Beat the New Year Blues: How to increase office morale in January

Banish those january work blues

As it often brings new budgets and opportunities, January is one of the most exciting times of the year for businesses. However, when it comes to your employees, morale can be at an all-time low after the buzz of the festive season has worn off, and they’ll need to swap the parties, mince pies, and Christmas films with early mornings, busy commutes, and endless meetings.

This isn’t helped by the fact that Blue Monday is just around the corner. Falling on the 16th January in 2023, this is considered to be the ‘most depressing day of the year’ due to a range of factors including the weather, failed New Year’s resolutions, and the amount of time since Christmas day, and our most recent payday (let’s face it, December is an expensive month for even the most budget-savvy of us).

This is something that transformation Coach, Floriane Letulle, agrees with. She says: “Long winters are definitely tricky for me. Come March 1st, I am ready for Spring for sure! However, my best ways to cope with winter blues in my office is to create an environment where I feel alive. I have indoor plants scattered around the room, and some are in bright coloured pots to liven up the room a little. I also have an essential oil diffuser which I use with waking scents such as lemon, bergamot, yang yang. I also regularly open the window to get some air in especially if I feel I am getting drowsy.”

As Floriane shows, fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way every January! In fact, there are a number of ways you can help your employees beat the ‘New Year Blues’, and increase office morale after the festive season. Natasha Hawker, Director at Employee Matters, says: “Morale, otherwise known as ‘engagement’ is defined as ‘discretionary effort’ and is critical to a business’ success. Those businesses with higher levels of engagement or morale will outperform their competitors every time.”

She suggests some of the following perks to increase morale:

  • Spontaneous awards – “Think about a RedBalloon or an iTunes voucher, depending on your employee demographic, or suggest that an employee who has been working lots of extra hours takes their partner out for dinner to their favourite restaurant at your expense.”
  • 13th month of pay – “We have a client that, at Christmas time, has a discretionary 13th month of pay. Imagine how happy it would make your employees to receive an extra month’s pay at one of the most expensive times of the year.”
  • Company property – “Some employees love gadgets and to be in possession of the latest mobile phone technology or iPad can be a thrill. An added advantage is that they typically work longer hours with more access to technology. Just make sure that you have this logged as company property.”

Irena Bee, from 44Playbook, says that there are plenty of little things you should encourage your employees to do to boost their happiness and productivity levels. She says: “Everyone’s got a busy schedule, but sometimes out of the blue you have a free 20 minutes (like your lunch break or time between meetings). There’s not much you think you can do in 20 minutes, but there are plenty of tasks you can complete that will make you feel like you’re moving towards your goal and feel good about yourself. These include walking around the block by yourself or with a colleague, making a list of positive aspects or writing down 20 things you are grateful for, doing a 20 minute YouTube yoga session, listening to an uplifting podcast, decluttering a drawer, and having a coffee with a colleague (where you avoid talking about work).”

Here are some other ways that you, as an employer, can do to increase office morale in January and beat the New Years blues…

Beat the New Year Blues - review employee perks

Review perks to promote a better work-life balance

Let’s get straight to the point; after a week or two of sleeping in, attending festive parties, and sitting on the sofa watching Christmas film after Christmas film, the cold dark mornings can make it tricky for office workers to readjust to their regular 9-5 working day, and jump straight back into work all bright-eyed and bushy tailed!

To make this transition easier, you should review your employee perks, and see how many enable you to promote a better work-life balance. For example, offering flexible working (to a certain degree), as well as the ability to work from home when needed, can be very useful for parents whose children are yet to go back to school. Not only that, but offering these benefits show your employees that you trust them, which can make them feel more appreciated and boost their motivation.

Virginia Brown, Account Manager at The Atticism, says: “Economists carried out a number of experiments at the University of Warwick to test this very idea that happy employees work harder, and they found happiness made people 12% more productive. A Gallup poll also found that 37% of respondents have enjoyed worked virtually.”

Gemma Renton, Owner and Lead PPC Specialist at Vine Street Digital, is an advocate of flexible working. She adds: “I worked for years in traditional advertising agencies where “office culture” was a huge focus. Most people are familiar with the usual advertising agency culture where they try to ‘fit-out’ their offices in a fun, Google-esque way. Unfortunately, client overloading and burnout were prevalent in all offices I worked in and morale suffered as a result.

