February's a tough month for many workers, so how can you give them a little lift?
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‘April is the cruellest month’ proclaimed TS Eliot, but most of us would disagree. After the fun and frolics of the silly season, and despite a long drawn out January, many people are still striving to remedy the effects on their wallet, their waist, and their liver.
By the time February comes along, we’re generally in the thick of pressure to diet, exercise, stop drinking, find love, change jobs, achieve zen or generally transform our lives and save the world.
The winter blues can affect the wellbeing of people in the workplace, so what can we do to support our employees?
With some workers still endeavouring to achieve their month-old goals, the challenge is to reinforce reasonable expectations of change rather than planning to transform every area. As employers, a few small changes can have big impacts in your workforce.
Set yourself a goal to improve the health of your workforce and some achievable targets to track progress; whether it’s committing to sending out a health related internal communications update once a month, changing the menu in your work café, offering your employees access to healthcare, running an in-house wellness day or simply training your managers to spot signs of mental health concerns.
Establishing and rolling out a well-being strategy should look at several different areas of health:
1. Mental Health
While people may not be feeling hugely social, having a team or company lunch or night out in February is a good way to bring some fun. Think about other things to do – maybe a team baking competition or run a ‘recognition’ campaign where you encourage employees to acknowledge their peers.
February is the month for love so why not show your team you care by placing a chocolate heart or pink cupcake on their desks. Little gestures can be really meaningful and cast some happiness on a drizzly day.
Most people can feel a bit miserable in February, but there is a deeper issue of mental health which is rising in prominence due to some high-profile campaigns.
Providing managers with the tools to identify problems through training and education and ensuring that employees have to access to counsellors or doctors is really important. Highlighting the charities which support mental health or providing access to a support network can have a huge benefit for employees.
Sadly, the beginning of the year can often trigger relationship break-ups with the first Monday in January being known as ‘Divorce Monday’. Employees who may have experienced relationship breakdowns are likely to still be feeling the effects this month, so train your managers to spot signs of stress, anxiety or distress in their teams.
It can be as simple as someone showing more visible emotions than normal (such as anger, frustration or sadness), dressing more unkemptly or even being absent more often. If you’ve spotted someone who you’re worried about, HR needs to know so the ‘right’ support can be put in place through counsellors, GPs or Occupational Health.
Bookshops are full of healthy cookbooks and self-help manuals – why not set up a ‘health library’ in your office and stock it with a few books. Encourage people to bring or share books that have helped them.
Or set up an office ‘book club’ with a different book a month and a lunchtime discussion; pick one on Mindfulness, or Positive Thinking or Overcoming Anxiety.
2. Financial Health
Consider offering workshops on debt management and financial health – even simple things reduce expenditure such as ‘switching’ utility providers or buying own brand over named brands. There are lots of charities and companies which will offer employees a financial health check or provide support with debt.
Publish the details on websites or include ‘ways to improve Financial Health’ in your internal communications programme.
3. Physical Health
It is well documented that engaging in physical activity can reduce stress and create positive feelings. However, not everyone wants to sign up for the gym. Why don’t you suggest that teams get together at lunchtime for ‘team walks’?
It’s a great way to get people up from their desks to have some fresh air and exercise, and it has the added bonus of encouraging teamwork. Exercise reduces stress and walking outside gives employees Vitamin D from the sun, which is important for maintaining a positive mood.
You could also run ‘walking’ competitions with pedometers or smart devices which track steps. First team to get to a certain number wins a prize.
Giving employees access to healthcare has many benefits. It’s the season for coughs and splutters, and people can generally feel under the weather. Providing employees with health information and advice, and encouraging visits to the doctor can stave off more serious problems.
Providing free flu jabs can save your employees the pain of a flu-bout and save the company money by reducing absence through the winter months.
Some employees may have participated in an alcohol detox last month. Dry January is increasing in popularity with one in ten people who drink claiming that they attempt a dry month. Those who missed the boat can always be encouraged to try out ‘Dry February’!
The benefits of not drinking alcohol are substantive and studies show that 60% of people who attempt a dry month have reduced their alcohol intake six months later. It’s not too late to propose an alcohol-free month – even a week or two of not drinking can have serious health benefits.
If you offer food on site, have you looked at it recently? Are there healthy options in vending machines? Does the café offer a salad as well as a burger? Do kitchens have fruit teas, and decaffeinated drinks as well as ‘normal’ teas and coffees?
Making sure that there are cost effective healthy ‘snacks’ and meals around can help people chose the better options. If the budget can stretch, providing fresh fruit or finding a masseur who can offer head/ neck massages in an office, can show the commitment of the company to improve health and wellbeing.
A well-being strategy doesn’t need to cost a lot of money – in many cases, it’s just about getting people engaged with their health through education, and providing access to the right resources.