How managers can deal with Blue Monday

18 January 2016 -

“033JanuaryBlues"

Officially the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday can be a challenge for managers looking to handle the wellbeing of their staff

Jermaine Haughton

Landing on the third Monday of January every year, Blue Monday is officially the most depressing day of the year. Discovered by Cardiff University lecturer Cliff Arnall, Blue Monday has become widely recognised in the UK and abroad highlighting the importance of mental health care, despite drawing some criticism from detractors.

For many workers, getting out of bed, into the shower and onto the daily commute will suddenly feel much more difficult than usual on January 18th, as the Blue Monday doom and gloom sets in.

Arnall proposes that many individuals feel down on their luck on the day, as New Year hopes diminish, the freezing weather becomes more apparent, the unpaid credit card bills from Christmas arrive and the reality that the summer is far, far away sets in.

According to counsellingdirectory.org.uk, a directory of qualified counsellors and psychotherapists, traffic to their site increases by 31% in January, peaking on Blue Monday. Moreover, analysis by Upbeat has found that more than two million tweets by Britons in January include negative language and indicate a substantial drop in their mood.

Statistics show one in four adults will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life, illustrating how it can affect people from all walks of life. There are a variety of different conditions, and people can often show different symptoms. But those suffering from depression typically tend to exhibit feelings of sadness and a loss of interest, while workplace stress can lead to emotional breakdowns and mood swings.

For some, feelings of depression, anxiety and stress occur during a particular time of the year (such as winter), and this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

WORK STRESSES

The ‘workaholic culture,’ assisted by the availability of smartphones, emails and cloud computing has blurred the lines for many professionals between work and personal life over the past decade. And the failure to switch off exacerbates the risk of developing mental health issues, due to workers never truly relaxing and burning themselves out.


Find out how the always on culture is driving workplace stress

In a recent BUPA study, researchers showed a connection between workplace stress and other serious illnesses, leading to staff taking more sick days. The report found those at senior manager level have the second highest absence rate after graduates, with 35% admitting to taking sick days.

Unfortunately in many companies, workers at all levels feel embarrassed or even afraid to talk to their manager or colleagues about their mental health problems - fearing they will be labelled weak and untrustworthy.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, reassures employers that they can deal with mental health issues effectively and gain major long term benefits by incorporating the issue into manager training.

She said: “Equipping managers with the skills they need to spot and tackle early signs of stress and mental health problems is vital. When you manage someone with a mental health problem, as it is with any other employee, regular communication is important.

“Many managers are concerned about doing the wrong thing, but if you’re unsure how best to support someone just ask what they need, focus on the person rather than the problem, and avoid making assumptions about how their symptoms might impact their ability to do their job. Many people can manage their condition and perform to a high standard.”

Two other significant ways managers can help support staff in overcoming their mental health woes is by offering regular health checks to all employees and making staff help an active and unifying part of the corporate values and policies.

By taking the lead and ordering health check-ups for staff on a range of physical and mental conditions, bosses can take a proactive step towards reassuring stressed workers who feel anxious about opening up about their struggles.

According to BUPA, an occupational health service can boost confidence levels in employees, increase morale and bump up awareness of health issues, as well as transform areas where we need to see change. Yet only 60% of people surveyed haven’t been offered any medical support in their jobs, even though 62% say they would find it useful to receive regular check-ups.

Furthermore, maintaining staff health and happiness should be at the heart of the company’s focus. From health risk management and drug and alcohol screening to health surveillance and absence management, putting an occupational health scheme in place can make a world of difference to all employees.

Managers should also not be afraid to encourage staff to take on significant lifestyle changes, such as eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking more water and doing more exercise.

Peter Jefford, master practitioner of NLP and master business coach, said that employers are required to provide workers with the resources to best handle their responsibilities.

He said: “Imagine trying to avoid all the potential sources of stress around us. If we didn’t have some stress in our lives then we would hardly be living – so the axiom is ‘too much and you burn, too little and you rust’ – we simply have to maintain a healthy equilibrium. To improve our health, success and happiness we need to accept that we will regularly experience some degree of stress, learn to recognise how and when it starts, treat it as a welcome warning indicator and do something useful in response to it.

“More managers are now discovering how to help themselves and their staff to respond to stress more creatively and thereby sustain both a higher level of work performance and a healthier lifestyle. Even introducing some new phrases into the language of the organisation gets people talking in a way that begins to break down that old taboo!”