How to boost employee motivation to aid retention in the new year


Need to know:

  • Laying the groundwork for a motivation strategy should begin in December to help build momentum and excitement for the new year.
  • January is a good time to promote benefits that focus on financial and physical wellbeing.
  • Long-term goals should be broken down into shorter-term targets to bolster employee motivation.

After all the fun and excitement of the festive period, keeping staff motivated at the start of a new year can be a challenge for many employers. In some instances, a drop in motivation can begin in the run-up to Christmas as borne out by research by Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, published in October 2016, which found that 31% of London-based employees feel least motivated at Christmas time. This lack of enthusiasm can overwhelm staff both before and after the festive period, having a knock-on effect on retention and talent pipelines as employees consider looking at opportunities for a fresh start in the new year.

Delivering a motivation strategy during January, therefore, can require more thought, focus and attention than at other times of the year, says Andy Philpott, sales and marketing director at Edenred. “Motivation needs to be targeted to try and get people focused quickly,” he adds.

Early planning

Laying the groundwork for a new year motivation strategy in December can impact employees’ mindsets in the post-Christmas period. One tactic employers could consider is splitting the festive reward budget or structuring an end-of-year employee bonus scheme to cover both December and January. Iain Thomson, director of incentive and recognition at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, says: “When people come back, [employers] can do some really good, tactical reward activity in January to keep engagement and motivation going post-Christmas as well.”

One example is to plan a social event during the first quarter, says Mike Morgan, chief executive officer at People Value. This event can then be promoted before Christmas, to help build excitement for the new year.

Benefits promotion

An employer can also take advantage of the season to promote its existing benefits as a means of increasing employee motivation and engagement. Starting the year with a re-launch or awareness campaign helps staff to understand what is available and how benefits can specifically help them.

“January is the one month where people come back under more financial pressure than at any other time of the year,” says Edenred’s Philpott.

Financial benefits that ease the strain of Christmas spending could include retail discounts available via a voluntary benefits platform, season ticket or payroll loans, and employee savings platforms that incorporate schemes such as individual savings accounts (Isas).

Health and wellbeing benefits are also well received in January, especially if an organisation can tie benefits in with an employee’s new year resolutions, which may have a fitness focus. Benefits such as discounted gym membership or providing healthy eating options in the workplace could be appreciated by staff, while team wellbeing or fitness challenges that encourage working together are also a creative way to engage staff with the business.

Implementing a new reward and recognition scheme can also give staff an added impetus, for example, a peer-to-peer recognition scheme through which colleagues and managers can send thank you e-cards, says Morgan.

Long-term engagement

An employee’s mindset in January can have a knock-on effect on motivation and retention, says Sodexo’s Thomson. “It’s about being tactical and making sure that benefits reflect how [employees feel]. It’s a typical period where people assess their future and where they want to be.”

Breaking down long-term goals, which can appear unattainable to staff who have just returned from the Christmas break, into very short-term targets can help to motivate staff quickly and make them feel that they can achieve these.

“There’s always more [organisations] can do to communicate benefits and it does help with retention,” explains Samantha Gee, director at Verditer Consulting. “If their salary [is] right, then [employees will] look to the value-add parts of their package, which is where it comes down to having great benefits, or having managers that recognise them or make them feel that they are in a business with a good plan for that year.”

Edenred’s Slump or jump report, published in November 2016, found that 32% of employees would feel valued if their manager attempted to increase their motivation on their return to work in January, with 27% wanting management to spend time with teams to talk through priorities and targets, and 24% looking for their employer to implement a specific new year reward and recognition scheme to present a clear sense of purpose. Staff meetings that openly discuss goals and plans for the coming year, as well as how individuals in their specific roles can contribute to this, can also help to increase employee engagement.

This could also include communication about the introduction of upcoming policies, such as gender pay gap reporting, says Gee. “If [the employer has] a good message compared to [its] competitors, [it will] want to talk about it earlier to demonstrate what a good employer [it is], so [employees] can be proud of that fact.”

Holiday trading or travel discounts on voluntary benefits platforms can also help employees to look to the year ahead and envisage their future.

January can be a tough month in terms of motivation, so it is vital to plan ahead to ensure that employees can be retained in what can be a prime period for job hunting. Reinvigorating benefits messages and communications to demonstrate how an employee benefits package can help support and engage staff creates an ideal start to the new year.

uktv-imageUKTV engages staff with annual business objectives to boost motivation

UK television broadcaster UKTV boosts employee motivation in January by engaging staff with the organisation’s brand identity and sharing leadership goals for the year ahead.

Based in London, UKTV’s 270 employees understand how their individual roles contribute to the success of the business, with an organisation-wide cinema screening allowing staff to view the new television programmes due to be aired over the coming year.

Tied in with this screening is a January strategy update meeting, where all employees are briefed on the organisation’s goals for the year ahead and how it aims to achieve these. As part of this update, members of the executive leadership team present their annual individual goals, so that employees can see what is happening in each area of the business. The executive leadership team follows up on these objectives during weekly staff meetings, as well as more formally at the end of the year.

In addition, in December 2015 UKTV announced a new initiative that gives staff their birthdays off work as paid leave. This was implemented in January 2016, and has been hugely popular with staff.

Della Hirons, HR business partner at UKTV, says: “January is the time when [we] can get people to get excited about how they can contribute to the successes of the [organisation], and we just keep getting more successful.”

Charles Cotton, CIPDViewpoint: Combine extrinsic and intrinsic reward to create a tailored motivation strategy 

There are a number of ways organisations can boost motivation. One is to use extrinsic rewards, such as pay. A simple example is that employees are motivated to sell more by being offered a financial incentive, such as commission.

However, employees are only likely to change their behaviours if they value the reward on offer and believe they have a realistic chance of getting it. Insights from behavioural science reveal that while individuals or teams are motivated by extrinsic rewards, too much focus on these may result in unanticipated or inappropriate behaviours.

Organisations have tried to get around this by putting various checks and balances in place, or by deferring the incentive payment over time. However, this can reduce employee motivation, because staff find it harder to understand what they need to do to achieve the reward and they value it less because they have to wait a long time to receive it.

As well as extrinsic awards, organisations can also use intrinsic ones, such as recognising employee efforts, listening to their concerns, acting on their suggestions and offering training opportunities.

Organisations may use their mission and vision to motivate employees out of a sense of greater good. As the old adage goes, if you want someone to do a good job then give them a good job to do.

What is important is to use both types of reward to motivate, getting to understand employees so the employer knows when and how to use cash, and when to use other forms of reward.

Charles Cotton is reward advisor at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD)