Top tips to beat the winter blues - overcoming stress and burnout

21 February 2024

Top tips to beat the winter blues: overcoming stress and burnout

Complaining about the weather is perhaps the most quintessentially British pastime, but underneath the stiff upper lip lies a real issue. The winter months can be legitimately challenging for many, with shorter days and colder weather contributing to a decrease in mood and productivity.

This is particularly true in the workplace, where the winter blues can affect both business owners and their employees. The way you approach this with yourself and with your team can have a real impact on the performance of your business, with a need for owners to take an active approach to supporting not just their team, but themselves. Here we look at how you can keep the fires burning in the colder months.


Understanding the Blues and Burnout

The winter blues, often characterised by feelings of lethargy, sadness, or lack of motivation during the winter months, can affect anyone, regardless of their job role or seniority level. In more severe cases, individuals may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of year, usually in winter.

This is not to say it's your job to be your employees first point of care for mental health, but fostering a positive environment can go a long way to helping your team feel supported.

Burnout is also a significant risk during the winter months, especially when workloads can be high and personal energy levels low. It's crucial to recognise the signs of burnout early and take steps to address it, however nearly half of workers claim their employer doesn’t have a plan to spot the signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout in the workplace, while just 29% of people knew what plans their employers had in place, according to Mental Health UK.

This is a prime time to keep an eye out for employees showing signs of chronic stress or disengagement. Symptoms might include irritability, reduced productivity, and withdrawal from work or social interactions – but creating a culture where your team can openly discuss these kinds of issues may take some extra effort on your part.


Finding space outside work

For those suffering from SAD or simply needing a boost, light can go along way to supporting a healthy mind. The routine of rising and going home in darkness can take a real toll on mental health over the winter months. While adding tools such as a vitamin-D boosting lightbox can help, one of the simplest methods is to simply head outside when possible.

This starts with being flexible with scheduling and structure – encourage employees to take time out of the office during the hours of light. This could be taking a walk before work or in the middle of the day, or even organising group activities that get you out of the office.


Maintaining boundaries

Encourage employees to establish clear boundaries between work and personal time, especially when many are working from home.  Working from home can exacerbate the fuzzy edges between work and home – if you’re careful, this can lead to an always-on default, with 22% of remote workers saying that unplugging from work is the biggest challenge while working remotely

This can be even more important for owner-managers, for whom the lines of work/ personal life can quickly get blurred.  Lead by example by setting clear guidelines around communication and contact time – including time when you are unavailable and when your team should be switching off. On a personal level, this is also the time to make time for activities that recharge and revive you, whether that’s quality time with family, hobbies or personal projects.


Clarify and set objectives

Entering the new year without a clear plan can seem like an endless plan of open space – having clear goals and objectives, and plans to achieve them, gives you and your team a route to align.

Consider not just where you want the business to be, but also personal and professional goals for you and your team, such as adding new skills, planning for career progression, or even more subtle work-life balance goals.

This can be a valuable period to take the time to sit down with your team one on one to look at the year ahead and help provide a sense of agency and purpose to their work, as well as ensuring that their goals and that of your company are still aligned.


Focus on relationships

Social connections are vital for mental health, especially during the winter months when people may feel more inclined to isolate themselves.

Create opportunities for team bonding and social interaction, whether through virtual coffee breaks, team-building activities, or simply encouraging employees to connect with each other regularly. Where possible, it can be helpful to bring the company together, remote, office and hybrid combined, to reconnect stakeholders and reinforce collaboration.


Manage your expectations

Finally, given the environment and mood of this time of year, expectations should be reasonable and appropriate, from yourself and others. While it can be tempting to charge into the new year, guns blazing, it may be helpful to you and your team to plan more realistically.

Now is a time to plan, recharge and connect – this is rarely the time of year that brings big business wins, as other companies and customers are likely going through the same thing as you.

If you check in, listen and work with your team to set foundations for the year ahead, you’ll be ready to embrace opportunities when they arise with a strong team and clear plan.