Wellness and Mental Health

“January Blues” at Work

For some employees, it manifests as a seasonal dip in productivity and motivation. But for others, January Blues hints at more profound challenges within the workplace.
In This Post:
Expert Contributors:
Katie Bergman

Katie Bergman

LMHC & Therapist at The Therapy Room Mind Health and Wellness

Jamie Sieja

Jamie Sieja

Director of Marketing of Flex HR

Alanna Fincke

Alanna Fincke

Executive Director of Content & Learning at meQuilibrium

Mark McShane

Mark McShane

HR and Managing Director of AED Training

Arielle Jordan

Arielle Jordan

LCPC, EMDR Trauma Therapist at Mindset Quality

Once the holidays are over and the thrill of the new year expires, picking up where we left off at work may seem challenging and sometimes even dreadful. 

‘Tis the season of the January Blues. 

Research from Redbooth and Priceonomics shows that January is the least productive month. It has the lowest task completion percentage at 7.2% compared to the highest (October) at 9.5%. The study also reveals that winter is the least productive season, sitting at just 22.8%. 

An annual phenomenon that causes people to feel lethargic and unmotivated, January Blues creeps into every aspect of our lives, and the workplace is no exception. Energy plummets, and by the third week, we enter the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday. 

Understanding why and how it happens can aid companies in choosing the right support system for their employees and help them navigate the most challenging month and day of the year. 

January Blues

The Meaning of January Blues

January Blues, or Blue January, is a term that refers to the feelings of melancholy, tiredness, and lack of motivation at the beginning of the year. Typically, it’s associated with the end of the holiday celebration and the return to regular day-to-day routines.  

In the aftermath of Christmas, between holiday expenses and transitioning back to work, this can cause employees emotional and financial strains. As cold and long January sets in, weather challenges and minimal daylight contribute significantly. 

However, behind the anecdotal meaning, January Blues brings forth an underlying mental health concern – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as seasonal or winter depression.  

Linked with a biochemical imbalance in the brain due to receiving less sunlight during the day, especially in the northern hemisphere, late fall and winter are the peak hibernation seasons that contribute to this condition.  

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), SAD affects 5% of the U.S. population. However, while this is an average estimate, the actual number depends on the region.  

For example, in Florida, SAD affects 1% of the population, while in Alaska, as it’s in the northern parts of the U.S., the number goes up to 10%. 

Many of the symptoms coincide with a major depressive disorder, including: 

  • Feeling sad 
  • Changes in appetite and sleep 
  • Loss of energy and interest in activities  
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness  
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, and making decisions 
  • Suicidal thoughts  

Although SAD can be the culprit behind the post-holiday lethargy, people experiencing Blue January don’t necessarily have winter depression. However, persistent severe symptoms might indicate a more pressing mental health condition.  

Thus, it’s essential to understand when and how companies should interfere. 

Before we explore the importance of tackling this issue in the workplace, let’s unravel the mystery behind another phenomenon that unfolds during this period – Blue Monday. 

What is Blue Monday in January?

So, what is Blue Monday in January? 

Blue Monday falls on the third week of January and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. 

Initially, it emerged as a marketing trick for booking a holiday. 

Psychologist Cliff Arnall coined the term in 2004 at the request of the travel company Sky Travel, seeking a ‘scientific formula’ to explain the post-holiday lethargy. In its quest for answers, Arnall weighed all major factors contributing to January Blues to determine when people are least motivated and happy. 

Since its mention, Blue Monday has become a staple of mainstream culture, sparking a discussion on the challenges of the post-holiday period.  

Despite its contested scientific basis, the concept resonates with individuals experiencing the winter blues, initiating a much-needed conversation on mental health, especially in the workplace. 

Strategies for Overcoming January Blues

At the height of seasonal depression with winter in full swing, January blues can follow the holiday season,” says Katie Bergman, LMHC and Therapist at The Therapy Room Mind Health and Wellness.  

Bergman adds,Credit card bills start rolling in, and with spring so far away, it’s easy to see how productivity in the workplace might be dismal.” 

However, while productivity does plummet during this period, winter blues raises concerns about employee health, not only in January but all year long. 

Wellness statistics show that 61% of employees feel stressed and burned out.  

Also, they were seven times more likely to have suffered anxiety, depression, and stress over the last two years. 

Adding to this, Blue Monday and Blue January become more than buzzwords. 

These phenomena require the utmost attention in the workplace and actionable strategies that companies and their employees can adopt before, during, and after the least productive season. 

Before January Blues Focuses

  • Setting goals 
  • Financial planning and budgeting 
  • Setting attainable personal and work resolutions 
  • Prioritizing work tasks 

We know how, why, and when it happens.  

So, what better solution than to be prepared before January comes? 

