Famously the toughest month of the year, January has always been challenging for people returning to work after the Christmas break. But moving into a third lockdown, and with millions of people working from home – or juggling work and home schooling – how can we help our employees deal with the January blues and the resulting – inevitable – disengagement with work.  

Workplace stress and burnout increased by 24% last year, with January 2020 seeing a record high for searches related to burnout. This January, the ‘burnout spike’ is predicted to be even higher, with an increase in symptoms including low mood, depression and demotivation in employees.  

This year, it’s not just grey skies, short days and FOMO we have to worry about. Now there’s a seemingly unending isolation, a definite waning in enthusiasm for baking our own banana bread and an uncertainty about Brexit changes, the economic impact of nearly year of pandemic measures and what the new normal will look like when we emerge from all this.  

As employers it is now more vital than ever that we support our employees through this month, ease them back into working productively and raise their engagement back to pre-winter levels.  

So called ‘Blue Monday – which this year falls on 18th January – is claimed by some to be the most depressing day of the year because of the low light, poor weather and the comedown from the holiday season. But it need not be so, as there are a number of things that we can do to pick up engagement levels and stop the apathy setting in. 

Connect 

Your oneonone communication efforts should be ramped up to the max in January. With most – if not all – of your employees working remotely, personal, relevant and direct contact is more important than ever. And keep it going! After your initial welcome back contact, maintain communication across multiple channels. One-to-ones via Teams (which are always best done face-to-face if possible), instant messaging to stay in touch through the working day, and even using Yammer for light-hearted chat and gossip. A consistent flow of communication will help bring the individual back into the fold and engage them back into the company culture, as well as allowing you to keep an eye on your employees mood and engagement levels.  

Be sensitive 

In these challenging times it is essential to maintain a sympathetic ear and appreciate that – while we are all in the same sea – we are all in different boats. Many will have spent the holiday season away from loved ones, or even in isolation, to then start the new year with another period of lockdown.  Stay aware, use video calls to look for non-verbal clues, and understand that some individuals may well be struggling with anxiety or unhappy from their broader situation. Engage them through listening, being available and – if needed – offering referrals or support through professional bodies.  

Bring teams together 

A strong influencing factor on an individual’s engagement is how much they feel that they are part of a team. Managers and project leaders should be using the first weeks of the year to draw teams together again and build new connections. Remotely this can be done through regular and purpose-led Teams video calls, creation of new Teams threads for new projects, or group white-board sessions to collaborate and share ideas. Tagging individuals in threads alongside their teammates – or other employees with common skills and interests – draws people into conversation and opens up the possibility of new collaborations and connections. Engagement is always positively impacted by having strong peer-to-peer connections, and a feeling of comradery in the workplace.       

Maintain the fun 

Returning to work and readjusting to a routine after some time off can be daunting. Ease your teams into the year with workplace virtual events and quizzes on Teams, informal training, fun chat and gifs on Yammer. Encouraging peer-to-peer socialising – and providing different platforms for that socialising – can engage and energise teams to work more productively together, and individually.  

Focus on well-being 

Whilst healthy new year’s resolutions may be starting to dwindle, there’s still no better time of year  to highlight and support employee well-being. Empowering individuals with the tools to manage their own mental and physical health can be an incredibly powerful engagement tool. Counter-intuitive though it may be, encouraging employees to schedule their own day around opportunities to exercise and relax can improve productivity as well as engagement by tapping into their natural rhythms. MyAnalytics can give individuals the information they need to see when they are at their most, and least, productive indicating where they might need to energise and where they might need to take a break. The MyAnalytics Wellbeing page also illustrates whether – and how well – you are disconnecting from work during that time off and gives you suggestions for ways to reduce stress and burnout. 

Maintaining engagement – particularly at this challenging time of year – requires us to be connected, listening and empowering our employees, using all the tools available to us to inform and collaborate. But no tool is a substitute for genuine human compassion, empathy, care and time and, as managers, this is the best thing that we can give our teams right now.        

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