Spotlight on autumn blue

Every year around this time, employers struggle to contain the annual outbreak of autumn blues, as staff return from sunny climes to find their inboxes full and the British weather unpredictable.

Some employers have come up with novel ideas to combat this, ranging from supplying staff with desktop light boxes, introducing more ‘duvet’ days, or even redecorating the office.

Question of motivation

But are these measures any good, or are employers simply applying a sticking plaster to an all-year-round motivation issue?

According to Doug Crawford, head of employee engagement at Chiumento, too many employers respond to autumn blues with short-term solutions when what they need is root-to-tip surgery.

“It’s fairly normal for people to feel a bit low when they return to work after a great holiday, but if they are seriously depressed at the whole routine of the job and can no longer stand the company of their colleagues, I would suggest this is a 365-day-a-year concern and not a short-term problem in September and October,” he declares.

While Crawford agrees that employers can usefully “lift the load” at this time of year by flagging upcoming social events, it is up to HR to provide the tools, infrastructure and methodologies to manage employee performance and measure levels of morale.

Monitoring workload is one issue. Research by the Chartered Management Institute found that going back to work after a fortnight away is made unnecessarily stressful by the backlog of work and e-mails that greet many people on their return.

Many workers respond by taking short breaks, rather than two-week holidays, while others have opted not to take any holiday at all unless compelled to by their line managers.

Blessing in disguise

But Dirk Hansen, clinical director at Employee Advisory Resource (EAR), which provides employee assistance programmes, says that returning to the routine of work after the holiday season can actually be a blessing for some. Autumn is not a time for weighty company initiatives or new broom management policies, but is ideal for a more laissez-faire approach to business, he suggests.

“Inspiration, not aggression, is the best approach right now, with an emphasis on why the organisation and the jobs people do are important,” says Hansen.

“Only a minority of people will need serious career counselling after their annual break, and they would probably have needed it anyway.”

So before you break the annual entertainment budget on a Halloween party to cheer everyone up, perhaps it’s time to consider why staff needed to take a holiday in the first place.

When it’s more than just the blues

  • If employees appear to be displaying more symptoms than a simple lack of motivation that affects all of us when we return from holiday, then it may be that they suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

  • SAD is a type of winter depression that affects around half a million people every winter between September and April, in particular during December, January and February.

  • It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus (part of the brain connected to the nervous system) due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in the winter months.

  • For many people, SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment.

  • For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort, but not severe suffering.

For more information on SAD

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