OHS Canada Magazine

Dealing with seasonal affective disorder: Tips for employers

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December 15, 2020
By Kristina Vassilieva

Environment/Climate Change Health & Safety Human Resources Health Mental Health seasonal affective disorder Winter

SAD, poor mental health a challenge for workers during COVID-19

Employers can encourage employees to use their lunch breaks to get some fresh air and exercise outdoors. (vvvita/Adobe Stock)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression caused by seasonal changes and reduced sunlight, most commonly affecting people during the fall and winter months.

In the winter, people tend to stay indoors more, get less exercise and see less daylight. These factors alone are enough to affect their well-being.

Add a pandemic, lockdown restrictions and reduced social interaction on top of this and mental health could seriously suffer.

For businesses, poor mental health among staff could become an additional challenge through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers should be proactive in preparing for the coming winter months and addressing any issues that arise, according toHope McManus, head of health and safety at OH&S consultancy firm Peninsula Canada in Toronto.


Light is important

As the seasons change, employers should consider how this might affect their workplace and their staff, she said.

Some workplaces might have very little natural light coming in, especially during the darkest months of the year. If a workplace is poorly lit and workers wake up and get home when it’s dark, they will be spending most of their day without proper light.

“Making sure that workplaces are bright and well-lit will prevent the gloom of the outdoors from affecting workers as much,” said McManus.

“To further support workers who suffer from SAD, employers can also rearrange their floor plan to seat people closer to windows and make the best use of natural sunlight.”

Using breaks effectively

For workers that spend most daylight hours at work, it can be hard to catch any sunshine during the week.

To combat this, employers can encourage employees to use their lunch breaks to get some fresh air and exercise outdoors, said McManus.

Some workers might find extra daylight time very valuable and employers can offer a bit of flexibility with lunch breaks.

For example, employees can be offered the opportunity to take a longer lunch break and to stay later at work to make up their usual number of hours.

Supporting remote workers

Working at home during the pandemic might be challenge for some employees, especially if work was their main reason to leave their house.

Staying indoors every day can have a negative effect on mental health, said McManus.

“While employees should be following government guidelines on social distancing, employers can encourage workers to use their breaks to go outdoors for some fresh air,” she said.

“When your home is also your workplace, leaving the house during the day to get some sun can provide a much-needed break… Employers should keep in mind that their remote workers well-being should remain a priority even though they are out of office.”

Supporting workers’ health

With the added pressures of the pandemic, dealing with symptoms of SAD can be overwhelming. However, with a bit of extra support employers can make a difference for workers, said McManus.

Some people suffering from SAD find light therapy lamps, which replicate the effects of natural sunlight, helpful. Employers can consider either giving these lamps as holiday gifts or subsidizing their costs, she said.

If an employees’ symptoms of SAD are severe or if they are suffering from other mental health concerns, they might benefit from professional help.

Employers can educate staff on how to deal with SAD, improve mental health and direct them to professional resources, employee assistance programs (EAPs) and government support.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.


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