Up to 20 percent of Americans suffer from mild symptoms associated with the winter blues, according to Duke Today writer April Dudash. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a more intense version of depression that occurs during the winter months. About 11 million Americans suffer from SAD.
Even a mild case of the “blahs” can wreck havoc in a workplace. Employees drag in late feeling glum, disengaged and low on energy.
Emotions are contagious (and can even be passed on via smell!), so one person’s winter blahs can quickly become everyone’s blahs. When that happens, productivity, customer relations and employee health suffer.
Self-care is especially important for company leaders during this time, since their behavior, mood and energy levels set the tone for the organization as a whole.
Escape is our natural impulse when the blahs hit — maybe to a daydream about a tropical beach! — but in fact, engaging with our emotions, our work and each other is the better way to keep the blahs at bay. Engaging keeps a workplace resilient!
Help your organization be resilient to the winter workplace blahs by incorporating the following ideas into your employee wellness program.
7 Ideas For Surviving The Winter Workplace Blahs
1. Practice A Little Ecotherapy
Ecotherapy uses nature and the outdoors as a healing prescription for mind and body. WebMD describes ecotherapy as an umbrella term that includes horticultural therapy, animal-assisted therapy, stress management and “eco-anxiety” management.
In the workplace, ecotherapy generally means bringing nature indoors. According to EHS Today, bringing a few natural elements into the work environment can make it healthier for employees.
- Live plants – The splash of color is energizing, and the fresh oxygen plants naturally generate will clarify stale indoor air.
- Animals – Take Your Dog to Work Day is June 26 but isn’t practical for most workplaces. What about a fish tank? Watching fish swim relaxes the brain and gives people a mood boost.
- Full-spectrum light bulbs – Lighting that mimics natural sunlight helps the body make Vitamin D, which combats depression and increases energy.
- Fresh fruit/veggie snacks – Just the sight of a big, colorful fruit salad in the middle of a dreary winter’s day is enough to lift your mood — not to mention satisfying and nutritious to eat.
2. Organize a Volunteer Trip
Sometimes all it takes to bust the blahs is to disrupt employees’ usual routine. With a volunteer outing, employees can enjoy the added benefits of bonding together while helping others.
Whether it’s a one-off opportunity or happens every third Thursday, employees who volunteer together learn to work better together.
Staff at Behavior Health Clinic of Wausau (Wisconsin) recently volunteered in a local Salvation Army kitchen. The clinic’s director, Shannon Schaefer, explained to a local TV station why her employees volunteer.
“When groups can come together on a common theme, especially a theme that makes them feel good, it just boosters moral amongst workers and again, it’s just a divergent from the norm,” she said.
United Way is a great place to start for information on organizing an employee volunteer trip in your community.
3. Start a Winter Celebration Tradition
The excitement of the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is ancient history now. February and March don’t offer many holidays with universal appeal or excitement.
So why not make up your own company-specific holiday? It could be a one-time celebration or an ongoing weather- or business-related celebration. Maybe a manager could promise to order in lunch for everyone whenever the outdoor temperature dips below __ degrees, or team leaders could hand out small gifts when a team reaches a monthly sales goal.
Whichever kind of celebration works best at your organization, encourage employee recognition. Be sure to emphasize how meaningful and vital your employees are to your company’s success.
4. Get Moving
Physical activity is a proven, powerful way to get endorphins flowing and boost your mood. But in the winter, lousy weather and freezing temps can complicate even simple exercise like walking, biking or jogging.
Make physical activity as easy as possible for your employees: a lunch-hour walking club, indoor league sports, a carpool to a skating rink, or a class in relaxation exercises and yoga you can do at your desk.
5. Host a Comfort Food Potluck
Sometimes the cure for what ails you is a big plate of mashed potatoes, access to a vat of cocktail weenies, and a wedge of apple pie with ice cream for dessert.
Everyone loves comfort food, but how we define “comfort food” is individual. Hosting a comfort food potluck encourages employees to share their favorite dishes — and the stories that go along with them.
“Sharing stories about how this became their favorite ‘go-to’ for comfort can bring people closer together, and you can find lots of common ground,” writes Engaged HR.
6. Offer an Ear to Employees Who May Need More Help
Sometimes the winter blahs are actually a sign of something else. For employees with more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder, or ongoing mental health challenges made worse by winter, medical treatment may be necessary.
Dr. Donna LaMar and Betsy Laney of EHS Today caution employers not to diagnose or get too personal.
“Remember that you’re an employer, not a psychologist. You’re not trained to diagnose, nor should you. It’s your job to meet the needs of the business by helping your people become better employees for the business. With that said, you can be supportive and concerned,” LaMar and Laney write.
Make sure your employees are aware of the mental health counseling opportunities available to them through your company’s wellness plan.
Try saying, “I’m concerned you aren’t meeting your performance objectives lately. I miss your enthusiasm. I’d like to help you get back on track.”
Or, “Hey, you look a little down. I’m here for you if you want to talk. I can help you get counseling.”
Simply asking “How are you doing?” can make a big difference to someone who is suffering and needs to talk.
“Most depressed people want help, they just don’t know how to ask for it or they are too tired or lethargic and don’t have the energy to get help on their own. So your taking the initiative to offer help will usually be readily accepted,” LaMar and Laney write.
7. Promote Compassion and Gratitude
In a workplace with a healthy culture of communication and gratitude, company leaders are more in tune with the needs of employees and are less likely to go into “crisis mode” if a case of the blahs takes hold.
Be proactive. Encourage leaders to show compassion and share gratitude freely with employees, especially during “down” times.
When employees feel heard and appreciated, they’re more likely to open up about their feelings and be comfortable asking for what they need to feel better.
For a comprehensive guide to growing a sustained workplace culture of happiness and appreciation, download our FREE eBook: Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude.
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