‘Blue Monday’ refers to, statistically, the most depressing day of the calendar year. Falling on the third Monday of January, it can be a difficult time for the workforce each year.
However, in a year that has looked so different – where national lockdowns have been imposed, remote working has become the norm for most and the boundaries between work and life have been difficult to decipher – employers must be proactive in supporting their workforce during a time where many are struggling.
Due to this, HRreview asked Brian Kropp, Chief of HR Research at Gartner about the top five ways businesses can support employees on Blue Monday.
- Pursue radical flexibility
During 2020, employees were asked to adapt to new ways of working at the same time as managing the various challenges and anxieties bought on by the coronavirus pandemic. They tapped into a reservoir of good will to get through it but are now running on empty.
Part of the problem is the outdated notion that remote workers skive off, which creates pressure for employees to be ‘always on’ and appear busy. We have found that many employees have actually been working more hours and taking less breaks during the pandemic, creating a perfect storm of stress and fatigue.
Businesses and HR teams need to make employees feel comfortable about being flexible and taking time out when they need to. They need to oversee a general culture shift – staff should be judged on the quality of their work, not when they are choosing to do it.
2. Think about life experiences
Before the pandemic, businesses thought about employee experience as the time an employee was present in the office. However, since the shift to remote working, companies have been quite literally seeing into the lives of employees and, therefore, have more opportunities to make a difference.
HR teams should be taking the time to understand each individual employee and find ways to positively impact their lives beyond work. This could involve supporting certain socio-political campaigns, providing wellness support for employees’ family members, or offering tuition services for their children.
These types of initiatives demonstrate care for employees, and our studies show they can increase good mental health from 54 per cent to 77 per cent. It goes without saying that a happier employee is a more productive one, so there are clear business advantages here.
3. Build deeper social connections
We are getting to the stage where some employees haven’t seen their colleagues for a whole year, and many desperately miss their day-to-day social interactions in the office. Virtual Zoom meetings can only be effective for so long, and organisations need to find new ways to maintain (or rebuild) staff relationships.
Fortunately, technology provides a multitude of options, and some companies are starting to experiment with things like online gaming, virtual exercise sessions or cooking classes. If this is too much, a simpler approach would be to mix up project teams and get more people collaborating.
Businesses should also be training managers to build better deeper social connections with staff. Emotional support has actually been more valuable than practical support in helping employees maintain performance during the pandemic.
4. Create variety around digital experiences
We’ve heard the term ‘digital fatigue’ a lot recently, which we often link back to the amount of Zoom or Teams meetings we’re having during the working day. However, digital fatigue is happening in all areas of life. Television and smartphone consumption for example has rocketed as people look for ways to stay entertained and connected.
Employees are spending a significant amount of time staring at screens which is not good for mental and physical wellbeing. Businesses should try to create variety around digital experiences at work to break this up. For example, could you insist on a walking meeting, make certain calls off-camera, or create breaks within the working day?
5. Ensure employees are taking time out
During 2020, we saw a trend of employees holding onto paid leave in the hope that they could use it upon the easing of lockdowns. At the end of the year, companies had vast amounts of staff with large amounts of unused holiday.
Having witnessed the early stages of a coronavirus vaccine roll-out and a possible end to the pandemic, employees are adopting a similar approach with their holiday time this year. The irony is that with the challenges of remote working and the intensity of life in a pandemic, taking time off has never been more important.
On Blue Monday this year, businesses should encourage employees to use their annual leave to get the rest that they need. The more generous employer might consider rolling out a mental health day, giving staff time off to relax and think about their wellbeing.
Brian Kropp is Chief of HR Research at Gartner, a global research and advisory firm. Brian’s previous interview with HRreview can be found here.