Employee mental health: reflections on January

As we move into the second month of the New Year, let’s take a moment to reflect on January. The festivities of Christmas seem an age away now and I’m sure many of you have now had that dreaded credit card statement. In addition, the weather has been pretty poor - cold and wet - and the days short. 

Indeed, you may be aware that there is a day labelled ‘Blue Monday’, the third Monday in January. This day has earned its name because, for many people, it is felt to be the most depressing day of the year. 

Blue Monday – the reality

This really got me thinking. Labelling just one day of the year as ‘blue’ can really feel demoralising for people and employees who are facing ongoing challenges with their mental health. For them, Blue Monday is quite possibly just another Monday or simply another day.  

On the flip side, this could be a great opportunity for organisations to use the day to open up a conversation about mental health, if they haven’t already. However, the conversation around mental health should be continuous, all year round, not just on a dedicated day, week or month.  

With this in mind, below are a few ways you can provide support to employees’ mental wellbeing within your organisation by taking more of a holistic approach.

Physical activity and mental health 

Driven by New Year’s resolutions, promoting physical exercise in January is the perfect time, as individuals kick start their new diet or fitness regimes. Exercise is a fantastic way to feel better as it releases endorphins and other chemicals into the brain. This in in turn raises mood. From an organisational perspective this can have a positive impact on productivity and happiness across the workforce. 

"Exercise doesn't have to be a high intensity class at the gym. It could mean going for a walk, cycling to work or taking part in a yoga or Pilates class at the office; everyone is different."

From an employment perspective, does your agile working policy allow for employees to visit the gym during the working day? Do you have access to gym facilities or offer corporate gym discounts as one of your employee benefits? Promoting any way of increasing physical activity will help. 

Building mental health resilience in the workforce

Just as we defend ourselves from serious health conditions with a healthy and active lifestyle, taking action to improve or maintain mental resilience is equally important. There are a range of tools and techniques to help support this. This includes talking therapies, which could be offered as part of your suite of benefits, as well as mindfulness, meditation or relaxation sessions in the workplace. There are also a wide range of technology based solutions to help improve mental wellbeing and build resilience on a regular basis. 

However, it’s important that these different types of support aren’t offered or delivered in silos. To make them fully effective, any interventions should be just one element underpinning a holistic strategy to address wellbeing in the workplace. This in itself should be a constant focus throughout the year.

Employee financial wellbeing 

There is a clear relationship between mental health and financial wellbeing. So a focus on financial wellbeing should be an integral part of any holistic wellbeing strategy. As mentioned above, all the Christmas festivities can take their toll on bank balances in January, not to mention the additional pressure of it being a ‘long’ month. 

"This can cause stress and strain for many individuals facing financial difficulties, which can have a negative impact on morale and productivity in the workplace."

With so many options flooding the employee benefits market, ranging from debt consolidation to employer sponsored loans or ISAs, employers face a minefield when ensuring they choose the right solution which also delivers real value for money. 

Where possible, ensure you conduct thorough research on providers and solutions. You also need to have a good understanding of the financial needs of your workforce. Providing financial education to employees should be a key consideration as this knowledge will empower people to make behavioural changes, lessening the likelihood of financial difficulty in the future.

Most employee assistance programmes can offer debt advice, address concerns and suggest charities that support employees having to deal with a financial crisis. Other financial wellbeing options could include corporate employee discounts, travel-cost loans, or save-as-you-earn schemes. 

Promoting employee wellbeing all year round

Labelling one day in the year as the most depressing doesn’t feel right to me. Addressing and improving mental health should be a continuing focus for employers throughout the year. It needs to be part of an ongoing, holistic and integrated strategy. 

So here's to making all the months of the year a shade less blue. 

If there is anything in the above that you would like further information or support on, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Laura Matthews, Workplace Wellbeing Consultant at Barnett Waddingham. 


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