· Features

How can HR teams support their employees’ health during the winter lockdown?

With the long nights drawing in, flu season taking hold and a tiered lockdown system in place, it is more important than ever for HR departments to take additional steps to make sure that they can support their employee's physical and mental health this winter.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly half of the UK’s 30 million employees have worked from home during the pandemic. This mass shift to working from home has not only made it more difficult for HR departments to connect with their employees, offer support and pick up on any subtle changes which may be a cause for concern, but it is has also put an exceeding amount of pressure on employees.

Some may be faced with isolation or crowded housing, others may struggle to switch off from the working day or lose motivation to exercise or eat healthily.

There is also the additional confusion as to when you should or shouldn’t be working from home, particularly if you are feeling unwell.

However, there are now numerous steps HR teams can be taking to help support their employees from afar.

Encourage flexible working

A harsh winter can help us relish the indoors, but it is crucial to step outside each day. In fact, a recent study by OnePoll.com found 8 in 10 adults often had days where they didn't step outside at all during daylight hours last winter.

This will not only leave individuals feeling lethargic, but movement is essential for your lymphatic system, which relies on muscle movement for stimulation. It helps your immune cells to move around the body to fight germs that might be trying to get inside your tissues. Therefore, it is crucial that we are all getting outside and moving each day.

By offering your employees flexible working hours, they can start taking longer lunch breaks so they can get outside during day light hours.

Don’t forget the basics

Eating a balanced diet to give your body a variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients to help it fight infection is key. Understandably, once the novelty of cooking a new meal each evening during the first lockdown passed, many of us are now struggling to find the motivation to eat healthily.

It may seem simple but supporting your employees with dietary tips, easy recipes and quick kitchen hacks can go a long way to giving them the boost they need.

Providing additional guidance around supplements will also be useful. For example, it’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D from sunlight in the UK, so the government advises adults to take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement during the winter months.

Other immune boosting supplements including zinc and B12 are equally important minerals that we can only get through our diets and so an additional supplement may be beneficial.

Take a digital first approach

One way HR teams can adapt to this unprecedented situation is by exploring the support medtech platforms can offer, for example, bridging distancing issues by using the latest digital developments to enhance their employees’ health from afar.

One start would be to encourage digital-first primary care where med-tech platforms can assess symptoms and recommend action. These can ease stress when symptoms are developing and recommend appropriate care. They can also assist employees when speaking their manager about whether or not they should be working at home.

Consider your employees mental wellbeing

To say that 2020 has been a chaotic year would be an understatement and so it is understandable that employees may be feeling a little lost right now and anxious about their future.

As a HR team it is important to be open and honest with your employees about the future of the company and how their role may develop alongside the uncertain landscape. Establishing clear communication pathways will go a long way to preventing any unnecessary anxiety.

Moreover, promoting wellness days to enable your employees to have a little extra time to themselves; providing access to online platforms to help employees check in on their mental wellbeing and making sure employees know how to seek help from counsellors or a support line, are all crucial steps to ensuring you maintain a hands-on approach to supporting your employees overall wellbeing whilst they are working from home.

Ben Littlewood-Hillsdon is CMO of Doctorlink