In the prelude of the winter melancholy, crafting a plan is an essential strategy for preventing or overcoming post-holiday stress. 

For example, for employees, budgeting for holiday expenses can mitigate the financial strains, leaving one less thing to worry about during this month.  

Moreover, setting realistic and attainable personal goals is essential to bring a sense of reward when completed. Contrary to this, overly ambitious New Year’s resolutions can backfire, adding to the pressure of an already challenging period.  

Katie Bergmanadvises the same for organizations.  

“January is the perfect time for goal setting and inspiration,” says Bergman.  

“Set aside time for your team to reflect on the past year’s achievements as well as look to the new year with an attitude of inspiration. By setting attainable goals, professionally and personally, you can assist your team in accountability while maintaining productivity.” 

Another tip for the workplace is to prioritize tasks and projects before Christmas. That can reduce last-minute pressure and help for a smoother back-to-work transition. 

Set aside time for your team to reflect on the past year's achievements as well as look to the new year with an attitude of inspiration. By setting attainable goals, professionally and personally, you can assist your team in accountability while maintaining productivity."
Katie Bergman
LMHC and Therapist at The Therapy Room Mind Health and Wellness. 

During January Blues Focuses

  • Practicing self-care 
  • Regular exercise 
  • Leveraging company benefits 
  • Raising awareness through open communication  
  • Work-life balance 

Once January settles in, taking proactive measures can help navigate the workplace’s lethargy and lack of motivation. 

Self-care and self-focus activities take center stage.  

For example, setting aside time for hobbies and personal relationships and practicing healthy habits.  

During this time, work-life balance is vital for stress reduction. 

Self-care is not pedicures and massages,” says Katie Bergman.  

Encouraging your team members to engage in sustainable self-care routines such as physical activity, adequate nutrition, mental health support, hydration, engagement in hobbies, setting clear boundaries, and learning to say “no” when necessary to avoid overcommitting will ensure team members maintain optimal mental and physical health routines.” 

Physical activity is another aspect worth looking at. 

Many studies reaffirm the positive association between mental health and exercise, revealing that the top three types that help the most are general physical activities, cardiovascular physical activity, and yoga. That means even light aerobic exercise or YouTube workouts can be a great at-home solution for dealing with Blue January. 

As for workplace-friendly solutions, employees can leverage support services such as mental health counseling, wellness initiatives, or Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for emotional assistance or health challenges, fitness trackers, and gym memberships to support employees’ physical health. 

Open communication about workload concerns is another critical aspect that fosters awareness of the issue and its effects. 

January Blues can sometimes push employees to overwork themselves to counteract the seasonal productivity slum, exacerbating workaholism and its mental toll.  

Thus, encouraging a healthy work-life balance becomes paramount.  

Some coping strategies to consider are creating clear task lists, setting workplace routines and realistic deadlines, introducing more breaks to manage burnout, clear communication, etc. 

It can be isolating and disappointing coming off the holiday highs when jumping back into work, knowing there is nothing but a big workload to come back to,” saysJamie Sieja, Director of Marketing of Flex HR. 

Whether employees are working remotely or not, interaction with co-workers plays a key role in knocking down some of those January Blues.” 

The Aftermath

  • Maintaining well-being  
  • Self-reflection & improvements 
  • Feedback  
  • Implementing comprehensive work initiatives 

Despite sometimes feeling like an eternity, January and the winter melancholy eventually pass.  

Yet, maintaining good mental health should be a year-long commitment. 

In the aftermath of the January Blues and Blue Monday, it’s time to reflect on what has been done, what worked, and what can be improved. 

Since there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in the workplace, feedback is everything. 

Assessing the impact of company initiatives and suggesting improvements creates a collaborative and supportive workplace culture and tackles issues like productivity and worker well-being. 

Although encouraging regular exercise or introducing more breaks can help, employers should implement comprehensive company initiatives beyond these tips and strategies to help employees improve their well-being and battle depression at work. 

January Blues

Company Initiatives

As productivity plummets and mental health concerns rise, employers grapple with the consequences of Blue January 

Traditional approaches like team-building activities may fall short, prompting industry experts to advocate for radical shifts in work culture. 

So, as we approach the season of giving, what can employers give to their workforce? 

1) Challenges & Positive Reinforcement

At meQ, we’re kicking off a January challenge on tiny habits to boost your health,” says Alanna Fincke, Executive Director of Content and Learning at meQuilibrium. 

She adds: “The keys to supporting employee well-being and productivity, especially in the post-Holiday January Blues, include fostering open communication, practicing empathy, reminding people of the resources available to them, and injecting some positivity into the workplace.  

That can look like, for example, encouraging employees to maintain healthy habits.  

So, consider organizing a reset challenge to motivate people.” 

