How to support staff affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

How to support staff affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).


The temperature is dropping, the daylight hours are diminishing and the icy freeze is descending. With winter now settling in, has your business thought about how seasonal weather changes can affect your employee’s mental health and wellbeing?


A study by the NHS states that SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) effects 1-in-15 people in the UK between the colder months of September to April. SAD is a form of depression which can affect people during the winter months, some related symptoms are fatigue, low mood and irritability.


The ‘ins and outs’ of SAD


The exact reason SAD can affect staff members is not yet fully understood. It is believed to be caused by a considerably reduced amount of direct sunlight during autumn and winter months.


Receiving a reduced level of sunlight prevents part of the brain working properly. This can affect:


  • Circadian Rhythms (body’s internal clock): Natural light is so important in regulating sleeping patterns. A lack of light in winter months can alter or throw off your circadian rhythm and massively affect the amount of sleep you would normally get.
  • Production of melatonin: Melatonin is the chemical, which controls our natural sleeping and waking up schedule. People who suffer from SAD can produce higher levels of melatonin therefore making them feel depressed and sluggish.
  • Production of serotonin: Serotonin is the hormone that is responsible for your overall happiness, sadness, sleep and appetite. With lower light levels in the winter, our serotonin levels can decrease therefore leading to feeling down, demotivated and not hungry.


How can I tell if a staff member is suffering from SAD?


It is important for managers to be aware of the telltale signs of SAD, these could include:


  • Lack of energy:  Is an employee beginning to under perform in tasks they could previously do with very little effort? This could mean taking longer to fill out monthly reports, or taking their time to respond to simplistic emails. These are all tell-tale signs of a lack of energy and a potential sufferer from SAD
  • Concentration problems: Is there a staff member who is regimented in routine and always focused on the task at hand? If these positive habits start to shift to losing concentration easily or switching between tasks, this could be a warning sign of SAD.
  • Comfort eating: This can be quite difficult to spot. In the lead-up to Christmas who doesn’t dive into the chocolates and mince pies to beat the 3pm slump? However, if an employee who does not usually eat at their desk is now snacking regularly, this could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder.
  • Mood changes: This could be a staff member who usually shows a positive attitude and has a good work ethic but has recently changed into a member of staff who is erratic and disruptive.


How can you support a staff member suffering from SAD?



Catch some sun when you can.


The problem with winter working in an office is other than your commute to work, your employees may not see daylight until the following morning.


It is important to encourage employees to get out of the office and go for walk on their breaks. Not only will catching some sun rays help improve employees suffering from SAD but the extra exercise from a walk is proven to help with SAD sufferers.


Another option is to hold meetings in areas of the office with natural light or to purposely plan work place activities during the darker months.


If possible you could change your operating hours for employees to start for example 7am to 3pm? If this is not a viable option for the office, you could work on a rota-based system where staff members have an optional one day a week in which they can work a 7am to 3pm shift.



Look at your working environment.


A study completed by ‘Aspect’ states that a staggering 83% of adults consider their place of work to be ‘unpleasant’, the biggest aspect of the complaint was the lack of light and natural light.


Does your workplace have large partitions or a closed floor plan? To help combat SAD within the workplace you could consider taking down partitions and opening up the floor plan. Another possibility is to include ‘SAD Lamps’, these lamps emit a white light which mimics the sun’s spectrum of wavelengths.



Mental Health Support Programs.


Do you have any mental health support program in place? As an employer you have a responsibility for the care and support of employee’s physical and mental health. Having programs in place can not only help improve an employee to get back to feeling better but also can get employees back to working at their best.


Studies show that if you are to intervene into a mental health issue in the early stages, you are able to reduce mental health related absence by 20%.


If you believe your office could be at risk from ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ this winter please get in contact with us by clicking the email below.



T: 0151 556 1975


Twitter: @HPC_HRservices


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