Winter is a challenging season for employers, especially those needing to increase employee performance and productivity in the busy run up to Christmas. The clocks have gone back and the darker and colder winter days tend to come hand in hand with a drop in staff morale. This, combined with the rise in absenteeism due to winter related illnesses, means maintaining the smooth running of the workplace can become even more challenging.

But it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. The best businesses are powered by great people, and organisations that are good to their employees are likely to see a positive impact, regardless of the time of year. As we wait for spring to return, managers should be implementing effective employee engagement tactics and focusing on empowering employees, which will help battle the winter blues, maintain productivity levels and sustain morale at this time of year.

Making your employees feel fairly treated and in control of their own schedules is a good first step to empowering the workforce. If employees are expected to work longer hours during the busy pre-Christmas period, it is important they feel everyone is in it together regarding the working hours and that holidays are approved fairly across the company. One of the easiest ways to do this is to give employees more control over their work schedule. Empowering employees to manage their own shift patterns in a centralised solution will ensure that a fair and considered process has been followed, even if some requests can’t always be accommodated.

In addition to asking for their availability to work, managers can also use the same technology to check individuals’ preferences when creating work schedules - some employees may be willing to work the days and hours that others find hard to accommodate. Recent research shows that scheduling more fairly drives down absenteeism and increases engagement. Employees who have more control over their work/life balance will be happier in their jobs and are likely to work more productively.

A fairer work/life balance is also instrumental in driving down absenteeism at critical times in the year. To overcome the challenge of many staff requesting the same days off during the Christmas period, employers should implement a consistent leave policy. This will create a workplace environment that promotes equality and fairness, which, in turn, encourages employees to be more productive, and loyal to the business. If everyone is working to the same principles and absences are clearly visible to management and fairly allocated, plans can be put in place to avoid overburdening the same individuals and ensure they stay bought-into their role.

The cost of ineffective employee engagement is huge, yet it only takes small changes to make a big difference. With strategic deployment of technology, a clear HR strategy, an appreciation of cultural change and direct employee engagement across the whole of the business, organisations can put themselves in the best position to meet any challenges. It also helps bolster productivity to counteract the ongoing unpredictability of their markets. There is also an opportunity to build resilience into their organisation as a direct result of employee engagement, with employees feeling happier and more invested in their jobs, therefore more likely to ride out the winter blues.

Cultural change and implementing the right technology is at the forefront of a successful engagement strategy, but the journey needs to be embraced by every employee right across the business, with senior management and HR communicating every step of the way. Focusing on creating engaged employees will help to cure the winter blues and focus on keeping the business in the black.