New Year’s revolution: how to stop your staff jumping ship in January

The first month of the year is the most popular for job hunting. Leaders need to be switched on in December if they want to keep their top talent, says Ben Stocken

Ben Stocken

The festive break can be kryptonite for companies that aren’t treating their staff like superheroes. 

Time away from work at Christmas can give employees distance to ponder their current role and the new year can turn their thoughts to fresh goals for the year ahead.

It’s a dangerous combination that goes some way to explaining why January is one of the most popular months for people to look for a new job.

As an employer, the secret is to stay one step ahead.

The great resignation

Employees decide to leave their jobs for all sorts of reasons. They might be bored, need a role with more flexibility for a better work/life balance, or feel they lack opportunities for professional growth.

But when you’ve spent time building up a strong team, you need to retain your best people. Recruiting takes time and money and great employees don’t grow on trees. 

Employees quitting isn’t just bad for team morale, it can be a disaster for your company’s reputation too.

There are a few things you can do to stem the January exodus if you start laying the groundwork now. 

Top strategies to retain your staff

There’s plenty of research showing that starting well is the key to finishing well. 

Get next year off on the right foot by making an early start in December – and at the same time, check that you’re helping your teams to finish this year well.

End of year reviews

The most effective way to review progress is continuous evaluation, but an end of year review can be a great opportunity to focus employees’ minds on the 12 months ahead.

But an end-of-year review shouldn’t be allowed to become a verbal boxing match about what’s gone wrong during the year or a tedious form-filling exercise.

Use these reviews to talk about your employees’ growth and development during the year and get them thinking about 2024.

Help them reflect on their achievements and gather their feedback. Ask them about their career dreams and show that they can be fulfilled within their current company. 

Show how they can affect the business’s aspirations for 2024 and set them personal goals for the next 12 months.

Getting face to face

Start the new year now by gathering staff and senior leadership teams for a town hall meeting – whether virtual or in person.

These events should be organised to create a dialogue between leadership and staff, making sure employees feel free to ask questions and offer feedback and ideas. 

Meeting as a company lets you ensure that everyone is pushing in the same direction and will help staff understand your values and company strategy.

Set 2024 incentives and compensation plans before Christmas

Money is rarely the sole reason that employees look for a new job, but making your staff feel appreciated can go a long way to bridging a perceived wage gap.

Setting incentives and compensation plans before Christmas can motivate staff and keep them looking ahead positively to the new year.

If you have a limited budget, remember that employee rewards don’t have to be expensive. Consider setting up a recognition programme to thank and celebrate team members when they go the extra mile. 

Regular small acts of acknowledgement are particularly important for giving remote workers a timely morale boost.

Review ways of working with your team in January

A change can be as good as a holiday and reviewing how your teams work together can stop things becoming stale.

Include your staff in discussions about changes and you’ll secure their buy-in to the new setup.

Use employee surveys to find out what people want to change about their working habits. For example, is hybrid working important to them? Would they like to be mentored or become a mentor for others? 

Invest in your team’s development

Make professional development a priority in 2024. Encourage staff to go on training courses and attend conferences they’re interested in – and put your money where your mouth is by offering to pay for them to continue their education.

Get your staff thinking about their development goals before Christmas and ideally get some training booked in so they’ve got something to look forward to.

Create a healthy work culture

There’s more to life than work and building a culture in which staff feel comfortable in their work/life balance means they are likely to stick around.

Encourage people to turn off their emails and not answer calls after work.

If some colleagues are working evenings and weekends, others can feel pressured into following their example. Ask them why they feel the need to work overtime and step in with ideas or a solution that can get them out of the habit. 

By setting boundaries and being supportive, you’ll help teams to avoid burnout, which will improve mental wellbeing.

It won’t be possible to keep everyone, so beefing up your exit interview process will let you evaluate why people are leaving. It’s only by asking people directly that you can find out the real reasons they’re leaving. 

This feedback is like gold dust and should help you identify any systemic issues that are causing staff dissatisfaction. Instead of taking it as criticism, use it to make improvements.

Start adopting a proactive approach now and you’ll hit the ground running in the new year. And that will give you a stronger business in 2024 and beyond.

Ben Stocken is founder and managing director of West Peak