Everyone gets sad from time to time, but that's different from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is more than just itching to get out of the house and go swimming — it's a form of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although the direct cause is unknown, it could be due to serotonin and melatonin levels, or circadian rhythm changes. In most cases, people with SAD tend to begin symptoms in the fall, and they don't clear up until winter is over. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 4 to 6 percent of people suffer from SAD, while another 10 to 20 percent may have a mild version of SAD.
Impacts on Your Business
Since cases of SAD are more prevalent in the northern part of the U.S., it is more likely to impact employees who work in that region. As the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes, if you're operating out of South Florida, employees are less likely to suffer from SAD. However, if you are located in northern New Hampshire, you may anticipate that some employees may suffer from the disorder. Symptoms of SAD may include fatigue, difficulty concentrating and general irritability, which may directly impact productivity and your business.
As a business owner, you should not be directly involved in your employees' medical care, and you should refrain from asking any questions or making any assumptions about the medical conditions of your employees. However, there are some things you may be required to do in order to help accommodate. As SAD is a real form of depression, those who suffer from SAD may be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as state leave laws. Additionally, SAD may qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and corresponding state and local anti-discrimination laws. Employers may be required to engage in the interactive process with employees and provide accommodations to help them perform essential job functions.
Employee Assistance Programs: Health and Wellness
If you don't have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), now is the time to get one. EAPs help with a whole range of life circumstances, from finances and divorce to referrals to mental health specialists. They are a low-cost, low-effort way to help your employees receive assistance. Ensure your workforce is aware that the EAP is available and make it easy for employees to take time off for therapy or doctor's appointments.
A wellness program that focuses on physical health can also help with SAD. According to Entrepreneur, exercise can help SAD, as can natural light. Encourage your employees to get some much-needed vitamin D and exercise by organizing a lunchtime walking group on sunny days. With the right winter clothing, you can enjoy a jaunt outside, even in February.
Depending on where your building is located, you may get great natural light. Keep your blinds open during the sunny part of the day, and consider accommodating employees who ask for more light. For instance, employees who do not sit near a window could benefit from working in a sun-filled vacant conference room.
EAPs may also be an important resource when symptoms of an employee's depression pose a physical risk to himself or other employees.
This winter, make it a priority to ensure that your employees know how to seek accommodations for seasonal affective disorder and that additional help is available.
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