Ways to take action

Well-being at work: 4 keys to keeping your resolutions in 2024

Julia Milner , Professor

In this article, originally published (in French) on HBR France, Julia Milner, Professor at EDHEC, talks about well-being at work and the role of resolutions made at the start of the year... which are unfortunately often short-lived.

Reading time :
15 Feb 2024

Are you starting the New Year with new resolutions? If so, you're not alone. Many people choose this time of year to set themselves goals, whether personal or professional.


According to a study conducted by Forbes Health and One Poll, a large number of people see investing in their well-being as a priority for 2024. The main objectives include improving physical fitness (48%), improving mental health (36%), losing weight (34%) and optimising diet (32%).

Well-being is important in both personal and professional life, and concerns both employees and their managers. Increasingly, companies are offering programmes dedicated to this issue.


In 2024, the objective for company directors and managers will be twofold:

  • Improve their own well-being.
  • To help employees achieve their well-being objectives, and to create a positive corporate culture conducive to personal fulfilment.


Are good resolutions doomed to failure?

Resolutions made at the start of the year are often short-lived. They quickly give way to old habits. Most people abandon their goals after two to four months. According to the Forbes Health/One Poll study, only 6% of people manage to maintain a resolution over the long term.


Admittedly, New Year's resolutions are often ill-conceived. For one thing, they are often motivated by social pressure. 62% of people questioned by Forbes Health/One Poll said they felt 'obliged' to make one. Secondly, they are often over-ambitious.


The question is how to change our approach to New Year's resolutions so that they are more effective.


1/ Focus on values

Linking your goals to your values can be beneficial. When these two points are not in phase, it's easier to abandon them, or to find yourself faced with a conflict of values. For example, if one of your fundamental values is family, and you set yourself a fitness goal such as preparing for a triathlon, which requires a lot of time and energy, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between your goal and your values.


This doesn't mean that you shouldn't invest in yourself, quite the opposite. If you don't take care of yourself, which is the aim of many New Year's resolutions, you won't be able to take care of others. But sometimes all you need to do is align your goals with your values. Take, for example, devoting time to getting fit: this can fit in with your value of family commitment, enabling you to be active and attentive when sharing time with your loved ones. You can adjust your objectives, such as continuing to do sport, but opting for an activity that is less time-consuming or that includes the family. In this way, you can achieve your goals while remaining true to your values. Investing in understanding the "why" behind a goal helps to clarify the goal itself.


Leaders can help their people define their goals by helping them clarify the values that are important to them. Values alignment is therefore about ensuring that employees' values are aligned with the company's strategic direction. It is more effective to focus on what is important to individuals and why it is important, rather than just the company's values, which are often not very explicit. It is also important to understand the meaning of corporate values for each individual and their personal relevance.


Leaders and managers need to spend time talking to their teams. They should listen carefully to their employees, ask them open-ended questions and adopt an empathetic attitude. This will enable them to demonstrate their interest in their teams and the importance they attach to individual values.


2/ Results versus habits

When our objectives are focused solely on results, we don't concentrate on the actions that will enable us to achieve them. For example, if we want to lose 2 kilos in four weeks, we don't worry about what we need to do to achieve it, such as eating less or exercising more. Even if we follow expert advice to make a goal specific and measurable, focusing on results is not always enough.


After all, any result depends on the habits we adopt. The result is almost a by-product of our daily habits. So it makes more sense to invest our efforts in establishing daily habits that we can maintain over the long term.


Habits allow us to break down a goal into smaller, more manageable activities. This doesn't mean, however, that you have to aim small to achieve your goals. According to American psychologists Edwin A. Locke and Gary Latham, setting less ambitious goals does not help us achieve them. On the contrary, ambitious goals seem to lead to greater effort ("Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey", American Psychologist, 2002).


Leaders must take care not to fall into the trap of micromanagement when helping their colleagues to break down their goals into achievable steps. It's essential to let teams develop their own roadmap, and not just play a supporting role. Employees must be able to chart their own path to success. However, leaders and managers must ensure that this path remains aligned with the organisation's strategy and objectives.


3/ Agreements rather than expectations

According to a Forbes Health/One survey, 94% of employees fail to achieve their long-term resolutions. Why is this? One possible explanation is that we set our expectations too high, without really thinking about what we can actually achieve.


When we set ourselves a resolution, it's essential to ask ourselves, "What can I commit to in order to achieve this goal?" This helps us to better identify the obstacles and limitations that may arise along the way. If you find that certain aspects of the objective are not achievable, you should not give up, but rather consider adjusting these points of agreement.


Furthermore, be careful not to fall into "Betterment Burn-out", a state of exhaustion linked to the incessant quest for improvement. When expectations are too high, disappointment is more likely if things don't turn out as hoped. While high expectations encourage the achievement of objectives, it is important to anticipate the possible consequences if things don't go according to plan.


4/ Quick fixes, quick wins and big disappointments

Quick fixes are often illusions that can backfire. For example, following a fad diet may make us lose weight quickly, but we risk regaining everything we've lost if we don't change our eating habits.


On the other hand, quick gains can be good for maintaining our goals. We like to win, and this can motivate us to keep going. So it's important to plan celebrations and to use 'victory stones' instead of milestones - in other words, to regularly acknowledge our small successes. This will allow us to focus on our progress, even if we haven't yet reached our final goal.


Empathy, towards others and towards ourselves, is essential. It allows us to understand and accept our failures, setbacks and mistakes. An "all or nothing" approach encourages us to abandon a resolution as soon as it doesn't work perfectly. To make progress, it is therefore important to be indulgent with yourself, to give yourself time, and to allow yourself to make mistakes.


Leaders and managers have an important role to play here. They need to give constructive feedback that enables employees to move forward energetically. They also need to explain how the next steps fit into the team project and the company's strategy.


In short, this new year doesn't have to be synonymous with pressure. Start by adopting healthy habits, rather than looking for the miracle solution. Achieve your goals by breaking them down into smaller, achievable steps. Focus on the process, rather than the end result and the finish line.


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