How to motivate employees after the holidays

| January 20, 2015

With the year only a few weeks old it’s important that you motivate staff who have returned to work. Joy Adan shares how to jump start your business engine and get staff excited about the year ahead.

Look around your office today. Can you see the tell tale symptoms of employees suffering Post Holiday Blues?

Acute tiredness. High levels of nostalgia. Loss of enthusiasm and productivity. Short tempers and extra large coffee orders. Befuddled expressions of people trying to read or calculate after weeks of low brain activity. A thin layer of resentment as people look for colleagues who are actually still on annual leave.

Whatever label you use to describe the tell tale signs of Post Holiday Blues, one thing is certain: it’s a post-Christmas and New Year epidemic and every business owner wants a fast, effective cure for their unmotivated employees.

Here are some natural, cost-effective remedies to help you engage your people after the holiday season:

1.    Reconnect with your people

Yes, ask how their holiday season was, but don’t stop there. To engage and excite your people from day one, find a way to align their personal goals with those of your business. In his renowned TED Talk ‘The Puzzle of Motivation’ Dan Pink identified purpose as a top motivator for humans. So, over the next week, carve out time to talk to your direct reports one-to-one and ask them what their ‘big picture’ purpose for their professional development is for this year.

Are there specific skills or qualifications they want to attain? Are there areas of the business they want to experience working in? Do they need flexible work arrangements to achieve better work/life balance? And – most importantly – is there a way for you, as their leader, to help them reach their professional goals in a way that benefits both them and the business?

If there is anything that will set your leaders up for success this year, it is putting your people first. Helping them achieve their personal goals will naturally boost their desire to contribute and perform.

2.    Reflect on your wins (and losses) from last year

Praise has a powerful impact on your business’ bottom line. If you didn’t take the opportunity to identify and celebrate the efforts and contribution of your team members before last year ended, then do it in these first few weeks. I’m not just talking about the annual Christmas party celebration; I’m talking about celebrating specific achievements made by each person in your team. Look back at your reports (go through your inbox if you have to) and compile a list of specific projects, targets that were exceeded, positive feedback from customers, and stories to showcase what success means for your business. Similarly, viewing seemingly negative experiences through a positive, grateful lens will help you build a stronger, more resilient team.

Robert Emmons, a leading researcher in positive psychology, has studied the impact gratitude has on human health. Not only will compiling a list of wins lower stress and increase your own mental awareness, it will set the tone for a positive year for your business.

3.    Reset your goals for this year

What’s the difference between a wish or a dream and an effective resolution? The latter has a measurable result that you can visualise and create a plan for. One of the reasons why people repeatedly fail to keep their New Years resolutions is because most of them are vague. Anything vague is more likely to be abandoned because it lacks the motivating power that focus and measurable progress provide.

Give employees the challenge of creating specific, measurable goals that tangibly improve an aspect of your business, be it improving customer satisfaction metrics by X per cent, increasing revenue or reducing operating costs by X dollars. Then work with them to identify the steps required to reach those goals and commit to helping them obliterate obstacles. Set milestones when both of you can track progress and realign those goals as necessary.

Getting people onto new projects – or resetting and reframing existing ones – activates the creative part of your brain and will boost individual and team productivity.

4.    Recognise and reward progress

Based on over fifteen years of research, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer discovered the progress principle: of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. This is why frequent, specific recognition is such a powerful tool for people leaders. The celebration of small wins is most effective at igniting creativity, fuelling motivation and improving what Amabile and Kramer call ‘inner work life’.

RED – Recognise Every Day’s research has found that if you want improve and maintain high engagement, commit to recognising each employee at least eight times throughout the year. Companies that see the biggest increases to employee engagement, retention and job satisfaction recognised employees over ten times a year.

If you want to energise your people and get them performing at the top of their game, recognise them when they do a good job. This immediately boosts morale and helps increase productivity, and means they are more likely to repeat that behaviour in the future.

5.    Finally, relax a little!

Want the quick and completely pain-free way to cure post-holiday blues? Relax. Give your employees – especially those who’ve been away for a while – a bit of time to get into a work rhythm again. Managers are the biggest influencers when it comes to employee engagement (Gallup reports they account for up to 70% of employee morale, motivation and productivity), so it’s important to understand that you not only set the standard for performance, you also drive how much people love or hate coming into work. So don’t feel pressured to put the pressure on them straight away. Instead, use these first few weeks of the year to reflect, reset goals and realign your team priorities. This will give your employees new, exciting things to look forward to and ignite them with a purpose that should keep them fuelled for the months to come.

Joy Adan is a journalist and corporate communications consultant who writes about leadership and the science of human motivation and behaviour. To help businesses bring out the best in their people, Joy leverages lessons learnt from 10 years of leading teams and working with senior executives to manage organisational and cultural change. As a firm believer in the power of putting people first, she joined the team at RED – Recognise Every Day in 2014 and writes about how strategic recognition – especially when partnered with world-class technology – can help you build a better, more engaged workplace where employees do their best work every day.