“When I started my own agency, I knew that all the beanbag chairs and ping pong tables in the world wouldn’t make me happy. That’s why my agency is 100% online. Employees choose when and where they work and the morale couldn’t be higher. Giving people a true work/life balance and autonomy over their own working situations means they’re healthier, manage their time better and offer better support and positivity towards other team members.”

Alberte Marie Jensen from Ellyot, concludes: “Staff morale and productivity is based on motivation, and these two ideas are strongly correlated since motivation in most cases derives from feeling useful and successful, and thereby from being productive. In our opinion, in order to improve staff morale and thereby also motivation and productivity, employees should be given a certain degree of freedom in order to discover his or hers most productive schedule, location and environment. An increasing number of workers have the desire to work flexible hours, and therefore it might be counterproductive when imposing 9-5 working days to these employees – and in the end ruin their morale and company spirit. Therefore, in our opinion, flexible working hours and co-working should be part of company cultures in order to boost staff morale.”

However, flexible working isn’t the only perk of the job that employees love. Newaz Chowdhury, Owner of SEO and web design company, PowerPhrase, says: “In my office, we let people listen to their music. Whether it’s classical, hip-hop or rock, it doesn’t matter; listening to music help a lot of people perform better. For some people, they’re more productive with music playing, so I let them.

“Another way to boost morale is to offer higher commission. When we offer higher commission, it motivates our employees to make that sale. However, although offering more money does help to increase morale, this it isn’t always true. Everyone works differently. I always take breaks and I personally talk to my employees to give them some tips and an energy boost.

I’ve found that food, money, music and personal rapport are what boosts my employees’ morale.”

Nedelina Payaneva, Digital Marketing Specialist at Asian Absolute, says: “To improve employee performance, make it enjoyable to be at work. Spending 40+ hours a week in an uninspiring environment is a recipe to not get the best results. Performance is improved when the workday is broken up by small breaks and fresh air.

“Adding in team building experiences and opportunities to laugh are sure to go a long way towards improving employee performance. Gamifying work can also improve performance. Set goals that will win your employees fun activities, bonuses, or extra vacation time. Friendly competitions can encourage them to push their performance to the next level.”

José Cabal, CEO of Expresa3, a growth and inbound agency, adds: “We work at an Inbound Marketing and Sales agency, so what matters the most is the resolute, not so much the worked hours per day. Some stuff we like to do is to give employees some snacks and “alone” spaces so they can focus or some creative activities, such as board games.

We’ve also noticed that most Friday evenings were not so productive, so we created different activities for Friday afternoons. These include going bowling and completing enigma rooms, taking part in team works, or even attending workshops with an expert such as design thinking and real estate sale people. We think that happy workers do a lot better that stressed and afraid workers, so we try our best to ensure this isn’t the case.

“What’s the ROI in this?, for an agency with most of our employees being millennial, we get very little personal rotation.”

Healthy eating at work crucial to happiness

Encourage exercise and healthy eating

After a spot of overindulgence over the holidays (and two of the most common New Year’s resolutions being to eat a healthier diet and exercise more), it’s safe to assume that many of your employees will come back to work in January with the aim to get fitter and eat more healthily.

It’s well-known that eating the right power foods can kickstart your concentration, and that exercising increases blood flow to the brain (which makes you more alert) and eases feelings of anxiety and stress thanks to the release of serotonin. To reap these benefits, you could provide healthy breakfasts a few times a week, and ensure your office has a well-stocked fruit bowl. You can also organise group fitness activities for the whole team to get involved in, such as a lunchtime run club, or even a quick game of football, rounders or Frisby in the park.

Writing a New Year goals list

Work with your employees to set achievable goals

Opportunities for development are now more important to employees than ever; in fact, with it being the new normal for people to hold between 10-15 jobs in their lifetime (with 12 being the average), it shows that many won’t hesitate to move on if they feel their current role doesn’t offer them the best opportunity to develop their skills and career. Therefore, you should work with your employees to set personalised goals, and a great time to do this is in January; this is because many businesses are likely to review their budgets and plans for the year ahead.

Not only will setting clear goals help to keep your staff focused on their work (which will increase their motivation as they’ll want to work harder to reach these goals), but if they’re both small and realistic, this will increase morale by giving them a sense of achievement when these are completed. It’s simple, really; the more someone feels they’ve achieved, the more driven they’ll be to maintain a high quality of work and achieve more of their aims.

