Not just a headache – Migraine in the Workplace

Not just a headache – Migraine in the Workplace

 

 

A recent study by the Economist and Novartis urges businesses to do more to support employees with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and migraine. All three of these conditions are becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace due, in part, to an ageing population. One of the most common is migraine.

Lack of awareness and understanding of this debilitating neurological disease is costing business, time, money and valuable employees.

The cost of migraine

Migraine affects around 14.7% of the global population, which is around 1 in 7 people. Although migraine often first appears during puberty, it is most common in adults aged between 35 and 45. The condition is more common than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.

The average migraine sufferer needs up to 33 days off work a year to cope with the symptoms. Around 25 million working days are lost each year in the UK to migraine. It is the second most common cause of short-term absence for office-based employees. The annual cost to the NHS is believed to be £150 million and when you factor in presenteeism (being at work when you’re too unwell to be productive) and disability the total cost to the UK economy is an eye-watering £3.42 billion.

Not ‘just a headache’

The biggest mistake organisations make regarding migraine is thinking it’s ‘just’ a bad headache.  It is in fact, a serious medical condition that can have incapacitating neurological side effects. Globally, migraine is ranked as the seventh most disabling disease and the leading cause of disability among neurological disorders.

Three times more women suffer from migraine than men, around 73%. This is thought to be because of the link between hormonal changes and migraine. For most sufferers, episodes can occur one or more times a month and the vast majority of those will have a significant impact on the person’s ability to function. An attack can last between 4-72 hours and can occur at any time. There are a variety of symptoms and any two sufferers may experience them completely differently, but most migraines will cause one or more of the following:

  • Very painful headache
  • Visual disturbances
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light, sound or scent.

Causes and Triggers

Although the root cause of migraine is not yet fully understood, there is a greater appreciation of potential triggers, for example:

  • Stress
  • Low blood sugar
  • Hunger
  • Alcohol
  • Menstruation
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lighting
  • Sound
  • Certain smells
  • Hormonal changes.

Working with migraine

The Economist research found that people suffering from migraine were more likely to take themselves out of the workforce or have concerns about the condition’s impact on their career progression.

Deeply inground misconceptions of the condition lead employers to misunderstand employees with migraine. They are likely to perceive them to be exaggerating symptoms because they are weak, lazy or trying to get out of doing their job. Suffers can be accused of being inconsiderate and unreliable and many experience depression and anxiety alongside the migraine. One study discovered that just 1 in 5 bosses thought that a migraine attack was a valid reason for absence.

All of this can result in employees quitting work or declining advancement opportunities due to concerns that their condition will have too great an impact. This is bad news for organisations who risk losing loyal, experienced employees for the sake of a little forethought.

Accommodating Employees with Migraine

An organisation with a proactive approach to health and wellbeing can forestall employees leaving because of this neurological condition with some relatively minor, and often cost-free adaptations.

  1. Communication – With most health and wellbeing issues, communication is key. Migraine has no visible symptoms, so it can often be a hidden condition. Encourage employees to be open and honest about their experience of migraine. Knowing how many of your staff suffer from the condition will help you to prepare a proportional and appropriate action plan to support them.
  2. Flexibility – Flexible and remote working options allow an employee to work around a migraine in a way that works for them and you.
  3. Noise levels – Noise can be a trigger, so consider noise levels in the office. Offer the opportunity to sit in a quieter, calmer area. If this isn’t an option noise-cancelling headsets or sound-absorbing panels can be used.
  4. Lighting – Bright lighting, especially fluorescent lights, flashing lights and computer screens, can all trigger an episode. Add fluorescent filters to existing bulbs for a more natural light, fit anti-glare computer screens or install software that offers colour-tinting options. In some cases, the employee can wear sunglasses to reduce light and glare.
  5. Support – Provide a space where employees can go and rest in a quiet, dark area if they’re experiencing an episode while at work.  Also consider arranging transport home, driving with a migraine can be difficult or dangerous.
  6. Fragrance – If your employee’s condition is triggered by smells, consider reducing them where possible. Ask staff to refrain from wearing strong fragrances and ensure ventilation systems are working.  
  7. Stress – Stress is a significant migraine trigger. Good management communication and a well implemented health and wellbeing plan will go a long way to keeping stress levels manageable in the workplace.

