Though the start of spring is only a few weeks away and daylight savings begins this Sunday, much of the United States remains entrapped in a wintry state of grey skies and early nights. For some, the winter season brings more than an endless cold. Many Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder triggered by lack of sunlight in the fall and winter. For those with SAD, winter brings on a yearly depression along with insomnia, daytime drowsiness, and increased appetite.
Within North America, the prevalence of SAD increases at northern altitudes. Only 1.4 percent of Florida residents experience SAD, compared to 9.7 percent of those living in New Hampshire. Additionally, around 20 percent of the U.S. population experiences mild to moderate changes in their mood and energy from season to season. Most find their mood and energy are lowest during the winter months. Both SAD and the ‘winter blues’ can lead to increased workplace error, decreased productivity, and more frequent workplace accidents (in jobs requiring physical labor).
So what can offices do to improve their employees’ wellbeing during the winter months, and specifically to help those suffering from SAD?
- Invest in a light therapy lamp: Lamps that replicate natural sunlight are the only treatment known to effectively combat SAD. A wide variety of models exist, making it easy to find an option that matches your setting and budget. Appropriate exposure time varies from person to person—ranging from 15-minute to 2-hour daily or bi-daily sessions—but can relieve the symptoms of SAD within weeks.
- Offer employees the opportunity adjust their work schedule to maximize their sun exposure: Let employees arrive later or leave earlier during the winter, so they avoid arriving to work before the sun is fully risen and then returning home after it has set.
- Offer workspaces near windows: Access to natural sunlight is crucial for those with SAD, and can also bolster the health and productivity of others in the office. Beyond seasonal impacts on mood, workers in windowless workspaces have less energy and overall decreased wellbeing.
- Offer replacements for coffee and sugar: These quick energy boosts can actually act as mild depressants and disrupt normal sleep patterns. A blender and regular fruit supply or a bowl of mixed nuts can act as supplements or alternatives to employees’ morning coffee routines.
- Provide training to managers to spot the symptoms of SAD: One of the most crippling aspects of depression is feeling isolated from everyone around you. Training managers to spot signs of depression will let them engage with those suffering from the illness. This could help victims feel more connected to others and learn about opportunities for support.
At Nexight, we offer flexible scheduling options and designed our office space to maximize exposure to sunlight. We also installed a light therapy lamp that can be accessed by any of our employees. Though winter is slowly wrapping up, there is no better time to assess the needs of your employees and begin making investments for next year’s season. A few small changes could have huge impacts on your employees’ health and overall work quality.