Leverage Pre-Holiday Energy to Make a Fast Start, Retain High Performers

January 12, 2024
8 min read

It’s a new year. The holiday hustle and bustle is behind us. The bonuses have been paid. It’s a time when many employees return to work refreshed, with a “let’s get things done” outlook. But it’s also a time when traditional holiday stressors and end-of-year performance pressures combine to create employee turnover “triggers.” 


How can you avoid the traditional post-holiday employee turnover? It’s time for new conversations around employee retention, with a sensitivity to each employee’s individuality and career lifecycle and a “fast start” approach to the new year. 

Avoiding Post-Holiday Turnover

Just as couples often break up after the holidays, pressures surrounding the transition to a new year can trigger workers to break up with their employers. Lack of engagement, disappointment over end-of-year performance reviews, mixed feelings about their individual career lifecycles and a feeling that they are undervalued are all factors that can contribute to a lingering post-holiday “hangover.”

For many people, the holidays can be the most stressful time of the year, with heightened pressures around finances, travel, hosting, strained family relationships and other factors. Dave Barnett, Chief Administrative Officer at DeVry University, says, “It’s a fast-paced time of year and many organizations may set higher expectations during this time. Holiday blues, as the season changes, can weigh on an employee’s mental health during this time as well.” 

Effective employee retention strategies should include “stay conversations” that can keep talent engaged and help to avoid that break-up if they take place at the right time and focus on the individual. Taking no more than about 15 minutes, these discussions between a leader and a valued direct report are all about the employee and learning more about them in an effort to more meaningfully engage and ultimately retain them.  It's also important to recognize the individuality of high-value talent, and where they may be in their career lifecycles: The exploration or establishment stages? Early or mid-career? Later career? Are they interested in moving up in the organization? 

Clark Barber, Vice President of DeVryWorks, says we may be seeing more high-potential talent leaving organizations because they’re simply exhausted. “When this exhaustion is coupled with holiday stress,” he says, “the triggers are created. The new year does, however, offer an opportunity to make a fresh start.” Barber offers several employee retention tips to avoid post-holiday turnover.


Have career conversations

Make sure you are having career conversations with your high-potential talent. If you don’t, it is a near-certainty that recruiters are having those conversations behind your back.  

Enroll leaders in development opportunities

If offered opportunities to learn and grow, 94 percent of employees say they would stay with their companies. This may be an opportunity to champion the person and wake up those sleeping tuition assistance dollars to make them work in your favor. By enrolling in an accredited certificate program, for example, they could gain access to student communities, wellbeing opportunities and mentorship programs that complement your company’s benefits.

Recognize strong work before year-end

The end of the calendar year before the holidays is one of the times of the year when your talent is most at risk for leaving. Rather than waiting until the end of the year to commend employees for a job well done, doing it periodically throughout the year would be better for employee retention, helping to maintain positive engagement and keep your high-potential talent motivated.  

Connect talent with mentors

Barber notes that while most managers associate a constant coaching style of management with increased performance, the opposite is actually true. A mentor can help frontline managers and individual contributors discover new purpose in their work, and “connector managers” achieve a three-fold increase in the likelihood of their direct reports being high performance

Among other perks, DeVry scholars programs offer the personal and professional benefits of joining a mentorship cohort. Managers can help their direct reports score a “two-fer” opportunity to skill up and experience the benefits of mentorship by helping them use their employee tuition benefits to enroll in degree and certificate programs that are scholars program-eligible.

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Help Employees Find Purpose 

Purpose is a powerful motivator that should be at the core of your employee retention strategies. The results of a 2021 McKinsey survey indicate that most employees want more purpose from work than they’re getting. While two-thirds of the employees surveyed said their purpose is largely defined by work, the gap between executive and nonexecutive employees widened when asked if they were living their purpose at work. In response, 85 percent of executives and upper-management employees said they are living their purpose at work, while only 15 percent of frontline managers and employees expressed that opinion. 

Does upskilling help employees to find purpose and ultimately feel a stronger engagement with their employers? One of the key findings of a 2023 DeVry University study is that employers and workers think and talk about skills differently, but they do find common ground in most areas. For employers, upskilling is a question of urgency as they envision the trajectory of their organizations. 

Not moving up? Upskilling still applies

Every employee conversation doesn’t have to be predicated on upward mobility. Because technologies are changing and new technologies are emerging at a faster rate than ever, even workers who are less interested in advancing their careers will require some level of continual learning to maintain productivity in their current jobs.

70 percent of employers in the DeVry study say that skills are becoming outdated faster as the pace of technological advancement accelerates, while only 51 percent of workers feel that way. In another finding, while upskilling is universally acknowledged as important in this ever-changing economy, workers and employers do not believe either group is delivering on the evolving needs of the future workforce.

A Fast Start Can Relieve End-of-Year Pressures

In emphasizing the importance of starting the new year strong, Jenna McCoy, Director of Sales Enablement at DeVryWorks, says, “There can be a kind of ‘hangover’ period for some employees if they’re uncertain about their goals for the year or haven’t had a performance review or promotion that was anticipated, and this may result in them getting off to a slower, flat-footed start to the calendar year.”

Avoiding that “holiday hangover” may entail some new ideological approaches, including switching out the “let’s finish strong” battle cry to one of “let’s get a fast start.” With your ducks in a row, a strong start at the beginning of the calendar year can relieve the frenzied push to meet year-end goals and contribute to a more supportive atmosphere that doesn’t add new pressures to the traditional holiday stress.

Need to Get Those Retention Conversations Started? We Can Help

They say breaking up is hard to do. Reduce your heartache and your post-holiday turnover by having those important “stay conversations.” Our new Retention Conversation Guide can help you to get the most out of those important interactions with insights from our DeVryWorks team.

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