National Sickie Day and Blue Monday – what can employers do?

14 Jan 22 by Charlotte Morris
Blue Monday takes place on 17th January. Pictured is a man in a green shirt at his workdesk looking sad.

January has arrived. The Christmas festivities are over, the new year diet and exercise plans start (and often stumble!) and it can feel like we are all on a huge sugar detox after weeks of indulgence.

Add to this the dreary weather and a need to pay for the financial excesses of Christmas, plus the impact of an earlier payday in December making it feel like January payday is taking forever – and it’s easy to see why it can be a tough month for many.

Of course, for some, the festive season itself is not a positive experience and this can also have lasting effects on mood, motivation and wellbeing.

These issues combined mean it’s no surprise that ‘National Sickie Day’ — the date when most employee sickies are pulled — took place on 7th January.

Just 10 days later, on 17th January, we will have what is known as ‘Blue Monday’, said to be the most depressing day of the year.

So, what can employers do to try and help improve staff wellbeing and positivity so they don’t dread coming into work? Whilst there is no simple answer or a one-size fits all solution, leaders can consider the following ways to help improve these issues, for the benefit of employees and businesses alike.

Communication

Firstly, consider how you communicate with employees. Engage with them to discuss personal and professional plans for the year. Help to set some achievable goals on an individual or team basis in the short term to get an early ‘win’ under their belt, creating a sense of achievement and motivation to continue in the same way.

More frequent employee feedback and praise as and when appropriate can also help people feel appreciated and valued. If a staff member does a good job at something, tell them, if they are always performing at a consistently high level, acknowledge this to ensure they know that their efforts are not overlooked but are seen and appreciated.

Lead by example

Just as negativity within a team can spread, so can positivity.

Even if managers or business owners don’t feel entirely upbeat themselves, if they communicate positive messages to their teams, praise and give positive feedback to individuals, this can help their workforce to feel more positive and that, in turn, may assist leaders in feeling more positive also.

Be sensitive to individuals

We are all individuals and what works for one person may not work for another. The reasons why a person may be feeling down, disengaged or fed up will also differ. Some may have more deep-rooted reasons behind their behaviour and/or feelings.

Try and spot signs that someone is unhappy and talk to them about it. Ask if there is anything that can be done to provide support and assistance. If they do not wish to discuss the issues, don’t push the point. However, look to revisit the conversation again at a later date to see if there is an opportunity to help. In the meantime, make them aware of any employee assistance programmes you may have in place, where they can discuss issues in confidence.

If you feel that a person has more substantial issues than just feeling a bit fed up because it’s January, signpost them to mental health first aiders or external support and counselling services. Employees may be showing signs of a disability meaning reasonable adjustments will need to be considered and specific advice should be taken on how best to manage and support these individuals on a case-by-case basis. 

Attendance bonuses

These can be used to incentivise employees not to take days off unless they really need to. However, advice should be sought before implementing an attendance bonus so that potential discrimination risks can be explored and mitigated.

These bonuses can sometimes result in ‘presenteeism’ — whereby employees are present in work but are not productive and performing at their full capacity due to low mood or being unwell but not wanting to take the day off and miss out on the bonus. In isolation, attendance bonuses may not achieve the business aims but can be a useful tool if implemented correctly and utilised alongside additional measures.

Think outside the box

Studies have shown the positive impact music can have on mood. Depending on the workplace, introducing background music or allowing employees to listen to music whilst at work may help improve mood. Additional consideration should be given to the type of music and possible disputes over musical tastes though, as it is unlikely you will be able to please everyone.

Ask employees what changes can be made to help them through January – for some this may be additional team engagement (especially if staff are working remotely), for others it may be biscuits in the break room, access to healthy choice snacks or a care package to remote workers.

The changes need not necessarily be high financial value, but they could result in large gains in productivity, employee engagement and a better, more positive working environment for all.

Formal action

Whilst the above positive changes can minimise the prospect of employees feeling demotivated or the likelihood of sickies, if it is felt that employees are taking excessive time off or are missing work when they are not genuinely ill, there is always the option of taking formal action to address these through disciplinary or absence management processes.

Advice should be sought in these situations in case of potential disability discrimination issues and to take account of individual circumstances. Furthermore, if a minority of employees take sickies, this does not mean that the remaining employees are feeling positive, motivated, productive and engaged. Working to improving these elements could minimise potentially avoidable absences and benefit the wider workforce.

 


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Post by Charlotte Morris

Senior solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

Charlotte qualified as a solicitor in 2010 and has over 10 years’ experience of handling a varied and complex caseload, with focus on the retail and hospitality, transport and logistics and manufacturing sectors. She is also experienced within the education sector not only in advising clients but providing training to other lawyers within the sector and volunteering as a school governor for several years. Having undertaken a large litigation caseload throughout her career, Charlotte takes a commercial approach to her advice, enabling customers to manage risks and make informed decisions.