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How to Beat the Winter Blues: A guide for employers

The winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder, can impact your employees and your business. Here are four ways to support employees who are struggling.

Winter Blues

Feel like hibernating all winter like a bear? You’re not alone. Many people experience the “winter blues,” a seasonal depression triggered by less sunlight. If you notice some of your employees turning into bears this winter, they might need extra support.

Here are the symptoms of the winter blues and how employers can help those who are struggling.

What are the winter blues?

The winter blues, often diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that usually occurs during the colder months when there’s less natural sunlight. It’s more common in places farther from the equator where seasonal changes are more drastic.

Symptoms of the winter blues include:

  • Feelings of depression and hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Lack of motivation
  • Trouble sleeping

Causes of winter blues

About 5% of U.S. adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which appears in the DSM-5 as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. It’s linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain prompted by the changing seasons and shorter daylight hours.

Even those who haven’t been diagnosed with SAD can experience the symptoms of winter blues. These emotional and physical symptoms can be caused by:

  • Disruption in circadian rhythm
  • Lack of natural light
  • Limited physical and outdoor activity
  • Increased social isolation and screen time

How to spot the impact of SAD in the workplace

Symptoms of SAD can show up differently, but in general, be sure to look out for:

  • Absenteeism & more frequent sick leave
  • Missing deadlines, making errors more frequently, or reduction in productivity
  • Withdrawing from social events or office chats
  • Caring less about their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Becoming disinterested in work
  • Difficulty making decisions

The role of employee mental health support in the workplace

Today, the relationship between work and mental health is in the spotlight. In a 2023 study by the American Psychological Association, 92% of respondents said it’s important to work for an organization that provides support for employees’ mental health.

Here at Paytient, we’ve seen firsthand that mental health is a crucial piece of integrated well-being

Supporting employees’ mental health can benefit your business by:

4 ways to help your employees beat the winter blues

Understanding the symptoms of winter blues and how those symptoms show up in the workplace prepares you to offer support. Here are four strategies to consider.

Support and understanding

Start by showing that you understand what employees are going through is real and tough. Consider:

  • Training managers to recognize the signs of SAD and other mental health issues
  • Offering no-questions-asked mental health days
  • Checking in on struggling employees

Wellness initiatives

Shorter days and colder weather make it harder for employees to stay active. The winter months are a great time to:

  • Host lunchtime walking groups
  • Provide healthy catered lunches or snacks
  • Host lunch and learns on wellness topics like managing stress

Light therapy

Exposure to bright light is one of the leading treatments for SAD. You can help facilitate this exposure for employees by:

  • Installing full spectrum lighting in your facility
  • Encouraging outdoor breaks while the sun is bright
  • Allowing schedule flexibility for those getting professional light therapy (or any other mental health provider visits)

Better access to mental healthcare

Talk therapy and antidepressants are other effective treatment options for SAD. If an employee shows signs of clinical depression or a severe lack of focus that impacts their work, it’s time to let them know about their options if they choose to seek care. 

During the winter months, make a special effort to communicate information about your employee assistance program (EAP). Make sure employees know how to access EAP services and remind them that these services are confidential.

Help your employees thrive through the winter months

The winter blues can have tangible effects on your employees and your business. The first step to helping your employees through the season is to remove as many barriers to mental healthcare as you can.

For those experiencing symptoms, getting out to provider appointments can be challenging. Offering telehealth options helps employees access the care they need quickly and affordably.

Employee Wellness
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