Corporate Wellness

How to Support Retail and Hospitality Employees’ Mental Health During the Holidays

Employee Wellness

Retail and hospitality employees experience higher rates of stress, anxiety and burnout during the holidays – but employers can help by providing mental health support and resources.

The holidays are a stressful time of year – and they’re quickly approaching. While many American consumers are worried about preparing the perfect feast and finding all the right gifts, retail and hospitality employees have additional concerns. Many of those who help us create happy holiday memories experience stress, anxiety and depression during what’s considered the most wonderful time of the year.

Recent data analysis from CuraLinc Healthcare focusing on employees in the retail and hospitality sector provides valuable insights into the substantial challenges these workers face, offering guidance on how employers can proactively address their needs within these industries.

What causes employee stress and burnout during the holidays?

Stress, anxiety and depression are the three most common presenting issues for retail and restaurant workers, closely followed by concerns over finances and relationships. There are several factors to consider that may contribute to these issues during the holiday season.

More customers and higher expectations

Stores, restaurants and the travel industry experience an influx of customers in the fourth quarter. This year, consumer spending is expected to increase by a healthy 7 percent, and the summer travel boom will continue well into the winter. Restaurants manage large parties and extensive catering requests, while airline employees take on passenger frustrations during adverse weather and unexpected delays.

Staffing shortages

Many retail and hospitality businesses are still experiencing higher-than-normal turnover rates since the pandemic, potentially indicating lingering employee dissatisfaction and exacerbating stress and burnout this holiday season. In addition, a recent analysis by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. found that retailers may not hire as many seasonal workers as they did last year due to labor costs and inflation. That means employees working through the holidays may experience heavier workloads, longer hours and higher demands to keep shelves stocked and customers happy.

Increased risk of theft, violence and confrontations

The holidays can create stress for everyone, customers included, leading to increased agitation and even confrontations. 59 percent of retail staff reported they are treated worse by customers during the holiday season, and theft becomes a significant concern for businesses during this time, which increases employee safety concerns. The frequency of critical incidents for retailers is nearly 10% higher in the fourth quarter, with the top reasons being violence in or around the workplace, robbery and workplace trauma due to aggressive or disruptive customers or threats.

Financial concerns

Financial concerns among retail and restaurant employees reach an unprecedented level during the holidays amid increased spending on gifts and travel. Workers in these industries already grapple with financial challenges year-round, due to below-average annual wages. 39% of retail employees often run out of money between paychecks – so it should come as no surprise that concerns over finances are the fourth most common reason participants in these industries contact their EAP.

Irregular schedules, long hours and isolation

Restaurant, retail and travel employees often work extra shifts or irregular schedules, especially during the holidays. These long hours can leave employees feeling isolated, with limited time to spend with their families and loved ones. This may be why relationship issues are the fifth most common presenting concern in the last few months of the year for employees in these industries.

How can employers help employees combat holiday stress?

While many customer service workers will undoubtedly experience higher levels of stress this time of year, employers can take action to help support them. As shopping surges, reservations rise and overtime adds up, employers must provide convenient and effective mental health support to improve resiliency and prevent burnout and other issues from taking root in their workforce.

Proactively communicate mental health and wellbeing benefits

Employers must proactively increase awareness of the mental health and wellbeing benefits they offer. Many employees forget about available benefits or aren’t sure how to use them, especially when they’re stressed. Consistent reminders help increase awareness and reduce the stigma around asking for mental health support.

Here are a few ways employers can raise awareness about mental health and wellbeing benefits as the holidays approach.

  • Place flyers and handouts with program information in breakrooms and around clock-in areas
  • Show rotating videos before and after hours about the benefits available
  • Coordinate with your workforce mental health provider to send personalized direct email and text campaigns to engage employees
  • Provide managers and supervisors with talking points about these benefits and encourage them to share during team meetings each shift
  • Send in-home mailers to encourage employees to use the benefits available to them

Train managers to recognize symptoms of distress and provide appropriate information

Employees spend a significant amount of time at work, so managers may be the first people to notice any changes in their wellbeing and can serve as the first line of defense for those who may be struggling.

  • Host virtual and in-person trainings to remind managers of available mental health and wellbeing benefits and how to access them
  • Provide information on potential signs of distress that managers may observe, such as a change in mood, difficulty concentrating or increased absenteeism
  • Share expectations around how managers should respond to signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use challenges
  • Collaborate with your workplace mental health provider to gather convenient tools and resources that support managers in creating a psychologically safe workplace

Provide employees with easy access to high-quality mental health care and resources

Evidence-based workforce mental health programs can significantly reduce depression and anxiety symptoms, enhance productivity, and reduce absenteeism. In a 2022 study, CuraLinc's program showcased remarkable outcomes for employees in the retail and restaurant sector after they completed treatment:

  • 90% of those with depression recovered to no longer be at-risk
  • 70% were no longer at risk for alcohol misuse
  • 80% no longer had a work productivity problem after using the program
  • Average time missed from work decreased from 10.7 hours to 2.8 hours

There are several important features employers can offer through their workforce mental health programs to better support employees.

  • Retail and restaurant workers are 68% more likely seek immediate clinical support during the holiday season than members across all industries, highlighting the need for 24/7 access to licensed mental health clinicians.
  • Access to virtual modalities are crucial as it allows employees to seek care with flexibility and ease. Text therapy is especially popular because it provides ongoing clinical care with no wait times or appointments. Retail and restaurant employees’ utilization of CuraLinc’s Textcoach® platform is 30% higher than the average utilization across all industries.
  • Considering that financial concerns are the fourth most common presenting concern of retail and restaurant employees, work-life services – including financial consultation, dependent care referrals and legal aid – can reduce employee stress, improve their productivity and lower absenteeism.
  • Same-day crisis response and onsite clinical resources help mitigate the impact of traumatic events such as robberies or workplace violence. This is particularly essential for retail and hospitality employers given the increase in critical events this time of year.

Stress may be inevitable for retail and hospitality employees during the holidays, but eliminating the stigma around asking for help and proactively addressing employee needs will go a long way. Companies that empower employees with access to resources and care that support their mental health and wellbeing can make a difference during the holiday season and beyond.

About CuraLinc Healthcare

CuraLinc Healthcare delivers transformative mental health care fueled by connectivity, marrying technology and personalized advocacy to engage, empower and support employees throughout their care journey. CuraLinc has redefined the modern employee assistance program (EAP) by looking at mental health through a more human-centric lens, empowering meaningful treatment by facilitating personalized access to quality care through a system of integrated in-person and digital modalities. Visit to learn more.

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