How to beat the Blue Monday blues

Is ‘Blue Monday’ the prompt employers need to tackle mental health issues at work? Here are five key steps for businesses to follow to help their employees beat the Blue Monday Blues.

December may have been the most wonderful time of the year, but January can knock the wind out of the best of us. The 15th of January is Blue Monday this year, which is reportedly the most depressing day on the calendar.

While Mental health charity, Mind is dismissive of Blue Monday, effects of miserable weather, debt and post-Christmas blues traditionally kicks into gear in mid-January. Mental health experts suggest that employers actively work towards making their teams feel supported.

Over 40 per cent of workers say that winter negatively affects their mental wellbeing and over a third suffer from or have suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Absence management expert, Adrian Lewis, director at Activ Absence, believes the day could serve as a positive reminder for employers to think about reducing employee absenteeism this year and especially tackling mental health issues.

“Every year, companies report a spike in levels of absenteeism at this time of year. Blue Monday may not be based on scientific fact, but it increases awareness of mental health issues, which can only be a good thing,” he explains. “It can encourage employers to think about how they can reduce absence levels by understanding why people are taking time off sick. They can then offer support where needed, which can help improve productivity, reduce absenteeism and save money in the long run.”

The Centre of Economic and Business Research suggests that workplace absence costs the UK economy £18 billion in lost productivity, which is set to rise to £21 billion in 2020 and £26 billion in 2030. A rise in mental health issues is a major contributor to increased levels of absenteeism.

On average, employees suffering from a mental health-related illness take eight days leave, with two in five (44 per cent) taking more than 10 days.

A 2017 Business in the Community report highlighted that three out every five employees have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work and almost a third of the workforce has been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue. The most common diagnosis was depression or general anxiety.

“Tackling the root causes of absenteeism will be priority for many employers this year and it will be important for them to focus on long term patterns rather than single days such as Blue Monday,” says Lewis.

“Whilst employers can expect a spike in absence levels in January often due to post Christmas blues, there are days throughout the year where we see sickness absence rise, for example, it is almost always higher on a Monday and on a Tuesday following a bank holiday.”

He advises employers to record and monitor absence levels in a very transparent way. This alone can reduce absence rates. “It will highlight trends which will give managers warning signs that perhaps people are suffering from bigger problems including mental health issues.”

“If employers understand the causes of absenteeism they can put policies in place to support their staff before things get out of control. Investing in absence management software can help managers across the business keep track of absence and can be an effective tool to reduce absenteeism in 2018.”

A study into workplace happiness post-Christmas from workplace consultants, Peldon Rose, indicates that most employees have a high level of self-awareness when it comes to their own happiness. A significant majority of workers say winter has a negative effect on their mental wellbeing, with half believing it adversely affects their mood and over a third stating that winter affects productivity.

Contributing to this depressed mood is the workplace and the fact that 56 per cent of employees, according to the survey, feel unappreciated or only sometimes appreciated by their company. A third believe their office environment has a negative effect on their wellbeing and 54 per cent specifically state that a cold office negatively impacts their mood in the winter.

Survey highlights

  • Seasonal blues: 45 per cent believe winter has a negative effect on motivation, 42 per cent of workers say that winter has a negative effect on their mental wellbeing and over a third state winter affects productivity.
  • SAD and sickies: Over a third suffer from or have suffered from SAD and 55 per cent feel like taking a sickie during the winter months.
  • Office failures: Employees said that a cold office (54 per cent) and fluorescent office lighting (39 per cent) negatively impact their mood in the winter.
  • Workspace woes: Over half feel unappreciated or only sometimes appreciated by their company, while almost a third of employees believe the office environment has a negative impact on your happiness and wellbeing.
  • Working on wellbeing: A good heating system (96 per cent), exposure to natural light (94 per cent), breakout space (92 per cent), quiet settings (87 per cent) and an open culture which encourages honest dialogue about mental health benefits (87 per cent) are considered most valuable to employee wellbeing.

According to Peldon Rose CEO Jitesh Patel, there are plenty of ways that employers can help their employees counter winter blues and companies need to push change from the top down. Revising the office environment is an important first initiative for businesses aiming to start the year with a healthy, productive workforce and they survey respondents identified improving their office environment as key to tackling the winter blues.

Good heating

Some 96 per cent of employees consider a good heating system as the most important factor in supporting their mental health and wellbeing at work. With shorter days, cold weather and a cold office rated as the top three negative impacts on mood in the winter, employers need to ensure the office is at a temperature suitable for their employees.

Exposure to natural light

Nine out of ten employees say that exposure to natural light is important to their wellbeing. However, over a fifth of employees said they are not exposed to natural light in the office. Wherever possible, businesses should introduce natural light into the workplace, remove obstacles obstructing light and reconfigure furniture to gain optimum natural light.

Breakout spaces

Some 92 per cent of employees believe that social spaces are valuable in the workplace, helping support healthy mental wellbeing. Workplaces that encourage bringing people together and building friendships will help improve employee wellbeing in the office. 

Quiet settings

Although 87 per cent of workers say that quiet areas support their wellbeing at work, 44 per cent said that they do not have these areas to retreat to. To ensure everyone’s needs are supported in the office, businesses should create a range of spaces which staff can enjoy according to their personality type, mood and work.

Open culture

An open and honest dialogue about mental health wellbeing is valued by the vast majority of respondents (87 per cent), yet half said they do not feel like they can open up to their colleagues about mental health. Creating an open culture should start from the top down to encourage sharing and help improve employee wellbeing.

“The first initiative is for businesses to properly understand and then meet employee needs such as good heating, exposure to natural light, office facilities and opportunities to get people more physically active,” Patel adds. “Then businesses should tailor the workplace and office environment around them and their identified needs. By doing this it will help improve wellbeing and mood and ultimately help boost productivity.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.