Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people more in the winter months when we are exposed to less natural sunlight. This in turn affects our body clock and our serotonin levels which can lead to tiredness and depression. The symptoms are not confined to just fatigue and everyone’s experience is different, but typically changes in appetite, weight, sleep patterns and signs of social withdrawal or difficulty concentrating will be present to some degree.
As an employer, it is important to be aware of SAD so you can implement as many preventative measures as possible and support employees through the tougher winter months. But also, you need to look out for the signs early, and signpost help. We spend many hours a week with our work colleagues so we must recognise that sometimes we are the best placed to notice even the most subtle changes in each other’s mental health.
Our HR Manager, Emily Christmas, advises,
“The stress of Christmas, followed by the pressure of new year, new goals can further accelerate the onset of SAD. We are a sales-based organisation that generally has an upbeat, positive energy, so it is usually easy to spot people displaying signs of SAD. However, we still feel it is really important to have strategies in place to make sure we do our best to promote wellbeing during the winter and be on hand to provide a safety net for those who are struggling.”
At Carrington West, there are three main areas we focus on at this time of year.
“You don’t know what you don’t know” is a phrase we use a lot at Carrington West! In this context, we simply mean we cannot expect the company, the HR team, leadership team or colleagues to identify symptoms of SAD in themselves or each other if no one knows what it is. Training for managers, mental health first aiders (MHFAs) and mentors is a great place to start. Encouraging everyone to make time to “check in” with their teams, by simply asking “how are you?” and giving time and space for people to talk about how they are feeling. Add to this some simple awareness communications in your staff newsletter, on your intranet or noticeboard that shines a spotlight on symptoms can go a long way to destigmatising SAD.
Promote Wellbeing - Daily
Whether your team is office based or working remotely, simple steps such as encouraging exercise, frequent breaks, lunchtime walks, and staying hydrated will go a long way to help maintain positive mental health. Some examples of initiatives we have run in the past have included
introducing outside walking meetings to increase opportunities to be exposed to natural light
running workshops on stress management, sleep and mindfulness
allow flexible working hours so employees can take longer breaks at lunch, or manage their time so they can work at times that better reflect their peak energy during the day
wellness check ins at the start of team and one to one meetings
healthy eating recipe cards or a smoothie making machine to promote healthy nutrition
No one thing will help but series of tools that encourage employees to look after their own mental health and wellbeing can go a long way.
Signpost Resources and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
Anyone who has suffered from any form depression including SAD, will know that whilst preventative measures can help, more often than not professional help is needed, and quickly. Providing and then signposting support can be quite literally a lifeline for employees. This can be clearly communicating who your trained in-house MHFAs are, and what kind of counselling or support your EAPs can provide quick access to. There are so many tools available from low-cost apps to comprehensive private medical insurance plans. None of them are useful if you do not consistently or adequately share details of how employees can access help.
Emily goes on to say,
“It is important to note that depression can affect people at anytime and to varying degrees. Good mental health in the workplace is not just something to promote in the winter, it must be part of your ongoing programme of employee support.”
For more information on SAD visit:
Carrington West use Vitality as a private medical provider, but there are many other providers available:
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis please reach out for help: