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According to Instant Offices, it’s the cold, dark, and dreary winter months, particularly January, that tend to be the least productive period for employees. Here are some tips on how to boost employee motivation and productivity during the seasonal dip in team morale.

January can be a difficult month for employees returning to work, with the excessive spending and overindulgence of the holidays coupled with the general dreariness of the season to blame for the ‘January blues.’ Recovering from the excess of the party season can raise one’s tension, stress levels and blood pressure.

According to a survey by Glassdoor, January also happens to be the month employees are most likely to think about changing jobs, with almost 18% citing this as being the most popular month to make a move.

What’s more, Britain has been suffering from low productivity since the financial crisis of 2008, leaving a productivity gap of 16% against the other six members of the G7, which includes Italy, France, Japan, Canada, Germany, and the United States of America. According to the ONS, the output of British employees per hour worked lags well behind the US, Germany and France, and while all members of the G7 have seen a drop in productivity since the financial slump, the impact has been greatest in the UK.

This long-term trend, combined with the seasonal dip of January blues, spells double trouble for employers who expect to see the best results from their business.

A Case of the January Blues

The biggest challenge for business owners is how to motivate teams during a potentially difficult period. The general malaise associated with returning to work after the holidays can be attributed to numerous factors and varies between companies and teams.

Reasons most often include:

  • Career stagnation or boredom
  • Issues with management
  • Dissatisfaction with salaries or working hours
  • Heavy workload and unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of appreciation or value

Winter Blues Causes General Unhappiness

NHS estimates that one in 15 Britons experiences some sort of ‘January blues’, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) between September and April – a type of depression that is caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight during the darker winter months, although cold temperatures and weak daylight also contribute to this melancholic state.

During this time, employees can experience a feeling of general unhappiness, fatigue, anxiety, or depression as the days get shorter and colder, which can also be accompanied by increased eating, trouble sleeping, as well as feelings of confusion, forgetfulness, and lack of concentration. While this condition is quite common in the UK and countries with varying seasons, employers should not overlook it as it can have a serious effect on staff productivity, motivation, morale, and even their physical and mental health.

You can’t change the weather, but you can look at your office environment and make it more conducive to staff morale and productivity. Feeling too cold is one of the most-cited complaints among employees and contributes towards the seasonal productivity drops in the office.

Research suggests that keeping the office temperature at 21 degrees Celsius is ideal for optimal results. Adding additional lighting and colours can also do wonders in boosting the mood of your staff while providing healthy snack alternatives to cakes and cookies at meetings, and in the office, can reduce the calories associated with comfort eating.

Employees are More Prone to Irritability in January

Employees can also experience higher irritability during the cold, long, winter months, particularly around the time holidays end and the new year begins. Noisy eaters, colleagues talking too loudly on the phone, long and unnecessary meetings, and sniffing have all been cited as being the main triggers to irritability in the office. Distractions like these can not only cause annoyance in the office, but lowers productivity as well, so it is worth addressing.

Employers could suggest staff eat lunch away from their desks (set up a designated lunch area if you can), while providing free tissues in the office could help combat the annoyance of sniffing. Employers should aim to cut down the amount of time spent in meetings while still keeping the lines of communication open.

Stress Levels Increase After Leave

Research suggests that the period after Christmas can see stress levels rise by a third, with work and relationship worries two of the main triggers. January is also a time where many people struggle with finances due to excessive holiday spending and the extensive gap between paydays. Stress can wreak havoc on physical well-being, with many people citing problems with sleep and susceptibility to illness as major problems associated with stress.

Business owners can offer support to employees if high levels of stress and tension are affecting their performance. For example, enforce mandatory lunch breaks, or if the budget allows, provide relaxing activities like massages or yoga. Likewise, team building activities, bonuses and incentives could do wonders for staff morale.

Lack of Work-Life Balance Causing Stress

Finally, studies show that shorter work days increase productivity and result in a happier workforce. This means that gone are the days where longer hours resulted in more work produced. While cutting hours may not be practical or even possible for your business, employers should focus on being flexible with employee time or working location, both of which could bring some surprisingly positive results in staff productivity.