How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect the Workplace

More than 6% of workers are currently experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – even more so the further north you go.  Left unchecked, this could be having a serious impact on your business.

But what is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is an annual episode of depression, most common in the winter months.  It is related to experiencing little day light, therefore, in countries or locations that spend a lot of daytime hours in darkness during the winter, SAD can be a big problem.  It is thought to be caused by increased levels of the hormone melatonin.  Melatonin is released when it gets dark to help us to feel sleepy and melatonin production is inhibited by daylight.  Melatonin affects the levels of other hormones including stress hormones such as cortisol and mood regulators such as serotonin.

How can SAD affect your employees and your workplace?

Essentially, it is characterized by a state of low mood and a lack of energy.  Obviously this will affect the productivity of workers and their enthusiasm for tasks.  Moreover, increases in stress hormones can lead to immunosuppression which means that they will be more prone to illnesses such as colds and flu.  Workers may also experience sleep disturbance, abnormal body temperature regulation (affecting alertness), difficulty concentrating, irritability, low self-esteem and tearfulness.  Find out more at

Top tips on managing SAD in the workplace

  • In the lightest parts of the day, try to have offices and meeting room lit by natural light – open the curtains, have people sat near windows and make the most of south-facing rooms.
  • Encourage staff to venture outside at lunchtimes when the weather permits – winter can have some beautifully sunny weather but if the norm is for everyone to eat lunch in an artificially-lit canteen, people may not want to move outside.  Keep benches available for outdoor seating, consider things such as lunchtime Petanque or Croquet games or groups that want to take short lunchtime walks.
  • Consider whether you could allow flexible hours in the winter to allow sufferers to travel in daylight for at least one of their journeys to or from work.  Morning light seems to be particularly beneficial.

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