Helping the Team Survive the Life and Death Implications of Blue Monday

Posted by in Ty Kiisel: Strategic Project Management

Mondays are tough for everyone. For some they may even be a matter of life and death. They call this coming Monday in the U.K. Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.

The BBC reported several years ago that 20 percent more people die of heart attack on Monday than any other day of the week—including men under 50 with no history of heart disease. Women under 50 saw an even higher statistical increase.

Not a very pleasant thought when staring Blue Monday in the face.

Although nobody really understands why Monday is the single biggest day for heart attacks (Japanese researchers blame increased blood pressure, Scottish researchers have blamed binge drinking and there are many who simply blame the additional stress of starting the work week) Tom Rath and Jim Harter might provide some insight in their book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.

Rath and Harter suggest that poor managers can negatively impact team member wellbeing.  They argue that only 20% of employees like what they do, and managers aren’t helping improve this figure.  According to their findings:

  1. The person we least enjoy being around (of all the people in our lives, not just at work) is our boss.
  2. A study of more than 3,000 Swedish workers found that those who thought their managers the least competent had a 24% higher risk of developing a serious heart problem.  If they had worked for the manager for more than four years, the risk rose to 30%.

“If you lead or manage people, your actions have a direct impact on the wellbeing of others,” write Rath and Harter.  “When managers and leaders invest in employees’ wellbeing, they are likely to influence organizational growth in the process.”

We often talk about the importance of good leadership and how it has a positive effect on project team performance, but it appears that the negative effects of poor leadership impact a lot more than workplace productivity.

According to the authors, it seems the type of manager that harms employees the most does it by ignoring them.  With that in mind, consider:

  1. People who feel their manager ignores them have a 40% chance that they will be actively disengaged or be filled with hostility toward their job.
  2. People whose manager ignores them are identified by Gallup as the most disengaged group they have ever studied.

Everyone has experienced bad managers at one time in their career or another, but I had no idea that it was potentially life threatening.  The authors suggest that disengaged employees have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol on Monday mornings than during weekends when their moods were better.  The difference in mood between weekends and workdays is so extreme that it could explain why so many heart attacks seem to happen on Mondays.

High levels of cortisol over a long period of time raises blood pressure, weakens the immune system, suppresses thyroid function, causes an imbalance in blood sugar, and even weakens bone density.

“Leaders can’t just tell employees that they care about their wellbeing,” argue Rath and Harter.  “They have to take action if they want to see results.  And this requires continual measurement and follow-up to help workers manage their wellbeing over time.”

If you’re a manager or other business leader, maybe Blue Monday is a good excuse to become more engaged with the team. It could be a matter of life and death.