Tree Talk: HR Corner: Beat the Winter Blues with Employee Motivation

It’s cold, the skies are gray and spirits are as blue as the invigorating summer skies of months passed. The chipper energy, wide smiles and productive focus of your team appear to have faded with the vibrant green hue of August grass, and even the most dedicated, hard-working employees seem to be suffering from an unmistakable case of what is commonly known as the “winter blues,” though scientifically identified by its medical term, SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder.


SAD affects an estimated half million people every winter between September and April, particularly during the months of December, January and February due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter.1 According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. The disorder tends to strike more with older teenagers and adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and is more common in women, who are four times more likely to experience SAD than men.2 Moreover, the diagnosed cases of SAD rate highest in cold, dark states like those in the Northeast.

Arriving at work when it’s dark and clocking out only to be greeted by the cold chill of a dark, winter evening does not promote the most enthusiastic of attitudes—a common change you as a supervisor may have witnessed in your team, or suffered personally. The inception of SAD highlights several distinct symptoms that may vary in severity.3

Distinct Symptoms of SAD
• Depressed mood – feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem; sometimes hopelessness and despair ; sometimes apathy and loss of feelings
• Anxiety – tension and inability to tolerate stress
• Lethargy – fatigue and inability to carry out a normal routine
• Social withdrawal – irritability and desire to avoid social contact
• Loss of interest – in activities normally enjoyed
• Appetite changes – craving for foods high in carbohydrates such as pastas, rice, bread and cereal, usually resulting in weight gain
• Concentration – difficulty concentrating and processing information

A great sense of despondency can arise within those who suffer from SAD because of the amplified production of melatonin the disorder produces. An influx in melatonin—the hormone our brain produces during the hours of darkness that is involved with regulation of sleep, body temperature and release of hormones—disrupts our body clock, which leads to depressive symptoms.4

Although sources of therapy are available to help treat individuals with SAD, there are several techniques employers can utilize in order to help their team from becoming emotionally suffocated by the “winter blues.”

1. According to, employers should advocate healthier eating habits, suggesting that even though you cannot control what your team brings for lunch, more nutritious snacks such as fruits and vegetables could be made available. Encourage your team to consume snacks that help manage blood sugar levels and counteract cravings. New Year’s is also a time for making those beloved weight-loss resolutions; make a team activity out of it.

2. Expose your team to as much light as possible during dreary winter months. This includes investing in brighter light bulbs, keeping windows and skylights clean to promote a more impactful penetration of natural light, or even refreshing your business aesthetic with a fresh coat of lighter colored paint.5

3. HRMadeSimple® suggests gathering team members for pre-work or lunch hour group walks, boasting that the activity and camaraderie are great for morale; or form a committee to plan upcoming activities.

4. Marriott magazine advises planning office activities as a way to break up monotonous schedules. Office contests are another recommendation to keep employees motivated and excited about work.

5. Add greenery to your environment. A study by the Oxford Brookes University in 1999 confirmed that people get a more positive perception of indoor spaces that have office plants and generally feel less stressed and more relaxed in the presence of planted office displays.6

Promoting the morale of your team is not only important for their individual mental health during the somberness of winter, but it’s also important to your bottom line. The reputation of your business heavily relies on the customer service of your team, so uplifting their spirits will therefore uplift your customers and your company’s reputation. Last, it’s imperative to observe your team during the SAD time of year and understand that taking creative preventative measures against the “winter blues” can enhance productivity and motivation despite the cold temperatures and dark, gray skies.

1, 3 ESI Employee Assistance Group: HR Web Café (2012). Snow, Ice and the winter blues… Seasonal Affective Disorders in the Workplace
Retrieved October 2012

2 Rogers, R. (2012). Marriott Alumni Magazine: Battling the Winter Blues
Retrieved October 2012

4 J.D, Mrazek, D. (2008). Mayo Clinic: Depression (major depression) It’s a SAD time of year
Retrieved October 2012

5 Casciato, D. (2012). Helping Your Staff Beat the Winter Blues
Retrieved October 2012

6 Articlesbase. (2008). Beat the Winter Blues with Office Plants
Retrieved October 2012

HRMadeSimple®: An informational Human Resources Blog from (2012).

Beat the Winter Blues
Retrieved October 2012