Winter, with its shorter days and gloomy weather, can wreak havoc on the psyche. It sometimes even triggers serious depression, which, if it hits one of your employees, may result in lower productivity and other problems in the workplace, says Steven Chen, a principal with Assessment Systems and Consulting in Sandy, Utah.
It's a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). "There's a part of the brain that malfunctions due to lack of light," Chen says. In the United States, about 4 percent of the overall population is affected by SAD, with higher percentages in northern states.
Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue (often leading to frequent mistakes and workplace accidents), lack of energy (resulting in lower productivity), an increased need for sleep, weight gain, withdrawal and irritability. What's the solution? Basic awareness can go a long way toward solving the problem. "Consider offering an educational program in the fall to increase awareness of the disorder among your employees," Chen suggests.
If an employee exhibits symptoms of SAD and the quality of his or her work is affected, approach the situation as you would any performance issue: Make a referral to a resource trained to recognize and deal with the problem.
One of the most common treatments for SAD is light therapy, but this well-publicized approach hasn't been conclusively proven effective. Chen recommends that you seek help from a qualified mental-health professional, who can put together a total wellness program that includes exercise, a healthy diet and, if necessary, antidepressant medication. You can also look for ways to brighten up the work environment with color and lighting; if possible, you might even want to consider having additional windows installed to increase the natural light in some of your work areas.
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.
What Price Successor?
Someday you won't be there. Make sure whoever will be is ready for the task.
If you're running a successful company, no one has to tell you about the importance of planning. But one area of planning many entrepreneurs overlook is grooming the next generation of leaders and managers for their organizations.
"Any leader's final legacy is building the next generation," says Tom L. Hoskison, managing partner of Express Consulting Services, a human resources consulting firm in Oklahoma City. "And they need to prepare that next generation of leaders to go beyond what they've done."
Hoskison says you should designate your successor long before your own departure, whether you're looking at retirement or considering starting another venture. The person you select should have both the ability and the willingness to do the job; once you've chosen your successor, you need to prepare him or her to take over. "The best way to do that is through experience," Hoskison says. He recommends a hands-on, planned rotation through the key areas of the company to build the necessary and appropriate skills. It also helps to let others in the company, as well as your customers, know what you're doing.
"This person needs to be clearly the heir apparent," Hoskison says. "The smaller the organization, the more important that is." Other employees and even customers will usually be enthusiastic about helping the up-and-coming leader and contributing to a seamless transition when the time comes. Also, when an individual knows he or she is next in line, that person's loyalty to the organization is greatly strengthened.
Hoskison suggests five years or less as the ideal time frame for designating and developing a new leader. "If you take longer than five years, the enthusiasm for the new role will wear off," he says. "Also, you'll be developing a person who will probably be recruited away from you. Most people aren't patient enough to wait more than five years to take over."
Don't confuse grooming your company's next leader with developing managers. "Leaders set the tone, the vision and the direction of the organization," says Hoskison. "They're the people who are out in front, leading the charge, and usually in a small organization, there's only one of those. You may have several managers; they're the ones who manage individual activities. They also need to be developed and trained so they're prepared for the future."
Joe breaks his leg: light duty. Frank has heart surgery: light duty. Mary is pregnant: No light duty? Think again.
As an increasing number of women enter fields previously dominated by men, employers are more likely to be faced with the issue of what to do with workers who must cut back on physical activity because they're pregnant.
From a purely legal standpoint, the answer is simple. "Pregnancy is generally not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act," says James Wimberly, an employment attorney with Atlanta law firm Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Nelson & Schneider PC. "As a general proposition, an employer does not have to grant light duty."
But a look at real life and actual case law muddies the waters. Although pregnancy is not considered a disability, discriminating against an employee because she's pregnant violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, under the category of sex discrimination. "To the extent an employer grants light duty for other temporary disabilities, the employer has the same obligation to grant light duty for pregnancy matters," says Wimberly. In other words, if you offer light duty to the weekend jock who hurts his knee playing softball, you must make the same accommodation when a mother-to-be's doctor restricts her physical activity.
The best approach is to establish a light-duty policy that is nondiscriminatory and clearly states who is eligible and what you are willing and able to do for workers who are temporarily unable to perform all the requirements of their jobs. Beyond that, Wimberly says, "in spite of some potential legal complications [that can arise] by not extending [equal] treatment to [all], I think a majority of employers can and do grant light duty to pregnant women when it's medically necessary, even though the law doesn't mandate it."
For information you can share with your employees about depressive illnesses, including seasonal affective disorder and its causes and treatments, contact the National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH Public Inquiries, 6001 Executive Blvd., #8184, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD 20892-9663; (301) 443-4513; http://www.nimh.nih.gov.
Assessment Systems and Consulting, 1233 Forest Ridge Rd., Sandy, UT 84094, (801) 501-9520
Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Nelson & Schneider P.C., (404) 365-0900, firstname.lastname@example.org