January 17th 2022 heralds the return of “Blue Monday”- billed as the most depressing day of the year. For businesses across all sectors, the day serves as a stark reminder of the importance of prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of their people. The post-Christmas period has long been considered a challenging time for many with the general malaise of returning to the office combining with miserable weather and financial struggles that accompany the long gap between December and January’s pay packet.
Whilst recent years have exposed the concept of Blue Monday being a uniquely depressing day as a bit of a pseudoscientific falsehood, there still exists a huge wealth of evidence which suggests that absence rates as a result of mental health do in fact see a marked increase during the first half of the year.
It also cannot be ignored that we are still in the midst of a global health crisis, with absence rates related to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 projected to cost the UK economy roughly $48 billion. With absenteeism skyrocketing as a result of this new transmissible variant, businesses are scrambling for ways to ensure they can remain open and operational. It is clear therefore that even if Blue Monday is considered by some to be a bit of a myth, the reality that businesses must focus on supporting the mental wellbeing of their people is more stark than ever.
We wanted to explore Blue Monday as a concept and to take a deep dive into some of the elements which contribute to the winter months having such a fundamental impact on our emotional wellbeing.
Ultimately however, the most important factor will be understanding the struggles facing your people and what you can do as an organisation to support their needs and craft an absence management policy which takes into account the unique challenges presented by the winter months.
What is Blue Monday?
The term, which has its origins in a 2005 document published by travel company, Sky Travel- Blue Monday refers to the supposed “Most depressing day of the year.” Sky Travel’s determination takes into account a variety of factors including weather, debt levels and the stresses of returning to work after the Christmas period. The day is usually accepted to fall across the second or third Monday of January, representing particularly low levels of motivation once the return to work post-Christmas is properly embedded.
Whilst in recent years the validity of a single date representing a totem pole of work related malaise and depression has been called into question, it is a very case that Mondays- particularly those occurring within the first half of the year, represent a huge upswing in employee absence rates. Absence rates on a Monday are generally DOUBLE that of a Friday, especially in those winter months of January and February.
For businesses, whether Blue Monday as a singular entity exists or not is a bit of a moot point. There is a clear indication that the early months of each year herald a significant uptick in incidences of absences, all of which point to a pattern of unhappiness and disengagement which can have a significant impact on an organisation’s ability to remain operational.
How to look after your people
Supporting your people can make a huge difference when it comes to their engagement and wellbeing and even just an acknowledgement of the challenges facing them can act as the foundation to creating a more inclusive and supportive working environment.
So what steps can you take to look after your people this Blue Monday?
1.) Be open: One of the greatest obstacles facing business leaders when tackling the issue of employee wellbeing is the perceived stigma around mental health discussions within the workplace. Even pre-pandemic, there was a sense that this was a somewhat uncomfortable, almost taboo subject with many who suffered from mental illness feeling as though they were unable to lean on their employers for support. A report by Mental Health UK suggests that 47% of the people surveyed felt they had experienced discrimination within the workplace as a result of mental illness, with 55% saying they could not disclose information about their mental health to their colleagues. Businesses must be open in their approach to mental wellbeing and ensure that they are crafting and promoting an environment where their people don’t feel the need to suffer in silence and can be vocal about their struggles without the fear of judgment or recrimination.
2.) Leading by example: Any successful initiatives surrounding wellbeing and engagement can only ever be driven from the top. People are far more savvy at sussing out performative, token gestures, particularly in the workplace and it will be important therefore, that business owners are demonstrating a commitment to wellbeing that goes beyond the Blue Monday phenomenon. Craft policy which folds wellbeing into the wider tapestry of your company culture, encourage regular catch ups and wellbeing breaks, as well as encouraging employees to share how they choose to unwind.
3.) Keeping connected: Time and attendance (T&A) systems aren’t tools to punish your people through – they’re influential and transformative technology which can enable you to stay connected with your workforce, no matter how disparate and widespread they become. When considering the wellbeing of your people in the post-Christmas period, it is vitally important that regardless of where an employee chooses to work for, that they receive the same experience and the same level of support. The best T&A solutions offer employee dashboards which can serve as a central hub for company information, allowing you to push out information on relevant wellbeing initiatives, as well as offering a platform for employees to reach out if they feel they are struggling.
4.) Encourage time off: Even as workforce shortages bring unprecedented strain to bear on many organisations, business leaders remain keenly aware of the fact that annual leave and breaks away from the workplace are a vital component of the employee experience. For this reason, many organisations are looking at how their time and attendance and workforce management solutions can help support them through the automation of scheduling and ensuring relevant cover can be found at the touch of a button. By removing the arduous and time intensive elements of workforce management, organisations are more well positioned to encourage their people to take a well deserved break and recharge their batteries.
5.) Understanding through data: The systems and technology that you use to manage time and attendance can be leveraged in far more influential ways than many of us appreciate. When looking at the issue of Blue Monday and the wider challenge of employee wellbeing, it is important to have a broad understanding of patterns of absence within your business and when peaks of time off occur. The best T&A solutions should allow you access to these key metrics at the touch of a button, pulling through relevant reports which can greatly help influence your understanding of when particular trends of absence can occur. By understanding when such incidences occur, you are better placed to focus your HR efforts around those specific periods, engaging with your people directly in order to gain a more intuitive understanding of why they may be struggling.
Balancing the needs of the business with the very human need to take time away from work is an everyday challenge for HR professionals and it is one that is only heightened during post-Christmas period
Whilst Blue Monday as a singular phenomenon has been largely debunked as a myth, businesses still need to take steps to ensure that they have the policy and framework in place to help support their people teams in the winter months, with a clear defined absence management policy to help their employees understand when leave may be appropriate and to also keep incidences of absence at a minimum.
Organisations also need to ensure they are leaning on their T&A solutions to help inform them of particular patterns of absence, in order to ensure they can identify crucial periods where their people may be struggling and ensure that they are crafting policies specifically to support them.
At Mitrefinch, an Advanced company, we believe in the power of technology to help empower your people to achieve more. Our Time and Attendance solution is designed by experts in the industry to provide your organisation with the visibility and oversight you need to be able to identify key trends of absence and ensure you are better positioned to support your people in the post-Christmas period.
If you’d like to find out more about how Mitrefinch, an Advanced company, can help you tackle absences within your organisation, get in touch with one of our friendly team members today.