As we tick off the last few days of the year, we can’t help but think about our goals for the next twelve months. Most of us do not set official New Year’s resolutions – only forty-one percent of Americans say they make these annual commitments, while a survey of (more realistic?) Britons show that only sixteen percent do so. In any case, we do tend to revisit (if not resolve) what habits we have and what we would like to change this time of year. That is equally true in our professional lives, especially after some of the most challenging few years most of us have every lived through. As we look forward, now is a good time to see what will help us do more than just survive work but thrive at it. Much of the time our focus is the understandable but predictable goal-oriented lens — increased sales, improved profitability, or similar metrics. I would encourage leaders instead (or at least additionally) to set goals around how to feel engaged at work. This isn’t the kind of goal most leaders focus on, but many of us need to re-discover what drew us to what we do in a more profound way than simply measuring deliverables.
How do leaders prioritise feeling engaged as a goal?
Feeling more engaged professionally is a bottom-line investment. It might not be self-evident, but reconnecting others and yourself to a larger sense of purpose is not just a feel-good activity. Increased engagement leads to more productivity, better morale, and improved loyalty. Many companies, in trying to claw back losses incurred during the pandemic, are inclined to think things like self-care are non-essential expenses. But a burned-out workforce is a workforce that delivers sub-optimal results. If you and your leaders are engaged and refreshed – and encourage that as a priority amongst teams – you will see better results overall.
Don’t wait for a wake-up call. Sadly, many leaders don’t feel entitled to making such non-operational goals a priority for themselves unless it is in the wake of a high-profile leader, especially if it is a tragedy related to a very public struggle with stress and burnout. But in fact, the stress of the last few years among executives is widespread: according to a Deloitte survey, seventy percent of executives considered leaving their job due to burnout. Leaders can help themselves and others by articulating aloud that feeling engaged at work in a healthy and mindful way is not indulgent. Focusing on this proactively could keep valuable leaders who otherwise think the only way to become re-invigorated is to find a new role. Allow them to have open dialogues about what they need. Encourage tough questions: How do I keep my energy up at work? What about work keeps me engaged and excited? Whether you’re the CEO or a recent hire, work with internal clients or an external-facing role, we all need to find a way to keep our energy up, or we lose a sense of purpose.
Set realistic goals for yourself. Part of the reason so few people set New Year’s resolutions is because the failure rate is high – in the U.S., only nine percent of people actually keep their resolutions. This is because we demand bigger changes to our behaviours than we can reasonably sustain. This is most obvious when we set lofty goals regarding more exercise, reducing alcohol intake, and drinking more water. That’s all admirable – but if you are committing to a marathon by June when you should be focusing on a 5K by autumn, you’re likely to disappoint yourself. Similarly, when it comes to professional goals, especially less familiar ones like ‘being more engaged’, accept that this is a new mindset. Try to break down that vague goal into a more manageable one. Perhaps you might focus on learning a new skill set that would help you perform better, listen to a new podcast once a week in your industry or increase your network on LinkedIn by a new connection each week. The point is to make those goals manageable.
Some of the worst has passed. But more uncertainty is sure to come.
We’re in stressful times (still) – just look at the number of strikes in the U.K. at the end of this year as one example of uncertainty and disruption to our daily lives. As you prepare to enter the new year, put this on your goal-but-not-resolution list – help create a workplace for yourself and others that accommodates more self-care. Fortunately there are loads of formal and informal resources online and in person that can help you sort out what makes sense for you and your teams. What is key is the commitment. Make sure it’s on your list and vocalise to others that you’re going to do it. Everyone I talk to is uncertain about the future. We are in this state of flux for the long haul. Take care of yourself, take care of your leadership and encourage them to take care of their teams. You can’t stop the uncertainty, but you can accommodate it in a healthy way.
In terms of my background and expertise, I have spent my entire career working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders wanting to improve the effectiveness of themselves, their teams and their companies. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I led the global executive assessment and development team for Cisco. Earlier in my career I held leadership roles with RHR International, PepsiCo, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.