One in four employers come across seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Nearly a quarter of UK employers say they have encountered seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the workplace.

A poll of 136 HR professionals by employee health risk specialist Willis PMI Group found that 23% said they had come across employees suffering from the condition.

The majority (79%) agreed that they recognised SAD as an authentic condition and almost three-quarters (74%) said they had noticed a downturn in mood and morale among staff during the dark winter months, while 43% had noticed a similar decline in productivity.

However, there was also a lack of knowledge about how to respond to it, with three-quarters (74%) admitting they did not know the recommended treatment.

“SAD is a medically recognised condition, believed to be caused by reduced sunlight levels affecting hormone production, that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern and is sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ because symptoms tend to be more severe during winter,” said Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group.

He recommended that employers should encourage employees to get out in natural sunlight as much as possible, to exercise regularly and to investigate solutions such as “daylight” lights and talking therapies. Changes to the workplace environment could, indeed, be a valuable solution to SAD, an office design company has said.

A survey of 1,000 London office workers by Peldon Rose has concluded 80% of people say they suffer from “Seasonally Adjusted Motivation” (SAM) and believe winter negatively affects their mood and productivity.

It has therefore recommended that businesses look at ways to maximise daylight in the working environment to boost serotonin levels

This includes using bright colours on “feature” walls, organising office social events and ensuring staff take regular breaks from their desk.

Introducing “sit-stand” desks or standing meeting tables could encourage staff to be more active and move around during the day, it added.

Employment lawyers Michelle Lawlor-Perkins and William Downing, of Blake Morgan LLP, have recommended that firms look to guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which argues that SAD should be treated as a type of depression.

Writing for the CIPD, they also warned the condition can be treated as a disability under UK law and therefore the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

“For SAD, this could include moving the employee to sit by a window, providing a special lamp called a light box used to simulate exposure to sunlight and/or assisting with the provision of counselling services,” Lawlor-Perkins and Downing noted.

There were, as yet, no reported cases of claims against employers in relation to SAD, “but employers should remember that it could potentially be a disability when dealing with employees who may be suffering from the condition”, they added.

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