How to banish the January blues

Adrian Lewis, director of Activ Absence, looks at how employers can banish the January blues for their workers.

Fed up worker _262963280Let’s face it, very few office workers were in a hurry to get back to work this week, after a longer than average Christmas break, extremely wet and windy weather and a forecast of more to come.

The problem is that HR people who are expected to get their people motivated are experiencing the same issues, along with additional challenges simply because it’s a new annual leave year.

Firstly, there’s all the reporting from last year to contend with, coupled with planning for the new one, and rates of sickness absence tend to soar in the first week back at work.

Meanwhile, the press is reporting that record numbers of staff have resolved to find a new job this year, so HR are struggling with talent retention – all in week one.

With this increasing workload, managers nonetheless expect HR to wave a magic wand and inspire their workforce into feeling happy and motivated. It’s a big ask.

Here are some suggestions for HR on how to keeping their teams motivated and on board, even though they may not feel terribly motivated themselves.

Lead by example

No matter how fed up and snappy you feel, people will expect you to set the tone and work ethic for the rest of the company. If you stay optimistic and positive, and maintain a professional facade of calm, the rest of the team will feel obliged to follow your lead.

Focus on retaining your talent

With so many people seeing the New Year as a chance to look for a new job, make sure you identify the people you need to retain and let them know you have plans for them to advance in 2016, even if you can’t offer them anything now. Rewards don’t have to be financial, identify learning and development needs and let them know you want to invest in them. To quote Richard Branson, who has one of the best staff retention rates in the UK: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Treat people as individuals

Teamwork may be vital for company success, and will pay dividends, but when people are unhappy, it is likely to be an individual approach that picks them up, especially in larger organisations where individuals can be forgotten. HR are people-people, and often a big smile and a kind word can pay dividends. Don’t wait until an appraisal to say thank you and/or offer praise for a job well done. Not only will that employee feel valued, but it also reinforces to your team that you notice good performance. Similarly, if someone is underperforming, take them aside for one-on-one time, make an effort to understand where they are mentally and offer assistance or job coaching if needed.

Solve your own challenges

As an HR Manager, many of the stresses at the start and end of a new leave year can be assisted or eliminated with cloud-based technology. Whether it’s installing technology to allow self service for annual leave requests, or absence management software, there really isn’t any excuse for HR to still be struggling with spreadsheet nightmares in 2016. You deserve an easier life, and usually these systems pay for themselves within 12 months or less.

Inject a bit of fun

Team spirit is great for lifting the gloom. There’s nothing like a good old team night out, or dress-down day to get people looking forward to coming into work. After a whole season of partying and a month where everyone is broke, it only takes a small budget to have a ‘gloomiest costume Friday’ – or if all your team are on New Year diets, maybe start a dieting club! Be creative – you may need to be the positive one at first but soon you’ll have everyone on board.

Being back at work is inevitable and the ‘New Year, New Me’ approach will have your people thinking and re-thinking what they want to achieve in 2016. However, with a little tweaking, (and a smile you may have to fake at first), HR really can make a difference and turn those New Year blues into planning for a fruitful Spring.

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