Monday 16th January 2012 has been designated ‘Blue Monday’ – officially the most depressing day of the working year. Research by the University of Exeter estimates that low morale could cost businesses £93bn in lost productivity.
So, instead of leaving your employees to wallow in the misery of ‘Blue Monday’, use it as an opportunity to boost morale and get them behind the business. Here are the three steps to improving internal communications and engaging employees.
1. Give everyone in the business the chance to influence the direction of the organisation
One of the key triggers of depression in someone’s personal life is lack of control. It is the same at work – if you don’t feel you have any control over your job, career or direction of the organisation you work for, you become disengaged. At a time of year when people are looking to make positive changes, employers are at risk of losing their talent and not getting the most out of their workforce – when they need it most.
Formal staff consultation exercises can be costly, time consuming and, for many organisations, risk disengaging employees further – after all, not everyone’s views can be taken on board. Why not use ‘Blue Monday’ to have an informal coffee morning or lunch and ask people what their personal and professional goals are for the year. Be clear that you want them to be completely honest and that nothing they say will be used against them. It might be best if senior management aren’t involved – they can sometimes be the biggest barrier to reinventing the business.
Be open minded about what comes out of it. If you can roughly align your business strategy with your employees’ professional aspirations, they will feel more valued and willing to contribute to the future success of the organisation. You can also support them with personal issues to ensure that their professional life is not affected. You may find that one of your rising stars doesn’t want to be promoted in their current department but actually wants to try something completely different – could you look at transferring them into another part of the business? Perhaps one of your most talented middle managers plans to have a baby and is concerned it will hamper her progression – how can you reassure her and put plans in place to make sure it doesn’t?
2. Be really clear about what your goals and plans are
Once you have taken everyone’s views on board, set your strategy and stick to it. Then be really clear exactly what the plans for the business are and, most importantly what everyone’s role is in that plan.
It may be that you are coming out of difficult times and have big growth plans for the future – but lots of change might signal that you plan to sell the business if you don’t keep people informed.
Your 2012 strategy should be simple, easy to understand and to remember, and be something that everyone in the organisation can fully sign up to. If it is all about sales, make sure it states how other business functions can contribute to increasing sales. The HR team or warehouse staff might not see why it is relevant to them – so they need their own set of messages about how they fit in.
This makes everyone feel valued and takes away the underlying uncertainty about the future. If the future is under threat, be honest but positive so that staff are motivated to make a difference rather than jump ship!
3. Set up mechanisms for consistently and regularly getting messages across
Keeping your employees satisfied and engaged is as much about consistency and volume of communication as it is about the quality of the message. In difficult times, employers have to communicate more with staff, even if nothing is changing. If not, people fill silence with their own stories. Your regular board meeting could be perceived as a redundancy planning session if you don’t tell people what it was about.
But remember, just because a lot of hard work goes into the staff newsletter or well crafted email from the chief executive, it doesn’t mean that anyone will read it or take it in. If you really want your employees to get behind the business, you need to remind them what your goals are in their language and in places and ways that are part of their every day job. It might be on a rolling screen in reception or flyers on trays in the canteen. When Stephen Martin, CEO of the Clugston Group, filmed Channel 4 reality TV programme ‘Undercover Boss’, he found that the best way to reach some of his employees was by putting an insert in their copies of The Sun.
How are you going to spend ‘Blue Monday’?
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