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Why businesses should take Blue Monday seriously

  1. Did you know?
  2. Understanding different mental health problems
  3. 7 signs that may suggest a deeper problem
  4. Recognising the elements of an 'anxious working environment'
  5. Ways to manage anxiety and depression at work
  6. Other ways we can support your business

Worker staring at screen Although Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, is a relative newcomer to the calendar, it has become a regular fixture and a valuable opportunity to discuss the wider issues surrounding mental health. While some employers dismiss the day as a PR stunt, or question its claim to be 'the most depressing day of the year', few would dispute the serious impact anxiety, depression and other mental health problems have on the modern workplace.

The mental health charity Mind believes that one in six workers is currently dealing with mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. This often "hidden" epidemic is estimated to cost UK employers as much as £15 billion in productivity and result in over 91 million lost days.

While many employers take a practical approach to helping employees with a physical disability, businesses are often uncertain how to react to someone with mental health problems. Some employers simply ignore the issue, which only adds to their employees' sense of isolation.

However, there are simple steps every employer can take to manage anxiety and depression at work, improve their employees' wellbeing and make their businesses more productive.

See: pdf icon Advisory booklet - Health Work and Wellbeing [647kb]

Did you know?

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(Sources: Acas, CIPD in pdf icon The Management of Mental Health at Work [601kb]Centre for Mental Health)

Understanding different mental health problems

Mental illness can affect employees of any age or gender. Common forms of mental ill health include anxiety, depression, phobic anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders.
Understanding more about these disorders can help managers to handle mental health problems in the workplace and help to remove the stigma often associated with these conditions.

  • Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, nervousness or unease that can be caused by issues in the workplace, such as workload, performance or conflict with colleagues. See Workplace Anxiety & Work Related Anxiety
  • Depression has many symptoms, including tiredness or lethargy, a difficulty in making decisions and the inability to function at work. Many people also find they experience anxiety alongside these symptoms. 
  • Panic disorders may mean that someone feels constantly afraid of having another panic attack and can't identify what triggers them 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders may be due to anxiety, which leads to someone experiencing obsessions such as unwelcome thoughts, urges or doubts that repeatedly appear in someone's mind.
  • Phobias - a phobia is an intense fear of something and this may be triggered by a very specific situation or object.

7 signs that may suggest a deeper problem

The first sign that someone may be suffering poor mental health is often a change in their day-to-day behaviour. The following signs could be a warning that someone may be suffering from the early signs of anxiety or depression.

  1. An increase in unexplained absences or sick leave
  2. Poor performance
  3. Poor timekeeping
  4. Poor decision-making
  5. A lack of energy
  6. Uncommunicative or moody behaviour.
  7. Becoming more emotional or over-reacting

See pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [554kb].

Recognising the elements of an 'anxious working environment'

While the causes of mental health problems are complex and can be related to issues outside of work, such as bereavement or family relationships, Acas has identified a number of factors that could create a working environment that can contribute to poor mental health. These include:

  • An on-going struggle to effectively manage organisational change
  • An ever-increasing pressure for the organisation and its staff to perform better - this can lead to employees feeling over-burdened and unable to cope.
  • A push to downsize that leads staff to fear for their future
  • A failure to prioritise the management of mental health and weak senior leadership
  • The absence of an early warning system that identifies and supports unwell staff
  • A lack of appropriate line manager training

See: pdf icon The Management of Mental Health at Work [601kb]

Ways to manage anxiety and depression at work

  • Create the right culture
    All workplaces need an open and supportive culture in which employees can talk freely about mental health issues. Acas provides practical guidance for line manages on starting challenging conversations that address employee concerns, and guidance for employers that offers tips on promoting workplace health and wellbeing. See: Managing People
  • Train line managers to handle mental health
    Line managers are an important part of promoting positive mental health in the workplace. They must be able to detect mental health problems early and need the personal skills to encourage employees to speak up about their condition. Acas provides downloadable guides and training courses to support employers in their staff training.
  • Have a consistent, joined-up approach
    It's important to deliver a joined-up organisational response that involves people at every level. This ensures everyone from senior managers and HR managers, to employees understands the company policies on managing mental health and handles issues with sensitivity.
  • Use Acas advice on best practice at work.
    With the help of mental health organisations, Acas continually updates its guidance on managing mental health issues at work. Employers should keep an open mind about mental health, check recent Acas blogs for the latest views and opinions and refer back to the mental health section of our website.
  • Challenge the stigma of mental health
    There is still a stigma attached to people who suffer from mental health problems. This can make sufferers feel reluctant to disclose their conditions and undermine the creation of a positive working environment. To combat this, we recommend that employers work with external mental health organisations to raise employee awareness and promote a healthy approach.
  • Empower staff to make them feel and work better
    We recommend that businesses explore new ways to give staff a say on the future of the organisation and involve them closely in day-to-day decisions. This helps to minimise the uncertainty caused by change and gives staff greater control over their working lives.       

Other ways we can support your business

For more information and guidance on mental health, see: Mental health in the workplace.

For training courses on raising mental health awareness, see our Health, work and wellbeing courses

Download our guide on promoting positive mental health at work: pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [554kb]

Take an Acas Learning OnLine course.  

If you'd like to discuss your specific requirements, use the Acas online enquiry form.

This news content or feature has been generated by a third party. Commentary, opinion and content do not necessarily represent the opinion of Acas.

We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.

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