Have you prepared your business for ‘Blue Monday’?

17For this year’s ‘Blue Monday’, Business Leader has spoken to a number of industry leaders to see what best practices can be used to prevent a mass exodus of employees.

You might be asking – what is Blue Monday?

Falling on the third Monday of January every year, it is the name given to ‘the most depressing day of the year’.

The concept was first started in 2006 by British travel company, Sky Travel, and has since grown into an annual event that HR professionals prepare for each year.

Sky Travel ‘calculated’ the result through a complex equation that took into various conditions, such as weather, post-Christmas blues, and people looking at changing careers. Although it has largely been dismissed as pseudoscience, the premise remains that your employees might be having mental health concerns, or are looking at handing in their notice.

Blue Monday: Employee support is more important than ever

Neil Debenham gave Business Leader this insight into what employers should do to support their staff at this time of year. Neil is an entrepreneur, investor and business trouble shooter who has facilitated over £50m worth of private equity and debt investment into scaling UK businesses and has 10 years’ experience consulting for SMEs. He is the CEO of Fintrex, a specialist business advisory and corporate consultancy for SME’s, Private Equity and Corporate Lending businesses.

Blue Monday, posited to be the third Monday of January each year, is fast approaching. According to an equation considering different factors such as weather, debt level and distance from the Christmas break, many will experience a feeling of general sadness and a seemingly unexplainable dip in mood.

It is a common perception that more widely, the whole month of January comes with uncertainty and an undeniable pressure. Born out of ‘New Year, New Me’ messaging seemingly everywhere you look, the burden of January blues is sometimes difficult to ignore. One particular sphere in which Blue Monday can take hold is in the workplace. It can be a confusing time after perhaps winding down from the Christmas period and the feeling of uncertainty when faced with new targets and new challenges can be daunting.

Whilst ‘Blue Monday’ may be more of a psychological phenomenon than a scientific fact, it is important to consider the effect it may have on employees. As the Work from Home mandate is still in play, the effects of this supposed ‘down’ day may be exacerbated as other variables such as isolation and monotony ensue. Therefore, it is prudent for employers to support their employees with any increased negative feelings surrounding this time.

The term Blue Monday was coined in 2005 in a Sky Travel press release. Years later in 2018 its author, Cliff Arnall, revealed that the concept was never intended to hold negative connotations. He insisted the intention was “to inspire people to take action and make bold life decisions”. Considering the supposed original message of Blue Monday was an optimistic and aspirational one, here are some tips for maintaining positivity amongst employees.

Tips for supporting employees

General mental health should be a primary concern in any workplace, as well as productivity. Easy ways to ensure staff feel supported include:

  • Reinforcing availability of both workplace and external mental health services

Emphasis on services like this restates the message that employees are not alone if they’re feeling low or in need of any assistance. This is especially necessary in the case of employees who are working from home. If colleagues aren’t physically interacting it can be hard to tell whether someone’s mental state is suffering. It is a common response for people suffering to do so in silence and not reach out for help, so offering the first contact can be hugely beneficial.

  • Send an email around to employees acknowledging the existence of the dreaded Blue Monday

Even something as simple as this serves as a simple but effective way of allaying feelings of loneliness and isolation. Employees may not speak up but knowing that their colleagues and peers may feel the same could prompt healthy conversation and keep those ‘blue’ feelings at bay.

  • Organise a virtual event

Employers could look to counteract the effects of Blue Monday by organising an event, however small, during the day or after the workday ends. Whether it be a 15-minute time out encouraging open dialogue, or a more social event at the end of the day, employees have a way to let off steam and even something to look forward to.

A well implemented mixture or variation of these tips will go a long way in ensuring employees feel valued and as though their concerns are being meaningfully considered. Even if the existence of Blue Monday is purely placebic, some straightforward and thoughtful measures will not go amiss when aiming to maintain a positive atmosphere.

Acknowledgement, conversation, and support are key to minimising the impact of Blue Monday on both mental health and productivity.  When mental health suffers, so do myriad aspects of both personal and working life. Inability to concentrate, perform to usual personal standards and manage workload are key aspects which will affect an individual’s working life if mental health concerns are not being properly addressed.

The reality is however, that Blue Monday is just another day. It is important to note that mental health concerns can affect anyone at any time of the year. Ultimately, this day represents an opportunity to step up support provisions, mental health awareness and encouragement of conversations all year round, not just for the day.

From Blue Monday to year-round workplace psychological safety

Employment Hero’s Chief People Officer Alex Hattingh shares with Business Leader how you can create a psychologically safe workplace.

