Motivation in the workplace: tapping into your invincible summer in the midst of winter

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” Albert Camus, 1952

The Christmas holidays are now a distant memory. Some of you will have taken down your decorations the day after Christmas. Others will have left them up to add a bit of colour to the start of the new year. And the Carnival festivities will soon be upon us. These rituals provide comfort by marking out time in a manner familiar to us (Lang, Krátký & Xygalatas, 2020). They do not hold the same meaning for everyone. For example, the end-of-year holidays can be a difficult time for some. That said, we all need temporary and/or spiritual beacons to lead our lives by, as they help to satisfy our desire for security and give us a sense of belonging (Maslow, 1954).

And so here we are, and the world of work did not grind to a halt on 23 December 2023 (how’s that even possible?). Everyone is super-busy with meetings, emails and projects, and yet we are not really firing on full cylinders. Sunlight does not often reach the plains. It’s cold. It’s dark, and the Christmas lights have long been forgotten. A study of preindustrial societies in Tanzania, Bolivia and Namibia has shown that people in these communities sleep for one hour longer in winter than in summer (Yetish & al., 2015). It’s normal for you to want to stay tucked up in your snug and cosy bed, because we tend to sleep more in the winter than in the summer (Mattingly & al., 2021) despite the artificial light. We can find it hard to summon up energy and motivation for work in the early part of the year, when all we want is a duvet day.

A section of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a wintertime condition characterised by a lack of concentration, a degree of sleepiness, cravings and a depressive or anxious state of mind (Rachid & al., 2003). Studies have shown the condition’s prevalence varies according to location and age (from 0.4% to 10% of the population). If your own strategies don’t suffice to dispel your low mood, it’s worth reaching out to a therapist ( That said, we can sometimes feel rather listless during the winter without having SAD.

So how can we fend off the wintertime blues and loss of motivation on a daily basis? Here are some general tips from Dr Norman Rosenthal, an expert in treating SAD:

  • Grab as much daylight or sunlight as you can
  • Keep active, and outside wherever possible
  • Stick to a regular sleeping pattern
  • Plan (regular) activities to perk you up

And how do you find a spark in the workplace during the winter?

  • Create rituals for yourself: remember they provide a sense of security, as well as helping us to get things done! Start the day with a cup of tea or coffee, make a list of tasks that you can realistically get done, schedule breaks, and end your day by putting on some loud music and dancing or going for a walk…
  • Grab some daylight at lunchtime and work close to windows. Phototherapy lamps are also highly recommended, especially in the morning. 
  • Seek out the company of colleagues, who lift your mood. If you work from home, arrange to call one of your colleagues for a chat from time to time.
  • Let yourself procrastinate: it can help to make us more creative, provided you don’t grind to a complete halt (Shin & Grant, 2021). Allowing yourself to be less productive to ignite your creativity can be helpful at this time of the year.

Observing and thinking about your motivation at work can help you understand it’s not a constant. Your energy levels naturally go up and down. It’s perfectly normal for your professional motivation to wax and wane, too. One final piece of advice: just accept that you will go through hard times now and then, work can be a challenge and you just won’t feel up for it sometimes. When you have these feelings, refocus on what makes you happy in your daily life.

Our occupational health team can help you to discuss motivation issues with your teams and support you with rolling out measures to give it a boost. Get in touch with us.


Lang, M., Krátký, J., Xygalatas, D. (2020). The role of ritual behaviour in anxiety reduction: an investigation of Marathi religious practices in Mauritius. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B

Maslow, A. H. (1954). The instinctoid nature of basic needs. Journal of Personality, 22, 326–347

Mattingly, S. & al. (2021). The effects of seasons and weather on sleep patterns measured through longitudinal multimodal sensing.NPJ digital medicine, 4(1), 76.

Rachid & al. (2003). Luminothérapie et troubles affectifs saisonniers dans la pratique clinique. Médecine & Hygiène, 61 : 1756-9

Rosenthal, N. (2015). Don’t be sad: how to beat seasonal affective disorder. The Guardian

Shin, J., & Grant, A. M. (2021). When putting work off pays off: The curvilinear relationship between procrastination and creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 64(3), 772-798.

Yetish & al. (2015). Natural Sleep and Its Seasonal Variations in Three Pre-industrial Societies. Current Biology 25, 2862–2868