Insurance · 13 January 2017

How winter contributes to negative mental wellbeing

As many as 35 per cent of UK workers may have experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter months have a huge impact on the negative mental wellbeing of employees, with over a third of staff claiming to have experienced symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), new research has found.

Some 35 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted by workplace consultancy Peldon Rose revealed they identify as having had SAD – a form of depression that intensifies during the winter.

Around three-quarters of the workforce currently experience stress at work according to the survey, with 44 per cent citing winter as a key factor which impacts their negative mental wellbeing.

Over half of respondents said wintery conditions adversely impact their mood, and 30 per cent believe they are less productive during this time of year.

For employers hoping for revitalised workers after time off at Christmas, the research tells a sorry story. Business owners can expect longer and darker days to affect employee productivity well into 2017.

However, the research also suggested that bosses who value staff, and give workers a greater say when making important decisions, have an opportunity this January to overcome most of the effects of SAD.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Peldon Rose chief executive Jitesh Patel said: “The first step is for businesses to engage staff via change management, getting them more involved in decisions about their working environment. By doing this it will boost their motivation, mood and productivity.”

By communicating with staff about aspects of their working spaces, company owners can do more to improve negative mental wellbeing than by implementing more traditional employee benefits, such as health insurance or gym memberships.

The survey revealed that the vast majority of workers – 90 per cent – cited exposure to natural light as the most important determinate of good mental health at work. Three-quarters wanted greater access to social and collaborative working spaces, while roughly the same proportion longed for quieter, more private areas in which to concentrate at work.

“All businesses, regardless of size, can look to make small changes that will have a big impact this New Year,” Patel added.

“Employees are clear that rather than paid-for interventions, such as mental health support through health insurance, a supportive work culture and the right office environment will do far more to support their mental health and boost their wellbeing.”

Four measures business owners can take to combat the symptoms of SAD:

(2) Natural lighting 

Nine in ten workers consider exposure to natural light as important in supporting their mental health and wellbeing at work, but only 63 per cent currently have it in their workplace.

Wherever possible introduce more natural lighting. Reconfigure office seating arrangements if necessary and remove any obstacles preventing sunlight from entering the workplace.

(2) Quiet areas 

Some 76 per cent of workers say quiet and private workspaces support their wellbeing at work. While 82 per cent value them, only 40 per cent currently have them in their workplace.

Create a bespoke quiet area by re-thinking how space is currently used. Designate part of the office a quiet area or reallocate a specific meeting room as the “quiet zone”.

(3) Social and communal areas 

Three quarters of staff think they’re important to support mental health and an even higher proportion value them, but only 51 per cent of employees actually have them.

Create social areas by making existing communal areas, such as the kitchen, more welcoming with comfy seating and a more relaxed, homely design.

(4) Inclusivity  

Include everyone in decisions being made about the workplace. Greater employee involvement will have a positive impact on staff productivity.

Top tips to support employees through Blue Monday

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

Business development