Most companies want to invest their employees. It helps them feel happier at work, feel more satisfied in their role, and even be more productive each day. Some businesses opt for a half day on Fridays to boost morale, and others might offer discounts on local gym memberships or at health food stores. All of the options available to increase employee health, both physically and mentally, can help to combat against seasonal affective disorder in the workforce. This is a serious concern, especially among office workers, but there are plenty of ways a company can help to prevent or alleviate the symptoms of this disorder by instituting some type of wellness plan.
What Is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depressive disorder that follows the seasons, and just like with blue light reading glasses, its prevalence is skyrocketing. This disorder is marked by its cyclical nature and typically follows the fall and winter seasons. People will notice themselves starting to feel down, moody, or agitated more and more as the year progresses into the heart of winter, and typically start feeling better in the spring and summer. Other symptoms can include oversleeping, appetite changes, low energy, decreased interest in activities, or trouble sleeping. Many people will write off these issues as “winter blues” or increased stress from work or life, but they are nothing to be ignored.
Professionals suspect a variety of causes for SAD ranging from less sunlight each day to a family history of depression. The lack of sunlight in the winter time can often cause disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that helps to tell people when to wake up and go to bed. This confusion can lead to sleep trouble or a decrease in serotonin levels, which is a common cause of depression. It can also affect melatonin levels. This is the chemical that helps people sleep and can stabilize moods. A few risk factors could predispose someone to developing SAD, such as having clinical depression or bipolar disorder, or living far from the equator where their hours of light may completely diminish in the fall and winter.
How Does SAD Affect Business?
It might seem like employees’ personal lives shouldn’t interfere with business operations, but that’s not always in their hands. Depression is an all-encompassing affliction that can make it hard for people to concentrate or stay awake while they’re at work. This can affect the productivity of a business in a major way if multiple employees at varying levels are having trouble keeping up with their work. Although business owners and managers cannot be directly involved in employees’ medical care, they can keep in mind that SAD may be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Human resource professionals should be ready and willing to work with employees who may need to file claims under these laws to address their mental health.
Businesses who don’t already have one should look into instituting an Employee Assistance Program. These low-cost programs can help employees get through a wide range of life events, such as financial hardship or divorce, or even recommend mental health professionals in-network of the company’s health plan. In addition to this type of aid, there are Employee Wellness Plans, which typically focus more on physical health. These plans allow employees to do things such as establish a walking group during lunch breaks or get a group discount at a local gym. Exercise is an easy and proven way to combat depression, which is why these options can go a long way for struggling employees.
How Can Businesses Help Employees?
There are numerous ways, both big and small, that companies can help their employees battling SAD feel more comfortable and happier while at work. The simplest way to combat this disorder is with light. Because most people experience SAD symptoms due to lack of sunlight, offering daylight lamps for people’s desks or switching out fluorescents for a more natural glow could go a long way. There is also the option of employing circadian lighting in the building, especially if there are no windows to help employees track time during the day. These lighting systems track the light in an arc during the day, just like how the sun moves through the sky. Except you can set them for longer hours so employees don’t feel such a harsh adjustment to the natural light change when the time changes each fall.
If your office does have windows, you can use the natural light to your advantage by creating a little slice of nature indoors. Set up a few chairs or a couch around the side of the building that gets the most light and accessorize the area with plants and comforting colors. This gives employees a space to retreat to when they need a little boost of energy or positivity. The warming rays from the sun will help to spur their circadian rhythm, while the plants offer a calming presence and a taste of the outdoors. It’s a great way to give employees a space away from their desks where they can regroup, recharge, and refocus themselves on the tasks at hand.
Another great way to keep people energized is to change things up every now and then. There could be a tradition in the office that when the time changes, so does the furniture. Rearranging a workspace can give the brain the novelty it craves and keep people on their toes and engaged in their work. It can also help to break up the dull, blustery days of winter when employees have something to look forward to. A bigger step in this direction would be redecorate the office entirely. Granted, this wouldn’t be feasible on a seasonal basis, but would be a great way to cheer up employees once if the majority of the workforce seems to be struggling. Choosing energetic colors and adding bits of nature such as plants or natural materials can be a real mood booster!
If a manager notices some of their employees are having issues with specific tasks or functions of their job, they can even opt to tackle those specifically. For example, if someone was having trouble concentrating at their desk, a manager might offer noise reducing headphones, a cubicle door to keep out unwanted distractions, or a fidget device to keep their hands busy while their brains keep working. There are also services and strategies to help with various issues. One example would be if an employee was suddenly having trouble getting to work on time because of increased fatigue or trouble waking up in the morning, the company could offer to pay for a wake up call service to help them get moving in the morning. Or if someone was experienced a decrease in productivity due to fatigue, their company could offer a more flexible schedule so they could work at hours they had the most energy, even if not within standard business hours.
Seasonal affective disorder is a major concern among the workforce, but there are plenty of actionable steps companies can take to help their employees feel well, encouraged, and happy.