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Blue Monday 21 January 2019

The joy and mirth of Christmas feels like a lifetime ago, it's dark, cold, we're starting to feel the pinch of our December spending AND it's a Monday.

Today is 'Blue Monday', supposedly the most depressing day of the year. But what does this mean for your business, and what can you do to help?

What does it mean?

Since its conception in 2005, many people have questioned the 'formula' used to determine the most depressing day of the year, particularly when it transpired that the American professor that came up with it did it for an advertising campaign… Nonetheless, few would disagree that January can be a very long, slow month, not least because a number of individuals seek to restrict themselves (food, caffeine, alcohol) during January in pursuit of their New Years' resolutions. All of this can inevitably affect peoples' moods.

If your employees are struggling with 'January Blues', this can not only impact the quality of their work and productivity, but can also affect relationships with those they work with and for. A combination of poor performance or a failure to communicate effectively can easily lead to concerns in respect of an individual's capability or conduct. If a misunderstood case of the January Blues did result in capability or disciplinary procedures being initiated, that really would be a depressing state of affairs…

While fortunately, the January Blues are a temporary feeling for many people, for those that suffer with depression, it can be an ongoing mental health problem (and the symptoms of which may worsen at this time of the year). One in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. At any one point, one in six of the working age population is suffering from a mental health condition which would include conditions such as stress and depression (Business In The Community - National Employee Mental Wellbeing survey 2017). According to Mind, more than one in five (21 per cent) of employees agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. A study by BUPA in 2018 also uncovered a strong connection between workplace stress and other serious illnesses, which also leads to more sick days being taken.

Adrian Lewis, Director Absence management software firm Activ Absence commented: "Blue Monday may not be based on scientific fact, but it increases awareness of mental health issues, which can only be a good thing. It can encourage employers to think about how they can reduce absence levels by understanding why people are taking time off sick. They can then offer support where needed, which can help improve productivity, reduce absenteeism and save money in the long run".

What can you do?

Whether you believe that Blue Monday is actually the most depressing day of the year or not, it is a useful date in the HR calendar for raising awareness about wellbeing in the workplace. Most importantly, talking about feeling down or depressed can not only be cathartic, but can help people realise that they are not alone.

In terms of short term actions, why not seek to challenge the effect of Blue Monday by introducing initiatives that can reduce factors that can make people feel blue. For example:

  • Organising team activities: At Acuity, we're running a 'Tea and Talk' initiative today to encourage our employees to take some time out for a chat, a cup of tea, and if they're lucky, a slice of cake! Whether or not you are running your own 'Tea and Talk' initiative in your workplace, take the opportunity today to invite a colleague to join you for lunch, to go for a walk, or to simply ask them how they are getting on.
  • Talking to Staff: It isn't always easy to approach someone 'cold' for a conversation, particularly if you are concerned that the relevant individual may not be feeling their best. MIND / CIPD guidance provides a conversation checklist that managers may find helpful when preparing to speak to staff about mental health. The checklist includes things such as listening actively and carefully, encouraging the employee to talk and following up from the meeting in writing, especially any agreed actions or support (see page 21).
  • Promoting wellbeing: Most organisations provide one or more wellbeing benefit to employees. 87% offer some sort of health promotion benefit (with free eye tests most frequently on offer), over three-quarters offer some form of employee support (most commonly access to counselling services and employee assistance programmes) and 70% offer some sort of insurance or protection initiatives. The most commonly recognised achievement of health and wellbeing promotion in the workplace is better morale and engagement. Over a third of employers report a healthier and more inclusive, culture, while just under a third report it has lowered their sickness absence (CIPD Health and Wellbeing At Work survey). Promoting wellbeing doesn’t necessarily have to come at a big cost to the business. Consider placing fruit bowls in the office, making bottled water available in meeting rooms or taking a walk with your colleague to discuss a matter rather than doing it in the office.
  • Reiterating your core values: At some point or another, your employees looked at your business and thought – "I want to work there". If this enthusiasm has waned, it may be time to reiterate what it is that makes your business a great place to work and what makes you unique.
  • Use the day as an opportunity to promote something positive: Perhaps you have a new benefit to introduce, promotions to announce, or want to launch a new initiative. Rather than the focus being on Blue Monday, concentrate instead on something uplifting and that can be celebrated.
  • Say thank you! A little gratitude every now and then can go an awful long way to helping your employees feel engaged, appreciated and consequently, uplifted. If you feel uncomfortable approaching individuals directly, you could instead bring in a box of chocolates for your team, or consider writing someone a nice message in a card.

For more information about depression, mental health or 'Tea and Talk', please visit the Mental Health Foundation website here. 

For information about how to manage mental health issues in the workplace, or how to introduce new initiatives, please contact Claire or Rebecca in our employment team.

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