No money, Christmas weight to lose and never ending cold dark days are just some of the miserable realities many people face in January, culminating on Blue Monday (21 January), which makes it no surprise that calls to employee assistance programmes (EAPs) peak in the new year. But employers that let staff suffer in silence, not providing mental health support during a challenging time of year, are letting down their employees – comments Brett Hill, managing director at The Health Insurance Group.

Desire for change peaks in January

The new year brings a sense of taking charge and creating new beginnings, and individuals can feel rejuvenated to make changes; so, it is no wonder why there is a peak in divorce proceedings* and job applications** in January.

EAP providers experience a peak in calls in January as couples reflect on tensions that may have arisen over the festive period. Women represent the largest proportion of those accessing EAP services in the new year, with the majority aged between 41-50 years-old. They are often seeking support, as they can find themselves in the “sandwich generation” with both elderly parents and children to look after. Some turn to an EAP service to help them make changes – be it sourcing eldercare to alleviate pressures or seeking legal advice about the consequences of ending a troubled relationship.

Why should employers care?

With boundaries between work and personal life continuing to blur, employees can’t simply “leave their troubles at home” anymore and employers need to understand the impact this may be having on the workplace. Mental health problems cost employers £33bn-£42bn a year,*** in terms of presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover. Having a robust mental health policy in place is therefore not just a nice to have, but a business imperative.

There is clear evidence of a gap between what businesses believe they are doing, and how employees feel about these issues. While 60% of board members and senior managers say their organisation supports people with mental health issues, half of employees would not discuss a mental health problem with their line manager.**** There is clearly a void that needs examining and businesses need to be honest as to whether they truly offer robust mental health support, or if there is an unconscious bias within the organisation that needs addressing – that mental health is a sign of weakness and it’s the responsibility of the employee alone to address, for example. And with all the pressures associated with the month of January that employees face, now is a good time to ensure mental health support is adequate.

What can employers do?

Thanks to the ever-increasing societal awareness of mental health and the different guises it can take, there is plenty of support available. And technology is constantly adapting to meet the needs of employers and employees, as the conversation around mental health continues. For example, company-sponsored mental health apps are available – engaging employees in gamified activities to help them keep on top of their mental health. Underpinned by established techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and endorsed by trusted experts from the NHS, modern mental health apps can be savvy, intuitive and genuinely useful – helping users navigate daily pressures by utilising mindfulness and meditation, for example. And when considering that British men are 300% more likely to confide in AI than humans about life, love and their mental wellbeing***** – apps could play an integral role in managing mental health.

Providing mental health training is important too – ensuring that staff know how to spot, and support, different mental health concerns. Training gives employees the confidence to tackle an issue, head on, without fear of getting it wrong and offending an individual – risking the problem remaining unresolved through inaction. With employees particularly struggling in January, it’s important that staff know how to support individuals going through difficulties.

EAPs have also proved popular in supporting employees in difficult times, as demonstrated by the spike in their usage at key times – providing another option when creating a holistic wellbeing offering.

Brett Hill, managing director at The Health Insurance Group, comments:

“January can be a difficult time, with challenges to face in the new year feeling greater than ever before. Employers that don’t provide support to employees in helping to tackle some of these demons are really doing their staff a disservice. Not only is it costing them dearly as a business, but simple wellbeing solutions can make a significant difference to individual lives. From training employees to spot signs of mental health concerns, to providing technology to employees who feel more comfortable using this medium, there are plenty of ways to support mental health in 2019. So rather than let Blue Monday drag employees down, make it into the positive catalyst for change the day was originally intended to create.” *****