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Overcoming seasonal impacts on employee motivation


Just as employees may struggle to keep their focus in the late afternoon, they may also show signs of seasonal slowdowns.

Whether it’s the holiday hoopla at the end of the year, flu season at the start or summer vacation’s siren call in the middle, individual performance and the overall mood can suffer from the seasonal impacts on employee motivation.

When you think about motivating employees, you might naturally gravitate to things like:

  • Generous salaries
  • Good healthcare
  • Paid time off
  • Overtime
  • Holiday breaks

These all help attract top candidates.

Yet external forces and distractions can’t be ignored, and as the calendar years roll along, individual needs change alongside tasks and responsibilities. That’s why it’s vital to find creative ways to anticipate and proactively address those motivational pain points.

For some companies that’s easier said than done – especially if the obvious choices involve money not readily available.

As a word of caution: you always want to stay well within the lines of socially and legally permissible behavior.

The good news is simple employee recognition can reignite enthusiasm and remind employees that you care. And it doesn’t need to break the bank.

These can include:

  • Awards
  • Small staff discounts
  • Special parking spaces
  • The occasional breakfast meeting at a local bakery

Use the following collection of strategies to overcome the seasonal impacts on employee motivation.

Winter’s woes

Of all the seasons to be motivating employees, winter can be the harshest.

Potential problems in winter wonderland

  1. Coming off of a hectic holiday season, employees may hit those winter doldrums hard before the New Year’s Eve ball drops.
  2. Some parts of the country can encounter weather extremes that increase already stressful commutes or leave employees stuck at home, grumbling.
  3. Some family members may be fighting the flu.
  4. Others might feel blue about being single as Valentine’s Day candy boxes arrive in grocery aisles.
  5. Winter is a time when vulnerable staff may experience significant depression – including seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – or generally unsettling feelings.
  6. Given that this time of year is one in which elders often pass away and suicide rates peak, be on the lookout for everything from typical winter blues to grief and significant emotional overwhelm.

Whatever the date on the calendar, honor the fact that individuals are experiencing their own respective seasons of life.

Solutions for winter woes

Think through what obstacles employees may be facing, and craft custom strategies that work best with your team.

Conveniently, the start of a new calendar year makes for a good excuse to check in and see what’s going on.

  • Sometimes valuable information can be secured simply by asking casually on the elevator how things are going.
  • Tuning in to staff as they engage in open, casual exchanges can provide additional clues.

When feasible, a simple staff gathering over budget-friendly food or beverages can be a smart way to spark camaraderie when it sags.

  • There’s no need to craft an agenda or to hire someone to come in and coach folks on how to increase their drive.
  • Breaking bread over a potluck lunch or serving complimentary coffee and donuts can spark collegiality.
  • If it goes well, consider hosting this kind of gathering monthly or quarterly.

By tuning in to staff members through direct and indirect means – and looking and listening for clues in a responsible, non-invasive way – you should be able to tease out when someone could use support.

Spring things

As winter fades and spring blooms, spirits can rise like the morning sun. Or maybe not?

Distractions that can spring on you

  1. In regions in which seasonal allergies can present a significant problem to breathing easy, employees may struggle to keep their focus.
  2. If winter was especially harsh, the allure of sunshine and birdsong can be hard to ignore.

Spring fever isn’t just for lovestruck teenagers, alas.

Solutions to springtime delirium

Spring can be a good time to offer a half-day break or to incorporate appropriate outdoor team-building experiences.

Consider individual and generational differences:

  • Junior staff members may find the idea of a trendy ax-throwing venue enthralling.
  • Senior staffers may prefer an outdoor lunch, a glass-blowing class or a scenic hike.

Work with science-loving people? Indulge in March’s Pi Day with a couple of flaky cherry and apple pies.

Keep in mind that good, upbeat energy can be contagious. Check in with yourself to ensure you’re staying optimally on task. Need a break yourself? Take one.

To create a workplace culture where everyone stays engaged and motivated, it’s vital to lead by example.

