With the financial squeeze after the Christmas splurge and the stress of being back at work after the holidays, January is a pretty miserable month for many employees. Now, Blue Monday is upon us and more managers than usual are having to help their staff with personal or professional problems.
At Validium, we provide employee support and rehabilitation services for a range of organisations. We always see a spike in the number of calls around this time of year, and also more generally we've seen steep increases in the number of staff calling for help with mental health issues - up 70% from 2010 to 2012. The figures are evidence of the cumulative effect of the problems created by the recession.
What may have started as a normal sense of insecurity is then exacerbated by added pressures, be it changes at work or financial worries. Over time, this can turn into more serious mental health issues. And the January blues certainly don't help people already feeling under pressure.
What can managers do?
The natural inclination for a manager seeing someone looking a bit down is to say nothing. We don't want to intrude, and perhaps more than that, we don't want the embarrassment of talking about personal problems at all, and just hope they resolve themselves. But in reality, even the smallest gestures of support can make a huge difference.
It’s far better to offer support before the classic ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in. And all that really means is making sure you notice when someone appears to be struggling or down, and privately letting them know you might be able to help.
Give people some space at this time of year by holding off the more high-pressure activities, the tight deadlines and make-or-break meetings. Maybe you can let them come into work later in the morning to get themselves together, or finish a bit earlier.
It's not all bad...
On the positive side, January is a good time to take advantage of that sense of new beginnings, of the possibility of change. Now's the time to be thinking about schemes or offerings around wellbeing, supporting people to make the kinds of lifestyle changes that will benefit them and the business.
Think about the changes that you could make to benefit your staff, whether it's arranging a corporate discount at a local gym or offering free fruit. It might be a full-blown health initiative or just a few small tweaks.
But the real secret to managing people through the January slump is to talk to your staff and make sure you step in before things go wrong. It may be Blue Monday but we're all in this together. Here's to February!
Mandy Rutte is senior clinical business manager at The Validium Group