As I write this, it is Blue Monday – the third Monday of January. Apparently, this day is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year for workers. Whether this claim is scientifically true or not, it makes intuitive sense given that most Australian workers were likely to have spent the weeks post-Christmas relaxing in the warmth of summer, free from the tedious commute and workplace environs. Returning from an extended period of annual leave can bring on feelings of depression for any worker at any time, even those that are most content with their jobs.
For many workers, late December to mid-January may be the only time of the year they can take annual leave. This happens for a variety of reasons but generally, the time coincides with the longest school holiday break so for practical reasons, it’s the best time to take a family holiday. The choice may not even be available if the workplace is shut down or slowed down over the Christmas and New Year period, encouraging all workers to take annual leave breaks at that time. So, that means workers returning to work this week, are looking forward to a year of hard slog without an extended break until the next December. This can be a depressing thought for any worker that is already unhappy at work. I am getting tired just thinking it! Even for those more content with their situation, the prospect of no break time until the following December can be daunting.
Apparently, the Millennials suffer ‘Blue Mondayitis’ harder as they are assumed to have less meaningful jobs and higher expectations of career satisfaction. The over 65’s are apparently gagging to get back to work and the rest of us suck it up but, are somewhat depressed depending on our overall happiness with work and life generally.
So, what do HR professionals and managers do about this? With so many depressed workers, surely this cannot be a great start to a productive and positive year? Hopefully, the following suggestions may lift the melancholy!
5 tips to create a more positive mindset for returning staff
1. Reflect on achievements
Encourage workers to reflect on their achievements of the previous year to skew a positive mindset towards the new year at work.
2. Encourage fresh goal setting
Even if one goal is to plan the next holiday, encourage your staff to set new goals! A balance of work and personal goals would be ideal. This can be done informally in view of inspiring and energising your team or, more formally as an organisation-wide activity as preliminary preparation for the scheduled performance planning and review process to follow.
3. Express your care about the happiness and well-being of employees.
Now this is not something that can be done without really meaning it. However, if you do care, it can make a real difference to you and to your employees. Give employees permission to say they are happy at work and to give reasons why. Look collaboratively with them at ways they can manage or change their circumstances to make coming to work a happier event.
4. Review and refresh the policy and process for taking leave.
Given the 2016 Review of Modern Awards included changes to Annual Leave provisions, many workers may remain unaware of their entitlements. Inform them of their options and ensure leave policies and application processes are up to date.
Consider options for employees to work at home or take time in lieu. Again, this may be a review undertaken in tandem with a review of leave policy. There may also be options for workers to take shorter breaks within the year by adding single leave days to the beginning and end of public holidays or extending long weekends. Publish the dates of public holidays and school holidays for the year ahead so workers are reminded to plan short periods of leave in the interim.
5. Take advantage of summer and bring some of the holiday spirit back to work.
Encourage lunch-time walks and exercises that expose your work team to our wonderful Australian climate. Offer free sunscreen and water to those that participate. Have an Australia Day lunch-time BBQ on the day preceding the public holiday.
Encourage workers to take full lunch breaks away from their desk and to get up and stretch every hour. Display posters with diagrams of stretching exercises and ergonomic information to increase awareness of healthy movement, and the positive impacts on the body and mind. Your WHS Officer will love you for promoting exercise, healthy lifestyle and mini-breaks and your employees will benefit from the fresh air, sunshine and exercise.
Consider other factors impacting depression at work
Whilst these tips may help some re-adjust to returning to work, the importance of the factors within the work environment should be considered in light of how likely to impact the frequency of depression or sadness experienced by the employees within it. If employees are suffering from lengthy periods of depression, beyond the phenomenon of Blue Monday, they should be taken seriously and investigated if the workplace is the suspected or contributing cause.
The most astute managers will take the time to examine and consider any workplace characteristics that may have an adverse impact on employee safety, mental health and happiness and take action to remove or to reduce the risk of impact.
However, the employee mind set can only be changed by the employee themselves. That’s a whole, other discussion for another time.
About Larisa Moreno
Larisa is an experienced HR generalist with diverse experience across a diverse range of industries including, retail, education, consumer products, not for profit, disability services and aged care, and recruitment consultancy. With over 20 years’ experience in HR management and strategy, Larisa has extensive experience in people management, coaching, employee relations, performance management, policy development, recruitment and organisational change and has worked across within diverse groups and workplace cultures.
Prior to joining WorkLogic’s Sydney office in December, Larisa worked in HR operations management roles primarily but has also demonstrated her strengths as an L&D specialist, trainer and facilitator in sales, retail and professional service organisations. Larisa brings a solid HR background to our team, combined with experience in grievance handling, workplace investigation, workplace policy and disciplinary processes.
Subscribe to the Worklogic blog to receive expert advice on resolving workplace complaints and building a positive culture at work direct to your inbox each week!