Beating Blue Monday

Blue Monday is set to take place on Monday 17 January 2022. This marks the supposedly “most depressing day of the year.”  Whilst the come-down after the festive period is undeniable – many are worn out from running from pillar to post and entertaining those family members, who for the most part, are successfully avoided. However, there has been growing criticism in previous years over the toll such a day takes on individuals who are already struggling with their mental health. Many worry in advance, thinking the Monday will be gloomier than all others. As such, it’s important for employers to leverage their stance on this carefully, to ensure they are supporting their people in the best possible way.

First, addressing Blue Monday as an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health can provide more benefit than simply acknowledging its existence in the calendar. Similarly, providing extra resources in the week immediately preceding and following the 17th ensures employees are adequately supported during this time. According to the NHS, the winter blues — or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — may affect around two million people in the UK, listing the key symptoms as: depression; sleep problems; lethargy; overeating; irritability; plus feeling down and unsociable. However, employers are able to implement simple measures to alleviate these difficulties and ensure the smooth continuation of operations.

Getting outdoors and into natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on bright days, can improve employees’ mental health. Keeping active, for example by going on a walk during lunch breaks, can provide equal benefits. As such, employers may wish to consider extending lunch breaks during the winter months or organise lunch walks for their staff members. Alternatively, employers may be able to offer temporary hybrid working arrangements or flexibility with their working hours, too allow for more time off during daylight. Where this isn’t practical, employers should consider the proximity of workspaces to windows and doors and re-arrange office furniture to maximise exposure to daylight. Doing so can improve an employee’s motivation and satisfaction, which in turn increases their productivity and performance.

Unsurprisingly, healthy eating can be a mood booster that gives the body and mind more energy. Encouraging or providing healthy breakfasts and snacks in the workplace can motivate employees to focus on self-improvement whilst enabling them to perform better at work. The offering of an employee assistance programme can further improve wellbeing by providing access to professional mental health resources, such as trained counsellors and guided meditation sessions.

Opening up is important too. According to Bupa’s Workplace Wellbeing Census, 71% of people say having an approachable manager in the past made them feel comfortable enough to raise their own specific wellbeing issues. As such, introducing emotional intelligence and/or mental health training to managers can be of significant benefit. Similarly, the provision of a mental health first aider in the workplace can help identify early signs of emotional distress in employees, so intervention can be made before the situation escalates.

Whilst implementing such measures may seem like an unnecessary expense to employers, those who do so reap the rewards and costs associated with reduced sickness absences, improved retention (so reduced recruitment and training costs) and an overall increase in business productivity, which ultimately boosts profitability and success. Therefore, it is clear the benefits of recognising winter blues as a real struggle, any taking steps to mitigate the difficulties it bring, far out way any perceptions that it is best to do nothing at all.

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