New year’s resolutions: How to ensure a strong start to 2020

strong start to 2020

Need to know:

  • Following the festive period, organisations should help staff make positive behavioural changes, while also focusing on their own strategies for the year ahead.
  • Savings and discounts in the run-up to Christmas will help start 2020 on a more stable footing, while January is a good time to introduce conversations about financial wellness.
  • Creating manageable goals for mental and physical health and wellbeing improvements can ensure continued motivation.
  • Setting a calendar for events and communications, with clear objectives and success metrics, can ensure that progress continues beyond the initial new year flurry.

For many, the festive period is just that; a chance to celebrate, reflect on the successes of the year, and plan for the future. However, the financial, health and psychological pressures that this time of year can exert mean that wellbeing and stability become paramount when January rolls round.

Laurence Judah, director of client success at Gympass, says: “As a society, we are hardwired to refresh and renew in January, so it’s really important to capitalise on that opportunity, because people are going to be open to it.”

Futhermore, just as individuals need to work to ensure sustainable behavioural change, organisations themselves must consider how to turn New Year’s Resolutions into a year-long strategy. 

New year, new you

There is little doubt that January is an ideal time to promote wellbeing benefits. To make the most of this cultural trend, employers should consider all aspects of wellbeing, says Judah.

“It’s rare to find employers that don’t have [relevant benefits],” he explains. “But often they are random acts of wellbeing which don’t roll up into overarching strategy. It’s about using January to have a clear offering against each of the [wellbeing] pillars.”

However, this idea of refreshing and renewing should not just stop at the individual, says Ian Bird, business development director at Secondsight. Entire organisations should reflect on the past year and set standards for the one ahead.

“What are [employers] trying to achieve in 2020?” Bird says. “What does good look like next year? How do [they] measure success? It’s about setting clear objectives, measuring and adjusting.”

Reward and recognition

Although the time around Christmas and new year is traditionally associated with extravagant work parties, research by Reward Gateway, published in November 2019, found that an overwhelming 70% of staff would forego these in favour of more frequent rewards throughout the year, while 46% would prefer access to everyday savings.

Times and expectations may be changing, but the close of the year is still a good time to focus on recognition and motivation, if paired with a consistent approach throughout the rest of the year, says Patrick Ahern, vice president of client success at Reward Gateway.

“Recognition is the number one cultural currency, creating a stronger relationship between the employee and the employer,” he explains.

“Those [Christmas and new year] parties are a piece of the recognition puzzle. At those events, [employers can] recognise people for what they’ve done in the past 12 months that bring the employer [brand] to life every day. Highlight the key stories that have happened across the organisation, and build off those to create excitement for the new year.”

Financial fitness

To ensure employees start January in a better financial position, and are hit less hard by the costs and pressures of Christmas, employers might consider providing access to discounts, vouchers, or even salary sacrifice or deduction arrangements to help with the buying of presents.

Christmas is a peak time to focus on finances, says Deborah Frost, chief executive at Personal Group: “People feel under pressure to buy, but if [they] can do it in a more measured way, it makes a great deal of difference to how people can budget throughout the year.”

To follow this up, communications promoting financial wellbeing benefits, such as debt consolidation and savings vehicles, can take advantage of the atmosphere of tightening belts entering January.

Rather than focus entirely on the negative or punitive message of needing to make up for having spent too much, though, employers should promote a positive image of moving towards financial wellness, treating this like any other preventative health check, says Frost.

“Most of us talk about doing more exercise, eating and drinking less, but how about taking a financial wellbeing check at the same time?” she says. “[Employers can make] 2020 the year [to] manage money more effectively, actively encouraging employees to think about financial as well as physical and emotional wellbeing.”

Financial communications in the new year do not just have to focus on immediate savings, says Paul Stewart, account manager, employee benefits division at Goddard Perry Consulting. These can, in fact, be used as a positive springboard into messages about mid- and long-term financial health.

When providing staff with this holistic message about finances, then, employers should not shy away from introducing the topic of pensions, encouraging even those individuals who might not feel capable of setting aside salary straight away, to start to see retirement as one part of a larger picture.

“There’s no better time for people to think about not having money than January; it’s a good time to bring home to people that another year has gone,” says Stewart. “[Employers] can actually lay out for people the number of payslips it is until retirement. People will save for a holiday [or] next Christmas, and should be saving for when no more money will be coming in as well.”

Health and wellbeing

In the new year, many employees will make resolutions about their health, feeling the effects of over-indulgence and even looking ahead to hopeful images of swimwear and summer holidays as the cold, dark weather continues.

This could be an ideal time to introduce, promote and contextualise health and fitness benefits, monopolising on the motivated new year feeling.