 

When considering the process of finding, recruiting and training individuals, keeping existing employees is far more cost effect than bringing in new staff. Our ageing population and workforce mean that neurological conditions, such as migraine, are going to become more, not less common. While medical treatments continue to improve, so does our understanding of how to prevent and manage such conditions in the workplace.  Giving migraine the respect and consideration it deserves as a debilitating and life-impacting condition, will result in a morale and productivity boost that more than covers any costs.

Time Out – Don’t undervalue annual leave

Time Out – Don’t undervalue annual leave

 

 

In the UK, full time employees are legally entitled to at least 5.6 weeks (28 days) of paid holiday a year – this applies to agency workers, those working irregular hours and those on zero hour contracts. Part time workers will receive less holiday depending on how many days they work, for example, someone working 3 days a week can expect 16.8 days a year. It’s up to the employer to decide whether this time includes bank holidays. Gov.uk provides a handy holiday entitlement calculator to work out annual leave.

Employers can allow staff to carry over or ‘bank’ a portion of untaken leave to the next year. If an employee is on parental or sick leave and thus unable to take their holiday entitlement an employer must allow them to carry over up to 20 days of their 28 days entitlement. Employees can also sometimes request payment in lieu of days taken, but this is at the discretion of the employer.

Yet when it comes to it, most people do not take their full entitlement of annual leave. Some roll the days over, but others simply lose the holiday entirely. In 2018 Glassdoor found that 40 percent of employees reported taking a maximum of only half of their holiday entitlement. The average UK employee took just 62 percent of their holiday days, with younger workers most likely to work through their holidays. The study reported 65 percent of 18-24 year olds and 60 percent of 25-34 year olds took less than 91 percent of their holiday allowance.

Skipping out on taking a break

Concerns that taking annual leave would lead to falling behind in work or impact negatively on promotion prospects were often cited. However, the most common reason given is that people are simply ‘too busy’ to take an extended break.

The build-up to taking time off work can, itself, be stressful. Once the holiday and all the associated practicalities and logistics are arranged there is the matter of tying up ‘loose ends’ at work. For some this can significantly raise stress levels ahead of a trip – we’ve all heard people saying they’ll need another holiday to get over this one. Not so surprising then, that holidaymakers reported that they enjoy just nine days out of a two week break. It takes them around two days to relax only for the tension to seep back in three days before the holiday ends.

Even once away people can find it difficult to switch off. These days many of us take our smart phones, tablets and laptops with us on holiday and it can prove all too tempting to log in to work, just to check how things are going. Around 40 percent of people admitted to setting good intentions aside by checking emails and making work-related calls during their holidays. Some people confessed to checking emails up to six times a day and making up to eight phone calls in just two weeks.

 

Annual leave makes business sense

On the face of it, it would seem good for business if staff do not take advantage of their full annual leave. After all the result is more days of work for the same money. However, research shows us that taking good quality time away from the workplace is good for employee wellbeing, staff moral and, ultimately, productivity. A recent study found that 60 percent of workers felt more productive after taking a holiday.

 

Supporting a positive work-life balance and actively encouraging employees to take their annual leave entitlement can reduce stress levels and prevent the onset of more serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or chronic stress. All of which can lead to reduced performance, higher absenteeism and in some cases long term sickness absence.

Lack of adequate breaks, during the day, week and year, can reduce focus and stifle creativity. It’s also not just mental health that can suffer from not taking time out. Overworking has been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as a whole host of other health issues.

 

Time Out

Annual leave should be seen, not as an inconvenience, but as an integral part of a healthy, successful business. It’s time to move on from toxic workplace attitudes that glorify long hours. Instead organisations should actively encourage staff to take their full annual leave safe in the knowledge that this will improve health, wellbeing and productivity.

