Whether you love or hate the colder months, the shift in sunlight can have an effect on your mood. While only 5% of Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), up to 20% of Americans report getting the “winter blues” or a milder form of seasonal depression. For people with pre-existing mental health conditions, changing seasons can cause an increase in symptoms.
In the past few years, a mixture of changing norms due to COVID-19 – like a shift to remote work and less face-to-face interaction – have created a more isolated workforce. This isolation, paired with shorter days and less sunlight, means many workers may be at an increased risk for seasonal depression.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression is a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year. Although it can happen during the spring and summer months, it typically happens around the fall and winter months.
Symptoms of SAD are similar to depression, such as:
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating, and
Seasonal depression can have an effect on employee motivation, morale and productivity. Although there are no ways to prevent seasonal depression, there are ways to proactively help workers combat seasonal depression before winter sets in.
Here are three unique ideas to help HR maintain a happy and healthy workforce during the harsh winter months, whether your workforce is remote or in-office.
1. Utilize light therapy
We’ve all heard that sunlight is good for you – and for good reason. A moderate amount of sunlight has plenty of physical and mental benefits. But when the days are shorter and you work daytime hours, it’s hard to find time to get outside before it gets dark.
A therapy light box is an alternative to natural sunlight that can help make up for the lack of sunlight during the winter. If you’ve never heard of it before, it may sound a little strange, but simulating natural sunlight when the days get shorter can improve your mood and ease symptoms of seasonal depression.
In addition to educating employees on the benefits of light therapy, you can:
- Suggest people spruce up their workspace with plants and extra lighting
- Invest in a few light boxes for office use, and
- Encourage employees to take walks when they can, like having a walking meeting.
2. Increase schedule flexibility
In the winter, it’s already dark by the time many employees are done working. If they’re a working parent or work a second job, there may be no time before work either. That lack of sunlight can trigger symptoms of seasonal depression.
But if an employee’s job duties are not time-sensitive, it can be helpful to be more flexible with employees’ work schedules to allow them time to get some sunshine in.
Allowing employees scheduling flexibility could look like:
- Blocking out an hour in the afternoon to go on a walk
- Working later into the evening to accommodate a morning bike ride, and
- Taking a few short breaks throughout the day to step outside.
3. Create more opportunities to socialize
The cold winter months can turn anyone into a bit of a homebody. Who wants to go outside in lousy weather when you can stay cozied up with a blanket?
The natural tendency to stay inside in the winter, combined with the increased isolation that many have experienced since the beginning of the pandemic, may contribute to feelings of depression. HR can help employees combat feelings of loneliness and depression by hosting events and opportunities for employees to connect with each other.
Luckily, the winter months have plenty of opportunities for employees to socialize, such as:
- Virtual holiday happy hours
- Holiday gift exchanges, and
- Outdoor potlucks.