Keeping staff motivated in the run up to Christmas

On behalf of the UK Gift Card & Voucher Association, Michael Dawson, CEO at One4all Rewards, looks at how employers can boost morale and maintain staff productivity as thoughts begin to turn to Christmas

It’s well known that maintaining workplace productivity in the run up to Christmas can be challenging. This means that employers must work even harder to find ways to keep staff motivated, productive and engaged throughout December.

In order to establish which perks, incentives and rewards can really make a difference, it’s important to first take the time to understand exactly what contributes to lower productivity over the festive period.

Why is motivation particularly low around Christmas?
While it may be that some of the decline in productivity around Christmas can be attributed to people entering holiday mode, it’s also important to bear in mind that there are also a number of other, more serious, contributing factors.

International research has shown that December is actually the most stressful time of the year for 42 per cent of workers, while another survey found that 23 per cent of UK employees feel more stressed in the run up to Christmas. This is partly due to the fact that December is one of the shortest working months, with as few as 20 working days, due to Bank Holidays. This, coupled with the fact many workplaces are closed between Christmas and New Year, means employees are often under huge pressure to get all their work done and ensure targets are met before the end of the year.

It’s also likely that many people face increased financial worries over the festive period, with the average household spending an extra £500 in December compared with other months. And with public sector employees less likely to receive a Christmas bonus than their private sector counterparts, they may feel forced to turn to credit cards, savings or even payday loans to cover the additional cost.

So, what can be done? In order to improve staff morale in December, employers should look to introduce measures that will specifically tackle these issues.  

Offer incentives
Incentives and rewards are a great way to improve employee motivation and combat stress in the workforce over Christmas, helping to keep morale and productivity high. Research we carried out found that 65 per cent of UK workers would be motivated to work harder if they received an individual cash bonus or gift card from their employer.

So, what are the most effective incentives and rewards? Well, research has shown almost half (47 per cent) of UK workers stated that they would most appreciate a bonus or reward not linked to their performance at Christmas. Gift cards and vouchers, which remain as popular as ever amongst consumers according to a 2019 report by the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA), can be a great alternative to cash, which is more likely to be swallowed up by other everyday expenditures.

Gail Cohen, director general at the UKGCVA, explains: “Gift cards and vouchers offer an ideal solution for employers looking to motivate their staff by acknowledging their effort and hard work. They are particularly effective at Christmas, when budgets are stretched, as they give staff the opportunity to treat themselves to something fun without having to worry about the impact on their finances.

“Finding a reward to suit every employee can be difficult, with some wanting experiential rewards, and others preferring physical gifts, for example. Multi-store gift cards easily overcome this issue, giving staff the freedom and choice to redeem their reward as they wish. By offering a card that can cater for a wide range of tastes, employers are effectively providing a reward that is unique to each recipient.

“More and more employers are beginning to recognise the value of gift cards as a reward, with our latest State of the Nation report revealing that the UK’s B2B gift card market has grown an impressive 20.5 per cent year-on-year, reflecting their popularity amongst workers.”

If particular focus is needed – say a certain target needs to be hit, or a specific team needs a push, it is worth setting clear targets relating to these in the run up to Christmas, which are challenging but achievable – although it’s worth noting that bonuses or gifts given to staff in exchange for meeting targets aren’t eligible for HMRC’s trivial benefit exemption.

Christmas reward schemes should also be communicated clearly to all employees via a variety of channels, including in meetings and via notice boards, as well as with emails and newsletters, to ensure maximum engagement.

How to keep staff motivated in the run up to Christmas

Organise a Christmas celebration
A work Christmas party can be a nice way to let people unwind, bond, and make them feel valued. Although socialising with colleagues may not be for everyone, one survey found that 65 per cent of UK workers enjoy attending their annual Christmas party, and 69 per cent say that it helps them to build friendships with co-workers.

Despite this, while around two thirds of private sector employers provide their employees with a Christmas event, just 33 per cent of employers in the public sector do likewise. This could be due to budget cuts, but a celebration doesn’t need to be prohibitively expensive – lunch in a local restaurant followed by festive drinks can be just as fun as an evening do in a fancy venue.  

Encouraging employees to get into the festive spirit for the rest of the month can also help to improve employee engagement. This could include decorating the office, running best decorated desk competitions, organising team lunches, putting on a festive fancy dress day or setting some friendly Christmas-related competitions, like the best cracker joke.

Plan in advance to ease pressure
As the saying goes: prevention is better than cure. While rewards and incentives can be a really effective way to boost motivation during the festive slump, managers should also look for ways to stop productivity from falling in the first place.  

An increased workload in the run up to Christmas can be very dangerous for morale; if not planned for adequately, it can result in many employees needing to stay late or work overtime. With so many social engagements and other commitments likely taking place in December, this can easily lead to resentment among staff, and low levels of productivity.

Luckily, unlike other busy periods which can crop up unexpectedly, Christmas offers the benefit of foresight. This means that, with some careful planning and teamwork in the preceding months, the pressure can be eased for everyone. The earlier preparation starts, the better, as it will enable managers to distribute tasks fairly, over a longer period of time. This should make it easier to meet targets without the need for anyone to stay late.

Allocate annual leave fairly
Annual leave can be a real bone of contention around the Christmas period. There can be fierce competition over days off, with many people understandably wanting to take as much leave as possible in order to spend time with family and friends, while others may be frantically trying to use up any holiday entitlement they have left before it expires at the end of the year. This leaves those who are not off to pick up the slack, further adding to workloads.

In order to prevent staff feeling de-motivated, the Christmas annual leave policy should be made as fair as possible. It may be necessary for managers to restrict leave in December, to prevent departments from being short-staffed. If this is the case, it should be communicated to staff earlier in the year, so that they have enough time to organise social plans accordingly.

When it comes to allocating leave, it can be almost impossible to please everyone but there are a few approaches that can help to minimise any bad feeling. Managers should try to ensure as many people as possible have at least one day off, and it may be fair to offer those who were not granted leave the previous year first refusal this year.

Consider flexible working
Research has shown that people spend an average of 270 hours preparing for Christmas, and much of the activity takes place in December, with shopping to finish, nativity plays to attend, and family members to visit. If annual leave is tight, then it can be difficult for people to balance getting ready for Christmas with their work-related responsibilities.

Flexible working policies could provide an ideal solution, enabling individuals to complete their work commitments while also factoring in their personal obligations. Leaving early, starting late or having longer lunch breaks can help employees manage their festive arrangements, get their Christmas shopping done, recover from Christmas parties, and spend extra time with their family and friends. This means that they are more focused and productive when they are at work.

It’s also worth considering cutting the working day short if possible, particularly on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, in order to boost morale amongst those who weren’t able to book the time off as annual leave.

While special treats at Christmas can go a long way to boosting motivation, it’s also important to bear in mind that staff should be treated well all year round, with a comprehensive rewards and incentives programme in place. This will lay a solid foundation, making it more likely that staff will be happy to support each other and work as a team when the going gets tough.

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