Is Blue Monday Just a Cynical PR Stunt?

The concept was originally coined in 2005 by psychologist Cliff Arnall who came up with a ‘formula’ for the January blues for travel firm Sky Travel, which then used the phrase in a press release to promote their winter deals. It took into account a number of factors likely to contribute to low mood such as the weather, time since Christmas and monthly salary. However, Arnall has since admitted the formula is essentially pseudoscience and has urged us to “refute the whole notion” of Blue Monday.

Working in PR and marketing, I can appreciate the need for a ‘hook’ on which to peg a story or a campaign when a newsworthy angle isn’t immediately obvious. But trading off people’s misery seems a bit irresponsible, even for a seasoned former hack like me! Rather than a golden sales opportunity, I think it is far better to use Blue Monday as a legitimate excuse to draw attention to the importance of looking after our own mental health as well as that of our relatives, friends and colleagues. According to the charity MIND, one in six of us will suffer from depression at some time in our lives, so the chances are, regardless of the fact it’s Blue Monday, we or someone we know will be suffering – and for many it is a seriously debilitating illness.

Generally the mental health of the PR profession is poor: according to latest State of the Profession Survey from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), around a quarter of practitioners (23%) have taken time off sick in the last year because of stress, anxiety or depression. And, as a business owner I have a duty of care towards my staff and aim to create a positive, open and honest work environment where people feel able to discuss any problems they have without the fear of being judged. I’m also keen to contribute to my employees’ overall health and wellbeing, but sometimes it’s difficult to know what I can practically do. Rather than trying to think of grand sweeping gestures I find it easier to think small. There’s lots more we can do but introducing simple initiatives like treating staff to a free breakfast once a week, signing up to an employee incentive scheme like Perkbox or even just encouraging people to go home on time can have a big impact. This is particularly pertinent when working in a profession where having to meet deadlines and working unsociable hours are the norm.

Recognising and celebrating individual and team achievements and giving staff greater responsibility can also make them feel empowered and create a happier, healthier workplace. While all of this is positive, occasionally people need more specialist help, and this is where an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which provides 24/7 help over the phone and a counselling service, could prove invaluable.

As well as benefiting existing workers, promoting a positive workplace will also stand you in good stead when recruiting new talent and could help to differentiate you from your competitors. Whatever action you decide to take, recognising the importance of mental health is an important first step, and as an employer it’s never too late to start!