Aaah, January. That time of year when we all head back to work feeling rested, reinvigorated and excited about the year ahead. Right?
Well… maybe in a perfect world. In reality, it can actually take some time, some effort, and perhaps even some changes to really feel that way. As managers it can be easy to forget that not everybody is quite on the same page first day back; some might be, but others may need help to really re-focus after a break. Especially if they have done a good job of switching off during their time away from the office; returning to work can be a bit of a shock to the system and takes some time to readjust.
It is crucial that you use the first few weeks of the new year to get their heads back in the game; and there are five things that you as a manager can do straight away:
- Give people the chance to catch up. Your staff are likely coming back to an overflowing in-tray and an inbox full of unread emails, not to mention that pile of work they left on their desk the week before Christmas. What they don’t need is a 9am meeting on their first day back, hitting them with another ten things to add to their to-do list. Give your people time to mentally readjust to being back in the office and to clear their backlog. They will likely be catching up with their colleagues as well and hearing about everyone’s Christmas holidays – let this happen. In fact encourage it, it’s good for your team morale. Hovering over them, making sure they’re straight back to work by 9.15 is not.
- Recognise that individuals are different. Not only will your team members have different feelings about being back at work, and differ in their approach to this, but they also have differences in the way they tackle their work. People vary in terms of the time it takes them to readjust to being back in the office. Some will tackle their hundreds of unread emails straight away, solidly spending a few hours ploughing through. Others will do it for half an hour, then move onto another task, and then come back. Everyone is different. It’s important you help your staff to prioritise and manage their time, but don’t do it for them – give them the space to do it themselves, in a way that feels comfortable for them.
- Have an individual development discussion. January is the perfect time for these types of conversations. People are clear-headed and able to reflect more openly on their performance from the previous year. Together, you will be able to see what worked and what didn’t, and plan for some positive changes for the year ahead. Remember, setting anything but clear, measurable and achievable goals is just setting someone up for failure.
- Get people excited. Engage people in the big picture (what the organisation is doing) and the smaller picture (how they individually contribute to the business’ success). This can form part of the development discussion detailed above. In order to engage, people need to feel two things: motivated by what they are doing, and enjoyment from doing it. Talk to your staff about what they like, what they feel confident doing, and what inspires them to keep going, and incorporate these things into their plan for the year. Your staff need to feel that this is a two-way commitment and their contributions are valued and not taken for granted.
- Don’t forget teamwork. This is any easy one to miss at any time of year, but particularly so in January. Having just had the team bonding activities of departmental lunches and an office Christmas party, it’s easy to think that that’s enough to carry you through to the next Christmas party in 12 months time. But it’s important for people to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion at work, like they are part of something and working with others towards a common goal. Reinforce this message early on, perhaps with a team morning tea on the first day back, or planning quarterly off-site team building days. Your staff will feel valued and appreciated and reward you with loyalty, hard work and a positive working environment – and isn’t that what we all want in the end?
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Laura Lee is a fully registered Psychologist and capable HR professional with over 10 years experience in both a clinical setting as well as within the field of Human Resource Management. Laura is currently the Head Psychologist at HR Gurus, a consultancy firm based in Melbourne, Australia, that specialises in providing straightforward HR solutions to SME’s.