Blue Monday is set to take place on Monday 17 January 2022. This marks the supposedly “most depressing day of the year.” Whilst the come-down after the festive period is undeniable — many are worn out from running from pillar to post and entertaining those family members, who for the most part, are successfully avoided. However, there has been growing criticism in previous years over the toll such a day takes on individuals who are already struggling with their mental health. Many worry in advance, thinking the Monday will be gloomier than all others. As such, it’s important for employers to leverage their stance on this carefully, to ensure they are supporting their people in the best possible way.
How can Blue Monday become less daunting?
First, addressing Blue Monday as an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health can provide more benefit than simply acknowledging its existence in the calendar. Similarly, providing extra resources in the week immediately preceding and following the 17th ensures employees are adequately supported during this time. According to the NHS, the winter blues — or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — may affect around two million people in the UK, listing the key symptoms as: depression; sleep problems; lethargy; overeating; irritability; feeling down and unsociable. However, employers are able to implement simple measures to alleviate these difficulties and ensure the smooth continuation of operations.
On the day of Blue Monday, employers may want to go above and beyond to make the workplace a cheerful and motivating environment. There don’t have to be any elaborate plans for this, basic steps such as changing the background on computer screens to a funny, friendly and uplifting screensaver can boost an employee’s mood from the moment they log on to work. Colourful decorations around the office can further help to make the workplace more relaxed and inviting. Where possible, employers may allow for a casual dress day on the 17th and encourage staff to wear colourful clothing, to minimise feelings of melancholy.
What else can employers do?
Getting outdoors and into natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on bright days, can improve employees’ mental health. Keeping active, for example by going on a walk during lunch breaks, can provide equal benefits. As such, employers may wish to consider extending lunch breaks during the winter months or organise lunch walks for their staff members. Alternatively, employers may be able to offer temporary hybrid working arrangements or flexibility with their working hours, to allow for more time away from desks during daylight. Where this isn’t practical, employers should consider the proximity of workspaces to windows and doors and re-arrange office furniture to maximise exposure to daylight. Doing so can improve an employee’s motivation and satisfaction which, in turn, increases their productivity and performance.
Unsurprisingly, healthy eating can be a mood booster that gives the body and mind more energy. Encouraging or providing healthy breakfasts and snacks in the workplace can motivate employees to focus on self-improvement whilst enabling them to perform better at work. The offering of an employee assistance programme can further improve wellbeing by providing access to professional mental health resources, such as trained counsellors and guided meditation sessions.
Opening up is important too. According to Bupa’s Workplace Wellbeing Census, 71% of people say having an approachable manager in the past made them feel comfortable enough to raise their own specific wellbeing issues. As such, introducing emotional intelligence and/or mental health training to managers can be of significant benefit. Similarly, the provision of a mental health first aider in the workplace can help identify early signs of emotional distress in employees, so intervention can be made before the situation escalates.
Do employers have to do anything on Blue Monday?
Whilst implementing such measures may seem like an unnecessary expense to some employers, those who do so reap the rewards and cost-benefits associated with reduced sickness absences, improved retention (resulting in reduced recruitment and training costs) and an overall increase in business productivity, which ultimately boosts profitability and success. Therefore, it is clear the benefits of recognising winter blues as a real struggle, taking any steps to mitigate the difficulties it brings, far outweigh any perceptions that it is best to do nothing at all.
However, at the end of the day, individual employers can choose what they want, or don’t want, to do on Blue Monday. Some have argued that making a big deal out of one day, and hyping it up, can have the opposite effect of making staff overthink and panic about coming to work. As such, employers may choose to treat it as any other day. Or, those feeling particularly benevolent may allow paid leave to give staff an extra day to relax and reset. Either way, employers will know their own employees’ needs and attitudes best, so know how to tailor their initiatives and approaches to support and reward them the most effective way.