of resources at the end of email blasts. By integrating these resources into tag lines at the end of emails, or seeing them daily, the conversation is also moving closer to normalization and can reduce the stigma some may feel when considering reaching out with mental health concerns.

Within your company’s scope, be willing to be flexible and include holiday leave for differing celebrations. Not everyone celebrates in the same way, and one employee’s ideal days off could be a week away from another employee’s. Considering the unique experiences and cultures within your company and designing a holiday season with that in mind helps each person to feel valued and appreciated within their humanity, emphasizing your devotion to a human-centric workplace. Embracing individuality and learning new cultural celebrations can unite teams in different ways than simply work-based, building new connections between team members!

Remember, even though you’re a leader, you’re a human too and deserve the same care you’re extending to your team. This vulnerability will invite conversations with your team and show them you’re more than just a manager! Dr. Ellen Choi put it very well in an article with The Mental Health Commission of Canada, when she said:

“When you feel you have no room to fail, when everyone’s counting on you, you may have limited access to ‘be human’. Without that buffer around our own psyche that allows for vulnerability, there is only a brittleness, and that’s unsustainable… Challenge defeating self-talk or self-doubt by relating to the parts of yourself that are overwhelmed by asking ‘am I doing the best I can?’ [or] ‘what do I need right now to give myself a break?’”

The holidays are meant to be a time of great joy, of connections, laughter, and pretty twinkly lights. Finding joy through human connection with your people at work can uplift spirits every day and help fight the stressors that so many feel strongly at this time of year.


Natasha Sukorokoff is the marketing specialist for C-Change Learning and Development. She is the newest member of the team and is passionate about the human experience, both physical and mental. She is eager to explore the intersection between management and mental health, and how creating human-centric workplaces can encourage a positive professional experience for all.


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