 

Top Eight Tips for culture change
  1. Respect annual leave. When employees do book time off, organisations need to respect that. Personnel Today found that 36 percent of business owners contacted staff who were on annual leave. This has to stop.
  2. Regular reminders – Create a live, company-wide, document to allow employees to add their holiday and view others. This will help them to see that others are taking their holiday entitlement too while also encouraging general discussion to avoid clashes.
  3. Be proactive – Share the holiday document monthly. This way the holiday dates of colleagues don’t get forgotten, project planning can factor them in, last-minute panics can be avoided and everyone is regularly reminded to think about their own annual leave.
  4. Be open and up front – create a company policy that expressly details the organisation’s rules on annual leave and sets out your expectation that employees take their full entitlement unless they have good reason to carry over.
  5. Track holiday habits – Make sure that HR are tracking annual leave so that they can flag up when someone is not taking their entitlement. Not only can this offer an opportunity to discuss that employee’s concerns over why they feel unable to take a break, it may also help to bring issues such as mismanaged workloads, unrealistic expectations or inadequate staffing levels to the fore before they become problematic.
  6. Set a good example – Senior management can be the worst offenders. Whatever the size of the organisation, from SMEs to multi-national corporations it can sometimes seem impossible for management to find a ‘good’ time to take a break. Resist the urge to keep pushing your vacation to the back of the queue and embrace the importance of down-time to the good running of your mental and physical health and your business.  
  7. Use it or lose it – This is a controversial point as most of the surveys looking at attitudes on annual leave found that employees will still fail to take their full annual leave entitlement even if they lose it. However, when combined with a positive attitude towards taking time out it could work to encourage employees to get booking.
  8. Incentivise – Including time off work as part of incentive packages for good work/successful projects etc. can demonstrate the importance that the organisation place on taking annual leave.  

 

Evidence supports the arguments that time out and rest and relaxation results in increased performance. As counter intuitive as it may seem, less time in work really can mean greater productivity when we are there. As we begin to look to the summer, it’s well worth considering your organisation’s approach to annual leave, and perhaps it’s time for you to book that holiday.

Sleep Matters to your business

Sleep Matters to your business

 

 

It will come as no surprise that a well-rested employee is a more productive employee. What might raise eyebrows is that organisations can do their part to help with that.

Most employers see sleep deprivation as a personal issue that has little or nothing to do with the workplace. It’s the duty of each of us to ensure that we organise our lives such that we get the sleep we require in order to be at our best in the workplace.

The reality is that while everyone skips a few hours kip here and there occasionally, if an individual is doing this regularly it can have a significant impact on their health, wellbeing and subsequently, their performance at work.

To be clear, employers are not legally responsible for employee’s sleeping habits. They do, however, have a few key things to consider.

 

1. There must be at least 11 hours rest time between working days. This is not much of a problem in most 9-5 environments but needs to be factored into timetabling for shift work.

2. If an employee is not getting enough sleep due to work-related stress and the business does not endeavour to resolve this, they may be failing in their duty of care.

3. Lack of sleep can result in health problems, irritability or loss of concentration which can all result in costly incidents for an organisation.

 

Independent research institute, RAND Europe, found that insufficient sleep cost the UK around £38bn in 2016. That amounts to 1.86 percent of GDP – not an insignificant figure. It’s not an insurmountable problem though. RAND’s research found that encouraging people who usually sleep less than six hours a night to sleep instead for six to seven could make a huge difference to the economy.

Except for a few notable people such as Donald Trump and Margaret Thatcher, who can get by on just four or five hours sleep a night, most of us need around seven to nine hours most nights. It is a common misconception that when we sleep everything goes into shut-down, in fact in many ways the complete opposite occurs. This is the time that our bodies reset, restore and process.

Not only does sleep aid physical recovery it is also the time that our brain lays down memories and consolidates information gathered during the day. During sleep we literally move information from short-term memory to long-term memory. In fact, a good night’s sleep actually aids memory during the first few hours after we wake.

On the other hand, persistent lack of adequate sleep can cause difficulty concentrating and focussing. It is harder to make decisions and low mood, or mood swings become more prevalent. In addition, reactions will be slower and there’s more chance of drifting off during the day, making accidents much more likely.

