How to look out for your employees mental health during the January blues

Coming back to work after the Christmas break can seem daunting. As you get back to your desk to start your day, reality kicks in and you may feel overwhelmed: you now have to wait a whole year until you can return to the bright lights and excesses that go hand in hand with the festive period. With such mixed emotions, it is so important to look after your own mental health and your employees, particularly for the phenomenon of the January blues.

Such seasonal depression means that the short, dark days get us down; yet, add on the Christmas debts and seeing less of friends and family as everyone goes back to their busy schedules, then January can seem like the dullest calendar month.

Although January blues can feel like a myth, in fact research from the NHS shows that such winter blues affect around 2 million people in the UK and more than 12 million people across northern Europe. It can also affect people of any age, including children.

Why is looking out for your employees’ mental health important?

With so many workers being affected, it is crucial that employers understand how a bad mental health day can affect an employee’s performance and how they can best support their worker.

Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It influences how an individual handles stress, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making, which are all factors that one will encounter at work. This is why mental health is just as important to look after as your physical health: if you’re having a bad mental health day, with your mind full of negative thoughts, it will be really hard to perform your job role at work.


How to spot a worker having a mental health problem

You know the people in your team, either by working as colleagues or by employing them, and so you may notice changes in them. However, it is important to remember that mental health is personal and a different experience for everyone, and so they may not be an obvious outward sign.

This is why it is so important to make a work culture in which employees feel comfortable enough to speak about problems and battles they are facing. You should never make assumptions, but if you notice some slight changes, you may want to have an open conversation with your colleague and friend. Research from Myles Wellbeing has shown, some clues may include:

  1. Change in morale of a person, if their mood or behaviour is different
  2. Changes in productivity, motivation and focus
  3. Struggling to meet deadlines, get organised and make decisions
  4. Looking tired or anxious, and being unenthusiastic in tasks they had previously enjoyed
  5. Change in appetite, eating habits, or increased smoking, vaping and drinking

How to look out for your employee’s during the January blues

1. Create an open and inviting space

Having a working environment in which every employee feels able to openly talk about any grievances they have is crucial. Whether this is through wellness plans or having employers share their own vulnerabilities, a work team will feel more cohesive with an understanding of any colleagues who are struggling.

By employers sharing their own vulnerabilities, they show their employees that they are human, just like them. Whether the issue is minor and silly, such as struggling with a new bit of technology on their computer, or a more serious and personal anxiety, it will create an open space in the workplace for everyone to check in on each other.

2.   Check up on employees regularly

Whether working remotely or not, check up on your team. Drop them a message, video-call or meet them for lunch. Forming genuine bonds between employer and employee will ensure  that you will always be in the loop of how they are really getting on. It’s important that these sessions don’t feel like a routine, but rather an informal catch up, to get the most out of your chat.

If you find out in one of your regular check ins that a co-worker is struggling with their mental health, there are many free resources and tools for your workplace to help. For example, the charity Mind offers a free guide to their Wellness Action Plans to help start a conversation with your workers about their mental health.

3.   Be understanding

We all have busy lives and sometimes our outside commitments clash with our work. As an employer, offer employees time off for appointments, childcare or sickness, as well as offering breaks for wellbeing, such as a walk for a screen-break. Employees will appreciate the recognition that not everyday is a good day and sometimes we need to take a break to come back better.

4. Choose your language carefully

Language is how we communicate with each other, and communication is key to checking in on your co-worker. However, be careful with what language you use when communicating with your team to ensure you are getting an honest update on how they actually are.

For example, slight language changes can have a huge impact on the response you receive. If you ask your co-worker “How’s it going?”, you may find they give you an update on the task they’re working on. However, if you change your words slightly and ask explicitly, “How are you, is everything going okay?”, you may find that your co-worker will give you more detail.

With a response of a personal anecdote of something going well, or, more importantly, something that is worrying them, you can assess how your colleague is doing and get them any help, if needed.