Blue Monday: the mismatch between employee and employer on wellbeing

Today is Blue Monday and polls suggest a mismatch between what employees want in terms of wellbeing support and what employers think they are offering.

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Today is Blue Monday, the day coined by a psychologist back in 2004 as the ‘most depressing of the year’ where a combination of post-Christmas blues, failed new year’s resolutions, mounting financial problems and cold weather all snowball together.

A poll published today by recruitment firm Robert Walters shows that many employees don’t think their employer is paying more than lip service – if that – to wellbeing. 55% of professionals  questioned said they think employers should be doing more to help with employee wellbeing.

Chris Poole, Managing Director of Robert Walters UK, says: “We are seeing that the onus has shifted in recent years, ‘it’s no longer what can I do for a company?’ – professionals are beginning to ask ‘how can my company help me?’”

“The rise in awareness in terms of employee wellbeing has not only caused employees to become more outspoken in terms of their own expectations in the workplace – but also shifted the spotlight onto employers, increasing expectations around what the leaders of companies should be doing to help their employees. Whilst budgets may be tight, 2024 is evidently not the year to turn a blind eye to money being spent on employee wellbeing.”

Efforts go unnoticed?

According to research from WTW, over a third of companies (36%) at the beginning of the year were planning to double their current spend on employee wellbeing initiatives, despite a turbulent economy and concerns around inflation. And two-fifths (41%) say that their employees have barely noticed the new interventions they’ve introduced to boost employee wellness.

There is a clearly a mismatch between employers and employees and companies are increasingly being accused of ‘wellbeing washing’ – the act of outwardly showcasing support for wellbeing awareness and mental health causes (such as via social media posts or celebrating awareness days) whilst not actively working to improve the wellbeing of their own workforce all year-round.

In fact, Claro Wellbeing found that despite seven in 10 workplaces ‘celebrating’ mental health awareness days – less than half of these companies actually offer adequate mental health support. What’s more, for multinationals there is the issue of different cultural approaches to mental health. Towergate Health & Protection says employers need to  adapt their approach to the wellbeing support they offer depending upon the cultures and countries in which employees are based.

Employees demanding change

The Robert Walters poll shows 70% of professionals now expect more (for instance, benefits, working culture and empathetic leadership) from their employers compared to 18 months ago – with less than a fifth stating otherwise.

What’s more, when asked, over half (58%) of managers thought their employees had become more outspoken in the workplace over the last three years.

Findings from the poll also revealed that almost two-fifths (39%) of managers feel that employees are becoming more vocal when it comes to getting their needs met – with a further quarter (26%) claiming that employees are actually taking matters into their own hands.

When asked how employees were ‘taking matters into their own hands’ in order to manage their own wellbeing in relation to work,  some of the most popular methods were:

  • picking the days they are in-office (56%)
  • setting their own work hours (24%)
  • pushing back on workload (10%).

Chris Poole adds: “For professionals in an increasingly hybrid world, having autonomy in deciding the days they are in the office and setting their own work hours can help them avoid burnout – which right now, is enemy number one in terms of productivity and satisfaction levels.

“Whilst we are definitely seeing more of a push to return to the office, caution must be taken as to whether this is a positive or negative move for employees’ mental health and work-life balance.”

When asked, over a quarter of employees stated that wellbeing had become a priority for them over the past year – however, almost two-fifths didn’t believe it had become one for their employers.

Poole states: “Upscaling wellbeing interventions can be as easy and inexpensive as flexible work arrangements, improving access to mental health resources, setting up mental health employee resource groups (ERGs), offering paid sabbaticals, or even adding plants or introducing more natural light into the workplace.”

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