HOW TO KEEP STAFF ENGAGED AND MOTIVATED IN THE BUILD-UP TO CHRISTMAS
On the other side of the coin, there will also be other employees who are on that final push to achieve their end of year targets and their stress levels are rising.
Throw into the mix the sight of their colleagues and co-workers winding down when they're working hard can have a negative effect on their own morale and damage their own motivation level, too.
So, what's the answer?
Breathing down your team's necks until 5:30pm on Christmas Eve might ensure all your work is done, but it'll also cause morale to sink like a stone. But you can't just sit back and put everything on hold to the new year either - there has to be a balance!
Understanding the reasons behind your staff's stress or demotivation during the festive period will help you to formulate an effective reward and incentives plan that works best for your organisation.
This online guide will explore what your employees are thinking as the year draws to a close, the pressures they're facing and what they really want from you as an employer – you may just be surprised at what you learn. With Christmas 2020 being a very different type of festive season to what we are all used to, it’s more important than ever for managers to be able to spot signs of burnout and stress in the lead up to Christmas.
This will be a familiar scenario for any employer or manager. December rolls around, and productivity seemingly grinds to a halt.
At some point during the second week of the month, or sooner if you’ve got an employee who’s over-eager with the office decorations, the festive sluggishness will set in.
People will be using up their holiday allowance, battling Christmas to-do lists, and generally slipping into the predictable holiday mode.
Holiday mode is a state of mind where things just don’t get done. Staff are winding down, avoiding taking on new work, and thinking about being elsewhere.
This sense of winding down isn’t only seen in the build up to Christmas, however. January has also been found to have the lowest percentage of tasks completed, with winter being the least productive season of the year.
In a survey of catering industry workers, for example, almost half of the respondents admitted to doing up to 20% less work in the last month of the year, with one in six saying it was as much as 30% less.
Another survey by Peldon Rose found 54% of employees say they felt stressed leading up to the holidays, with the key stressors being purchasing Christmas presents (56%), finishing work and projects (49%) and managing personal expenses (43%). On top of these usual pressures, many employees will be under additional financial strain this year due to reduced income or job security worries resulting from the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Combine these stats with the unfortunate fact that December is often the shortest working month of the year for businesses – with bank holidays, staff holidays and festive shutdowns – and your relatively unmotivated team has even fewer man-hours than usual to get their work done.
There’s another side to 'holiday mode'.
Although some of your staff may be winding down, others will be working frantically to make sure everything gets done before the break, dealing with a remarkable amount of pressure – no doubt not helped by their more relaxed colleagues.
Our research has found that 15% of people are working harder in an effort to hit
targets as Christmas approaches*. It seems that a panicked approach is increasingly becoming the norm, and this shift in attitudes is not just unique to British workers.
US-based staffing agency, Accountemps, has polled business executives regularly over a 10-year period – in 2005, 2010 and 2015, covering both pre and post-recession periods – providing interesting longitudinal data on how staff attitudes leading up to a holiday have changed.
On the surface, it seems as though pressure is actually making people more productive as holidays approach. Surely this is a good thing, right?
Well, maybe not.
They may be productive, but they may not necessarily be happy...
It's important to remember that people aren't just distracted by excitement on the run up to the Christmas break. There may be some very serious reasons why December can be a difficult time for your employees.
An essential first step to ensuring your staff remain motivated is understanding the pressures they’re facing – there’s more to holiday mode than you might think, particularly in December.
Staff aren’t just distracted by the fun of the festive season or rushing to get work done – there is a variety of anxieties and worries that can take hold at work all year round, but become increasingly pressing as the year comes to an end.
In 2013, the Guardian found that staff were more stressed at work than they had been at any point in the last 20 years because of concerns about loss of job status and pay reductions – issues particularly in the forefront of employees’ minds as they approach the new year.
More recently, statistics from the Health and Safety Executive show that in 2017/18, there were 595,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
This is concerning in itself, but perhaps more worrying is that their figures show a clear year-on-year rise in the number of people experiencing work-related mental illnesses, and this trend so no-signs of slowing down.
This trend of rising workplace stress seems to peak on the run-up to Christmas; with research finding that the Christmas period is often the most stressful for employees. In addition, our own 2016 survey found that 23% of UK employees feel more stressed in the run-up to Christmas* than at any other point over the course of the year.
Taking these facts into account, it’s important to remember that, when trying to motivate staff through the Christmas period, people aren’t just distracted by excitement over time off. There may be very serious reasons why December, in particular, is difficult for your employees - coupled with the mental health impact of local lockdowns, isolation and anxieties over our own or family members’ health and financial concerns, employee mental health has to be a top priority for all HR managers going into the winter months and beyond.
