How to Support Workers With Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter

An estimated 10 million Americans are impacted by SAD each year. Here’s how to support your employees through the dreary months ahead.

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How to Support Workers With Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter

Here's what you need to know:

  • Start by creating and maintaining ways to support employee mental health in general
  • Create a stigma-free work environment when it comes to mental health
  • Allow extra time for employee breaks and allow for flexible schedules
  • Invest in light therapy lamps for the office
  • Brighten up the office environment with plants, pops of color, and natural light when possible

Goodbye, sun — hello cloudy, stormy, and cold winter days. Winter can be a tough time for mental health. Less sunshine and time outside combined with shorter days can mean that workers are heading into the office when it’s dark and leaving when it’s dark outside yet again. Lunch breaks can be the only time when many folks actually see the sun — a depressing experience to say the least.

While colder months are a challenge for most people, those with seasonal affective disorder (or SAD for short) are particularly impacted. And they’re not a small bunch. The Health Research Funding Organization notes that an estimated 10 million Americans are impacted by SAD each year.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways that employers can support their workers with SAD this winter and every winter. The best part? Anyone with the winter blues is likely to benefit, so it’s truly a win-win-win situation.

Employees — those with SAD and even those without — benefit as do employers. When workers are happy and healthy, they’re more engaged in their work and more productive as a result.

But, perhaps more importantly, they’re actually at work. The depression that SAD can trigger, like depression in general, can lead to absenteeism because of their illness.

Ready to support your employees through the dreary months ahead? Then read on to find out how you can support your workers with seasonal affective disorder this winter.

Encourage mental health now and always

SAD is just one mental health concern in the workplace. While conditions like clinical depression and anxiety are increasingly being understood as the medical conditions that they are, the idea that someone’s mood can be that impacted by the season isn’t as widely accepted.

So the best place to start is by creating and maintaining ways to support employee mental health in general. One of the most direct ways to do this is to ensure that mental health care is covered by the health insurance benefits your company offers. If it isn’t, get creative about funneling mental health resources toward your employees.

There are many online apps and platforms from Headspace to Talkspace that offer more affordable and accessible mental health services. Contact companies like these for your employees. If you can cover the costs completely, that’s the best. But even subsidized rates are a step in the right direction.

The best place to start is by creating and maintaining ways to support employee mental health in general.

Create a stigma-free work environment

Beyond resources like mental health services, it’s important to create a stigma-free work environment when it comes to mental health. Encourage employees to be as open about their mental health as they’d like to be.

Come up with clear policies supporting mental health needs and put them in your handbook. Coach managers and leaders on the importance of accepting and accommodating the mental health needs of the people on their teams. As always, there’s the opportunity to lead by example.

Encourage fellow leaders to be open and honest about their mental health situations. The more examples that come from the top, the more those below them will feel empowered to be open about their mental health struggles, too.

Allow extra time for employee breaks

It’s hard when the days get shorter. This combined with traditional office hours means that employees are arriving to work in the dark and leaving in the dark. So, do what you can to get them outside and in the sunshine during the day.

Institute longer lunch breaks or simply encourage employees to take longer or more frequent breaks to help get them outside. On top of that, consider going the extra mile. Give employees gift certificates to a nearby coffee shop. This can help encourage them to take a short walk outside to get out of the office rather than just head to the windowless break room.

Flexible work hours help a lot with this, too. Leave it up to your employees to determine when the best time is for them to arrive at and leave the office.

The best part of this approach is that it lets schedules be individualized. Some people are really impacted by SAD and can stand to benefit from a walk with their dog in the sunshine before heading into the office.

Others just aren’t bothered by it at all and won’t want to change the good schedule they have going. The more flexible and accommodating you can be to your workers’ individual needs, the better.

Invest in light therapy lamps for the office

One of the most recommended ways to help combat the impact of seasonal affective disorder is by using a light therapy lamp. It’s not quite clear how, exactly, light therapy works, but the idea is that SAD is triggered by the lack of sunlight that comes with winter.

To combat that, specialized light boxes to the tune of 10,000 lux of exposure that filter out harmful UV rays can be a source of relief.

The lamps come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and price points. Consider investing in a few for the office that people can plug in and use at their desks if they’d like. It’s a small cost that can make getting through the winter much more manageable for employees who are hit hard by SAD.

The best part? A little extra (UV-protected) sunlight doesn’t hurt anyone! Even people who don’t get deeply depressed in the winter will still enjoy a little extra sunshine throughout the day.

Brighten up the office environment

If you’ve been meaning to spruce up the office, now is the time. Beyond adding some light therapy sources to the office, there are plenty of other things you can do to help combat the winter blues.

First, bring in plants, plants, and more plants. Luckily, there are a few low-maintenance plants that are perfect for office environments. ZZ plants, pothos, philodendrons, and peace lilies (just to name a few!) can thrive in low-light environments and don’t require much care outside semi-frequent watering.

Beyond that, get creative with your design. Add in some pops of color to break up a gray-focused office color scheme. Maximize natural light as much as possible. This means keeping the shades up and using mirrors to reflect and maximize the light they provide.

Opt for warmer lighting whenever you can (this means more yellow-hued lights rather than the white or blue-ish options that are colder and can feel sadder). Even if you’re stuck with fluorescent overhead lighting that you can’t change, you can bring in floor lamps and desk lamps.

You can rely entirely on alternative light sources like these and keep the fluorescents off. You can also just supplement fluorescent overhead lighting with warmer-hued floor lighting options.

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Ask your employees what they need and want

The beauty of this strategy and all of the options here is that it’s entirely up to you. It’s all about simply meeting the needs of your unique workforce. Ask your employees what they want and need and listen to the answers.

Especially if you’re not sure what to do first, just ask! Rather than working to guess what can help brighten your workers’ moods, let them tell you. It’ll save you the hassle and streamline the whole process while showing your employees that you value what they have to say.

Plus, many of the changes you make to support employees who struggle with SAD (think plants, natural lighting, and flexible work schedules) have benefits that extend well beyond the winter season.

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