Blue Monday: How HR can keep spirits up on the most depressing day of the year

Unless preceded by the words ‘bank’ and ‘holiday’, Mondays can be a bit of a drag. No matter how much you love your job, it’s not unusual to be dreaming of a three-day weekend on Monday morning.

But, according to a calculation by Cliff Arnall back in 2005, this coming Monday (the 21st) is the worst of all. Also known as ‘Blue Monday’, the third Monday in January is recognised as the most depressing day of the year for workers in the UK.

Why? A combination of cold and miserable weather, short days, Christmas hangover and festive debts from holiday spending apparently makes this day particularly miserable. But whether you believe the science behind Blue Monday or not, it’s fairly common to notice a dip in office morale in the new year.

So, with employee well-being and productivity at stake, what can HR do to help turn frowns upside down on the most depressing day of the year? Here are five actions you can take:

Organise a social

Blue Monday doesn’t have to be just another day. Organising after work drinks, a team lunch or even a company kick off will boost morale and give staff something to look forward to after Christmas while reminding them that there’s more to work than work. It offers the chance for staff to socialise with colleagues outside their immediate circle too, those who they rarely interact with in the office but get on well with nonetheless and therefore strengthening workplace relationships as a result.

Encourage holiday booking

Blue Monday originated as a marketing campaign by Sky Travel in 2005, who claimed they had worked out the most depressing day of the year to encourage people to book holiday on that day to make them feel better.

Although some might dismiss this as marketing nonsense, making sure your HR system is up to date with the latest holiday entitlements – and letting staff know about it – could be a useful approach to beating those Blue Monday blues. The prospect of being on a sunny Mediterranean beach in a few months may be just the lift some of your staff need.

Positivity all round

Managers should give positive feedback all year round, but the start of the year is a time when positive feedback is particularly beneficial. Ensuring that your staff feel valued and appreciated can completely change their attitude towards their work, so encourage leaders to be even more positive during this period. Reinforcing how their role contributes to the bigger picture of the organisation is another simple but effective way of engaging employees, making them feel important and not just another brick in the wall.

Have an open dialogue about mental health

It’s also important to recognise that feeling a little down in the dumps should only happen once in a while. Use Blue Monday as an opportunity to raise the profile of mental health awareness at your company. Employee anxiety and depression remains a hidden problem in many workplaces. According to NHS digital, mental health related issues accounted for one third of all fit to work notes written by GPs between December 2014 and March 2017, and a report by Business in the Community shows that 60% of employees experienced work related mental health issues.

The most depressing day of the year is an opportunity to have a discussion surrounding mental health with staff, and to take a step back and reconsider company strategy towards health issues. This could be anything from setting up exercise programmes, to incorporating mental health awareness into management training.

Of course, these things take time, and won’t be solved in a single day. But Blue Monday can act as a reminder to make mental health a priority.

Be proactive in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Cases of SAD in the workplace are on the rise, particularly amongst office workers who spend most of their days indoors without seeing sunlight. However, companies can do more to tackle this condition and to prevent future cases.

As an HR professional, the sheer amount of responsibilities you have to juggle everyday may make you feel superhuman, but changing the earth’s orbit to give us more daylight in January may be a stretch too far. You can, however, make small changes that make a big difference to employees with SAD. Simple actions like making sure the blinds are fully open to maximise sunlight in the office, providing fresh fruit every week for a vitamin boost, or encouraging employees to leave the office in their lunch breaks to get into the sunshine can go a long way to improving employee wellbeing.

You can find out more about SAD and how to deal with it here.

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