Chris Ford, Senior Director of Incentives at Blackhawk Network

The third Monday in January is better known as Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year. Due to the bad weather, long nights and post-festive-season guilt, this is when our motivations hit their lowest. However, this year the national lockdown means that rather than a Blue Monday, we’re experiencing more of a ‘Blue January’. And with the ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19, we’re likely to see significant employee motivation issues extend throughout the year.

This is a serious issue for employers. Keeping employee motivation up is essential, as an engaged workforce equals productive staff that drive forward business success. Employers therefore need to prioritise tactics to keep their employees motivated, both through this month and beyond.

To keep motivation high, employee wellbeing is key. Ensuring a culture of positive mental health, alongside staff feeling valued and looked after, can go a long way to combat the depressing nature of this time of the year. But the usual methods of creating this culture, such as social or team building activities, are more difficult due to the current circumstances. So not only will employers need to do more this year to combat the risks of a demotivated workforce, they may need to come up with entirely new strategies. This is why the most effective HR teams have conceived well-structured and highly relevant wellbeing initiatives that focus on recipients having choice.

Choice is key to employee wellbeing

Many employers make the mistake of creating a one-size-fits-all wellbeing strategy, but ‘wellbeing’ means different things for different people and is even more pertinent in today’s changing landscape. For example, Blackhawk Network recently found that people were anything but in agreement on what their preferred workplace Christmas reward would be, some preferring a cash bonus in a paycheck, others preferring value to reduce the cost of shopping for essentials, whilst others preferring additional time off. 

To tackle not just the January blues but any tough times throughout the year, HR teams have to build a strategy that accommodates the different needs of individual employees as their own personal landscape mutates. Some staff might find a free subscription to a meditation app, or access to a bike through a cycle to work scheme as the most useful way to improve their wellbeing. Others may prefer discounted events and services, or a salary sacrifice technology scheme to allow better financial wellbeing. A selection of options means that employees can choose what’s right for them, maximising the positive effects on employee wellbeing and improving the ROI for employers.

Communication, communication, communication

Businesses that have strong lines of communication with staff will be most successful when it comes to understanding employee needs. Through constant communication, HR teams can understand exactly what makes employees tick, and design a choice-based benefits scheme that provides the right options. Not only will this ensure a strong appeal when it comes to recruiting new talent; existing staff will also appreciate that their employers care about them, ultimately making them feel valued by the business. 

We have seen a huge upturn in employee engagement from employers that use the testimony of their own staff with regards to how they have personally benefited from a new bike or a piece of technology. As we all know, personal reviews and experiences drive interest and many companies that are continuing to see high levels of motivation actually use employee feedback to help drive the motivation of others.  

By not listening to employees and not giving them options, even the most well-meaning strategies can be lost on staff. Getting it wrong highlights a business that is out of touch with the needs of its staff, which is sure to hinder already strained levels of motivation. Adopting a choice-based benefits strategy by having a range of options and showing an understanding of what staff actually want can help dramatically in limiting the effects of a Blue Monday, January or indeed, year.