The changing seasons can have a distinct effect on our moods, especially when the days are shorter and the weather is colder. For some, the effect is mild—perhaps increased irritation or some lethargy. For others, the effect is more severe—resulting in weight gain, difficulties concentrating, or depression. According to an article published by the Psychiatry journal, 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by seasonal mood changes, with 6 percent experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and 14 percent experiencing the more mild “winter blues.”
That’s a significant portion of the workforce!
When that many people are affected by dark winter days, is it any wonder January and February are often the least productive months of the year? People are not feeling their best and, therefore, unable to perform at their peak. On the other hand, research shows, “…happy employees have 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and 3x more creativity than unhappy employees.”
It’s clear from a productivity angle that workplaces should pay attention to seasonal depression and take measures to help their employees. But beyond that, it’s simply the right thing to do. As a leader, it’s important to practice empathy (see my recent article about ways to boost empathy) and strive to create a supportive environment that is conducive to both physical and mental wellbeing.
Start with these 6 steps:
1. Recognize that Seasonal Depression is Real.
Far too often, we do not give mental health the attention it deserves. By recognizing that seasonal depression is real and acknowledging the fact that your employees may be affected, you’ll be taking the first step towards helping. Talk about mental health and self-care openly, and convey to your team that you will take their mental health concerns seriously.
2. Offer a Flexible Schedule.
A flexible work schedule can be immensely helpful for those experiencing seasonal depression. Employees can choose to work during the brightest hours of the day, work from the comfort of their home, and/or take breaks whenever needed. By prioritizing results over how those results are achieved, you give your employees the flexibility to work when they’re feeling their best.
Encourage your team to have open conversations and check in with one another. If you notice someone struggling, invite them to talk in private (and be sure to listen without judgement). Create a safe space and let them know it’s okay to admit when things are not okay. By reducing the stigma around mental health, individuals will be more likely to seek help when needed.
4. Offer Healthy Outlets.
If most of your team works from an office, consider peppering the week with opportunities to move, socialize, and/or eat healthy snacks. You could also designate a certain room for yoga, stretching, or exercise. By offering healthy outlets throughout the work week, you help employees stay active and avoid the slump.
5. Encourage Breaks.
A break can make a world of difference for beleaguered employees. Whether significant (a two-week vacation in the Bahamas) or brief (a spa day), it’s healthy to step away from the daily grind, get a change of scenery, and practice a little self-care. And it doesn’t hurt if that break involves some sunshine!
6. Provide Access to Mental Health Resources.
If your company has an EAP or insurance plan that covers mental health care, make sure everyone on the team is aware of the resources available to them and how to access these services. If your company doesn’t have an EAP, consider suggesting your leadership team look into this or another form of mental health coverage. If possible, set up free or discounted counseling for those grappling with seasonal depression. Counseling can provide an outlet and resources to help employees manage their symptoms.
Seasonal depression can be tough for employees and for companies alike, but by recognizing and addressing the issue, businesses can create a supportive environment that helps their teams stay healthy, productive, and engaged. Making a few simple changes, like access to mental health resources, providing healthy outlets, and offering a flexible schedule can make a tremendous difference in the wellbeing of your employees. With the right strategies in place, organizations can help their employees manage the effects of seasonal depression and create a workplace culture that values mental health.