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SAD Times

Jack Frost may be nipping at your work force.

Winter, with its shorter days and gloomy weather, can wreak havoc on the psyche. It sometimes even triggers serious depression, which, if it hits one of your employees, may result in lower productivity and other problems in the workplace, says Steven Chen, a principal with Assessment Systems and Consulting in Sandy, Utah.

It's a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). "There's a part of the brain that malfunctions due to lack of light," Chen says. In the United States, about 4 percent of the overall population is affected by SAD, with higher percentages in northern states.

Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue (often leading to frequent mistakes and workplace accidents), lack of energy (resulting in lower productivity), an increased need for sleep, weight gain, withdrawal and irritability. What's the solution? Basic awareness can go a long way toward solving the problem. "Consider offering an educational program in the fall to increase awareness of the disorder among your employees," Chen suggests.

If an employee exhibits symptoms of SAD and the quality of his or her work is affected, approach the situation as you would any performance issue: Make a referral to a resource trained to recognize and deal with the problem.

One of the most common treatments for SAD is light therapy, but this well-publicized approach hasn't been conclusively proven effective. Chen recommends that you seek help from a qualified mental-health professional, who can put together a total wellness program that includes exercise, a healthy diet and, if necessary, antidepressant medication. You can also look for ways to brighten up the work environment with color and lighting; if possible, you might even want to consider having additional windows installed to increase the natural light in some of your work areas.

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

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This article was originally published in the November 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: SAD Times.

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