How to motivate staff through the January blues

January is a tough time to motivate employees, but it is possible for employers to do so without spending too much. 

January blues

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • In January, employees may be suffering from the effects of their excessive festive spending, overindulgence and the dreariness of the winter season.
  • There are plenty of low-cost benefits that employers can use to motivate staff .
  • But employees may value their manager’s time more than any reward scheme.

January can be a difficult time for business leaders faced with a workforce recovering from excessive festive spending, overindulgence and the dreariness of the winter season.

But there are plenty of low-cost benefits that employers can use to motivate staff, which will be music to the ears of employee benefits professionals with a squeezed reward budget.

Financial support

Bill Alexander, chief executive officer at experience day and gift provider Red Letter Days, says: “The big difference with January compared to the rest of the year is that staff do not have cash because they have just been through Christmas, so there is an argument that the best incentive in January is probably cash. Everyone knows that money would be spent repaying credit cards.”

Alexander rejects the suggestion that such a scheme would encourage employees to spend beyond their means over Christmas. “The key is for employers to communicate the reward in January,” he says. “Employers can talk about the strategy beforehand, but they would only talk about the reward in January when staff come back to work.”

Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services is helping employers to manage their finances with its Money Boost portal, which it launched at Employee Benefits Live in September. 

Money Boost is designed to help employees monitor and manage their finances. Phil Sproston, sales director at Sodexo, says: “It enables employers to be facilitators of employee wellness and wellbeing, but it is ultimately about employees being accountable for themselves.”

He says the portal can help employers to reduce the financial stresses and strains their employees may face after Christmas and, in the process, boost their workplace motivation. 

High-street vouchers and gift cards

Red Letter Days’ Alexander says high-street vouchers remain the most popular and effective benefit with which employers can motivate staff, at any time of year. “Employers can suit their budgets and deliver something their employees really want,” he adds.

Employers can identify employees’ preferred retailers by tracking their spending behaviour through voucher schemes the organisation may have run in previous years, or through staff surveys. 

Argos for Business, for example, offers a range of gift cards and reward cards that have either a fixed value or are reloadable.

The provider also offers a ’collection code’ product scheme that enables an employer to select a specific gift with which to reward an employee. A collection code is texted to the recipient, who can redeem it at any Argos branch. 

Danny Clenaghan, managing director at Argos for Business, says: “These are useful for employers that want to control their spend or want immediate benefits for staff. In theory, an organisation could send a collection code to an employee’s phone and they could collect their product in an Argos store within a couple of hours, as opposed to having to have the product sent out in the post and paying for the cost of delivery.”

Recognition schemes

Recognition schemes can also help to motivate employees by rewarding them for outstanding performance . But employers need to create a clear strategy that explains exactly how staff can qualify for a reward. 

Francis Goss, commercial director at employee and customer engagement services provider Grass Roots, says: “Clear goals will ensure that employees understand what they need to achieve and for what.”

Goss says this is particularly important with schemes designed to recognise and reward certain staff behaviours that, for example, reinforce their employer’s corporate values. 

“The problem with some schemes is that different managers have different interpretations of what is worthy of a reward, so having a consistent approach is really important,” he adds. “I know it goes without saying, but sometimes that can be why these types of scheme fall over, because of perceived unfairness.”

A recognition toolkit may help managers learn how to effectively implement a recognition scheme by, for example, outlining the corporate values the scheme is designed to reinforce and the behaviours staff need to demonstrate to become eligible for a reward.

Motivational behaviour

There are also many zero-cost ways in which employers can motivate their staff that may prove just as effective. Good manners are a case in point. For example, an employee may really value and be motivated by their manager verbally expressing thanks for a job well done or by making them a cup of tea.

Grass Roots’ Goss says cheap and cheerful tools, such as reward cards requiring employees to scratch off a panel to reveal an immediate reward, perhaps the chance to go home an hour early or to have an extra hour for lunch, can also be highly effective.

“There is a very limited cost to the business and quite a nice zero-cost reward that is meaningful for staff,” he says. “Having something that offers staff more convenience in their working day seems to be really popular.”

Inspirational leadership talks 

But Yves Duhaldeborde, director in Towers Watson’s organisational surveys and insights practice, says time may be all that staff require to feel motivated, particularly from their organisation’s leaders , who they increasingly want to see more of in the workplace.

“Employees at the moment want leaders who inspire them, as that is how they define effective leadership, so I think that is really something that leaders should focus on more in January when staff come back to work and do not feel great,” he says.

Duhaldeborde says leaders must also consider how to motivate their workforce in an authentic way, which should involve them communicating their passion for the organisation, why they care about the business, the importance of each employee’s role and what the organisation is doing that is not just about results for shareholders, but about a higher purpose, such as supporting local communities. 

“Sometimes leaders do not reflect enough or leverage what they have and what they are doing,” he adds.

Leaders need to remind staff in person why they are working for a great organisation because communication methods such as email or video-conferencing may come across as impersonal, Duhaldeborde says.

But employers should thoroughly research exactly what motivates their staff before deciding on a strategy because a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to reap the desired results, he adds.

Motivation word cloud
Motivation word cloud

New Year parties help to motivate staff at Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue

Staff party

Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue throw parties in January to help motivate their staff for the year ahead .

The strategy is aligned to the retailers’ trading periods, which peak in December, making it difficult for staff to take time off.

The organisations, which are owned by Theo Paphitis, one of the dragons in the BBC Two TV show Dragons’ Den , host two parties, one in London for between 750 and 1,000 staff and one in Manchester for between 450 and 500 staff, where they lay on food and drinks in an informal setting.

Nicki Clarke, group PR director for Paphitis, says: “It is a lot cheaper and more cost-effective than a sit-down meal, and it is a chance for employees from three businesses to mingle and socialise together.

“January is always miserable because no one has any money, so there is always a bit of a lull, particularly as a lot of staff give up drinking for January, so the parties kick the year off and put them on the right step for the year head. We get amazing feedback from staff saying thank-you.”

The parties, which have been running for more 10 years, also help to retain staff.

Clarke adds: “Theo [Paphitis] believes in happy staff and is always doing motivational drives. Consequently, because of what he does, there are staff that have worked for the businesses for years.”

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The longest-serving staff member has just retired after 45 years’ service, says Clarke.

The parties are run by experience day and gift provider Red Letter Days.