Holidays bring celebrations that make employees and employers alike very happy. Even if times are tough, there’s something about holidays that make most people have a little extra hop in their step, and a smile is quicker to appear.

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It’s also the one time of the year where the adage about happy employees being the most productive employees isn’t quite true. Most people are thinking about celebrations, both at the office and at home, gifts or food, decorations, talking about travel plans or actually taking off early for travel or visitor preparation. Any good manager has to expect that there will be some slacking off around holidays, no matter how good your employees are, because of all the excess distractions.

This brings up a discussion on employee motivation, which also translates into employer motivation. You can’t have one without the other, otherwise it’s a false action, and employees will see right through it.

I had someone ask me years ago what the purpose of motivating employees was for because at least they had jobs and were earning a pretty good salary. I responded that money isn’t always the best motivation for everyone and, in reality, once a person has the job, money falls far down the list of things employees care most about.

To expect people to self motivate themselves the 8 – 10 hours they’re at work is to put your total faith in the professionalism of every person you work with. It would be nice in an utopian society; in real life, petty thoughts and actions are at work all the time.

What constitutes positive motivation? Depends on what you’re hoping to achieve.

Most of the time you’re hoping to increase work production or performance. You might have to take a small step backwards in order to move forward; hence, holiday parties, which creates an atmosphere which isn’t conducive to much work being done, but gives great residual benefit.

Sometimes you’re trying to change the focus of the office because, even if the work flow might seem to be consistent and steady, there's a greater possibility that things are being missed because your employees concentration isn’t where you need it to be.

You just might be trying to change your own mood; this one bears some extra thought. Many managers and employers discount their own feelings when it comes to the impact it may have on those around them. They may also deny that they have any issues of their own. Pressure does wonders to the human mind, and sometimes we’re oblivious to our own negative performance. We need motivation just like everyone else, and it doesn’t hurt to bring everyone else along when you’ve decided to work on changing your own mindset.

There are many ways to help motivate employees, some specifically work related, some not. Let’s look at some work related ways.

First, Dale Carnegie likes to talk about setting up SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-phased. Every person should have a goal to work towards, not as a punitive measure but as something which helps track progress. If you have something to shoot for, you have a reason to exist. This is a good time to work with someone one on one because you can ask them for their input on the goals you both want them to reach for.

Conversation is a great motivational tool because most employees say they really don’t know what’s expected of them by management. This leads into motivational idea number two, that being to make sure the lines of communication are always open.

I know that many organizations have to deal with rampant rumors, and most of those rumors are negative. I’ve always advocated making sure your employees know what’s going on, within reason.

If your company is going to have layoffs, but upper management doesn’t want you to release that information, you can always let your employees know things aren’t going well with the organization in other ways. When things are going well for the organization, or your department, they would appreciate hearing that also. Allowing employees to ask questions and answering them as honestly as you can motivates them because they know they can trust you, and people always work well with those they can trust.

A third motivational tool is consistency in behavior and demeanor. Even bad managers who are consistent gives employees a chance to get used to a certain management style, and will keep things running smoother than working with someone with an erratic personality. You don't want employees walking around on pins and needles because they’re not sure which version of management is going to show up in the morning.

If people are wary to come to work or be at work because of the behavior of their leaders, then it’s up to you to those leaders to change their behavior. I'd hope for positive changes, but if that's something a leader can't achieve and goes in the other direction, just be consistent with it.

Non-work related ideas don't have to be difficult and can offer beneficial emotional motivation. Those can be as simple as food related things such as doughnuts or lunches, or they can be more complicated, such as bowling night, picnics, etc.

I’ve been asked to present a motivational speech to two different companies before conferences; that might be a bit expensive, but motivational messages can be effective if employees are primed for them.

I knew a manager years ago who used to give motivational CDs to employees he felt might be going through a rough time in their personal lives. He’d ask them to listen to them during work hours, and then come back and talk to him about it later in the day. He said it not only helped employees get out of their funk but it helped him develop more intimate relationships with them.

I’ve also known managers who bring in homemade cookies, or allow their employees to set up one day a week for specialty items for the office; getting others involved, especially if they volunteer, always helps motivation.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, you should always be working on motivating your employees, because you have to eat everyday also; nothing is permanent. So go out there, enjoy the holidays, eat a holiday cookie for me, and get motivated; another great year is coming.