Seasonal Affective Disorder impacts as much as 6 percent of the US population. The good news is there are easy measures you can take to help dull its impact.

SAD at Work? Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder on Your Team

Leadership Employee Management

Seasonal Affective Disorder impacts as much as six percent of the U.S. population. The good news is there are measures you can take to help dull its impact

We’re about to hit the gloomy winter months and that means that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is probably not far behind. SAD may have an extremely appropriate abbreviation, but it impacts as much as 6 percent of the population, causing fatigue, a pervasively sad mood, loss of interest and feelings of hopelessness.

Bringing those symptoms into your organization can be a recipe for an employee morale disaster. According to the Society of Human Resources Management, it can result in losses in productivity, decreased morale, absenteeism, a general increase in errors on the job and even safety risks in environments like manufacturing or construction.

The good news is that there are simple things you and your team can do to help balance the impact of SAD. Here are four ideas to help you get your season started on a proactive note.

Let the Light In

When it comes to combating SAD, making sure your workplace has an abundance of natural light can be a good idea — it’s been shown to improve overall performance as well as benefit sleep, a known catalyst of productivity. Researchers at the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Northwestern University found that workers with windows in their workplace received around 173 percent more white light exposure throughout the work day — and slept an average of 46 more minutes per night than those in windowless workspaces. According to the study’s co-author Ivy Cheung, “Day-shift office workers’ quality of life and sleep may be improved via emphasis on light exposure and lighting levels in current offices as well as in the design of future offices.”

Even if you don’t have a lot of windows in your building, you can fake it until you make it. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is one of the most common treatments to SAD because it mimics natural outdoor light and can cause a chemical impact in the brain that may help change your employees’ mood. You could invest in a light box for your office, or you could offer your employees avenues to take advantage of this easy, non-invasive treatment.

Encourage Outside Activity

If you can’t get natural light into your working environment, you may be able to give your team options to experience it during the day. According to Eastern Washington University, many people who suffer from SAD go to work when it’s dark in the morning and leave after the sun has set in the evening, which can make everything seem like one long and gloomy day. Consider encouraging your managers to organize team building events that get people outside of the office when it’s light out, such as grabbing lunch at a restaurant or holding a meeting in a more informal location like a coffee shop.

Implement an Exercise Program

Exercise has long been known to provide an instant boost to job satisfaction by enhancing mood and lowering anxiety levels. What’s more, studies have shown that an hour of aerobic exercise outside is as effective as two-and-a-half hours of indoor light therapy. You could implement an office walking competition based on reaching a certain number of steps, or organize a winter 5K with a prize for the winning team. Create a committee around exercise and get people throughout the organization involved.

Say “Thank You”

As the old adage goes, “Kill them with kindness.” The reality is that most employees are not told “thank you” nearly enough at work, and praise from managers is consistently rated as one of the top motivators for any team, according to a Bersin & Associates report. In fact, the study found that when employees and teams are recognized, their productivity increases from anywhere between 14 percent and 30 percent. This means that if you keep your positive feedback up during the winter, you may be able to counteract the impact of SAD without spending an additional dime.

At the end of the day, making a few simple changes and implementing new programs may do wonders to impact the mood within your company during the winter months. You can use these simple tips to help elevate your team’s engagement and counter the impact of SAD.

Karlyn Borysenko
Karlyn Borysenko

My goal is to make professional life better for individuals, and drive productivity and results for organizations. I fix the "people problems" and I help individuals build better working relationships across their organizations, navigate office politics, create a great organizational culture, build and lead more productive teams, and be great managers. I'm one of the few workplace bullying experts in the country and I can help individuals who have been targeted, or organizations who think they might have a bullying problem on their hands. And if you work in sales or fundraising, I can teach you how to "read" your prospects to increase your close rate and generate more revenue. I'm an MBA, a PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (ABD), and a certified DiSC Trainer. I believe passionately that an organization's most valuable resource is its people, and that leaders have a responsibility to put structures, processes, and systems in place that will support employee success, development, job satisfaction, and organizational culture.