Five ways to keep employees healthy this winter
With the current focus on keeping people safe from Covid, don’t forget about all the other things you can do to keep your workforce healthy this winter.
Many employees were spared the usual winter illnesses last year, due to social distancing. But with many people now back in the workplace, flu cases are expected to surge, putting the risk of a ‘twindemic’ – combined flu and covid epidemic – very much back on the cards.
At the same time, pressure on the NHS to cancel appointments and operations has left many people with musculoskeletal conditions struggling to work. While the darker shorter days will make it more difficult for employees to stay active and get exposure to daylight. Reducing their immunity and putting them more at risk of bone injuries and becoming depressed.
Employers who are prepared to meet these challenges head on stand a far greater chance of making their people feel cared for and reducing the absence and productivity issues that can otherwise result. So here are five tips for keeping your workforce healthy this winter.
1. Reduce the risk of catching flu
With this year set to see particularly favourable conditions for the spread of flu, the NHS is embarking on its largest flu vaccination campaign ever. Including giving those with underlying health conditions the jab for free. Even so, just one in three people typically take up the opportunity. Not least due to struggling to fit this into their working day.
In response, many employers are now offering corporate and workplace flu vaccinations to all employees. This makes it easy for employees to have the vaccination at work, or a nearby clinic, within the working day. It also encourages employees to take up a proven vaccine for an illness that takes weeks to recover from and which kills over 25,000 people in a bad year.
Other steps you can take to reduce the risk and spread of flu are to encourage anyone with symptoms to work from home and take time off to recover. Plus, practice social distancing during the autumn and winter months, when both flu and coronavirus spread more easily.
2. Provide education on vitamin D
Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, has immunity-boosting properties and is essential to maintaining good bone health and reducing the risk of broken bones in later life. However, once the clocks go back, on 31 October, it’s not possible to get enough vitamin D from the sunshine alone in the UK.
Make sure employees are aware of this, and the importance of vitamin D for good bone health and menopause. Plus encourage them to take up the government’s recommendation that everyone over the age of 5 consider taking a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, from October to March.
Alternatively, you could also provide a webinar or workshop on the risks associated with vitamin D deficiency, which affects one in five people in the UK. To give advice on how to improve their nutrition, to ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D.
3. Help people avoid the winter blues
Lots of people get depressed in the winter or suffer from the ‘winter blues’ - also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The symptoms of which include feeling depressed most of the day, every day, having low energy, losing interest in activities, sleep issues and changes in appetite and appearance.
With nearly one in two people (49%) saying the pandemic has impacted negatively on their mental health, the number of people affected this year could be higher. So encourage people to get as much daylight as possible by arranging walking meetings or group walks. Or just encouraging people to get away from their desks and go outside during the day. As research also shows that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week can reduce depression.
Also, make sure managers know how to recognise the signs that someone is depressed, such as reduced concentration, becoming tearful or more aggressive, so they can refer them to the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or any other mental health services in place.
4. Rehabilitate those affected by NHS backlog
The NHS backlog of people waiting for access to healthcare is only expected to get worse this winter. Meaning people who were maybe able to cope with untreated conditions in the summer months may now be struggling to cope.
Rather than leaving them waiting a management referral service can be put in place for anyone affected by mental health, general health, chronic health or musculoskeletal issues. This will allow managers to put those struggling forward for a clinical assessment to obtain a detailed report diagnosing their condition and prognosis for recovery.
In many cases, the employee can then be triaged into existing services, such as the Employee Assistance Programme, for a course of counselling or CBT, or existing physiotherapy services. Where they need additional treatment to recover, the report details the cost of this to end the absence. And, if they need to wait for NHS treatment, the report tells their manager how best to adjust their role or workload while they continue to wait.
5. Encourage everyone to stay active
It’s much more difficult to get up and go for a run or drag yourself off the sofa on a dark wet evening to do a yoga class than it is in the summer months. Fortunately, staying active doesn’t necessarily require going outside. Strength-based activities, such as lifting weights or doing an online conditioning class, can be just as effective as cardio exercise.
Make sure you adapt your winter health and wellbeing plans to include creative ideas on how to stay fit indoors, so those who dislike going out in the dark, can stay fit as well.
Also think about educating people about other things they can do to make themselves want to stay more active, such as eating and healthy balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Access to expert videos and courses, such as those provided through our PAM Assist App, can help.