The end of the year is synonymous with so many unique professional challenges: reconciling the grandiose goals from the beginning of the year with the current status; closing out the books; prepping for more goals and challenges in the coming year, audits, taxes, annual reporting and more.

Add to that angry customers, cranky co-workers and the weird time warp that seems to ensure days pass at a faster rate between Halloween and New Year’s than any other time of year and trying to manage stress at work seems almost impossible.

Unfortunately, the end of the year is no less busy outside the office. Managing multiple holiday obligations for multiple family members, dealing with holiday shopping, crowds and additional travel means we have even less bandwidth to handle stress, less time to catch our breath and likely, less money in our pockets.

With even this superficial consideration of issues we face this time of year, it is easy to understand why millions of our co-workers experience increased incidents of anxiety and depression. As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to pay attention to these issues and do what we can to support our teams.

Set the foundation

The most common issues during the holidays are an increase in anxiety, depression and physical illness, and a decrease in sleep, healthy eating, and exercise.

Employees battling these issues tend to be disengaged, irritable and/or absent frequently. As such, the most important thing a leader can do is be compassionate and understanding about the different emotional states affecting our teams.

The first step is to check in with HR to ensure the appropriate information about employee benefit and EAP options has been reiterated to employees. Second, encourage HR to provide additional information to managers and supervisors to support an understanding of the issues team members may be facing.

Third, if possible, ask HR to directly provide employees with basic facts sheets or infographics like this one to increase everyone’s awareness. Finally, take a minute to learn from HR, the basics of accommodating depression at work.

Provide a framework

Next, as a leader within the organization, find a way to set the example for other leaders and employees. Be open about challenges and frustrations you are facing and emphasize the steps you are taking to address them.

In addition, keep these issues in mind and realize that employees may handle these types of challenges as differently as they approach work.

In other words, some employees will feel better if they stay engaged or working on a project, while others will need to take more days off to counteract the increased demands of the season. Thus, your solution to put your head down and work harder to get as much done before the holiday break as possible may not be the right solution for the team. Be more flexible and open to other options.

The bottom line is, with a bit of compassion, support from HR and a willingness to be flexible, leaders can create an environment that reduces instead of increasing employee stress, anxiety and depression.

For more on Seasonal Affective Disorder, check out this article with included infographic.