1. Change the mindset around failure

It’s more than likely that we’ve all experienced a time when we felt nervous or anxious to speak up in a meeting at many points throughout the past year. Going out on a limb to suggest a new idea, challenge existing assumptions or questioning a senior decision involves a sense of vulnerability and can become scary if the wrong mindset surrounds it. In times like these, its normal to ask yourself:

“What if they think my idea is ridiculous?”
“What if my idea fails?”
“Is my opinion wrong?”
“What if I irritate my boss and lose my job?”

In all of these questions there is one clear message — we are fearful of failing. Humans tend to fear the consequences that may follow if we fail to succeed, especially if their workplace has a negative attitude towards failure. If we believe only negativity can come from our mistakes, we create an environment that is psychologically unsafe. But what if we decided to change our ways of thinking around failure, and it made it into something constructive? As the old saying goes, ‘It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey’.

In a nutshell, it’s about looking at failure in a new light as something that can be welcomed rather than rejected.

Top hint: Try sharing your own failures with your team so they can feel a sense of commonality.

2. Show you trust and respect those around you

It’s easy to get the idea of psychologically safety confused with trust. Although the two ideas go hand in hand, they are different in nature. On one hand, trust refers to providing others with the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk. For example, telling someone a secret can be perceived as a risk, however, your trust in them means you believe the information will be kept safe. On the other hand, psychologically safety revolves around other people providing you with the benefit of the doubt when taking a risk and making yourself vulnerable. A perfect case would be stating your opinion in a meeting and relying on those present to not pass judgement.

Trust is something you give; psychological safety is something you receive. Showing your team that you trust and respect their thoughts, feelings, voice and opinions can help them to feel comfortable in the space they are in, especially with us now all working and connecting from different places more and more. So if you want to foster a psychologically safe workplace for yourself and your colleagues, you must ensure you’re offering others a safe place to share their ideas wherever they are working from.

3. Embrace positive conflict

Conflict, much like failure, is typically viewed in a negative light. When we think of conflict, we picture two people in a heated argument with their arms folded, lips pursed, and brows pulled together. When it comes to work, we can’t guarantee we’ll always agree with what our colleagues have to say. In a psychologically safe workplace, we want to encourage everyone to say what they think and feel.

If carried out poorly, workplace conflict can leave people feeling upset, isolated and ostracised by the rest of the team. For this reason alone, it is crucial to open up a safe space for discussion. First start by establishing clear expectations. Turn the differences of opinion into a healthy debate and try to come to a mutual understanding. Place emphasis on the commonalities between your team, rather than focusing on the differences.

4. Stop the spread of negativity

If you hear of someone in your team speaking negatively about a certain colleague behind their back, immediately pull them up on it. Be clear in how you address gossip, let them know that kind of behaviour is not tolerated and can make people feel unsafe.

When a leader speaks poorly about their staff or allows negativity to flourish, they are setting a poor example for their team. Employees will assume it is okay to ostracise others, or fear that they themselves are the target of gossip. In either case, this creates a psychologically unsafe environment.

5. Involve and listen to your team when making decisions

If you want to make your employees feel as though their voices are heard and their feelings are valued, include them in decision making. Reach out and ask for their input and opinions. Creating a level playing field for your team will encourage them to provide suggestions regardless of their role.

Be sure to keep them in the loop every step of the way. Once a decision has been made, explain how their feedback contributed to the outcome. Let them know of any other suggestions that were presented and how they were factored in. Your employees will appreciate any inclusivity and transparency you can provide.

So, are you prepared for Blue Monday?

Cindy Gunn, HR Director at Encore Personnel, shares her thoughts on preparing for the day.

Supporting your workforce to focus on the positive things is central to keeping your workforce motivated on ‘Blue Monday’. Put into place initiatives which focus on prioritising the mental wellbeing of employees, encourage staff to step outside of their comfort zones and do something new and fun and most importantly place emphasis back on the achievements of your workforce – these are all steps that should be taken by a HR team to prepare for ‘Blue Monday’.

At Encore Personnel, we are launching ‘Try January’, and encouraging our workforce to try something they usually wouldn’t to bring a smile and cheer to their Monday. During the pandemic we have also launched our own mental health support tool – Encore in Mind – which is an extra, vital support resource which we will be directing our workforce to, should they require it on ‘Blue Monday’.

Above all, we believe that placing emphasis on the achievements of a workforce and making them feel valued is crucial to combatting workforce blues, which is why throughout January we begin to share information about nominees for our company’s annual awards.

Sharing positive, motivational news which focuses on our employees uplifts the spirit of the workforce and drives them to stride forward and keep working hard throughout January. We ensure our workforce feel supported and appreciated and believe this is the key to tackling the January blues.

Laura Ryan, International HR Director at Dropbox, continues.

Technology has enabled workforces to shift to remote work whilst staying organised and productive, but organisations must be mindful with how they deploy their technology.

