If you’re living and working in South Africa, you will be familiar with our brief but biting winter. Compared to our northern hemisphere friends, we have reasonably mild winters, and much like South Africans ourselves, it gets to the point and moves on reasonably quickly. The problem with our winter is that, unlike the north, it does not coincide with festive holidays and opportunities to enjoy the shorter, colder days with snow and glühwein.
South Africans typically look towards December as our summer break, and everyone loves their summer holidays around the country and, most importantly, all that glorious sunshine. But before we get there, we must forget the holiday-filled month of April and brace ourselves as we head into three months of cold, short days.
The Reality of Seasonal Depression
Now that many South Africans are WFH, they are isolated and cold. Those people heading to work in the dark cold mornings and coming home in the dark cold evenings are not experiencing much joy either. It is a short shuffle in sheepskin slippers to feeling quite blue and down with the winter slumps. The winter blues is a recognized mental health condition where people become depressed, or close to, during the winter months.
In winter, there is a reduced tendency to socialize – and even less now with all the viruses going around. And, as many companies adopt a hybrid approach to work, employees are struggling to balance their home life with their work commitments. This has had an impact on their ability to schedule positive social in-person engagements with colleagues.
South Africans are also under a lot of external pressure with stressful socioeconomic circumstances, ever-increasing costs of living, and the media’s narrative of focusing on news that is negative, fanning the flames of fear and anger. This is compounding the winter blues and pushing people further into isolation and mental stress.
Reducing Stress Levels
What can organizations do for their staff during winter to give employees a boost of engagement and support to get them through to the warmth of spring?
- Encourage employee engagement – have ‘coffee & rusk’ mornings at the office, or a Friday lunchtime virtual quiz to get everyone involved or check in with people when you have a few minutes in between tasks
- Movement – getting fit and keeping fit during winter is always tough, so set up challenges and get employees to share their stories. Who is training for Comrades? Who still goes to the gym every morning at 5 am? Who has hit their 10,000 steps for the day? Celebrating these achievements creates interest and motivation for others to get moving too
- Schedule ‘sunshine time’ – with South Africa’s balmy winter days (for most of the country!), going for a 20-minute walk at lunchtime or sitting in the sun drinking your coffee, is a great way to enjoy the best part of the winter days. If you have a reasonably quiet garden, you could work outside for a while and enjoy that time away from your cold office
- Promote mental health support facilities within the organization and ensure that all employees can access what they need easily and without fear
- Ensure that employees take leave regularly and utilize the public holidays to create mini breaks throughout winter. We have June 16th and August 9th to work around, and an extra-long weekend is perfect to recharge your winter battery levels
- Listen to what is happening within the teams using anonymous surveys, safe and consistent feedback sessions, and keeping an “ear to the ground” on what people are talking about in their teams and on their projects.
Teamwork to Stay Healthy
Employees can also be proactive about beating the winter slump. As someone who doesn’t mind winter but definitely does feel a bit ‘blurgh’ when it’s cold and dark, I can suggest engaging in hobbies like paint-by-numbers, family Master Chef cook-offs, and heading to the local park for a walk and break in routine.
Employees can also plan their days to suit their energy, within reason and requirement, of course. Finally, as tempting as it is, stay the course on eating a balanced diet during the colder months. While warm comfort food is great, we want to increase our energy levels with whole foods and minimal junk and treats.
By the time you’re reading this article, the winter solstice will be just around the corner and the days will soon be getting longer again. It really is a short time, so don’t let the winter slump take you down with it!