January is often seen as a time for new beginnings and resolutions, however, it is natural to feel less than jolly after all the festivities are over. A variety of factors can impact on a person’s health and wellbeing therefore, it is important to demonstrate compassion and know-how to support those that may be struggling. This is particularly prevalent around the festive season as Christmas can be a difficult time for many reasons.

A study by the Independent revealed that 44% of adults believe they suffer from the ‘January blues’, with 33% expecting work to be awful upon return as they know it will be some time before their next holiday. There are however ways that employers can support their colleagues and help lift staff spirits, encouraging them to look forward to the new year ahead.

Mental health awareness

In the UK alone, an estimated 70 million working days are lost every year because of mental ill-health, this excludes the amplified levels documented in winter months. With Blue Monday, fast approaching, (also known as the most depressing day of the year), it is important to take note of some of the symptoms and ways in which mental ill health presents itself, and think about the ways in which employers can support their workforce.

Symptoms are very much dependent on the individual, but common, visible symptoms include loss of appetite, speaking and moving more slowly, low mood, lack of motivation, irritability and difficulty making decisions or coping with problems.

It is critical that an employer is approachable and creates an environment whereby employees feel safe and supported. This can encourage those that may be feeling ‘low’ to go and talk to their employer. Studies have shown that simply talking about our problems and sharing our negative emotions with someone we trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.

Implementing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) gives your employees access to free, confidential advice on a variety of issues, and another impartial support network available when they need it most.

Improving physical health

Being physically active has a huge impact on wellbeing. Participation in regular physical activity can increase self-esteem [1] and can reduce stress and anxiety [2]. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems [3] and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems [4]. Gym discount schemes, offered as part of a benefits programme are an excellent way of encouraging people to get active.

When people are feeling down, their physical health is one of the first things that can deteriorate. Being physically fit or in good physical health is a large component of overall wellbeing. Results have shown that physical health, accounted for more than 84% of loss of productivity in 2019, and 42% of employees with a health condition felt their condition affected their work a great deal.

With such high numbers, it is clear the impact of poor physical health cannot be ignored. When thinking about the overall wellbeing of staff it is essential that employers put a strong focus on improving physical health, both inside and outside of the workplace.

It is important to take a holistic approach when thinking about physical health. Encourage employees to use the stairs instead of the lift or to go out walking with colleagues at lunchtime. Make sure they are aware of the cycle to work scheme, not only supporting physical fitness but helping people to be more environmentally friendly and save money. You could even add some healthy competition in the workplace and launch an internal competition focusing on improving fitness levels, with employees being rewarded for their participation – a great way to get people motivated and engaged. The above, combined with awareness-raising signage and focused communications form the basis of a good physical health programme.

Financial support

The Christmas period can bring with it a wealth of financial worries. Roughly 3 million people in the UK said that money worries had a negative impact on their enjoyment of Christmas – and a further 1 million said these worries are so extreme that they lost sleep over it. Financial instability is one of the biggest stressors on a person and has been linked to a cycle of increased workplace absenteeism diminished workplace performance, and depression [5].

Employers can play a critical role in helping their employees to talk about, overcome or even prevent some of their financial worries. There are measures that can be introduced such as fair value loans so that employees can be given the best possible rate, or salary sacrifice, giving staff the means to pay for items in instalments, thus alleviating the pressure of having to find a lump sum of money. Employers could also consider providing online financial education courses as well as an EAP for staff seeking financial advice.

With over 55% of employees saying they want more financial help from employers, it is vital that employers provide this support in any way they can.

Wellbeing & productivity go hand-in-hand

The winter months can be difficult for anybody, regardless of their circumstances. It’s proven that when morale is high, and workers are happy, they are more productive. Therefore, supporting the overall wellbeing of employees can and does make a world of difference, not just to the individual, but to the employer too.

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