Combating SAD in the workplace

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Health Assured team

15 November 2019

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is related to the changes in seasons. As a result, you may notice that the winter months take a heavy toll on people’s moods and wellbeing.


SAD (often referred to the ‘winter blues’) occurs between the months of October and March, when the days are shorter and colder.


The prevalence of SAD is increasing year on year; in fact, around 20% of people in the UK and Ireland suffer from winter blues each year, which leads to reduced energy, irritability and low mood. According to the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, SAD leads to significant depression in about 3% of the population.


Poor mental health at work makes it much harder to manage staff performance and keep sick leave under control during winter. However, while there is no quick fix, there are simple ways to help your staff stay happy, healthy and able to work.


Boost natural light at work

From the 25th November onwards, your workers will experience roughly eight hours of sunlight a day, most of which they will spend commuting or working.


In fact, some people estimate that the average employee only gets 10 hours of sunlight each week during the winter. This lack of light is one of the main causes of SAD and can have a devastating impact on mood, productivity and health.


Reorder your workspace so that all staff have access to natural light. Make sure blinds and curtains are open and use rooms with windows for meetings or breaks. Finally, if you can, offer flexible working. A start time of 9:30am rather than 9:00am could give your workers two and half hours extra sunlight a week.


Of course, your workplace location may limit how much light you can let in. And not all organisations can offer flexible working. But there is another way to help your workers get more sun during the day…


Promote physical activity

Encourage your staff to spend their lunch breaks away from their work area. Ideally, by going for a walk outside.


Walking and other moderate physical activities can dramatically reduce sick leave. Research from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has shown that absence rates are 20% lower in physically active staff. And Public Health England suggests that a 10-minute brisk walk each day can even reduce the risk of early death by as much as 15%.


If going outside isn’t an option, think about holding stand-up meetings. It doesn’t seem like much, but standing rather than sitting can have a big impact on health.


Healthier alternatives

Remove sugary snacks at work and provide fruit instead. Encourage workers to drink more water during the day. Offer herbal teas as a healthier alternative to coffee.


Remember, it can be difficult for your people to make healthy choices when juggling work, family and personal commitments. So think about workplace wellbeing training to teach your employees how to look after their health, even when facing tough life challenges.  


Most importantly, be patient with your staff, even if they are reluctant to take part in the healthy changes that you implement. Accept that not everyone will want to address their struggle with SAD openly and ensure that you make yourself available if any of your team members want to discuss their mental health concerns.



If you would like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on:

UK: 0844 892 2493

ROI: 01 886 0324

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