Buck Bond Group
Employee winter wellbeing

Employee winter wellbeing

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As we progress into the winter months we can –  often unintentionally – change our lifestyle in ways that impact our wellbeing. This can mean spending more time indoors, eating differently and generally feeling less energised. This can impact health and workplace productivity, beyond the regular coughs and colds that are more prevalent throughout the winter. To counteract this shift, employers can adjust their wellbeing support with season-specific challenges in mind. To supplement the support made available, communication and engagement strategies can optimise benefits uptake and, ultimately, assist more consistent employee wellbeing.

The physical impacts

As we all know, the cold and damp of winter can mean that we spend less time outside, resulting in less of the exercise, fresh air and sunlight which are all important for maintaining energy levels. This can be even more likely when many of us now work remotely or semi-remotely. Even if walking as part of a commute or a lunchtime stroll near the office may not feel like much, our activity levels can drop more than we realise when we don’t have to get outside, and the weather isn’t inspiring. There can also be a natural tendency to consume more alcohol and less healthy food during the winter, especially during peak party season. There’s a risk that these factors can combine to create something of a vicious cycle, and feeling more lethargic than we otherwise would.

It’s also important to recognise that the cold can impact various chronic conditions such as arthritis, lupus and anemia. Additionally, people may not be getting enough vitamin D between October and early March, when the sun may not be strong enough for the body to convert it. An estimated 1 in 6 adults in the UK have vitamin D levels lower than government recommendations.[1] While vitamin D is in many of the foods we eat, it is more effectively absorbed via sunlight or vitamin supplements – and so during the winter, supplements may be necessary to regulate levels. Low vitamin D levels can result in tiredness, poor sleep, low metabolism, and bone and joint pain.

Mental impacts

The winter months can present a higher risk of seasonal anxiety and depression. Impacts on physical health can affect us mentally, while other factors can have specific mental health ramifications. Reduced sunlight can lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our happiness levels, hunger, and sleep. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also linked to lack of daylight, and is now a recognised condition causing low mood, low motivation, and social withdrawal. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it impacts 3% of people. [2] This can be an issue especially once the clocks have gone back, with the sun setting earlier and days getting shorter. So much so that academics, scientists, and campaigners have called for the abolition of the clock-turning tradition, citing improvements to mental and physical health. There is evidence that SAD therapy lights, which mimic daylight, can help mitigate its effects.

Financial impacts

Finances can be under added pressure in the winter, exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis. Rises in food and energy cost are having a significant impact on many people’s day-to-day healthy food intake, and how warm we keep our homes. Delaying putting heating on until later in the year, reducing the boiler temperature and having it on for less time are suggested solutions to reducing financial pressures. However, this can cause health issues in the home, with a higher risk of damp and its effects, as well as feeling less energised by being in a colder environment. There are also holiday-related costs to take into consideration, which can be more challenging when annual budgets are already stretched.

So how can employers better tailor their wellbeing support over the winter months? They can consider the following options:

  • Many group insurance policies now have complimentary wellbeing apps, which have mental health checkers, educational resources and self-help techniques to improve mental health and physical wellbeing. Some insurers are now also offering nutrition counselling and personal fitness coaching. Employers can use targeted communications to boost engagement with these available services.
  • Encouraging take-up of Employee Assistance Programmes and Group Income Protection, which can signpost to further support if needed, and may offer talking therapy, CBT or a short-term counselling. Providing access to digital GPs is also a valuable employee benefit, as access to NHS GPs becomes increasingly challenging and can lengthen the time it takes to resolve health issues.
  • Financial wellbeing strategies can assist in providing employees with tools and education to better manage their finances; if a financial wellbeing strategy has not been reviewed or communicated to employees in some time, the winter is an especially useful time to implement this.
  • Employers might offer mental health wellbeing days, which may be more beneficial in the winter, and ensure that hot desks are available to home workers during periods of extreme cold. Flu voucher schemes, providing flu vaccines, are also increasing in popularity.

The winter months can pose a challenge to maintaining physical and mental wellbeing, while additional financial pressures can be especially prevalent during the winter and festive seasons. Employers can counteract these seasonal shifts, and assist their employees in their wellbeing, by providing programmes that support financial wellbeing, mental and physical health. In addition to having a healthier, happier workforce, this can improve productivity and reduce sickness absence.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-review-launched-into-vitamin-d-intake-to-help-tackle-health-disparities

[2] https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/mental-illnesses-and-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-(sad)