By Dr Mark Winwood, AXA PPP Healthcare

Short days, darkness and bad weather can bring down employees’ mood and energy levels in the winter. This can all build up and lead to a lack of motivation at work.

When you also consider that employees are in general less active in winter, and with the lingering financial and social hangovers from the festive season, it’s no wonder that the so-called ‘winter blues’ affect so many.

However, there is good news. There are proactive ways that businesses can help employees to shake off the winter slump. Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director of psychological health at AXA PPP healthcare, shares his top tips for employers on how to boost employee winter wellbeing to maintain motivation and productivity.

1. Consider company culture

Healthy behaviour in the workplace not only needs to be promoted but championed from the top down. Managers should lead by example, showcasing the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Some examples include:

• Flexible working – This can help to retain valued employees who have personal responsibilities that make it difficult to work fixed hours; moreover, it could be good for business – the government has estimated that the introduction of flexible working may lead to a 5% productivity boost.
• Encourage regular breaks – staff stepping away from their work can help to refocus their attention on the task at hand.
• Avoid checking emails outside of work hours. Employers should look to encourage employees to have regular down-time from work to avoid burnout. Not checking emails is a great way to give the brain a rest from work.

2. Boost employee morale

Feeling down is not uncommon in winter as, let’s face it, it is cold, dark and wet. In fact, around one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. To counteract this, there are simple incentives that managers can introduce to motivate staff; these could include:

• Ensure your management team recognises good work, offering thanks and appreciation instead of dwelling on negatives.
• Share the bigger picture of your company, including business direction, targets and objectives with the whole team. Allow them to feel a sense of ownership and involvement in the future of the company which then improves workplace engagement.
• Listen to feedback. Try to find out from your employees what they are finding difficult and what they would find helpful – this is an integral part of building morale and addressing any cultural issues. Indeed, introduction of changes (even what might seem as positive ones such as email blackouts) can cause anxiety and feelings of resentment towards the organisation if mandated rather than negotiated.

3. Avoid unnecessary pressure

Certain factors can contribute to mental ill health amongst the workforce and should be avoided wherever possible. These include:

• Expecting employees to work outside of their contracted hours, including just checking emails. This can exacerbate the pressure that employees feel during the workday and diminish their time to themselves for relaxation and personal activities when they get home
• Not taking proper breaks, made worse by a ‘lunch hours are for wimps’ attitude in the office
• The pressure to demonstrate ‘presenteeism’. Employees can feel enormous pressure to work extended hours, as seen by our own research showing that 27% of UK employees regularly work at least seven hours of overtime each week. Championing the ‘first to arrive, last to leave attitude’ or allowing workers to work when sick can contribute to burnout – a major productivity trap

4. Give something back

Little things can mean a lot to employees to make them feel valued in the workplace, and in turn, boost their productivity. Small acts of kindness such as recognising achievements, making a tea round, or buying lunch can boost employee moods and help to beat the January blues.

While it may seem inevitable to feel low and less motivated during the winter months, the tips outlined above show some simple ways to lift mood and boost productivity in the workplace. These shouldn’t be reserved just for winter, as engaging your workforce is a good way to build productivity and have a happy workforce all year round.