Seasonal Affective Disorder: Best ways to support your workforce

The transition from summer to autumn can be difficult to navigate for many of us, as the days get darker, and the weather gets colder. The change in seasons will see 3 in 10 adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) over the coming months, a form of short-term depression that typically affects people more so in the winter than summer.

SAD influences levels of neurochemicals (melatonin and serotonin) in the part of the brain controlling mood. Within the workplace, those who suffer from the disorder can experience a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of wanting to withdraw from work productivity, burnout, sadness, guilt, or hopelessness.

More businesses are implementing initiatives and services to help support employees, including those who are trying to cope with SAD. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the greatest difference. Here are some ideas for how you can implement small workplace changes to support employees who suffer from SAD and promote good mental health.

Educate employees and managers about SAD in the workplace

Educate the workforce on the effects SAD has on productivity and encourage employees to seek help when needed. An organisation can start by reducing the stigma surrounding SAD and training managers and the workforce on how to start a conversation if they are concerned about an employee. Sufferers of SAD can learn to recognise the signs and how it affects them, such as a strong desire to sleep and eat.

Refreshments and the great outdoors

Encourage employees to get outside whilst it is light - perhaps they could take a short walk at lunch, hold team meetings in fresh air, or just sit, rest and enjoy the outdoors. Diet is also important, so encouraging your employees to eat a healthy, balanced diet is good for fuelling balanced energy levels.

Manage stress

A culmination of tight deadlines at work, personal stressors at home, and SAD could push stress levels into overdrive. Promote self-care and emphasise appropriate work/home boundaries to help employees recognise and manage issues of conflict, friction and raised anxiety.

Internal communications

Look to include content about SAD in company newsletters and other employee communications. Identify someone at a senior leadership level who might have experienced SAD and is willing to talk about it. This helps to normalise the experience.                 

Tea and Chat

You could set up a weekly tea and chat meeting for teams and departments to attend outside of their usual break times. We recommend setting this up in a comfortable environment and don’t forget you can do an online meeting too if your team is remote. Grab some biscuits, a cup of something warm, and talk about something neutral.

Conversation starters:       

  • Their hobbies                                            
  • Their weekend or after-work plans
  • What made them smile today                              
  • New books, films, or TV series
  • Their favourite foods and recipes                      
  • Create a Mental Health First Aider

You could enrol one person (or multiple people if you have a big team) to become your Mental Health First Aider. All businesses have first aiders who you can go to in case of a physical medical issue, but many don’t have a Mental Health First Aider who people can talk to and confide in. By providing peer-to-peer network support within your organisation, you are creating an environment in which the individual may feel more comfortable to discuss any issues they may be having, including the impact of SAD on their performance at work.

How can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy help those coping with SAD?

Alongside the proactive steps outlined above that employers can take to help employees combat SAD, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the evidence-based treatments that help people cope with and recover from feelings of depression and anxiety.