How to Survive the Winter Blues

Winter blues WeimeranerHave you ever experienced the January blahs or the February blues? Think you are alone? Is it just the major letdown after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? The issue may be more than that and can have a serious impact on the productivity of your team just when you need them to be their sharpest and attack the New Year with vim and vigor.

According to the most recent “State of the American Workplace” report from Gallup, 70 percent of employees report they are disengaged from their jobs, which the management consulting company estimated costs the economy between $450 billion and $550 billion each year in productivity.
You can take a proactive stand by recognizing the signs of the disengaged employee and taking proactive steps to get them re-engaged. Look for these four signs of the post-holiday blues:

Got enthusiasm?

The season for gift-giving and holiday parties has ended; employees have a little less to look forward to during the workweek. Having a lack of enthusiasm after the holiday season isn’t uncommon in employees, but it can have a negative effect on the quality of their work. While disinterest and pessimism may only last a few days for some employees, for others it can stretch on for months.

Fast Fix to Consider: Cheer doesn’t have to end with the holidays. Boost enthusiasm in the workplace by giving employees something to look forward to or work toward, such as employee-related celebrations, a compressed work schedule (e.g., 9 on, 5 off), or a special gift or recognition – one inclusive of the employee’s family, perhaps. Consider moving the holiday celebration to early in the first quarter, particularly since it may be better attended and more memorable when set apart from the onslaught of holiday gatherings that characterize the last 6 weeks of the year. Creating something for employees to look forward to helps to build a positive work environment that motivates employees to perform at their best.

Got distractions?

The holiday vacation might be over, but many still have vacation on the mind. This is especially true for those who live in the cold weather climes – although this year, that is just about everybody. Employees who are less focused on their daily tasks take longer than usual to complete their assignments. To recapture some of the holiday spirit, they may also spend too much of their time at work socializing. Daydreaming of a winter break can be good, but not if it extends into the bulk of the workday.

Fast Fix to Consider: In an effort to help employees regain focus on their work, help employees set attainable goals for the New Year. Encourage employees to adopt SMART goals. What are those, you ask? Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound goals have a greater chance for success and can be motivating versus general goals which may actually de-motivate a team member. Consider the difference in these two goals, using the age-old resolution of “Losing Weight”. Would you get more focus from: I want to lose weight (general goal) or I want to lose 10 pounds by April 1st by joining a gym and working out 3 days a week for an hour a day (SMART goal)? Which goal do you think has a better chance of being attained?

In addition to SMART goals, encourage employees break up larger goals into smaller, even more achievable parts. Working on several, smaller projects is much less daunting . . . and it allows employees to cross off more on their to-do lists. Those cross offs can be motivating in and of themselves.

Got Mood?

And no, I am not talking about the fabric store on Project Runway. According to webMD, seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a type of depression typically associated with the winter season when the days grow shorter and the sunlight is fleeting. It is theorized that the lack of light may account for the depression if someone experiences SAD only during the same time of year, particularly the winter months. Lack of light has two impacts: it upsets the biological clock associated with your sleep-wake patterns and other circadian rhythms and it causes possible problems with serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects mood.

A recent sleep study of day-shift workers found a strong association between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep quality, activity patterns and quality of life.

Fast Fix to Consider: To combat SAD during the winter months, as well as post-holiday blues, encourage employees to spend time outdoors. Perhaps hold a team meeting outside on a sunny day or encourage your employees to create a walk-buddy team for companionship as well as beneficial exercise – after all, several probably got a FitBit® or other wearable tracking device in their holiday stockings. In addition to sunlight, Vitamin D levels may contribute to seasonal mood swings. Encourage participation in wellness programs that could include proper nutrition and food selections to improve the employees overall health. A side benefit to you may be lower health premiums with the adoption of a formalized wellness program in your workplace.

Got work-life balance?

When an employee feels less committed to his or her organization, it can result in high rates of turnover and absenteeism, said David Lebel, assistant professor of business administration, organizations and entrepreneurship at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh in a recent Bizjournals article.

“When people feel they don’t have enough time at home, it affects their work life,” Lebel said. This may be even worse after a holiday, when the employee was able to spend time away from work and engaged with family and friends.

Fast Fix to Consider: You may want to offer a professional development day early in the New Year. Providing employees with training and learning opportunities after the holiday season will refocus their attention on their work and get them back to peak performance well after the holiday excitement has died down.

In addition to employee development, implement employee recognition when possible. Recognizing employees for a job well done encourages them to continue doing what they do well. Whether that positive feedback takes the form of an extra vacation day, a monetary bonus or a simple “thank you,” acknowledging employees’ successes is essential to employee engagement. Creating a rewards/recognition program that includes the family (a date night gift card or family game night giveaway) acknowledges the whole individual and helps to contribute to the work-life balance dynamic.

Google has trialed some unique approaches to try to strike a more balanced approach. In their Dublin office, they enacted “Dublin Goes Dark” in which employees were encouraged to leave their work-related mobile devices at the office. Those who participated reported blissful, stressless evenings according to an article written by Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations at Google for the Harvard Business Review.
“This feeling of always being plugged-in further accelerates exhaustion and work/family conflict, which hinders productivity more,” Lebel said.

So get out there and banish the winter blahs for yourself and your team: unplug, focus, get motivated and strive for balance. Here is to making 2015 the best year ever!