2) Investing in Mental Well-Being

Considering the challenges of Blue January, including anxiety and depression at work, HR and Managing Director of AED Training, Mark McShane, underscores the need for companies to invest in employees’ mental well-being actively. 

“Promoting mental health awareness via workshops and training sessions not only dismantles stigma but also fosters open dialogue about these critical issues.  

Companies that offer flexible work arrangements—like remote work options or adjusted schedules—ease stress for employees contending with challenging conditions. 

Furthermore, they can grant access to counseling services, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and mental health resources; all these efforts ensure robust support structures are in place.  

It is essential that companies also enhance the office ambiance: larger windows, LED lightbulbs, and strategically placed lamps often suffice. 

Moreover, encouraging regular outdoor breaks revitalizes employee well-being. Ample light and brightness boost mood and energy levels, effectively combating the winter blues.” 

Tava Health

Tava has built a proprietary network of therapists and guaranteed real-time access to their windows of availability by building a proprietary practice management software and giving it away for free to therapists.

Aaptiv

Aaptive provides employees have access to an in-person fitness network of as many as 19,500+ gyms and studios, AI-powered and on-demand workouts, and mental well-being content- all accessed through a single mobile app.

Modern Health

Modern Health is a global platform built on evidence-based principles that simplifies how employers provide mental health benefits. They use a “Stepped Care” approach to ensure employees receive the right level of support at the right time.

BHS

With over 40 years of organizational mental health experience, BHS delivers comprehensive, evidence-based mental health solutions designed to empower organizations and employees while fostering a mentally thriving culture.

Journey

Journey is a proactive mental health company designed to engage all employees. They focus on helping companies proactively keep their employees mentally and emotionally healthy, and on inclusivity and high engagement. 

BetterYou

BetterYou measures where your day goes and helps you find opportunities to be more mindful. Thier app helps increase effectiveness, decrease mistakes, and enhance mental wellbeing.

Mantra Care

MantraCare is a leading mental and physical well-being provider that offers online therapy, weight loss consultation, diabetes treatment, physiotherapy, PCOS treatment, yoga program, etc. 

2Morrow

2Morrow is a leader in digital behavioral health, providing evidence-based health and wellness programs to some of the nation’s largest employers, states, and health plans. 2Morrow’s vision is to increase access to care by combining behavioral science and smartphone technology. 

Spire Wellness

Spire Wellness works with nationally recognized organizations in the US and globally to build and/or implement tailored programs that support their unique culture, goals, and employee health and make well-being a top priority. 

CuraLinc Healthcare

CuraLinc Healthcare delivers transformative mental health care fueled by connectivity, technology, and personalized advocacy to engage, empower, and support employees throughout their care journey.

Magellan Healthcare

Magellan brings 51 years of experience providing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services (since 1973) and 39 years of experience providing Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MHSA) services (since 1985) to employers.

3) Positive Work Environment

Finally, creating a positive culture and environment could help employees be happier at work and battle negative emotions. 

According to Arielle Jordan, LCPC, EMDR Trauma Therapist at Mindset Quality, fostering resilience is key. 

Encourage open communication, establish peer support networks, and promote work-life balance. 

Consider wellness initiatives like mindfulness sessions or team-building activities to boost morale.  

Additionally, providing flexibility and acknowledging individual needs can contribute to a positive and resilient work environment.” 

Jordan further advises: “Encourage regular check-ins, provide resources on stress management, and consider offering workshops or sessions focusing on coping strategies. 

Recognizing the challenges of the post-holiday period, creating a supportive atmosphere that acknowledges and addresses these feelings is crucial. 

Encouraging a Positive Mindset

Companies need to stay ahead of the January Blues by first recognizing this is an actual thing and being supportive and considerate of their staff,” saysJamie Sieja. 

Whether it’s investing in mental or physical health, raising awareness, or improving workplace practices, these initiatives should support a culture that encourages a positive mindset in employees. 

Providing such resources and the very necessary encouragement can create positive anticipation rather than January dread. 

However, despite having good intentions, it’s crucial to steer clear of toxic positivity as it can backfire. Usually, this happens when management ignores real concerns and brushes them off as, in this case, a fleeting feeling. 

Unfortunately, the lethargy around the holidays may hide a deeper problem in the workplace, especially in more stressful job environments.  

In fact, statistics show that 22% of Americans have experienced depression symptoms. Even more concerningly, almost 5% of adults in the U.S. experience these feelings regularly.  

Thus, recognizing January Blues as a potential sign of a bigger issue is crucial in setting year-round support systems and helping employees and employers navigate these challenges. 

Disclosure: Some of the products featured in this blog post may come from our partners who compensate us. This might influence the selection of products we feature and their placement and presentation on the page. However, it does not impact our evaluations; our opinions are our own. The information provided in this post is for general informational purposes only. 

Written by Tamara Jovanovska

Content Writer at Shortlister

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