How health cash plans can support employees suffering from the ‘winter blues’

Philip Wood, executive director of sales and marketing, Health Shield

In the New Year, employees return to work in their millions after a well-deserved Christmas break. Some come back refreshed with renewed vigour and resolutions to keep. But for others, the winter months can be a time of increased stress, depression and anxiety, which can lead to reduced performance and absenteeism.

January, in particular, can be a difficult time with cold weather, darker days and Christmas credit card bills arriving on doormats. Debt worries after increased spending can be a real issue at this time of year. As the nights draw in, people also tend to spend less time exercising and eating more hearty foods, which can sometimes be less healthy. Every third Monday in January is now said to be the most depressing day of the year, ‘Blue Monday’, which is attributed to a mix of weather conditions, debt levels and people failing New Year resolutions.

Mental health in the workplace
It is estimated that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year. The Work-related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain 2016 report by the Health and Safety Executive, published in November 2016, states that work-related stress, depression or anxiety now account for 45% of all working days lost due to ill health, with a total of 11.7 million working days lost in 2015–16. Unless steps are taken to reduce this number, the World Health Organisation has declared that by the year 2030 depression will be the leading illness globally.

The ‘January blues’ are far from an urban myth. The NHS estimates that around one in 15 people
in the UK suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression between September and April. This type of depression can have a significant impact on employee performance through tiredness, reduced energy levels and low self-esteem.

Mental ill-health in the workplace happens all year round. Some of the signs to watch out for in employees include tiredness, negativity, lateness, increased sensitivity, a lack of concentration and not joining in with the team. However, many employees still feel uncomfortable talking about the subject with their managers, which is where health cash plans can help.

Enhanced benefits
Health cash plans can offer benefits and services to support stress management and the mental health of employees. These services can include 24/7 counselling and support helplines, through which employees can receive professional counselling and support on everything from stress and debt to bereavement and family issues, as well as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which can provide more comprehensive support with 24/7 counselling helplines and face-to-face counselling sessions.

Health cash plans can also include stress prevention programmes, providing occupational health helplines and professional support for employees with stress from day one of their absence to help them return to work sooner.

Some health cash plans offer discounts on a variety of relaxation therapies that can help to ease stress. These can include reflexology, acupuncture and massages.

Other benefits and services include online health assessments and online reward portals. Health portals can provide lifestyle advice and emotional support, and employees can save money with exclusive discounts on shopping, gym membership, holidays, spa breaks and more through reward portals.

Supporting employees
Stress, anxiety, SAD and depression can reduce workplace performance and increase staff absence and turnover. Employees are just as likely to be  off work with a mental health problem as they  are a physical one, however, people are just not as comfortable talking about them.

Providing employees with quick access to health and wellbeing support will not only reduce absenteeism but also help with a problem before it gets worse. Employers need to think about
stress prevention and management as part of their duty of care.