How to boost morale this Blue Monday

Blue Monday has become an important day for HR professionals in the UK each year – but how can you make sure you have a happy workforce? Business Leader investigates.

As we continue to weather a mental health pandemic, it’s important to remember your employee and what they may being going through in a time of uncertainty.

Blue Monday serves as a useful reminder to employers of the increased importance of offering holistic support for their workforce – not just at this time of year, but all year round.

Bethan Dacey, Senior Client Relationship Manager and Mental Health Ambassador, MetLife UK shares her top tips on boosting morale this January.

  1. Start the year with a bang – Why not keep some of the festive spirit going by engaging with employees and hosting workplace virtual events – whether that’s a simple team tea break, a quiz, fun training or a general weekly chat. Community and connection are so important to achieving a sense of togetherness. Plus, why not kick start some fundraising for a local charity at the same time. Just small donations really can make a big difference and feel more meaningful.
  2. Stay sympathetic – It’s been a difficult time for workers. Continued uncertainty, the increasing cost of living and working from home has taken its toll. For some, they might be returning to work after a career or role change, working from home for a long period or feeling anxious about how the pandemic is evolving. By staying aware of what employees are struggling with, employers can spot who needs help and how to provide it. And understanding that some employees might be feeling anxious, concerned or unhappy can go a long way to helping them through. Signposting all support tools, particularly those with 24/7 access, such as an EAP, can go a long way.
  3. Keep your employees motivated – Set new targets for teams, and perhaps encourage a bit of friendly competition across the office.  Helping to communicate about the future and introducing any new business benefits or incentives and generally including employees can go a long way to getting your employees excited about being back. Working with them to also set personal development plans will help gain further insight into what motivates them individually and how you can best support.
  4. Create an environment where people can speak up – If employees feel safe and able to share any mental health challenges, employers will be able to identify the risks and devise strategies to better manage issues. Businesses need to learn how to start conversations and reduce the stigma around mental ill health at what can be a very overwhelming and lonely time of year.
  5. Support their overall well-being – Traditional benefits – such as retirement, medical, and dental insurance – provide a safety net for employees. But as the world changes and new ways of working accelerates, this is altering what employees want from their employers. A more holistic approach to benefits that supports employees is emerging. Employers who support employees in and out of the workplace can help ensure both will thrive today and, in the years, to come. Our Re:Me report found that half (50%) of workers would sacrifice some of their salary for personalised employee benefits.

Impact of remote working

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

The switch to remote working was welcomed by some – having more time with the family and perhaps a better work/life balance without long commute times. But for others it threw up concerns – the lines between work and life became blurred and it became hard to switch off. The challenges of the pandemic also meant having the kids at home making it harder to focus and juggle parenting responsibilities or having to care for a loved one who was self-isolating. But for employers, having less face time with colleagues meant it was much easier for problems such as unmanageable workloads to go unnoticed, contributing to people becoming more prone to dealing with issues on their own.

While it is true that where a person works is by no means the sole contributor to their mental health, the social interaction and support available in the office may well have alleviated issues rooted elsewhere, and so losing that would have been detrimental to some members of staff. In fact, according to Totaljobs, almost half (46%) of UK employees have experienced feelings of loneliness working remotely, and of those 70% said it has been detrimental to their overall wellbeing.

Employers must continually review the support they provide employees and look at what additional resources could be beneficial. This might include looking at how they can keep communication open, what mental health focused benefits they are offering, like employee assistant programs, and how they are training their managers to spot and mindfully approach colleagues who need support.

Mental health is a year-round consideration, not just for Blue Monday. Everyone’s needs differ, so it’s important that companies continue looking at ways to improve their offering – anonymous surveys are great for this and can give a real insight on issues they never knew existed. From there, mental health and wellness strategies can be adapted so that problems are dealt with early and avoid snowballing into crisis situations.

