Blue Monday is often referred to as the most depressing day of the year and, while the research behind this has been repeatedly called into question, the day has hit the mainstream and continues to gather momentum. Starting as a marketing campaign, Blue Monday has received criticism with claims that it trivialises mental health problems as a one day event when in reality people suffer year-round. However, considering the heightened awareness around Blue Monday, it can be utilised as a starting point for employers to start a conversation around mental health and to better understand how their workforces are really feeling.
Mental health in the workplace continues to hit the headlines as one of HR and business’ biggest challenges. As new tech and working trends encroach on our workplaces, it can be difficult to know how they’re affecting people. Are those working remotely feeling isolated? Is the new parent in the team coping with their new part-time schedule? While employers should ensure their workforces feel supported at all times and always able to open up about mental health issues, it can be a difficult subject to broach for many people. It might feel awkward or imposing to ask about someone’s personal feelings in a professional setting, but Blue Monday is an easier opportunity to ask someone how they’re dealing with the January blues, or what they might generally struggle with. Starting a conversation and building awareness is key to ensuring mutual trust and respect between employers and employees.
Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to ignore mental health problems. However evidence shows that it is a very real problem and can have big impacts on engagement, productivity and, ultimately, the success of the workforce. ADP’s Workforce View 2018 report has shown that a fifth of UK workers suffer stress on a daily basis, with a third feeling so stressed that they’re considering finding a new job. However a third (31 per cent) don’t feel their employers are interested in their mental wellbeing. For this reason, there is a people and a business challenge – employers need to support their workers or risk potentially losing them. Workplaces have a duty to offer resources and support when workers face mental health issues, yet simply showing that they are interested in their employees’ wellbeing is just as important.
A simple opening conversation and “How are you?” can have longer-term benefits, but another key thing is to ensure employees know is that they can bring up issues throughout the year. In 2016 Mind ran their #BlueAnyDay campaign to make people aware that mental health issues are not just limited to a day in January, and employers should ensure this is part of the conversation with their employees.
While conversations are often the key support that HR can give their employees, there are many different ways to reach people. Some people are confident opening up and revealing their feelings, while others might need to do so at a greater distant. If employees don’t seem to want to talk, HR can also remind them of any health and wellbeing workplace benefits that can assist them with mental health challenges, or any employee assistance programmes. Some individuals need time to explore things in their own way, and a simple reminder of services available will let them consider in their own time if they want to do anything – and once again remind them that their organisation cares.
Resources, materials and other programmes might not resonate with other personality types though, and another key way to demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to mental health is by showing senior leaders speaking out about it. If those carrying the most authority in a business are shown to feel comfortable opening up, and discuss how it has helped them, then it can once again highlight to employees they are able to do so to as well. HR should try to connect with senior leaders and find anyone able and interested in championing the cause.
Blue Monday may receive a lot of slack but at this point almost everyone is aware of it, making it an easier opening for a difficult topic. By starting these conversations, and doing so in a number of ways that appeals to different kinds of employees, HR can ensure their workers know that their organisation is open and trustworthy. Employees will feel more comfortable about having these conversations – now or in the future.