Today is Blue Monday, the day dubbed the most depressing of the year. It comes slap bang in the middle of January, which is arguably the year’s worst month. The days are short, the weather is often terrible, and it follows on from the merriment of the Christmas break; no wonder January blues exist.
Blue Monday – the third Monday in January – is often the most brutal part of the month because individuals’ finances are squeezed the most given employees are often paid much earlier in December than other months.
As a result, Blue Monday is a day where motivation is at an all-time low and productivity is suffering; this situation is also unlikely to improve as January (and the associated blues) drags on for another two weeks.
This is a concern for companies who want employees to be hustling after a restful Christmas break. It is their responsibility to step up and support employees through this hard part of January (and the year as a whole) – not only is it the right thing to do, but it is good for business.
1. Set boundaries at work
The shift to remote working as a result of the pandemic has completely changed the way people work.
While there have been some positives – no longer wasting two hours a day and huge amounts of money commuting – working from home has blurred the boundary between work and leisure. Many workers feel like they are actually living at work and are struggling to switch off.
Since the future of work is not going to see a full-time return to the office for most – and the pandemic is continuing to require fully remote working for millions across the world – now is the time for companies to step up and implement boundaries at work.
Wellbeing tech platform Kaido recommends that employers push workers to “switch off notifications for a short while to help regain focus and control of your workload.”
While communication platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack make it possible for teams to work collaboratively together, “it is also vital to set boundaries and make sure you take time to focus to allow you to deal with the task at hand,” notes Kaido. “Though being always contactable can be great for quick responses, it is also important to relieve yourself from the pressures of always being switched on.”
“Meanwhile, setting boundaries for how and when you’ll use your phone or turning off alerts could help you avoid doom-scrolling your way through the month (and year!).” This is a tip not just for people’s working lives, but also to reduce their stress in their personal lives.
Employers could further leverage tech to help companies switch off. For instance by not allowing employees access to their emails or their Microsoft Teams notifications outside of working hours.
This is a priority for employers like Dropbox. The tech company’s head of international HR Laura Ryan told UNLEASH that it leverages Workday’s ‘unplugged time off’ capability. This allows employees to choose whether they want to shut down their access to email and other work notifications while they are on annual leave.
Ryan notes that during the pandemic, usage of this feature grew by 200% “because people had nowhere to go. So even when they were off, they were still connected to work”.
It is high time that other employers follow suit.
2. Encourage workers to take regular breaks
Along a similar vein, Kaido calls on employees to take a break. Taking breaks is ultimately good to keep you focused and can help with productivity. It also allows you to step back from your work and see the bigger picture.
Just Eat for Business managing director Matt Ephgrave agrees. “Staring at a screen all day without taking a fresh air break and moving your body can have negative implications on your mental health. Staying physically active throughout the day and taking shorter breaks more often will increase productivity and motivation.”
This is particularly important at lunchtime. “When you’re working at home, it’s so easy to just eat at your desk while scrolling through emails, but we all need time away to recharge and reset our energy levels. Block out a time in your diary and commit to taking that time as lunch,” explains Kaido.
But this is all much easier said than done, of course. Some employees may feel like they have to be always on, and their colleagues or managers will not be impressed it they are not available for an hour in the middle of the day.
Therefore, managers need to lead by example. They need to show they are taking lunch breaks and make sure that more junior members of the team are logging off for an hour in the middle of the day.
Ephgrave and Kaido note that it is important that employees go outside and get some exercise during their breaks.
Ephgrave adds: “Social media can also be a source of negativity at this time of the year, particularly for those suffering with low self-esteem. Encouraging staff to take a break from their phone and occupy this time by taking a short brisk walk will help them to manage feelings of stress and anxiety.”
3. Introduce proper wellbeing tech
COVID-19 has triggered a mental wellbeing crisis at work, and unfortunately, many employees do not feel like they can talk openly about their stress and burnout.
Ephgrave calls on workplaces to put “further resources into this area to encourage open and honest conversation”.
Another option could be for employers to invest in a long-term mental health strategy, including digital health tools so staff can get the support they need from external experts.
Koa Health CEO Dr Oliver Harrison notes: “There’s never been a more important time for employers to invest in evidence-based, clinically-validated digital mental health tools that protect staff, reduce burnout, and increase team productivity. Turning the tide on this crisis is morally right and makes rock-solid business sense.”
MYNDUP’s founder and CEO Joel Gujral agrees. “This year, with the pandemic still ongoing, many workers will be stuck inside, isolated from colleagues, only exacerbating the problem. Businesses therefore need to ensure they have the processes in place to keep employees’ mental wellbeing a priority.”
Gujral continues: “They need an offering that is proactive in its solutions, connects employees to a range of quality, anonymous support programs, and ultimately has low barriers to entry.”
Remember that happy employees are productive employees. Now is the time to put employees first, particularly if you want to retain them in the ongoing ‘Great Resignation’.