Are your employees SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Workplace


SAD in the workplace

SAD patterns and trends

Supporting employees through SAD

Flexible working

A mental health recession

The need for an Employee Assistance Programme


Are your employees SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Workplace


Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. While SAD is most prevalent during the darker winter months, it impacts some individuals during the summer, and, in contrast, they feel better during winter.

Symptoms of SAD include low moods, feelings of worthlessness, lack of interest in everyday activities, and even gaining weight through unhealthy eating habits. In some cases, the effects of SAD can be severe, leading to people seeking professional support.


SAD in the Workplace

Here at Sodexo Engage, we focus on wellbeing in its entirety – financial, physical, and mental – sharing our expertise on why it’s essential that employers embed support into workplace culture. It shows a duty of care towards the people driving your business and makes financial sense since absenteeism and presenteeism, low morale and engagement, and reduced productivity all impact your bottom line.

The NHS suggests that SAD impacts an individual’s interest in daily activities, including working. Research shows that organisations pay an average of £500 in absenteeism costs annually per employee. Furthermore, even if employees don’t take time off due to SAD, if they lack motivation and do not perform well for a long time – known as presenteeism – businesses will still take a hit financially. 

The average UK employee spends over 82,000 hours in the workplace over their lifetime. During the winter months, many people leave and return to their homes in the dark, and employees may stay in the office during their lunch break if the weather isn’t appealing. It's possible that for five days of the week, office-based workers may only experience artificial lighting.


SAD Patterns & Trends

Overall, 35% of the UK population has reported lower moods during winter, and it’s suggested that women are more impacted. However, the diagnosis of SAD is 18% higher in men than in women.

Location also appears to play a role, with research suggesting that those living in Greater London are most likely to have been diagnosed with SAD. When you factor in that London-based employees work one-and-three-quarter hours longer than those in other areas of the UK, it feeds into our earlier point about spending daylight hours in the office.

That said, we can’t give this argument too much credence because the figures provided are based on the diagnosis of SAD. When you look at that same piece of research, it’s Yorkshire and Humber with the highest figures in the category of people who have suggested their moods are lower in the winter months. The difference is they have never sought a diagnosis.


Supporting Employees through SAD

Whilst we’re not suggesting SAD is born from the workplace in the same way as Occupational Burnout (neither does the research we’ve found), businesses can reduce the impact it has on their employees and business.

The first step is for employers to be proactive. HR leaders have access to employee records and can assess patterns of behaviour. Suppose an employee has historically taken time off or reported feeling more depressed during winter. You can start those one-to-one conversations and put a support plan in place before it becomes an issue.

One way to implement this support is to open the lines of communication and create a safe space for employees to discuss their mental wellbeing. From there, you can talk about individual and even business-wide strategies.


Flexible Working

Getting out of the office or away from the desk is important, even more so during winter. Encourage employees to break up their lunch hour throughout the day, taking 15 minutes during a morning or afternoon sunny spell instead of staying indoors for the whole hour.

In addition to this, allowing employees to plan working hours and locations around their needs each week is also beneficial. However, there is, of course, a need to plan flexible working around business requirements. Still, it’s worth highlighting that every employee has the right to request flexible working, and 65% of job seekers would reject a role that didn’t allow remote work.

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A Mental Health Recession

It may be the time of year to think about SAD, but the mental wellbeing of your employees should continue to be a business priority. A recent LinkedIn article claims that the UK is facing a ‘mental health recession’ and discusses the increasing need for employers to incorporate an employee assistance programme into their employee benefits package.

We couldn’t agree more, and the importance of businesses prioritising their employees’ mental health is a matter that gets our continuous attention.

Embedding wellbeing into your company culture with flexible working and a supportive ethos will only do so much, and there will come the point where some employees will need professional support. Not only that, but your internal support systems will only be accessible during business hours.

Mental illnesses, like depression, do not present solely during the working day. You may even find that the workplace offers a much-needed distraction, and it’s when the day is over that the struggles begin.


The need for an Employee Assistance Programme

Heads Together recently published research showing that only 2% of employees would feel confident enough to speak to their employer about their mental health. Perhaps this figure is understandable when you consider the HSE report that states that 48% of people suffering from a mental health illness cited work-related stress as the cause.

No matter how supportive your company culture is, some employees won’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health in the workplace. This is where our employee assistance programme is essential as it provides employees with BACP-accredited counsellors face-to-face, by phone and by email 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are believed to trigger 70% of doctor visits and 85% of severe conditions. Over 13 million working days are lost every year to stress-related illnesses. When you incorporate our employee assistance programme within your business, you’ll be doing your bit to break the stigma surrounding mental health and see a return on investment through fewer days lost due to illness and absence.

Are you ready to invest in the mental wellbeing of your employees? Click here to arrange a call with one of our employee wellbeing and engagement experts.






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