Managing employees with seasonal affective disorder

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

While many people on your staff may welcome the lower tem­peratures and colorful changes of autumn, the shrinking amount of daylight may spell trouble for employees with seasonal affective disorder, a mood problem that occurs about the same time each year. Symptoms tend to start between September and November and are usually at their worst during winter.

According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, symptoms include:

• Depression

• Sleep problems or difficulty staying awake

• Lethargy

• Overeating (especially craving sweets and carbohydrates)

• Irritability

• Memory and concentration problems

• A weakened immune system

Spring may bring a sharp change of mood (including a period of hyperactivity in some) or a gradual loss of bother­some symptoms.

Treatment and accommodations

SAD can be diagnosed by a medical professional after three or more consecutive winters of symptoms. Most experts attribute the condition to an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain, melatonin and serotonin, due to less sunlight during winter. Thus, many sufferers are helped by light therapy, which consists of sitting two or three feet away from a specially designed high-intensity light box for up to four hours each day. Since the device can be put on a desk during work hours, a manager may want to encour­age an employee to bring it to the office.

Perhaps the best way a manager can help someone with SAD is to recognize the validity of the condition. SAD suffer­ers often feel that others write off their problem or think that they are simply blowing a case of the blues out of propor­tion. Understand that socializing or putting forth extended effort may be genuinely difficult during certain months, and time off for doctor appointments may be necessary.

Since people with SAD can benefit from increased exposure to natural light in addition to their light therapy, consider switching the person to a work area with more windows. Also, someone with SAD may like to take breaks outside to encounter more daylight. Braving the elements occasionally to offer some company might be a welcome gesture.

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