Employee wellbeing is about more than just ‘Blue Monday’ You will have seen that on the third Monday in January, known as the infamous ‘Blue Monda
Employee wellbeing is about more than just ‘Blue Monday’
You will have seen that on the third Monday in January, known as the infamous ‘Blue Monday’, the most ‘depressing day of the year’, there was a lot of talk about wellbeing. It’s the day when people supposedly pay back their excessive Christmas spending on credit cards and the concept has taken off, especially in recent years, trending on social media with users and businesses alike sharing information and opinions about the day.
But the day passed, and we all carried on. But what if the spotlight looked beyond Blue Monday and instead, there was an initiative to seriously tackle poorer worker wellbeing during the winter season as a whole, and to look beyond just the financial implications many people face?
Employers need to be at the forefront of understanding the wellbeing challenges that exist in their company throughout the year and have a clear strategy to tackle them.
Andrew Drake, Client Development Director and Amanda Cran, Senior Consultant at Buck, an integrated HR and benefits consulting, technology, and administration services firm have some thoughts.
The time we (usually) spend having fun with close friends and relatives during the festive season can certainly make January feel bleak in contrast. With much of the UK in various levels of lockdown over Christmas or immediately after, this January has felt even bleaker. Thanks to coronavirus, many workers won’t have had face-to-face contact with loved ones for quite some time, potentially leaving them feeling isolated and down.
Additionally, while New Year’s resolutions can be a great way of setting new personal and professional goals, the additional pressure to stick to them is most keenly felt in January. In particular, 6.5 million adults intended to participate in Dry January in 2021, up from 3.9 million in 20201. However, research found only 8% of people end up meeting their goals2, which can create a sense of failure, whether it’s justified or not. Indeed, a snap poll by KAM Media found that 2.7 million people had already given up on Dry January six days in3.
Of course, financial worries also often come to the fore for many workers during January. Research from the Bank of England estimates that a typical household spends an extra £700 in December compared to usual monthly spending and credit card debt can mean they continue to have higher costs well into the New Year4. This year, with the real threat of furlough or wage cuts hanging over many workers, financial stress can mean the January blues are felt more acutely than ever.
The impact on health
Concerns arising from finances and isolation can have a significant impact not only on employee wellbeing but also engagement, so it’s vital for any business that employers take them seriously. In 2019 73% of employees said that money worries impacted them at work and that figure is only likely to have increased since the pandemic hit5. The distraction can mean disengagement and poor concentration, which may be aggravated by the associated impacts of financial stress, such as poor sleep.
These can quickly spiral into more serious physical and mental health implications, and further impact work. Employers know that poor employee financial wellbeing damages businesses: 22% say it impacts them through reduced productivity and higher absence rates were reported by almost one in five (19%)6.
With so many different providers and options to form a wellbeing strategy, it can be easy for employers to feel overwhelmed about how to best help employees, particularly as we enter 2021 still in the midst of a global pandemic. However, there are steps employers can take to ensure the diverse needs of employees are met.
Underpinning any successful wellbeing strategy should be a consistent and well-rounded communications strategy, led by the management team. Through company-wide wellbeing webinars and staff surveys, employers can gain a picture of what employees need, while also raising awareness about the importance of good wellbeing practices. Communication in the company needs to flow in both directions.
Alongside this, company leadership should consistently provide easy access to information, education, and guidance about wellbeing, or other issues flagged by employees. For example, if financial concerns are the main issue for employees, sharing free-to-use resources such as information from the Money Advice Service, may help staff with their problems.
Analysing employee demographics and reviewing participation and feedback from existing benefits can also help employers see what’s already working, as well as what additional solutions their employees might need. Monitoring sentiment and engagement through HR technology, including self-assessment wellbeing apps, can be a useful feedback mechanism for employers.
This shouldn’t, however, just be a seasonal effort and its crucial staff engagement remains in place for the long-term. If the leadership doesn’t follow through on its findings or check to see whether the benefits offering has made the desired impact, any improvements in employee wellbeing won’t last long.
Making a difference
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic looks set to continue through 2021, making this winter period harder than previous years and workers will certainly be feeling the brunt of the stresses it brings. Employers can help alleviate some of the stress by ensuring their wellbeing strategy is clearly communicated to staff and fits what they actually need. Speaking with staff and analysing engagement are accessible steps that can allow employers to gauge what’s working and what’s not.
The crucial step for employers, this year more than most, is to make sure that this activity isn’t just limited to ‘Blue Monday’ and the start of the year, and instead, that firms ensure a constant commitment to employee wellbeing throughout the year.