How Does SAD Affect Employee Wellbeing?

by Natasha Mughal

SAD is an abbreviation of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is a depressive illness that affects 20% of the UK population, with 2% suffering from a disabling illness because of it.

SAD is commonly referred to as the ‘winter blues’, as it most likely to be a result of the decrease of light in the winter, which results in less serotonin, the feel-good hormone, being released in the body and an increase of melatonin. The illness can happen to anyone, it is twice as likely to occur if the person is female and young.

So what symptoms should you look for? We compiled a list of five tell-tale signs that may indicate that an employee is suffering from SAD.


1.  Have they had depression before?

If your employee has had a form of depression in their life, then they are more susceptible to getting SAD.


2.  Are they suffering from major bouts of sadness or extreme mood changes?

If you see that your employee is experiencing extreme mood swings when the seasons change, as well as anxiety and social problems, this may be an indication of SAD.


3.  Are they regularly ill?

If you witness that the employee constantly has some form of illness then this may mean that their immune system is low, which is a symptom of SAD, making them more vulnerable to illnesses. Another way of deciphering this, would be through their attendance records, which may differ extremely in the winter months, in comparison to the summer months.


4.  Are they snacking more?

If you see that your employee is snacking more then usual, it may be their bodies way of trying to increase the serotonin levels but this can lead to over-eating and an increase in body weight, which can send them deeper into sadness and start a vicious cycle.


5.  Are they suffering from a lack of energy?

If the employee is lethargic and is constantly complaining of not bring able to sleep properly, then this may be a reason to start observing the employee to see if they are exhibiting any of the other indicators.


" If the employee constantly has some form of illness then this may mean that their immune system is low, which is a symptom of SAD, making them more vulnerable to illnesses"


If your employee is experiencing 3 or more of these signs, for more than three months, then it is likely that they could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. So what can an employer do to help employees suffering from SAD?

As with anything regarding mental health and wellbeing, things like SAD can be a difficult topic to discuss - both for the employer and employee. But it's important to keep communication channels open, and to keep a level head. Here are a few ways in which you can help your employee:



Talk to the employee first and see if they have noticed a difference in their own moods, appetite and energy. Then see whether they have considered seeing a doctor to get an overall diagnosis. By simply talking about the disorder, it can make the sufferer feel less alone and make them feel happier; especially if the person they are talking to has suffered from the disorder themselves or has a thorough knowledge about SAD.


Get a light box

As well as referring them to a doctor, it may be a good idea to acquire a light-box for the employee, this is a light that is specifically designed for SAD suffers. A light-box contains a bulb that has 2,500 lux, whereas the average bulb is 200-300 lux, and is used to mimic natural sunlight.


Introduce them to switch-words

These are certain everyday words that trigger happy memories and help to improve a person’s mood by switching on the subconscious mind to create changes in habits, also referred to as “word medicine”. For example, your favourite colour may conjure up good memories and make you feel blissful. Thus, by simply wearing an item of clothing of that colour, you make yourself happier, less depressed and the more this concept is used, the happier you will be in the long-run.


Notify them about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is available on the NHS, and it is a talking therapy that allows a person to change how they think and behave. It also only takes 8 to 12 sessions to make a real impact to the disorder.



Allow them time to exercise, this will not only decrease stress levels and help their general health, but it will also allow them to have a sense of control and calm.


Go Green

Ask them to bring a plant into their office or gift them with one. To have a plant in view from your desk can put you in an uplifting mood and many people prefer it to the SAD lamp, as it is considerably less intrusive and more attractive to have on display within the office.


Brownout or time for a time-out?

Could the employee be experiencing a ‘brownout’? Similar to a burnout, a brownout is a state of disengagement and lack of interest in life, which is also quite similar to SAD. This is another reason why it is important for the employee to see a doctor, to guarantee a correct diagnosis.


It is best for the employer to work with the employee to combat their SAD as soon as possible, to ensure that it doesn't become a safety concern, especially if the employee works with heavy machinery or does shift work and that it doesn't affect other employee's wellbeing. Let us know your thoughts on SAD, by tweeting us @HSEJobs.

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