Happy Blue Monday – officially the most depressing day of the year. Falling on the third Monday of January, Blue Monday was first coined in 2005 and has since been used to denote that sense of fatigue that lingers at the start of any year.
And whilst that miasma of ill feeling hampers productivity and morale, it also has a more worrying side effect – the deterioration of employee mental health.
A recent report from RedArc, a mental health support network, found a 29% average increase in the number of new patient/employee referrals for mental health conditions in January vs. December over a five-year time frame. After the festive rush of Christmas comes to an end, and employers shuffle back to their offices, the reality comes crashing down around them. Such an intense change in such a short period of time has the propensity to impact a person’s psychological state, knocking them into depression.
“Employees with a history of depression, anxiety or other mental health condition can find the winter months and the festive period more difficult to manage,” added Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc.
“However, there’s another type of employee, who has never previously been diagnosed with any mental health issue and may be less aware of their symptoms or embarrassed to seek help. That’s where the day-to-day interaction with an employer can be so powerful in helping signpost a member of staff to meaningful help before things escalate. Not only does this benefit the employee directly but often a positive by-product for the employer is staff retention, reduced absenteeism and improved productivity.”
So, how can you help?
One way to help ease the pains of January Blues is to invest more time and money in your employee benefits. Research has proved again and again that perks help retain top talent – and that companies who chose to ignore benefits miss out on much-needed skills.
Jo Sellick, Managing Director, Sellick Partnership, added: “Employee benefits are one way to avoid this disengagement and also make sure your business retains the best talent. Incentives don’t necessarily need to be expensive, they just have to show your staff that you care about their wellbeing and happiness. Unveiling a new benefits policy on Blue Monday itself could be a great way for employers to bring positivity to the workplace on an otherwise downbeat day.”
According to a recent report, the top five non-financial benefits employers can put in place today are:
- Flexible working
- Extended lunch hours
- Discounted or free gym membership
- Social events
- Mental health support
It’s all about speaking to your staff and finding out what sorts of perks would help improve their day-to-day lives. After all, there’s no sense in implementing a brand-new benefits scheme if it won’t actually aid your workers.
“Business owners and HR teams should try to find perks to suit the particular needs of their workforce,” added Sellick. “For example, if you have a lot of staff who are likely to become parents in the coming years, they will appreciate benefits around additional maternity and paternity support.”
Understanding triggers that employees have around mental health and depression is key to combatting the problem. Feeling down at the start of the year can be linked to financial stress, to overspending and working too much overtime. It’s also a difficult time for employees who’ve recently suffered a bereavement, as well as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Speaking to HRD, chief people officer at League, Kim Tabac, added: “Blue Monday is a time to reflect on mental health. I believe strongly that when it comes to the issue of mental health in the workplace, we are in the midst of an evolution. Organization are all talking about mental health, sizing the problem in financial terms, determining the ROI of making greater investments, and often putting actions in place to help support their employees. Leaders are talking to their employees about their personal experiences with mental health, but unfortunately their experiences seem to mostly be about how they supported other people with their mental health journey, or how someone else's mental health affected them. In order for us to move from evolution to revolution, we need to move from mental health being a personal issue that affects others to one that affects ME.”
Why say something in an email when you can speak to your colleagues face-to-face. Whilst one-on-one meetings are tricky to pull off when your staff work remotely, you can always plan a Skype call or a video chat. Often, depression can escalate when employees feel ‘out of the loop’ – something easily remedied by conversation.
In fact, spending more time talking to your employees could also prevent high levels of turnover and improve retention rates – as Erik Fjellborg, CEO of Quinyx, pointed out.
“With morale low, some staff may even begin to look for opportunities elsewhere,” he explained. “It’s not surprising that January also sees ‘Massive Monday’ - the day of the year when record numbers of jobseekers apply for new positions. Staff retention is a major problem for employers. It may sound simple, but one of the easiest ways to hold on to your workforce is just to show you care. Go that extra mile and get to know your staff members individually.
“By taking the time to understand staff on a more personal level, bosses will demonstrate that employee happiness is a high priority. It will also help to work out the staff members who may not feel so settled, so steps can be taken to address the problem."
Are you worried about engaging your employees? HRD recently reported on how you can invigorate ‘checked out’ staff.