Another myth is that we can ‘catch up’ on sleep. Unfortunately, this is not true. If an individual is persistently not getting enough sleep during the week, they can’t simply sleep in at the weekend to make up for it. That ‘sleep debt’ will continue to accrue and potentially cause long term negative effects.

Lack of sleep is now being linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. It is also known to reduce immune systems and so the sleep deprived have a higher chance of catching whatever is going around the office. We are also gaining greater understanding of the relationship between sleep and mental health.

It is preferable for everyone if the issue can be resolved before it reaches the point that it is having a long-term effect on health and mental wellbeing. Being willing to help your employees is only half the challenge, how can businesses spot sleep deprivation in their staff? According to Public Health England, poor sleep can present in the following ways in the workplace:

 
• Reduced performance

• Increased sickness and absence

• Poor memory


• Bad mood


• Loss of concentration


• Reduced communication


• Increased caffeine consumption


• Greater risk taking

 

While sleep is, of course a largely personal issue, sleep deprivation can have significant, costly and far-reaching effects on businesses. So, employers need to take it seriously.

Business in the Community and Public Health England have joined forces to create the Sleep and Recovery Toolkit.
In their Actions for Employers they suggest:

Educate – Offer training to managers and employees on the importance of adequate sleep. Explain the range and limitations of support that can be offered by your organisation. If necessary, bring in external support.

Communicate – Make sure that encouraging adequate sleep is a core factor of any health and wellbeing policy. Spread the word that the issue is not simply personal and encourage employees to pinpoint causes of sleep deprivation that can be resolved in the workplace or with the support of the business.

Facilitate – Understand how the workplace influences employee’s sleep and work to manage those. Recognise causes of stress and work to reduce them. For example, be mindful of overtime requests, or expectations on staff to check email 24/7. Engage with occupational health specialists to ensure that the working environment is not contributing to lack of sleep.

An organisation that is sleep aware can work to reduce the macho culture that celebrates sleep deprivation and presents sending and receiving midnight emails as dedication.
While many of today’s work ethics and economics require everyone to tighten their belts, businesses should be mindful of the pressures they are placing on their employees. They need to consider their job requirements versus their employee’s health needs. The line between work-life and home-life is increasingly blurred. If work creeps into an employee’s personal time, resulting in sleep deprivation, the negative effects of lack of sleep will begin to cost the business, sooner or later.

Is your organisation doing enough to tackle Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Is your organisation doing enough to tackle Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for just over a third (35%) of work-related ill health in the UK in 2017/18. A massive 6.6 million sick days were accrued as a result of MSDs.

MSDs refer to injuries and disorders that affect a person’s movement or their musculoskeletal system, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).

Common MSDs include:

• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
• Tendonitis
• Muscle / Tendon strain
• Ligament Sprain
• Tension Neck Syndrome
• Ruptured / Herniated Disc
• Repetitive Strain Injury
• Osteoarthritis
• Varicose Veins
• Back Pain
• Tennis Elbow
• and many more.


Most MSDs lie in the neck, back and upper limbs (92%).

Although the number of reported cases is slowly declining, MSDs are still a significant cause of sickness among the working age population. It is also a problem that can be seen across all industries. Physically active jobs do see a higher rate of injury, but office-based roles are also problematic. MSDs are caused through hard manual work, incorrect positioning, long periods of working at keyboards, sedentary jobs and repetitive actions.

It’s clear that irrespective of industry, businesses need to take this aspect of employee health seriously. Unfortunately, recent research reveals that potentially, quite the opposite is happening. Employees do not feel that their health and wellbeing, when it comes to MSDs, is being given enough priority.

The uncomfortable truth

The vast majority of office workers reportedly spend between four to nine hours a day sitting at their desks. This equates to 67 seated days a year. Employees are not unaware of the risks of such sedentary jobs, or the negative impact of repetitive actions and manual work. In fact, around two thirds believe their working environment impacts negatively on their health. Another study, carried out by Home Leisure Direct, found that 90% of respondents believed a healthy workplace was ‘fundamental’ to their work-life balance.

