Winter is coming. That’s not just a Game of Thrones quote, it’s a fact. With the colder season comes shorter, darker days, flu season, and more time spent indoors with fewer activities. On top of that, we’re not yet living in a post-COVID society. Needless to say, there’s a lot to think about from an employer’s perspective as the winter season approaches.
Workplace absences saw a huge surge in 2020. According to USA Today, 1.5 million people a month missed work because of personal illness. A lot of that likely has to do with COVID-19, and it’s certainly a good thing for people to stay home when they’re feeling sick. But, one person missing one day of work can make a big difference to your business.
As a business owner or manager, your top priority should be keeping your employees healthy and productive.
Obviously, you can’t control viruses or what employees do on their own time to take care of their health. But, when they’re in the workplace or even “on the clock” working from home, there are steps you can take to help strengthen their health and wellness while boosting productivity.
Not sure how to get started with your employees? Let’s cover a few ideas that can make it easier to ensure a more efficient and healthy winter at work.
Finding Normalcy While COVID Still Lingers
Winter is often known as flu season. While common illnesses like colds and the flu don’t discriminate from season to season, there are several reasons why people tend to get sicker during the colder months, including:
- Viruses live longer indoors because the air is less humid
- It’s easier for people to inhale viruses when everyone is inside
- Closer contact with people
According to the CDC, the winter flu impacts anywhere from 300,000-600,000 each year. 2020 was an exception due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because people were taking precautions like social distancing, mask-wearing, and working from home, flu numbers went down significantly. That didn’t mean the flu didn’t exist, of course. But, it showed that taking the right precautions can make a big difference when it comes to people getting sick.
Now that things are slowly starting to go back to normal, however, you should have an understanding of how this winter might pose a greater risk to employee health than ever. The COVID-19 virus is still lingering, especially as new variants begin to cause problems. On top of that, cold and flu season hasn’t just “disappeared”.
So, what can you do to keep your employees safe and healthy from a variety of viruses?
While the COVID-19 virus is still running rampant, one of the best ways to protect everyone is with PPE (personal protective equipment). This includes using gloves, masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer as much as possible. Provide them for your employees and encourage them to be used every day.
It’s also important to make your employees feel safe and comfortable, so let them know of precautions you’re taking to make sure they can depend on a clean, hygienic workplace. That can include things like:
- Signs that encourage social distancing and hand-washing
- Increasing airflow on warmer days
- Sanitizing desks every night
- Discouraging shared offices supplies
Having a health and safety plan in place as employees return to work and expect a long winter can offer peace of mind and keep your employees as healthy as possible each day.
Managing Mental Health
There’s no denying that the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health. Since last year, there have been increases in multiple mental health issues across the country, including:
Whether your employees are working from home or in person, making their mental health a priority will not only create a better work environment but will encourage productivity, too. If you want to get a baseline idea of where everyone’s mental well-being currently is, consider sending out a survey. Ask people questions about how they’re feeling, what their work-life balance looks like, and if they think they’re struggling to manage their mental health.
No matter what the responses look like, you should take the initiative to help your employees keep their mental health safe and stable. It can even be beneficial to add a mental health section to your employee handbook, so your workers know exactly what to expect. Try things like:
- Encouraging mental health days off work
- Allowing for flexibility
- Making time for fun in the office
- Model self-care
- Communicate as much as possible
If you really want to go the extra mile, offer professional mental health services to your employees. You can work with a local therapist or offer to cover the cost of teletherapy sessions for your employees. It can be difficult for some people to come forward when they’re struggling. But, if the offer is already out there and your employees know mental wellness is encouraged, they’re more likely to get the help they need.
It’s easy to focus on the physical health of your employees. But, over the last year when everyone has been through so much, it’s important not to ignore mental health and how it could be impacting people at work. Keep your eyes open for any signs of anxiety, depression, or just something that feels “off”. Your workers might be going through more than you realize, and it’s up to you to create a working atmosphere that will benefit them.
Boosting Productivity When It’s Needed Most
Healthy employees are productive employees. Now, more than ever, companies must be as efficient as possible. So many businesses had to shut their doors due to the pandemic, and many are either playing catch up or worrying about starting from the ground up.
Every business owner knows the importance of productivity. But, what can you do to improve it within your office setting? Try some of the following techniques:
- Offer extra employee training
- Delegate appropriately
- Reduce workplace distractions
- Reward employee performance
- Provide support
It’s also a good idea to upgrade your workplace conditions. Doing so could benefit your employees’ mental health, and you already know how crucial that is. But, it can also provide a fresh perspective and inspire your employees to get more done.
Upgrading doesn’t necessarily mean you have to remodel the whole building. Instead, consider redecorating, improving your in-house technology, and changing the lighting.
You can also upgrade your business’ culture. It’s something more employees are looking for nowadays and can not only make a big difference in their productivity but their loyalty, as well. Encourage breaks throughout the day, and offer the benefits employees really want so they can achieve a greater work-life balance.
When your employees are healthy and habit, they’re more likely to stay motivated and efficient in the workplace. That means fewer sick days that you have to worry about, a better company culture, and employees who actually enjoy coming to work each day and getting things done.
As we head into the winter months, keep these ideas in mind. People will be in close quarters, and that means certain changes will be necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy. Making physical and mental health your priorities this year (and beyond) will benefit your business now and in the future.