I hope each and every one of you had a safe, joyous, and meaningful holiday season and were able to enjoy it with friends and family. Now that the holidays are over we must get back to our conversations about safety in the workplace. Unfortunately, this is also the season for “seasonal affective disorder,” or SAD. As an employer I have witnessed many instances of employees being affected by the end of the holiday season, the onset of the cold weather, and the short daylight hours that all accumulate this time of year. This has become a more prevalent condition than in the past, probably due in part to our ability to recognize it as a true disorder. In the past it was thought of as just being “in a bad mood,” but now we know much more about the condition and its causes.
There are a couple of things that we, as employers, can do to alleviate this disorder in our employees. One is to be aware of the condition of our employees, and of our own mental condition as well, because this sort of depressed feeling can be contagious. If we, as the employer, allow SAD to affect us, then our employees will be affected also. Even though you may feel down due to the weather, or to problems with the business or at home, it is even more important that you do not convey these problems or feelings to your employees. They have the same types of feelings that you do and do not need the extra hassle of dealing with a disgruntled employer. We must attempt to counteract our employee’s bad feelings by being upbeat and maintaining a non-threatening atmosphere. Of course, this does not mean you should ignore real problems or mistakes, but do not let your own feelings interfere with making a fair and equitable judgment on the job. Another measure you can take is to ensure that the lighting in your facility is up to the task. A major cause of SAD is the lack of natural daylight, so keeping their work and break areas well lit will help to improve the mood.
Of course, SAD is not the only problem associated with winter that we experience this time of year. Colds, flu, and sinus problems also proliferate during this period, so it’s important that we emphasize frequent hand washing and other protective measures. I suggest that a good policy is to make sure your employees receive flu shots on a yearly basis. This is an inexpensive procedure compared to the possible loss of productive time in the advent of a flu outbreak among your employees. I also suggest that you convey the idea that you will not be upset by your employees missing work when they are actually sick and contagious. Many employees feel that they will be considered to be slacking off if they miss work, and they will therefore come to work even when they have a virus of some sort that can be passed on to others. Make sure they understand that you realize they will not perform to the best of their abilities when they are sick and that, in all likelihood, they will infect others, which only adds to the lack of production. For this reason they need to remain isolated from the rest of your workforce until they are no longer contagious.
Still, we need to make sure we provide the proper means of keeping our employees healthy readily available. This means easy access to cleaning supplies such as hand soap, either paper towels or air driers, and tissues, along with a way to dispose of them properly. We should also make an extra effort to keep the areas that our employees use to eat clean and sanitary, and that any public spaces they share are treated with disinfectant more often than usual. Not to downplay their generosity, but people also tend to bring food such as leftover Christmas snacks and cookies to share at work around this time of year, so we need to be aware of any possible sanitation issues that are presented by this practice. We all enjoy the sweets and such, but make sure that they are kept in a location that will not be contaminated.