The disquieting statistics come when researchers asked about employer attitudes. A hugely significant 97% of staff felt that their workspace was representative of how management valued them (Management Today). Yet almost half of those polled by Home Leisure Direct did not believe their employer cared abouttheir wellbeing. The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) found that 40% of respondents felt that they couldn’t get up and walk around regularly when working in the office. Only 6% reported that they were encouraged to spend time away from their desks and just a fifth had been offered a desk and seating assessment or ergonomic equipment. Business need to do more to demonstrate that they value their employee’s health and wellbeing.

The impact of MSDs on business and the economy is clear – 6.6 million sick days is a lot of lost revenue and productivity. Organisations that offer a comprehensive health and wellbeing package see the benefits throughout an employee’s life cycle.

As the desire for a positive work-life balance becomes increasingly important, an organisation’s approach to employee health and wellbeing is coming under increased scrutiny during the recruitment process. Home Leisure Direct found that 65% of respondents would consider moving companies if offered a better office environment.

Practical Solutions

MSDs are not a new issue, and there are many tried and tested practical ways that organisations can support their employee’s physical wellbeing:

1. Get Active – First and foremost, get active. Whatever the employee role, getting up and walking about, taking a break from repetitive work or a moment to stretch, will have a hugely positive impact on overall health.

2. Break out – While 42% of staff had no break-out area in their office, 70% said they would benefit from one. Providing a welcoming gathering space, somewhere to meet and chat, sit and eat lunch, or just read the paper.

3. Evaluate – Carry out assessments of work stations to ensure that computer screens and keyboards are properly positioned. Check that chairs are the correct height and adjusted to offer support and promote good posture.

4. Sight test – Check the lighting. Is there enough natural light in the office? If not, are the electric lights in the right places and at the right angles? Can employees see without squinting? Consider lighting throughout the working day – what about shadows, reflections, flickering lights and glare? These can all cause individuals to take up awkward positions.

5. The right tool – Do employees have the right tools for the job? Can seats, computer stands and desk surfaces be raised or lowered as required?

6. Repetition – Sometimes it simply can’t be avoided, some jobs are repetitive. But consider ways of breaking down the workload to provide respite from repetitive tasks. When they can’t be broken up with other jobs, ensure regular breaks are taken.


One of the key points to come across from the above research is that in too many cases employees do not feel that their physical wellbeing is prioritised by their employer. This is concerning given that employers have a legal duty of care to ensure healthy working environments and practices.

It is possible that this is more about a break down in internal communications than neglectful management. It does, however, underly the need for organisations to ensure that their staff understand their rights and feel able to voice concerns over working environment.

Show you care

• Produce a formal health and wellbeing policy
• Promote and encourage an effort to achieve best practice in this area
• Carry out regular workplace evaluations
• Implement practical solutions, like those listed above
• Actively engage with staff to hear and respond to concerns


All the above will demonstrate that the organisation takes this issue seriously and truly values the health and wellbeing of their employees. This is a win-win scenario for any organisation. Many MSDs can be prevented or minimised with just a little bit of forethought and minor adaptions and any costs will be far outweighed by improved productivity, reduced sickness levels and increased employee loyalty.

Planning for the Future Workplace

Planning for the Future Workplace

Times are changing and some are warning that new and emerging technologies are going to completely alter the workplace. Matthew Holder, head of campaigns and engagement at the British Safety Council recently called  on businesses to prepare now for the workplace of the future.

But what might that future workplace look like? We have some clues already.

Since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, workplace deaths and injuries have dropped dramatically. Generally, our working environments are physically far safer places to be. Our mental wellbeing, however, is another issue.

Mental health issues are on the rise and despite increased awareness they continue to have a significant impact on the workplace. It was estimated that a whopping 12.5 million working days were lost to mental health issues in 2017. This accounted for almost 50% of all workplace absences. Despite this high figure, over half of UK companies have yet to implement formal wellbeing policies.  Could this be because they don’t fully appreciate the impact of the workplace on mental health?

