There is a popular misconception among businesses that most employees will spend their first day back at work after Christmas avoiding their manager as much as possible, catching up on personal admin and office gossip or researching their next holiday.

However, a recent survey by reward and benefits provider Edenred has revealed that the ‘Gloomsday Slump’ in employee performance can be avoided if managers work with their teams to set goals for the month and year ahead on the first day back in January. The results from the survey show that attempts by managers to increase motivation on the first day back to work would make employees feel happier, more valued and more productive.

The problem is that few managers currently do this, thereby missing a big opportunity to make a fast start to the New Year. This results in only one in ten employees leaving work that day feeling inspired and motivated for the week ahead.

Bridging the January motivation gap

It’s clear from the research that employers have a major motivation gap to bridge. 41% of respondents view the first day back as an opportunity to impress their boss with their motivation and to plan how they can improve their performance at work. Almost half consider it a chance to plan their workload for the month or get ahead of their targets.

More importantly though, they think their managers should actively use the first day back to help them do this. A failure to tap into this energy and enthusiasm risks creating a mood of lethargy and resignation that undermines performance.

This is why the smartest and most supportive leaders recognise the start to the new year as a golden opportunity to set the direction and tone at work for the 12 months ahead.

Four key steps you can take now to get your year off to a fast start

1. December is the new January

Create a plan now for how you’re going to deal with the first day back after Christmas. Include actions, deadlines and targets that everyone can and will stick to. Fill diaries well in advance so your team has something to work towards as soon as the new year starts. This not only allows you to free yourself of the pressure to set resolutions and targets in January but you may even have some impressive results to show by then. Approach December as a fresh start then slide into January ahead of the game.

2. More than an open-door policy

On the first day back, be proactively approachable and positive. Spend one-on-one time with each member of your team to talk through priorities and targets. A discussion of company strategy and goals will help encourage employees to think about their personal contribution and objectives for the year ahead. Now is a good time to identify the things that may stop them from succeeding and help them to find a way around any roadblocks. Establish some quick wins that will give your team some momentum in the first week.

3. Recognition: it's not just for Christmas

Do your employees understand that their efforts will make a difference and be appreciated? A key factor in driving motivation among your workforce at any time of the year is being recognised for their work and achievements. Welcome your team back after the break by acknowledging them and making them feel valued, which will encourage them to continue doing what they do effectively. And even at the beginning of a new year, never underestimate the impact of a simple thank you – there are no seasonal restrictions on showing kindness and appreciation.

4. Start as you mean to go on

Following the high energy and celebrations of the festive season, January marks a time of review and new expectations that could create an unsettled atmosphere among your team. Approach this by offering constructive solutions and support with target setting, development programmes and reward schemes that will increase retention and help your employees to stay focused and positive. Most importantly, keep the momentum of your fast start to 2017 going by celebrating your team’s success at the end of the first month. This will set the tone for employee motivation throughout the year and ensure your team is always ready to jump at the chance to succeed.

Andy Philpott is Marketing and Sales Director at Edenred.

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