Summarising why HR should banish ‘Blue Monday’: the most depressing day of the year:

  • Whilst engrained in popular culture, the theory of ‘Blue Monday’ – where the third Monday of January is perceived as the most depressing – is in fact the result of a very successful marketing stunt.
  • However, whilst Blue Monday isn’t a real ‘thing’, it is common for businesses to notice a dip in workforce morale at the start of the year. This can be down to a combination of factors, including Seasonal Affective Disorder, overspending and isolation.
  • HR teams can implement several activities to banish the new years blues; including scheduling casual face-to-face catchups, encouraging the booking of annual leave, discussing mental health and promoting positivity.

Ah, the new year. Another 12 months of new adventures, new chances, and a boatload of those classic “new year, new me” vibes. But let’s face it, instead of a shiny beacon of hope, January tends to get a bad rap as the gloomiest stretch on the calendar.

The combination of cold weather, dark days, post-holiday blues and debts from festive spending often make January a month people would rather avoid. The month is also known for being when ‘Blue Monday’ occurs – a time when virtually everyone just feels particularly wretched. And it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

However, all is not as it seems…

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

The cult of Blue Monday

There’s no doubt we can all feel a little disheartened and find it difficult to feel positive at the start of a new year. But, 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. Whilst it all sounded incredibly 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 ongoing cost-of-living crisis, ‘doomscrolling‘ 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? Here’s how you can banish the scourge of Blue Monday…

– Promote casual catchups with colleagues

Encourage your workforce to set aside some time to catch up with each other on non-work-related matters. That will help boost morale and give your homeworking staff some of the social aspects of work they might be missing.

Also, having casual conversations doesn’t have to be restricted to just one’s own team, either. In-person or virtual gatherings between departments can help strengthen workplace relationships, especially if large numbers of your workforce work remotely or off-site.

– Encourage holiday booking

Making sure your HR system is up to date with the latest holiday entitlements – and letting staff know about it – is a useful approach to beating those new year blues and gives your staff something to look forward to. The ability to be able to take time off work to recharge – even if they’re just having a ‘staycation’ – 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.

Recognising 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’. You can learn more about how to encourage a culture of peer-to-peer recognition here.

– Have an open dialogue about mental health

Feeling a little down is normal, especially at a time when we’re all seeing quite a bit of 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 when supporting employees over winter.

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.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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