New and emerging technologies could and are often cited as having direct and indirect impact on our mental wellbeing.  Technological advancements are coming thick and fast. In some cases, too fast for us to keep up with.

Some of these changes have made our workplaces safer and healthier. Robots can carry out dangerous and repetitive tasks and computer programmes have streamlined working practices and enabled better employee engagement. Our ability to spot and avoid dangers has also greatly improved, for example, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a crisis like that caused by asbestos again and we now understand the reasons behind and have developed solutions to many musculoskeletal problems.

Yet, along with these positive changes in our workplaces, technology is taking its toll on our mental health and wellbeing. This often comes down to two core issues, insecurity and poor work-life balance. For example, job security has been directly threatened by the rise of the machine. Robots are taking on more and more physical roles, online shopping is decimating the high street and AI is potentially just a few years away from entirely reshaping the workplace as we know it. Some, such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, argue that these changes may threaten up to 10 million workers over the next decade.  Others believe that the new technology will create more new jobs than the old ones it replaces but that those jobs will be very different from today. 

Whichever future view you subscribe to, the result is, at least in the short term, insecurity and instability for many of the working population.  Technology has facilitated a seismic shift in working practices with the rise of the ‘gig economy’. Uber, Deliveroo, Airbnb and Hermes are just a few of the businesses in this growing arena. The term ‘gig’ comes from the idea that each job is self-contained. The umbrella company or employer treats staff as self-employed or freelancers, picking up one-off jobs, arguing that they don’t have to offer those workers the same rights as in traditional businesses models. Zero-hour contracts have a similar approach, treating all staff as part-time, thus reducing the duty of care that the company has towards them.

A parliamentary report into this working practice found that around 15 per cent (5 million people) of UK workers are self-employed. Not all of these will be in the gig economy or on zero-hour contracts, but the proportion is growing. While many people enjoy the flexibility afforded by working this way, it does not offer security and government legislation has not yet caught up.

Flexibility is something that workers have long demanded but business often fails to deliver on. In the early 2000’s, as the Internet was becoming wide-spread, there was a lot of discussion around the concept of remote working. The belief was that the technological advances of the networked world would enable more and more employees to work remotely or from home.

Just under two decades later we have seen many tools developed that enable us to work on the move. Email can be read on our phones, websites can be accessed 24 hours a day and file sharing promise collaborative working opportunities unbounded by geography. However, rather than a migration to the home-office and the four-day week so often touted, we are, for the most part, still working in offices. Yet now the ‘always on’ culture mean that when people finally do go home, they are unable to switch off from work.

A recent study by the Myers-Briggs Company discovered that nearly one in three respondents found they are unable to mentally switch off from work. 26% said that there was an expectation that they were ‘always on’. The result is that they are exhausting themselves mentally by repeatedly and obsessively checking into work day and night.

The irony is that the solution lies in the problem. The always-on nature of the technologically connected world provides exactly the tools needed to take the pressure off and redress the work-life balance. Mumsnet found that three-quarters of parents believed flexible working to be of more value to them than a pay rise, or other financial perks. Powwownow’s 2017 survey on flexible working found that 67% of employees long for flexible working, yet, although 58% of workers were offered it, 24% didn’t make use of it. Job insecurity reduces employees’ confidence to ask for or take flexible working opportunities.

Research has shown that working from home, even just one day a week, can reduce commuting and care costs, increase free time (without loss to business) and improve work-life balance. All of this has a positive impact on stress levels and mental wellbeing which results in more efficient and productive employees. 

Some have argued that our technology is changing so fast that we are in fact in the early stages of a fourth industrial revolution. It is hard enough to keep pace, let-alone plan for the future workplace. But it is essential that organisations, particularly with regards to occupational health, begin talking about the future of their unique working environment. How are these new technologies likely to impact on the day to day running of the business, not just the ‘bottom line’ but the employees who work there.

By developing a well-rounded and expansive health and wellbeing policy organisations can be ahead of the game. Exploiting new technologies to give you the edge while minimising the negative impacts. 