For benefits provider Caboodle, creating behavioural change can be about making healthy choices the path of least resistance. For example, it offers to pay for its own employees’ gym memberships, but only if they have been used 10 times during the month. This ensures a valuable investment for the organisation, and helps provide extra motivation for staff.

Providing group activities, such as walking and running clubs, as well as healthy snacks during the winter months, when it is easier to let things slip, is a good way of motivating staff, says Catherine Bennett, managing director at Caboodle.

“If you can put a group of employees together, then they’re more likely to go; they’re having a chat, getting fresh air and they come back feeling better, and they’re motivated to do it again and again,” she says.

Dave Mezher, chief executive officer at London Doctors Clinic, adds: “The fact that people are focused on their wellbeing post the Christmas period is a good thing. What’s really important as part of that, at an individual and corporate level, is that people don’t set unreasonable expectations. Having a well thought-through programme and wellbeing strategy is important.”

Due to the natural goal-setting culture during the new year, this is also a good time to introduce and promote health screening benefits, in addition to the aforementioned gym memberships and running clubs, Mezher adds.

Inextricably linked to physical, and indeed financial, health is the issue of mental wellbeing. This is also particularly likely to be challenged during the winter months, due to the effects of the weather, excessive food and alcohol consumption, and myriad emotional pressures, to name just a few factors.

Employers should be sure to have systems in place to support those that might reach breaking point during winter. According to a December 2019 straw poll of Employee Benefits readers, the most commonly offered benefit to support this is an employee assistance programme (36%).

Line manager training should also be a top priority, ensuring that the signs of distress can be recognised, and employees signposted to the relevant supports, says Ry Morgan, co-founder of Unmind.

“New year is a bit of a double-edged sword,” he says. “Trying to tackle [mental health] during December, to really move the needle, is difficult because people are wrapped up with [the year end]. But the good side of that is, albeit cliched, the ‘new year, new you’ does provide a foot in the door for people to take stock and reflect on the ups and downs of the last year.”

However, the focus should not just be on those in crisis; employers should also take a preventative approach, promoting wellbeing as much as they support ill-health, adds Morgan.

“Prevention is better than cure, and [employers should] offer tools, training and assessments that allow people to spot when they’re encountering a period of difficulty and provide them proactively with exercises and techniques to tackle that.”

A year-long agenda

Starting 2020 on a strong footing by making proactive resolutions to mitigate the mental, physical and financial impact of the end of the year, is only part of the puzzle. Without a long-term strategy, employers and their staff will likely falter come February.

This is where the importance of using the new year to map out strategies and success metrics comes into play, says Secondsight’s Bird. Then, using trigger points throughout the year, such as enrolment windows, seasonal themes or national campaigns, employers can keep the momentum going.

“One way of doing it is to break the year up into four quarters,” he says. “At the financial year-end, have it be all about [financial wellbeing], tie in presentations on pension schemes. Have a mental health quarter. It gives a bit of a structure, and staff know what to expect as well.”

Shifting into a new gear at certain points in the year is also one of the tactics at Caboodle. This has a lot to do with motivation and willingness to engage, and how these change as the year progresses, explains Bennett.

“When the weather is dark and horrible, people aren’t as motivated to get out and do things as they are during the summer months when it’s nicer weather,” she says. “Then, at the end of February, March time, [employers can] almost give everybody another kick-start.”

This might be the time to introduce bigger initiatives, such as step challenges, or promote cycling to work, which could lose momentum if introduced during wet and cold weather, or when employees have only just started on their wellness journey and might not feel up to the task.

This has as much to do with communications and positioning as it does with launching or updating specific benefits or initiatives, explains Mezher.

“[Employers should] have a programme that may start with [health screening] in January,” he says. “It’s a great time of year to naturally capture people’s interests, and to try and make sure that [they] turn it into something that is sustainable.

“Come up with a health and wellbeing communications platform, with topics to address at different points in the year. Communication, and regular communication, is very important.”

To take this further than January, and even beyond 2020, employers need to progress from laying out a calendar of content and communications for the year, and move towards the creation of cultural change, whether this is ensuring an environment in which employees can focus on their mental health without fear of repercussions, or making sure that they understand and connect with their employer’s values.

“Engagement [is] ongoing, it can’t just come down to once or twice a year where we’re celebrating or recognising people,” Reward Gateway’s Ahern says. “It needs to be an ongoing, strategic discipline that is truly integrated into the fabric of the culture.”

As Judah concludes: “What’s going to make these things long-term successes is putting healthy choices at the core of business; this isn’t a nice thing over and above what [businesses] do, this is the belief that if [they] look after [their] people, [they] do a great job.”

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