Blue Monday and employee morale: moving beyond the gimmick

Blue Monday is often disregarded, but it can be helpful in improving your employees' morale throughout the year.

It’s back again: 15 January marks Blue Monday 2024.

This infamous day gets a mixed reception when it rolls around, with some feeling concerned and others flouting it and treating it like any other day.

After all, the whole idea of Blue Monday comes from a formula to define ‘the most depressing day of the year’ in order to boost sales.

Even Cliff Arnal, the psychologist who devised the formula to pinpoint this gloomy day in the calendar, has vehemently refuted it since and urged people not to buy into it.

It’s easy to see how people get sucked in though. Blue Monday is everywhere. We’ve been getting loads of press releases about how staff can boost employee morale, facing the marketing deluge head-on.

But with all this said, web searches for ‘employees’, ‘morale’ and ‘Blue Monday’ are on the up too.

That tells me that, prescribed or not, there is bleakness around today. It’s enough for some employers to want to step in and minimise the damage, anyway.

How are they helping?

Whether you see it as a genuine positive or easy point-scoring, any chance to boost employee morale is a good thing.

It doesn’t even have to be much: arranging an informal do, bringing cakes in or doing some sort of team-based activity.

Here are a few examples of how small businesses have made Blue Monday their own.

Erris de Stacpoole, senior account manager at The Media Foundry

‘In a bid to tackle Blue Monday, we at The Media Foundry have launched an annual pub quiz called ‘Bye Bye, Blue Monday’. We are on a mission to banish any doom, gloom and blues. The first prize is a Golden Sausage Award’

James Shillaker, director at Incorpore Ltd

‘This Monday we will be treating our office to breakfast and coffees all around to start the day right and put people in good spirits.’

Steve Arnold, CEO of e-days

‘I brought a puzzle back from my holiday in Mexico and on Blue Monday every employee (about 30 of them) will get the chance to complete the puzzle the fastest (within ten minutes). The fastest person gets a prize – an early finish from work.

‘It means everyone gets a fun 10-minute extra break, and it’ll take their mind off work for a little bit. It also creates a great atmosphere of competition, engagement and excitement that everyone can get involved in. It’s a simple idea that’s great for mental wellbeing, for brain health and for general camaraderie.’

Rebecca Siciliano, managing director at Tiger Recruitment

‘This year, Tiger has timed Blue Monday with the announcement of its company incentives for the year, to get staff motivated and engaged about the year ahead. We are also running an exercise bootcamp to get people moving after work and for those who can’t take part in that, have organised a drinks get-together.

‘There’s also have a mental health ambassador who has written a newsletter on wellness and mental health to go out on Monday with tips to avoid the January blues.’

To counter the very notion of Blue Monday, Samaritans runs an annual Brew Monday campaign. It encourages people to get together over a cuppa for a catch-up on the third Monday in January – or at any other time of the year.

Making real change

Despite the cynicism around the third Monday in January, it arguably has the same role as sadness does in general: pulling attention towards a problem that needs addressing.

“It arguably has the same role as sadness does: pulling attention towards a problem that needs addressing”

Some of your employees might not even be feeling down, but it’s essential to have the information they need if life takes a turn. Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at Towergate Health & Protection, explains: “Typically people only take notice of the things that directly affect them. If they are not suffering from mental health issues at the time, they will likely ignore any messages regarding mental health support. This is why it is vital that a wellbeing programme has all elements regularly communicated, so that support is front of mind at the time that it is needed.”

For some small business owners, Blue Monday highlights changes that can be made to improve staff morale in the longer term rather than just for one day.

Alan Lynch, CEO of Compare&Choose

‘As a company, we believe in looking after mental health and not just on specific days.

‘We have a flexible work policy in place. I don’t like the pressure that is puts on my staff when they have set work hours. Their tasks must be done but in their own pace – if my staff need a mental health day then they get one.

‘So, if any of my staff will be feeling worse for wear coming, they know they can come to me and do whatever they need to do to feel better. It’s possible because we’re a small company with a handful of staff.’

Mike Foster, creative director at Straight Forward Design

‘I believe the feeling of ‘Blue Monday’ (something which arguably rolls out intermittently over the whole year) can be staved off with in-house projects which are not client-based.

‘On top of that, I try to keep employees happy throughout the year by encouraging side projects in-office. It makes good business sense: smart employers want their team members to feel fulfilled, connected to the organisation and motivated to do great work.’

Mike Nolan, co-founder of PressPlugs

‘Rather than some gimmick, we try to help employees by advising them to focus on the positive. It’s all about a healthy mindset.

“Blue Monday is a great day to start to change things”

‘Every Monday morning – and we’ll probably go for a longer session on Blue Monday – we stop what we’re doing for around 20 minutes and practice some mindfulness meditation. This is followed by a simple exercise where they are asked to write down 20 things that they are grateful for.

‘Finally, we try and all have a healthy lunch – having something pleasant built into the day covers all points.

‘It’s vital that employers take note of their employees’ mental health and Blue Monday is a great day to start to change things.’

Read our essential guide on improving employee motivation in the workplace for more.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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