How to help employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder | the HRD

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Some herald the winter of 2022 as the second winter of discontent with the cost of living crisis and rising inflation and energy bills.

Add to the mix recent research from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which says that real household income will fall by 7% in the space of nine months.[i]So many employees are in for a difficult journey in the coming months.

With the clocks turning back and the nights getting colder and darker, some employees will also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common disorder that is often not talked about.

According to the charity Young Minds, it’s like depression, except it comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, with symptoms mainly occurring during winter. These symptoms include a low mood, lack of energy, loss of pleasure in activities that are normally enjoyed, and feelings of irritability.

YouGov research a few years ago suggested that one in three people in the UK suffer from SAD, and women are 40% more likely than men to experience symptoms of the condition.[ii]. Here are some tips for employers to help support workers who may have SAD this winter.

check with employees
It’s important to communicate regularly with employees, especially those working remotely who may feel more isolated due to shorter days. This can be done by having a weekly team meeting, face to face or via Teams or Zoom and leaving space at the end for people to talk about any issues. Managers could kick off the winter season by talking about SAD and what the company is doing to support people.

Absence management software is also a useful tool for tracking people’s behavior and detecting patterns, such as someone taking more time off than usual during the winter months.

Recommend walks at lunchtime
Getting outside, especially if it’s a sunny and cool day, can do wonders for well-being. Although the vitamin D that people can get from the sun is much less during the winter months, the heat of the sun and getting some exercise can significantly increase serotonin and production of dopamine in the body that improve mood. Employers could encourage everyone to go for a walk every day, even if they are working remotely, which could be beneficial for both people with SAD and those without.

Make periodic evaluations
Employers should make sure to continue performance reviews during the winter months. This is an opportunity to provide constructive feedback that can increase motivation, it’s an opportunity to set exciting goals for the coming year, and to find out if anyone has any personal issues that affect their work.

Encourage annual vacation
As the year comes to a close, it can be crazy to use up annual leave if it can’t be transferred, so it’s important to have software in place to prevent this from happening and ensure everyone gets their vacation. This can alert managers if someone hasn’t taken much vacation and ask them to send reminders.

Taking time off is necessary for good well-being and productivity. For those with SAD, encouraging them to take a trip somewhere warm and sunny during the winter might also be something employers suggest. It might help alleviate some of the symptoms and give someone something to look forward to.

Invest in a light box
The National Health Service[iii] says that one of the treatments for SAD is light therapy which can greatly improve mood. This involves sitting next to a special lamp called a light box, usually for 30 minutes to an hour each morning. The light that the light box produces simulates the sunlight that is missing during the darker months of winter. These boxes are not available on the NHS, but employers could offer them as part of their wellness program for people suffering from SAD.

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