January 17th 2022 marks the return of “Blue Monday” - widely touted as the most depressing day of the year. The day serves as a stark reminder of the importance of prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of their people. The early months of any year have long been considered a challenging time for many with the general malaise of returning to the office post-Christmas, combining with miserable weather and financial struggles that accompany the long gap between December and January’s pay packet. Covid has only exacerbated this feeling.
Whilst recent years have brought into question the idea that Blue Monday is a uniquely depressing day, there still exists a huge wealth of evidence which suggests that absence rates as a result of mental health do in fact see a marked increase during the first half of the year. Although Blue Monday phenomena as a singular entity may not exist, the stress, fatigue and other mental health challenges we associate with it are a very real threat.
It also cannot be ignored that we are still in the midst of a global health crisis, with absence rates related to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 projected to cost the UK economy roughly $48 billion. With absenteeism skyrocketing as a result of this new transmissible variant, businesses are scrambling for ways to ensure they can remain open and operational. It is clear therefore that even if Blue Monday is considered by some to be a bit of a myth, the reality that businesses must focus on supporting the mental wellbeing of their people is more stark than ever.
We want to take a deep dive into some of the elements which contribute to the winter months having such a fundamental impact on our emotional wellbeing and consider some top tips for keeping engagement high in the post-Christmas period. We also believe that the HR function has a particularly influential role to play in safeguarding the wellbeing of employees across all organisations and as a HR technology specialist know that the systems and technologies currently being used by HR teams should be easily leverageable in creating an employee experience which puts wellbeing at the forefront.
Ultimately however, the most important factor will be understanding the struggles facing your people and what you can do as an organisation to support their needs and craft a more supportive HR policy which takes into account the unique challenges presented by the winter months.
So what is Blue Monday?
Blue Monday has its origins in a 2005 document published by travel company, Sky Travel- Blue Monday refers to the supposed “Most depressing day of the year.” Sky Travel’s determination takes into account a variety of factors including weather, debt levels and the stresses of returning to work after the Christmas period. The day is usually accepted to fall across the second or third Monday of January, representing particularly low levels of motivation once the return to work post-Christmas is properly embedded.
Although many organisations have begun to shift away from the idea of Blue Monday as unique black hole of wellbeing, most are still cognisant of the need to support their people throughout the post-Christmas period. Bupa’s UK’s Clinical Director for Mental Health, Pablo Vandenabeele, has highlighted the need for businesses and colleagues alike to remain aware of the mental health challenges facing their people, with 82% of adults having found to demonstrate at least one symptom indicative of poor mental health over the winter months.
For businesses, whether Blue Monday as a singular entity exists or not is a bit of a moot point. There is a clear indication that the early months of each year herald a significant uptick in incidences of absences, all of which point to a pattern of unhappiness and disengagement which can have a significant impact on not only the wellbeing of the workforce, but also an organisation’s ability to remain operational. The stark reality of the mental health challenges the winter months bring are a clear sign that businesses have to put wellbeing and engagement at the forefront of their HR strategy.
7 Top tips for looking after your people
Supporting your people can make a huge difference when it comes to their engagement and wellbeing and even just an acknowledgement of the challenges facing them can act as the foundation to creating a more inclusive and supportive working environment.
So what steps can you take to look after your people this Blue Monday?
1.) Be open: One of the greatest obstacles facing business leaders when tackling the issue of employee wellbeing is the perceived stigma around mental health discussions within the workplace. Even pre-pandemic, there was a sense that this was a somewhat uncomfortable, almost taboo subject with many who suffered from mental illness feeling as though they were unable to lean on their employers for support. A report by Mental Health UK suggests that 47% of the people surveyed felt they had experienced discrimination within the workplace as a result of mental illness, with 55% saying they could not disclose information about their mental health to their colleagues. Businesses must be open in their approach to mental wellbeing and ensure that they are crafting and promoting an environment where their people don’t feel the need to suffer in silence and can be vocal about their struggles without the fear of judgment or recrimination.
2.) Lead by example: Any successful initiatives surrounding wellbeing and engagement can only ever be driven from the top. People are far more savvy at sussing out performative, token gestures, particularly in the workplace and it will be important therefore, that business owners are demonstrating a commitment to wellbeing that goes beyond the Blue Monday phenomenon. Craft policy which folds wellbeing into the wider tapestry of your company culture, encourage regular catch ups and wellbeing breaks, as well as encouraging employees to share how they choose to unwind.
