What Can An Employer Do To Support Employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

13th December 2021

Seasonal Affective Disorder is often dismissed as ‘winter blues’ or a dislike for cold weather, but the serious implications it can have are forgotten.

It is thought that up to 3 in 100 people will suffer from SAD at some point in their lives. More and more people are being diagnosed, while awareness lags behind.

As an employer, it is important to support your staff where possible and SAD is no exception. So we’ve put together this post to clear up some of the misconceptions about the condition, and to give you as an employer some tips on how to support your staff when they face it.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is defined by the NHS  as ‘a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.’

It is classed as recurrent major depressive disorder, and it is usually tied to winter months. It is thought to be related to the lack of natural sunlight and colder weather that comes with the season. Though it is sometimes referred to as ‘winter depression’ symptoms will often start in autumn and finally lessen until spring.

Like all mental health conditions, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect different people in different ways. However, the textbook symptoms tend to overlap with a lot of other mental health conditions particularly depression.

Common symptoms of SAD:

  • ongoing low mood, fatigue or lethargy
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • general irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up due to disruptions of the body’s internal clock and body’s natural rhythms
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

The effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the workplace

A study by Deloitte in 2020 revealed that poor mental health is costing UK employers up to £45 billion each and every year. A combination of absences, sick pay and high staff turnover means that employers pay a high cost for failing to offer sufficient mental health support.

The Impact Of Presenteeism

While absences, sickness pay and high staff turnover might seem severe enough consequences, they are not the only impacts you will see when the mental wellbeing of your employees suffers. One of the biggest financial losses that the Deloitte study identified was presenteeism, where staff attempt to work despite very low productivity as a result of ill health.

When you’re suffering a persistent low mood, your focus will suffer. You will struggle to concentrate for long periods and as result, your productivity will suffer. Even if you are able to work, the quality of what you produce will lessen significantly.

Low mood and irritability can also lead to workplace conflict. When you’re under so much stress already even a small knock or issue can feel like a majorly stressful event. Even people who usually try to avoid workplace conflict can end up taking this out on those around them.

How to support employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder

There is no easy guaranteed way to treat any mental health issue. Seasonal Affective Disorder is no different. However, the Deloitte study revealed that for every £1 spent on mental health interventions, £5 was made back by employers through reduced absences, presenteeism and staff turnover.

This means it a great business idea to support your staff all year round, but during the cold weather months, it’s a good idea to set some extra measures in place. Here are a few tips on how you can support employee mental health in the workplace.

Allow flexible working

For many people, SAD will be linked lack of natural light.

Employees arrive before sunrise and return home after dark. Their opportunities to get outside, get fresh air, and shape the nagging feelings of winter despondency shrink back to weekends.

Introducing flexible working will allow your team to get as much sunlight as possible. Whether this means later start times or home working to allow lunchtime walks or exercise, there is usually a way to make flexible working suitable for any business.

The potential productivity gains make it an avenue worth exploring.

Provide Light Therapy Lamps

If flexible working isn’t possible in your business, you could consider providing special SAD lamps instead. These lamps replicate sunlight and can have short term positive effects for sufferers of SAD.

Other things you can do to support your employee wellbeing include providing desks that are near to windows to allow maximum natural sunlight exposure. Some employees may prefer to open windows to get fresh air as well.

Many people see light therapy as a quick hack to address SAD directly. However, as with all mental ill health, don’t expect a miracle treatment to alleviate symptoms immediately. A combination of all of these suggestions should be provided for your employees so that they can find the one that works for them.

Actively Encourage Self Care

Different people will approach self-care in different ways, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. And trying to tell your employees what they should be doing outside of work could irritate your workforce and even increase the stress levels of those with SAD.

Try instead to remind employees of the self-care steps they can incorporate into their average working day to support mental health. Schedule regular breaks across teams. Encourage employees to leave their screens, their seats, and take time to move and stretch throughout the day. These will benefit the physical and mental health of your whole team, not just those facing SAD.

Try to provide workers with a space where they can relax during these breaks. Create areas, ideally inside and out, where they can escape for just a few minutes to reset their thoughts.

The aforementioned stretch breaks and might feel like they eat into valuable productivity time. However well-rested, motivated employees achieve a much higher quantity and quality of work, than tired, burned-out team members do.

Support Physical Health

We can’t emphasise enough how strong the link between employee mental health and physical health is. Introducing a new workout routine is never going to cure SAD or any other mental health issue. But it can have impressive benefits on general wellbeing.

It can also be hard for an employer to support, but it is possible. As well as introducing employee benefits such as discounted gym membership, healthy eating options as part of staff catering, another great idea is to set up sponsored sports teams.

Many people will find it easier to undertake a particular hobby or sport if it’s a full team commitment plus there is an added socialisation benefit to team sports that you won’t get from a lone work out.

Arrange Mental Health Training

Though it is increasingly common, not everyone will struggle with their own personal wellbeing or mental health. And without going through it firsthand, it can be difficult to get your head around.

One way to help your staff understand other team members pain points is to make mental health training easily available. Organisations such as Mental Health First Aid England can run in-house training and even qualify your employees to support each other through tough times.

Support all other mental health issues too

Chances are, if you’re looking for ways to help alleviate seasonal affective disorder for your employees, you’re keen to offer support for all mental health conditions. The number of diagnosed SAD cases pales in comparison to the proportion of the public who suffer from mental health problems overall.

All the things listed above will support the mental well-being of your whole team, not just those dealing with SAD. It’s not as hard as you might think.

Create a culture in the workplace where people can be honest about their mental health Promote the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Allow flexible working and reduce the significant costs of presenteeism.

A supportive, encouraging and understanding workplace is the one thing that many people facing mental health issues lack. Overcome this, and you will significantly lessen their burden.

Get help supporting your employees

It’s no easy task to support your employees wellbeing. It’s not easy, and it’s incredibly important. Not just for the health of your employees, but for the health of your business too.

You don’t need to take this fight on alone. Speak to one of our team about our Health And Wellbeing Programme to see how we can support you and your employees.

Request a callback

Tell us your name and number below and we'll give you a callback to discuss your requirements.

Request a callback