However, it’s important to remember that setting goals for your employees will also come with trusting them with additional responsibilities. Jamie Cunningham from SalesUp! says: “A groups morale is made up of the individual feelings of the people within that group. The way individuals feel at work comes from the people they are working with and the work they are engaged in. Simply put, the more people care about the work they are doing and the more they like and respect those they work with, the higher the morale.

“The key relationship for any person in the workplace is absolutely with their boss. Because the boss by nature, can be perceived as having a significant amount of control over a persons work life, this relationship will have a disproportionate influence over a persons state at work. People feel good when they feel they have control of their future,  they are challenged and feel like they are growing, and when they feel that their work has purpose. With this knowledge in mind, here are some tips for leaders to boost workplace morale:

“Firstly, be clear on the purpose of the business or project. Communicate it often and in simple language. Continually bring decisions, tasks and feedback back to the purpose of the business. Secondly, give people more responsibility. And tell them you trust them and know they are capable and you are counting on them. Be careful of abdicating with this one. It’s not about dumping workload on them to make it easier for you.

“Finally,  clearly outline the outcomes you are looking for from a role or project, then let people loose to use their own creativity and thinking to solve the problem and create the outcome. Put simply; don’t micromanage!

“You should also give more recognition and praise  to your employees than you normally would. However, it needs to be sincere. Showing gratitude for people’s efforts makes them feel valued (which hopefully they are).”

Beat the New Year Blues with a team building exercise

Organise fun team-building activities

One of the easiest ways to beat the New Year Blues and ease your employees back into working life is by ensuring they have as much fun as possible along the way! This can mean anything from taking the team out for lunch or a few drinks after work, to hosting quizzes in the office, or even taking them go-karting or bowling. Anything goes, so long as it’s fun!

Organising team building activities is also a great way of strengthening relationships within the office, which will boost morale and improve the atmosphere in the workplace. Some great examples of team building activities include obstacle courses, escape rooms, and canoeing, to name but a few.

Lynn Simmons from CRMKC shares her own experience of encouraging team building at work. She says: “I once assumed a team of legal support personnel who had weathered an embezzlement scandal with the prior leadership. The team was skittish and closed off, and trust was a rare commodity.

“As a new manager, my goal was to assess the strengths and weaknesses of my staff and meet corporate goals. Breaking down those protective walls was a huge challenge. In addition to monthly staff meetings where everyone was encouraged to participate (and everyone’s opinion was valued), I threw in some silly team-building exercises. Perhaps the silliest, yet most successful of those activities was creating a “Jalapeno Award” emblazoned with the words “I’m on fire!”. The first recipient of that award received a note from me thanking them for three things that I recognized as noteworthy performance. This person was then tasked with finding the next recipient of the award, and presenting the award with a note. As silly as this sounds, it made each member of the staff look at their co-workers through a different lens and find qualities and performances that could be appreciated, regardless of personalities, work styles, and past experiences. Everyone was recognized for their strengths and started looking for little ways to shine.

“Our jalapeno made its rounds and become much sought after. Sometimes it is the simplest actions that result in the biggest change.”

Dr. Maren Celine Schweizer (MSC) from Schweizer World, says: “People need to get to know each other. Even if you have more company dinners and bringing spouses and family along for that, knowing someone on an individual personal level helps ease the flow of communication. We go off-site about 3 to 4 times and while we do talk about business, we also get to know one another; the private character behind the business and work persona.”

Pamela Woods, Founder and Owner of Classbunny, believes that team building activities should be unique and enjoyable. Their classes range from terrarium building and propagating succulents, to embroidery basics and watercolour painting, and even sustainability workshops. She says: “Our classes are for fun, stress relief and team building, but without the ‘hidden agendas’ such as boring workplace skills workshops, away day tortures or macho competitive team activities that can cause so much pain. We offer experiences that are nice, pleasant and provide a real break from the grind.”

