Whilst for many people, Christmas is a time for celebration and relaxation, that’s not the case for everyone. We see the highest number of calls to our EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) helpline at this time of the year, from employees who are struggling in one way or another.

There are many reasons for increased stress levels around this period. It might be that workloads increase before the Christmas deadline. Many people have money worries if they’ve overstretched themselves financially. Even something as seemingly innocuous as the weather and darker nights can have an impact on people’s general wellbeing, particularly if there are other problems in the background. And of course, for people with domestic or marital problems, Christmas may be something to dread rather than cherish.

Many companies see a marked increase in absenteeism around Christmas with estimates suggesting up to a million sick days will be taken over the Christmas period alone. Many of those absences will be stress-related. The impact of staff absence, combined with the drop it produces in productivity, represents one of the biggest threats to growth. And for SMEs, where the impact of absence relative to the overall workforce is intensified, such costs can be crippling.

Stress, anxiety and depression does not only lead to repeated and lengthy absenteeism, but even those employees who do manage to continue working whilst suffering from stress often demonstrate reduced performance and productivity as well as low morale.

So from an employer’s perspective, being vigilant in helping those employees who might not be coping so well over Christmas is vital. Proactive employers recognise that by helping and supporting their employees, they can help to prevent absence in the first place and, by supporting their employees, can significantly reduce the length of absence: a win-win situation for both employer and employee. Forward-thinking companies invest in their employees’ well-being before absence impacts both their performance and that of the business.

Research shows that early, proactive intervention is the key. Providing support from the earliest moment has been shown to both help the individual and positively influence an earlier return to work than would otherwise have been the case. One of the best and most cost effective ways of making sure that your employees feel that you are taking care of them and looking out for their problems is through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which we offer through our sister company, Health Assured.

So how does it work? The EAP allows employers, big or small, to provide employees with a confidential support service, which runs 24/7, 365 days of the year. It allows the employee to access an experienced health clinician with full qualifications and accreditation in counselling for advice and support throughout difficult times.

The EAP can help with a huge range of issues from debt and family matters to substance abuse, addictions and stress. Face-to-face counselling is included where appropriate and there is an online health portal for information and guidance. And absolute confidentiality for the employee is guaranteed. Exactly the sort of thing an employee feeling the strain during the Christmas period might need.

National research shows that using an EAP can reduce absence by 34% on average and that 94.7% of employees return to work within 14 days following an intervention of this type. From our own research on the Peninsula EAP, we’ve seen even better rates that that, with employees on average returning to work 12 days earlier.  At a cost of just pennies per employee per month, that is obviously a tremendous return on investment.

David Price runs our Health Assured business so please give him a call on 0844 892 2493 if you’d like to find out more or drop him an email on davidprice@healthassured.co.uk.