Motivating your employees after the holidays

After the holidays, how can you help your employees to start the year with a bang?

Written by Faye Bradshaw
Published 18 January 2019
Motivating your employees after the holidays
From mid November through December, your people likely spent too much, ate too much, and worked and played too much! And now they're back at work and the next vacation seems painfully far away. And, in the northern hemisphere at least, it's cold and dark, too. So, how do you ensure the holiday blues don't roll into February?

What are the 'holiday blues'?

Motivation can be low at this time of year. Gone are festive days spent in pajamas, overindulging in your favorite things, with all your favorite people. Suddenly, you're back at your desk with an arm-length To-Do List filling up before your eyes. This year, January 21 has been designated as "Blue Monday," the most depressing day of the year. Low levels of vitamin D and a sense of loss after the social season lowers our levels of the "happy hormone," serotonin, and raises sleep-inducing melatonin. So we're feeling low on energy, it's a long wait until payday, and our credit cards have likely taken a festive hammering! For some people, though, the holiday blues are no trivial matter. They may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a subtype of depression that is linked to a change in the seasons - especially the onset and duration of winter.

Plan to re-engage employees after the holidays

You want to start 2019 as successfully as you mean to go on. But it can be hard to get everyone else's ball rolling, as well as your own. It takes time to adjust, and you need to plan for that. Unmotivated, disengaged employees will be prone to stress and making mistakes, which can, in turn, affect customers and sales. January is also the most popular month for quitting a job, according to a 2016 Glassdoor survey of U.K. workers. So it's important to keep everybody as happy and focused as possible. Many companies experience slow business at the beginning of the year. That makes it a good time to take some positive steps for the future. Develop a plan to engage your teams and get everyone back in the right mindset for work. Your plan needs to give people goals to inspire and excite them for the year ahead. Here are some suggestions:

1. Welcome everyone back from the holidays

Before you throw yourself back in, take the time to welcome everyone back from their holidays, in person or by email. Thank them for all their hard work over the past year, and highlight their achievements to inspire some optimism. I once worked for a CEO who did just that. As I waded through my overflowing inbox, it was touching to find their heartfelt message. It made me take my head out of my hands and pick myself up mentally in that moment.

2. Start gently, but productively

It can feel overwhelming coming back to the office after the holidays. Have this in mind when setting deadlines, and don't schedule a big meeting or performance review on day one. Perhaps even arrange for a shorter working week. Strategize together: help your managers to help their teams organize and prioritize their tasks. This will help to eliminate procrastination - an easy thing to slip into when you're overwhelmed. But rewriting that To-Do List doesn't count as an accomplishment! Be aware of and discourage multitasking if you're facing a mountain of work. Constant switching between tasks creates an unhealthy reward cycle in our brains: each task gives us a little hit of dopamine, so we're encouraged to keep switching between lots of little jobs, like sending an email or writing a list. But that can make us feel like we're accomplishing more than we actually are.

3. Boost team morale

A 2015 survey by workplace designers Peldon Rose found that 83 percent of employees regard their colleagues as friends, and that those friendships encouraged them to be more productive. Why not organize a day of activities or a retreat outside the office? A group lunch or something fun and unrelated to work can keep that sociable holiday mood alive and boost morale.

4. Encourage teamwork

After a long break or annual shutdown, it's not unusual for there to be a slight disconnect within and between teams. Bring people back together and remind them of their roles and responsibilities. It's important to create opportunities for people to work together again. Collaboration can boost performance, heighten engagement, and lower fatigue.

5. Support reflection and change

A colleague gave me this excellent piece of advice a while ago. She recommended spending a few minutes each day assessing what you were able and unable to achieve, to help to refocus your efforts. It's a great way to reset and to get yourself back into a good state of mind for the next day, month or year. And self-reflection is useful for all aspects of life, not just work. Ask yourself, "What am I proud of?" "What would I do differently next time?" "Do I need to adjust my plan?"

6. Welcome new ideas, agree new goals

Having everyone create both short- and long-term goals can be a good team-building exercise. But make sure they aren't just wishful thinking or too vague to achieve. They need to be specific, measurable, and relevant to your business priorities. Being part of the process will give people a sense of ownership and encourage them to push and develop themselves. Show people where they fit into your plans but make use of the creativity within your organization, too. Taking a step back from a task means more dopamine, which increases creativity, according to Alice Flaherty, a world-renowned neuroscientist.

7. Ensure your managers are available

Chances are, everyone's got a lot on their plate, but one of a manager's key priorities is to make sure that their people feel supported and able to refocus. If you've ever struggled yourself, but had no-one around to help you, or even to answer a question, you'll understand how lonely and undervalued staff might feel without available managers.

8. Relaunch your learning culture

This is the best time for people to get stuck into some personal development. You can harness the inspiration behind people's New Year resolutions to encourage growth and change. Ask your people what interests them, what would motivate and stimulate them, what they need to learn to perform better, and what they could teach one another. You could arrange a seminar or training course, or get a motivational speaker in. Hold peer-to-peer skill-sharing workshops. Work through a Mind Tools Learning Stream together as a team. People will gain a new sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves and their co-workers.

Key findings

Let everyone settle back after the holidays and help them to refocus. It's important to take care of people during these energy-sapping months, and encourage them to take care of themselves, too. For example, encourage socializing and taking productive breaks, such as a walk or some reading. Keep the office as full of natural light as possible. You could even get some fresh fruit and pastries delivered occasionally to keep everyone perked up and on track with their goals. Establish a proper plan, focused on teamwork, growth, and creating a supportive office culture, plus a bit of fun, where your managers lead by example. Use the first few weeks of the New Year to build a real sense of momentum and to shift everyone into the mindset to hit 2019 out of the park!

How do you tackle that back-to-work feeling? Have you run into any problems this year already? What gets you motivated again after the holidays? Join the discussion below!

About the author

Faye Bradshaw

Faye Bradshaw

Freelance Writer
Faye brings over a decade of experience in creating and editing content for organizations across the world. She specializes in L&D and loves using her creativity to make a difference each day, helping people to develop themselves. She does her best writing in her indoor jungle/office, with her dog, Colin, at her side.

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