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Banishing the January Blues - How to Get Employees Back on Track

20/01/2016 09:18 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 10:12 GMT

The after-effects of a holiday can often be felt in the workplace, particularly after the festive season. Following a longer-than-average Christmas break and with some wet and windy weather ahead (not to mention a belt-tightening, sober January for some), many employers report seeing lower productivity and morale as workers drag their feet about getting back into work.

Yet this isn't just a seasonal problem. Our research shows that the UK already has a problem with disengaged employees, which is no doubt exacerbated by January blues. More and more workers are 'quitting in seat' - coming into work and going through the motions, but mentally checking out from their day-to-day work.

Why are workers so blue? The driving cause is the dissatisfaction with the 'next step' and future career paths offered by current employers. Around 70 percent of workers are frustrated by the lack of development opportunities with their employer. At Christmas this figure inevitably creeps higher as people compare their career progress with friends and family.

Yet rather than taking proactive steps to look for a new job - including applying for roles online, phoning recruiters and sending out their CVs - many people are choosing to stay in their jobs and keep things ticking over by doing the bare minimum. Perhaps because of the shaky global economy, only 19 percent of UK employees are actively job-seeking, down 11 percent compared to the previous year, while levels of 'discretionary effort' - going above and beyond - are also at an all-time low.

This lost productivity and underperformance is a serious problem not only for business leaders and HR departments, but also for employees themselves who aren't prepared to put in the time and effort to either seek out a better role or get more engaged in their current job.

Rather than 'write off' those people who have switched off, business leaders need to be transparent about how employees can contribute to the future business strategy, what is expected from them and how they can learn new skills in the process.

The four tips below should help managers get through the January doldrums.

Measure employees' engagement levels: To pinpoint where re-engaging opportunities and resources should be focused, organisations can leverage new tools that allow them to assess employees likelihood of attrition and level of engagement at work. The best of these also test for employees' agility in the face of change and their mental alignment with the organisation's strategy.

Improve access to new opportunities. The reality is that there isn't much room for upward movement and regular promotions in today's flatter organisational structures. Yet companies can still enable other kinds of movement across the organisation, perhaps to a different department or office or onto a new team taking at a fresh challenge.

Be open about development. Managers need have regular conversations with employees about their performance and reinforce how their current role is in itself progressing their skills and careers to make them more marketable both within the company and beyond it.

Stick to expectations. Some attrition is a good thing, especially if it opens up opportunity for movement for other people across the business. Managers should set clear expectations and deadlines for employees to decide whether or not they want to be part of the business.

At the same time, employees should be encouraged to look at their own goals to work out whether they are really in the right place. Rather than approaching this with a negative stance, people should ask what their strengths are and how they can put them to best use. What do I do well? How can I do more of this? The result will be more positive, engaged, and fulfilling work and, crucially, fewer people 'quitting in seat'.

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