Tips to Beat the Winter Blues
“Colder weather and fewer hours of daylight can really affect employees, dampening overall moods and motivation at work.”
Now that the holidays are over and it’s back to work in cold, grey days, it’s easy to feel more blue than usual. It’s no wonder that the third Monday in January is known as the year’s most depressing day, when holiday shopping bills may seem as endless as the winter months. About 15% of Canadians tend to feel the winter blues around this time, both at home and in the workplace. Fortunately for employers who are noticing a drop in productivity, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) offers tips for dealing with the “winter blues,” a phenomenon that can lead to diminished performance on the job, strained relationships and absenteeism.
“Colder weather and fewer hours of daylight can really affect employees, dampening overall moods and motivation at work,” explains Bev Gutray, CEO of CMHA’s BC Division. “Management and labour can help safeguard against these drops by building a psychologically healthy work environment in which workers can identify and manage the effect of the winter blues.”
Combat the winter blues! CMHA offers the following suggestions:
BRING IN THE LIGHT AND TAKE IT OUTSIDE:
Provide exposure to natural daylight. When this is not possible, ensure adequate provision of bright, fluorescent lighting (cool white, warm white) with ultraviolet screens, as it produces light similar in colour composition to outdoor daylight. On sunny days, encourage people to take time to go outside during their lunch and breaks. Even a few minutes of sunlight helps improve mood and energy levels.
Exercise is known to boost feel-good chemicals in the brain and help reduce the negative effects of stress that can trigger the blues. Encourage workers to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine, whether by organizing office team activities, offering on-site yoga classes, or by subsidizing gym memberships. Even just walking outside for 15 minutes helps with that essential mind break that we all need.
LOOK FOR HEALTHIER OFFICE SNACKS:
Whether catered meetings or snacks around the workplace, helping employees to choose healthy foods more often and more easily can provide that slow-burning energy that keeps mood and energy levels steady and irritability away. Certain kinds of nuts, fish, fruits and vegetables contain fatty acids that are good for both mind and body.
REMEMBER THE WATER COOLER:
Not only is water great for replenishing brain cells, but the water cooler is often the place where officemates can talk and connect about work, about stresses, and about each others’ lives. Social support is important in building resilience to any kind of mental health trouble, so encourage connectedness and team-building.
ADVOCATE FOR EDUCATION:
Provide opportunities for presentations and workshops during work hours to share with employees what the winter blues are, and how they can be managed. Remind people to contact their employee and family assistance program (EFAP) or doctor for further support if low mood starts to interfere with work or daily life.
PROMOTE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL SAFETY:
When we talk about workplace safety, we often forget to talk about protecting our mental health. Workplace factors such as conflict, bullying, inadequate control over high demands and lack of support all contribute to a psychologically unsafe environment. Addressing these factors will help minimize the effects of the winter blues.
ALLOW FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING:
Consider implementing ‘winter flexible working’ by allowing staff to work additional hours in the morning or late afternoon so they can leave early on a Friday.
“A psychologically healthy workplace encourages people to take a break once in a while, eat a little healthier and move around a little more, and have a few minutes to chat. Small things like this can change a worker’s outlook from ‘long, dreary winter’ to ‘just a few weeks away from spring,’” adds Gutray.