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Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Affecting Employee Performance? 

Published: Thursday 28th November 2019

With 44% of workers saying that they are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there can be a noticeable impact in the workplace during the winter months, especially just after the Christmas break, affecting productivity, performance and morale in the workforce. 

Team Of Unhappy Businesspeople Sitting In Business Meeting

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real clinical condition related to depression and caused by hormonal changes in the body during certain times of year. A lack of daylight during autumn and winter affects the body’s natural rhythms, lowering serotonin which affects mood and energy. Sufferers feel lethargic, tired and ‘down-in-the-dumps’. It can even cause sleeping problems.  

To keep your operations up to speed as a manager or employer, it’s your job to be sensitive to the issue, look out for the signs of SAD in the workplace and take steps to counteract its effects. 

Identifying Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms 

Dealing with an adviser, woman and man talking

Only a trained clinician can diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder, but as a manager, you should be trained to notice when performance and morale fall. If it’s during the winter months, and you’re able to eliminate other causal factors, you can reasonably assume that SAD could be responsible for any of the following tell-tale signs: 

  • Low employee engagement and lack of motivation or enthusiasm 
  • Employees appear irritable, anxious or get upset easily 
  • Higher levels of absenteeism and staff arriving late into work 
  • Increased errors, or workers having difficulty concentrating 
  • Increased accidents 
  • A dip in morale and teamwork 
  • Increased conflict and arguments in the workplace 
  • Higher staff turnover 

You can make it better 

Colleagues, sitting in at a large table in a creative environment and office, surrounded by tack boards with drawings, plants and a bright yellow wall

Once you’ve identified SAD as the cause, there’s plenty you can do to make things better, both for workers and business performanceThe office environment, in particular, plays a vital role when it comes to tackling the winter blues.  

Increase natural light – Perhaps the biggest difference you can make is by increasing employee exposure to natural light. Employers should review office space to ensure there are no blocked sources of natural lights, reconfigure seating and introduce new sources of light. Consider siting a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp near the workspace of the worst affected employeesEncourage employees to go for a walk outside during lunch break, or rest periods. 

Improve rest areas – Rethink how space is used around the office. Introducing a quiet area or room to give people time on their own, to rest, meditate, or even practise yoga can really help. At the same time, make sure social areas such as a canteen are attractive and comfortable. If you have access to an external area such as a patio or garden, make sure employees have access to it.  

Rest area at the front desk of the modern office, comfortable sofas and green plants

Offer home-working/flexible hours – Giving employees the opportunity to work from home, or more control over their work hours can be helpful, especially for those that have to commute to work during the hours of darkness. 

Get everyone on board – Highlight awareness of SAD in the workplace and ask employees to make their own suggestions for improving the environment and work processes.  

Offering workplace wellness programmes and support for SAD and other emotional/mental health issues in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do. It can have real benefits for the business as well as the people who work there, leading to a stronger workplace culture and improved staff retention. 

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