Blue Monday — a genuine phenomenon or a marketing ploy?
Is ‘the most depressing day of the year’ based on real science?
Monday, 20 January 2020, a.k.a. ‘Blue Monday’ – the most depressing day of the year. Research has apparently identified the third Monday in January as the day when a combination of factors including poor weather, post-Christmas debt and low motivation create the perfect storm for a bad day. Cue headlines, media attention and your inbox being filled with offers to alleviate the dreaded Blue Monday…blues.
But is Blue Monday a genuine, scientific concept that impacts workers in the workplace? If so, should we take remedial action to support our colleagues?
Is the research valid?
Before rushing off to set up a mindfulness workshop, it is important to interrogate the research to see if it holds up. The cornerstone of scientific research is transparency and replicability. Can we see the methodology behind the research, was it appropriate, and do the conclusions follow the data?
Apart from a Wikipedia page containing a formula, there’s little available background to the research behind Blue Monday. It has been widely challenged, given the lack of clarity about what was actually measured and questions about whether the formula used to identify the supposed phenomenon is accurate.
In other words, the premise isn’t based on robust data. In fact, the academic who conducted the research has since backtracked to say it’s not a helpful concept.
That the research was commissioned by a holiday company should also ring alarm bells, and observers should weigh the evidence with an extra pinch of salt. After all, isn’t Blue Monday a perfect way to market travel to sunny climes to those wanting to escape the January blues? While many of us would agree that January is far from the most exciting month of the year, there’s no clear evidence that it’s particularly difficult on one day, nor that there’s any noticeable impact in our workplaces.
What can we learn from Blue Monday?
Despite the myth, there are lessons to be learnt from Blue Monday. The idea demonstrates how important it is to be critical about the data or headlines you are presented with, how they have come about, where have they come from and so on.
We need to dig deeper and ask questions about the methods, the level of causality between the findings and conclusions, and especially who commissioned the research and for what purpose. This can help us identify fads, misinformation and the real impact of the evidence.
On a more direct level, the concept of a Blue Monday does put a spotlight on some real issues for employers and employees alike. Things like motivation, well-being and financial worries. These however, are year-round concerns.
Take financial well-being for example. CIPD research shows that a quarter of workers believe money worries impact their job performance and few feel able to discuss finances with their colleagues or manager. Employers clearly need to pay attention to the financial well-being of their employees, and not just around one day in a year.
While there’s little evidence to suggest that Blue Monday is a genuine phenomenon, we can use it as a prompt to examine well-being and other people issues that should be addressed throughout the year.
Mel is Research Adviser at the CIPD. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion, ethical practice and organisation development. When she’s not exploring the evidence on HR practice, Mel enjoys yoga and travel.