Workplace New Year’s Resolutions

As the calendar tips from December into January, many of us start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to be kinder or more punctual; to be thinner or to drive less. In short, we’re hoping to become better people. Why shouldn’t our workplaces do the same? While we might call these intentions “goals” at other times of the year, resolution time offers everyone from the CEO to the rank and file a chance to look around the company for underdeveloped strengths.

I’m not talking about resolving to kill the competition or double profits. With leadership from management and energy from employees, your organization can become a better corporate citizen, improving your community while making the enterprise more sustainable and well-liked.

The complication is that you’ll need to convince everyone else at work to go along with your idea. Success or failure will ultimately be decided in water-cooler conversations during which people choose whether to chip in or resist.

Dan Bowling was in charge of human resources for Coca-Cola worldwide; now, he’s a workplace law professor at Duke University School of Law and a researcher in positive psychology. Professor Bowling told The FruitGuys Magazine that the key to making a workplace resolution work is to build on the “authentic true self” of the organization and the values of the people who work there. “Where [New Year’s] resolutions for humans fail is the same place where new initiatives in corporations fail—when they’re totally unconnected to the DNA of the person or the organization.

Buy-In Is Key

When managers try to “cut and paste” a change from another company, Bowling warns, “it will fail and is a waste of everyone’s time. And it creates cynicism about any new initiatives.” Once you’ve found a plan that fits the culture, it’s also helpful for a manager to find some social, high-energy individuals to champion the effort at the grassroots level.

What if you are the grassroots champion who wants to be the driver of your company’s resolutions? You need a two-pronged strategy. Building from the ground up is a slow but strong approach, but you’ll also need a champion on the other side of the managerial divide. It doesn’t have to be the boss, but at least one manager should be on board and making your case in supervisors’ meetings. It also helps if you can explain how your project will help the bottom line, either directly (low-energy lightbulbs save on electricity bills) or more subtly (improving employees’ health and engagement boosts productivity).

Professor Bowling mentioned another similarity between individual and workplace resolutions: they work better when they’re positive. “New Year’s resolutions for individuals fail, and new initiatives fail for organizations, when they try to institute a dramatic change to correct a perceived weakness in an organization,” he noted, “as opposed to looking to an underlying strength and building upon that.”

Bowling gave the example of a skilled chef who resolves to lose 30 pounds. “All right, for about two weeks that may work.” Instead, he suggests, this chef could build on her strengths by giving herself a challenge, such as “Write a new cookbook next year using low-fat ingredients, or redo a famous cookbook with diet-conscious ingredients.”

With all of that wisdom in mind, here are some potential ideas for New Year’s resolutions to make your workplace a better “person.” Make sure the ones you choose match the interests and values of your company’s workforce.

Resolved: A Healthier  Workplace

Healthier employees are more productive, happier, and reduce costs for absenteeism and health insurance. There are many ways to get there. The most obvious—a workout room or all-in-one weight-lifting machine at the office—may be the least effective, especially if you don’t have shower facilities attached. Subsidized memberships at a nearby health club, informal running and bicycling groups, or company-sponsored teams in a city rec league may work a lot better.

There are also more subtle ways to improve health. Encourage non-car commuting by making sure there are plenty of bike racks, emphasize mass transit connections over big parking lots when planning new facilities, subsidize monthly transit passes, and make sure there are shower facilities in the office.

Another strategy is to offer as many healthy food choices as possible, whether in vending machines, the cafeteria, or via negotiated discounts at healthy eateries in the vicinity. Weekly boxes from The FruitGuys are a great start!

Resolved: Efficiency and Reduced Waste

Whether you call it sustainability, greening the workplace, or cost-cutting will depend on the culture of your staff, but every company can improve its bottom line by reducing trash and electricity consumption. LED light retrofitting (which also gets rid of ugly fluorescent lighting), reduced printing, and lots of paper recycling bins are good places to start.

Resolved: Community Involvement

Politicians love local jobs and need business expertise, so employers have a lot of influence in a community. They don’t have to get involved in hot political issues to make a big difference. Whether it’s a local economic development strategy, cleaning up a neglected neighborhood, or supporting a low-budget arts organization, the mere act of declaring support and rallying employees can get a worthy initiative off the ground.

Better yet, match employees’ tax-deductible donations or let them donate some (salaried) hours to the effort. Knowing that your employer supports your passion can create a strong bond of loyalty. And this way, bosses let employees decide which causes to support instead of imposing their own choices.

Now it’s time to get down to business. Make a personal New Year’s resolution to help your business create its own.

Mark Saltveit is the author of The Tao of Chip Kelly (Diversion Books: 2013) and Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution (Diversion Books: 2015). He writes regularly about health and science for the Oregon Bioscience Association; his work has also appeared in Harvard Magazine and the Oregonian newspaper.

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