Employees Dragging After the Holidays? Here’s Help

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Morale boosters can lift workers out of January slump 

Calls to Accolade health care professionals for help with depression, anxiety and substance abuse double from December to January every year, according to the health care support provider for large self-insured companies.  

“We all feel yucky after the holidays,” observed Jeff Rubin, vice president of behavioral operations at Accolade, based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

Whether workers miss their relaxing days off or feel deprived because their holidays didn’t live up to expectations, they may not be in the best frame of mind to hit the ground running on Jan. 2. 

“They walk into work, it’s like walking in after a party,” Rubin said. “The decorations are still up; their e-mail box is full. There are new expectations, first-quarter goals. People get slammed. Usually, there’s no decompression time.”        

But there are ways HR can help employees deal with post-holiday malaise. First, “let people know this is just natural,” Rubin said. “Don’t expect a full-blown workforce operating at full tilt by the time you get back. Give people an hour or two to catch up on e-mail.”

Second, take down those Christmas symbols. Make sure the holiday trees and Santa Clauses are gone by New Year’s. On the other hand, HR can help workers extend the festive feeling without detracting from the work of the new year, he said. 

That can take the form of sharing holiday pictures on an internal photo-sharing site; celebrating the Feast of the Three Kings, on Jan. 6; or looking forward to Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 20 next year.      

Employees can also continue the giving spirit after the holidays, said Kristin Irey, PHR, manager of the human resource program at Peirce College in Philadelphia. 

“In the beginning of the year it’s good to establish a charity an employer wants to support, have an employee be the ambassador, and support that charity throughout the year,” Irey suggested. “It’s a good morale booster.”         

Another activity that’s ideal to start the year off with is rolling out, or reinforcing, wellness initiatives for employees, said Doug Kauffman, partner in the labor and employment section of Balch and Bingham law firm in Birmingham, Ala. After the holidays, workers are “focusing on their waistlines or their health in general,” he noted, adding that businesses can be supportive by providing gym access or discounts on health insurance premiums if employees get a checkup.                                                

Companies take different approaches to goal setting at the beginning of the year. Rubin suggests that HR professionals encourage managers to be realistic as they approach the year’s goals. 

“The first of January is not the time to say, ‘What are we going to do this year?’ ” he said. “Encourage employees to set small, manageable goals for themselves, things that are achievable during the first week.” HR can even offer tips on how workers can manage the mountain of e-mail that many face on their return from the holidays. 

“It’s hard to get excited about yearlong metrics, even quarter-long metrics,” said Bruce Tulgan, CEO of Rainmaker Thinking, a management training and consulting company in New Haven, Conn. “But when you start moving forward and banking small wins, you have good reason to feel excited.” HR should remind managers to set up short-term goals to monitor and, when the goals are reached, to offer short-term rewards—especially in January.  

Joan Mooney is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.