Low light levels, short days, and bad weather can bring down employees’ mood and energy levels and lead to a lack of motivation at work.
Coupled with a less active lifestyle often adopted in winter, and the lingering financial and social hangovers from the festive season, it’s no wonder that the so-called ‘winter blues’ rears its ugly head.
But there are proactive steps that businesses can take to shake off the winter slump. Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director of psychological health at AXA PPP healthcare, shares his top tips for employers on how to boost employee winter wellbeing to maintain high performance and productivity.
- Consider your company culture
Healthy behaviour in the workplace not only needs to be promoted but championed from the top down. Managers should lead by example, showcasing the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Some examples include:
- Consider flexible working – It could be good for business – the government has estimated that the introduction of flexible working may lead to a five percent productivity boost
- Encourage regular breaks – Staff stepping away from their work can help to refocus their attention on the task at hand
- Avoid checking emails outside of work hours if practical – encourage employees to have regular down-time from work to avoid burnout
- Boost employee morale
Feeling down is not uncommon in winter. In fact, around one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. There are simple incentives that managers can introduce to motivate staff; these could include:
- Ensuring your management team recognises good work, offering thanks and appreciation instead of dwelling on negatives
- Share the bigger picture of your company, including business direction, targets and objectives, with the whole team. Allowing them to feel a sense of ownership and involvement in the future of the company improves workplace engagement
- Listen to employee feedback. Try to find out from your employees what they are finding difficult and what they would find helpful – this is an integral part of building morale and addressing any cultural issues. Indeed, introduction of changes (even what might seem as positive ones such as email blackouts) can cause anxiety and feelings of resentment towards the organisation if mandated rather than negotiated.
- Avoid productivity pitfalls
Certain factors can contribute to mental ill health amongst the workforce and should be avoided wherever possible. These include:
- Expecting employees to reply to emails outside of work hours. This can exacerbate the pressure that employees feel during the workday and diminish their time to themselves for relaxation and personal activities when they get home
- Not taking proper breaks, made worse by a ‘lunch hours are for wimps’ attitude in the office
- The pressure to demonstrate ‘presenteeism’. Employees can feel enormous pressure to work extended hours, as seen by our own research showing that 27 percent of UK employees regularly work at least seven hours of overtime each week. Championing the ‘first to arrive, last to leave attitude’ or allowing workers to up even when unwell can contribute to burnout – a major productivity trap
- Pay it forward
Finally, little things can mean a lot to employees to make them feel valued in the workplace, and in turn, boost their productivity. Small acts of kindness such as recognising their achievements, making a tea round, or buying them lunch can boost employee moods and help to beat the January blues.
While it may seem inevitable to feel low and less productive during the winter months, the tips outlined above show some simple ways to lift mood and boost productivity in the workplace – and not just for winter but throughout the year.
Mark is director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare's specialist Health Services division, previously working as a senior psychologist in the NHS with many years of clinical and research experience. He holds associate fellowship and chartership with the British Psychological Society and is also accredited by the Health Professional Council and a chartered scientist. He has extensive experience in mental health and developing interventions to address this in the workplace. Mark is also an active member of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, British Psychological Society and British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Workplace) and maintains a private practice as a psychologist in London.