As the chill of winter sets in, many employees find themselves grappling with the February workplace blues. This season, small businesses can take steps to prioritize the mental health and happiness of their team members. The loneliness epidemic, sparked by the lingering challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlights the need to be proactive. We’ve put together a few practical tips for small businesses to combat the winter workplace blues, foster a positive work environment, and boost employee happiness.
Understanding the Winter Workplace Blues
Before we explore tips and solutions, let’s define the winter blues, sometimes known as the February blues. This phenomenon often occurs as the holiday cheer fades and winter weather persists. Symptoms include decreased motivation and interest, low energy levels, and a sense of melancholy among employees. This can impact productivity, as happy employees are on average 12 percent more productive than unhappy ones. Acknowledging and addressing these feelings is the first step toward beating the blues and creating a workplace where team members feel supported.
The Loneliness Epidemic
Research shows that workplace loneliness is a pervasive issue that contributes to problems with health, productivity, retention, and burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these feelings. Keep an eye out for the isolated and lonely worker so you can address it early and offer them support. Some signs to look out for include:
- Missing project deadlines or incomplete assignments
- Uncharacteristic mistakes
- Limited participation or suddenly becomes quieter, no longer asks questions, etc.
- Change in routine (i.e. showing up to work late, taking extra-long lunches, leaving early, working late nights or weekends)
- Low energy levels or somber demeanor
Global Insights on Combating Winter Workplace Blues
Taking inspiration from practices around the world, small businesses can implement strategies to uplift their team members. Flexible work arrangements, remote work options, and in-person get-togethers all contribute to a dynamic and supportive work environment. There are many creative ways to keep employees happy and engaged.
- In Norway, companies support “friluftsliv” – a custom centered around “life in fresh air” or spending time outdoors and being active even in frigid temperatures.
- Japanese companies introduce plants or greenery in the office to bring nature indoors for a more positive work environment.
- Scandinavia believes in the power of light therapy. Some companies address the lack of sunlight during the winter by providing light therapy lamps in the workplace. Exposure to artificial sunlight can help regulate mood and combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- Australian companies encourage employees to take a mental health day when needed by offering additional paid days off to take a break when needed.
Flexibility and Remote Work
Embrace flexible work schedules and remote work options to accommodate the unique needs of your team. Research shows that employees working from home report higher job satisfaction and better work-life balance.
While remote work offers flexibility, in-person interactions are invaluable. Consider organizing team-building activities, workshops, or casual gatherings to strengthen the sense of community among your employees – especially during the colder months, when people have fewer activities planned. These connections can have a positive impact on mental health and combat workplace loneliness.
Engaging Employees Remotely
While in-person get-togethers are not always an option when team members work in different parts of the country, there are other options for virtual interactions. Remote workers should feel supported by management through consistent communication and opportunities to engage in discussions with co-workers. For example, creating a “water cooler” channel on your chat software or setting up a weekly virtual coffee hour creates space for employees to bond over non-work related matters like what they did over the weekend or a movie they recently watched. Other ways to engage employees who work from home include:
- One-on-one meetings
- Rewarding physical exercise
- Promoting self-care
Employee Engagement and Support
Actively involve employees in decision-making processes and provide opportunities for professional development. Engaged team members are more likely to feel connected to their work and colleagues. Implement mental health programs, workshops, and resources to support your employees’ well-being. Addressing mental health concerns openly reduces the stigma and encourages a culture of care within the workplace.
As we all navigate the February workplace blues, prioritize the happiness and well-being of your team members. Think about how to introduce some fun and levity into your workplace to brighten everyone’s spirits during the darker winter days. Try these fun ideas:
- Introduce different dress-up themes on Fridays
- Host a lunch-and-learn for team members to share their hobbies
- Have a little friendly competition with a wellness challenge to see who can take the most steps or hit daily meditation goals
- Set up an inter-office book club
- Hold a winter décor contest for desk decorations, common areas, or even virtual backgrounds for remote teams
By acknowledging the challenges, embracing flexible work options, and fostering a sense of community, employers can create a workplace where employees thrive.
Interested in other current employment trends? Click the link to view the recent blog: HR Resolutions for 2024 – A Monthly Guide for Small Businesses or check back for more on human resources, payroll, insurance, and benefits.