How to Motivate Employees at the End of a Long Winter

In much of the country, it's been a long, hard winter. Record-breaking cold and incessant blizzards have left many employees feeling run down and dreaming of beach vacations. Most likely, you can't provide an office getaway to the Caribbean, but when it comes to how to motivate employees, there are still a number of effective strategies you can use, says Meghan M. Biro, a talent strategist who runs the blog and social community Talent Culture. Here are her best tips.

Keep employees moving. It's natural to limit our outdoor exercise when it's 15 degrees and snowing outside, but exercise remains essential to good health and strong employee performance, says Biro. "Take walks, even if they're indoor loops around the office." And try to get employees to break out of hibernation mode: "Encourage people to get up and take breaks regularly, and don't encourage lunches at the workstation."

Deploy well-chosen gifts. Receiving an unexpected gift can provide a jolt of momentum for an employee who's been making a special effort of late. It doesn't have to be expensive. "Gift certificates for manicures and massages" can be a great way to encourage self-care, says Biro, who also notes that "I like it when employers give branded swag like fleece blankets and vests — they're comforting, inexpensive, and give people a sense of team."

Bring nature indoors. It may be a harsh tundra outside, but that doesn't mean you can't bring natural elements into the office, says Biro. "The outside environment has a huge effect on mood," she says. "Many people are exhausted, tired of cold and snow, and ready for the change in weather. Your office has a weather system, too — the lighting, heat, even the colors of the walls and rugs affect how people feel. Bring nature indoors by investing in plants; look into color-adjusted lighting that mimics natural light. Where possible, keep the blinds open. Try to bring the outdoors in."

Set an example. Many workers may feel run down after the long winter, but they'll likely be hesitant to express it. After all, no one wants to look weak or like they're not giving their all. So when you think about how to motivate employees, be a role model. "You have to take care of yourself," says Biro. "Get sleep and exercise, take breaks, eat well." It's also a good idea to acknowledge that everyone — including you — may be feeling tired from the long winter and to take visible steps to re-energize. "Do something visible," she says. "Go on a short retreat, take a few early Fridays, and support people in doing the same."

Get ready for spring. Thankfully, spring is around the corner. Mark the transition and help your team get ready to re-engage by adjusting your physical environment. "Encourage everyone to do a quick spring cleaning of their workplaces," she says. "Think about new projects that are inspiring, and support workers who want to participate in your community by giving them time to volunteer; this is especially important with millennials."

It's been an arduous winter, but with these strategies, you can get your team ready to launch into a very successful spring.

Dorie Clark is an NCMM contributor, marketing strategist, and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.


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