We’re in the midst of darker days and colder weather which, for plenty, can also lead to a darker mood.

Research has found that as many as one in three Brits display symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) each year. But what exactly is it, what are the symptoms, and how can we combat it in our workplace?

What is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder is a depression that is caused by a lack of light. It is associated with the late autumn and winter months. This occurs when your body’s internal clock and your brain and body’s chemicals all change. Some people class it as ‘the winter blues’ and it’s most common between 18–30-year-olds. Females are also most likely to be affected, but anyone of any gender or age can suffer from the disorder.


Do you think you, or someone you know, is suffering from SAD? Here are some of the most common symptoms you should be aware of:

  • Sleep issues — normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
  • Being lethargic
  • Loss of motivation
  • Lack of interest in activities which were previously enjoyable
  • Depression
  • Overeating — particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
  • Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
  • Increased anxiety
  • A persistent low mood
  • Weakened immune system

The workplace

Brits love to complain about their workload and work-based environment, no matter what time of year it is. Research has found that the public misses the idea of ‘having a job for life’ and four in 10 of us feel they have a poor work/life balance. Although we do complain all-year round, we tend to take more sickness leave in the winter months. Brits have claimed to feel under the weather in two out of every five days during the winter months.

According to a study published by HR software firm CharlieHR, January has the most ‘sick days’ recorded in Britain. Staggeringly, the number of sick days recorded in the first month of the year is 53 per cent above the average of the other 11 months. The Office for National Statistics says that the main causes include coughs, colds, stress, depression, and anxiety. A lot of this could be assigned to the impact of seasonal affective disorder. 

However, it’s not just sick days that can be associated with SAD. Research has found that more than half of British workers are significantly less productive during the winter months. Aspects such as darker and gloomy night making it harder to concentrate and the view from the office being less inspiring when it’s dark outside have been blamed for the lack of motivation.

Combatting SAD

The disorder can be combatted by workforces and staff alike. Laurence Olins, former Chairman of British Fruits, previously stated that companies should provide more fruit for their workers: He said: “More employers could encourage their staff to adopt a healthier diet, providing greater access to fruit in the office to prevent people reaching for sugary confectionery, particularly in these cold winter months. Eating healthily shouldn’t feel like a chore and snacking on fruits like berries can help with food cravings during the day due to their natural sweetness”.

There is also the potential option to provide more supplements to employees to boost vitamin intake. In the UK, one in five of suffer from a lack of vitamin D3 in our diet — a figure which increases when sunlight exposure drops. By upping vitamin D3 intake, employees may benefit from the reduced risk of a faltering immune system during the winter months. 

Flexible working patterns and remote working are two other great ways to help employees during the winter months. With December and January in the UK average just eight hours of day light — the same time period as the usual working day — many find themselves commuting to and from work in darkness. By offering flexible shifts or remote working, people may benefit from being able to get out when it is still light.

Be sure to look after yourself and your workforce this winter. Seasonal affective disorder can affect any of us, so have plans in place to prevent it wherever possible. If you suspect that you, or anyone you know, is affected, seek professional advice.