Dealing with a SAD state of affairs

Q: As winter fast approaches, how can I combat seasonal affective disorder in my workplace?

A: As the colder autumn months creep in, along with darker mornings and earlier nights, it can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s mood and motivation.

If an employee feels their mood is particularly low and their energy levels depleted, they may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

SAD can be, unfortunately, dismissed as just ‘winter blues’ and an excuse for an employee to not get up and go to work on a cold, dark, winter morning. However, it is a classified type of depression, and while employers cannot control the changing seasons, what they can do is spot signs that an employee is suffering from SAD and consider how they can reduce the employee’s symptoms at work during bleaker periods.

Signs of SAD include:

•   Low mood

•   Decreased energy levels 

•   Stress or anxiety 

•   Low self-esteem

•   Weight gain

•   Struggling to wake up in the morning 

•   A loss of interest in normal daily activities 

•   Low levels of serotonin 

Practical steps on how to combat seasonal affective disorder in the workplace are:

•   Open up a dialogue with the employee – the employee may not want to share their SAD with the entire office, but they may appreciate if you sit down and discuss how they are feeling and coping.

•   Encourage employees to get exposure to as much natural light as possible; this could involve opening the office blinds each morning and ensuring staff take regular breaks from their desks. 

•   Natural light can be hard to find in some offices, so it may be worth moving an employee with SAD to a space with more natural light or investigate SAD solutions such as light boxes, which simulate exposure to sunlight. 

•   Offer flexible working. This can be easier for some businesses than others. However, flexible working can be positive for both the employee and employer, as it allows the employee to gain a little more daylight before the work day than they usually would, which can result in increased productivity. 

•   Provide healthy eating options. Weight gain and an increased appetite are symptoms often associated with SAD, so a great way to counteract this is providing healthy alternatives such as fruit, herbal teas and fresh coffee. You don’t need to ban sugar and sweets, but offering free alternatives gives your employees the opportunity to make healthy choices. 

•   Assist with the provision of an Employee Assistance Programme.

•   Promote the health benefits of regular exercise. 

•   Organise office social events to boost morale. 

Taking such steps to support employees through SAD will minimise potential costs owing to employee absenteeism or presenteeism, and can boost staff morale and productivity.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured