While the Christmas holidays are tantalisingly close, many schools are struggling with the norovirus outbreak that is sweeping across the country. It got us thinking about the way that winter can leave us feeling washed out, both physically and mentally and how that could have an impact on more than just the mood at work.

Short winter days leave us sleepy, often hungry and lower in mood and that’s not even considering those individuals who suffer from the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder. The causes of these issues are poorly understood, but in general, our bodies expect to sleep when it’s dark and be active when it’s light. Our fixed working patterns don’t allow us to accommodate this type of change.

You might ask, how does this relate to data protection? We know that how people feel has an impact on the tasks they must perform. Tiredness tends to lead to errors in judgement which, when dealing with personal data, can lead to data breaches.

Add to this the many activities that everyone is trying to get done before the Christmas break and you have a recipe for mistakes. We talked about this in our white paper Taking Control of Data Breaches.

Given that it’s probably fairly difficult to relocate your workplace to somewhere closer to the equator (that has more even daylengths), what can be done to avoid the data protection winter blues?

  1. Recognition: We’re now close to the shortest day, but did you know that the third Monday of January is considered by some to be the most depressing day of the year. If this is true, then we need to accept that December and January may represent periods of higher risk. Recognising risk is critical to mitigating it.
  2. Resourcing: It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to put off tasks until the spring, so you may need to consider how to ensure they are completed without issue. Simple steps like having a second pair of eyes checking before a large group email is sent or moving to envelopes with windows to avoid mismatched labels can make a huge difference, but you may have to prioritise.
  3. Rest: Once the break arrives, if you can, take the chance to switch off for a while. We’ll be thinking about data protection after the Turkey, but hopefully you won’t have to.
  4. Resolutions: With the new year it’s time to remind people of their responsibilities. But, rather than presenting to people; get them to consider what might ensure that all of your personal data is managed to plan.
  5. Remember, YOU are important too! Self-care is important for all of us, however, according to a recent report by Education Support, 75% of all education staff have faced physical or mental health issues within the past 2 years due to their work. So, taking some time out for you is vital to keeping your spirits up. Some things to help with self-care include listening to music, waking 15 minutes before you need to and practicing breathing techniques.

We can’t say whether any of these will guarantee you don’t make mistakes, but maybe you can have some fun finding out.



(and can be costly too!)


GDPR is not normally associated with parties, but recently I heard the end of a conversation about an office Christmas party and it set me thinking about the impact that a misplaced sentence can have. Friendships and working relationships can be badly damaged, in some cases, irreparable.

If I choose to pass on my unvarnished opinion about a colleague during the Christmas bash, then I can find myself in a lot of trouble. If on the other hand, I whisper information that has come from the data controller then not only am I in hot water, but I’ve also given the extra present of a data breach.

Paragraph 4, Article 32 of the GDPR says:

“The controller and processor shall take steps to ensure that any natural person acting under the authority of the controller or the processor who has access to personal data does not process them except on instructions from the controller, unless he or she is required to do so by Union or Member State law.”

Put more simply, you must ensure that people are given clear guidance about what they can and can’t do with personal data and you must ensure they stick to those rules.

Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter how information is disclosed for it to be a breach. Whether you’ve been hacked, sent an email to the wrong person, lost a paper file or repeated information to someone who shouldn’t know it, a breach has occurred.

With verbal disclosure the situation is often made worse by the fact that our natural desire is to share more ‘interesting’ information, which is also usually more confidential and leads to greater upset.

We’ve seen examples where incidents have been dealt with from a disciplinary standpoint but have gone unrecognised as a data breach. Obviously, if you need to report the breach to the ICO, you’ll have to explain why you missed the 72-hour deadline for reporting. It is difficult to say that you have a sound regime for data protection but missed this high-profile target.

What steps should you take to avoid these issues:

  • All your staff need to know about the risks of verbal disclosure. Include it in your normal GDPR training but you may need to provide a special briefing. As well as knowing that they need to notify your DPO or GDPR lead, it’s a great time to remind people of the perils of letting information slip.
Easy reporting
  • Take away any barriers that prevent staff from alerting you to an issue. Have an email address just for staff to alert you of issues or consider an online form.
A response procedure
  • If people do report issues then you need to have a well-established procedure to deal with them. Get it recorded and you can even practice to make sure the 72-hour deadline can be met.
Joined up processes
  • Issues which trigger disciplinary procedures may relate to data protection issues and vice-versa. Make sure that there is a section in the guidance for both areas that highlights the risks and include this in your general training and particularly induction training.

So, as you contemplate the upcoming festivities, it may be worth a timely reminder to everyone that we have to consider what we’re saying just as much a what goes into an email.