21 January 2019
Is Blue Monday becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?

By Mary Hilditch, HR Manager

The third Monday of January is thought to be the most depressing day of the year, but does it affect us simply because we're told it should?

Lightbulbs with blue background

Christmas is done and dusted, New Year’s Eve is way behind us and we’re already trundling through 2019 like it’s nobody’s business, which must mean it’s time for Blue Monday – reportedly the most depressing day of the year. Every third Monday of January for the past 15 years has held the moniker, coined by Cliff Arnall in a 2004 press release that, according to some experts, contained little actual science.

It’s thought that the combination of post-Christmas money troubles, failed New Year’s resolutions and the good old British winter weather creates the gloomiest day on the calendar. In response, businesses in particular have taken to going a little overboard on employee perks for one day only – be it an early finish, laying on healthy, antioxidant-rich food at lunchtime or hosting a puppy party at the office.

Then Tuesday comes around – has anything changed? The answer, most likely, is no. It’s straight back to the same-old practises with the same-old results. While that may not sound so bad, the UK is currently suffering from its worst levels of productivity in two years, a symptom of poor employee morale. Blue Monday incentives could be a boost for employees for a day, but without an extended focus on employee engagement and staff wellbeing, there is little long-term effect.

Mental health at work

The Blue Monday debate ties into a much wider conversation around mental health in the workplace. A staggering 61 per cent of employees have experienced a mental health issue, with 37 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds – the leaders of tomorrow – having been diagnosed, the Mental Health at Work Report for 2018 found. Thankfully, it has become much more common place for employees to feel comfortable talking about their problems at work, but there is still a long way to go.

There is undoubtedly some substance to the January blues. As mentioned in Arnall’s original theory, money, weather and a general lack of motivation all play into the mood of the nation, but to tie it down to one day is to trivialise the issue. It is worth mentioning, however, that Arnall has since distanced himself from the notion of Blue Monday, apologising for heaping more misery on the month and stating that the original intention was to inspire others.

Where do we go from here?

Time, then, to turn this all around. Last year, Arnall tasked himself with reversing the melancholic mood of Blue Monday, and it’s time for us to join the fight. Ultimately, poor employee morale leads to absenteeism – more sick leave is taken in January than any other month – which has a major impact on your business.

The perfect starting block is breaking the ice with genuine employee engagement. By talking to your employees and finding out what incentives they really want, you’ll gain a better understanding of what you should be offering. You might think they’ll all want a pay rise, but that isn’t always the case – more than a quarter of employees would prefer extra holiday days or the option of flexible working, for example. There are plenty of other perks to be offered and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work, so make sure you find out what your employees really want.

It comes down to developing a workplace culture that you and your business can be proud of. Don’t fall into the Blue Monday trap of looking like you care for one day of the year – prove to your employees that their wellbeing is your priority year-round. The greatest investment you can make in your business is by investing in people, and by doing that you’ll not only attract top talent, but retain staff too.