Blue Monday: How to help your staff on the most depressing day of the year

Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. In response to this, Business Leader has gained the views from industry-leading experts on how to help your staff this year.

Employee health and wellbeing

Dr Oliver Harrison, CEO, Koa Health speaks about how to champion employee mental health.

This year we will begin to see the scale of the second pandemic of mental health issues in the UK and worldwide. NHS England data already shows more than 8 million people with depression and anxiety disorder are unable to get specialist help because they aren’t “sick enough” to meet treatment thresholds that have been increased in light of much higher demand and a shortage of clinicians. Meanwhile, there’s only an estimated one psychiatrist for every 13,000 people in the UK. Put simply, our mental health services are unable to meet the demand for care.

The current state of the nation’s mental health leaves not only our collective wellbeing at stake, but also business productivity and ultimately our economic recovery.  This is where businesses must take note. This Blue Monday, I believe that every business should develop a strategy to address the mental health of their teams. There’s never been a more important time for employers to invest in evidence-based, clinically-validated digital mental health tools that protect staff, reduce burnout, and increase team productivity. Given the challenges that the NHS and clinicians are facing, these present the only scalable way to offer quality mental healthcare to all of the people sadly suffering right now. Turning the tide on this crisis is morally right and makes rock-solid business sense.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, comments on Blue Monday and the importance of providing ongoing mental health support in the workplace.

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics found that 1 in 5 adults in the UK experienced some form of depression in the first quarter of 2021. It’s never been more important for employers to operate an open-door policy to anyone feeling stressed, anxious or unhappy at work – not only on ‘Blue Monday’, but throughout the entire year.

On top of training managers to be better at spotting the warning signs, employers should be actively listening to the people that work for them – whether that’s using formal anonymous employee surveys, or more regular check ins – to be able to recognise if there is a problem and ensure that the necessary support is put in place.

Dr Claire Vowell, Counselling Psychologist, Koa Health speaks on tackling Blue Monday (and January) head on with new wellbeing habits.

While the actual date of Blue Monday is not scientifically proven, we know that many people struggle in January. After the festive season, the long, dark days of January can leave us feeling low. This is particularly true when we continue to suffer the impact of the pandemic, with the Omicron wave reminding us of the early days of the pandemic when the future felt uncertain. Millions of people are also having to self-isolate. In this climate some fall into the trap of doomscrolling, something that so characterised 2020, the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and named a word of the year.

The main reason we doom scroll is to try and establish a feeling of control when the world seems so uncertain, however, studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between COVID-19 related media exposure and symptoms of anxiety and depression, having a detrimental effect on your mental health.

So how can we avoid this? Well, although the time for New Year’s resolutions may have passed, January is a good time to set realistic goals; an opportunity to switch out old habits for new ones. Choosing to increase your activity and social contact might help you find something that gives you a sense of purpose for example. Meanwhile, setting boundaries for how and when you’ll use your phone or turning off alerts could help you avoid doomscrolling your way through the month (and year!).

Building new wellbeing habits can seem like a lot when you’re first getting started, but making your goals sustainable can help. After all, as we prepare for another year still facing the effects of the pandemic, managing our mental health is more important than ever.

Noelle Murphy, Senior HR practice editor, at XpertHR, comments on mental health support for your employees this Blue Monday.

Nearly two years of Covid-induced strain has taken considerable toll on employees’ financial, mental and physical wellbeing. Many had to deal with financial worries due to furlough or not being able to work, while others juggled extra stress from taking on caring responsibilities for loved ones at higher risk to the virus. Those who are working on the frontline have experienced, and continue to experience, desperately stressful working conditions and they are simply jaded. For parents, managing work commitments with childcare and home-schooling without access to the usual support from friends and family will also have certainly taken its toll.

For Blue Monday this year, it’s therefore all the more important that employers consider the combined effect of these stresses on their staff, and how best to support them in this still uncertain period. Our recent research found that middle (34%) and senior (30%) management said the biggest impact on their company culture over the next twelve months would be dealing with staff mental health issues. With many employees back to working from home, managers need to be more in tune with employees so as to spot signs of stress or mental health issues.

As we continue to live through the pandemic, it’s absolutely vital that employers remain extra vigilant and seek to support staff often and with care. We know managers made huge strides in this area at the beginning of the pandemic, but managers are not immune from stress or mental health struggles. It is up to leaders within businesses to be clear about the importance of a meaningful and authentic approach to employee wellbeing, allowing and encouraging authentic and high quality conversations. Leaders should also promote the wellbeing tools available to all employees and look to make improvements where possible –  whether this is through the introduction of an employee benefits package, one-to-one counselling or support for childcare costs.

Research reveals UK regions with highest levels of work-related stress

Monday 17th January is also known as Blue Monday, which is considered to be the most depressing and stressful day of the year, but what is the true extent of workplace stress in the UK?

Legal experts at Wright Hassall have carried out research to reveal which regions of the UK have the highest number of Brits suffering from workplace stress on a weekly basis.

Ranked: UK regions with highest levels of workplace stress

Rank Region % of workers suffering from workplace stress on a weekly basis
1 Wales 43%
2 Northern Ireland 31%
3 South East 30%
4 West Midlands 26%
5 Greater London 26%
North West 25%
6 East of England 24%
South West 24%
7 Yorkshire and the Humber 24%
8 North East 18%
9 East Midlands 16%
10 Scotland 8%

Tina Chander, Head of Employment Law at Wright Hassall has commented: “Although the UK is in a much better position compared to this time last year, we are not out of the woods yet, especially as the number of cases linked to the recently-discovered Omicron variant continue to rise.

“The issue of work-related stress is not exclusive to a specific industry or location, and this is reflected in the eye-opening statistics presented in recent studies, whereby an overwhelming majority of employed adults frequently experience stress.

“With entire workforces preparing to work remotely again, it can be difficult for managers to keep a close eye on colleagues, which unfortunately increases the risk of incidents being missed, and employees feeling alone and isolated at home.

“Therefore, it is critical that employers up and down the country take the necessary steps to combat work-related stress, especially over the next month or two, when people generally feel more deflated than normal.

“To give you a better understanding of how widespread these issues are and why it is important to seek professional legal advice if there is any uncertainty, we have offered a full regional breakdown of stress statistics provided in official reports.”

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