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HR can help mitigate the 'January blues'

The usual post-Christmas drop in happiness may be exacerbated by Omicron – but HR can help provide a light at the end of the tunnel.

While ‘Blue Monday’ may be a fiction invented for a PR stunt, the fall in happiness levels after the high of Christmas is usually the most severe, according to Nancy Hey, executive director at What Works Centre for Wellbeing, the UK’s national body for wellbeing policy and evidence.

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Hey told HR Magazine that this effect comes from the sudden return to the realities of winter.

She said: “November to March, with the exception of Christmas, is generally less happy than the summer months. November and February are both pretty miserable.

“They coincide with lots of work, illness, and poor weather which impact happiness drivers.”

The post-Christmas happiness drop in 2021 was a big low in the UK, Hey added, pointing to ONS figures which showed life satisfaction falling to its lowest point since records began in 2011 during the period January-March 2021.

With each wave of COVID, life satisfaction and happiness have tended to drop, and anxiety to spike, yet having this knowledge means HR can prepare for it.

Sophie Forrest, managing director of consultancy ForrestHR, told HR Magazine: “The return to work can often feel like back down to earth with a bump, but there are other factors at the moment that may make the landing a bit harder than normal.

“Widespread coronavirus is causing additional strains by creating extra financial stress for employees whose pay is reduced due to moving to Statutory Sick Pay; reduced service levels; employees being overworked to cover for sick colleagues; stress over childcare issues; and travel to work.”

Unlike the staggered returns from holidays taken by staff across the year, for many companies, all employees are in the same boat, said Forrest.

She added: “There is a real challenge for HR leaders, business owners, and managers, to lift collective spirits.

"While no one can change the background, effective HR leaders can demonstrate and communicate the positive things your company is doing, both specifically now to ease the transition back to work and also, across the next few months, to give staff reasons to be optimistic.

Happiness may be important but, according to Hey, it is by nature more volatile. For long-term wellbeing, life satisfaction is the most important factor.

She said: “A positive mood isn't the only thing that matters though, and we need the achievement, learning, purpose and challenge that can come from work.

"Readers will know that challenge matters and high challenge needs high support if we are to get through the learning pit and achieve difficult, important things with others – which is highly rewarding."

Forrest added: “This year, more than ever, it’s worth communicating to staff any new business initiatives you have planned, as well as your strategies for success, so they can see how they might achieve their personal goals and ambitions for growth within your company, as well as giving them reasons to be optimistic about the year ahead at this challenging time.”