Encouraging conversations around mental health for Blue Monday

At any one time, one sixth of the working age population of Great Britain experiences symptoms associated with mental ill health, and this causes around 40% of all days lost through sickness absence1.

Tom Moyes, a partner in the Employment team at Blacks Solicitors shares his thoughts on why it’s so crucial for employers to take advantage of days like Blue Monday (17 January 2022) to encourage open discussions about mental health with employees.

Legal requirements

Most mental health conditions will fall under the legal definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010, as many of these conditions have a substantial and long term impact on day -to-day life. Many employees living with a mental health concern will therefore be protected from discrimination and employers will need to make reasonable adjustments to support them in the workplace.

Communicating with staff

There are a number of ways that employers can encourage open discussions with employees about mental health. Producing, implementing and communicating a workplace mental health plan that promotes the good mental health of all employees and outlines the support available for those who may need it, can be a great way to engage the workforce.

Employers should encourage open conversations about mental health so that any employees struggling feel listened to and valued. This can be further implemented at the recruitment process to showcase to potential new employees that their mental health is a key concern for the employer.

Promoting effective people management can be a great tool as this helps to ensure that all employees are able to have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader. Training and supporting line managers and supervisors is crucial so that they can deliver effective management practices.

4 Simple ways to boost your team’s wellbeing this Blue Monday

Dubbed the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday is the epitome of the post Christmas come down, with short days and gloomy weather making it no surprise that motivation levels are often at an all time low.

With working from home guidance still in place, many teams are struggling to get back into the swing of things, often moving from their bedroom to their computer without many steps in between. It’s therefore not a surprise that two thirds of employees feel disconnected from their team.

To help breathe new life into your working routine and beat the January blues, leading team building platform Kaido has shared their top tips on how to boost team wellbeing this year:

1. Get some air

Staying inside all day is not good for anyone! Take yourself outside – from going for a 15 minute walk to just sitting outside with a cup of tea, get yourself outside and enjoy the fresh air. If you’re struggling to find a gap in a wall of back to back meetings, why don’t you turn some into walking meetings, dialing in on your phone and getting your step count in at the same time!

2. Schedule a lunch – and stick to it

When you’re working at home, it’s so easy to just eat at your desk while scrolling through emails, but we all need time away to recharge and reset our energy levels. Block out a time in your diary and commit to taking that time as lunch. You can even use this time to reconnect with people in your team you don’t get to speak to as much by putting in a team lunch where you can all down tools and reconnect, recreating those casual conversations you’d normally have in the office.

3. Host a team event

Help counteract the blues by hosting a team wide activity that breaks up the monotony of the day. A fresh, fun team building event can reboot that essential buzz, especially one that gets onsite and remote workers talking, moving and contributing to a common goal. Rather than standalone activities that deliver fleeting results, use the experience to boost positive behaviours – such as supportiveness and shared accountability – that help your hybrid team thrive in the long term. At Kaido, we’ve seen the impact of this, with over 60 per cent of workers saying they feel more connected after completing one of our team-building challenges.

4. Embrace interruptions, set boundaries

For interactions with colleagues that are not time sensitive, it can be of value to your time and productivity to switch off notifications for a short while to help regain focus and control of your workload. As important as it is to continue prioritising building relationships with your team, it is also vital to set boundaries and make sure you take time to focus to allow you to deal with the task at hand. Though being always contactable can be great for quick responses, it is also important to relieve yourself from the pressures of always being switched on.

It can be easy to forget you’re part of a team when you’re working from home, but use Blue Monday as an opportunity to introduce some new steps into the working day that will give you back that sense of joy at work and remember – taking a step back will only help provide more clarity and headspace.

How to champion employee mental health

Dr Oliver Harrison, CEO, Koa Health shares her thoughts on Blue Monday.

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.

Industry reaction to Blue Monday

Gwenan West, head of people at HR software provider CIPHR: “Regardless of whether you believe in the concept of Blue Monday, or question the validity of its origin, HR teams cannot afford to ignore it. As it could have a significant long-term effect on employee wellbeing and, in turn, productivity and attendance rates. This is especially important for companies who have some or all of their employees working from home, where boosting employee morale can be much more challenging.

