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Bump Up Productivity and Morale on Blue Monday – and Beyond
Paul Burrin

The holiday period hangover can continue long into the new year, past the dreaded Blue Monday, the so-called most depressing day of the year. Although there may not be hard science behind the idea of Blue Monday (January 15), there’s no denying that this time of year can be a gloomy time -- for both employees and employers.

It can be challenging to motivate and get employees excited around this time of year, making way for a swathe of unauthorised absences as festive feelings fade and the return to work hits home.

According to HR consulting company Morneau Shepell’s 2018 trends report, employers reported that their primary motivation for focusing on mental health in their HR practices was to reduce absenteeism (66%), followed closely by a need to increase employee engagement and retention (63%).

It’s important that business owners and managers fully understand the effects that lack of motivation and enthusiasm can have on both the individual, and consequently the productivity of a business. If you suspect something is not quite right, try having a one-on-one discussion with any employee who seems more down than usual, as there may be more going on than the usual winter blues.

For example, according to Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that is more likely to happen in the wintertime due to the arrival of credit card bills after the holiday period spending, freezing temperatures, less sunlight, and return to work stress. Symptoms of SAD to watch out for include mood swings, anxiety, and sleep problems; seeking help from a mental health professional for these types of issues can have a positive impact on employee wellbeing.

I’m happy to share that there are a few approaches managers can adopt to keep staff motivated, focused and productive on Blue Monday as well as year-round:

1. Show gratitude towards employees

An appreciated colleague is a happy colleague. Showing a little gratitude can go a long way towards a motivated, high-performance workforce. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and a bit of recognition or encouragement can lead to better self-esteem and workplace relationships, boosting productivity. Not only that, demotivated employees can also lead to unhappy customers.

Recent research by Sage revealed that over 66% of those surveyed view being valued as the most important aspect of their work life. Positive work experiences also have a huge impact on productivity, with 78% of respondents saying they are more productive when work experiences are positive. This jumps to 92% for younger employees (millennials), who are quickly becoming the largest demographic in the workforce.

Gratitude is absolutely vital in the workplace, confirms UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on the subject. “Most of our waking hours are spent on the job, and gratitude, in all its forms, is a basic human requirement,” he says. “So, when you put these factors together, it is essential to both give and receive thanks at work.”

2. Be inspired to volunteer

The phrase ‘conscientious capitalism’ is becoming increasingly popular, emphasising the need for businesses to focus on the purpose beyond profit. Many organisations across the world are committed to taking action to make a tangible difference in both local and global communities, and bringing employees along on this journey could be a good way to keep them engaged.

Setting up an employee volunteering programme and giving employees paid time off to volunteer for important causes are likely to pay back in spades. It can enhance your employees’ skills, encourage team-building and create a positive culture within your business, which can be recognised internally and externally.

In fact, according to a 2017 study by Volunteer Canada and Investors Group, 60% of Canadians reported a willingness to volunteer more if it was organized by their employer. Furthermore, 68% of Canadians say they would choose to work at an organization that has a vibrant culture of giving back, over one that does not.

3. Support flexible work arrangements

Giving employees an element of control over their time could be highly beneficial for both the business and its employees. According to a January 2017 Regus study, 79% of Canadian employees with a flexible work schedule reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their work–life balance. This is supported by Sage’s research, which found that 81% of employees surveyed stated that flexible and remote working arrangements are very important and highly valued.

For many working parents, flexible working options help them balance work and everyday life without compromising either. Especially for working mothers on the journey back to full-time work after pregnancy, flexible working arrangements enable them to transition back into the swing of things professionally while retaining the option of attending to responsibilities at home. Understanding its importance to the Canadian workforce, the Government of Canada even amended the Canada Labour Code in 2017 to allow workers in federally regulated sectors request flexible work arrangements from employers.

When implemented properly, flexible working options can work wonders for employee morale, engagement and general workplace productivity.

4. Try gamification to make work fun

Making work fun and introducing healthy competition lead to better results. This is the theory behind gamification, the buzzword for the process of introducing game elements into various activities to help motivate, engage and retain employees and customers. Gamification typically includes badges, leader-boards, points, and can be used to encourage employee engagement in various day-to-day operations.

With recognition often an important factor in high productivity and morale, gamification can be a great way for employees to receive plenty of feedback, and quickly too. Positive feedback can incentivise high quality work, improve motivation and reward team achievements. Employees might also better understand their strengths and weaknesses, leading to enhanced their performance.

Paul Burrin, the Vice-President of Sage People, is a progressive business development expert focused on the forces changing the nature of work, the workplace and the rise of the modern workforce. Sage People, delivers amazing workforce experiences, so that customers can become great employer brands, increasing engagement, performance, and retention, while making it easier to acquire top talent.

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