The start of a brand new year can feel like an exciting time at work, with fresh ideas being generated off the back of a battery recharge over the Christmas break. However, the combination of bad weather, failed resolutions and financial struggles can leave many feeling downbeat. In particular, these feelings can come to a head on the third Monday of January, also known as “Blue Monday”, which is supposedly the most depressing day of the year.
What is Blue Monday?
There are a number of claims that Blue Monday is the day when absences from work are at their peak. In actual fact, the term was coined by Sky Travel back in 2005, with a corresponding formula to calculate the day, but the whole campaign was actually a marketing tool to persuade people to book their summer holidays.
While the science behind the day is tenuous, a number of employers report that absenteeism is a lot higher at this time of year. This should serve as an important reminder for businesses to prioritise employee wellbeing and to tackle the root cause of absence before problems arise.
The cost of absenteeism
Employee wellbeing should be important to businesses in more ways than one too. Not only is it important for morale and engagement, but absence comes with a pretty high price tag too. The Centre of Economic and Business Research suggests that workplace absence costs the UK economy £18bn in lost productivity, rising to £21bn in 2020 and £26bn in 2030.
While there’s no way to avoid absence altogether, mental health issues are a major factor in increased levels of absenteeism. The average mental health leave length is 16.3 days and, according to edays’ data, the likelihood of a mental health absence reoccurring within 12 months is 24.4%. This can therefore be much more costly to businesses than perhaps physical illnesses, so it’s important that mental wellbeing is addressed.
How to prioritise employee wellbeing
So what can HR professionals and employers do to identify and provide support for people who are struggling? It all starts with creating a culture of openness, and providing tangible tools for people who need them.
Check in with your people
Often the simplest solution is the best one and creating a culture of openness starts with talking openly and having personal conversations. Spotting signs of poor mental health can be easier on a one-to-one basis, so it’s important to invite people managers to set these up regularly with their teams.
HR software can help with this too. Using an absence management system like edays can enable you to set up absence triggers and alerts, so that you can understand your people more. Noticing patterns in absence or rates that are increasing can encourage leaders to step in and try and address the problem before it becomes unmanageable.
Benefits centred on wellbeing
Employee benefits are an important part of any employment package, and can help you to attract and retain the best talent. But employees are becoming immune to flashy or empty benefits such as reward schemes and free fruit. Instead, they’re seeking meaningful benefits such as truly flexible working set-ups and enhanced annual leave.
Businesses can also work a mental wellbeing element into the package to better support employees. There are a number of options available from mental health app subscriptions to free counselling or therapy sessions. These can be particularly successful in addressing mental health issues as it provides support for employees while maintaining their privacy, meaning they’re free to divulge as much or as little as they need to their manager.
Mental health training
Absenteeism caused by mental health issues can often go unnoticed if people managers aren’t properly trained to spot the signs. It’s important to first be able to identify someone struggling with their wellbeing, if you’re going to be able to offer them support.
Mental health training can vary massively in its formality too. For smaller organisations with fewer employees, it might just be a case of getting their people managers to complete some online training courses. While larger organisations with multi-faceted teams and lots of employees to manage, might want to select a couple of people to become mental health first aid trained to provide the best support possible.
Whichever route you choose, it’s all about equipping your people with the specialist skills they need to better support their people and reduce absenteeism at work. On Blue Monday and beyond.
To learn more about reducing absenteeism in the workplace, have a read of our latest blog post.
Jenni Littlehales is a marketing professional and an experienced author with a background in a wide variety of industries. Her understanding of people, wellbeing and associated challenges give a unique perspective in the evolving landscape of HR and technology.