How Organizations Can Help Employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Woman with glasses looking outside at snow

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects millions of people each year. As a direct result of SAD, businesses experience lost productivity, absenteeism, and increased healthcare costs.

After a long winter topped with a pandemic, many people are still feeling the effects of SAD, COVID exhaustion and/or burnout.winter When devising mental wellness plans, companies can support their staff and help to avoid these costly losses by making specific provisions through winter in anticipation of higher levels of anxiety and depression. 

What Is SAD and Why Is It So Important?

SAD is a form of seasonal depression, which is most often experienced in the winter and into the beginning of spring. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, winter/seasonal depression affects 4–6% of the population. However, another 10–20% may experience mild SAD symptoms.

SAD starts typically from the age of 20 upwards. The condition is more common in northern parts of the world, for example in the US the AAFP revealed that prevalence is seven times higher in Washington State than Florida. 

However, SAD isn’t limited to the winter. The condition can strike people throughout the year, including during the summer

Prevelance of SAD

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The Impact SAD Has on Employee Health and Wellness 

The symptoms of SAD differ based on geographical location and climate. Common symptoms familiar to those living in cooler winter climates with less sunlight during the day include:

  • Overeating and cravings for carbs
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety, sadness, anger, irritability
  • Lower energy levels
  • Aches and pains
  • Deliberate social isolation 

SAD has a significant impact on employee well-being. Employees may experience a lack of motivation to work and organizations could struggle with maintaining employee productivity levels. Offering support for SAD is challenging because nature and geographical location play a significant role, but this year with added exhaustion from the pandemic, organizations can offer some direction.

Tips for Managing Employees Who Are Experiencing SAD or COVID Exhaustion

Encourage Rest and Recovery

Many employees struggle from the evil twin of absenteeism, “presenteeism,” where they turn up to the office despite not being well enough to work. This results in a loss of productivity, higher stress levels, and can lead to employees feeling like they can’t switch off. Estimates show that presenteeism costs the U.S. economy approximately $160 billion annually.

If employees are unwell, either mentally or physically, encourage them to take sick days, or allow them to work from home when possible. It’s also important to remind them to get adequate sleep, between six and eight hours each night. 

Get Some Sunskiing

Since a lack of sunlight, a major source of Vitamin D, is one of the most significant contributors to SAD in the winter, it’s essential to get some time outdoors. Exposure to natural light is essential for reducing some of the symptoms of SAD. Encourage employees suffering from this condition to step outdoors for at least 30 minutes each day. If you live in an area with snow and other winter conditions, skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing are all great winter activities to provide you with sunlight and fresh air. 

Instigate Safe Social Connection

Humans need social connection and interaction. With the past year full of social distancing and isolation, it is important to continue to encourage social interactions and connections but in a COVID safe way. 

Two great ways to provide safe social interactions are by offering virtual video calls and activities or by hosting well-being challenges. One-on-one employee connection by hosting coffee talks, or virtual team happy hours, or even turning on your video during team meetings are all ways employees can feel more connected. Another way to make employees feel connected is through a well-being challenge. CoreHealth's challenges can be team or buddy and incorporate message boards where participants can chat and post photos. 

Encourage Regular Exercise

One of the best ways to combat SAD is to encourage employees to take up some moderate form of exercise. Even walking will help. Besides weight control, regular exercise helps to release endorphins and increase energy levels. Moving the body can also improve sleep and boost the immune system.

To encourage regular exercise, mindfulness, sleep, and overall mental well-being, CoreHealth's well-being challenges are a great place to start to improve employee health, engagement, and productivity. By encouraging employees, creating team morale and connection, employees will feel motivated to participate and improve on their total well-being. 

The above recommendations can help organizations better deal with SAD, reverse low levels of employee wellness due to absenteeism and presenteeism, and help employees to feel better during their “off” seasons.

About CoreHealth Technologies

CoreHealth Technologies Inc. is a total well-being technology company trusted by global providers to power their health and wellness programs. Our wellness portals help maximize health, engagement and productivity for 3+ million employees worldwide. We believe people are the driving force of organizations and supporting them to make behavior changes to improve employee health is in everyone’s best interest. With the most flexibility, customizations and integrations of any software in its class, CoreHealth’s all-in-one wellness platform helps grow great wellness companies. Simple to sophisticated, based on you. For more information, visit the CoreHealth website.