If your work force is seeming a little sluggish lately, there may be good reason. The days are short, the nights are long. Cold weather and inclemency mean that more people spend more time indoors. Coping with snow, ice, and sleet make daily commutes longer and more treacherous, and child-care issues can become a serious problem. Throw in the scary economy and the “spent too much money last year” pre-tax-season blues for good measure. These factors can pile up, resulting in depleted energy in your workforce and a drop in productivity.
For most people, the winter doldrums are just that, a seasonal low point, but some of your employees may be suffering from a more serious malady called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder – a very real type of major depression linked to lack of sunlight. Sufferers may experience depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, headaches, weight gain, and other symptoms. The good news is that with treatment, seasonal affective disorder can be managed.
As an employer, there are a variety of ways you can help your employees get through whatever seasonal downturn they may be experiencing. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Alert supervisors to keep an eye out for employee behavior changes that might indicate signs of SAD or other forms of depression – a referral to your EAP may be in order.
  • In your newsletter, through your wellness program, or by distributing a fact sheet, educate your employees about symptoms of SAD and what can be done to alleviate symptoms.
  • Promote your organization’s nutrition and weight loss benefit programs, or any benefits that might be available through your health care provider or your EAP. Eating right and exercising can do a lot to alter the body’s chemistry.
  • Consider flexible commuting policies during poor weather. This is a matter of safety and can have great benefits for employee morale. When possible, allow more work-from-home options and flexibility with stop and start times during bad weather.
  • Address your employees’ financial stress. Post-holiday is usually a time when debt concerns are high. This year, with the added pressure of a difficult economy, many people are hurting. You can help alleviate some of this stress by pointing your employees to debt counseling and financial planning resources.
  • Increase the amount and source of light in your workplace during the winter. Add plants and greenery.
  • Introduce special internal promotions designed to build excitement, participation, teamwork and shared goals. Have contests around achieving target sales or production goals or attaining levels of development in certain skills.
  • Invite your employees to share their ideas for alleviating mid-winter blues. Have a contest for the “best tip to beat the mid-winter blues” and share suggestions in your newsletter or company intranet. A great prize would be a mid-winter weekend getaway.
  • Tap into all available resources for help. If you have a good, full-service EAP, you should be able to access help and resources for many of the items on this list. Call your EAP for help in planning communications programs for your employees so they will be aware of all available resources. Also, your health care insurers and other benefit providers may have programs, materials or resources that could also help you – most have good communication resources and programs available for employees.

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