6 ways to motivate employees with the January blues

Piers Bishop · January 9, 2018

For many companies 2017 was the Year Of The Pool Table or climbing wall, yoga mat, free fruit basket, [enter chosen gimmick here]. It will be a while before we can fully assess the real effects on productivity, but at least some employees will have had some fun in the office. Fun times that probably continued through the festive period as employees were spoiled with a Christmas party, office treats and time off to enjoy the holidays. However, now everyone is well and truly back to work and sauntering through the dark days of the New Year.

As we all sink into the January blues and crave a fresh start for 2018, many businesses will also soon experience an uplift in employee turnover. So, what are you going to do about it? Before you start searching for football table discounts, here’s 6 ways to motivate employees that we know can make a real difference based on the success of our clients and employee feedback. Do these and your staff will love you better:

1. Be open – share the bigger picture

Office politics and hierarchical divides don’t breed a happy workforce; they exclude and isolate your employees. Whether things are going really well or you are struggling, let the staff in on the full picture. Just be careful not to gloss over the bad and only focus on the positive because it just won’t be believable. Hiding important information from your staff won’t protect employees from stress, in fact they are more likely to come to their own dramatic conclusion that is often far more worrisome.

This is why many businesses have an AGM (annual general meeting) with the owner or CEO present and scheduling one in mid January is a great way to reconnect business to employee and fill them in. If you get this right not only will employees feel more involved, they will find greater meaning in their job and probably proactively offer to help in any areas that need more attention. Just make sure you don’t then neglect employees for the rest of the year and continue to keep them in the picture with company updates throughout the year.

2. Listen well – get your employees perspective on things

Think about it. When it comes to nurturing any successful relationship one of the most important things you can do is listen. Anyone can make assumptions and box employees into generational categories, but if you truly want to know what’s going on in your organisation and, in turn, help boost the morale of your staff – listen to them.

Many businesses do this with an annual survey but then don’t necessarily know what to do with the results. This doesn’t boost motivation and instead causes more frustration. Employees are going to feel even worse if you know what’s wrong but still haven’t done anything to improve it.

Our entire product toolbox begins with WeThrive, an employee survey that helps businesses get to the root of any issues and discover conscious and subconscious reasons for any issues, such as a lack of motivation in the workplace. But we also have the additional tools and add-ons to help you take action and have meaningful conversations right away. You can find out more about our employee engagement tools or try the survey now.

3. Be realistic – don’t overpromise and underdeliver

You may have made well-intentioned attempts already to improve workplace culture and boost employee morale with big ideas, but have you actually followed through? It doesn’t matter how many times you do an employee survey or say the right things – the proof is in the action. This is especially true in 1-2-1s where employees frustratingly come back with the same issues time and time again with no movement or solution. Whatever steps you take to improve motivation in the workplace, make sure you can actually do it and that someone in the business is assigned to make it happen.

4. Encourage autonomy – be more flexible and trusting

Trust builds loyalty, if you’re worried about staff turnover and truly want to motivate employees then let go a little this year. There are now so many success stories with flexible working and some businesses are even finding that offering unlimited holiday has led to great productivity and improved employee retention. One of our clients Executive Search have proven this model works. The CEO Samantha Maxwell-Reed recently shared some insight at our recent Thriving at Work event in Brighton. She said:

“In 2013 we implemented flexible working and in 2016 we introduced unlimited holiday. That was a really bold move for us and it’s been a big success. Our contracted holiday was 25 days, the average across the company was 28 and one of our people took 45, yet business performance was exceptional.”

If flexible hours and unlimited holidays isn’t a viable option just yet, then consider creating some decision making opportunities for employees. Could you give them some time for personal projects or allow them to mirror or work with other departments to increase their company view and skill set? Or offer them the opportunity to decide on the next playful investment for the common area? There are plenty of ways to encourage autonomy and the first step is the desire to do so. So, are you in?

5. Less sparkle more action: don’t rely on gimmicks

It’s nice to have quirky benefits and playful additions to the workplace, but don’t throw your budget into those and forget about the groundwork that needs doing. Too many companies are rolling themselves in glitter to disguise the deeper issues that need addressing. This sentiment applies not just to fringe benefits, but any scheme intended to create extrinsic motivation, including performance-related rewards. According to Cohn, such rewards do not create an enduring commitment to any value or action. They just temporarily change what we do, and staff end up thinking ‘if they have to bribe me to do this, it must be something I don’t want to do’.

So, if there’s one change we’d recommend for 2018 it is step away from the gimmicks. There is one authentic, sustainable route to get your people working at their best, and that starts with knowing our own nature as human beings – something that developed a very long time before the pool table. Spend less money on office toys or consumable freebies and more time getting to know your employees and what they truly need to thrive in the workplace.

6. Say thank you – simple yet often forgotten

A lack of grateful behaviour in the workplace can be infectious. It often starts with senior management and the CEO or owner breathing down the neck of their line managers to increase performance and make more money. Line managers under pressure then carry on this momentum feeling deflated and demotivated. They justify their lack of engagement with employees with thoughts like ‘why should they get thanks when I don’t get any’ … and so the cycle continues.

Just saying thank you is definitely a good start, but there are also many other ways you can make employees feel more valued. For example in your weekly team meetings you could open the floor to allow others to be grateful and thank their colleagues. Share customer or client feedback or offer monthly awards for performance.

Are you ready to help your employees beat the January blues?

According to a 2017 study by Office Team, 66% of employees say they would ‘likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated.’ This is up significantly from 51% of employees who felt this way in 2012. If you’re feeling the effects of the pesky January blues and less than motivated yourself at this time of year, then chances are your employees are feeling it to. Yes, you could take some time out and worry about this next quarter, but based on research by Crunch Accounting, the likelihood is you may lose disgruntled employees by the end of month with many people holding out for January payday before they give notice.  

Start as you mean to go on this year by communicating your plans to improve workplace culture and make small visible changes right away. You know it makes sense.