How Winter Can Affect Employees' Mental Health and Wellbeing

While winter and the holiday season go hand in hand, it's not always a cheerful affair.

Sure, there's plenty to look forward to in the run-up to Christmas and New Year's Eve, but not everyone will have the same experience. Especially this year...

For some, winter brings a new set of challenges that go way beyond the struggle of feeling sufficiently wrapped in thermals before leaving the house on time.  

Employers need to remain sensitive to the very real issues that may be affecting people's physical and mental wellbeing as the days get colder and darker. What's more, with COVID-19 showing little sign of giving up its position as Britain's leading headline grabber, winter 2020 is likely to be an exceptionally tough one in comparison to previous years.

In this blog we'll take the time to explore the various challenges that winter can bring for your employees' mental health and wellbeing and how you can support them. Let's get started:

The effects of winter

Research reveals that 35% of individuals suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that's exacerbated by winter. This is not surprising in northern hemisphere countries where the daylight hours become significantly shorter in the winter months and our access to natural Vitamin D and outdoor exercise become limited.

The winter blues are, indeed, a very real phenomenon which negatively affects the mood of 51% of workers. 

Along with the environmental factors, many organisations have peak performance requirements during winter in the build-up to Christmas. The risk of suffering from work-related burnout affects 43% of employees according to a recent survey. 

All of these challenges can have a negative impact on your team's ability to perform and remain motivated.

Christmas Cheat Sheet Avoid Christmas burnout and keep employee motivation high with our free  resource - download your free copy here!

how employers can help... 

44% of employees say that winter has a negative effect on their mental wellbeing – a figure that employers simply cannot afford to ignore. Starting off with an empathic approach to understanding your people's concerns and challenges will help you to formulate a realistic and genuinely impactful plan. 

Let there be light

In the UK, our days tend to slip into perpetual darkness as we leave for work in the early hours and come home long after the sun has set. Allowing your employees to get decent exposure to natural daylight can have a hugely positive effect on their mental and physical wellbeing. Encourage your people to take walks or eat lunch outdoors to help them feel the mood-boosting benefits. If your premise, or their home working environment allows for it, position workstations near windows or provide your employees with SAD lights to help their brains produce the essential serotonin they need throughout the day. 

Find a balance between keeping things Zen and social

For tasks that require a high level of concentration, having a quiet space where employees can work uninterrupted is very useful. These private zones can also be utilised by individuals who'd simply like a little time out from the usual office hubbub if the pressure is getting too much. 

Likewise, the opportunity to collaborate and work in a more social manner is essential for building those human bonds between employees, so ensure that your office space makes provision for this way of working – while still allowing for social distancing and the necessary COVID-19 safety measures. 

For employees working from home, it's important to supply the tools and training that will help them to communicate with other team members and prevent the evolution of lonely silos. Whether it's Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams, select a software that will support easy and regular communication. 

Remove any stigma around managing sickness

Since your company is likely to be affected by the challenges of the global pandemic, you'll also need to factor in the impact on your people. For example, there may be an increase in sickness leave requests or issues around childcare as more working parents need to also balance home-schooling or quarantining as a result of further outbreaks. 

Since these issues are out of our control, it's important to be understanding and flexible, allowing employees to work from home where possible, or giving folks the necessary time to recover from illnesses without fear of losing their jobs or getting a negative reception from managers when they put in sickness leave requests. 

Have a healthy workplace culture

Most importantly, make sure that your organisation's workplace culture is based around inclusivity and people-first values.

Showing appreciation for your employees’ efforts and achievements will encourage them to keep engaging with your objectives and communicating when they need help. This type of environment promotes better mental wellbeing habits as it removes any anxiety or stigma around feelings of overwhelm. 

For more practical tips on supporting your employees during the winter months, click here.

take it to the next level

This winter will give many businesses the chance to show true leadership through genuine health and wellbeing initiatives that support the needs of their employees. Creating a strategy that will help your people feel listened to, appreciated and acknowledged will help to keep your organisation productive and profitable, while also being caring and humane. 

Download our Christmas Motivation and Burnout Cheat Sheet to start creating a happier and healthier team today.

Download your Christmas cheat sheet