Companies that commit to a model that includes remote working must take steps to ensure employee wellbeing – and at Dropbox we’ve implemented several initiatives to support employees to use technology in the right way. This includes what we call “Unplugged” time off, which automatically shuts down an employee’s access to work related technology when they take time out. We’ve also developed an asynchronous tech tool called Capture, which has helped cut down meetings.  This, combined with our existing flexible annual leave strategy – and our mandated company-wide days off – has enabled our employees to take the space to recharge when they’ve needed it.

Bethan Dacey, Senior Client Relationship Manager and Mental Health Ambassador, MetLife UK, concludes.

January can be a difficult month. The Christmas lights have been taken down, the days are short, and money is tight. But this year, we have the additional challenge of continuing working from home. 2021 saw the global mental health crisis worsen with an estimated 822,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety across the UK, accounting for 50% of all work-related ill health cases. With NHS waiting lists growing, this was a year for businesses to step up and communicate the readily available benefits they offer to their staff such as 24/7 counselling services and confidential debt helplines to support their staff with the added pressures.

While it’s easy to feel blue with the start of this New Year feeling very similar to the end of the last, January also represents an opportunity to refocus and renew; prioritising what matters most. Think about what your goals are for the coming 12 months and what steps you’ll need to take to make them a reality. Perhaps you’re looking for a promotion, to start a family, or simply to spend more time out of the house! Whether your goal is a professional or personal one, talk to your employer about what you hope this year will bring, they may be able to help you achieve it sooner through additional training or upskilling. Identifying the tools available to you in the workplace can help you take a big step forward. As will breaking down goals into bitesize achievable chunks.

Blue Monday also serves as a useful reminder to employers of the importance of offering holistic support to their workforce. The start of a New Year provides companies with a good opportunity to review the services they have in place to ensure that they are aligned with their businesses current working model, whether this be hybrid or fully remote. Our Re:Me research found that six in ten (61%) workers say their boss is more aware of their personal circumstances than ever before, so its important managers lean into this and understand individual concerns and possible impacts to help best mitigate them.

By doing all they can to support a healthy and happy workforce, employers can help to reduce absences and boost morale. This Monday doesn’t have to be blue. Let’s use this date as an opportunity to bring employees together and start important conversations about mental wellbeing.

Feeling blue – how to keep your workforce engaged and motivated

Matt Ephgrave, Managing Director at Just Eat for Business shares advice on how to keep the workforce happy, engaged and feeling valued

‘Blue Monday’ – it takes place during the third week of January and has been calculated as the most gloomy day of the year. It’s not difficult to figure out why: short days, a depleted bank account post-Christmas and the inevitable guilt of breaking New Year’s resolutions. Around this period, there is also a noted increase in people looking to shake up their lifestyle, with one of the most popular methods being a career change.

What does this mean for businesses? Employers need to work harder on how best they can motivate and maintain wellbeing in the workplace creating happy, engaged employees. By following some simple tips, businesses can reinstate and maintain employee wellbeing to beat those blues.

Keep the conversation flowing

Less than half of employees say they would feel able to talk openly with their line manager if they were suffering from stress. Workplaces need to apply further resources into this area to encourage open and honest conversation. Making use of awareness days such as Brew Monday, a Samaritans initiative aimed at reminding people to catch up with one another over a cup of coffee or tea, reminds employees that their mental health is a priority.

Encourage Break Times

Whether you’re working from home or in the office, staring at a screen all day without taking a fresh air break and moving your body can have negative implications on your mental health. Staying physically active throughout the day and taking shorter breaks more often will increase productivity and motivation.

Social media can also be a source of negativity at this time of the year, particularly for those suffering with low self-esteem. Encouraging staff to take a break from their phone and occupy this time by taking a short brisk walk will help them to manage feelings of stress and anxiety.

Reconsider your environment

Working from home during a global pandemic is sure to cause stress in one way or another, however businesses should encourage their employees to take active steps in bettering their wellbeing. An efficient method of doing so is to redesign your physical environment. Desk organisers can be a good start, after all a tidy home is a tidy mind. Creating a home office that inspires feelings of productivity is key, and so employees should take some time to work out exactly what works best for them and then stick to it.

Nourish your body

Although complex, there is a recognised relationship between nutrition and mental health. What we eat and drink affects how we feel, think and behave. Instead of bingeing on sugary snacks throughout the day, focus on nourishing your body with fresh foods such as vegetables and fish.

Tackle Blue Monday amongst your workforce by reminding employees you value their feelings and view their mental health as a priority. Encouraging conversation and healthy practises such as exercise and nourishment will benefit your staff beyond the office and into their day-to-day lives.

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