Resolutions and fresh starts are still fresh in most people’s minds - whether they have kept them or not - and that can apply to companies as well as individuals. Simon Kent looks at ways to maintain these throughout 2018

It is said that Christmas comes but once a year, but immediately after it many employees question whether they are in the right place, doing the right thing for the right reasons. While Blue Monday was first coined by a travel firm that was probably more motivated with their own sales figures than general employee wellbeing, there is no denying that the comedown after the Christmas break affects every workforce. There are a number of reasons for the slump. Firstly, the new year is a natural time for taking stock. Second, deadlines and work frustrations put on hold in order to enjoy the festivities now bite back with a vengeance. Third, this is the time of year when cold, dark nights can have a tangible impact on people’s health.

Best practice may dictate that a reward strategy should adequately support and recognise employees all year round, but to ignore the impact of the season could be opening the exit door to important talent. Dr Iain Henderson, senior teaching fellow, organisational behaviour and HR management at Edinburgh Business School, believes appropriately targeted benefits for this time of year do not need to place any additional stress or strain on a business. “Flexible starting and finishing times, staff parties, extra days’ leave and prize lotteries are all favourite solutions, as are some nottoo- expensive additional fringe benefits such as shopping vouchers,” he says. Robert Ordever, executive director of reward company OC Tanner Europe, advises employers to be ready with uplifting staff appraisals. “The first week back needs to be about recognising the achievements that took place in December and ensuring individuals are appreciated publicly and in a sincere way to reinforce what ‘great’ looks like,” he says. “This could be in the form of an awards ceremony or simply a low-key word of appreciation. At the start of the year – or even earlier – leaders also need to ensure that everyone is clear on the year’s strategy, how they fit into it and what employees’ personal development goals are for the months ahead,” he continues. “It’s surprising how many organisations lose momentum for the first month of the year.” 

Ordever’s point is a good one. For a whole host of reasons, energy levels are likely to be low. By making clear what lies ahead, the business not only injects energy into the workplace, but also reaffirms the value it derives from every individual working there. This approach is clearly taken by PR company Babel. “We consider January to be a good month to re-energise the team and focus on developing our core business and management skills,” says chief operating officer and co-founder Narelle Morrison. “This January we’ll all be participating in a Foundations of Success workshop focused on goal-setting and improving performance and productivity. In addition, we work with each team member to design a bespoke professional development plan that enables everyone to achieve long-term positions within the agency, while at the same time fulfilling key areas of interest,” she continues. “We believe this tailored approach to staff training and development counteracts any feelings of monotony employees might have at the start of the year.”

Morrison also advocates January as a great time for a social event – assuming you still have the budget and everyone isn’t entirely partied out. “Getting the team together outside of the office environment helps foster a sense of belonging among colleagues and boosts morale as we enter a particularly busy first quarter,” she explains. Setting aside the feeling of ‘belonging’ to a company, there is a more serious issueto this time of the year. Employers need to be aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months and should be ready to acknowledge that it is an issue. “For those employees who sufferwith SAD, there are things which can be done to ensure that they feel valued and looked after by their employer in January and February,” says Kathryn Kendall, chief people officer, Benefex. “Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily a quick fix – a lot of SAD cases are exacerbated by stress, which is often the result of poor company culture and/or working practices.” Kendall lists initiatives for employers that start with the simple step of encouraging people to talk about mental health to improving office environments (making the most of natural light, avoiding dark colours on interior walls) to ensuring expectations of staff are realistic in the weeks and months ahead. “Piling on copious amounts of work could lead to a downturn in productivity,” she notes.

Helping with Healthcare 

Alongside this, Kendall advocates giving employees access to medical support in the most effective and efficient way possible. Digital communications can help here, as she explains: “The idea of speaking to a doctor online rather than having to battle through the queues and week-long waiting times at your local GP is one that is sparking more and more interest.” By offering an initiative that gives employees access to reliable and wellfounded health information employers can ensure their workforce is getting sound and professional advice rather than possibly ending up more confused and upset. Carl Laidler, director of screening programmes at Health Shield Wellbeing, also describes the new year as a time for reaffirming the employer’s culture. “It has the potential to be a key time to engage with your staff and foster an environment that they want to be in and one that is supportive,” he says. “Aligning their personal goals with your objectives and building on this relationship throughout the year can produce long-term rewards.”

Laidler promotes the idea of offering health and wellbeing rewards – an aspect which could key in nicely with personal New Year resolutions. If an individual feels their business wants them to succeed in their personal life as well as their professional life they will feel more ready  to stay where they are and achieve more. “The wellbeing benefits an employer offers to its workforce can support staff in gaining an understanding of their physical and psychological needs,” says Laidler. “For example, a health screen may provide a clear indicator of general health. It provides the opportunity for people to gain access to face-to-face appointments where they can confidentially ask questions. It also gives access to peace of mind via a selection of tests, such as BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”

“By the time we get to January, lots of employees will be looking for a bit of a detox, so health and wellbeing benefits will also be very popular during this period,” agrees Iain Thomson, director of incentive and recognition at Sodexo Engage. Thomson lists discounted gym memberships and supplying healthy food in the workplace as a great starting point in this area. “Businesses often rein in their spending after Christmas, which can make budgeting for staff rewards seem like a challenge – but it doesn’t have to be,” he says. “The powerof a small gesture shouldn’t be underestimated. Whether it’s a simple ‘thank you’ from a co-worker or a chance to finish work early, employees really value gestures like these.”

A company whose benefits are naturally switched on to their workforce’s needs should automatically find their rewards supporting employees. Tim Scott, director of people at Fletchers Solicitors, says: “We want to remind people of how we value them at relevant points throughout the year. We’re opportunistic from that point of view – if we can tie in with a wider event or initiative, it’s a great jumping-off point for communications.” Taking this cue, then, the new year provides reward professionals with the ideal opportunity to take stock and consider the rewards offered by the business. Everyone wants a new and positive start, new targets to aim for and successes to achieve. By taking advantage of the general feeling of reviewing life, this should be a great time for every workplace to come together and achieve more.