Beating the Blues

As the sparkle of Christmas fades and the daily routine kicks back in, Cindy Gunn, Group Head of People at Gi Group, discusses how businesses can best support their team during January.

No mater how much you love your job, leaving the lights, music, presents and parties of December can be a rather bleak prospect as January sets in, and we push through the ‘Christmas Comedown’. With the January blues kicking in, the ‘New Year, New Me’ mentality starts to dwindle. Like many businesses, Cindy and her HR team focus on keeping employees motivated, using this firsthand experience to share practical insights for business leaders hoping to boost morale within their workforce.

“At this time of year it’s particularly important that employees feel supported and valued,” says Cindy. “The beginning of the year is the perfect time to reflect on the successes and struggles of 2023 to create a strong employee engagement plan moving forward. When focusing on employee motivation it is important employers remember that each individual is an asset, with different goals, ambitions and motivations and getting the most from each is the recipe for success.

Mental health support

“January and February see a number of mental health/sickness awareness days and though these aren’t new phenomena, there is little done specifically within certain industries to combat the effects of seasonal mental health patterns, but this is where businesses can come into their own.”

Personal Injury expert, claims.co.uk, have analysed the Office for National Statistics sickness absences data from 2018-2022 and revealed that 18 million days on average per year are lost at work to mental health and on average the UK workforce loses 146.6 million days due to sickness, equating to 4.5 days per worker. In addition, the NHS has estimated that around 2 million people in the UK suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a more severe form of the winter blues, showing just how important it is for mental health support within the workplace – particularly in the cold, dark early months of the year.

Cindy continues: “It is important that management start the year as they mean to go on. Sharing your company business plan for the year ahead and including clear goals and achievable targets can help your team to feel included and motivated. Creating company questionnaires and listening to employee feedback, then including your team in the decision-making process is a great way of getting creativity flowing.

“However, before you send out the company wellbeing surveys, it is important you are nailing the basics – employee recognition, monitoring employee wellbeing and promoting organisation skills and planning for the year ahead are all key to harnessing a positive workplace culture. Connecting with your employees and understanding what they want to gain from the year ahead is a great way of creating a unified workforce, pre-empting the challenges of the year and creating solutions now to avoid turbulence down the line.”

Absent workforce

Throughout 2023, the UK experienced a soar in absence rates with UK employees being absent for 7.8 days on average which is the highest level reported in over a decade. According to a survey by CIPD and Simplyhealth, the leading cause of long-term and short-term absence was stress as 76% of respondents reported. Though mental health support within the workplace is particularly prevalent in January, it’s important the initial framework is developed throughout the year.

Cindy adds: “The mental health and wellbeing of a workforce isn’t just based on the implementation of workplace systems; it is really about supporting your team to be present and engaged with their colleagues. Research from the Office for National Statistics has shown that around 3.83 million people are lonely in the UK with people aged between 16-29 twice as likely to be lonely than over 70s, which is why it is so important that businesses offer their workforce opportunities to socialise and connect with the team around them. Any investment into your team will provide a positive outcome for your business, promoting better collaboration and teamwork within the workplace. Creating a more open and honest working environment can harness a more harmonious team and if individuals are feeling a little bleak, you have opened up lines of communication, so they don’t feel alone.”

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