Cel­e­brat­ing the end of the year

As the end of the year looms cast­ing a spec­tre over “All-that-has-to-be-done”, Kate Kearins sug­gests try­ing a note of real­ism.


IN equal mea­sure to sup­port staff to have a break, and to clear some of its an­nual leave back­log, my univer­sity has de­cided to go for an ex­tended Christ­mas close-down this year. Both as­pects are im­por­tant.

But it would be fair to say some staff pre­fer the op­tion of tak­ing most, if not all, of their leave at a dif­fer­ent time. AUT Univer­sity is a large or­gan­i­sa­tion which prides it­self on the di­ver­sity of its staff. This di­ver­sity adds a rich­ness to our teach­ing, re­flects the di­ver­sity of our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, and in­spires a va­ri­ety of re­search top­ics and ap­proaches. Not least it brings skills in en­gage­ment with the rich ta­pes­try of cul­tures now part of New Zealand’s busi­ness land­scape and com­mu­ni­ties.

As in many large or­gan­i­sa­tions, there will be some staff who do not cel­e­brate Christ­mas. Di­verse cul­tural tra­di­tions and prac­tices sug­gest a prag­matic ap­proach on the part of man­agers. With a four or five week an­nual leave al­lowance, there is time for not only a Christ­mas close-down but also, with suf­fi­cient warn­ing and op­er­a­tional con­tin­gen­cies cov­ered, the abil­ity for staff to take time off for other cul­tural fes­tiv­i­ties.

The end of the (non-fi­nan­cial) year, how­ever, is a rit­ual of an­other di­men­sion – linked to Christ­mas and the start of sum­mer dow­nun­der. It looms. It casts a spec­tre over All That Has To Be Done. It seems to me, at least, to ap­proach ever more quickly – and with more to be ac­com­plished than ever be­fore.

Re­search sug­gests the sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of time is im­por­tant. Clock and cal­en­dar time are of an ob­jec­tive, mea­sured and con­sen­sual or­der. Real time has an im­me­di­acy and at­ten­tion-grab­bing ca­pac­ity. But the sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of time past, present and fu­ture, is of an ob­vi­ously more emo­tional or­der of en­gage­ment. Some days and hours whizz by with ex­cite­ment or stress, oth­ers drag.

The end of the year has both ob­jec­tive and sub­jec­tive di­men­sions. It oc­curs, and as in­di­cated above, it in­vokes a cer­tain panic about what needs to be achieved. A panic that can de­rive from an overop­ti­mistic sense about our ca­pac­ity to achieve, or even our in­se­cu­rity about need­ing to achieve. A mis­taken sense of be­lief that time can be con­trolled by work­ing faster or longer – it can’t.

At the point of writ­ing this col­umn in Oc­to­ber, there is rel­a­tively lit­tle real­ism in the cor­ri­dor dis­course about What Won’t Get Done This Year and What Will Have to Wait. I find that real­ism hits fairly late in the piece.

If you are for­tu­nate, you can leave the of­fice at Christ­mas with­out feel­ing ex­hausted. You can ac­tu­ally enjoy the first part of your hol­i­day. Type A per­son­al­i­ties that work ever harder, ever-faster might find them­selves ever busier – even on hol­i­day – in con­stant catch-up mode.

What can man­agers do to in­voke real­ism, and ap­pro­pri­ately mark the end of the year? Avoid the temp­ta­tion to in­duce what Stephen Covey has called “ur­gency ad­dic­tion” by be­ing re­al­is­tic and clear about What Really Needs to Get Done be­fore the hol­i­days.

Ap­pre­ci­ate that start­ing some tasks can be dif­fi­cult and that a dead­line can fo­cus the mind, but com­plet­ing mul­ti­ple tasks to the same dead­line can re­sult in me­diocre re­sults. Help pri­ori­tise.

Fi­nally, recog­nise the hard work that is done, thank those in­volved and cel­e­brate suc­cess. Avoid the temp­ta­tion to list all the things that have to be done next year. The New Year is soon enough for that. Kate Kearins is pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment and, at the time of writ­ing, act­ing dean of the Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Fac­ulty of Busi­ness and Law.

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