How to Support Your Team Through Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

seasonal affective disorderWe have officially entered the fall season. The leaves are changing, my neighborhood is donning the early stages of autumn decor, and everything is “pumpkin spice” flavored. Soon there will be pumpkin patches on every other corner, and the cool breeze of October will drift in to relieve the summer heat. Best of all, we are in full swing of the college football season! Any other Gator fans here?


While autumn has a long list of charms and fun activities, it’s important to note that not everyone will be experiencing the same level of excitement. 


Unfortunately, the colder weather and fewer hours of daylight bring a dreaded accompaniment that, for many, turns a season of togetherness and joy into one of solitude and depression — Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of seasonal depression brought on primarily by a lack of sunlight. During the fall and winter months, the sun rises later and sets earlier, giving people who work standard 9-5 jobs fewer hours to enjoy the sun. Because of this, fall and winter are peak seasons for this type of depressive disorder to hit.


The lack of sunlight triggers a biochemical shift in the brain as our bodies adjust to new hours and less daylight. This shift has a profound impact on our brains’ ability to maintain our normal routines.


According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD affects roughly 5% of adults in the U.S., it can last about 40% of the year, and it is more common among women than men.


How Does SAD Affect The Workplace?

Common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:


  • Increased irritability
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decreased productivity
  • Prolonged feelings of sadness
  • Depleted energy
  • Weight gain
  • Lack of interest in activities/hobbies


These symptoms can show themselves in both personal and professional atmospheres. In the workplace, an employee who is experiencing SAD may exhibit the following behaviors:


  • Struggling to complete tasks and meet deadlines
  • Displays a sad or unenthusiastic demeanor
  • Shows up to work late on a regular basis
  • Snaps at customers/patients/clients/other team members
  • Easily set off by bad news


How Can Leaders Help Their Teams During This Time?

As team leaders, it is your responsibility to protect and support your team, especially during these fall and winter months. 


Here are a few important ways leaders should support their teams to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder from affecting the workplace:

  • Start The Conversation

The first thing every team leader should do is to educate their employees/subordinates about the causes, symptoms, and realities of SAD. It’s important for team members to know that A.) What they are experiencing is valid,  and B.) You recognize that what they are going through is real and normal. Many people who experience this seasonal disorder don’t realize that SAD is the cause, which can be confusing and overwhelming as they try to make sense of this sudden shift in their mood and bodily changes. Opening up this conversation will demonstrate your initiative and great care for your team and give them a sense of relief to put a name to what they are feeling.

  • Lead With Emotional Intelligence

​​If your team members are struggling with symptoms of SAD, it’s important that you recognize this change in behavior and take the time to understand why it’s happening. After educating yourself on the realities of Seasonal Affective Disorder and how it can affect your team, it’s important that you display empathy and understanding in your responses, both of which are signs of high emotional intelligence among extraordinary leaders. This will foster healthier workplace relationships, cultivate effective communication, and build trust from your team members as you display compassion for what they are going through.

  • Provide One-On-One Check-Ins

It’s important for team members to feel safe at work while they navigate this time of emotional distress, and their leaders are the #1 determinants of whether or not this happens. One way to build this trust and security is by facilitating regular 1-1 meetings with your subordinates where you ask how they are feeling, whether or not they feel like they can meet their goals, and how you can support them during this time. 

  • Promote Breaks And Self-Care

One of the best things leaders can do to care for their team members is simply encouraging them to take care of themselves. It’s common for many people to feel shame or denial regarding depressive episodes, so they might try to push themselves even harder. The problem with this is that it often leads to burnout, depleting productivity altogether, building resentment for their work, and compromising their mental health. Leaders should be proactive in encouraging all team members to take 5-10 minutes breaks throughout the day to recharge their minds. This can be getting up to make a cup of coffee, stepping outside to get some sunlight, chatting with a coworker at the water cooler, etc. 

  • Remind Team Of Mental Health Offerings

Does your team offer any mental health support or Employee Assistance Programs? This is the best time to remind your team what all is available to them through their workplace. Whether you offer discounts to gyms, discounted sessions with licensed therapists, or anything else, do everything you can to make sure your subordinates know that there are resources to help get them back on track.


Leaders Need Support, Too!

Are you struggling to lead your team well due to symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Supporting leaders is my passion. By working with me, you will have access to assessments, resources, and accountability to make sure your team is receiving the extraordinary leadership they need to succeed.


Contact me today for more information on how to get started.


About Dr. Wilkerson, PD, MBA, PCC.

Jerrund Wilkerson

Do you want to increase your impact? Do you want to increase profits under your leadership? Do you want to develop and use your abilities to the fullest to better connect with and lead others? Executive Leadership Coaching covers these bases. Dr. Jerrund Wilkerson, PD, MBA, PCC, has more than 30 years of successful executive leadership coaching in the United States and internationally.

As a licensed pharmacist, he is particularly passionate about helping develop effective leaders in the healthcare community. Dr. Wilkerson has coached and trained thousands of managers and leaders. He is a certified coach and member of the John Maxwell Leadership Team.

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