As the mornings get darker and the nights close in, it’s understandable that some people start to feel a bit low and isolated.
Dark mornings, evenings and the colder weather during the winter months can be gloomy for most people, for some, however, it can be a bit more serious and can significantly impact their day-to-day lives – this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although sickness days in the workplace occur throughout the year, a large percentage are taken during the winter months, with many linked to SAD.
As a HR professional, it’s important to learn how to deal with SAD in the workplace, understanding how debilitating SAD can be, as well as being aware of what you can be doing to support employees that suffer from the condition.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often known as ‘winter depression’, usually affecting around 1 in 3 people in the UK each year during the winter months. Although, there are many that do get SAD during the warmer months.
It’s still unknown what causes SAD, but the most common theory is the reduction in exposure to sunlight during the darker, winter months. This can affect levels of melatonin and serotonin that can make you more tired and affect your mood and appetite. It can also impact body clocks as they adjust to the lower light levels during winter.
Symptoms of SAD usually include:
- Feeling low
- Lack of interest in socialising or undertaking everyday activities
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling worthless or having feelings of despair and guilt
- Lacking in energy
- Irregular sleep patterns, such as sleeping longer than normal, struggling to wake in the morning or sleeping during the day
- Increase in weight due to cravings for unhealthy foods
- Low concentration levels
SAD can also be linked to genes, so you are potentially more likely to suffer from SAD if someone in your family has a history of it.
What can I do to support employees?
There are lots of ways you can support your employees, as well as encourage others in the workplace to support their colleagues:
- Raise awareness – make use of your internal communications processes to make people aware of what SAD is, the symptoms, as well as tips on how to better manage it. It might encourage people to open up to you or a colleague about how they are feeling. Make sure you also link to some useful organisations that can help, just in case people feel uncomfortable talking to someone they know.
- Flexible hours – in this day and age flexible working hours have become the norm. Try adjusting start and finish times to maximise the daylight hours so that employees aren’t starting or finishing work in the dark. Why not even suggest hosting team meetings outside or arranging exercise sessions at lunchtime?
- Improving wellness – introduce initiatives or provide support for people with SAD. For example, some businesses have ‘wellness pots’ that employees can access if they want to sign up for something to support their wellbeing, such as a running club or exercise class during lunch. It’s also important to encourage employees to take regular breaks.
- Healthy eating – eating healthier is proven to make you feel better, so making fruit and healthy alternatives more accessible in your workplace, should encourage your staff to embrace a healthier lifestyle, which can help ease the symptoms of SAD.
- Adapt the office – making simple adjustments to the office can also help, such as installing light units or maximising natural light in the office, as well as introducing break-out zones.
- Furry friends – having pets in the office has proved to create a more calming environment, so why not consider introducing an office dog or encouraging employees to bring in their pets?
Although SAD only impacts people at certain times of the year, having processes in place that support employees throughout the whole year will lead to a happier and healthier workforce, and in turn, lead to better productivity in the long-term.
If you’re considering how your organisation can support employees that suffer from SAD, consult an independent HR expert for advice and support.