Since the pandemic, working from home has become the new normal for many employees, whether fully remote or hybrid. According to the ONS, 44% of UK workers currently work remotely in 2023.
According to a survey, 94% of employers stated that work productivity was the same or higher since employees started working from home. However, this work style isn’t the best option for everyone, as one study revealed that 30.2% of respondents felt their productivity had fallen when they began working remotely.
Whether you feel more or less productive when working from home, motivation can massively drop during the winter months. Research found that more than two-thirds of workers believe they are less productive and have lower concentration during winter compared to warmer months. Additionally, 69% are less creative, and half have less energy during winter.
To try and provide helpful solutions, we looked into the reasons for the winter slump and surveyed UK workers to highlight the top cause for their dwindling productivity. Find out more about this below, plus some tips on how to feel more productive.
Why is there a slump in winter?
There are a range of reasons people feel less productive in winter and find it more difficult to concentrate. Some of the causes include:
Lack of natural light
When the clocks go back by an hour at the end of October, it marks the start of shorter days. In the UK, the winter months are considerably darker, with gloomy mornings and dark evenings — daylight hours reach lows of eight hours a day. These short days are due to Earth’s rotational axis tilting at 23 degrees as it orbits the Sun. The UK is a northern latitude, so the effect is noticeable, with shorter days in late autumn and winter months than in the late spring and summer.
The lack of sunlight during winter is a huge cause for decreased energy levels, which brings a lack of productivity and motivation. According to our survey, one-fifth of UK workers state the lack of natural light contributes to their difficulty in concentrating during winter. When it is dark, we produce more of the sleep hormone called melatonin, which gives us feelings of tiredness, a key reason that we struggle to concentrate during dark winter days.
Cold and gloomy weather
According to the NHS, around 2 million people in the UK are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also known as winter depression, this mental health issue tends to follow a seasonal pattern — symptoms tend to begin in autumn as the days start getting shorter but reach their worst during December, January and February.
Cold weather was the main contributing factor for UK workers feeling unproductive during winter, with one in three opting for this in our survey.
The reason gloomy weather can affect us a lot, including our mental health, is partly due to the limited intake of vitamin D. The body creates this vitamin from direct sunlight which is an important nutrient for our physical and mental health. A range of studies have found connections between low levels of vitamin D and depression — it can also cause fatigue, sleeping difficulties, appetite loss, and more.
Additionally, the unpleasant cold weather can make us less productive as it’s much harder to get out of bed in the morning, exercise outside and enjoy nature than it is on cheerful, sunny days.
Weakened immune systems
Winter is a notorious time for becoming ill because cold air enters the nose and upper airways, which weakens the immune system. and increases common viruses, such as the cold and flu, that tend to be harder to shift than they are in the warmer months.
Research suggests that cold viruses interfere with neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that we can’t function without — and may affect the communication of noradrenaline, which is associated with reaction times and can raise your blood pressure and speed up heart rates. Having colds can make us much more sluggish and experience brain fog, making even the smallest of tasks much more difficult. Just under 30% of UK workers said increased illness affected their productivity at work, according to our survey.
Of course, one of the best things about winter is the festive period. Christmas is a joyous season, but it goes quickly. Often, we feel some stress in the run-up to Christmas due to us needing to complete work tasks before the big day, which can bring some stress — the holiday activities can also cause distractions, according to one in eight of our survey respondents.
Once the big day is over, we tend to feel the most unproductive as reality hits. The holiday blues hit hard in January when the Christmas decorations are down and the festivities are over. We’re often left with an empty wallet, no plans and winter depression, making starting back at work in January extremely difficult for many.
Ways to increase productivity during the winter months
Although winter is often a challenging time, there are still ways to try and increase motivation, and therefore productivity, during the gloomy, dark, cold months.
Increase natural light in your home
As discussed, a lack of natural daylight is a fundamental reason for productivity dips due to our brain associating darkness with sleep and reducing energy levels.
Of course, increasing the natural light in your workspace is a crucial way to increase productivity. Try to set up your home workspace in an area with a lot of natural light, keeping the curtains and blinds open. If your home lacks sunlight due to being in a built-up area or having smaller or fewer windows, it may be a good idea to invest in larger windows and glass features to increase the light in your home, especially if you often work remotely.
Natural light doesn’t only increase productivity levels, but it helps mental health in general.
Glass features such as rooflights, large windows, and glass doors can make a big difference due to the natural light — rooflights let in twice the amount of natural light than windows! As well as benefiting mental and physical health, natural light makes spaces appear larger and adds value to a home.
For quicker and easier ways to increase natural light, try placing mirrors around the home, ideally facing windows to reflect the light around the room. Keeping windows clean and unblocked by furniture can also make a huge difference.
Use light therapy
Whilst increasing natural light is key, it’s not always possible during the gloomy winter months when daylight is limited. However, replicating natural light can provide the same benefits, such as using light bulbs that mimic daylight rather than filling the room with harsh and dull lighting. Light bulbs with a CCT (correlated colour temperature) of 5000K–6500K are the closest to natural daylight.
As well as altering your bulbs, you can buy lamps specifically designed for light therapy that mimic natural sunlight and its benefits. Light therapy is proven to increase serotonin levels and improve wellbeing and happiness. It also improves symptoms of the winter blues and SAD, and as it represses melatonin, increases energy levels.
Go outdoors when possible
Although going outdoors during the winter is not always pleasant, it’s important to get outdoors as often as you can. Stepping away from work and taking small breaks can help to refocus and re-energise your brain. Getting outdoors will also provide fresh air, natural light, and time in nature, all of which can revitalise your brain. Although the cold temperatures in winter may not be enjoyable, they can boost brain activity and help you think more clearly.
Don’t put pressure on yourself
Most importantly, remember slow days are normal, especially during winter. Don’t be too hard on yourself, just do the best you can and look after your physical and mental health.
We all struggle during the colder months, whether it’s with productivity at work, pesky winter bugs, or mental health in general, but there are ways to combat this. Increasing and taking advantage of available natural light is a major way to increase your productivity levels.