December is usually one of the shortest months of the year for working days - depending on where the weekends fall. This, of course, sounds great on the surface, but more time off can actually lead to more stress.
There can be as little as 20 working days during the month; but when you consider that many people will also take off the 24th, as well as the 27th to the 31st – this can potentially bring working days in the month down to between just 15 and 17.
Some businesses will also shut down for the festive period which, whilst a wonderful gesture, will leave the remaining days feeling far more stressful as staff try to complete the same amount of work in three-quarters of the time – often while trying to deal with clients or suppliers who have shut down for the holidays themselves.
Our research found that having less time to get work done before taking time off at Christmas causes added stress for 29% of people. Stress has a serious effect on the body and the brain, which can include:
And much, much more besides – none of which sound particularly conducive to getting work done. But unfortunately, in December and in the build-up to the holidays, there is a lot more to be stressed about.
For some employees, the expectation of having to squeeze this amount of work into less days can lead to burnout and if not handled correctly, can have a whole host of health and work consequences.
Money is always tight at Christmas; however, with many employees seeing their incomes affected by the pandemic this year, Christmas is likely to be even more financially burdensome than usual..
Back in 2018, many saw some good news for workers thanks to a slight rise in annual salaries; with research by the Office of National Statistics finding the average wage was just over £29,000 per year.
Typically, this leaves actual take-home pay at around £1,700 per month; but over the festive period, families with children spend on average around between £1,000 and a staggering £2,700 on Christmas - that's well over half of December's wages!
The same research also found that 57% of people found they overspent at Christmas, racking up an average overspend of over £150. In addition, our own 2015 survey that found 50% of UK adults will use credit cards, long-term savings or even payday loans to fund the rising cost of Christmas.
It's no surprise then to find that the Christmas period can be incredibly stressful for many people. Findings by the National Debtline discovered that 6% of the UK's population found money worries were having a negative impact on their enjoyment of Christmas, with the same research also finding 2% of people losing sleep over Christmas money worries.
Many businesses may be ditching the annual bonus in favour of a more well-rounded recognition program, but for many employees at organisations around the UK, the end-of-year bonus can be the difference between a comfortable or cost-cutting Christmas.
It’s the most important part of the festive period for 39% of UK employees* because of just how much of an impact it can have.
In a typical year, illness caused by winter weather is a cause of workplace stress for 16% of UK employees*.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ most recent report into sickness absence at work, coughs, colds and flu account for 30% of the 130 million-plus working days lost to illness each year – and these illnesses are particularly common in the winter.
When staff are ill, losing a day or two in the office to stay at home in bed can actually be the best case scenario – research has found that almost half of the UK’s workers will go into work despite feeling unwell.
An ill worker is definitely not a motivated one. Presenteeism is the word used to describe employees who come into work, despite feeling sick, and get nothing done.
And, of course, there’s a huge risk of illness spreading to others, knocking even more employees out of action for a few days.
This year, it is even more vital that workplaces with on-site staff have clear communications that allow employees to stay home when they are not well. This will help to prevent the risk of spreading coronavirus to other employees or customers.
Everyone will want to book time off around Christmas and New Year but, unless your organisation shuts down for a week on Christmas Eve, some people will be in for a disappointment.
Not everyone can take time off – Christmas cover will often be required, and managers will have to make a decision as to who will be working as fairly as possible.
Some will have used up too much holiday throughout the course of the year, whether it was for a holiday or a personal obligation. Whatever the reasons, the thought of spending Christmas at work can be very demoralising.
Christmas is fun! At least, it’s supposed to be...
As many as 15% of UK employees say that being distracted by festive office events affects their motivation and productivity*.
Even though the festivities this year will need to be adapted to fit government guidelines and social distancing rules, this doesn’t mean companies cannot celebrate together. The key things to remember are timing and inclusivity. If time is going to be taken out of the workday to enjoy a Zoom party, secret Santa or a virtual fancy dress competition, be sure to give your team enough notice so that they can manage their workload. This will enable everyone to participate without feeling anxious about unfinished tasks.
A recent YouGov survey found that 16% of Britons are apathetic, and one in seven (15%) actively dislike Christmas, whilst research by OnRec found that 54% of employees dread the office Christmas party – and 7% will either avoid it entirely or leave as early as possible.
Our own survey of UK employees found that almost a quarter (23%) experience stress because they feel pressured to join in with “fun” activities*.
