HR In Crisis : How To Resolve Blue Monday

Blue Monday, officially ‘the most depressing day of the year’, takes place on 18th January this year. With its own Twitter hashtag #Blue Monday brings with it an estimated cost to the UK economy of £93 billion, according to the University of Exeter.

Traditionally, Blue Monday sees a spike in employees calling in sick as the post-Christmas slump grips the UK workforce and reality sinks in, but Blue Monday is much more than a catchy slogan. It is indicative of the chaos that HR finds itself in on a daily basis.

This week alone has seen yet more headlines about an unhappy UK workforce, disengaged employees, low productivity and record numbers of applications for new jobs.

As HR braces itself for high levels of absenteeism, is the culture of ‘Blue Monday’ here to stay?  

Here we examine some of the main issues responsible for Blue Monday and what, if anything, can be done to prevent it from becoming a weekly event in the UK workplace:-

Address productivity problems with better workspaces

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) this week reported a 0.7% drop in output between October and November 2015. All main sectors reported a fall with manufacturing, mining and quarrying and electricity and gas contributed the most to the widening gap. There isn’t a single solution for improving productivity but the Leesman Index suggests that the design of workspace plays a significant role. It claims that only 54% of UK employees believe their working environment is conducive to a productive working environment.

The Index, which records satisfaction levels with numerous workplace features and services, shows employees are increasingly looking for a variety of workspaces, such as social and informal areas, to collaborate and communicate with colleagues, yet employers are failing to provide them.

The tools we use to work with have changed significantly in recent times but physical workspaces haven’t been affected by radical change. Employees’ workspaces, Leesman recommends, must be included by HR when reviewing strategies for boosting productivity and performance.  Nor are innovative workspaces the exclusive domain of companies like Google. Norwegian based telecommunications company Telenor epitomises how office space, technology and creativity can boost creativity and well-being.

Further reading : Our previous article How Does HR Solve The UK’s Productivity Crisis? explores the issue of productivity in more detail.

Offer flexible working to attract talent

One simple change to working practice may radically alter HR’s ability to attract more qualified candidates to job vacancies. Offer flexible working.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports that as many as 1.9m ‘highly qualified candidates’ are being lost to UK employers due to the lack of flexible working options. The UK’s culture of long working hours is often given as a cause of stagnant productivity and high staff turnover. Flexible working offers employers the opportunity to reduce employment costs, retain the skills of key workers who might otherwise leave and improve efficiency. Flexible working can mean allowing people to work remotely too. Today’s technology allows for constant connectivity and monitoring of out-of-office workers and over a third of remote workers report an increase in productivity.

Don’t write-off the over 50s

Older workers possess a wealth of skills and experience that HR can tap into to benefit an organisation. Instead, it seems to be planning the demise of the over 50s by focusing on retirement planning in preference to career progression. Ashridge Executive Education’s report reveals that ambition remains high among so-called Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers yet only 1% of HR staff believe they need career development. Its focus remains firmly on developing younger generations in the workforce.

The report recommends:-

  • An informal, personalised approach to career development, including coaching and mentoring.
  • Providing options for over 50s to act in advisory roles to boost motivation and for the overall benefit to employers. It is also worth noting that over 1 million workers in the UK are over 65 and that figure is expected to rise.

British Gas also reports that nearly 75% of the over 50s are confident of learning new skills, yet a third felt they were not being offered sufficient opportunities, with only 10% being offered similar levels of training to younger workers.

Rather than consign workers over 50 to the ‘retirement’ file, HR should tap into the immense talent pool, skills and experience available to address issues such as the soft skills shortage in the workplace.  

Pay attention to workplace wellbeing

According to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 6 workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. Work itself is identified as the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, ranking higher than financial problems and debt. Blue Monday perhaps brings the issue of stress and wellbeing into sharp focus for HR.  

UK chief medical officer Sally Davies revealed that 70 million working days are lost every year as a direct result of mental health issues including stress and depression. This is reinforced by research indicating that only a third of families are happy with their ‘work/family balance’ and feel pressured at work, leading to inevitable resentment towards their employer.

The same report reiterates the need for flexible working referred to above, although there is a clear disconnect between employers and their staff. 60% of workers believe that flexible working would be of mutual benefit but around one third of employers remain resistant to the idea.

To resolves issues relating to well-being HR must re-examine its approach to mental health, ensuring appropriate policies are in place for appropriate workplace wellbeing.

Our previous article Hiring Solutions : Wellbeing At Work provides more advice on how employers can combat this issue, including:-

  • The creation of an open, stigma free environment for people suffering from mental health problems.
  • A focus on physical health.
  • HR must acknowledge common health problems, such as cancer.

Invest in HR technology

A fear of big data and technology paralyses HR with over half of HR functions still persisting in their use of manual recruitment processes. Investing in HR software reduces the time consuming administrative responsibilities, allowing HR to focus on paying attention to what’s really happening within its workforce. Investment in HR technology is essential for companies to create effective talent acquisition and retention strategies and remain competitive in 2016.

Address the pay gap

From Blue Monday to Fat Cat Tuesday, HR needs to find a way to reconcile the realities of workers’ perception of the pay gap between employees and CEOs. Fat Cat Tuesday & The Reasons UK Leadership Isn’t Working explores this in more detail.

Enable your business to pay attention to the issues raised by Blue Monday. Invest in world class recruiting software that allows HR to focus on improving workplace engagement and productivity. Our technology is used by some of the world’s leading organisations. Find out why. Contact Advorto today.



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