For instance, in companies with perks like paid-time off (PTO), spring may afford staff members the chance to do a little gardening, take a day trip or repaint their home office. Communicate that when staff are off, they’re fully unplugged from the workplace.

School’s out for summer

For those of us who grew up on a traditional school schedule, years of conditioning can present motivational challenges during the next two seasons.

Summer brouhaha

With summer comes a clash of life cycles where even high-energy, goal-driven employees can show serious signs of wear and tear.

  1. The very word “summer,” with its connotations of freedom from responsibility and gloriously sunny days, can feel like an invitation to slow down productivity.
  2. Employees with young children may be trying to figure out summer camps, childcare routines and financing.
  3. Summer also tends to be a time of weddings. Staff members may struggle to crisscross the country on weekends to celebrate with friends.
  4. Add social media into the mix of distractions, with the daily onslaught of vacation photos and getaway check-ins can leave employees leaving isolated or with fears of missing out.

Solutions to achieve summer serenity

Summertime‘s external, brain-draining forces can be made even more difficult if your company’s peak production schedule coincides with the stretch running from June to September. Advance planning can help, of course.

By looking forward several months ahead and offering ways to offset struggles elsewhere in the calendar year, you can create a culture in which employees know that you see and respect them.

A few simple strategies to consider are:

  • Offer seasonal perks like overtime pay (if unavailable the rest of the year).
  • Move to four-day work weeks.
  • Stagger schedules.
  • Dismiss staff early when possible.
  • Provide meals or snacks on especially long, intense work days.

Summer can be a great time to enjoy an open-air picnic lunch or to bring in fresh, locally grown fruit for a breakfast meeting. Moreover, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day can offer easy inspiration for luncheons or activities.

Some businesses may have founder’s day activities in the summertime (or elsewhere during the year); such happy occasions can make for the kind of celebrations that reconnect employees to a company’s origins and mission.

Ah, Autumn

September’s golden light calls to mind new school supplies and fresh starts.

Autumn Issues

  1. In areas where sweltering summer temperatures can deplete enthusiasm in a way that mirrors winter’s despair in colder climates, fall can feel refreshing.
  2. This is the arrival of football season (potentially an intense period of activity for families with kids and teens).
  3. In cold weather states, employees might need to undertake a variety of tasks to winterproof one’s home. (Hardcore weekend warriors can be sore and cranky come Monday.)
  4. The arrival of what some call the “fall-idays” – the stretch of non-stop activity that runs from Halloween to Thanksgiving. It’s more than a precursor for the Christmas and Hanukkah crush.
  5. In October and November, generational issues rise again as everyone scrambles to meet personal needs and obligations. In companies that experience an uptick in activity in the run up to the end of the calendar year, there can be even more distractions.

Autumnal antidotes

For businesses with employees from diverse backgrounds, allowing individuals additional time off for religious observance can signal that management respects employees as individuals.

Depending upon the particulars of your company – and bearing in mind any relevant company rules and federal regulations – employees of different faiths may be willing to provide coverage for peers from different faith backgrounds on certain holidays.

(To wit, think of those annual nightly news stories highlighting Jewish healthcare professionals volunteering for hospital shifts at Christmas.) 

Fortunately, if you’ve been developing strategies to offset potential problems all year long, you’ve now got a variety of tools and strategies to help encourage staff to keep going strong into another year. 

A few additional things to try include:

  • Develop an equitable schedule through which employees stagger their leave to maintain consistent office coverage
  • Give half days for shopping or errands
  • Provide additional time off near the biggest holidays

Obviously, holiday bonuses or pay raises for the new year can be a major morale boost, but don’t underestimate the power of expressing sincere gratitude for jobs well done.

That can mean:

  • A thoughtful note
  • A simple box of chocolate
  • An elaborate, full-blown Thanksgiving feast with employees and their partners

Demonstrating to your employees how much you appreciate their efforts is a time-tested way to keep them motivated 24/7/365.

As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for overcoming the seasonal impacts on employee motivation. If you’d like to learn more strategies for keeping people engaged, please download and read our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement.