Thank goodness 2020 is over. While there certainly is a sense of relief from surviving the worst year in our lifetime, the beginning of 2021 doesn’t feel much better. We survived 2020, but how many of us thrived?
We’ve had nearly an entire year of social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions. The early forecast for the year looks to be more of the same. With the world continuing to battle an alarming rise in cases, this is the moment where we face Blue Monday — the supposed most depressing day of the year that ties post-holiday trauma with winter and job dissatisfaction. Add that to pandemic conditions, and you’ve got a recipe for a very blue Monday that lasts all year.
So, what can we do to beat Blue Monday and ensure that 2021 is better than 2020?
A look back on the resilience curve of 2020
In comparing 2019 with 2020 data, we found a stark contrast. 2019 showed ‘typical’ yearly behaviour — natural peaks around Easter, the summer and Christmas holidays. However, 2020 was very different.
In March, we saw scores fall 18pts across all of our clients as the outbreak started and governments imposed unprecedented restrictions. But after this huge global setback, our data then starts to tell a different story. A story of resilience. Teams adapting to new ways of working and organisations adjusting. Scores slowly climbed back up close to pre-COVID levels of happiness.
The path was still bumpy, and as we ended the year scores were behind 2019. Altogether, the 2020 average weekly happiness score was 4pts lower at 67pts compared to 71pts. This happiness gap, if not closed, will result in lower performance in 2021. From our estimates a 4pt drop typically translates into a £1,000 ($1,500; €1,200) loss per employee (in terms of reduced productivity and increased flight risk). Not addressing happiness levels has some very real cost implications.
Bear in mind that these are Friday Pulse clients who have taken active steps to address their employee wellbeing and happiness. In other words, the rest of the marketplace is likely to have far lower scores.
However, there is still reason to hope 2021 can and will be a better year — the world’s mass vaccination programme continues to offer hope and we’re also carrying forward important knowledge and wisdom from 2020.
We’re now in a world where employee wellbeing is front and centre. A recent global survey of 1,500 executives conducted by Robert Half  found that 37% of employers are aware that their employees manage heavy workloads and are at high risk of burnout due to the pandemic. 42% of companies surveyed have started offering more mental health resources to assist their employees. We know the importance of being empathetic, setting reasonable expectations, being more appreciative of each other and connecting. Many businesses lead with happiness in mind and have seen great results.
So, how do we beat the Bluest of Blue Mondays?
The biggest problem with the beginning of 2021 is that we are already exhausted. Many of us spent our holidays in lockdown or isolation, and we’re all feeling levels of frustration and sadness from the events of 2020. The question is how do we regain our energy? Where can we get a lift — especially in our work lives?
It comes down to connecting with one another and empowering your people to follow their passions. At the risk of sounding radical, 2021 should be about getting people to enjoy working again, rather than just building more business value.
Connect and Collaborate
Though we are all socially distant — and in many cases, siloed in our work — the first step to beating Blue Monday is connecting with others. When we connect and form bonds with our colleagues (even remotely), it makes work easier.
We’re all carrying an emotional burden or load these days. Genuinely listening to each other’s challenges kickstarts a cycle of trust, understanding and positive emotions. This, in turn, makes it easier to counterbalance the negative experiences of work and alleviates the stress of our situations. These are principles that apply in ANY workplace situation, pandemic or not.
Team leaders can take this further by having team members collaborate on projects together. It will likely be more enjoyable and productive. And, in the end, a truly collaborative workplace is good for employee wellbeing.
Variety is the spice of 2021
If you’re in the doldrums of ‘more of the same’, then variety is the only way to break it up. This doesn’t mean breaking up teams or tossing arbitrary objectives for the sake of changing things up. It’s about rediscovering the things we love about work.
With so many challenges in 2021, teams need to cultivate a spirit of innovation. There is a great opportunity to creatively engage people’s strengths whilst aligning with business goals.
Talk to your people and ask them about their strengths – especially their under-utilised strengths. Learn about their interests as well as their skills and explore how to work together to creatively solve the challenges you face.
We have a tendency to focus on problems rather than wins. This is because of negative bias, and in our current pandemic restrictions it can make a bad situation worse. To counter that, we need to make an effort to celebrate victories. Even the little ones.
Of course, some problems need to be addressed. There is a time and a place for that, just as there is a time and a place for celebrating victories. Yet, for many companies, the time and place for celebrating wins is later.And when later comes, it’s already too late. Moving on without acknowledging wins can leave team members feeling ground down and resentful—eventually leading to burnout.
Celebrating victories means talking about what team members are doing well or drawing extra attention to a team member’s efforts. It means relishing the energy that comes from employees being excited about recent wins.
Thriving in 2021
Thriving, not just surviving, is about connecting with our teams and having room to follow our passions in work. It’s about rediscovering what makes us happy in work and celebrating victories. Most important of all, it’s about recognizing the strength we gained from getting through 2020 and working together to face the challenges and opportunities of 2021.
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 The monetary impact of a rise or fall in employee experience and morale is necessarily an estimation process. Friday Pulse uses the best, most reliable available information from both external and our own proprietary research to generate these estimates. Click here for further information about the methodology used.
 Robert Half commissioned research amongst 1,502 c-suite respondents using an online data collection methodology during July 2020.This was comprised of 300 interviews in Belgium, 300 in Brazil, 301 in France, 300 in Germany, and 301 in the United Kingdom. Respondents included General Managers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Information Officers with hiring responsibilities across small (50-249 employees), medium (250-499) and large (500+ employees) from private, publicly listed, and public sector businesses across the five countries.