Guest article: Winter is here – how to keep employees productive at work

Business, Guest Blog, The Healthy Workplace | Wed 12 Dec | Author – Business & Finance

During the winter months, it is important to focus on the way people are working and find a routine that fits their needs. This will help keep your workflow moving steadily along and help prevent a drop in productivity and mood.

Our standard 40-hour work week means most of us will spend the majority of our waking hours at work. Most of us also find it difficult to switch off once we leave the office and find it hard to fully relax as we let the stresses and strains of everyday life get on top of us. This is why it is also so important to take mental wellbeing into consideration when building a company’s workplace wellness programme, especially during the dark and dreary winter months.

The World Health Organisation found that 27 percent of European adults have experienced at least one mental disorder in the past year, with anxiety and depression being the main symptoms. The organisation also estimates that in Europe over 83 million adults are affected by mental illness which is currently on the rise.

Winter is firmly here and with it, it has brought shorter days and colder weather. With the average working day ranging from anywhere between 6 AM and 8 PM, it means many employees will be going to work and coming home in the dark. This lack of direct sunlight during the day, the dramatic dip in temperatures and change in atmosphere can have an effect on a company’s working routine and in employees’ overall mood.

Prepare for the day ahead

One of the best ways to develop a healthy and productive daily winter working routine is to get the right start. Your morning routine is integral to boosting motivation and energy and sets you up to tackle the challenges of the busy day ahead.

US organisation, the National Sleep Foundation, recommends adults between the ages of 26 and 64 need to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. A lack of sleep is proven to have both short and long-term effects on our bodies and mental health, with high blood pressure and anxiety being some of the side effects. Going to bed at a regular time each night and switching off back-lit devices such as your phone are small ways to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Your morning routine is also important. Along with the usual activities of breakfast and brushing your teeth many successful CEOs cite advanced planning as an equally integral part of their morning ritual. Visualising your day helps put your brain into work mode and allows you to plan for what lies ahead in the office. Taking five minutes in the morning to go over your ‘task- list’ can help boost morning motivation and productivity.

Combat SAD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression specifically related to changes in seasons. A combination of reduced natural daylight, hectic lifestyles, and poor weather can affect our circadian rhythms. The symptoms for those who suffer with SAD commonly begin in autumn and continue into the winter months, with most people experiencing a decrease in energy level and a change in mood.

In Ireland, we are more susceptible to SAD due to our location in the Northern Hemisphere. According to Mental Health Ireland, approximately one in every 15 people in Ireland will suffer from the disorder between September and April. This can be in its most disabling form, or a milder version call sub-syndromal SAD or ‘winter blues’.

It is important that those suffering from the disorder seek help and try to come up with ways to combat seasonal distress. Maximising exposure to daylight, engaging in activities you enjoy, and practicing healthy habits such as maintaining a well-balanced diet and regular exercise are simple ways to help reduce the symptoms of SAD.

Another recommendation to consider is light therapy. Exposure to artificial light is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, which can ease SAD symptoms. There are multiple devices available from battery-powered visors, portable light boxes and special light bulbs. These can be easily implemented into your office and can be beneficial for the whole team.

Although these routines and methods can help combat SAD it is also important those suffering with the disorder speak to their GP or a mental health professional that can guide them to the best treatment.

Bring the outside in

One of the best things to do to deal with seasonal slumps is to step outside for a quick walk and some fresh air. However, some may not have the luxury of doing this, particularly during wet and windy winter months. Instead of stepping out, why not bring nature to you? Greenery in the office isn’t a new idea but it’s one that has been scientifically proven to lift one’s mood.

Research shows that indoor plants significantly reduce levels of anxiety, depression, stress and fatigue. They have also been linked to improving productivity by over 5% and reduce minor illnesses in the workplace by up to 30%.

A theory called ‘biophilia’ suggests that workers have evolved a genetic, instinctual attraction to nature. This theory suggests that by simply looking at, or surrounding ourselves in, nature reduces stress and allows people to be more resilient, think more clearly, and increase their ability to come up with creative solutions for issues.

Look after your mental and physical wellbeing

Sometimes, what may appear to simply be ‘winter blues’, is in-fact indicative of a deeper issue or difficulty. Providing employees with useful resources and support services can help them address their mental and physical health issues more confidently. Having guest speakers come in to discuss mental health and provide employees access to clinics and services they need can help prevent their health from deteriorating further. Employers need to encourage employees to take a break from their computer screens, make time for mindfulness and absorb the limited natural light during the day.

Often, those who are feeling depressed of suffering from SAD during winter, can turn to under-exercising and the over-eating of unhealthy “comfort food”. Remember, exercise acts as an anti-depressant and it sends happiness and euphoric signals to the brain, which can help in remaining positive and energetic even during the bleakest of winters.

Clare Kelly is the Director of Glandore.