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November 26, 2023 | Blog

Navigating Grief During the Holidays: A Guide for HR Professionals

By Chad Charkowski

A lady giving presentation in a meeting

The holiday season is upon us, and everything is merry & bright, right? While all of the food, the football, the family, the festivities, and the traditions can be exciting for most, it is also one of the tougher times of the year for some of your employees.  The holiday season can also cause anxiety, sadness, stress, and loneliness, all of which are not featured on the Hallmark channel.  

All of the commercials, social posts & holiday shows are full of happiness & joy, which creates a false sense that there is something wrong if you aren’t fully on board with the holiday cheer. However, over one-third of all Americans feel lonely during this time of year. Contrary to what we see, those who feel alone during this season are truly not alone in their feelings. 

So how can you support all of your employees while not feeling like a Grinch? By being the great connector that you always are. Connecting with resources, articles & most of all the people that can help. This article is a great guide for HR Professionals in helping you navigate all of the emotions during the holiday season. 

Understanding the Holiday Blues

The holiday season, often associated with joy and togetherness, can ironically be a period of loneliness and sorrow for those who have experienced loss. Whether it’s the absence of a loved one or the memories of past events, these feelings can significantly impact an employee’s mental and emotional well-being. Recognizing and addressing these emotions is not just compassionate but also crucial for maintaining a healthy, supportive work environment.


“For a subset of people, the holiday season is full of joy. But for another subset, this time of year can create angst. For some, the holiday season can remind them of loss, such as a loved one who is no longer with them. For others, the stress can be overwhelming.” – Rodney B. Dieser, Ph.D., LMHC


While the reasons behind the holiday blues can be extremely complex, most issues can be summarized as financially or emotionally driven. That does not mean it is an “either or” scenario because it can be a combination of both. Identifying which category will help you to help them in the long run. 

Role of HR in Supporting Employees

The HR professionals we have the pleasure to work with focus so much on truly being a resource and focusing on the human aspect of their work. We have emotions, feelings, and real stuff happens like marriage, divorce, death, births, taking care of loved ones and so much more. The average tenure at companies is just north of 4 years, and a lot can happen during that time. For those of us in HR, being able to identify and support employees struggling during the holidays is what we want to do.

By fostering an environment of empathy and understanding, HR can play a pivotal role in guiding employees through their grief. Initiating conversations about mental health, providing resources, and ensuring a supportive workplace culture are key steps in this process. Asking leaders within the company to have a heightened awareness is a good first step, and then making sure they know what to do without putting the company at risk comes next. 

Typical Sources of Holiday Sadness

There are some usual suspects this time of year on what causes stress, anxiety and grief. Just acknowledging that these are common and that people are not alone in their feelings can go a long way. 

Stress: The holiday season often brings with it a hectic schedule filled with shopping, planning, traveling, and socializing. This whirlwind of activities can be overwhelming, leading to heightened stress levels. The pressure to create a perfect holiday experience can also weigh heavily on individuals, impacting their mental and emotional well-being.

Fatigue: With the increased demands of the season, both physically and emotionally, fatigue is a common issue. The continuous cycle of preparing, attending events, and meeting familial obligations can leave individuals feeling drained. This exhaustion can dampen the holiday spirit and contribute to feelings of sadness.

Unrealistic Expectations: Often, the holidays are portrayed as a time of unbridled joy and family harmony. This portrayal can create unrealistic expectations for individuals, leading to disappointment when reality doesn’t match these idealized visions. The gap between expectation and reality can be a significant source of holiday sadness.

Over-commercialization: The commercial aspects of the holiday season, with its focus on buying and giving, can lead to a sense of disillusionment. The constant barrage of advertisements and societal pressure to purchase the perfect gifts can overshadow the more meaningful aspects of the season, leading to feelings of emptiness and frustration.

Financial Stress: Holidays can be a financially taxing time. The costs associated with gifts, travel, food, and festivities can strain budgets, causing significant anxiety and stress. Worrying about finances can overshadow the joy of the season and lead to a sense of inadequacy and sadness.

Inability to be with Family and Friends: For many, the holidays are synonymous with family gatherings and reunions with friends. However, not everyone has the ability to travel or may be estranged from their loved ones. This separation, especially during a time when togetherness is emphasized, can intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Allow Your EAP To Do The Heavy Lifting

Investing in an Employee Assistance Program is not just a moral decision but also a financially sound one. According to the World Health Organization for every dollar invested in mental health, there’s a return of four dollars to the organization’s bottom line.  Too many times at benefits season an EAP is “thrown in” as a bonus or an additional service, only to have that EAP fall short of employees needs. 

Making sure you have a robust EAP in place that delivers is critical. The old saying that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true time and time again. The Lifestyle EAP from Covenant Workplace Solutions features industry-leading expedited scheduling, proactive education, financial coaching and so much more. Doing a quick double-check during benefit time so that you have the right EAP in place can be your best friend in dealing with holiday grief, stress, and anxiety. 

How to Utilize the EAP Effectively

For all of the focus on mental health over the past few years, the utilization of EAP’s is disappointingly low at 4%. 93% of employers offer an EAP, however only about 50% of employees know there is a program. By simple numbers, you could double your utilization at your organization by simply letting people know that an EAP exists. 

At Covenant we do not blame our friends in HR for any of this, we know how hard you work and all that is asked of you. It is superhuman in what you are able to accomplish. For HR professionals, encouraging EAP utilization is key, and again having your EAP provider doing the heavy lifting with webinars, information and handouts is something you should demand from your EAP provider. 

This involves regular communication about the EAP’s services, integrating awareness into the company culture, and making resources easily accessible. Especially during the holiday season, reminding employees of the support available can make a significant difference in their well-being.

Partnering Matters In Business

At Covenant Workplace Solutions we fully understand the challenges of HR professionals and business owners. We strive to be the preferred EAP choice for the companies and communities that we serve. Contact us today to see why we believe your EAP should raise the bar, not simply check the box.