Promote employee engagement

Rebecca Hannan, a coach, speaker and trainer, feels that employee engagement is one of the most importance ways of making your workers feel valued and busting the New Year blues. She says: “Employee engagement is a way of thinking and behaving that’s designed to build an inclusive and inspired workplace culture. In an age where work is becoming less secure and more demanding, it’s more important than ever. How does it work? Genuine employee engagement creates the conditions for everyone to bring their best selves to work. What this means exactly, will vary from business to business. Generally, though, there are a few widely recognised ‘enablers’ – things you can do to get employee engagement up and running and build its momentum.

“One example is to have a great story; otherwise known as a ‘strategic narrative’. This story starts with your ‘why’; that simple, amazing thing that motivates you to do what you do. You need to provide the spark, but write it as a team so that it captures your company’s collective purpose. Keep it short and highly visible, and make sure everyone knows and believes in it.

“Another example is to give your staff a genuine ‘say’; also known as their ‘employee voice’. This means creating formal and informal opportunities for your team to be involved in problem solving, innovating, crisis aversion and much more. When people are asked about job satisfaction, contributing their ideas and expertise to their organisation’s success consistently tops the list.”

Jerry Haffey Jr., President of Business Development at Ambrosia Treatment Center, says: “Building a company culture where people are encouraged to work together and feed off each other’s ideas is vital to the success of any business. I have found that the number one way to promote collaboration is to make sure each employee knows their opinion or suggestions are valid and should that they should share them with the rest of the team. This goes for employees at every level. When people know they have a voice within the company, they are much more likely to speak up and give their two cents. Some of the best ideas we’ve run with are from ground-level employees who felt comfortable expressing themselves.”

Ben Lai, Sales Trainer, Coach, Speaker and Director of Sales Ethos, adds: “My business is built on the premise that the only way for businesses to be successful is to conduct themselves with integrity. This means having a code of morals/ethics that permeates the culture of the organisation.

The new year blues, due to things such as Christmas overspending, failed resolutions can be a thing of the past. When you learn to develop the Habits of Happy People you can feel happy on a more consistent basis, even during the most challenging times. When you realise that happiness is an inside job, it is sustainable and no-one can take it away from you.~ Deborah Fairfull, founder.

“People will certainly feel greater morale if they feel the company aligns with their personal morals. If the business treats its customers with dignity and respect, staff should reasonably expect the same for themselves. I have found with my clients that this is a far more important motivation than commissions and salaries. Some of my coaching clients have even stated that they accepted lower pay for better working conditions like this.”

Invest in green spaces in your workplace

Ben Donsky, Vice President at Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corporation in New York City, says that one way you can improve your employees’ morale is by providing them with green spaces. This allows them to get out of the office for fresh air, which can help to clear their head and lift their spirits. In fact, plants have been proven to lower people’s feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and fatigue when they’ve been introduced to the workplace.

Ben Donsky advises: “Businesses that offer greener workplaces, particularly those that have access to an outdoor space for meetings or lunch, not only normally see an increase in worker productivity, but also have an edge in recruiting and keep talent.

“Study after study has shown what’s intuitive to anyone who sits at a desk eight hour a day or more: a little bit of down time and fresh air helps you refocus on your work. When businesses invest in this outdoor experience, it pays off. The better the environment, the stronger the emotional connection an employee has to the space, and these feelings translate into a more positive attitude about work in general.

“Instead of a couple benches, an attractive and comfortable seating area makes break times more pleasant and encourages camaraderie among coworkers. Adding fun bonuses like ping pong tables and other games makes these spaces into platforms for creating positive memories–and these memories are associated with the workplace. In addition, providing high-quality WiFi in outdoor spaces can directly increase productivity for employees who need to do work that requires intense individual concentration, like writing or financial analysis that can be hard to complete in the modern open office that’s full of distractions.”

Sharron Tancred from Tailored Artworks also adds that the colours you choose for your office decor are also important for boosting your mood and well-being. She says: Colour Psychology is a great way to add a feeling and emotional message to an office meeting space. As an example, if it is an open business that’s full of communication, looks after everyone’s safety and has a focus on justice and fair play, choose the colour ‘blue’ for communication. If it is all action, fast paced, and aggression, choose a red based decor, and feature wall and artwork that suggests this. If you want a happy, intellectual and personable vibe for people who love intellectual ideas and problem solving, then go for yellow.

“Colour Psychology is a soft science, but it’s well documented throughout history, and is indeed used in corporate and public services like prisons and hospitals to soothe people or engage emotional responses.”nat

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