While January’s an ideal time for personal refection and reassessment, how can businesses help people maintain the momentum when February’s here?
A focus on physical and mental wellbeing is unavoidable as soon as the New Year chimes of Big Ben have faded.
Each year, it seems there are more quirky plays on ‘January’ designed to get people focused on wellbeing. Dry January is a perennial, Veganuary is gaining a foothold, while Tri January is the new kid on the block, extolling the virtues of swimming, cycling and running.
After days of excess that see many of us return to the workplace clutching our Christmas stomachs, a collective focus on wellbeing via a highly-publicised event to kick off the year can be the catalyst for change we need.
It’s seven years since Alcohol Concern’s first ever Dry January campaign in 2012, reportedly beginning when an employee, Emily Robinson, decided to stop drinking before running a half-marathon in February. Around 4,000 people took part in 2013, 17,000 in 2014, while 2018 saw a massive 4m people sign up1.
Veganuary’s website suggests that health is the second biggest reason people go vegan, helping to cut cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Tri January, is of course, exercise-focused, encouraging people to try one or all of three sports.
But why should employers also get on board – and importantly, stay on board – once the January hype is over?
Dry January reveals that alcohol is linked to 60 health conditions, and is the biggest risk factor for ill-health, disability and even death for people aged from 15 to 492. Stress levels at work may also contribute to increased drinking as employees turn to a tipple to help them relax and reduce anxiety. But, as Drinkaware points out, over time, drinking can actually contribute to depression and anxiety, and make it more difficult to cope with stress.
As well as the obvious health (and financial) benefits from a period of abstinence, Alcohol Concern found that 71% of participants slept better, 67% had more energy, while 58% lost weight3.
The result - as well as a huge tick for any workplace wellbeing strategy - is reduced absenteeism and lost productivity through alcohol (estimated by the Department of Health to cost businesses around £7.3bn based on 2009/2010 prices)4, better performance, and a social bond between employees that isn’t drinking-based.
Alcohol Change has a number of ideas and resources for employer and employee alike, including an app, bespoke workplace events and support beyond January 2019, such as helping companies develop a workplace alcohol policy. It also provides workplace packs that include social media assets, email footers, and posters and flyers.
For those wannabee runners inspired by Tri January, but feel it’s a step too far or hard, lunchtime fitness or running clubs are a cheap way of getting people exercising and away from their desks all year round. And some employee benefits include gym memberships or subsidies, enabling and encouraging people to maintain physical fitness throughout the year.
Veganuary reflects a change in people’s eating habits and belief in a more sustainable way of life. However, a vegan diet can take planning and commitment. While supplying vegan options on a daily basis may be difficult for staff restaurants to incorporate, offering some simple vegan snack alternatives or having vegan-themed days can help those maintaining a vegan diet and attract new people. At the very least, a simple change to kick-start things could include smoothies, sugar-free drinks and free fresh fruit. Healthy options in the canteen or vending machines can encourage everyone to lead a healthier lifestyle throughout the year.
To find out more about stress and wellbeing in general, see our Workplace Wellbeing hub and Wellbeing Calendar for 2019. And for more information and resources about mental health in the workplace, visit our Mental Health hub.
1 Alcohol Change UK. (2019). The Dry January story
2 Alcohol Change UK. (2019). Why do Dry January?
3 Alcohol Change UK. (2019). Dry January
4 Department of Health. (2012). Written evidence from the Department of Health