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January 10, 2022

The holidays are now over and COVID cases are soaring thanks to the latest variant. It’s the perfect storm for the winter blues to creep into your team. Even the most motivated employees are likely to struggle to be productive in these conditions. The Young Entrepreneurs Counsel Expert Panel at Forbes says that feeling less tired and less motivated in the winter can negatively impact work performance.

All the adages about employees being at the heart of a company don’t mean anything if you’re not making an effort to check in on your employees’ well being, especially when times are tough. You might think employee appreciation is the thing to do in December, but it’s a year-round job. Keep reading, so you can explore the six ways you can help your employees cope during the dark, dreary winter months, no matter if you have cold weather veterans in Minnesota or residents of less-snowy climes who just miss the sun. 

First a note: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

Most people end up feeling a bit lethargic or unmotivated during the winter. When it gets severe, it can become what is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder that causes depression in people at roughly the same time each year, most often in the winter. For some it can be a serious issue. The information below is not meant to be medical advice. We’re just hoping to provide some food for thought to help you put employee mental health first this winter.

Actively Promote a healthy work/life balance 

Work/life balance is always an important topic, but it’s especially important to encourage it in the winter when people might not have as many vacations, activities, or events to look forward to. 

Remind your employees to take advantage of any programs you’ve put in place to make taking time off easier, or take steps to implement such programs if you don’t have any. Things like longer maternity/paternity leave, offering a decent amount of vacation time, and flexibility with scheduling can bring balance to an employee’s life. This can create a sense of empathy for an employee’s life outside of work which is what most employees are looking for from a company.

Company culture is also important in creating an environment that allows employees to balance their stressful work life with their personal lives. Creating a culture that celebrates individuals and makes them feel accepted will make work feel less like….work. Employees should be allowed to be human, meaning to be understanding that sometimes we all have our not-so-great days. Allowing your employees to be comfortable enough to express what is going on and how it is affecting their productivity gives insight on what could possibly be done to assist them get back to producing results. It is important to also offer tips and ways to help employees to disconnect from work to assist with promoting a healthy work/life balance.

Offer Employee Assistance

Employee assistance is important because working when you’re not feeling your best is tough. Offering mental health workshops or talks occasionally is a good way to make your team feel supported through the dreary winter months and the different hardships they may be facing. Providing resources for employees to open up about different issues that they are dealing with is also a way to support your team.

Host a workshop on mental health, or send around an email detailing any mental health benefits through your insurance or employee assistance program. Make mental health resources accessible and simple without calling individual employees out. The winter is an important time to keep these topics at the front of everyone’s mind and can help foster a work environment that makes your employees feel valued.

Support Your Managers

This works on two levels. Your managers need to have the skills and resources to support their direct reports, but they in turn need to feel supported by you. Encouraging a team leads to check in on how people are doing emotionally during 1:1’s is a simple place to start, but that won’t work if you don’t give managers the proper resources to provide support when needed. Make sure they know they can contact HR on behalf of any of their team members with questions about mental health benefits.

And make sure your managers have what they need to feel supported. The above tips are applicable whether a person is CEO or only has one direct report. Listen to managers if they say people are struggling or need a break and take steps to remedy that. Your team leads might also need a bit more encouragement and planning help to feel like they can take time off or even disconnect in the evenings. Make sure they know it’s OK for them to put their own needs first sometimes. 

Encouraging Outdoor Activities/Getting Some Sun

SAD is thought to be linked to the lack of sun in the winter messing with a person’s internal clock, melatonin levels, and overall well being. Whether it’s a lack of vitamin D or sleep patterns being disrupted, the end result can be a dive in a person’s overall mood. Encouraging your employees to get outside during daylight hours can help. Make an effort to avoid scheduling meetings in the middle of the day. Adopt a policy of only having 45-minute meetings, and leaving 15 minutes for people to take a short walk around the block. Any exercise, especially when done outdoors, can be a big boost to a person’s mood.  

Lighting can also be helpful. If you haven’t yet, now might be a good time to add good lighting to any benefits you have regarding home office supplies. More expensive light therapy boxes are often suggested by mental health professionals for SAD, but there are simpler alternatives. Replacing existing light bulbs with some that have what’s called a higher color temperature (look for at least 5000K). These bulbs are slightly cooler and closer to replicating daylight. In many cases one or two of these might be enough to help keep mood and energy up during the day. 

Engaging in Employee Team Building Games and Activities 

These activities definitely aren’t just for the holidays! Team engagement in the workplace is an essential part of boosting an employee’s mood while working. Too often these activities get treated as employee appreciation instead of part of team-building and employee well being. After all, an office lunch room where employees could socialize and relax wasn’t a special treat, was it?  Making fun, engaging activities a regular part of your weekly schedule gives your employees a chance to unwind and feel less siloed. With the combination of winter weather and another covid spike keeping people indoors, these activities are more important than ever. We would humbly suggest a weekly trivia event, but there are plenty of other options. 

Using Incentives

Implementing real Incentives-not just platitudes like the dreaded, overused employee of the month. Those sorts of things might be meant to encourage employee results but get laughed at amongst your employees. We mean actual incentives that truly reward results and show your appreciation as a way to increase productivity and employee satisfaction. Things like rewarding employees with an extra day off or allowing them to log off early for a day when exceeding expectations is a great way to reward employees for their hard work. Who doesn’t want an extra day off or a bonus added to a check for exceeding company expectations? Food is also a great option, whether it’s a food delivery gift card or sending employees with healthy, resolution-friendly snacks. This strategy is certainly one that doesn’t get laughed at in group messages behind your back. 

Any winter can be tough, but especially this winter it’s important to put your employees’ mental health first. It’s not always an easy thing for people to talk about, but finding ways to remind everyone of their options and show your support can go a long way towards keeping everyone engaged and prevent issues from getting even worse.