Forced fun definitely isn’t fun for everyone.
In their research study, Mandatory Fun: Consent, Gamification and the Impact of Games at Work, Ethan Mollick and Nancy Rothbard found that the notion of prescribed fun at work can create tension.
Fun is meant to be spontaneous and, in particular at work, a subversion of what staff are actually meant to be doing.
If people are forced to take part in activities, or just feel pressured to get involved, then how is it any different from work?
With shopping to complete, school functions for the kids, family obligations and more, people’s time is particularly stretched in the festive period.
Research has found that people spend an average of 270 hours preparing for Christmas, and when people are working long hours, there’s even less time to fit everything in.
A poor work/life balance in the lead up to Christmas was cited as the biggest cause of stress for UK employees, with 34% of people citing balancing work with family activities and Christmas shopping as being stressful*.
Once Christmas is over, it’s important to deal with the aftermath in the right way.
January tends to have the highest absence rate in the year, with increased sickness and the annual problem of the January Blues.
Employees are struggling to get back into work mode, and on top of that, are short on funds following the Christmas period.
This is where having some form of recognition and reward-based scheme comes into play - rather than just relying on a one-off end-of-year bonus.
January is when 7% of your staff are looking for a new job, 20% are experiencing financial burdens, and 45% are suffering from poor mental health – this is an essential time to show your staff that they’re valued, to give them options to choose a net salary reduction in exchange for an investment that they’ll see the benefit of all year, and offer incentives to help them get back into the swing of working again.
Our research in 2015 found that the majority of employees (84% in fact) think they would feel more motivated if they received a non-financial reward or incentive, while almost half (49%) think a multi-choice gift card or voucher would be one of the best options† indicating a desire to move away from the unpredictable, taxable Christmas bonus to something more flexible, creative and not confined to just the end of the year.
Instead, think about splitting any budget you have for rewarding your staff over December and January.
Not only will this act as the perfect end-of-year 'thanks' for all the efforts your employees have made over the year, but it can also act as the perfect January pick-me-up - banishing those January blues and making a flying start to the new year, too.
Incentives and rewards are a great way to help avoid a festive slump in your workforce's productivity, but they shouldn’t be viewed as just a way to bribe staff into working harder before and after Christmas.
Incentives and rewards should be provided to make staff feel valued for the work they do for an organisation all year round. With as many as one in five people looking to change career in the next 12 months, inspiring the loyalty of hard-working staff is essential!
Our research has found that 38% of employees want rewards that make them feel valued (compared to just 9% who are either looking for something fun or something that makes them more productive)*, while 55% of employees would feel more valued if they received a non-financial reward†.
So, the importance of finding out what your employees actually want beyond a few extra numbers on their payslip should be clear.
There’s always the potential to go big with your staff incentives. For example, rewarding the exceptional performers of the year with an all-expenses-paid weekend trip away or the latest must-have piece of tech, could be a fantastic way to reward your employees without by providing something to work towards that makes those rushing to get their work done feel valued for their efforts.
But, before you head over to TripAdvisor, there are also much easier - and cheaper - ways to reward and recognise your staff effectively...
eVouchers, gift cards and pre-paid debit cards can make an ideal reward or gift for employees at the end of the year, giving staff something they can set aside.
Whether it’s discounts at a supermarket to help cover Christmas food costs or vouchers to take the family out to the cinema, these little things can really make a difference when money is so tight.
For example, we offer single-use vouchers and re-loadable gift cards for a huge range of high-street and online retailers - there really is something for everyone!
Covering some of the largest online retailers, supermarkets, entertainment and travel providers and restaurants, a voucher will give the opportunity for your staff to treat themselves to something they really want - and all without worrying about the impact on their finances.
Have discount codes and vouchers sent directly to employees’ email inbox, or provide an online portal for staff to access and choose for themselves.
We can help you provide instant rewards to your employees that cover a wide range of retailers and services.
A poor work/life balance in the lead up to Christmas was cited as the biggest cause of stress for UK employees, with 34% of people citing balancing work and family activities as being stressful in our survey.
At work, the pressure is on to get everything finished before the holiday period. At home, the pressure is on to get the shopping done, get involved with kids’ festive school functions and plan for the years’ celebrations.
One way to combat this cause of stress could be to introduce some flexible working policies for December – allowing staff to work from home to receive deliveries, start earlier in exchange for an early finish to make it to a child’s school event or a longer lunch to do some Christmas shopping.
For more advice, we have a great blog on getting the work-life balance right in your organisation all year round – it’s well worth a read if you need any extra tips.
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