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The “most wonderful time of the year” can also be one of the most stressful times of the year for U.S. workers. Year-end deadlines combined with holiday obligations – both work and personal commitments – can add up to increased stress levels for employees, resulting in absenteeism, lost productivity and other physical and emotional issues.

In addition, a 2011 American Psychological Association survey found that 36 percent of American workers said they typically feel tense or stressed out during their workday.  Additional stressors that the holiday season brings can also impact workers negatively, both physically and mentally.

By managing stress in the workplace and outside of work, employees will be better suited to handle work-related obligations and be more productive during the holiday season.  Several ways companies can help employees manage stress include:

– Develop a wellness program – Exercise is a proven stress reliever.  According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise has direct stress-busting benefits including bumping up endorphins and improving mood.  Encourage employees to get moving by sponsoring charity fun runs or walk-a-thons.  Employers can also inquire about a group discount at a local fitness center. With the New Year just around the corner, offering employees the chance to begin an exercise routine before the end of the year may help them reach their 2012 fitness goals and manage stress along the way.

 – Prioritize projects – Managers can help employees prioritize their workloads during the holiday season by providing guidance on projects and initiatives that need immediate attention and those that can wait. Setting realistic deadlines can also help relieve stress and allow employees to better balance their time at work with outside commitments.

 – Offer help through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – EAPs are typically available through insurance providers at no additional cost to the employee.  EAPs provide confidential counseling services and make referrals to trained professionals to assist employees with professional or personal problems, including financial concerns, stress, depression and substance abuse. Inform employees of the services available through EAPs and encourage them to take advantage of the offerings.

 – Encourage communication – Maintaining an open-door policy is especially important during stressful times, including the holiday season. Open communication is key to fostering positive staff morale, and can be as simple as checking with employees for status updates on how work is going, and ensuring the employee has scheduled time off, if needed, to attend to family needs. Employers should make themselves available to employees for open discussions and offer information about the help available (such as the EAP) or guidance (as noted above for work priorities, or about scheduling paid time off if available) if an employee appears to be showing signs of depression or stress. 

 – Say “Thank You” – Offering praise or words of encouragement can help boost employee morale and motivate employees. Simple words of encouragement are an easy way to show employees that they are valued.

Helping employees manage their mental and physical health, including stress levels, is becoming more commonplace for U.S. businesses. When employees feel good about themselves they are often more productive and morale generally improves. Implementing the tips above can result in managers and employees enjoying a less stressful, more positive work environment during the holidays and year round.  ...

Diana Gregory is a senior human resource specialist with Insperity and is located in one of its San Francisco offices.  Insperity (NYSE:  NSP), a trusted adviser to America's best businesses for more than 25 years, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance. Insperity business performance solutions support more than 100,000 businesses with over 2 million employees. With 2010 revenues in excess of $1.7 billion, Insperity operates in 56 offices throughout the United States. For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit www.insperity.com.