In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, working from home has become the norm for a substantial portion of the workforce, with 44 percent of UK employees embracing remote work in 2023, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
While a significant number of employers report maintained or increased productivity since the shift to remote work, a recent study indicates that 30.2 percent of respondents experienced a decline in productivity during this period.
Now, as winter descends, remote workers face additional challenges, as motivation tends to wane during the darker and colder months.
Research reveals that more than two-thirds of workers believe they are less productive and have lower concentration levels during winter compared to warmer seasons. To address this productivity slump, we delved into the causes behind the winter decline and surveyed UK workers to identify the primary factors affecting their productivity. Read on to discover the key findings and tips on how to boost productivity during the winter months.
Why the Winter Slump?
- Lack of Natural Light: As the clocks go back and the days shorten, the UK experiences considerably darker days during winter, with daylight hours dropping to as low as eight hours a day. Our survey found that one-fifth of UK workers attribute their difficulty in concentrating during winter to the lack of natural light. The decreased sunlight leads to higher production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, resulting in fatigue and diminished motivation.
- Cold and Gloomy Weather: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affecting around 2 million people in the UK, contributes to decreased productivity during winter. Cold weather was identified as the main factor impacting productivity for one in three UK workers. Limited exposure to sunlight leads to lower levels of vitamin D, potentially causing symptoms like depression, fatigue, and sleeping difficulties.
- Weakened Immune Systems: Winter is notorious for increased illness due to the weakening of the immune system in cold temperatures. Cold viruses can interfere with neurotransmitters, affecting reaction times and cognitive function. Nearly 30 percent of UK workers reported that increased illness during winter negatively impacted their productivity.
- Holiday Blues: The festive period brings joy but also stress, with tasks piling up before Christmas. Post-holiday, in January, the holiday blues can hit hard, leaving individuals feeling unproductive and overwhelmed as they return to work.
Ways to Increase Productivity During Winter:
- Increase Natural Light in Your Home: Position your workspace in an area with abundant natural light. Consider investing in larger windows or glass features like rooflights to enhance natural light, positively impacting mental and physical health.
- Use Light Therapy: Replicate natural light with light bulbs that mimic daylight, or invest in lamps designed for light therapy. Light therapy has proven benefits in increasing serotonin levels, improving well-being, and alleviating symptoms of the winter blues and SAD.
- Go Outdoors When Possible: Despite the challenges of winter weather, stepping outdoors provides fresh air, natural light, and a break from work. Outdoor breaks can help re-energise and refocus the mind.
- Don’t Put Pressure on Yourself: Recognise that slow days are normal, especially during winter. Prioritise your physical and mental health and avoid putting undue pressure on yourself.
Combatting the winter productivity slump requires a combination of environmental adjustments, self-care, and realistic expectations. Increasing exposure to natural light emerges as a key strategy to enhance productivity levels during the challenging winter months.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.