3.) Keep connected: Your HR solution is much more than just an administrative tool-HR systems are influential and transformative technology which can enable you to stay connected with your workforce, no matter how disparate and widespread they become. When considering the wellbeing of your people in the post-Christmas period, it is vitally important that regardless of where an employee chooses to work for, that they receive the same experience and the same level of support. The best HR solutions offer you a frame work to create a truly effective, wellbeing led HR strategy. The same systems which you lean on to allow you to run performance reviews can also be leveraged to enable regular check in sessions or offering up a forum for your employees to voice their concerns.
4.) Encourage time off: Even as workforce shortages bring unprecedented strain to bear on many organisations, business leaders remain keenly aware of the fact that annual leave and breaks away from the workplace are a vital component of the employee experience. Your HR system allows you to remain engaged with your people and to easily identify employees who aren’t taking advantage of their annual leave allowance, allowing you to focus your conversations with those individuals and encourage them to take a well earned break. For this reason, many organisations are also looking at how their HR solution can work seamlessly alongside their time and attendance and workforce management functions to help support them through the rigours of scheduling.
5.) Be Flexible: When attempting to create a more sympathetic working environment, it is important to consider that especially with so many of us still working from home, the specific working conditions facing your employees may differ greatly. When driving conversations with your people, try and gain an understanding of their responsibilities at home- are they a carer for someone vulnerable? Are there child care or educational needs which have to be factored alongside the working day? Any of these factors may necessitate some flexibility in the working schedule, whether it be a more fluid start or end time, more regular breaks or more regular catch up sessions.
6.) Identify vulnerable employees: It’s an unfortunate truth that some of us are faced with more profound mental health challenges than others. Your HR system should offer you the tools to ensure that you are ideally placed to drive forward sympathetic and understanding conversations with these affected individuals. If you have prior knowledge of employees who have suffered with previous mental health issues, you can focus your efforts in ensuring that you remain regularly connected with these individuals and drive conversation around how best to support them in a discreet and understanding fashion.
7.) Understand through data: The systems and technology that you use to transform your HR function can be leveraged in far more influential ways than many of us appreciate. When looking at the issue of Blue Monday and the wider challenge of employee wellbeing, it is important to have a broad understanding of not patterns of absence within your business and when peaks of time off occur, but also the factors which contribute . The best HR solutions should allow you access to these key metrics at the touch of a button, pulling through relevant reports which can greatly help influence your understanding of when particular trends of absence can occur. By understanding when such incidences occur, you are better placed to focus your HR efforts around those specific periods, engaging with your people directly in order to gain a more intuitive understanding of why they may be struggling.
Balancing the needs of the business with the very human need to take time away from work is an everyday challenge for HR professionals and it is one that is only heightened during post-Christmas period
Whilst Blue Monday as a singular phenomenon has been largely debunked as a myth, businesses still need to take steps to ensure that they have the policy and framework in place to help support their people teams in the winter months, with a HR strategy which places a emphasis on the employee experience and one which shows that your organisation is committed to safeguarding the wellbeing of your people.
Your HR systems are also an invaluable asset in helping you manage and maintain employee wellbeing, allowing your HR teams to drive forward important conversations with your people around their working conditions, workload and any other external factors which may hamper their input. The pre-pandemic world is bringing with it a greater demand for more engaged and empathetic HR teams and by being able to proactively drive conversations around wellbeing now, you are better equipped to anticipate the needs of your people and ultimately, help make them feel looked after
At Advanced, we believe in the power of technology to help you achieve more. We understand that safeguarding the wellbeing of your employees is of the utmost importance to you, which is why our Cloud HR solution is designed specifically to give you the oversight you need to understand the challenges facing your people and to help you craft policy and procedure to meet their needs.
The future success of your business may very well depend on how effectively you are able to engender a more open and supportive employee experience and focus on safeguarding the mental wellbeing of your people. If you’d like to find out more about how Advanced can help look after your people this Blue Monday and beyond, get in touch with one of our friendly team members today.