How employers can support staff on the saddest day of the year

Alex Wortley from absence management software specialist, E-Days, discusses how employers should support staff on the saddest day of the year.

Blue Monday is officially looming – Monday January 21 is Blue Monday 2019.

What is Blue Monday? It’s the most depressing day of the year. Why? A few reasons:

  1. Christmas now seems like a very, very long time ago. All those great films on TV? All that lovely food and drink? All those tidings of comfort and joy? They’re gone, and they won’t be back soon.
  2. It’s time to face the ultimate post-Christmas hangover. It’s usually about this time in January that the credit card bills arrive. They’ll certainly make for a sobering read…
  3. It’s dark. It’s grey. It’s cold. It’s drizzly. Spring feels like it’s a lifetime away.
  4. Those exciting new year’s resolutions, the things that were going to transform your life forever, have long-since been abandoned.

It all adds up to a thoroughly disheartening day. But don’t take our word for it. It’s science, apparently. There’s even a mathematical formula for it.

Is Blue Monday Real?

OK, so maybe there’s no such thing as Blue Monday. Maybe the whole thing started life as a Sky Travel PR stunt.

Yet it can’t be denied – late January is a depressing time of year. A lot of people are going to feel low in motivation but high in despondency. And if you run a business, that’s bad news.  In fact, information from Neyber says that when employees worry about money it can lead to stress, mental health issues and extended absences from work. In fact, financial stress costs UK businesses £120.7 billion ever year.

It seems many businesses around the world now use Blue Monday as a springboard for a wider conversation about mental health and employee wellbeing.

So whether you call it Blue Monday or not, here’s how to prepare your people and your business for the most depressing day of the year.

Understand the Wider Issues Surrounding Mental Health

According to the mental health charity Mind, one in six workers is currently facing mental health problems. What’s more, widespread mental health issues are estimated to cost UK businesses up to £15 billion in productivity each year, along with more than 91 million lost days.

Nobody should struggle alone, and nobody should be made to feel like their problem is something to be ashamed of. Blue Monday or not, as an employer you can do a world of good for your employees through simply taking the time to better understand the wider issues surrounding mental health.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has some excellent resources for this. Their short primer contains an essential guide to five of the most common mental health problems. It also lists seven signs that one of your employers might be facing a deeper problem.

As an employer, you should make it your mission to create the sort of open and supportive working culture in which every single one of your employees feels safe to talk freely about mental health. All line managers should be trained to spot the early signs of mental health problems, and to offer the support employees need to feel confident in speaking up.

Empower Your Employees and Minimise Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a major cause of on-the-job stress and anxiety.

As we said above, one reason why the third Monday in January has a reputation as the worst day of the year is that this is often the day unwelcome credit card bills arrive. Debt is stressful, and if your employees don’t feel secure in their jobs, it’ll significantly worsen any financial worries.

So empower your employees. Make them feel like they’re part of something bigger – which they are. Keep them updated on what’s going on at every level of the business – email updates are good, but regular round-table meetings are better. Involve your team in day-to-day decisions, and if any changes are coming, make sure they’re communicated as early as possible.

You can’t remove fear and doubt entirely, but you can minimise uncertainty, which will help a lot.

Encourage a Good Work/Life Balance

Beware of workaholics. People who can’t switch off run the risk of burnout. They could develop mental health issues, or make existing issues worse.

You need to encourage a good work/life balance. Generous annual leave allowance is a great place to start, but you could do much more. Offer time off in lieu to anyone who works overtime, or at weekends. Be flexible – if your employees can do their jobs remotely, then let them work remotely.

You can also discourage the sort of behaviour that could lead to overwork and burnouts. Make sure everyone’s switched off and ready to leave by closing time. Ban people from checking their emails at night, or at weekends. Don’t text or email anyone outside of working hours.

You might think that all of these measures could affect productivity. But as we’ve already established, nothing hurts productivity like stressed-out, burnt-out, anxious employees.

Aim for Overall Wellbeing

There are many things you can do to create a culture that actively promotes employee wellbeing.

Fill your workspaces with natural light and natural life. It’s inherently soothing to be surrounded by nature, so get lots of plants for the office and let people take care of them.

There’s a strong link between good physical health and good mental health. So keep your fruit-bowl filled and think about ways you can convince your team to exercise more. Cycle-to-work schemes are becoming increasingly popular, but you could also offer subsidised gym memberships. You could even encourage people to take walks during their lunch breaks, or to take the stairs instead of the lift.

Stay on Top of Things and Spot Potential Issues Early

Mental health issues are often described as a “hidden epidemic”. Social taboos prevent people from talking about their problems, and any work they miss might go unnoticed or unreported.

You can help stay on top of this issue with some good absence management software. Clear reporting can help you to spot potential issues early. You may notice that one employee has sporadically called in sick and it may suggest that they have the sort of issue that runs deep, and that could get worse if ignored.

This sort of software, combined with the open and supportive culture we mentioned above, could make a huge difference. If you can really measure the impact of employee wellbeing – as in, see it in numbers – you’ll be able to see exactly where your problems lie. This will help you to identify ways you can offer support to ease the pressure.

Don’t Let Blue Monday Get You Down

Is the third January of the year really the most depressing day of the year? Even if Blue Monday’s just a PR stunt, mental health is an issue you should take very seriously indeed.

Don’t stop thinking about mental health once Blue Monday’s come and gone. Make employee wellbeing your priority throughout the year

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