By Dec. 1, you can’t enter a mall without hearing Christmas carols or seeing Santa on his break at Starbucks. Parties abound. TV is loaded up with classic and not-so-classic films, tugging at the heartstrings. It is the “festive season” and the idea is to have fun, to be sentimental and to gather with the ones we love, the ones we like and the ones we’re related to and are required to visit.

Yet we know for many, it is a very different time of year. Reminders of family spark regret or a sense of loss. Romantic songs and movie scenes stand in stark contrast with hard reality. Even those who are among the most fortunate can suffer a hidden grief which is only magnified by the “season of light”. It can be a very lonely time of year.

There’s not much an organization can do to cure employees’ personal problems, but employers can avoid making them worse. Here are some tips:

  • Keep an eye out for signs that employees may be troubled or depressed. The holidays can be brutal for some people.
  • Reach out to people, especially those you know may be more vulnerable right now. You’re probably aware of who suffered a death in the family this year, or went through a divorce, or is dealing with a sick or troubled child. Are they coping? Are they engaged or withdrawing from work life? What, if anything, can you do to help?
  • Call an employee who is off sick to remind them they’re part of the team. Invite them to the office party. They can always decline, but at least you asked.
  • Avoid making things worse: manage the office party carefully (see our article on that) so that people don’t drink too much. Alcohol stimulates fun but it’s also a risky depressant.
  • Try not to catch “year-end-itis” – a condition where organizations decide to solve their unresolved issues by Dec. 31. It can cause worse problems in the New Year.
  • If there is a negative or critical report or evaluation of an employee, is it necessary to drop the news on someone in December? Maybe it can wait until January.
  • Unless there is urgent cause, do not terminate someone’s employment in December. Getting fired near the holidays is a disaster on an emotional and financial level. Individuals take bad news harder and Courts punish employers for it. Wait until January unless it is truly urgent to act now.

We spend much of our time at work – we are part of each other’s lives. We can’t be friends with everyone there, but we can be friendly. We can’t and shouldn’t try to cure everyone’s troubles, but if we can lighten the load of someone burdened, why not?

‘Tis the season, after all.