It’s time we banished the Blue Monday myth

Let's ignore the Blue Monday hype and focus on the issues that really matter: raising mental health awareness year round and improving employee engagement.

It’s time we banished the Blue Monday myth

Let’s face it, January can be a drag. With the festive season a fading memory, personal debt mounting up, and the days dark and dreary, it’s not surprising some people feel a bit down. This apparently comes to a head on the third Monday of January, dubbed Blue Monday, officially the most depressing day of the year.

But despite the catchy name, there is no credible scientific evidence to back up Blue Monday – in fact it was conjured up by PR specialists in a 2005 Sky Travel press release to sell holidays. Since then, we have been inundated with articles telling us just how depressing the third Monday of January is.

Rather than serving a useful purpose by highlighting the challenges faced by those who struggle with mental health issues year round, this PR stunt downplays the seriousness of depression and belittles its sufferers.

To combat this, Mind, an organisation that offers support for those with mental health issues, launched their Blue Any Day campaign which aimed to dispel the myth of Blue Monday and remind us that people can suffer from depression at any time of the year.

Stephen Buckley, Mind’s Head of Information, commented that “Blue Monday contributes to damaging misconceptions about depression and trivialises an illness that can be life threatening.”

Likewise, UK charity Samaritans Brew Monday campaign encouraged people to ignore the hype and instead take the time to have a cuppa with anyone that might be going through a hard time.

While awareness around mental health is slowly growing in the workplace, many employees still consider it a taboo subject. Sadly, many sufferers still feel the need to hide their condition from managers and colleagues for fear of being viewed negatively – which only compounds the problem.

From the side of the organisation, a lack of understanding, awareness and training means that managers are often unable to support employees with mental health issues appropriately.

In order for this attitude to shift, people managers must be educated on mental health, and employers must provide the type of environment where staff feel able to discuss such issues without fear of being punished or judged.

While Blue Monday is clearly nonsense, it’s true that January can be a testing time for employees: energy levels are typically low after the festivities of December, not to mention our personal finances, and spring still seems an age away.

This can result in increased absence rates and low productivity, which can have a serious impact on an organisation’s bottom line. Employees may even be tempted to look elsewhere, with plenty of research suggesting January is the month when employees are most likely to consider moving jobs.

While these are serious issues for any organisation, they are generally symptomatic of a greater problem: a disengaged workforce.

So what can organisations do to encourage employee engagement and well-being in the new year and beyond? Here are our 5 top tips:

  1. Take time to help others

While January isn’t everyone’s favourite month, most of us lead relatively happy, healthy and comfortable lives – something that’s very easy to forget. To put things in perspective, why not volunteer to help those in real need?

Charitable work helps us to focus on what we already have, rather than what we are missing, and instills a sense of gratitude. Instead of buying into the Blue Monday mentality, why not arrange for your organisation to have a charity day on the third Monday of January?

  1. Make January a fresh start

Rather than being considered a month to get though, January should be seen as a clean slate, and an opportunity to introduce fresh new ideas and ways of working.

This is the perfect time for employees and organisations to take stock, plan for the future, and set new goals. This process should motivate and stimulate staff, while offering them a clear view of what the year ahead will look like. Make them feel a part of something exciting.

  1. Offer one-off perks

To help make January a more positive experience for employees, HR departments could organise one-off events or initiatives designed to promote employee engagement – and provide that much needed positivity boost.

Why not bring in motivational speakers to inspire your workforce, financial advisors to help people manage their post-Christmas debt, or dieticians to help them make a healthy start to the new year?

  1. Provide a stimulating work environment

Most people spend up to eight hours a day sat in the same seat in the same room, so it’s no surprise that people’s work environment has a massive influence on their happiness and well-being.

Try to create an inclusive, dynamic and comfortable work environment where people actually want to spend time. Stuffy offices with bad lighting and poor air quality should be a thing of the past as we embrace more creative spaces designed for flexible and collaborative working.

It’s not always easy to stay active when working full-time, especially for office-based employees, so anything that encourages your staff to get up and moving is a good idea. This can be done through benefits such as subsidised gym membership or exercise classes. Some forward-thinking organisations are even using Fitbit activity trackers to motivate their staff to move more.

  1. Flexible working

Offering flexible working options can help lower absence rates, as employees are given the freedom to choose working hours that suit them, and have the option of working from home from time to time. This can help employees better handle child care arrangements, look after elderly parents, and avoid rush-hour misery.

Some companies offer a free ‘duvet day’ in addition to regular holidays and sick pay. Employees can use their duvet day on days when they aren’t necessarily ill, but just don’t feel up to work. Knowing that you have the option to take a day off is likely to make people feel less trapped by work, and makes pulling a sickie far less likely.

Whatever you do, remember that engagement is more than just a buzzword. Happy employees are productive ones – so make sure your organisation starts the year on the right foot.