Firstly, I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year. I hope you have all had a good break and have come back to work refreshed. I hope you have renewed interest and energy and exciting plans for a new decade.
Of course, we all feel renewed and refreshed after a lovely Christmas break with friends and family, don’t we?
Well, actually, the answer is different for all of us. We give each other a cheery greeting and wishes for a happy twelve months ahead. When we say “Happy New Year”, it is much like asking how someone is. We mean it genuinely and – if we think at all about it – we hope that they are well and happy. But we rarely take the time to properly consider whether someone is genuinely looking forward to another year. In reality, they might be feeling lost. Or they might even be dreading the future.
Reasons why some people dread a new year
We make assumptions that everyone has enjoyed their Christmas break. But the truth can be quite different.
When couples and families are forced into spending time together for more than a few hours, they can discover unpleasant truths. Sadly, many people seek advice on divorce in January. They have discovered over the Christmas period that they just cannot live together any longer. Even if divorce is a step too far, some people find that their family relationships have changed. Or they may have discovered family problems which were previously unknown.
A happy and successful Christmas can bring other problems. January can bring enormous credit card bills, or overdraft payments. Even when people earn a good salary, it does not follow that they are good at managing their financial situation.
Or there are those who have over-indulged themselves at Christmas. We often eat rich food, in much greater quantities than our bodies can process. Or we might drink more alcohol than usual, for longer periods, or at different times of the day. This can lead to a need to give up things we normally enjoy, like chocolate or alcohol. Or we decide to go on a weight-loss plan. Then, when these new regimes prove hard to stick with, we beat ourselves up for not resisting.
New Year – new opportunities
Of course, some may have used the break to think about their life direction. It is often a time when people come back to work with a plan to change roles, or even move to a different employer. Some will decide that they want to leave the safety of employment and set up in business for themselves.
January is also traditionally a time when people start to plan their holidays for the year. They will start dreaming about a sun-drenched beach. Or they might prefer cultural breaks, or learning a new skill. We are keen to save our spare cash to pay for our holidays. We might spend our lunchtimes and breaks looking at exotic destinations and comparing travel costs.
Things beyond our control
In the northern hemisphere, the weather in January can make life difficult. As I write this article, we are slowly recovering from storm Brendan in UK. There has been torrential rain across the country, coupled with very strong winds and high tides. We have to contend with flooding, trees down, huge waves breaking over sea-defence barriers. This is fairly standard for this time of year, although maybe more extreme than previously. But the big concern is for the future – what will the next decade bring in terms of climate change and altered weather patterns?
And, of course, colder and wetter weather brings illness. This is the time of year when we all have colds, flu, upset stomachs (from all that over-indulgence, maybe?). Many people may have had a rotten Christmas break because they felt too ill to enjoy it. Or their partner or children were ill. Or maybe the whole family went down with something nasty.
Mental health concerns
Christmas is a time when our mental health can take a real knock. The perceived joy and fun going on at Christmas can be in stark contrast to our own situation. If we are lonely, then this can become unbearable at Christmas. And it is not just those who live alone who feel lonely. Returning to work can be a welcome relief and return to normality. Or it can just make us realise how bad things have got.
Many of us put our problems to one side and decide to enjoy Christmas. The holiday break can be a welcome relief from our concerns. But now that the holiday is over, we have to face up to our problems again.
Why is this the employer’s problem?
All of these things, good and bad alike, can make it really hard for us to get motivated again. We have had a break from normality and finding our pace again can be difficult.
If we have had a great time, then we don’t want to face the return to our usual situation. It can be really hard to throw ourselves back into work mode. If the holiday has been less good, then it can be really difficult to face up to those problems and difficulties which we have been avoiding.
Either way, our productivity can be low and our employer may not get the best from us during January. And this is probably a time of year when they were expecting great strides and renewed energy from us.
So how can an employer turn this around?
There are so many things which a good employer can put into place to enable a successful January and beyond.
There is help available to tackle many of these issues. If an employee is facing personal problems, an employer can provide a counselling service, or legal advice. At the very least, you can point the employee in the right direction to get appropriate help and support.
You may want to consider flexible working, or different working patterns, or moving people into different roles. You should be holding discussions, consultation, regular conversations with your employees. That way you can find out what help they need, what direction they want to move in, what their plans are.
If people are having financial problems, there are many debt counselling schemes. There are interventions to help people reduce financial outgoings, to save, to plan for their future.
There are wellbeing services you can consider, from massages, to meditation, to practical help, to fitness, weight loss, dietary control. At the very least, you should be making sure they take regular breaks and go outside to see some greenery.
You might want to consider training and development plans to help people move in their preferred direction.
Steps towards a Happy New Year
I have deliberately talked about the difficulties and problems which can come as a result of the Christmas and New Year break. Of course, the vast majority of your employees will have had a great break and will be feeling refreshed and ready for the next challenge.
But it would be great if you can think about ways to help your employees really have a Happy New Year. The best way to do that is to talk to them and find out about their concerns, their plans, their dreams. Then you are in the best position to help them. If you help them, then they will help you to ensure that your business is successful and brings you a very Happy New Year!
If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.
Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list? Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.