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How HR takes the blues out of Blue Monday

By Mai-Po Wan, Director of Product Marketing, HR & Payroll, Sage Group PLC

Blue Monday is said to be the most depressing day of the year. The theory goes that this is the time when the days are short and cold, we’re all broke, and riddled with guilt that our new year’s resolutions haven’t panned out. The concept was coined in 2004 by psychologist Cliff Arnall who came up with a ‘formula’ for January Blues. It took into consideration weather, debt, time since Christmas and low motivational levels.

In 2021, we may have faced our bluest Monday yet. COVID-19 dominated last year, with little respite. Businesses locked into survival mode and had to ask a lot of their employees. As the challenges look set to continue into 2021, business owners face the potential of low employee morale and more tough decision-making. 

Companies need to ensure they are taking care of the emotional, financial, and motivational needs of their employees. Yet, how can People teams create a new formula that helps employees feel more hopeful in the early part of the year, so they feel empowered to seize the opportunities and months ahead?

Personalised pastoral care

The responsibility to create a productive and happy employee experience shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of HR. But it’s clear that People professionals need to play the starring role. HR’s task is to listen to employees, monitor their sentiments and share both insights and solutions with the company’s leadership to ensure the best possible workplace experiences, productivity, and output. That’s no small task in itself!

Every employee is an individual, with different needs, priorities, and personal objectives. A broad-brush approach – where everyone receives the same baseline of pastoral care – simply won’t suffice. One size definitely doesn’t fit all, and when dissatisfaction in the workplace surfaces, the best talent can be lost – and to companies fulfilling a more tailored package., People teams need an unprecedented understanding of each and every employee as well as a close, consultative relationship with company management. 

Now more than ever, that understanding also has to be real-time. Employees are never static; what they want changes with the seasons. As this year’s Blue Monday has been compounded by the hardship of the pandemic, People teams need to be particularly sensitive to factors such as mental health and potential money concerns. Some staff may request their pay earlier in the month, for example, and this is where the business should be flexible and understanding. 

Data is at the heart

However, attaining this level of real-time employee insight requires easy and comprehensive access to data from across the business. A People professional should have access to an employee’s emergency contact details, employment record and most recent appraisal at their fingertips. This can be challenging when that information is siloed in different parts of the business, so it’s important for all employee and business information to be accessible from a single environment.

Once People teams have access to comprehensive employee data, they then need the capabilities to process and understand it quickly. The employee experience is constant, and this has only been amplified by the flexible nature of remote working. Staff could be online and working at any point of the day, generating masses of data that HR teams will need to analyse if they want an accurate picture of the employee experience. There’s simply too much information for any person to process, so teams need tools to help them analyse large amounts of complex data quickly.

Processing and understanding this data is vitally important to the employee experience. One of the most insidious aspects of stress or depression – whether it’s Blue Monday or any other part of the year – is that its victims often suffer in silence. Individual employees are less likely to come forward – especially when isolated and working from home – and will quickly find themselves on a slippery slope towards low job satisfaction and productivity. That’s why HR has to make the first move, ensuring employees know they are there to listen and support at any time of day. A proactive approach can only be achieved if the HR team is aware of employee concerns – and that awareness can only come from data.  

The right tools for the job

Blue Monday in 2021 will likely have been bluer than most for everyone – the challenge is knowing which employees are struggling more than others and need additional attention. This requires a level and speed of data analysis that many HR teams alone cannot attain. Fortunately, AI and machine learning tools can lend a helping hand when it comes to analysing data quickly. 

The power of AI lies in detecting trends and patterns that are imperceptible for humans to notice in masses of data. Through advanced analytics, AI tools can deliver predictions and offer business recommendations. This provides better lead indicators that help managers proactively prevent – rather than just react to – employee issues. For example, People leaders can identify when a staff member is struggling from their workload and is likely to burn out. Armed with this insight, they can intervene to make sure the employee has the necessary support available.

By implementing AI into their technology stacks, People teams can achieve accurate sentiment and behavioural analytics. Analysing a range of factors, from the tone of their voice to what time they start work in the morning, a business can tell when an employee is struggling and under pressure. However, the human element is key. The machine detects the problem, but it’s the People professionals who solve it with empathy.

Getting to know you

Blue Monday should be a reminder to businesses – your people are your most precious asset. Going the extra mile to ensure they are healthy and happy at work boosts resilience, productivity and retention. In fact, a 5% increase in employee engagement leads to a 3% boost in profit growth. An approach that combines cloud integration and analytics will help People teams to gain a real-time, accurate view of each employee’s experience. As to help them, People teams first need to truly understand them.