When the colder months hit it’s not unusual for people to want to hibernate. Mornings become a little more difficult, keeping warm takes priority over exercise and finding comfort in food can lead to weight gain. Grey skies and cold days can also have a negative impact on office productivity too, casting shadows on employees’ motivation and productivity levels. It’s not all doom and gloom however, there are plenty of ways you can help keep your workplace upbeat, boost morale and enhance productivity this winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Although rarely diagnosed in Australia, a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) does exist. That said, SAD is more common in areas of the northern hemisphere where shorter days and longer periods of darkness can result in seasonal depression.
What causes SAD?
The specific cause of SAD remains unknown. Research on the mood disorder has explored how reduced exposure to sunlight in winter disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, also known as our internal ‘body clock.’. During the colder months, we generally spend more time indoors and are exposed to less sunlight when we do venture outside, causing our bodies to produce more melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and less serotonin (a hormone that regulates your mood), which have both been linked to the symptoms of SAD.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Symptoms usually start out mild and worsen as the season progresses. These may include:
- Lack of energy
- Sleeping too much
- Finding it hard to wake up in the morning
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Overeating and craving carbohydrates
- Gaining weight
- Losing interest in normal activities
While cases of SAD are rare in Australia, it is common for people to feel flat and lethargic from time to time. Many of the symptoms listed above are also common complaints we all have during winter. Here’s how you can help your staff get through it.
Encourage employees to stay physically active
Exercise is the perfect natural energy boost on a dreary winter’s day and can have an enormous impact on people’s moods. In fact, it’s thought that exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating mild-to-moderate depression. This is because it increases serotonin which helps to regulate our moods, sleep patterns, appetite and also produces endorphins. So, if the sky is clear, encourage staff to head out for a brisk walk when they can. Having an office with facilities such as showers, bike racks and a place to store sports gear is also a good way to enable people to cycle, walk or run to work if they wish. And ask your local gym if they offer corporate rates so you can pass on any gym membership savings to your staff.
Give employees a daily mental health break
Employees need to be given opportunities to manage their stress levels which can be heightened during the winter months. Taking a few minutes each day to refocus or unwind can help them feel more rejuvenated, calm and ready to work. There are some great free self-care tools out there such as Smiling Mind’s app that offer guided meditations that people can do on-the-go or in a quiet place at work. As little as 10 minutes can really help balance people when they’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or low on energy.
Healthy food, healthy mind
Food for thought: Recent studies have found that a balanced diet may help prevent and improve the symptoms of depression. A way to encourage your workforce to eat better is to give them access to fresh, healthy food. The simple act of placing a fruit bowl in the staff kitchen is a good place to start and they’ll appreciate the gesture. If your office is full of vending machines featuring unhealthy options such as chocolates and chips, you may want to consider replacing these with healthier and fresher options. And help encourage your team to eat better at home by giving them access to healthy recipe ideas like the ones you can find on our Live Better Recipe page.
Have a healthy work life balance
Work life balance. Three words that mean a lot to the morale and productivity of your workforce. Allowing flexible working hours and giving staff the opportunity and equipment to work from home if they need, gives them a little more time to enjoy life outside of work. Having a breather from the weekday commute can also help reduce anxiety and stress levels.
Make sure they know help is there if they need it
It’s estimated that 45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. It's completely normal to have down days, particularly during the winter period. Most moods should pass within a day or so. And, even in a flat mood, people should generally still be able to go about their daily activities. If down or dark moods are significantly disrupting someone’s life however, it might be time to get help.
- Medibank’s round the clock Mental Health Phone Support is available for members with hospital cover at no extra charge. Our team of qualified mental health professionals are ready to provide support and advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 644 325.
- beyondblue offers info and advice about depression and other issues, as well as an online live chat. You can also call and speak to someone 24 hours a day on 1300 224 636.
- Lifeline is a crisis support and suicide prevention service with an online live chat. You can also call them 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.