Working through those end-of-summer blues

Motivation: The fall is an excellent time for managers to recharge their teams at the office

Melissa Dunne
Published Saturday September 15th, 2007
Appeared on page E1

Children are not the only ones glum about getting back into a regular routine this fall.

Adults are also slumping their shoulders and dragging their feet back to their desks.

Nearly half of the workers in the United States felt unmotivated about returning to work after Labour Day, according to a new study by Development Dimensions International, a global human resources consulting firm.

With everyone back from summer vacation, Labour Day marks the return of busy days filled with meetings, projects, and e-mails for many workers.

Toronto-based career coach Nina Spencer, president of Nina Spencer & Associates, says managers must re-motivate their teams after the summer slowdown.

“For many companies, the day after Labour Day is the unofficial start to a new year. Managers should find a way to mark this sense of renewal,” says Spencer.

“September is a great time to hold a staff-appreciation day, whether on-site or off-site. It can be a coming together, a time to get re-energized, re-focused.”

Katherine DeVere-Pettigrew, a human resources consultant at Mount Allison University, agrees the fall is an excellent time for managers to bring the team together.

Since most Mount Allison staff and faculty work on research projects during the summer or fill in for colleagues on vacation, the fall marks a return to their regular job and routine.

To kick-start the new unofficial work year every autumn, the university holds a number of group sessions and staff assemblies.

The events help staffers who have not seen each other reconnect, and are an excellent time for teams to re-focus and remind themselves of their goals, says DeVere-Pettigrew.

Managers can also give their teams advice about how to get re-motivated in September.

An easy way top regain some passion for a job is to recall the excitement you felt when you first landed the job, says Spencer.

She also suggests employees make a list of things they do better than their colleagues, what they learned at their job in the past eight months, and what they intend to do differently in the remaining months of this calendar year.

Joanne Callahan, NB Power’s chief learning officer, says the emphasis at the public utility is on breeding an environment where employees constantly feel self-motivated.

The public utility runs a number of employee wellness programs and has employment wellness officers for workers to go to help with work or personal problems.

NB Power also has relationship management meetings, generally a few times a year, for employees and their supervisors to sit down to chat. Instead of just holding private meetings when an employee has done something wrong, these meetings are held when things are going well to try build on that positive momentum.

Getting a renewed sense of vigour in the fall can kick-start workers to go all out on the goals they set for themselves earlier in the year.

And for employees who covered a colleagues duties while they were on vacation and found they had a knack for some of those new tasks September is the best time to approach a supervisor about permanently taking on similar tasks.

Once employees are feeling re-motivated managers should outline deadlines and goals to keep everyone on track.

“After the summer employers should expect full-throttle work right away, since employees are expecting full pay when they return,” Spencer says.

“But an enlightened manager will cut workers some slack – at least for half a day until they get through their e-mails and voice messages.”

Managers and employees should get to the root of why they are unmotivated after the summer vacation season before it becomes a larger issue, Spencer advises.

Of the 700 full- and part-time employees interviewed for the Development Dimensions International study, many said not having enough time off during the summer and the prospect of “unchallenging projects” in the next few weeks were the main reasons for their general malaise.

If an employee did not take enough vacation time in the summer, then they should approach their manager about taking the rest of their vacation later in the fall rather than harbour resentment about feeling overworked, Spencer says.

Also, if an employee feels they have too many “unchallenging projects” on their plate they should talk to their manager about taking on new tasks or projects.

Supervisors can also take time at the start of a new season to review their success so far this calendar year and look at ways of ending the year on a high note.

“Wading through the summer backlog, the shorter and cooler days, can put people in a bit of a funk,” Spencer says.

“This is a good time to review what you want to do, what professional development to do, and conferences to attend between now and December.”

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