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With the festivity of the holidays behind us, the upcoming winter months can be difficult. Five percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and more than 14 million adults suffer from depression, which can be exacerbated by short winter days.

Some things are personal and it's best to stay removed, but if you notice that an employee is struggling with life outside of work, pay attention. Not only could it signal a serious problem, but it can also spill into work life, which will decrease productivity and increase the employee's stress level.

Here are some ways you can help employees who find this time of year particularly rough.

1) Encourage Use of the EAP

Most companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This is an inexpensive way for your employees to get the help they need, when they need it. EAPs can provide referrals for therapy, financial help or legal advice, and the first visit with a specialist is often free or offered at a reduced price. Many employees forget that this is available to them, and a friendly reminder that help is available can save lives.

2) Be Flexible With Schedules

Some jobs require strict adherence to schedules, but some jobs can be done at any time of day or night. If your company's area of business allows for some flexibility, now's the time to urge your employees to take advantage of it.

Seasonal illnesses are particularly prevalent this time of year, so remind employees that the company is understanding about doctor's appointments. Preventative care should be encouraged too, so let workers take time off for annual check-ups, dentist appointments or visits to a therapist. And keep in mind—your employees may also need time to take care of family matters, like meeting with a child's teacher, or seeing a lawyer about legal matters.

Working from home may alleviate some of the pressures workers feel. And the flexibility pays off—giving your employees the time they need to take care of personal issues means they will be more focused on their work responsibilities when they're at the office.

3) Be Kind

It's the beginning of the first quarter—time to start delivering on those lofty promises made during end-of-year plans. It's a busy time for many businesses, and it's easy to get caught up in the execution. But, projects will still get done if you take the time to check in and see how employees are doing, listen to their concerns and compliment their hard work. A little kindness goes a long, long way towards ensuring employee happiness.

Photo: Creative Commons