‘April is the cruellest month’ proclaimed TS Eliot, but most of us would disagree. After the fun and frolics of Christmas, January stretches out for five long weeks. After ‘silly season’ many people are feeling the effects on their wallet, their waist, and their liver. Generally, we combine this hangover with the guilt or pressure of our decisions to diet, exercise, stop drinking, find love, change jobs, achieve zen, or generally transform our lives and save the world.
We’re rapidly approaching ‘Blue Monday’ which is supposed to be the most miserable day of the year when bank balances and new year’s resolutions are broken.
So what can we do to support our employees?
January can be great! I’ve always enjoyed the new start that a new year offers – the challenge is to set 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 new year’s resolution to improve the health of your workforce, and set yourself some achievable targets to track progress; whether it’s committing to sending out a ‘health related’ internal communications update once a month, or changing the menu in your work café, offering your employees access to healthcare, running an inhouse wellness day, or simply training your managers to spot signs of mental health.
Establishing and rolling out a well-being strategy should look at several different areas of health:
1. Mental Health
Whilst it’s not known for being the most sociable month, having a team or company lunch or night out in January is a good way to bring some fun. Think about other things to do – maybe a team baking competition, run a ‘recognition’ campaign where you encourage employees to acknowledge their peers, or just place a ‘thank you’ chocolate on your team’s desks… it doesn’t sound like much but just little things can lift a dark day.
Whilst most people can be a bit miserable in January, 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, January can often trigger relationship break-ups with the first Monday in January being known as ‘Divorce Monday’. Train your managers in spotting signs of stress, anxiety or distress in their teams; it can be as simple as someone showing more visible emotions than normal (anger, frustration, sadness), or dressing more unkemptly, or 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 of getting 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.
Dry January is increasing in popularity with one in ten people who drink claiming that they attempt a dry month. The benefits of not drinking alcohol are substantive, and studies show that 60% of people who attempt Dry January 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.