Shaking off the January blues: How employers can help

Sad woman at desk, Blue Monday

Article by John Deacon, Head of Employee Benefits at Buck

Returning to work in January after the festivities of Christmas can feel like a tall order.

It’s no surprise that it’s widely thought of as the gloomiest of months. Indeed, 17 January has been labelled ‘Blue Monday’ – the most depressing day of the year.

This month is an opportunity for employers to really show staff how much they care about their wellbeing and mental health.  Workplace schemes designed to help employees kick start the new year in a positive way are the best places to start and proactively raising awareness of these schemes can prevent the January blues from harming office morale.

Financial hangovers

Almost every household in the UK feels pressure to spend more over Christmas and costs inevitably stack up. Research from the Bank of England estimates that a typical household spends an extra £800 in December compared to usual monthly spending. Credit card debt can mean they continue to have higher costs well into the New Year.

Financial concerns are well-known to have a negative impact on mental health. Constant worry may well start affecting the ability to sleep, leaving staff unable to concentrate and therefore less productive at work. The Close Brothers Financial Wellbeing Index revealed that money worries impacted more than three-quarters of employees at work. Worrying about how to pay off Christmas debt could affect a significant number of staff and also put additional strain on people who are already struggling financially.

Back to work

Spending time and having fun with close friends and relatives during the festive season can make January feel like a stark contrast. Whilst people often joke about the trials and tribulations of spending a lot of time in close quarters with family, returning to work can easily make people feel down.

Whilst New Year’s resolutions can be a great way of setting new personal and professional goals, the additional pressure to stick to them is most keenly felt in January. Only 8% of people end up meeting their goals, leaving the possibility for the remaining 92% to feel a sense of failure whether it’s justified or not.  This can be entrenched by colleagues comparing themselves to each other and can easily affect confidence in the workplace.

Responding the right way

There are a number of cost-effective workplace initiatives employers can adopt to alleviate some of the strain felt by employees. For example, implementing a flexible working scheme will alleviate the financial pressures of commuting as well as allowing employees to ease themselves back into the working environment. Every company is different and implementing this sort of scheme will take time to get right, but research from the CIPD has shown that implementing flexible working practices can improve staff engagement and motivation. Given the drop in productivity, January can be the perfect time to trial it.

Offering rewards can be a huge boost for morale too. A study from Virgin IncentivesA recent study showed that half of British workers would be open to receiving rewards in January instead of Christmas – 78 per cent agreed they were popular because they lifted spirits after the festive period. Schemes such as bonuses or travel subsidies will lift a weight off the shoulders of workers struggling under financial pressures.

Should January be a month where career goals are set, then helping staff set realistic career targets and having a clear and open line of communication about career progression can go some way in making sure staff feel supported when it comes to professional goals.

Finally, it’s important to reiterate the company policy towards supporting mental health in the workplace. Encouraging staff to speak up about their mental health can help start the new year on the front foot. Workers should also be encouraged to give feedback on the current provisions and give employers the chance to establish schemes that are tailored to their specific and evolving needs.

Boo-hoo to the January Blues

Despite the combination of factors that say January should be a blue month, implementing a number of positive workplace schemes that relieve some of the financial and emotional strain on staff can help change the atmosphere of a workplace in a positive way.

With the right actions, employers can use January to reaffirm their position as a source of support and guidance for workers in the year ahead, and reap the benefits of a productive and happy workforce.

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