Cold and flu season is upon us, and for many organisations that can be real problem. The run up to Christmas is often the busiest time of the year. Deadlines need to be hit, the business resourced, and holidays accommodated.

Obviously, employee wellness isn’t just for Christmas. According to a Kronos report, “the overall cost of absence […] amounts to 37% of your total payroll”. And, it’s not just the bottom line that suffers. The employees who have to pick up their absent colleague’s workload are more stressed and, according to research, more likely to resign, especially if it’s a regular occurrence.

So, while you can’t force your staff to keep themselves in good health, a few nudges in the right direction can’t hurt. Here are seven ways you can help create a healthier office, and hopefully happier workforce.


1. Let there be light

It’s easy to feel lethargic in winter. For many of us, it is dark when we wake, and dark when we head for home.

Since a lack of natural light is known to deplete energy levels, try encouraging employees to take a break, if possible, outside in the fresh air. How about leading by example, and wrapping up warm and taking your team – or line managers – out for a ‘walk and talk’ meeting. It’s been shown to boost productivity – and you’ll get a dose of day light at the same time.

Alternatively, encourage employees to share information on your HR portal or shared workspaces about interesting walks or “destinations” everyone can get to and from in their break. Our London office is near the Thames, and there is nothing nicer than a brisk walk along the river side past Tate Modern and down to the Globe Theatre, or across the bridge to St Paul’s.

2. Encourage healthy snacking

When it’s cold and gloomy outside it is tempting to indulge in carbs and calorie-laden treat. However, winter is the time when it makes even more sense to boost your diet with fresh fruit and vegetables.

A quick note in your HR system’s portal reminding people of the importance of healthy eating can be very effective.

If you already provide office biscuits, why not mix it up a bit and offer fresh fruit once or twice a week during the winter months? It may be more expensive, but it’s considerably better for everyone’s health and supports healthier offices.

3. Create a water cooler moment

Hydrate! According to BUPA, one of the leading causes of tiredness is dehydration – and dehydration can also make us more vulnerable to illness

It’s easy to assume that we don’t need to drink as much in the cooler winter months. In cold weather, we can lose more water because sweat evaporates more quickly. Even if you spend most of the day indoors, chances are the office heating will be turned up a notch, so either way it is important to drink!

If you’ve not already installed water coolers in the office, now is a good time. They need not be expensive, but they are generally well appreciated by staff, and in terms of overall well-being, could be worth their weight in gold.

4. Think hand sanitiser

On the bus, in the tube, on the train, in the office –  there are so many surfaces and locations where we come into contact with viruses and bacteria.

Most of us know how important it is to wash our hands before eating – but it’s easy to be lazy. Strategically placed hand sanitiser is an effortless way to encourage employees to keep their hands clean and kill off bugs before they get the chance to spread.

5. Offer flu jabs

Flu is highly contagious, and can wipe people out for days. It’s worth considering whether this is something you should offer employees. If your workforce is big enough, the private medical companies are happy to come on site – or you can provide vouchers that employees can use.

Pregnant women, over 65s and other vulnerable groups can get a flu jab on the NHS. And, companies employing front line health and social care workers are expected to ensure their employees are vaccinated.

6. Have sensible absence policies

Remind your ‘always in’ employees that, if they’re really under the weather, the best place for them is at home, even if they feel they have too much work to do or are letting their colleagues down. That way they’re not passing on their germs to anyone else, and they’re giving their body the rest it needs to recover.

If your workplace offers flexible working arrangements, you might even suggest that recovering employees work from home. They are likely to fully recover faster, and there is less chance they’ll pick up something else. It’s all about understanding how to get the right balance. Sniffling and sneezing thanks to a cold? Head to work. Bedridden with a chest infection? Probably best to rest and consult a doctor.

7. Create a community

Often ground up communication works better than top down.

Set up a portal in your people management software and encourage other employees to share their ideas for staying fit. You may need to identify a couple of the more social type to get the ball rolling, or even try posting a couple of ideas yourself.

For example, did you know that research suggests that people who go to bed and wake up at the same time every day are more healthy and successful than their less structured peers?  This helps your body clock to regulate itself, giving you a boost of cortisol to help you wake up in the morning, and a nice dose of melatonin to help you drift off at night.

Have you tried out something at work that’s created a healthier office and helped everyone stay healthier during the winter months? Let us know, and we’ll add them to this list.

Sue Lingard author image

Sue Lingard

Sue studied Personnel Management at the London School of Economics before taking on management roles in the travel, recruitment and finally HR software industry. She's particularly interested in how technologies enable HR teams - and the people they support - to work better together.

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