Many employees look forward to summer being a warm, sunny, and jubilant time of year. But for others, the long, hot days can exacerbate underlying health and wellness issues—especially for those who are already under considerable work-related stress.
Fortunately, by personalizing your wellness program for each employee’s individual needs, you can ensure your workforce receives the resources, treatment, and incentives they need to thrive this summer.
How Summer Affects Employee Mental Health
This summer, employees won’t just be commuting to air-conditioned offices for eight-hour work days. They’ll also set up shop in home offices, atmospheric cafés, and public parks, where they may experience a variety of climates and conditions based on their location.
💡 Pro tip: How workers experience summer can differ based on where they’re located. For example, employees based in Arizona encounter a very different summer than those based out of upstate New York or Seattle. Wherever your workers call home, it’s essential to take geographical situations into account when assessing their unique mental health needs and offering resources that will resonate.
Aspects of Summer That Influence Mental Health
Health risks associated with summer go beyond heat stroke into equally critical territory.
We’ve all heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—commonly referred to as seasonal depression—which is commonly associated with the cold winter months. What most don’t know, however, is that about 10% of individuals experience summer SAD, which can produce all the same depressive symptoms but in the midst of longer, hotter days.
While employers should ensure their in-office or warehouse working conditions are comfortable and suitable for regional summer climates, some employee health risks aren’t as easy to spot. Keep an eye out for the following factors that may impact your employees’ mental health this summer:
- Extreme weather conditions: Research shows that scorching temperatures and extreme weather events like heatwaves increase the risk of mental health-related outcomes. Studies show that mental health-related hospital admissions for affective disorders, anxiety, and depression increase as temperatures rise. Cortisol levels also tend to be higher in the summer months, explaining why employees may experience heightened stress.
- Disrupted routines: More evening light and children being home from school can be contributing factors to disrupted routines and irregular sleep schedules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night—but during the summer, individuals often receive under six hours on average.
- Unique effects of summer SAD: Restlessness, anxiety, reduced appetite, and insomnia or difficulty sleeping are typical symptoms of summer depression. While energy fluctuations and minor changes in sleep patterns may be considered normal, summer depression is often categorized as more severe, causing considerable distress for employees.
- Heat stress: While this is more of a medical issue, heat stress directly causes exhaustion and irritability, which can influence employees' mental well-being at work—especially if they’re working outdoors. It’s important that leaders are trained in first aid so they can properly respond to employees experiencing heat stress. For outdoor jobs, it’s also best practice to keep an eye on rising temperatures, schedule more demanding labor for cooler parts of the day, and provide plenty of water so employees can stay hydrated.
Related Reading: 6 Summer Wellness Challenges to Recharge Your Employees
How Warm Weather Can Positively Influence Employee Well-Being
While summer heat can sometimes leave employees feeling stressed, exhausted, and depleted, warmer weather can also bring a number of positive benefits for employee well-being.
Designing holistic wellness challenges is key to meeting employees where they are and supporting their mental health during the summer. Mindfulness breaks, low-impact exercise, and inclusive social gatherings are great ways to capitalize on the mental health benefits of warm weather and put your employees’ well-being first.
Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is produced by our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight. And ever since its discovery in the 1920s, vitamin D is considered essential for physical health and well-being.
However, vitamin D also plays a vital role in mental well-being, and deficiencies of the nutrient can cause depression-like symptoms. While it’s important to remember that some skin types respond differently to prolonged sun exposure, getting at least 20 minutes of sunlight every day has been proven to boost memory, reduce negative thinking patterns, and even improve sleep quality.
Spending Time in Nature
Being present in or surrounded by nature has proven positive effects on our health and well-being. And when the weather's nice, people may be more interested in being outside.
Research shows that spending time in nature not only increases our sense of happiness, but also improves our working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control. One study showed that adults who worked in public housing units in neighborhoods with more green space displayed better attentional functioning than those who worked in units with less access to natural elements.
Not to mention, those who spend more time in nature develop a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, which translates directly to their professional goals, productivity, and engagement at work.
Related Reading: Do Your Employees Need a Mental Health Day Off Work?
5 Summer Wellness Initiatives to Boost Employee Mental Health
Implementing Summer Fridays, early release days, or four-day work weeks can reduce work-related stress without harming employee productivity.
Allowing and encouraging employees to log off early and take advantage of warm weather gives them the freedom to prioritize their own well-being however they want—without worrying about deadlines or asking for time off.
Plus, seeing as flexibility is important to a majority of today's workers, introducing Summer Fridays can be a great way to test the potential benefits of adjusted work schedules.
These days, it’s rare to host a Zoom meeting and not see a pet pop up in someone’s frame. According to BusinessWire, 48% of pet owners claim to be more productive at work when their furry companions are nearby, and seven in 10 are even willing to take a cut in pay just to have their pets with them at work.
Animals can be extremely beneficial to mental health—so much so that the American Heart Association outlines five ways pets help their owners cope with mental struggles by:
- Reducing work-related stress
- Increasing productivity
- Regulating anxiety
- Encouraging physical activity
- Providing a sense of purpose
Allowing employees to sign up for designated bring-your-pet-to-work days in the summer can help your workforce offset some of the negative effects of hot weather and better manage their workdays. Take it one step further by allotting 15-20 minutes before or after lunch to take a group walk with your office’s special four-legged colleague for the day.
If your building prohibits animals, you can also schedule a Virtual Pet Show for your workforce. Encourage employees to come together and show off their furry, scaly, or feathery friends, followed up with an optional email or social media post highlighting the event.
In-Person or Virtual Meet-Ups
There’s no denying that good old-fashioned face-to-face social interaction is physically and mentally healthy. Those who engage in more frequent in-person socialization are often happier than those who don’t, particularly in the summer months.
Still, there’s also something to be said for virtual gatherings that bring hybrid workforces together. Social media and messaging apps are effective gateways to promoting connection and inclusion between employees, particularly as more millennial and Gen Z employees populate the workforce and prioritize remote work.
Hosting regular in-person summer meet-ups can encourage socialization and team-building, but it’s also important to create fun and congenial virtual gatherings for remote workers. In-person or virtual happy hours, trivia nights, and fitness classes are great ways to promote camaraderie when warm weather arrives.
Healthy Cookouts and Picnics (Families Included!)
A picnic, potluck, or cookout effectively combines three significant factors that boost mental health—healthy food, sunshine, and social interaction.
Hosting summertime picnics for in-office staff and their families is a great way to convene in a more relaxed environment, enjoy good food, start a pickup softball or volleyball game, and get some vitamin D. You can also expense lunch or dinner budgets for remote employees and gather for early morning coffee chats, mid-week meal catch-ups, or virtual cooking classes.
Community Service PTO
Helping out your community, volunteering, and becoming a part of something larger can have a huge impact on well-being. People feel happier when participating in an activity that benefits the greater good—and when it’s encouraged and sanctioned by leadership at work, employees are even more motivated to engage.
Many corporate environments may already have a designated community service day off in place, but introducing charity PTO for in-office and remote employees encourages staff to get involved in their local communities without having to worry about lost wages.
While summer offers countless opportunities to get ahead of employee well-being, workplace mental health is important year-round. To help you navigate your employees’ mental health now and in the future, WellRight has developed a comprehensive, evidence-based ebook to help your leaders acknowledge and take charge of employee well-being—no matter what season you’re in.