It’s the run up to Christmas and you’re working flat out to prepare for the big day (and the time off work).
Have you bought the appropriate quantity of sprouts? Will you run out of Quality Street before the Queen’s speech? The last thing you’ve got time for is a GP appointment if you’re feeling a bit under the weather. It’s just another thing to fit in, right?
Recent research found that more than half of workers (52%) have had to cancel or change a medical appointment because of work commitments. While businesses have a responsibility to support their employees’ health all year round, the Christmas period is a vital time for many organisations and sickness can have a damaging effect on productivity.
This means ensuring staff are as fit and healthy as possible over the Winter months can be crucial to maintaining staff engagement and motivation at this important time.
With this in mind here are five tips to help you support your team members at the most wonderful time of the year:
Be as flexible as you can
Some of our great institutions aren't geared up to work around our nine to five commitments, and the NHS is one. At many GP surgeries if you want to see a doctor in under a month’s time you have to turn up when they open and just wait until you can see someone.
With this in mind, ask yourself how you can help your workers to get the help they need while – if appropriate – helping them to be productive too.
Working from home (likelier to be nearer the surgery than the office) is a good example of how to support a knowledge worker. For a shift worker can you do anything to make swapping shifts with a colleague easier?
Your people will probably be juggling many different priorities at this time of year, so think about the unique rhythm that your workplace has and ask if there is anything you can do differently to relieve the pressure.
Are you trying to cram in half-year appraisals before you finish the year? Does your holiday year end on 31 December, resulting in people trying to 'use up' their leave and putting more pressure on others? Is your finance team struggling to complete their month-end work by the usual deadline despite there being no-one in to analyse it?
Watch out for presenteeism
Despite the common 'lazy worker' trope many people do still struggle in to work when they have a cold – or worse. This may win brownie points in some organisations but more enlightened managers (and staff) will recognise that the sniffling team member is mostly just spreading their germs around the office. This will ultimately result in more sickness among other employees and a bigger impact on productivity.
Prevention is better than cure
'Coughs and sneezes spread diseases' used to be the mantra and this still applies. It may sound a little Big Brother, but simply reminding people to wash their hands regularly and ensuring that you provide antibacterial gel can help.
At this time of year it may be a good investment to get some extra cleaning done. If you have a lot of shared phones and computers consider a specialist IT deep clean – the old cliché about there being more germs on computer keyboards than toilet seats has some rather grim basis in fact.
Taking prevention further
Some workplaces arrange and offer their staff a flu vaccination early in the season – particularly in retail where maintaining productivity and attendance over the Christmas period is vital.
This should never be made compulsory, as some people have strong feelings about it, but employers can help to encourage take-up by busting some common myths about the vaccine such as 'it gives you a mild dose of the flu'.
Every workplace is unique and faces different challenges depending on the composition of the team, the industry sector and the type of work that is done there.
With a little consideration it’s usually possible to make one or two simple changes that can have a big impact on people’s lives and help them carry on doing excellent work for you throughout what is undoubtedly a stressful time of year.
Tim Scott is director of people at Fletchers Solicitors