The third Monday in January is now recognised as the day many feel at their lowest. We’re in that post-Christmas slump, the enduring darkness of the winter months draining our mood and motivation.
In reality, the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ only serves to make workplace mental health worse. The construct in itself, and the hyperbole surrounding the day, promotes a negative mindset in staff – particularly in those already struggling with mental health issues and wanting to start the New Year on a better, more positive foot.
This year, businesses should look to turn Blue Monday on its head. Leaders must take steps to boost team positivity, happiness and wellbeing, so that each employee feels supported and mentally prepared – in a professional and personal capacity – for the year ahead.
So, what can leaders do to tackle Blue Monday head on? Here are four steps to take to make Blue Monday less blue and create happier, mentally healthier teams:
Organise a fun team-building activity day
Whether in or away from the office, set up a fun activity day on Blue Monday – a ‘cascade’ or ‘pyramid’ event, for instance. Working from the top down, first outline the overarching business goals for the year ahead. Next, split off into departments to discuss and plan how each department supports the evolution and success of the business. Then break off into smaller groups to organise how team members can achieve this on an individual basis, either with a colleague or line manager. In doing so, you will create a sense of cohesion and aligned thinking between and within teams, where each employee can contribute to the overall business direction and therefore look forward positively to what’s to come in the year ahead.
Run a wellbeing strategy day
Blue Monday is a great day to listen to and learn about your people. Devote the time to discover and understand the needs and wants of employees from a wellbeing perspective, by organising a wellbeing strategy day. This can take the form of focus groups or a big round-table knowledge event, to discuss what wellbeing means for staff and what your organisation is aiming to achieve in the new year regarding health and wellbeing. Wellbeing needs will be as diverse as each individual, so find out the specific challenges different staff may face, where staff may need more support, and how you can implement that support. You’ll walk away with a long list of challenges and goals, which you can then turn into a realistic action plan.
An effective policy to discuss and implement for the best work/life balance for all staff is ‘permission to pause’. This will give employees the ability to stop and take some ‘me time’ within each working day, without feeling guilty for not working. Or you could introduce ‘time to talk’ slots each week. This can be either in-office or virtual, where for an hour anybody from different departments can pitch up, meet new colleagues and have open discussions in a safe space dedicated to shared support.
For anyone working in the accountancy and finance world, it is important to recognise that the industry is cyclical, with highs and lows of workload and stress throughout the working year. Using Blue Monday to plan the implementation of different strategies at different times of the year can help. For example, consider setting compulsory time away from the desk in your team’s calendars at tax return, to make sure people aren’t burning themselves out, or organising onsite wellbeing activities at the busiest time of the year to show that looking after employee physical and mental wellbeing is just as important as the work.
While some may find appraisals daunting, it can also be a good idea to plan appraisals for Blue Monday. Staff can then focus on their goals – what they want to achieve personally and professionally within that year – with their manager. It is important to ensure that those conducting appraisals have EQ (Emotional Intelligence) training prior to the meeting, to understand their own and others’ emotions and thus be able to incorporate in a more human element.
Redefine the purpose of the appraisal by placing person over performance and asking the appraisee what their wellbeing goals are. If an individual wants to find more time in their working day for exercise, make them aware how the business can support them to achieve that goal, for instance by organising more walking meetings, ‘permission to pause’ slots or offering onsite activities and classes. Making sure your appraisals focus on both professional and personal development demonstrates your care for each employee, nurturing a more positive and ultimately motivated mindset.
Have a post-work team get-together
It might not be the first thing on people’s minds after Christmas work parties and festive over-indulgence, but having a get-together after work on Blue Monday can ensure that a stereotypically ‘bad’ day ends on a positive note. It will give the team a mini-celebration to look forward to, motivating them throughout the day. It also maintains a line of support between colleagues and managers, where any struggles or difficulties faced throughout the day can be talked about in a more informal setting.
The most important thing is to keep an open line of communications with staff on Blue Monday. Employees must feel comfortable to speak openly about any challenges and needs, and confident in the business’s devotion to walk the walk and actionably support everyone’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Oliver Henry is a workplace wellbeing expert and the co-founder of WorkLifeWell.
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