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It’s time to talk about Blue Monday

Do you suffer from those Monday morning blues, or are you recognising the tell-tale symptoms in staff at your GP practice? Here’s why today might be a good time to talk mental health and wellbeing.
 

What is ‘Blue Monday’?


Put simply, it’s (apparently!) the most depressing day of the year.

This was according to Cliff Arnall who, back in 2005, created a formula to determine when we are at our lowest point in the year. His theory drew upon factors such as individual debt levels, the cold and dark winter days, the time passed since the end of the festive season and our lower motivation levels.

The theory was given short shrift by the scientific community, who branded it as pseudoscience; perhaps not too far from the truth since it turned out to be something of a PR stunt for a company named Sky Travel!

However, the event itself has now become a fixture on our calendar of notable days and it so happens that today (the 21st of January), is that day.

Despite how the idea for Blue Monday came about, it does seem like an appropriate time to talk about employee mental health and wellbeing. Mental health issues are on the rise with employees, and indeed employers, often struggling to keep up with ever-changing working conditions.
 

The impact of poor health and wellbeing in the workplace


A report by the British Safety Council in 2018 found that health and wellbeing was no longer at the bottom of the to-do list for managers. The research found large numbers of respondents reporting increasing levels of ‘presenteeism’ and ‘leavism’ occurring within their organisations, so it’s no surprise that people are burning themselves out at work.

To add to this, the CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey 2018 found that 37% of organisations surveyed had seen an increase in stress-related absence since 2016. Coupled with findings such as over 50% of respondents identifying mental ill health and stress as some of the most common causes of long-term absence, this should prompt a call to action for all businesses to tackle the issue of mental health.

The annual cost of poor mental health to employers is estimated up to a whopping £42 billion (with over half of this cost coming from presenteeism alone), according to the Government-commissioned Thriving at Work report published in late 2017.

The good news is that up to 44% of respondents in the CIPD Survey reported that investing in health and wellbeing resulted in better employee morale and engagement, whilst 31% reported a lower sickness absence rate. This led to means more productivity at work, less pressure on other employees to pick up their colleagues’ workloads and no administrative burden from carrying out potentially lengthy absence management procedures.

 

Blue Monday - Mental Health and Wellbeing

 

Strategies to improve mental health and wellbeing


So does this mean you have to invest in potentially pricey benefits and perks to boost employee wellbeing? The answer is no. In fact, the British Safety Council report found that some initiatives designed to improve employee welfare can actually be quite ineffective, especially if done in isolation.

The key thing is listening to your employees and assessing what works for your practice. The CIPD suggests introducing efforts to encourage your employees to look after themselves through adopting healthier lifestyles. A simple benefit such as introducing free fruit and promoting healthier snacks at work can achieve this aim, with relatively low costs to businesses.

You should also ensure that your employees are made aware of your managing absence and sick pay policy so that they are aware of what to do when they are unwell. It’s important that employees understand how they will be paid in such a scenario; essentially, you should aim to create a culture where it’s OK to take a day off if an employee is genuinely ill.

Taking part in public health campaigns such as ‘Stoptober’ and awareness campaigns such as ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and ‘Dry January’, can be fun and engaging ways to involve your practice in health and wellbeing initiatives, and it can also open the door to free resources and use of specialist services.
 

A case of leading by example?


Investing in leadership and management training is also a highly effective method for improving your practice’s health and wellbeing strategy. Managers should aim to improve their emotional intelligence to help them handle sensitive conversations and seek guidance on how to recognise the signs of workplace stress and depression. Taking these steps can help to create an environment where mental health issues are both recognised and addressed without stigma or fear.

Award-winning training provider Thornfields offer a course that is designed to help delegates understand more about emotional intelligence and personal resilience, whilst organisations such as Mind provide free guidance on recognising the symptoms of stress and depression.

Finally, it is important to ensure that you handle conversations about workplace stress and mental health in the correct way. The HSE offers useful ‘Talking Toolkits’ which provide guidance on conversations with employees about workplace stress. So, let’s take steps to make something positive of this, apparently the gloomiest time of year, and see how we can make some lasting changes for the better.


Are you an FPM member? Get in touch with James through our HR Helpline at
hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk for further guidance and information on managing both short and long-term absence attributed to mental health.


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