How to support employees’ health and wellbeing in the winter months

employee health wellbeing winter
  • Regular breaks during working hours can help to avoid burnout and boost employees’ physical wellbeing.
  • Employers can support employees suffering from seasonal affective disorder by rearranging the workplace to maximise natural light or enable them to sit near a window.
  • Organisations can implement discount schemes that save employees money on essentials to eliminate stress.

While employee health and wellbeing should be at the forefront of employers’ minds throughout the year, it should particularly be of focus during the winter months due to the impact of decreased daylight and temperature on physical, mental and financial wellbeing.

Employees’ physical health

Cigna Healthcare’s October 2023 Vitality study revealed that while 66% of Brits say keeping physically healthy is important to them, just 38% rated their physical health as excellent or very good. There are many options available to employers to help support the wellbeing of their staff through the colder months. One simple way to help employees stay active is to recommend stretching exercises or quick walks during their breaks.

Another example is a gym membership, which can incentivise them to engage in regular exercise with gym equipment or through fitness classes. Offering online workouts or investing in physical activity through a yoga instructor for example, can help staff at home and in the workplace become less stressed and have better concentration.

Dr Stella George, chief medical officer at Cigna Healthcare, says: “Flexible-working policies, remote options or compressed weeks allow employees to make the most of their time outside of working hours and can positively impact productivity and wellbeing in the workplace.

“Hybrid working means that staff can utilise daylight hours for exercise and activity that will help keep them physically well, such as a walk before work or a gym class.”

During the pandemic, some employers organised virtual wellness challenges that employees could participate in together, which helped them to stay motivated and committed to health goals, says Arlette Correia, therapist and coach at Wellness Cloud.

“Hosting workshops with experts who can provide tips and strategies for winter fitness, nutrition and stress management can also help to educate employees on maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the winter months,” she adds.

Employers can also support employees’ health and wellbeing by offering flu jab vouchers, while some benefit providers offer access to a digital GP service as part of their employee assistance programme.

Supporting mental wellbeing

The condition seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is more common during months with less daylight, can cause symptoms from persistent low mood and depression, to a lack of energy and difficulty concentrating. All of this can, and will, affect an employee’s ability to work, and employers should be understanding of this.

Jeff Yoo, therapist at Moment of Clarity Health Centre, says: “Educating employees about the need for additional supplements such as vitamin D 3, and exposure to enough sunlight could be of use. Another suggestion may be to encourage nutritious meals or lighter lunches that are rich in vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients that will boost energy levels and improve employee moods.”

Encouraging staff to make the most of natural light during the winter months by taking short breaks outdoors during daylight hours could a difference to those who struggle with mood imbalances. Employers could also rearrange the workplace to maximise natural light exposure or enable affected employees to sit near a window.

“Exposure to bright light can improve self-reported mood, energy, alertness and productivity,” explains George. “Outdoor light levels typically range between 2,000 and 100,000 lux, the measurement of a luminated area, which is significantly higher than indoor house lighting, which sits at approximately 500 lux. Employers could also consider introducing greenery or flowers in the office, such as lavender, which is good at aiding relaxation thanks to its calming scent.”

Another example of improving employee mental wellbeing is encouraging them to talk about their feelings via a professional, friends, family or a colleague. This can be beneficial in creating a safe environment to discuss mental health in the workplace.

Emma Hibbert, recruitment manager at Gripple, says: “Mental health support, such as mental health first aider training for leaders and employees can be useful. Providing communication and advice throughout Mental Health Awareness Week and signposting to external providers is a good form of support.”

Financial aid

The rising cost of food and utilities has resulted in some employees finding it difficult to make ends meet. Employers can take a supportive role in helping those struggling to afford these basic necessities through offering confidential counselling and financial coaching, becauswe helping employees overcome financial challenges can significantly impact their overall health and wellbeing.

“They could also establish a fund to provide emergency financial assistance to employees facing immediate financial crises, which could involve one-time grants or loans to help cover essential expenses,” says Correia.

Employee support networks or forums where they can share information about available resources and offer mutual assistance could make a difference to those feeling isolated by their experience.

“Employers should boost communication regarding their financial benefits, signpost to external support services and consider implementing employee discount schemes,” says Yoo. “These can really make a difference for increased pressure on finances. Many employers offer retail discounts, transport deals and free or discounted gym membership.”

Providing a focus on support for wellbeing during the winter months will see results in increased  employee engagement and motivation.