As an HR employee, you may not have the corner office, but yours is probably the one that your coworkers come to when they have a problem, whether it’s work-related or not.
During the holiday season, your office may become even busier as coworkers seek out a sympathetic ear. The holidays can be difficult for people—family relationships can be complicated and your coworkers may be feeling a lot of pressure. Financial demands also mount during this time. And people often feel especially lonely this time of year, even as they go from party to party. Others might be affected by seasonal depression.
Here are some tips for helping coworkers manage emotional challenges like these.
- Know the signs and symptoms of depression. Is it just the holiday blues, or is it something more? Be alert to the warning signs of depression so you can provide the resources for your coworker to get help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of major depression include, but aren’t limited to: a sense of despair or hopelessness; difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much; loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure; sudden weight gain or loss; moving or talking much more slowly than usual; and difficulty concentrating.
- Refer, refer, refer. Know what mental health resources are available through your company’s benefits plan and in your community. You could even make up cards printed with these phone numbers to hand out to coworkers who need them. If a coworker is showing symptoms of depression, encouraging them to get help is important—and making it as easy as possible to access that care is one of the kindest things you can do.
- Be a good listener. Allowing your coworker to express their anger, sadness, or stress about the holiday season is valuable. You don’t have to have any answers—in fact, it’s often better if you don’t offer advice (except in the case of referrals, see above). Most people just want to be heard. Expressing acceptance and concern is very supportive.
- ...But set boundaries. Listening is important and a great skill to hone. However, in a workplace situation it’s important to keep it professional. Don’t act as a counselor to your coworkers, and don’t press for details of family situations that they might want to keep private. Encourage them to discuss things broadly without going into specifics.
- Keep conversations confidential. It can be tempting to decompress from these kinds of tough conversations by sharing them with your coworkers, but don’t.
- Help coworkers focus on their strengths and goals. When a coworker is down in the dumps, helping them connect to past victories and future goals can help. Ask them what achievement they feel proudest of, or have them describe how they felt when they overcame an obstacle. Find ways to help them focus on positive feelings.
- Keep a shelf of treasured children’s books, humor books, or funny DVDs in the office to lend out. Sometimes people just need a laugh or some other distraction from the blues. For instance, the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a balm that can soothe many hurts.
- Take your talk outside. When a coworker wants to share their stress, suggest doing it while having a walk around the block. Spending time outside, even if it’s cold, has been proven to improve moods.
- Keep a bowl of fruit in your office. Eating healthy is hard during the holidays, but getting enough fruits and veggies can help build up resilience.
- Keep a list of organizations that need volunteers. One of the best ways to combat the holiday blues is to get out there and help others. For many of us, the biggest barrier to doing that is figuring out where to pitch in.
- Practice self-care. Make sure to keep your own worldview on the positive side by taking care of yourself. Get exercise, eat well, spend time with people who nourish you, and take time for yourself.
Miriam Wolf is a certified health coach and personal trainer. She is also the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine.