Nina Spencer

The Gates to Spring: 20 Brilliant Ideas for Beating February Workplace Blahs

My first reaction was, "I don't believe this! This project cost how much and for how many days??? It's so ugly--so 70's." Then it started to grow on me. I saw the beauty. The fun. The urgency to get on board now and enjoy the symbolism of what it offers (especially at this time of year), or miss out on the good feelings altogether. I started plotting how I could participate...get there...be there, if not physically, at least in spirit.

It's official. After a 24 hour incubation period, and hundreds of miles from the source of exposure, I caught Gates Fever. No, not Bill Gates Fever...New York City's Central Park Gates Fever!

James Barron, in the Sunday, February 13th issue of The New York Times, heralded the front-page news, "So that is what 1.089 million yards of orange-yellow fabric looks like, fluttering and flapping in Central Park. The giant $21 million art project, 'The Gates', which had already filled the park's 23 miles of pathways with thousands of saffron-colored portals, blossomed yesterday (Saturday, Feb. 12th) at 8:31 a. m., just as the artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, had planned".

If you love the lingering winter and have strategies for making the best of it, bully for you. For many, however, this is one mighty tough stretch of the year to tolerate. Just ask those who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), or those who mope with late-winter blahs come February. SAD is a mood disorder associated with depression episodes and is related to seasonal variations of light. First noted before 1845, SAD wasn't officially named until the early 1980's. Just as sunlight affects the seasonal activities of animals, SAD also affects people. A wide body of evidence confirms the links between melatonin levels and feelings of lightness versus depression or funk. The good news is that not everyone is prone, however, some may suffer and not even know. And if they don't know...how are you, as an official leader, or person of influence, supposed to know?

The Gates have provided a buzz of excitement and inspiration to a post 9/11 weary city at a bland time of year. The walkways may still be damp with February drizzle, and the trees may still be leafless, but there's colour everywhere the eye can see!

Light therapy is one strategy for treating SAD, as it suppresses the brain's secretion of melatonin. Although there aren't any findings to definitely link this therapy with an antidepressant effect, many people respond to this treatment. It may be tricky determining who among your staff is "sad" or suffering with February blahs, so why not inspire events and activities to lift everyone's spirits? While a team field trip to the "brilliant" Central Park Gates may not be in the cards nor fit official SAD light treatment, consider the value that a little colour and inspiration will have on your own work environment, while you anticipate nature's takeover treatment in the months to follow.

Consider:

  1. If you're having one of those "blah" days, keep it to yourself and push through. Misery often loves company. If you start, chances are others will pipe in with their "stuff", too! No one wants to be around a "bad-day" or "bad-mood" person.
  2. Take a survey. Call two or three of your most positive friends. You may confess your "blahs" upfront, but quickly make the call one of research by asking, "What do you do to scare away workplace negativity and moodiness?"
  3. Fake it 'til you make it. If you can't actually be upbeat and positive, act it. Given the right motivation, in many cases, we actually can push through moodiness, eg. you're cranky with a colleague, then the phone rings--it's a very special client on the other end of the line. You answer the phone (sweet as pie), chat and laugh a little, and finally get down to taking care of business. Then, after you've shifted to a "faked" cheeriness for your client's sake, you hang up, only to resume your crankiness??? If we can turn off our moodiness for a "professional moment", we can turn it off. Period. Decide to set or reset your internal winter-mood-o-meter from "blah" to "bright".
  4. Read or re-read Richard Carlson's, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" or Elaine St. James', "Simplify Your Work Life: Ways to Change the Way You Work So You Have More time to Live". Or any other book that inspires rethinking of your perspective on workplace blahs and stresses.
  5. Read it. Listen to it. Watch it. Laugh. What am I talking about? Humour. As age old as this suggestion is...laughing is still the best medicine for redirecting your feelings. A line in an old 1970's, King Harvest song ("Dancin' in the Moonlight"), states, "You can't dance and stay up tight". Well, you can't laugh and stay uptight, either!
  6. Figure out what's really bugging you right now. Is it reeeally February or mid-winter blahs, or could it be something else? Ask the right, "Why" questions and then, rather than staying stuck on those, "Whys", focus on the "Whats"...as in, "So, what am I going to do about this?" Taking some action on issues causing moodiness or problems helps the symptoms disappear.
  7. Get out! Go somewhere...on your own, with a few colleagues or as a whole team. For a lunch, a dinner, a special event, cause or outing. Shake up the routine. Leave the workplace cocoon. Bundle up on a sunnier of these last of winter days and have an outdoor team picnic. Sounds crazy? All the more reason to do it! In the summertime some employers spring for ice cream for all. How about a mid-afternoon hot chocolate (with lots of whipped cream) break for everyone, at your local café or right there in the office? Ask different people to bring the cocoa, whipped cream (low fat to ease the guilt), cinnamon and chocolate sprinkles, and those oh so important long parfait style spoons! Start or finish off your next team meeting with this silly and fun treat. Energized employees and teams are happier and more productive; it's amazing what a little, in terms of time and money (and chocolate), can do for team spirit and morale.

  8. Create a spring team or branch professional development event to look forward to. Whether it's a Lunch & Learn, half or full day workshop session, which mixes in good fun with good learning, start the planning now; great internal staff events need at least 4 to 6 weeks of planning (if not a lot more), eg. something special for support staff and administrative professionals in April would be nice, or for everybody in May or June before the big vacation season hits.
  9. Plot your 2005 career track (or, if you're in a position of leadership, arrange one-on-one meetings with each of your staff, to find out how you can help support their desired professional development). Knowing where one is going and developing within their organization goes a long way to feeling professionally secure and worthy. The more secure and valued employees feel, the more likely they'll maintain a positive work attitude.
  10. Start an internal promotion project of the services your team provides to other areas of the organization. Often times, staff on one team don't have a clue about what other teams actually do! You could hold an "ABBA" style, "Knowing Me, Knowing You" event!
  11. Create your own "Gates" and bit of fun by hanging a piece of colourful fabric over the entrance to your office or work area until the first official day of spring.
  12. Start a big "countdown 'til spring" calendar in a conspicuous common place in your office, complete with multi-coloured markers with which to "x" off the days.
  13. Go shopping at lunch and buy a new outfit. Wear if back to work that very afternoon...and see if anyone notices!
  14. Whether a man or woman, hands get pretty beaten up by this point of the winter. Buy some extravagant hand--lotion in a pump style container. Leave it on your desk for both you and others to indulge.
  15. Write yourself a heartfelt belated Valentine. You took care of Valentine greetings for others, now how about yourself? Make a list of your top ten best qualities and traits--don't be shy. Admire yourself for a moment, and throw in a couple of promises to yourself for this year, too. Mail your letter. When it returns, tuck it away, unopened, until you need a lift on a particularly rough day.
  16. Buy mini--daffoldils in a planter for your desk; reprint Wordsworth's "Daffodils" poem to go beside them.
  17. Start the "Generosity Game" at work. It begins with a card inviting you to do a good deed for another--anonymously. You then pass the card on, which invites the kindness recipient to perform a random act of kindness for someone else. Download and print the cards at the Generosity Game website: http://www.generosity.org, if you like. The site also gives more details on the game and champions imagination on creative ways to make the world a little nicer.
  18. If you're an Eastern North American or even if you're not--set up a workplace Maple Syrup Celebration. Have a Pancake Day at work (even though the official one has just past), and bring along plenty of good 'ole Canadian maple syrup, (now running from a maple tree near you!).
  19. Display those photos from the office holiday events...tasteful ones, only, that is.
  20. Catch up on your reading. Cuddle up with one good book (business or otherwise), while the weather is still somewhat inclement.

Finding ways to shrug off late-winter blahs can be a simple proposition of mind over matter...and it makes good business sense, too! Central Park's "Gates" is a bright, multi-day event...not just a static piece of lengthy art. Create bright idea, multi-day workplace events of your own between now and spring to lighten up and keep those blahs at bay. Only 31 days to go!