“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
We all know the feeling of saying yes and taking on too much. At this time of year, it’s all too common for people to work relentlessly until the last minute, carrying their mental load (and exhaustion) into the holidays.
As the year draws to a close, leaders have the opportunity now to actively contribute to their team’s wellbeing and set up a refreshed start next year. We asked our team of organisational psychologists, Dr Eleanor De-Ath Miller, Vanessa Miles, and Gagan Mudhar, for their tips for leaders to help their teams come back better in 2024.
Dr Eleanor De-Ath Miller says the higher the mental load we carry into the holidays, the less we are able to switch off — and the longer it takes to switch off.
“People have less chance of more complete recovery or rest if they’re going on leave completely exhausted, so being proactive in helping people leave work behind is important,” says Eleanor.
To do this, Eleanor recommends leaders set clear and realistic expectations of the team before the holidays, actively observe signs of stress or people at max capacity, and take responsibility for managing job demands on their teams.
“It’s all too easy to work right up until the last day to close things off,” says Gagan Mudhar. “Which to Eleanor’s point, doesn’t allow people to plan ahead or mentally process tasks, deadlines, and issues.”
“Intentionally winding things down and taking a slower pace prior to holidays allows people to transition to the holidays without carrying worries about what has been done and what hasn’t.”
Although easier said than done, Gagan says leaders should encourage a deliberate slowdown to enable team members to transition into their break without the burden of looming tasks and deadlines. It allows them to unwind and reflect, fostering a mental reset essential for enabling complete recovery.
For leaders and teams alike, we all want to connect with others during the holidays but it can get a bit much in December and January. Depending on what else is going on in our lives (and the level of recovery we need), Eleanor recommends setting boundaries around events. Ask yourself (and your people);
– Which are truly non-negotiable?
– Which are not a good fit right now (given my schedule, emotional reserves, physical reserves)?
Instead of yes as a default to all invitations, try letting people know you’ll think about it and get back to them or even practice ways to say no says Eleanor.
When thinking about the year that was, it’s important for leaders to engage in meaningful conversations with the team says Gagan. Asking questions such as “How was this year for you?” and “What could I have done differently to support you?” opens up channels for constructive feedback and helps identify areas for improvement. Additionally, reflecting on the team’s collective experience and the leader’s role during critical moments can unearth valuable insights.
Key questions for leaders to ask their people
Having a ritual to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one can be beneficial. “It’s so important for us to remember we are not all falling off a cliff in December. It’s ok for some things to wait until January,” says TW’s Vanessa Miles.
It’s useful to have a ritual to farewell the year that’s been and to usher in the new. The exercise below can be used as a discussion as a team or you can leave with individuals as a reflection:
Reflecting on what to leave behind, what to cherish, and what to carry into the future helps foster a sense of closure and anticipation.
Dr. Saundra Dalton Smith’s 7 types of rest offers a valuable framework for understanding your team’s individual needs says Vanessa.
The 7 types of rest:
🛏 Physical Rest: The need for adequate sleep, relaxation, and recovery for the body.
🧠 Mental Rest: Taking a break from cognitive tasks and allowing the mind to unwind.
💚 Emotional Rest: Nurturing emotional well-being and finding sources of joy and comfort.
🎉 Social Rest: Balancing social interactions by choosing connections that bring replenishment rather than drain.
🎧 Sensory Rest: Reducing exposure to overstimulating environments and giving the senses a break.
🎨 Creative Rest: Stepping away from routine and engaging in activities that inspire creativity.
🧘♂️ Spiritual Rest: Connecting with something greater than oneself, finding purpose, and seeking inner peace.
Leaders can remind their teams to consider the type of rest they require during the holidays, fostering a holistic approach to recovery.
Leaders cannot guide their teams to a refreshed start if they are not walking the talk themselves. “Whatever they’re saying to their teams, also applies to them but with a need to be really self-aware and intentional. There shouldn’t be a second set of rules,” says Eleanor. Recommending leaders take some time to reflect and think about, How am I going to rest and recuperate? What is energising?
“Leaders should identify habits that hinder their ability to switch off and, when necessary, seek the support of trusted peers who can provide constructive feedback,” says Gagan.
Leaders can do this by conducting an energy-audit: a quick exercise to take stock of which things are draining their energy in lead up to the holidays (and therefore need to be managed), and which are building their energy (and therefore need to do more of).
“Conducting an energy audit allows leaders to pinpoint activities that drain or replenish their energy, aiding in a more mindful approach in the lead up to the holidays.”
Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the post-holiday landscape for their teams. By adopting a proactive and reflective approach, they can pave the way for a truly refreshed start and help promote a positive and energised work environment in 2024.