Simple hacks to reduce workplace winter sickness, according to a doctor

Simple hacks to reduce workplace winter sickness

Wherever your team is based, a few simple principles can help to shape your work culture, prevent absences, and start the new year on a high. 

Health issues can be more common in the winter, with bugs more easily transmitted as we spend more time indoors. Dr Helen Hartley, Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance, shares her top tips for managers to help support their team’s health this winter.

First things first ‘ keep handwashing

Handwashing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the spread of many winter infections, including the common cold, flu, norovirus and coronavirus. It’s ideal to wash your hands with soap and water, but if there’s not a sink nearby, set up hand sanitising stations. Be sure to use a sanitiser of at least 60% alcohol content.

Take things back to basics and remind your team why it’s important to regularly wash your hands. If your team is usually office-based, make sure there’s plenty of soap and hand sanitiser on standby so there’s no excuse to skip washing your hands, especially before handling food, and after blowing noses, coughing, sneezing, using the toilet and touching communal objects (e.g., door handles, kettles).

Help to reduce the spread of infection further by reminding staff to cough and sneeze into a tissue or their upper arm, rather than into their hands. 

Don’t forget vitamin D 

The UK government advises that everyone living in the UK should take a daily vitamin D supplement.  This is because many people don’t get the vitamin D their body needs from the sun and diet alone, during the autumn and winter months, 

Vitamin D is key to keeping your immune system strong and plays a big part in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles. 

Educate and inform your team on the merits of taking a daily supplement during autumn and winter. Vitamin D supplements come in various doses ‘ choose one that contains at least 10 µg (micrograms) to reap the health benefits.

Consider flu vaccines

This year, experts have predicted that cases of flu may be up 50% compared to a typical flu season. With lockdowns and social distancing, we’ve not been as exposed to flu viruses as we would be usually, meaning that our immunity levels are also lower than usual. 

Whilst employee flu vaccines won’t stop you from catching flu, they can lessen your symptoms if you do catch it, and can help to protect more vulnerable people.

Keep warm

Keeping yourself warm during the cold winter months can help your body to fight off infections and viruses.

Though the ideal temperature can often be a subjective issue, as a rule of thumb, keep indoor spaces to a minimum of 16°C, unless your team is doing physical work, in which case keep temperatures to a minimum of 13°C. As well as keeping the thermostat in check, remind your team that wearing thin layers of clothes is another good way to stave off the cold.  

Regular exercise also helps to warm your body up, with a workout often warming you for long after you’ve finished it. Whether it’s a pre-work gym session or a lunchtime walk, getting active is well worth promoting for its benefits to both body and mind. 

Fuel yourself well

Chilly outdoor temperatures often make us crave warming foods in the winter. Eating hot meals not only helps to warm your body but is also a great way to fuel yourself with nutrients that can help keep your immune system fighting fit. 

If your team is usually office-based, try to make sure that there’s access to enough microwaves and kettles, so all employees can prepare their breakfast porridge, hearty lunchtime soup, or warm tea. 

Listen to your body

Regardless of how much you wash your hands and eat well, sometimes winter bugs can still find their way into your system. 

It’s important to avoid presenteeism ‘ where you continue to work when you’re not well. Continuing to work, especially if you’re office-based, means you’re at risk of spreading infection to others. Regardless of where you’re based, working when you’re unwell means you’re not able to perform your job to the best of your ability.

Lead by example ‘ steer your team’s culture by letting them know if you’re unwell and encourage them to do the same. Make sure that your team is aware that you don’t expect them to work if they’re not feeling well. 

Helen Hartley
Helen Hartley

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