According to Mental Health America, about 5 percent of the U.S. population expresses seasonal depression. As an employer, it’s important to recognize the weather might be impacting your employees’ well-being and there’s an opportunity to step in and help.
Lack of sunshine and warmth during the winter months can lead to increased feelings of depression for your employees. In general, people often stay inside more in the winter, which can lead to a sense of depression because of the lack of activity and social interaction. Research shows a lack of Vitamin D from sunshine can negatively impact mood, too.
This phenomenon is quite common, although it affects people to varying degrees. Individuals who experience these seasonal patterns of depression may suffer from major depressive disorder. Some characteristics of MDD are feeling down, lack of motivation to do things you enjoy, feeling more tired than usual and weight gain. The key indicator of MDD is feeling these symptoms during colder months only and feeling normal during warmer months.
Employee depression may impact workplace productivity as well as overall morale. A focus on increasing activity level and encouraging self-care may help alleviate symptoms and promote a healthier work environment. Here are some ideas employers can institute:
Experiencing sadness, tiredness or lack of energy can affect performance at work. Exercise releases serotonin into the brain, which causes feelings of happiness and accomplishment.
There are many ways you can encourage your employees to increase activity. You can host an on-site exercise class, be it yoga or Zumba, to give your employees the option to burn calories in the office. Your workplace wellness program could offer a winter running group to not only support increased activity but also address the feelings of loneliness. Another option is to reimburse gym memberships, especially during the winter months, when it’s more challenging to exercise outdoors.
As the weather conditions improve slightly, lead by example and encourage employees to take their meetings outside and soak up those first rays of Vitamin D. This is actually good practice year-round as the extra steps reduce lethargy and can boost overall health.
Opportunities for self-care
Self-care is important during the winter, especially if experiencing feelings of increased depression. It might be worthwhile to incorporate a few less traditional elements into your workplace wellness program during the winter. Create a space for employees who are in search of extra support mentally, not just physically.
Designate a quiet space in the building that employees can use to practice meditation and focus on their breathing. Encourage mindfulness by providing employees with resources to help them focus on the positive things in life. Host an adult coloring gathering where your employees can congregate, socialize and enjoy the de-stressing effects of coloring. This additional focus on mental health will contribute to a better work environment with happy and more motivated employees.
It’s common to feel lonely and less motivated during the winter. But as your employees spend a significant portion of their day at work, an increased focus on well-being during the colder months can help boost morale and keep your employees happier and healthier year-round.
Rebecca Mason, RD, is a registered dietitian and Health and Wellness Coordinator in the Wellness Department at Priority Health. Mason is certified in adult weight management and has a background in both clinical nutrition and wellness programming.