Blue Monday is a myth. It’s startling that so many people are unaware of its inception – did you know that “Blue Monday” started life as a PR stunt for the holiday company, Sky Travel?

In 2005, Sky Travel released a campaign where psychologist Cliff Arnall predicted what would be the most depressing day of the year. Using an equation dreamed up to answer the PR Agency’s question, the third Monday in January was coined ‘Blue Monday’. 14 years later, Mr Arnall confessed that the date has become a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

In fairness, psychological studies do suggest that our mental outlook shifts across the week, for example, Sy-Miin Chow of the University of Virginia found that positive emotions surge each weekend, presumably because most people don’t actually work. So far so intuitive, but as far as I’m aware there is no scientific evidence to the claim that there is a day where depression hits its peak.

But while it’s easy to debunk ‘Blue Monday’ as a myth and a global marketing tool for companies, I wouldn’t actually want to do that. There’s an argument, quite a strong argument, that “Blue Monday” has positively raised awareness of mental health and employee wellbeing all over the world. This has led to employers taking steps to support their employees, prevent mental ill health and promote the importance of having more good days at work.

Although for some employers this may be focused on one day a year, it enables them to open the box on a sensitive topic and helpfully raises questions as to how they can provide a more consistent approach to employee wellbeing year-round.

That can be as much about listening to employees, as it is about ‘doing’ lots of wellbeing activities. Through working with some of the UK’s largest employers, such as MACE, Nestle UK, Network Rail and BP Castrol, Robertson Cooper have learned that a personalised approach to wellbeing is what’s truly necessary if a positive impact is to be made.

Taking the time to thoroughly measure the baseline of your team’s wellbeing, providing personalised feedback to each employee, will highlight both the areas that need addressing and the priority order for addressing them. It opens up a line of dialogue between the business and each employee – this is a critical building block for change.

Line managers who have the confidence to initiate and conduct wellbeing conversations with employees are able to ‘hear’ when a team member is at risk, and understand what process they need to go through to prevent the situation from worsening. Line managers need support and training if they are to feel like they can play this important role for the business. Part of this training is about helping line managers to buy into the fact this is not a bolt-on to their management role but rather a core part of it. The best training shifts mindsets so that managers start to see how health and wellbeing can make their day-to-day easier.

One way to support managers, and in turn employees, for the long-term is by creating a network of wellbeing champions throughout the business. Investing in this kind of ‘wellbeing infrastructure’ can raise awareness of initiatives on offer, provide on-the-ground support for line managers and, most importantly, increase the chances of your investment in wellbeing gaining real traction for the long-term.

Ultimately, this is about employers using Blue Monday as a timely reminder that they ignore the health and wellbeing of their workforce at their peril. But to truly take this on board the commitment stretches way beyond Mondays and way beyond January each year. Some of the best ideas start in the world of Marketing & PR but, in my experience, real change inside organisations only comes from a long-term, values-based and Board level commitment. That is the real challenge for workplace mental health and wellbeing.

We asked our expert Founding Directors Ivan Robertson and Sir Cary Cooper for their perspective on this…

People work all year round, not just Mondays and organisations should be alert to the fact that better levels of psychological wellbeing lead to all sorts of benefits, including:

fewer sickness days;

more positive behaviour towards other people;

and lower levels of employee turnover.

So, looking after wellbeing makes strategic sense for any organisation and a clear grasp of the business case for wellbeing is an essential starting point for the top team. Collecting data on the wellbeing of a workforce provides the information needed to steer wellbeing strategy in the right direction – or to influence the top team if that is required.

Once the current position is understood there is a wide range of initiatives that can be introduced. Often, developing the abilities of mid-level managers to lead their groups to both high performance and high wellbeing is an important step towards implementing a strategic approach to wellbeing.

While Ivan highlights the responsibility of the employer, Robertson Cooper’s other Founding Director Professor Sir Cary Cooper looks to the individual to tackle Blue Monday head-on:

Tackle the issues underlying Blue Monday. Rather than just sitting back and burying your feelings of stress, try to identify what it is that makes you feel low at work, and do something about it!

For help identifying the pressures your staff are under, and putting a strategy in place that’s designed to improve the wellbeing of your workforce, contact our team of psychologists for advice.

After working with some of the UK’s largest employers, they’re perfectly placed to improve employee wellbeing.

Get more information by contacting our team here.