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The month of January takes its toll on the mood of Canadian workers, according to new research by staffing firm Accountemps.

More than half (56 per cent) of survey respondents said winter weather negatively affects their mood and 25 per cent said January is the least happy month of the year. In terms of the seasons, 51 per cent of respondents said they’re least happy in the winter, compared to 20 per cent in the summer, 19 per cent in the fall and 10 per cent in the spring.

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As negative moods and mental-health issues can take their toll on workplace productivity, Accountemps recommends employees practice self care during the winter doldrums. This includes staying active, eating nutritiously, engaging with colleagues, setting goals with management about the year ahead and pursuing professional development, such as attending workshops, gaining new skills and building professional networks.

“To maintain productivity, managers must be cognizant of internal and external factors that may affect employee morale and performance,” said David King, Canadian president of Accountemps, in a news release. “Proactively working with teams to identify challenges and provide supportive resources can help mitigate any issues before they escalate or impact the business.”

Seasonal affective disorder can also be a reason for feeling down in the winter months. According to the British Columbia division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the disorder is a form of depression that usually begins in the fall and lasts through the winter. Although a summer form of the disorder also exists, it’s less common.

Read: 70% of employees with depression do not feel supported by employer

Symptoms of the disorder include changes in appetite, fatigue, less restful sleep, weight gain and feelings of sadness, guilt, stress or irritability, according to the association.

Between two and five per cent of the population have serious seasonal affective disorder, up to 15 per cent have milder, diagnosable forms of the disorder and up to 35 per cent of people are affected by the winter blues, a mild level of feeling depressed, lethargic and having appetite changes, says Patrick Smith, national chief executive officer at the Canadian Mental Health Association. “So literally, if you think about workforces, a third of your workforce is going to experience winter blues.”

Smith says employers have different options for helping workers cope with seasonal affective disorder or winter blues, including light therapy in the office, but communication is the most crucial. “Really, the most important thing that employers can do is to have a psychologically healthy workplace where people can talk about this. So, for example, if you can imagine, you don’t want to just hit it when it’s the crisis of the winter, but imagine a workforce that has normalized talking about mental health,” he says. 

“If literally a third of your workforce is going to be affected by winter blues, then before winter it would be a healthy thing to have programs, have awareness raising and basically encourage people to recognize it in themselves, recognize it in others when people are maybe having a down day or even more serious, and then be able to talk about it.”

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Other ways to combat seasonal affective disorder and winter blues include eating healthier and staying active, says Smith. “We know, all through the year, that physical activity and mental health, especially mood, is really connected. But during the months where you’re going to be more likely to have sunlight deprivation and you’re going to be more likely to be less active, anything that you can do to increase your physical activity is going to have a huge impact on your mood.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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