Posted on: Wednesday October 21, 2020
This winter it’s more important than ever to help your employees take care of their wellbeing. What are the key issues to be aware of and how can you support staff?
As well as COVID-19, employees are still exposed to all the usual seasonal illnesses like colds, flu, and stomach bugs. We’re all aware of the need to keep up measures like regular handwashing, wearing masks, and social distancing, and no doubt you will have your own workplace policies in place to minimise transmission risk.
Encourage employees to get the free NHS flu jab if they qualify. The programme has been expanded this year because of the increased risk from COVID-19. In previous years, many employers have arranged for mass vaccinations of their staff via a group health plan, but this may not be possible this year as high-risk groups will have priority for the vaccine.
The cold weather and lack of daylight can take a toll on mental health. Lack of exposure to sunlight in the winter means that many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can have a significant negative impact on sleep and mood, as well as appetite and energy levels for things like exercise.
While research on the disorder is ongoing, it is most likely triggered by a lack of sunlight in winter, which affects levels of hormones (melatonin and serotonin) in the part of the brain controlling mood, sleep and appetite.
You could consider running an awareness campaign around SAD and highlight the mental health support on offer to employees. Part of the campaign could involve asking colleagues to look out for each other and checking in if someone doesn’t seem like themselves.
The run-up to Christmas can be a stressful time, with employees feeling financial pressure, worrying about the big day, and working extra hard to get everything finished before the holidays. Again, it’s worth highlighting where employees should go if they need mental health support, whether that’s reading articles, seeking professional support, or just needing someone to talk to in their hour of need.
Winter weight gain
We tend to put on weight in the winter, partly due to eating more and partly because we do less exercise. It’s easy to sound patronising when talking about health, and no employer wants to alienate their workforce by preaching at them.
However, in the post-COVID age, we’re seeing a shift towards valuing employees’ health as an asset worth investing in. Despite some possible reluctance amongst staff to discuss this, starting a conversation around health is the right thing to do. Employers can offer advice and support which can make it easier for employees to follow a healthy lifestyle – such as a Cycle to Work scheme, discounted gym membership, or information on healthy diet choices.
The typical household spends an extra £800 in December, mainly on food, alcohol and presents. You can help employees save money by offering access to retail discounts on everything from the supermarket shop to luxury brands.
Likewise, salary sacrifice schemes allow employees to spread the cost of big-ticket items over several months, giving them access to desirable goods in a responsible way.
COVID-19 may have put a dampener on winter party season, but chances are employees will still be enjoying some form of celebration in the run-up to Christmas. You could consider linking up with charities like Drinkaware and make use of their resources so employees are aware what the recommended limits are and how to go about cutting down.
This winter employees will need extra support to safeguard their wellbeing and that of their families. Forward-thinking employers are putting these resources in place now to ensure their workforce remains happy and productive even in difficult circumstances.