Seven Ways to Start the New Year Right

Seven Ways to Start the New Year Right

Christmas can be a challenging time for some.  Juggling work with festive planning is all well and good while the adrenalin is flowing, but once the decorations are starting to lose their sparkle and the tree is wilting, January can feel anything but shiny. Even those who had a fantastic Christmas can feel a dip as the excitement wears off and they look for the next project. 

This can all have a negative knock-on effect in the workplace, so we have put together a 7 step plan to getting 2019 off to the right start and beating the January blues.

Step 1

Festive fatigue. For those suffering from long-term illness, financial problems, mental health issues, relationship breakdown, domestic abuse or bereavement, Christmas can be one of the most miserable times of the year. Sometimes the workplace is a welcome escape, while other times it is the final straw.

Try to be aware and mindful of the challenges that some employees may face over the Christmas period, and adapt your approach accordingly. This is a great opportunity to launch or discuss your organisation’s wellbeing policies. Let employees know what support is available and promote an open-door policy so that any worries and concerns can be dealt with quickly.

Step 2

Lighten up. Lack of natural light is a serious issue for 6% of the population and 14% suffer from ‘winter blues’. One study even found that a lack of natural light increased cortisol levels and reduced night-time melatonin levels, both of which are linked to depression and poor sleep. Even those who don’t suffer specific symptoms can benefit from a little more sunlight.  

During the winter months many people find themselves commuting to and from work in the dark and spending the daylight hours in an office. Encourage employees to get out while it’s light during the day, perhaps a lunch break walk? Keep office blinds raised and improve light levels with mirrors and light-coloured walls. If these options are not practical, then it may be worth considering investing in some special Light Therapy lamps.

Step 3

Get active. Few people make lasting resolutions. However, it is the most common time for people to take up a new diet and exercise regime or quit smoking. Organisations can help support their employees efforts to improve their health in many ways. Try out the lunch time mile which encourages people to get out and walk during their lunch break. Or run a quit smoking campaign and help boost employee willpower to stay on target.

Capitalise on the desire to make positive changes and implement healthy initiatives. Kick start an office league or encourage healthy lunch habits, perhaps even get people to swap their favourite recipes. People are more likely to stick at their resolutions, exercise routines and healthy diets if they’re doing it with others.

Step 4

New chapter. January is the most popular month for handing in job resignations with almost 1 in 5 people citing it as the month to change employer in a study by Glassdoor. Perhaps it links to the top reason for changing jobs, which was salary.  Not so surprising when one third of adults worry they won’t have enough money to last through Christmas. Is it any wonder that this is the time of year people start to consider their options? It’s not just money people are worried about, 22% of respondents in the Glassdoor study said that they quit because they wanted a new challenge. Filling vacancies is costly and time consuming, so forestall this by ensuring you properly value your employees and that they know it. This may also be a good time to ensure that you have a clear progression strategies in place and engage your team in practical and achievable development planning.

Step 5

Positive Workplaces. If life is getting you down, the last thing you want to do is walk into a miserable workplace. Creating positive working environments is not just about having a nice office space, it’s also about encouraging a constructive, stress-free atmosphere and bringing together a strong, supportive team. It might sound idealistic, but no matter the workplace, it’s always possible to foster a good team spirit.

Encourage supportive team working, rather than aggressive competition – although a bit of friendly rivalry can work wonders for motivation. Ensure roles are clearly defined and the team well-structured to avoid any overstepping or under-reaching. Acknowledge achievements and reward them. Be sure to celebrate the wins. What better way to brighten up a dull January day than a pizza lunch or latte afternoon to recognise successes? 

Step 6

Remember wellbeing. Mental health issues can be challenged by Christmas and January blues. Having a well-rounded wellbeing policy in place can be key to ensuring that any concerns are managed before they turn into problems. Promote self-care and encourage employees to be mindful of their own needs and to feel able to flag them up where relevant. Make mental health part of your wellbeing strategy. Consider offering confidential counselling in the first month or two of the year.

Step 7

Don’t forget yourself! It is easy to get caught up with ensuring everyone else is coping and forget about ourselves. Self-care is for everyone. Take a breath and remember that January is only 31 days.