22 Nov 2022

Helping workers with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter 2022 is being billed by some as the second winter of discontent with the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation and energy bills.

Add into the mix recent research from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which says that real household incomes are set to fall by 7% in the space of nine months[i], then many employees are in for a rocky ride over the coming months.

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

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

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

Check in with employees

Regularly checking in with employees, especially those working remotely who may be feeling more isolated as the days are shorter, is important. This could 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.

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

Recommend lunchtime walks

Getting out in the fresh air, especially if it’s a crisp sunny day can work wonders for wellbeing. Although the Vitamin D people can get from the sun is much less during the winter months, the warmth of the sun and taking some exercise, can significantly increase serotonin and dopamine production in the body which improve mood. Employers could encourage everyone to take a walk outside every day, even if they work remotely, which could be beneficial for people suffering with SAD as well as those that don’t.

Do regular appraisals

Employers should ensure they continue with performance appraisals during the winter months. These are an opportunity provide constructive feedback which can boost motivation and to find out if anyone has any personal issues impacting their work. Activ Appraisals can help managers keep on top of appraisals. This HR cloud-based software is an easy, flexible, and effective way of managing staff performance reviews, whereby managers and employees can work together to set realistic, actionable goals for teams and individual employees.

Encourage annual leave

As the year comes to an end it can be a mad dash to use up annual leave if it can’t be carried over, so it’s important to have systems such as Activ Absence software in place to avoid this happening and ensure everyone takes their holidays. This can alert managers if someone hasn’t taken much leave and prompt them to send out reminders.

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

Invest in a light box

The NHS[iii] says one of the treatments for SAD is light therapy which can improve mood considerably. This involves sitting by a special lamp called a light box usually for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning. The light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that’s missing during the darker winter months. These boxes aren’t available on the NHS, but employers could offer these as part of their wellbeing programme to people that are suffering from SAD.


[i] https://www.energymonitor.ai/policy/market-design/weekly-data-uk-winter-of-discontent-energy-prices#:~:text=Energy%20prices%20are%20set%20to,from%20the%20new%20Prime%20Minister.

[ii] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/seasonal-affective-disorder-1-in-3-people-suffer-from-sad-9814164.html

[iii] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/