What is Blue Monday?

As it is, Mondays can be tough for all of us. It is the day of the week staff are most likely to call in sick. The the third Monday in January has been dubbed blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. The day when it really dawns on people that the celebrations are truly over, winter has us in its grip, debts from Christmas may be mounting up and the pressure of new year’s resolutions are stifling.

Why should we care about Blue Monday? 

Essentially caring about Blue Monday recognises that we all have days where our mental health may suffer, but that there are steps we can all take all year round to protect it. The major risk factors for mental ill-health such as: poverty, trauma, loneliness, ongoing stress, instability and physical ill-health do not just affect us in January. In the UK the long, cold and grey winters negatively impact most people I know, which can exacerbate low moods and long-term mental-ill health. 

The question for employers is, what should I be doing all year round and what could I do more of?  Especially when there are specific points during the year where my team and staff could be feeling more vulnerable.

What can workplaces do to show they care about Blue Monday?

If a majority of us are feeling low at work, even temporarily, what can workplaces do? You may think it’s all about the individual. However, there are initiatives that can be implemented in the workplace to support staff on a short and long-term basis.

1. Provide a duvet day

Let your staff have a duvet day. Essentially, a day that employees can take when they do not feel at their mental best, often at short notice without having to divulge personal information. This is a  set allocated number of days that can be taken whenever the employee wants a day off, aside from sick and annual leave. Putting this in place allows staff to be more open and honest, increasing trust with their employer. It also means presenteeism is less likely, which currently costs the UK economy £15.1 billion/annum compared with £8.4 billion/annum for absenteeism. (BUPA Health Matters Report 2016). This may not be possible for all professions, but where it can be done it’s certainly worth considering.

2. Have the conversation that may seem tricky

Equipping line managers to have the conversation about mental wellbeing can be a game changer. It could be that staff are experiencing a low mood for a short period of time. However, when these feelings continue for several weeks and the symptoms worsen or deepen, it could be clinical depression. Knowing how to have the conversation and spot the signs (not diagnose) can be crucial to encourage people to seek support and professional help in time. One of the most effective tools for managing mental ill-health (post-diagnosis) in the workplace, is a wellness recovery and action plan® or WRAP® for short. Find out more by accessing my e-book The Mentally Healthy Leading Manager. 

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide

A topic many people and organisations feel very uncomfortable speaking about is suicide, but it’s very real. Each year around 6,000 people in the UK (ONS data) take their own lives. Providing appropriate workplace training will equip everyone with skills on how to have the conversation about suicide, should the situation arise. It also takes the fear away from the subject, enabling more people in the workplace to be signposted to appropriate help. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA training) does exactly this. The two-day course gives delegates the confidence to recognise the signs of mental-ill health, talk about suicide and a framework to have a supportive conversation. If you are short on time, I have developed a one-day suicide prevention course, you can find out more by contacting me. You may like to listen to my podcast episode on Why and How to talk about Suicide at Work. 

4. Promote the support you have available

Promote employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and other sources of in-house support, more than you think you need to! EAPs are fantastic and a way for staff to access immediate confidential counselling or professional advice. However, in most organisations they are very under-utilised. That’s not for lack of trying, but staff only start to search for help when faced with a problem or they hit a crisis point. Invite your EAP in as often as possible, have posters on the back of toilet doors, promote their services on digital screens and use relevant communication channels. The more staff access EAPs, the more likely they are to get help sooner rather than later.

5. Check-in at Team Meetings

Make checking-in on how everyone feels an integral part of team meetings, prior to getting down to business. Before a team meeting ask an open question to see how everyone is doing. By talking about feelings openly this creates a culture where people can be honest and sincere. In addition, other team members can provide appropriate ideas and this results in better camaraderie and team support.

So, Blue Monday may affect all of us, but there are steps employers can take to make it easier. By promoting mental wellbeing and addressing mental-ill health for a more positively productive workplace.

Let me know what you do to support staff at your workplace in January and throughout the year.