Blue Monday: Should HR banish the most depressing day of the year?

New year, new horizons, new opportunities… We’ve all heard the clichés about the start of a new year being a time for reinvention and hope. But in reality, rather than a time of hope, January is often portrayed as the most miserable time of the year.

The combination of cold and gloomy weather, short days, post-holiday blues and debts from festive spending has reinforced the popular misconception that the third Monday of January (known as ‘Blue Monday’) is particularly wretched. And it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

Should HR banish Blue Monday: the most depressing day of the year?

However, all is not as it seems…

The cult of Blue Monday

Whilst there’s no doubt we can all feel a little disheartened and find it difficult to feel energised after an enjoyable festive season, the idea of a specific day where everyone is especially downhearted is something of a Fugazi – it just doesn’t exist! In fact, you could argue it’s perhaps one of the most successful-ever marketing stunts.

The origin of the dreaded ‘Blue Monday’ was a press release from Sky Travel in 2005 that used an equation to calculate the most depressing day of the year. However, whilst it all sounded plausible and clearly gained a huge amount of public attention, the science behind it was practically non-existent.

The original author of this concept and equation was stated as Cliff Arnall, who at the time was a lecturer at Cardiff University. However, it was later discovered by a Guardian reporter that the press release was pre-written by a PR agency. Arnall simply created the ‘pseudoscience’ equation to inspire people to make bolder life decisions – rather than highlight a particularly miserable date. He’s now actively helping to debunk the fallacy of Blue Monday!

So, there you have it: Blue Monday doesn’t exist. But, the story shouldn’t end there…

Blue Monday may not exist, but shouldn’t be ignored

Just because Blue Monday is a product of marketing rather than bona fide science, it doesn’t mean people don’t find the first month of the year tough going.

It’s common to notice a dip in workforce morale at the start of the year – and this year will likely be no different. The pressures of COVID restrictions, tighter finances or even just the fact we’re in the dead of winter can all add up to make employees more susceptible to burnout, stress and poor mental wellbeing.

So, with employee wellbeing and productivity potentially at stake, what can HR do to help their employees during this difficult time?

– Promote casual catchups with colleagues

While face-to-face gatherings like after-work drinks or team lunches are being discouraged at the moment, it doesn’t mean that employees have to miss touching base with each other.

Encourage your workforce to set aside some time to catch up with each other on non-work-related matters that will boost morale and give homeworking staff some of the social aspects of work they might be missing. Also, having casual conversations online doesn’t have to be restricted to just one’s own team, either. Virtual gatherings between departments can help strengthen workplace relationships, especially at a time when people are working apart from each other.

– Encourage holiday booking

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 new year blues.

While the prospect of being on a sunny beach in a few months’ time is still uncertain, the ability to be able to take time off work to recharge – even if from home – may be just what some of your staff need.

– Positivity all round

Managers should give positive feedback when appropriate 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 and managers within your organisation to be even more positive during this period. Reinforcing how employees’ roles contribute to the bigger picture of the organisation is another simple but effective way of engaging people, making them feel important and not just another ‘cog in the machine’.

– Have an open dialogue about mental health

Feeling a little down is normal, especially at a time when all we see around us is more negative news. Mental health has rightly become a priority for many businesses, and it’s important this awareness continues well into the year.

Take the discussion around Blue Monday as an opportunity to speak about mental health with staff. It’s also a good time to reconsider company strategies towards health issues; this could be anything from collating resources and information that you can refer employees to in your HR portal, to incorporating mental health awareness into management training – you could even look at the possibility of introducing mental health first aiders.

Of course, these things take time, and won’t be solved in a single day. But Blue Monday can act as a reminder to keep mental health a priority. Check out mental health charity Mind for some great resources on the topic.

– Be proactive in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

For some employees, Blue Monday may be an indication of a more serious problem, such as SAD. Of course, you can’t lengthen the daylight hours in January, but you can initiate small changes that might make a big difference to employees with SAD.

Allowing more flexible working arrangements like a later start time or encouraging time off during this period can go a long way to improving employee wellbeing for those particularly affected by the winter months. You can find out more about SAD and how to deal with it here.

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