The end of a year tends to cause different reactions in people.
For some, watching December 31st creep closer and closer creates a sense of urgency to get everything done. So many goals, so little time.
But for others, senioritis sets in. The end of the year is a time to exhale and relax, which leads to a lull in work and motivation.
As the leader of a team, you have to be aware of these different working dynamics within your company. If your team veers too far one way or the other—too anxious or too laid back—your business can become dysfunctional. But if you recognize the dynamics within your own team, you can foster an environment that supports both types of people.
Here’s how to manage it, and make sure Q4 is as productive as possible:
People who develop a sense of urgency need help managing anxiety.
A sense of urgency is great—until it turns into real anxiety that places unnecessary pressure on yourself and the people around you. If you’re like me, you naturally start to think, “Wow, we still have so many goals to hit and not enough time.”
But a lot of that anxiety comes from a surplus of choices. When people are confronted with a plethora of options and a limited amount of time, making the “right” choice feels incredibly important and increasingly difficult.
A good way to counter that anxiety for your team is to make sure your objectives and key results for Q4 are clear to everyone. Update what you want to accomplish based on what you can realistically achieve by the end of the year, and communicate that agenda to across the company. Then, work backward to set micro-goals each team and each individual needs to achieve week-by-week.
By setting clear objectives for your team, you reduce the sense of an overwhelming number of to-dos—and the ensuing anxiety.
For leadership, one way to deal with the anxiety of finishing a year strong is to set aside time to plan for both the next 100 days and the next year. At Edvo, my co-founders and I typically take a weeklong retreat to do a retrospective on the past year and plan for the next. We’ll figure out what we can still accomplish in the final quarter and set both our reach goals and must-haves for the upcoming year.
It’s a good way of taking a step back and recognizing that even though it’s the end of the year, it isn’t the end of days. Come January 1st, we’ll have an entirely new year to work with.
People with senioritis may need help with accountability.
I want to be clear that “senioritis” is a natural psychological response for a lot of people—even incredibly talented ones. Just because someone goes into a lull near the end of the year doesn’t mean they’re lacking skill.
Often, senioritis develops because the office gets a little lonely during the holidays. Some people are out on vacation, while others may be working remotely. If one or two people are holding down the office by themselves, it’s natural for them to feel they’re the only ones working—and that makes it difficult to stay motivated.
Tackling senioritis as a leader comes down to meticulous communication and accountability. You don’t need to hold anyone’s feet to the fire, but you should establish mechanisms to hold your team accountable. For one thing, let the team know you want everyone to make a conscious effort to check in with each other, be active on Slack, and keep communication from falling by the wayside during the holidays.
It’s very easy for people to lose motivation around this time of year if they feel isolated from their coworkers.
You can also try instituting a company-wide standup where everyone talks about what they’re working on, what they’re struggling with, and what they accomplished last week. Hearing about other team members’ progress can be motivating. And knowing they’ll have to talk about what they’re working on is often the nudge people need to meet those weekly goals, rather than procrastinate.
Everyone reacts a little differently to the end of the year. Some look ahead to a fresh start, while others feel the urgency of finishing strong. You’re going to encounter both reactions in your company, so foster an environment that supports both.
As long as you’re prepared, there’s no reason you can’t knock out your Q4 goals—and still have time to plan for next year.
I was moderating a panel recently that was meant to give high school students advice before they go off to college. Almost all of the panelists gave tips that boiled down to, “Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry about choosing your major. You won’t even use it in your job.”
“Don’t worry about graduating on a set timetable. Go at your own pace.”
“Don’t worry about going to the right college, because where you go doesn’t matter as much as you think.”
I understand the intention behind that advice—young people are stressed out about what they’ll have to do to succeed in life, so “don’t worry” is simply a well-meaning attempt to ease students’ anxiety. The problem is, most students have been taught to focus on achievement since childhood. High test scores, a 4.0 GPA, AP classes, and accelerated “math lanes” have prepped them to view their education as a competition.
But when students are suddenly told, “Oh, don’t worry. It doesn’t really matter. You can go at your own pace,” they feel like they’re getting mixed signals.
They’re confused—and develop even more anxiety. In fact, almost every student came up to me after that panel and said they felt more stressed. Their concerns about college weren’t alleviated or acknowledged.
Students know that college is ridiculously expensive, and it doesn’t guarantee a job that will help them pay off loans after graduation. They’re worried, and they have every reason to be.
If you truly want to help alleviate stress, start by acknowledging students’ worries.
Young people are more perceptive than they often get credit for. They’ve heard about the massive debt that many college students take on. They are told that the prestige of certain schools can positively or negatively affect their chances at a job.
Rather than dismiss those worries, parents and advisors should lay them out on the table.
Start by asking, “Why are you worried about this decision?” and give them an opportunity to explain. Maybe they’ll say, “I feel like if I choose the wrong major, I’m going to be screwed for the rest of my life. What if I go to the more expensive private school, but can’t pay off my loans for two decades?”
By listening to students’ concerns, advisors have an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings and help them create a better framework for making decisions. Maybe the student is misinformed about the magnitude of some of their worries. Maybe they don’t realize that there are strategies for getting a job after graduation, regardless of where they go to school.
Once you explore and understand someone’s worries, you can begin addressing them.
Use students’ concerns to explore realistic options.
Students need to know that they’re not crazy—that their worries about the cost or timeline of a college degree are valid. The only way to help is by sitting down with them and reviewing their options.
You should be talking to students about the costs of college. You should be talking with them about the average time to graduate and how much time they want to budget for college. You need to get them thinking about their finances before, during, and after college. Maybe that means helping them weigh a decision between a state school or a more prestigious (but more expensive) private school.
By sitting down and listening to their concerns, parents can give their kids the chance to relieve that pent up anxiety—and then help them explore the nuances of those worries. It can be incredibly helpful to write down the options for every scenario and talk through them calmly and without judgment.
Once the options are laid out, help students identify the support they need.
Students are already fidgeting over these issues, and their stress and worry manifest in the desire to do something. If you tell them, “Don’t worry,” you’re essentially pinning their arms down.
But once you know exactly what students are anxious about, you have the opportunity to identify solutions and find support.
Trusted teachers, family, friends, community resources, school resources—there are people and organizations out there who can answer questions and help students take control of the process. If students are able to use that nervous energy in a positive, productive way, they’ll feel empowered to act and take responsibility for their college experience.
Students today are as stressed as they are excited about making such huge decisions. But telling them not to worry about it isn’t helpful, and it isn’t realistic. They’re going to continue to worry about it, no matter what we say to them. So, why not give them an outlet to express those concerns in a productive manner and then find them the support they need?
In order to make that happen, you have to understand and empathize with their reality. Listen to them, address their concerns, and give them the tools they need to make the best decisions possible.