It’s that time of year again. This Sunday, daylight saving time ends, we return to standard time, and the dark winter months slowly creep in. While it’s great to get that hour of sleep back, many of us feel the gloomy effect of that additional hour of darkness setting into our afternoon schedule.
The winter blues
About one in four of us gets the “winter blues” each year, with an estimated 11 million Americans experiencing the more severe depression known as “seasonal affect disorder” (SAD). And those gloomy symptoms often hit us as soon as that clock goes back to standard time.
A recent landmark study in Denmark found that clinical depression rates increased as much as 11 percent immediately following the end of daylight saving time – and these cases lasted as long as 10 weeks after. That’s effectively two-and-a-half months of depression, simply because of how our bodies react to the changes in daylight during our waking hours.
Dark days in the office
For those of us working in offices, we know all too well that dim feeling of walking out of the office at the end of the workday … and it’s already pitch-black outside. Is it time for bed already? I just left work!
And it’s even worse if we work in an office with windows. Normally, windows are an incredible asset to have in the office – but in the winter months, that looming darkness outside the glass can zap our energy right away.
Fighting the blues
Of course, we can’t just hide away in our beds for the darker winter season – work and life must carry on, sunlight or no! Fortunately, while hibernation isn’t an option, there are lots of great ways to combat the gloomy effects of dark winter afternoons, especially for those of us working in office spaces.
If you’re a manager or leader in your office, consider implementing these workplace initiatives to improve your team’s morale and productivity in the winter months. And if you’re an employee just looking for a way to stay sane and fight off the blues, these workplace tips will work for you on an individual level, as well.
Here are five ways to fight the winter and darkness blues in the office:
1. Offer wellness programs and promote exercise at work.
We all know that exercise is good for us! Staying active helps us fight depression and anxiety, feel good about ourselves, stay concentrated, and sleep better – to name just a few benefits.
You can help your team stay active – while staying active at work! – by offering a comprehensive wellness program, and even bringing the gym to them at the office. Set up a designated workout area in the building for employees to work out or unwind, and consider bringing in trainers or yoga instructors to lead rotating classes for the team.
2. Bring in healthier snack options to increase energy and mood.
There’s no denying the role that comfort foods play in the winter season. Sun goes down, weather gets chilly, and we all want heavy, indulgent, carb-rich foods to lull us into slumber. Unfortunately, these types of foods also lull us into low productivity, zapped energy levels, and ultimately a foggy headspace.
Registered dietitian Keri Glassman recommends ditching the heavy comfort foods and opting instead for mood-boosting foods: salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, frozen berries, black beans, oats and dark chocolate. And in general, healthy snack options year-round include proteins, complex carbs, fiber and healthy fats (think fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts/seeds, and lean proteins).
Help your office stay alert, energized and healthy by offering alternatives to the usual cold-weather cravings. Stash healthy snacks in the breakroom for employees to munch on during the workday, or consider bringing in a healthy snack catering company to do the work for you.
3. Offer flexible schedules.
Flex scheduling is associated with reduced fatigue, sleep problems, and depression – while increasing employee performance. And these benefits are thought to extend outside of the employee’s time in the office. They likely improve an employee’s overall well-being and happiness in the rest of their life.
How can flex scheduling improve employee happiness in the winter months particularly? It gives employees a chance to work a schedule that lets them utilize some of the daylight while we still have it.
Perhaps someone would like to start their day later so that they can get outside for early exercise while the sun is coming up. Or maybe start the workday earlier so that they can leave earlier, before the sun has gone down. Or another maybe still, it means taking a longer lunch break in the middle of the workday to get a midday walk while the sun is full and fresh.
4. Bring greenery and live plants into the office space.
A bit of greenery can do wonders for our mental health. Ornamental plants in the office have been shown to reduce stress levels by increasing our coping strategies under stress, as well as improve our mood and bring about positive feelings.
And flowers especially can do good for our mental state. They’ve been shown to promote an optimistic outlook and increase our levels of perceived happiness. Ready to stop and smell the flowers?
5. Offer workplace events in late afternoon to boost morale and energy.
To combat the oh-my-gosh-the-sun-is-going-down-and-I-still-have-the-rest-of-my-workday-to-get-through blues, try holding workplace events in the late afternoon to give a kickstart to your team’s energy.
Maybe throw a happy hour a bit before day's end, so employees can get a mental revival from some social interaction. Or offer a movie session in the breakroom with popcorn for a cozy feel-good break from the late afternoon. Or bring a massage therapist in on occasion to offer stress relief. And for a totally no-cost event, embrace the winter weather by throwing themed dress-up days, like Cozy PJ Day, Ugly Sweater Day, or Winter Wonderland Day.