As the clocks turned back over the weekend, traditional 9-5 workers across the United Kingdom are grappling with the return of early darkness during their commutes.

This seasonal shift has ignited discussions about whether employers should be doing more to enhance staff safety, wellbeing, and overall morale during the challenging winter months.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, points out, “Many workers will find the prospect of heading home in darkness unappealing. It raises both safety and wellbeing concerns, with many of us feeling frustrated or low at the sudden lack of daylight. We all know that a lack of sunshine can damage our mental wellbeing. Daylight is essential to keeping vitamin D levels topped up, and a deficiency can lead to depression-like symptoms. Plus, some employees may feel unsafe heading home in darker conditions.”

Palmer emphasises that providing employees with the opportunity to enjoy some remaining daylight after the workday is a relatively small change with a significant impact. “You could notice a significant boost in productivity and morale if staff feel that their working day isn’t sandwiched by darkness.”

The right to request flexible working

In the UK, employees have the right to request flexible working from the first day of their employment. Employers are obligated to seriously consider every request and provide a reasonable justification if they cannot accommodate it. However, employers can take a proactive and compassionate approach by offering flexible working options as standard.

One potential solution is flexitime, which allows employees to choose when to start and end their working day while maintaining the same number of hours. For instance, an employee might opt for a 7-3 PM work schedule instead of the traditional 9-5 PM, providing them with additional daylight hours after their shift to help boost their mood.

Additionally, offering hybrid or remote working arrangements means that employees won’t have to spend their dwindling daylight hours on their commute. Instead, they can allocate that time to activities that enhance their wellbeing, such as taking a walk outside.

A lack of daylight can lead to depression

Bertrand Stern-Gillet, CEO of Health Assured, suggests that employers can go even further in supporting staff through darker evenings. With a lack of daylight being linked to seasonal depression, some employees may be more affected than others.

Stern-Gillet comments, “Staff who face mental health challenges over winter will benefit from workplace wellbeing support. Providing access to an employee assistance program gives workers access to counseling to help them navigate any feelings of sadness or depression. It’s also important to create a tighter workplace community, particularly if employees work from home full time. Fully remote work can sometimes lead to a sense of loneliness or isolation, which may worsen when combined with seasonal depression.”

To address these concerns, Stern-Gillet recommends checking in with employees regularly, hosting daily one-to-one meetings, and organising social events to create a culture of support. This approach is crucial in combating feelings of isolation throughout the winter months and ensuring the wellbeing of the workforce.

As the UK heads into the winter season with shorter days, employers are encouraged to explore these supportive measures to boost staff morale, safety, and overall wellbeing in the face of dwindling daylight hours.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.