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Seasonal Affective Disorder and the winter blues

As the UK prepared to ‘figuratively’ turn their clocks back and fall back in to the dark winters that will have us all questioning whether World Cup fever and the summer heat wave was all a dream, employers all over the country should be on alert for symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD disorder affects around 3% of the UK population. A strand of depression, SAD disorder shows symptoms of anxiety, fatigue, irritability, a consistent low mood and a persistent low mood…which are often palmed off as having the ‘winter blues’.

Colleagues will resonate with the idea that during the winter mornings, it’s far more appealing to stay wrapped up in a duvet than it is to jump on a rush hour train in the dark. Recent news articles are showing there is a decline in the numbers of absenteeism at work, with colleagues fearing that missing work for periods of absence could mean they fall behind or that their jobs will be less secure. There is movement to a culture of presenteeism with sickness absence being at an all-time low, dropping steadily since 1999. However, within the winter months the numbers of absentees at work increase due to colds and flu with managers taking for granted that there could be other reasons for staff absences.

Research by CIPD suggests the culture of presenteeism is affecting productivity, wellbeing and outcomes in businesses. Staff are working through illness, meaning their productivity levels are lower; it is taking them longer to recover from their illness, meaning their wellbeing is being affected; and with staff coming in to work when they are ill, they are putting the health and wellbeing of their colleagues at risk.

Now, I’m not saying that every person who calls in sick during the winter months, or decides to work from home more often, or who’s productivity levels and outcomes start to decline, is suffering from SAD disorder. But what I am suggesting is that they might. And employers should be aware that this could be the case.

There are a range of ways to make your place of work a more appealing place for colleagues during the winter months, whether they are suffering from SAD disorder or not. Light is one of the biggest factors. There a number of treatments for SAD disorder, one being light therapy. Trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible, encouraging colleagues to keep offices spacious and airy, and taking walks during lunch breaks, even if brief, can make a huge impact on your staff’s mood. Some companies are even investing in light boxes. Sitting by a special lamp called a ‘light box’ for around 30 minutes a day mimics the sunlight outside, meaning that even during the dark winter months you can replicate the light during the summer months.

These are some simpler, less intrusive ways of aiding the wellbeing of staff during the winter months. But, there may be cases of staff suffering from SAD disorder that may need to visit their GP for more advanced treatment. Mind Charity have a helpful page here . But either way, the wellbeing of colleagues is important, whether during the winter months or not, and with cases of mental health becoming even more evident both in and out of the work place, people and wellbeing strategies should be on the top of any employers list.

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