How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) At Work

5 mins

You may well be reading this article thinking, what does Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) h...

By View HR

You may well be reading this article thinking, what does Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) have to do with the workplace? Read on…*

In the UK, we are seemingly obsessed with talking about the weather and its affects upon us. It is commonplace to be affected by changing seasons and weather; we might find our mood or energy levels vary due to the fluctuations in temperature or rainfall or how much sunlight we are exposed to during the day. For most of the population, although we may be affected by the seasons and weather, we are able to continue with our daily lives. However, when feelings start interfering with day-to-day life, it could indicate seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

The National Health Service (NHS) defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD)[i] as ‘a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.’ ‘SAD is sometimes known as "winter depression" because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter.’ The main symptoms of SAD[ii] include:

  • Having trouble waking up, and sleeping more than usual
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Feeling more hungry than usual and craving stodgy and sugary carbohydrates
  • Gaining weight
  • Finding it hard to stay connected with family and friends
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, and experiencing a low mood
  • Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling heavy, sluggish, and moving slowly
  • Feeling helpless or having suicidal thoughts

Employers are not expected to diagnose or treat SAD; however, they should have a general awareness that during the dark winter months, some staff are potentially going to be affected. While not expected to diagnose ailments, it is key that managers get to know their employees well enough to know when a behaviour or action is out of character for that individual, thus informing them of any changes. 

How can employers support individuals who face SAD?

Firstly, it is essential to know what can improve the symptoms of SAD; the NHS suggests[iii]:

  • Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial
  • Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible
  • Sit near windows when you're indoors
  • Take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • If possible, avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress

Communication

If you notice an employee is behaving out of character (in general or if the symptoms of SAD are visible), communicate with them through the 1-2-1 process; discussions should be held privately, and you may want to highlight that the conversation is confidential. Express your concern and then actively listen to the response. Potentially, the employee is dealing with SAD or possibly not; by having an open dialogue, managers are able to react to situations before they grow in scope. 

Make Reasonable Adjustments

The suggested methods of improving symptoms of SAD are easily achievable and reasonable for most organisations. Remember, symptoms are more apparent during the winter; therefore, adjustments may be made on a temporary arrangement. Can individuals be moved to a window seat? Can their lunch break be divided into small chunks throughout the day to allow them to get outside and, if able, go for a walk? Would working from home be of benefit to the employee during the winter? Or could allowing an earlier or later start time aid the colleague?

Reasonable adjustments should be fair and made in consultation with the employee; ensure that both parties are in agreement and don’t put the other at a disadvantage. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), support may be available here for employees.

Review Workloads

Poor mental health is challenging, and employers should do all they reasonably can to support individuals. A stressful work environment could have a significant impact on the alleviation or exaggeration of symptoms, so it is crucial to monitor workloads constantly. Communicate with staff to determine their views and then act accordingly; work may be able to be reassigned to another employee, or deadlines reviewed to ensure achievability. By taking the overbearing pressure off staff, employers will better help individuals cope during the difficult winter months. 

If you need any help supporting employees, creating a culture of support or managing similar situations, contact a member of the ViewHR team. 

*This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.



[i] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/overview/

[ii] https://www.bupa.co.uk/newsroom/ourviews/seasonal-affective-disorder

[iii] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/