If you read nothing else, read this…
- Employers must make sure their winter wellbeing provision is part of an overall wellbeing strategy.
- To ensure take-up, the initiatives offered by organisations should appeal to staff.
- Essentials such as encouraging healthy eating and exercise should be utilised.
As the evenings grow longer and sunshine becomes a blissful memory, it is clear the winter months have arrived.
This can make ailments, such as colds and flu, far more prominent in the workplace, so what can employers do to counteract sickness absence over winter?
Conduct employee research
Successful winter wellbeing programmes can have a positive knock-on effect on workforces throughout the winter months, but this means making sure that the services available to staff are appealing and of use.
Jill Miller, research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), explains absence data can be used to identify which benefits and schemes may benefit employees. She explains: “It can be a great way to change staff health problems; if it’s mostly musculoskeletal-related, providing risk assessments can help reduce absences.”
Analysing workforce demographics prior to introducing a winter wellbeing programme can also be crucial to its success, says Manesh Patel, senior benefits consultant at Aon.
Employee engagement surveys can be invaluable to helping employers understand what staff want when it comes to winter wellbeing, but these must be specific enough to gain clear feedback. Paul Avis, marketing director at group risk provider Canada Life, says: “Employers need to explicitly ask staff what they want in surveys, rather than asking them to provide [broad] answers.”
Despite this, 60% of employers either do not know or have not taken steps to understand which health issues are problematic within their organisation, according to Edenred’s 2015 Wellbeing barometer, published in June 2015.
Incorporate the essentials
Employers should make sure that what they offer to staff is an essential boost to winter health and wellbeing. Dr Nick Summerton, medical director of Bluecrest Wellness, says simple, inexpensive changes to workplaces can be the most effective. “Employers could encourage staff to make healthier choices by offering free fruit or cost-effective exercise such as walking,” he adds.
Stuart Scullion, chairman of the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries (AMII), believes employers could promote actions such as the importance of washing hands, eating fruit and reducing smoking.
Many organisations offer staff employer-paid or discounted flu jabs to stop infection from spreading throughout the organisation and therefore reduce the number of working days lost to sickness. These can be administered either at a participating health centre or pharmacy, or by a nurse brought into the workplace. The flu vaccine can cost up to £20 for an employee to purchase privately, but many healthcare providers will offer employers a group discounted price.
Employee assistance programmes also have a role to play in winter wellbeing strategies due to issues such as the potential for increased stress during the holiday season, as well as how much employees may spend at Christmas and on fuel as the weather gets chillier.
In this respect, financial education is also an important pillar of workplace wellbeing. “Financial education becomes even more important as fuel bills increase and money gets tighter,” says Miller.
Ensure initiatives are well promoted
Winter wellbeing promotions need to be well communicated to ensure employees know what their employer is offering. The CIPD’s Miller believes that employers could encourage workers to take part in wellbeing initiatives using strong communication tools. “It could be done by putting up informative posters in communal areas, reminders on the intranet, or through the HR team face-to-face,” she explains.
Implement year-round wellbeing
But while winter wellbeing initiatives are an integral part of any wellbeing offering, it is fundamental that wellbeing schemes are run throughout the year rather than just as standalone seasonal promotions. Miller explains that employers that only offer wellbeing initiatives in the winter may not see the improvements in employee health they are hoping for. “Health and wellbeing should be a year-round focus and built into how [an employer] operates as a business,” she says.
Catherine Kilfedder, head of wellbeing at BT, adds: “Winter wellbeing promotions should look and feel part of a wider long-term wellbeing strategy rather than isolated initiatives.”
For instance, BT’s wellness approach incorporates a ‘Winter Wellness’ scheme, which it drives with a strong family angle to encourage staff to make lifestyle choices, such as healthy eating. It also promotes the use of hand-sanitising gel to reduce the spread of germs, which it did this year by installing hand-hygiene units in offices.
Winter is an important time of year to target employees’ health, especially in light of festive indulgences and the colder weather. But winter wellbeing promotions do not have to solely focus on illness prevention. “Perhaps a few ‘nicer’ elements such as spas could be offered alongside things such as day surgeries and help stopping smoking,” says Aon’s Patel.
Although winter wellbeing promotions are key to improving both employee health and motivation, employers need to integrate the promotion into a year-round programme, utilise thorough communication, and be sure employees have an appetite for what they are offering.
Viewpoint: Encourage physical and mental winter exercise
As the leaves begin to turn, the last of the outdoor fitness training sessions disappear alongside daylight.
It is much easier to leave an exercise programme for staff until the New Year begins, when there is ahint of a spring ahead and perhapsfor some the motivation of a marathon or a ski trip. But the lead-up to winter can be a great chance to trysomething new: set some new targets and begin a new challenge other than the usual swim the channel and climb Everest at the gym.
Exercise can take many forms but rarely includes a big focus on stretching and mindfulness, which is a shame, because such activities are shown to have a major effect upon long-term health and resilience. Plus they can be done in a nice warm room.
Perhaps employers could consider giving the bike and the treadmill a little less attention and start to increase the flexibility of their employees’ minds and bodies. Classes such as yoga and pilates are a great start, or for the more adventurous Bikram hot yoga or power yoga, both of which will give staff a great workout.
For the mind, employers may consider a quirky meditation programme such as encouraging employees to eat just one Malteser for a week, but take at least five minutes to eat it, while focusing on the weight in their hand, the texture in their mouth, and the flavours as it begins to melt. Just see what something as simple as this can do for workers’ state of mind.
John Neal, Sports Business Partnership, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School
Birmingham Children’s Hospital immunises staff for the winter
Birmingham Children’s Hospital offers its 3,600 employees annual winter flu immunisations. Of those, 2,610 are frontline staff, who are in constant contact with patients. Last year, 90% of them made use of the jab.
The hospital also has a team managing the campaign, as well as 120 voluntary flu champions who are responsible for encouraging colleagues to have the injection.
The immunisation is offered from the end of September through to the end of March each year.
When it comes to communication, the hospital has an annual strapline to illustrate the significance of the flu vaccination. For example, this year’s slogan is: “Twit twoo, don’t get the flu”, while 2014’s was: “Get injected, stay protected.”
In line with this, large models of owls were placed all over Birmingham. These were later sold at an auction and the proceeds donated to the hospital.
James Shanahan, associate service director and head of emergency planning at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, says: “If [an employee] is encouraged to do something by other people [they] work with, it becomes part of [their] culture, which is why we try to make sure employees encourage each other to have the jab.
“The campaign links back to our culture and values of helping people feel better. We are not driven by the target of how many staff we can immunise, but by how much we are helping them and their families in the winter.”