Winter Blues: Tips to combat SAD in the workplace

The clocks have gone back, and the days are getting shorter. For many, the winter months can be a challenging time of year, particularly for sufferers of SAD.

Given how long the winters can be, and that SAD affects a high percentage of the UK population, it is important to be conscious of this when creating or redesigning a workplace that will maximise employee productivity.

While we don’t claim to be medical professionals, we do have a few handy tips which have been proven to boost the wellbeing of staff in an office setting. In this article, we’ll cover what SAD is, symptoms of SAD, the impact it has on businesses and some simple ways to combat it.


What is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a condition that affects the brain’s ability to regulate mood and sleep. It is thought to be caused by a change in the length of daylight hours and occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less light.



SAD can manifest in different ways and to different degrees, but common symptoms can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • weakened immune system
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydratesand gaining weight
  • difficulty concentrating

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.


The impact of SAD in the workplace

Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone and can be especially challenging for office workers who stay inside during the daylight hours. Long working days and fewer daylight hours in the UK during the winter months mean many office-based workers typically don’t get enough exposure to sunlight and the results of this can be costly for businesses.

According to research commissioned by electronics company Epson, SAD causes one in five Brits to call in sick at this time of year meaning 9.6 million working days are lost every year because of this condition.

However, it’s not just sick days that can be associated with SAD. Research has also 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.

With such numbers affected by the condition causing increased workplace absenteeism, presenteeism, and lost productivity; the ramifications of SAD can be can be costly.

While the main motivation for tackling manage SAD in the office is to support employees, improving wellbeing also should also reap tangible business benefits. These include:

  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Reduced sickness absence
  • Improved staff performance
  • Reduced complaints and grievances

When Epson asked what measures would improve the mood of employees in the office, a third (33%) of respondents stated better lighting. 27% of workers wanted a more colourful workspace and one in five (20%) would like to see more creative visuals and colourful presentations.

So what can be done to help?


A good place to start is to look at your workplace layout and see if you can improve your employees’ experience and comfort levels.

A poor work environment, such as one that’s dark, cluttered, and cramped, can negatively affect people’s mood. Is there any way to make it a more pleasant physical space to be in? Can you position some desks closer to windows? Or create a free-flowing space so that no one in your team feels cut off. This will also help the flow of conversation and, as long as it doesn’t impact on work, create a more sociable and supportive space for your colleagues.

This may involve a clear out, rearranging of furniture, removing partitions to create a more open-plan office space. Existing infrastructure may limit what you can do here, but even small changes might encourage those who are working from home to visit the office more when they feel comfortable doing so.

Let the light in

Natural light is a crucial component of workplace happiness, productivity, and overall well-being.

Many experts attribute SAD to an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain, melatonin, and serotonin, due to less sunlight available during the colder months. Unfortunately, many workplace buildings were not designed to prioritise the flow of natural daylight and according to Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index 2017/18, more than a quarter of employers (26%) do not have exposure to natural daylight in all their workspaces.  

The cost of installing additional windows to improve the availability of natural light is considerable, however, there are steps that can be taken to maximise natural light for employees. Keep existing windows clean and blinds open where possible and remove posters or other obstacles that block the flow of natural light.

Taking positive steps to improve natural light in your workplace benefits everyone – not just sufferers of SAD.

Introduce more nature and greenery

Bring in some greenery to brighten things up!

Biophilic design is on the rise in offices and other workplaces, and for good reason. Plants and flowers don’t just look nice, they make us feel good too. There is a strong, proven connection between office plants and flowers and workplace wellness. From decreased stress to improved productivity and engagement, Biophilic design brings positive plant power to your place of work.

Colour psychologist Angela Wright lists introducing more plants and greenery into the office as one of her top 5 tips to combat the winter blues commenting: 

“Grey is always a favourite colour for office design – yet, the human instinct in a grey world is to hibernate – so the winter months are already a constant battle to fight the instinct to sleep. When the world turns grey, we know we could be in for a long winter and we naturally draw into ourselves – hoarding both resources and energy. Therefore, it’s no surprise that light and colour have come out on top as remedies for the winter blues; the quality of visual intake for busy, hardworking employees plays a crucial role in brightening up their days and keeping motivation levels high.”


Need a helping hand?

At Benholm, we use care and creativity to create plant and flower displays that will help make your office a more beautiful place to be. We’ll create a working space that your team will enjoy day after day, helping clean the office air and improving wellbeing through the power of plants. 

Contact us to discuss the plant and floral possibilities for your unique workplace and get a free tailored quote.


Seasonal affective disorder can affect any of us – if you suspect that you, or anyone you know, is affected, seek professional advice.




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