How climate change is affecting employee wellbeing

By Claire Glynn | Head of Musculoskeletal Services
Extreme weather fluctuations and rising energy costs are undermining employee wellbeing in ways employers need to consider as part of their wellbeing plans.
The impact of global warming means employees are more affected by issues ranging from dehydration and inflammatory diseases to rising energy costs making it harder to stay warm.

Many employees say they will be forced to choose between heating and food. Putting them at further risk of colds and viruses, malnourishment and physical health issues linked to the effects of being too cold.

Thankfully there are a number of things employers can do to help employees prepare for the challenges ahead, in particular how to keep warm this winter, which we share below.

How to help employees mitigate wellbeing issues linked to global warming

1. Help keep employees warm

Perhaps the biggest challenge associated with global warming is the extent to which the UK’s commitment to ‘net zero’ during the energy crisis and poor food harvests are further driving up the cost of living. Forcing one in four adults to say they will keep their heating off this winter, to mitigate skyrocketing prices.

However, lower temperatures can cause blood vessels to narrow, putting stress on the circulatory system, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attacks. While trying to work and living in an unheated building can lead to musculoskeletal issues due to cold muscles and the exacerbation of inflammatory issues and soft-tissue contraction and circulation problems.

In response, employers should consider offering employees who are currently working from home the opportunity to come back to working in the office during cold snaps. As well as consider how best to keep the office warm. For example, hot air rises, so if the building has tall ceilings all the heart will go to the top and be useless unless air is also circulated with a light fan.

Employees will also benefit from education about how best to stay warm. Which isn’t just about wearing hats and scarves, but rather wearing thermals and layers to trap layers of warm air, in much the same way that a wet suit traps a layer of warm water. As well as education about the importance of keeping muscles warm, to avoid the neck, shoulder and back strain that can result when we allow ourselves to get too cold.

2. Support those with inflammatory diseases

Extreme weather fluctuations, like the recent heatwaves followed by the temperature dropping back down again this autumn, is also exacerbating inflammatory conditions.

Employees with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, who normally look forward to the temperate British summer, will have struggled to manage their symptoms during the heatwaves. While the sudden drop in temperatures this Autumn will further exacerbate symptoms including joint pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue.

With rheumatoid arthritis most commonly beginning in women between the ages of 30 and 60 years old, and men from the age of 45, many employees will be potentially affected. However, many employees are relucent to talk about autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Meaning they need a confidential way to be able to bring up their difficulties, so they can’t be signposted to support.

Occupational health services, such as ours, can provide guidance and advice on how to manage their condition as there is no one-size fits all solution or leaflet that can be given out. Some individuals will need to avoid travelling at the coldest times of the day, others will need to take some exercise during the day, others to rest more, depending on symptoms.

In all cases, by anticipating the extent to which global warming is making it more difficult for people in this group to manage symptoms and equipping them with tools and insights on how to manage their bodies, you can reduce the risk of them having to take time off work.

3. Make sure everyone is drinking enough fluid

Another consequence of global warming is that employees are becoming more dehydrated. Although this might sound like a minor concern, when our bodies are lacking the fluid needed to deliver oxygen throughout the body, it takes this from other organs.

We first experience this as a dry mouth and might think we can wait another half hour or so until getting a drink, but by then our bodies will already be taking water from our muscles, joints and brains. This slows down our reactions and thinking and can cause us to experience headaches, fatigue, stiff joints and loose muscle bulk and capacity.

By making sure employees understand the consequences of not drinking enough and having access to fresh cold tap water, or a watercooler, this is one of the easiest problems to correct. On average, women need to drink at least 2 litres of water a day, while men need 2.5 litres.

Homeworkers, who won’t have colleagues offering them drinks and are less likely to take breaks away from their screen, should be encouraged to take regular hydration breaks. It’s also important to ensure they’re drinking the right kind of fluid, as too much caffeine, or alcohol, will actually increase dehydration. Which can also be observed as urine that is similar to a dark ale in colour, instead of a pale white wine.

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Cloudy with a chance of pain

In our latest podcast, our panel of experts discuss how global warming and rising energy prices are undermining employee wellbeing. Tune in to hear the implications for your workforce.

How can PAM Physio Solutions Help?

Workforce analytics

Help to identify how global warming is putting the health of your workforce at risk and a targeted plan to mitigate this.

Occupational health services

Referral pathways for managers to flag up individuals affected by health issues, so they can have a clinical consultation and case-managed access to support to stay in or return to work.

Physiotherapy information line (PhIL)

Provide employees with immediate telephone access to a musculoskeletal expert for advice on musculoskeletal injury management, to reduce injury time and risk of further injury.

For more information about how we can support your people:

Call: 01925 989741

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