Tuesday 22 January 2019 5:02 pm

Blue Monday is behind us, and managers must learn there’s more to employee wellbeing than office pets

Luke is a Features Writer covering marketing, advertising, data & technology, and entrepreneurs.

Luke is a Features Writer covering marketing, advertising, data & technology, and entrepreneurs.

Well done, everyone. The UK has survived yet another Blue Monday – allegedly the most depressing day of the year, according to a holiday company that came up with the idea in 2005.

To mark the occasion, journalists across the UK were bombarded with pitches about Blue Monday and how to stay happy, upbeat, and motivated.

One thing did catch my eye: a Pop-up Happiness Experience (cue eyeroll) from office supplier Staples.

I simply had to attend.

On Monday, the company had recreated the “ideal” office in Baker Street, complete with free coffee and smoothies, a massage therapist to rub away aches and pains, and cute office puppies to have a cuddle with, so workers in the area could get a quick shot of happiness during their lunch break.

There were also giant seasonal affective disorder lamps, which simulate the sun’s natural light in order to stimulate our brains, unlike the apparently nasty artificial light found in most offices. I stood very close to one lamp to absorb some of this healthy light, but all I got was a headache – maybe I was using the lamp wrong.

The real point of the event was to promote a new report from Staples.

Based on a survey of 7,000 office workers, it had found that one in five would describe their workspace as “depressing”, while 81 per cent say that their office space has an impact on their mental health. Over two thirds (68 per cent) said that they’d feel more valued if their organisation invested more in the workspace.

How surprising that an office supply firm published a report advising businesses to spend more on their offices?

Cynicism aside, there are important questions to ask about the state of our mental health and wellbeing, and we should be talking about these all year round, not just on Blue Monday.

There is a business case for improving employee sentiment – happier workers are more productive. Stress, depression, and anxiety are now the leading causes of sickness absences, accounting for 57 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health in the year 2017-18, according to the government’s Health and Safety Executive.

Does that mean firms should pay for office puppies? Or should they follow the examples of Google and Pixar, and install ping-pong tables and slides?

Not so fast. Perhaps more important than what is in our office is how we are treated when we’re there – or, indeed, when we’re not.

The culture of being “always on” and needing to check work emails in the evening, at weekends, or during holidays is simply not good for our wellbeing. Being micro-managed, offered zero flexibility, or expected to work past our contracted hours is also likely to cause stress and health issues.

On top of this, UK workers already have the longest working week in the EU, at an average of 42.3 hours a week. We spend the majority of our time at our jobs, so it’s in our employers’ interest to try to make us happier.

For busy managers, office pets and free smoothies might seem like an easy shortcut. But if we want to bring lasting change, we need to fix our current work culture: no more sending emails outside of office hours, or expecting workers stay late every night.

That would really help to chase away those Monday blues.