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A winter lockdown brings its own mental health challenges. The team at Benenden Health have advice for employers to help support employees at this time
2021 has blown in with a big bag of mental health challenges. Lockdown 3 is the most obvious. And it comes with a slew of attendant headaches for working dads like juggling homeschool and childcare. Plus there’s the continuing stress around staying safe and worrying about the health of loved ones.
Then there’s all the usual stuff like short days – one in five suffer ‘seasonal affective disorder’ triggered by the lack of light – and the end of the festive season.
Folk need help. And good employers will step up to support their staff.
Cheryl Lythgoe is Matron for Benenden Health, the not-for-profit organisation founded in 1905 and based in York since 1990. It is one of the UK’s longest-serving mutual healthcare societies. She shares her tips and advice for employers that want to help their employees through this challenging period.
All forms of light and brightness can help us fight off the winter blues when the days are short and the nights are long.
When the mercury drops, going outside to brave the icy air sinks to the bottom of the priority list. But it’s important to encourage your team to get outside; few things beat natural light – even on a cloudy day.
With many teams now working from home, encourage your employees to think about their home set-up and encourage them to use more lamps and LED lightbulbs, which tend to be brighter than conventional bulbs and give off a more natural spectrum of light.
For those still in an office, make sure there is as much natural light as possible and encourage employees to take breaks to get into the open air when it’s still light. Walking meetings are also a great way of encouraging your employees to get outside that works for those in the office, and for those still working from home.
Social interaction is a well-known protector against all forms of depression, lowering blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. Encouraging your team to stay connected through regular video calls and team updates, if working from home, can help address feelings of loneliness and isolation in a month when spirits can be low.
Many workplaces have implemented virtual social events for teams still working remotely, from online coffee mornings to book clubs and exercise classes, and for those still working in an office, think about events that can still take place with social distancing in place – even just having a natter over a cup of tea can help.
Make sure you check in individually on those who may be struggling and encourage an open channel of communication so you can identify any issues and offer support where needed.
Whilst the dark days and cold weather can naturally put us off going outside to exercise, it is well documented that keeping active has mood-lifting effects that are as good as taking antidepressant medication.
As an employer, encourage your staff to exercise as much as possible, with team exercises a great idea to keep fit, healthy and connected during isolation. These can be outside in line with government guidelines, otherwise online fitness classes or YouTube exercises could be good alternatives.
To allow for the short days, consider introducing a flexible working policy, allowing employees to step away from their desk and get some fresh air whilst it’s still light outside.
A recent Ofcom report found that UK adults are currently spending a quarter of their waking day online – which is a new record high!
While this is to be expected with a significant number of people working from home and limited entertainment options, it’s important to recognise your employees need time away from work, especially as the workplace is now in the home for many. This might be ensuring that they always take time away from their desk for their lunch, encouraging them to get outside when possible, or promoting signing off from their computers on time.
Consider training up mental health first aiders to support your teams throughout the year. There are also specialist organisations who employers can turn to who will be able to offer the support and advice that you and your staff may need. When looking for a provider of this service, you might want to consider whether they offer 24/7 telephone support as the team member affected might feel more comfortable raising an issue anonymously than raising it through their manager.