Blue Monday | Over 75% of employees uncomfortable when discussing mental health

Over 75% of employees uncomfortable when discussing mental health

Blue Monday - dubbed the most depressive day of the year - is the 24-hour period in which workers are, apparently, mostly likely to feel dispirited, gloomy and disengaged.

The belief that today is the lowest day in the calendar started in 2005 when Dr Cliff Arnall, a life coach and psychologist, worked out how various different factors – debt, weather and work woes amongst them – depressingly aligned on a specific Monday in January. It gave rise to the cultural phenomenon now known as Blue Monday.

As a result, the 21st January has come to be known as the ‘saddest day of the year.’

But it needn’t all be bad. Many employers, and workplace researchers, are using Blue Monday to pinpoint the areas in which modern work could improve and how employers can truly support their workers.

Employees ‘uncomfortable’ discussing mental health

One piece of research from recruitment experts Robert Walters has found that over three quarters (76%) of professionals believe employees at their place of work would be uncomfortable discussing mental health challenges – largely due to fear of being stigmatised and singled out.

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Survey respondents cited feeling anxious about how they might be perceived by co-workers (82%), concerns over the harm to future career prospects (78%), feeling embarrassed (76%) and fears that they wouldn’t be trusted with more responsibility (69%).

However, the research did show how employers can help their employees move forward. Nearly 80% of employees claim that management ‘making clear that mental health is priority’ would be an effective way to eradicate conversation barriers. Despite this, just 36% of management feel that this approach would be necessary or effective.

Wellness schemes at work

Two firms that do invest heavily in employee wellness are Ella’s Kitchen and Crossrail. Catherine Allen, Head of Keeping People Happy at Ella’s Kitchen exclusively told HR Grapevine about the key initiative that the brand has implemented to ensure the wellness of its employees.

Branded the ‘Wellbeing Calendar’, the annual packed schedule of events includes daily breakfasts, team lunches, onsite health screenings and fitness bootcamps.

“The calendar promotes a full programme of things designed to keep the mind, body and soul happy and healthy,” Allen explained. “We have lots of exciting targets around making Ella’s Kitchen an even more rewarding and fun place to work.”

Crossrail believes that training and development are conducive to a happy work environment and as such, offers a range of educational sessions for its employees. “We do training sessions to give our staff opportunities as well as doing traditional programmes,” explained Crossrail’s Occupational Health and Wellbeing Specialist, Christina Butterworth.

“We’ve also developed very powerful videos. We’ve produced five of them for five key risks about a man in typical construction uniform, not talking about his mental health, showing how his colleagues can get him to talk about his issues. That’s something we now show to all our workforce.”

Workplace mental health awareness

So, should all companies be following the Ella’s Kitchen and Crossrail tack? Well, based on stats regarding the amount of UK workers affected by mental health challenges, they should be.

According to 2018 research from Accenture, nine in ten UK workers have been challenged by mental health. Worryingly, their survey of 2,000 UK workers found that 61% of those experiencing mental health problems don’t tell anyone about it.

Accenture’s Managing Director, Barbara Harvey, exclusively told HR Grapevine that the main reason individuals are fearful of sharing this information is because they think it will deter them from promotions and work-related opportunities.

She explained: “Until you can have an open and honest conversation about mental health, you really can’t do anything – all you are doing is putting a sticky plaster on something [and not fixing anything].”

Harvey said that an effective way of communicating is through her ‘Sandwich’ model, which comprises of three key components: leadership at the top; support mechanisms at the bottom; and, the method of communication acting as the vein running through the middle of the model.

So, does HR require C-suite sign off to implement mental health schemes?

At WHSmith, Alison Garbutt, Head of Strategic Projects, got CEO buy-in to what was originally a small scheme to match the number of mental health first aiders in the business to the higher physical first aider number.

She told HR Grapevine: “I started with a really small plan which was to match the number of mental and physical first aiders in our businesses."

"I went with that really small plan to our CEO and he was really receptive to it - in fact, he asked me to come back with a bigger plan.”

Subsequently, they have used Mental Health First Aid training to develop their line managers and educate them on how to start that conversation with employees.

Outsourced functions

With so many organisations outsourcing recruitment as part of their operations, it can be easy to forget about those in the supply chain that you don’t have face-to-face contact with.

Particularly when using recruitment firms to source quality candidates, employers may forget the intense working environments that recruiters operate in.

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Director of ISL, Alan Furley, exclusively told HR Grapevine that the world has become a place where mental health issues are being discussed more openly so “you can’t get away with saying ‘cheer up’ or ‘man’ up’ any more”. Recruitment is one industry that has previously been perceived to have long hours and high stress.

Particularly with Blue Monday upon us, Furley said that it is important for employers to look out for staff during these more difficult times. “Don’t worry that kindness will be mistaken for weakness as my experience is that it’s always well received,” he added.

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