“HR teams and managers can best prepare for Blue Monday by helping their employees get into a positive mindset in the leadup to the day itself. They can do this by:

“Encouraging employees to bring their true self to the workplace and remove the stigma of mental health issues. We spend the majority of our life working and to have to hide your true self at work can be exhausting. If we encourage our colleagues to be themselves, this will encourage a more open culture and we’ll see the benefits in increased collaboration and productivity. For example, encourage employees to share their mental health challenges and create support groups, perhaps take part in the Time to change campaign.

“Ensuring employees know what wellbeing support is available to them. Create infographics or posters dotted around the workplace. I always ensure that there are posters in the restrooms too, as this a go to place for individuals who are struggling at work. Don’t forget to make these accessible online for your remote workers.

“Employees need to feel valued and appreciated. On Blue Monday itself perhaps start the day with some positive affirmations or a thank you from the senior management team via email. A simple thank you goes a long way.”

Christophe Peymirat, Head of Uber for Business EMEA: “With the festive season over but cold, short days still upon us, January’s “Blue Monday” (Mon 17th) is often referred to as the most depressing day of the year. With many employees currently working remotely, businesses will need to work even harder to keep staff engaged. Additionally, with many industry experts predicting the continuation of “The Great Resignation”, businesses need to act now to keep workers happy and motivated.

“Whether it’s booking in ‘one to ones’ to focus on career progression, implementing better flexible, remote working opportunities, or workplace perks such as rewarding and gifting practices, businesses need multiple strings to their bow.

“In the new age of work, employees need to feel that they are truly valued members of the organisation, and this is especially true in the early portion of a new year, when many are looking for a new start. Businesses that fail to take action will likely see their talent move elsewhere and could also find it harder to attract new hires.

“For our remote sales kick-off this month, all our employees received vouchers they could use to order themselves meals while staying engaged online during the digital team event. Worked a treat!”

Joel Gujral, Founder and CEO, MYNDUP: “January is notoriously a really tough month for many employees, and Blue Monday is especially challenging. Short days, coupled with miserable weather and a long wait until payday. When combined, it’s a recipe for a mental health disaster.

“This year, with the pandemic still ongoing, many workers will be stuck inside, isolated from colleagues, only exacerbating the problem. Businesses therefore need to ensure they have the processes in place to keep employees’ mental wellbeing a priority.

“This means offering the right mental health services that go beyond Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) or insurance. They need an offering that is proactive in its solutions, connects employees to a range of quality, anonymous support programmes, and ultimately has low barriers to entry. ​

“Evidence shows that over one in ten (12.7%) of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, while many businesses are still struggling to overcome historic attitudes to mental wellbeing. In 2022 businesses can usher in an era of change, putting in place the mental health support systems their colleagues need. And there can’t be many better opportunities to do this than during the January blues.”

Ivan Harding, CEO and Co-Founder, Applaud: “Blue Monday (January 17th) is commonly known as the most depressing day of the year. And this year it feels especially poignant with many workers required to work alone at home, as a result of ongoing pandemic measures.

“We’re already in a climate where many workers have itchy feet, and where a poor workplace experience could be the tipping point in making them leave their position. In some cases HR is hindering and not helping, for example, 90% of employees are losing between two and four hours a week on HR tasks. This is something which is having a negative impact on employees, as they are losing valuable time, adding more stress.

“Businesses need to provide an employee experience that ensures workers are engaged, happy and motivated. The form this takes will differ from business to business, but sitting at its centre should be a consolidated workforce experience layer, tailored to each individual employee. This personalised experience is something that 63% of businesses admit to not doing, which should be a wake-up call.  Effective employee experiences need to contain a whole host of support functions, including regular manager check-ins, flexible working support, perks, benefits and rewards.”