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Is Your Small Business Prepared for Blue Monday?

Blue Monday is the term reserved for the third Monday in January that has become known as the most depressing day of the year. HR experts ELAS have predicted that employee absences during Blue Monday, as well as January as a whole, will lead to a loss in productivity that could cost the UK economy tens of millions of pounds.

The University of Exeter conducted a survey into Blue Monday that showed the potential loss to the economy could be as much as £93 billion. According to their research, someone Googles the term ‘depression’ every two seconds in the UK, leading to a whole raft of unauthorised absences, or sickies, that tend to hit towards the end of January just as festive feelings start to fade away, the cold weather and long nights start to drag, and the return to the daily routine of work hits home.

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Stressed out workers not to be taken lightly

ELAS warn that employers should make sure they understand the effects that stress can have on their employees at this time of year, and how it can affect business productivity as a result. This is felt especially hard for small business where staff absences will have a greater impact.

It has been calculated that as many as one in six workers in Britain will be affected by stress and mental health issues that can mean as many as 70 million working days lost to sickies per year. Blue Monday being the time when most unauthorised absences are experienced as workers are struggling to settle back into their normal daily routine after experiencing a busy festive break.

Business analysts are seeing January as a whole as a period during which very many absences occur, usually by employees throwing sickies, but which also coincides with the annual cold and flu season. Employers should be aware of the pressures that their employees face and rather than be reactive and negative to their plight, be proactive instead with their approach to their workers suffering with the ‘Monday Blues’.

Tips for Employers

ELAS have even gone as far as to recommend some helpful tips for employers who find themselves struggling with their productivity due to Blue Monday, and to try to help make January as productive as possible without adding extra pressure onto their employees.

One tip is to help promote good health in the workplace year-round, and to offer support to staff with issues through early recognition and appropriate management. Encouraging staff to use the stairs instead of the lift, removing unhealthy vending machines from the building, and offering discounted gym memberships to staff are examples of encouraging good health.

Providing hand sanitiser dispensers, and keeping all working and common spaces clean will help keep germs from spreading. Ensuring that communal toilets and kitchen areas are regularly cleaned, and all equipment is in full working order will also help to maintain hygiene levels, and prevent bugs from spreading.

Flexible working hours are advises wherever possible, and if appropriate, an option to work from home for those who are able. Those companies that do offer flexible working hours report that their employees are less likely to ‘pull a sickie’ as they can arrange their work around doctors appointments and will not feel so stressed out about missing time off work when feeling unwell.

Monitoring absenteeism will give you an insight into how it impacts on your productivity. Having regular meetings with employees to assess that they are well enough to return to work after a period of absence, or if they are in need of extra support from an occupational therapist, or doctor will also go a long way to improving and maintaining productivity.

But How do I handle employees who attend work while still being unwell?

Most of your workers will be very conscientious, and will want to return to work at the earliest opportunity after a brief period of illness. However, the last thing you want is to see an employee back too early if they are not yet fit for work, or they are bringing back with them a cold or virus that could infect your workforce, causing yet more absenteeism.

A presenteeism policy would be good to implement as it will clarify your company position about staff attending work while sick. We are all vulnerable to getting sick, but because the world of work refuses to stop, we sometimes feel compelled to let our health take a back seat in an effort to scramble back to work. This can have serious consequences not only on the health of an individual, but also on the company too.

As an employer, it is important to recognise that productivity is affected when a worker is absent, but an employee who attends work sick may be present in person, but absent in mind. This means that there will still be a level of disengagement from their tasks that will negatively affect productivity, and also increase the risk of accidents in the workplace, especially if they operate machinery or vehicles that need their full awareness.

If you have an effective presenteeism policy in place, this will help your employees understand the company proceedings with regard to illness, and under what conditions they should stay at home. For example, an individual may feel well enough to come into work and perform light duties in an effort to show willing, and to keep the boss happy. However, if there is a risk of them causing widespread sickness amongst their work colleagues, then they should be aware that this move would be unacceptable according to your company presenteeism policy.

Taking steps to implement a healthy workplace culture will encourage a more productive and efficient working environment, as well as reduce the impact on productivity by preventing sick employees from attending work while still unwell. This will foster a sense of good feeling at work and employees who are happy are more engaged in their work.

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