Engage Employees to Beat Those Post-Holiday Blues

Now that the excitement of the holiday season is over, is there a way to help employees stay engaged and motivated when it’s back to business as usual?

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The menorah is covered with melted wax, Christmas tree needles litter the living room floor, and you’re facing the dark days of winter. It’s always a challenge to feel motivated after the holiday season, and it can be particularly hard to get employees re-engaged.

So maybe along with the new year, you can find a new way to get your employees back into the swing of things. After all, the topic of employee engagement generates so much interest year-round. Type the words “employee engagement” into Google, and about 28,600,000 results pop up in 0.22 seconds. That’s because large corporations and small-business owners alike know there’s a strong connection between employee engagement and company performance.

Employee engagement doesn’t just mean offering employees incentives such as free massages, a free day off after a tough project or event tickets. That said, there are benefits to such perks and you may be inclined to use them more after the holidays and during the winter months when employee energy can be low.

But for ongoing and sustainable workplace engagement, your team needs to be emotionally committed to your company and its goals. Only then will your employees truly care, be fully energized on the job, and willingly invest themselves at work. That’s taking a much broader view than the short-term goal of motivating your employees through a single tough season.

And just how do you accomplish what may seem like a momentous shift for your company? To answer that question, I turned to Srikumar S. Rao, who taught “Creativity and Personal Mastery,” one of the most sought-after courses at Columbia Business School. He is also the author of several books, including “Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful — No Matter What.” Here are excerpts from our interview.

Toddi Gutner: What’s one of the most important criteria to ensure employee engagement?

Srikumar S. Rao: An organization’s mission is where it all starts. While it’s nothing new that a company must stand for something greater than itself, it’s more important than ever before that companies strive for a mission that incorporates “the triple bottom line” — profits, social good and safeguarding the environment. In addition to the mission, professionals also believe that companies have obligations to employees, customers and society and that this commitment cannot be considered second to profits.

What else can impact employee engagement in a significant way?

A company’s attitude toward its employees is extremely important. Does it view employees as a means of accomplishing its goals? Or is it dedicated to helping each person reach his or her highest potential? These should be complementary aims. The company should be dedicated to providing an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated and able to grow both professionally and personally.

What’s your opinion about actively trying to motivate employees — is it a worthy goal?

To be honest, I think that attempting to motivate employees is really just an attempt to manipulate people into doing things they would rather not do. So instead of motivating, it is really trying to induce or spur an employee to do what the company wants.

True motivation is not something that needs to be taught. It needs to be unleashed and channeled. All human beings are inherently motivated and seek to be useful, happy and to grow. It’s a leader’s responsibility to organize systems and processes so that in fulfilling these human needs, the company’s goals are also met.

So then what should small-business owners or managers do when they need engaged employees to get a job done?

The most successful organizations of the future will work hard to discover what’s demotivating their employees and get rid of whatever’s causing this disengagement. This is more effective than trying to motivate workers. Reminding the employees of the mission, making sure it’s followed and adapted when the environment changes, and involving the entire workforce in the process is what will keep motivation high. It’s a natural byproduct of the process, not an end in itself.

Final thoughts

So if you find yourself or your employees disengaged at work, think beyond a Starbucks gift card or an afternoon off. That often just serves as a Band-Aid that doesn’t quite heal the problem. To find a real cure, you have to take a deeper look at what is causing the pain.

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