Back to Work – Avoiding the January Blues

Posted in Employee Retention, Positive Workplace Culture, Employee Engagement


Staff churn is on the rise, and there is usually a peak of staff departure in the New Year. Glassdoor researchers found that almost one in five (18%) employees cite January as the most popular month to think about changing jobs.

Around the Christmas holiday season, many organisations experience a peak of activity or at least changes in work patterns. Retailers take on a high number of extra sales staff while manufacturers and distributors also ramp up activity to meet demand. Other organisations may need to provide temporary staff cover as many permanent employees take holidays at this time.

Often seasonal staff are only with the organisation for a matter of weeks, but it is important to keep them engaged to maintain service levels and provide a return on investment in training them. Ideally, successful employee engagement measures will lead to a situation where the same people come back to your organisation for seasonal jobs year in, year out, providing higher levels of continuity and service.

Many organisations also find that the pressures to meet end of year targets or remain profitable at a traditionally tough time of year can cause a lot of work-related stress. For employees who may already be finding the Christmas period tough, the added strains of work can also damage their mental wellbeing; this may not be immediately obvious to many people, but it's something that employers need to become aware of.

Address the January exodus

Typically, organisations focus on a year-end goal, that is more often than not, financial. Even if their financial year-end is not at the end of December, there is a natural temptation to use the end of the calendar year to look back and assess what has been achieved. It is a good idea to complement this with forward-looking communications that identify what the organisation has planned the next year, and whether or not an organisation has hit its targets or done well this year.

If employees are left thinking about the opportunities that will be available to them in the coming year in their current organisation, they may be less likely to look for new beginnings elsewhere.

Of course, it is not enough just to accept that a higher than usual number of people are bound to leave in January. The CIPD believes that employers need to find out why people are leaving and to be aware of employee turnover rates across occupations, locations and particular groups of employees (such as identified high performers) and understand how these affect the organisation’s performance and ability to achieve its strategic goals. The CIPD points out that tools such as confidential exit surveys and staff attitude surveys can help managers understand why people leave the business and enable appropriate action to be taken.

Research from Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services found that 44% of UK employees feel least motivated at Christmas and New Year, which could contribute to the rise of staff departure in January. To help tackle engagement and motivation levels over the festive season, organisations could consider rewards and recognition, however will have a delicate balancing act to perform in motivating new staff with effective tactical rewards, while not demotivating permanent staff who may have given the organisation years of loyal and hard-working service. Here are some top tips for improving employee engagement over the Christmas and New Year period:

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Start your communications promoting plans and opportunities for the New Year as soon as possible – and definitely before the Christmas holiday season

Disseminating communications about your long-term vision and making sure they are heard, potentially through several layers of management, takes time and it may be necessary to repeat the messages in different ways.

Design your reward and recognition programme so that the rewards given to temporary staff are not easily comparable to the value of the rewards given to permanent staff.

This avoids a situation where unfavourable comparisons may be made, demotivating either permanent or contract staff. Typically, it is less easy to personalise rewards for employees who are only with you for a short time, so it may make sense to offer more generic rewards such as an easy to deliver gift card for this body of employees to choose from.

In comparison, it is worth spending time tailoring and personalising rewards for more permanent staff if these are to be effective in recognising specific behaviours or more closely reflect the brand. For example, a family-oriented brand might offer rewards such as days out, which has the associated benefit of promoting the company's values.

Vary   end of the year performance rewards so that employees do not come to rely on them to supplement their Christmas budget.

Employees might re-gift retail gift cards, for example, to friends and relatives, saving them money on Christmas presents but providing little in the way of reward for that employee's performance. It is a good idea to design Christmas employee rewards that work as a treat for that individual employee and serve to reward that person for their hard work.

Design your incentive scheme to bridge the Christmas period

A quarterly scheme may start in November and finish at the end of January. That way, when employees come back into work at the beginning of January, they are still midway through their quarterly activities and are focused on the end of the month.

Consider running your Christmas party or end of year award ceremonies in January or February – but make sure employees are not left thinking they are working for Scrooge.

Let them know that they personally will feel the benefit of any savings made from having the party in January. Position these events as something for staff to look forward to when they come back to work after the holidays.

Countering the culture of New Year, new job takes more than offering a few tactical Christmas gifts. Although our own research found that 4 out of 5 employees would feel motivated and valued by their employer if they received a reward, it is vital to have an ongoing strategy of rewards and recognition that measures engagement regularly and aligns with the organisation’s goals and performance – an organisation may have high employee engagement levels but this is not translating into profits.

Avoid doing what you've always done. In order to have a real and measurable impact on both engagement and profitability – and keep your employees onside throughout January – the key is to keep things fresh. Look again at what, when and how you deliver rewards and recognition right into the New Year and give your organisation the gift that keeps on giving – employee engagement that is strongly aligned to the successful future of the organisation.

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