It’s “Back to School” Time for Both Leaders and Teachers

Here’s a timely guest post by Randstad’s Eileen Habelow, her second for Great Leadership:

September serves as an annual turning point in both the classroom and the workplace. Children greet September by returning to school while employees hunker down for the three contiguous months of work to be done before the holiday season picks up. While this end to long summer vacations may sound disheartening, it can in fact be quite the opposite.

According to Randstad’s latest Work Monitor survey, 73 percent of employees believe they perform noticeably better at work after they’ve had a few days off. That means even a short break such as a long weekend can generate a surge in employee productivity and motivation.

As business leaders, it is our job not only to recognize these upswings in employee motivation, but also to find ways to harness and recreate it once the excitement of vacation time begins to dwindle.

September can be just as bittersweet for school-aged kids as it can be for workers. That’s why for years educators and parents (the leaders of our youth) have employed a few simple concepts to help motivate their students when they return to school.

1. Sign-up for New Classes: What we must first remember is that the new is always more interesting than the old. Why do students get excited to start a new school year? They expect to learn something new – to become smarter than they were the year before. It is no different for those of us in the workforce who are buoyed by new challenges and opportunities to improve our workplace skills. Consider offering additional training sessions or professional classes to your employees after hours or during their lunch breaks. Or propose “student teaching” opportunities for employees to share their knowledge with colleagues. Just remember to pick your “classes” wisely. Topics should be relevant and worth your employees’ time, otherwise it could feel like added work.

2. Schedule Conferences: Provide feedback without the added pressure of being graded. Work loads continue to increase for many employees (55 percent) despite signs that the recession may be turning around. Just as teachers schedule mid-year conferences, so too should employers schedule times to meet with each employee to revisit company priorities and end-of-year goals. This also helps to remind employees that company leadership is involved in their work, supports their efforts and commends their progress.

3. Stock up on school supplies: Half the fun of back-to-school is shopping for supplies, so make your office supply room something to awe over. Focus on the little things your employees use the most. Stock up on black, blue and red pens, colorful highlighters and dry erase markers. New calendars, file folders, push pins or even sticky notes can help get employees organized and jump-start that back to school feeling inside the office.

4. Remember the Three “R’s”: Finally, remind them of what they already know. Just like students, employees can get wrapped up in the laid back and sometimes unpredictable summertime schedule, losing track of their steady routine. Embrace the routine of the school year, get back into the swing of things and prepare for the workload ahead by remembering three “R’s”:

· Rest. Going to bed 20 minutes earlier each night for three consecutive nights, results in a full hour of extra sleep before the week’s end. Workers will feel the difference in their attitudes and daily productivity. As an added bonus, the sun will start going down earlier and earlier, making this new routine even easier.

· Reschedule. When employees give themselves enough time to get ready in the mornings, they feel less rushed and more calm, as well as more organized throughout the day. Workers who battle their morning alarms might try mixing up their morning routine by going for a run, listening to music while they get ready or treating themselves to something at the coffee shop once or twice a week. Setting a new schedule can often add that extra pick-me-up that employees need this time of year.

· Recharge. Schools have snack time, recess, lunch and afterschool sports for a reason. Don’t let your employees deprive themselves of a much needed break. The majority of employees (66 percent) feel they can take time off when they need to. Do yours? Even taking a coffee break with a colleague or joining a kickball league after work can help raise energy levels and keep employees on track during those long days at the office.

So although September may seem like an end to summer freedom and fun, it in fact carries with it a number of means for inspiration. Employees, like students, will return to work with a certain amount of motivation after the long weekend. Think like a teacher, channel that energy and generate excitement for the months ahead.

Dr. Eileen Habelow is the Senior Vice President of Organizational Development at Randstad U.S. Eileen’s formal education has been focused on instructional design and educational psychology. Her professional experience has ranged from learning and development, sales and operations, and organizational effectiveness.