Seasonal affective disorder affects half a million people. And no-one wants depressed, irritable staff. So give them the flexibility to take control of their work-life balance

This is the time of year when seasonal affective disorder (or SAD for short) really starts to kick in. The non-stop parties and pre-Christmas shopping can give us a short-term fix of endorphin-fuelled happiness, but come 2 January there's no escaping the horrible fact that there are three months of semi-permanent darkness before the clocks go forward, and there isn't a bank holiday in sight to lift the gloom.

According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, half a million people in the UK suffer from SAD, which can involve severe bouts of depression, lack of energy, the need for more sleep than usual, loss of libido and all sorts of food cravings. Five times as many people experience milder symptoms, known as the 'winter blues', at this time of the year.

So whether you are interested in work-life balance as an employee, a manager or an employer, SAD and the winter blues are issues you really ought to be giving some serious attention to right now. Inevitably, these conditions have an impact on our performance at work. Studies have shown that productivity can drop by as much as 20% if lighting levels are too low. And having depressed and irritable colleagues on the team can play havoc in any workplace.

And because practically all our daylight hours are spent at work at this time of year, the time we spend in the office, store or factory is critical to our personal wellbeing. You don't just park your SADness at the door when you check in.

Fortunately, there is a simple and cost-effective remedy. Light boxes that generate up to 10,000 lux, which is similar to light levels in the middle of the day, have proved to be effective in combating SAD. There are plenty on the market for about £120, although smaller versions can be picked up for half that price. More employers, including the Scottish Executive, are now making light boxes available to staff across the workplace.

But critical though it is to ensure that lighting levels at work and at home are right, there's more to combating SAD than just buying a light box. Research has shown that stress can make SAD's symptoms a lot worse. It's more important than ever at this time of the year that we manage the other elements of our work-life balance as effectively as


Flexible working can play an important part in this, particularly if it enables us to leave home slightly later and catch some extra daylight in the process. A report published last month by Legal and General indicated that one in four of us admits to being generally stressed at work and one in five works too many hours. That could add up to a miserable Christmas for an awful lot of people unless we take control of our own work-life balance.n

Steve Crabb is editor of People Management