Alleviating Seasonal Affective Disorder in WFH employees

Seasonal affective disorder
© Jeff Wasserman |

Here, Know Your Money have listed a handful of tips for employers on how they can alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in work from home employees

Working from home is the new way of living for the majority of the UK as we continue to live through a pandemic. With many of us not returning to the office any time soon and the days getting shorter, some may find themselves suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects around 2 million people in the UK.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes also known as “winter depression”, is a type of depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern and is usually more severe and apparent during the winter months. Those suffering with SAD can experience symptoms such as a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in normal every-day activities, as well as feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day.

The symptoms can be intense and have a significant impact on one’s day-to-day activities and with many of us working from home those feelings can be enhanced, especially since we are no longer experiencing those water-cooler moments with the rest of our colleagues.

Make sure employees get some fresh air

Whilst the exact root of what causes SAD is not fully understood at this moment, it’s thought that it is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The lack of sunlight stops a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the body’s internal clock and the production of serotonin and melatonin.

Everyone’s situation at home is different. Poor lighting, ventilation, and unergonomic furniture may induce stress and strain and therefore affect the quality of work. As employers, it’s important to motivate employees to make their workspace feel open and bright by working near a window or by keeping their blinds or curtains open when possible.

Inspire staff to go outside and get some fresh air and daylight, as these can help raise energy levels, during their breaks. Walking is beneficial in many ways as it can help to reduce stress while increasing productivity levels. It also means that staff are not sat down at their desk all day which will aid not only their physical health but also their mental one.

Establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life

Some employees may find themselves working longer hours while working from home. It can be tempting to stay with your laptop during lunch or extend the end of the day as leaving the office no longer signals “home time”. Some may also feel they need to display extra work to prove they are not slacking off.

Employers should encourage employees to work their contracted hours, which could be as simple as telling them to put their work equipment out of sight at 5 pm.

Alternative options could include banning online meetings between 12 pm and 1 pm to encourage employees to have a proper lunch break and try to get away from their desk.

These changes can help staff to understand the importance of separating their work and home life and as a result making sure that they give themselves time to do things that they enjoy.

Although it may not be a priority to many, especially since you may not be able to fly anywhere, employers should remind employees to take some days off. No one can work non-stop and be productive, so taking time off work will give people the chance to recharge, recover and reduce stress levels.

Encouraging open discussions about mental wellbeing and offering a safe space

Those suffering from winter depression or other mental health issues may find it harder to deal with stress and workload. But not everyone may feel comfortable speaking about mental health and how they feel.

It has never been more important to listen to your staff to understand how they are coping during these unprecedented times. It can be difficult to start a conversation around mental health but normalising it can empower people to share their feelings and seek support if necessary.

While we work remotely, it can be harder to spot employees that are suffering with any mental health issues. It’s vital that managers are proactive in offering support by letting them know where they are able to access help, especially during the winter months when people might feel less motivated with the shorter day.

Encouraging social activities to avoid employees feeling isolated

While working remotely, the feeling of isolation should not be underestimated. Loneliness can have a huge impact on employee wellbeing and stress levels, which can eventually lead to a fall in their performance. A recent survey by the Office for National Statistics found almost a third of respondents’ mental well-being suffered as a result of loneliness due to coronavirus.

Don’t just talk to employees about work-related issues, actually ask how they’re doing and have a non-work related conversation as this can open up a discussion to what kind of support would be helpful to them.

Use Slack, Google Hangouts and other similar technology to your advantage by organising activities such as a virtual book club or games night to keep morale high.

In addition, create ‘watercooler’ moments by encouraging people to maintain informal conversations whilst at work.

Become more flexible

Employers should look at updating their current policies to factor in working from home. It’s crucial to remember that everyone’s home situation is different as some may be caring for small children who are running around all the time while others may be flat-sharing and therefore will not have an ideal workspace to work efficiently.

If employers are aware of these factors, it will help them come to an arrangement with staff that helps to make working remotely easier for them.

For example, you may need to look at the current rules around flexible hours and be as generous and flexible as possible to reduce stress on everyone.

Nic Redfern, Finance Director and Business Spokesperson for Know Your Money, comments:

“Use this opportunity to make changes in the workplace to support people suffering from SAD or other mental health issues this winter.

Encourage employees who are struggling to speak to you or other members of your team and make sure you have the right systems in place in order to create a mentally healthy workplace culture.”

Unfortunately, we do not know when lockdown restrictions will end, meaning the prospect of returning to the office is unlikely for many of us until the new year. It is therefore essential that employers ensure that the mental health of their staff is looked after this winter by offering additional support, as well as encouraging social interactions to ensure mental well-being is made a key priority.

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