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.