Blue Monday: How leaders can help teams beat the January Blues

A female employee blowing her nose while wrapped in a blanket and looking at her laptop, to represent Blue Monday. The background is a blurred office.
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The second full working week of January can be tough for employees. With the rush of a new 2024 year already subsiding, many experience a real slog when returning to their job – not least because of the freezing cold weather typical for this time of year in the global north.

It’s no wonder that in the UK the second Monday back at work is dubbed “Blue Monday”, a day of low spirits for employees across the country. It’s a reliably poor period for worker satisfaction, during which existing problems are exacerbated.

As many as six in 10 (59%) workers say they fail to regularly feel joy and satisfaction at work, according to research by Mental Health First Aid England which surveyed 2,000 employees. A third (33%) stated they are often unhappy, stressed, or worried in their workplace. These are stats that certainly show why #BlueMonday on social media has had hundreds of millions of views and widespread engagement.

Effective leaders will do their best to alleviate these pressures, reduce burnout among their staff, and keep morale high. Blue Monday may be an invention, but the January blues are real for many, explains Anthony Painter, Policy Director at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). “Recognising the genuine impact” is crucial he says, adding: “We’re talking about that time when the holiday cheer fades away, daylight diminishes, and resources tighten up. It’s a real concern, and many people will return to work feeling less than 100%.

“You may need to adjust expectations. Your team might not be hitting all the marks in mid-January, and that’s okay. A small gesture can work wonders in darkest January.”

Blue Monday: The importance of workplace culture

One positive step suggested by MHFAE is a simple check-in. Its findings suggest that half of workers have never had a well-being one from their employer and nearly double the number since 2021 have had no well-being check-in over the past year.

Helping employees feel safe and fostering a supportive environment for all is another key element. Simon Blake, the organization’s Chief Executive, says: “Employers must build cultures where people feel able to bring their whole selves to work. When people feel free to be themselves, to express opinions without fear of criticism or judgment, they are more likely to contribute fully, which can help to create thriving and productive organizations.”

Painter also recommends pointing all employees to any available mental health support, but he warns: “This is the month where effective leadership truly shines. Schedule one-to-one check-ins, congratulate staff on their efforts and actively listen to worries they may have.”

Blue Monday: Encouraging a proper work-life balance

A simple step to banish the January blues can be encouraging employees to take a break. Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK & Ireland at Slack, cites research from Slack’s Workforce Lab that found almost half of UK workers rarely or never take them.

“Take a walk outside, have a cup of tea, or speak with a friend or colleague,” Byrne explains. “Globally, workers who do take regular breaks show higher scores for work-life balances, ability to manage stress and anxiety, overall satisfaction and productivity.”

Leaders might also want to look towards the DIAL framework as one practical tool that will pay dividends at this time of year. That’s the belief of the founder of Intrinsic Labs, Sharath Jeevan OBE. 

It stands for Dare, Ignite, Align, and Learn, and offers guidance to keep employees “purposeful and motivated”. It also helps to structure the minds of leaders, who themselves can be facing their own “Inflection Moment” at this time of the year.

Jeevan suggests DIAL represents a good time to organize a “step back day”, allowing everyone to look at how they are meeting the needs of customers/clients while also offering employers the chance to ask: “How can I better nurture the potential of my team?”

“Navigating this inflection moment explicitly can make it a much more enjoyable and exciting 2024 for your team and for you as a leader,” he advises.

If all else fails, there are always additional perks and incentives to banish those January blues for now. Danni Rush, COO, Virgin Incentives, explains how prioritizing employee experience and rewards at Christmas can lead to “a lull in overall motivation and productivity, especially at the start of a new year”. 

To combat this, Rush suggests January can be the ideal time to show appreciation and recognition for the hard work from the previous year. “Kick off the year by celebrating birthdays and long service awards,” she adds. “Gifting people a brand-new experience and planning a team event or celebration gives people something to look forward to.”

Blue Monday: Bringing teams together to raise spirits

It’s not just the post-Christmas come-down hitting hard at this time of the year. Tina Woods, CEO of Business for Health, believes leaders must take proactive action to understand all the factors that can cause physical and mental ailments at this time of year. This can lead to fatigue, feelings of depression, and poorer sleep health among employees. 

Woods’ organization is a coalition of major UK businesses pushing for preventative healthcare in the workplace and something as simple as organising a get-together can work wonders, Woods suggests. 

“Socializing is extremely effective for mental health and wellbeing, especially in those winter months when serotonin levels are likely to be lower. For those who were hosting friends and families over Christmas, this may have been a stressful time, and they could be looking forward to the different settings they’ll experience with colleagues.”

However, Woods advises some employees will be “feeling anxious” about the return to the office, explaining this is “a normal reaction” after a sustained period away from the workplace. Easing the transition with smaller working groups and encouraging the use of phone calls over emails can help.

She adds: “A workplace culture that promotes ‘psychological safety’ can go a long way in alleviating these feelings. Business leaders who communicate positivity, discuss forward plans and exciting developments, and remind teams of the wellbeing benefits and programs available to them will make their workforce feel more positive and upbeat.”

Leaders could engage in team mapping to identify the wellbeing needs of their staff. A brand-new year is also a time when the lure of more money, extra time working from home, and additional perks can lead employees to quit and seek something better if they’re not feeling supported. This is something leaders need to watch carefully and address through wider corporate strategy, for example through upskilling a workforce to keep them engaged and feeling valued, or improving transparency to give staff a clear sense of purpose.


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Ben Litvinoff, Associate Director at recruitment specialists Robert Walters, explains: “January is already widely considered as financially difficult for people, off the back of the prior month’s early pay. It is also the month where typically end-of-year bonuses, pay rises, and promotions are handed out. Still, after a turbulent 2023, some professionals may be left feeling short-changed, adding to their financial anxiety.

“Further economic challenges not only make employees nervous about job stability but also put a damper on career progression, inevitably knocking productivity and morale.

“That’s why it’s important for managers and senior leaders to make January appraisals count – using it as a chance to set manageable goals for the year, thinking about employee development and potential pathways.”

Jonathan Weinberg is a freelance journalist and writer who specialises in technology and business, with a particular interest in the social and economic impact on the future of work and wider society. His passion is for telling stories that show how technology and digital improves our lives for the better, while keeping one eye on the emerging security and privacy dangers. A former national newspaper technology, gadgets and gaming editor for a decade, Jonathan has been bylined in national, consumer and trade publications across print and online, in the UK and the US.