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The tried and tested techniques CEOs are using to boost morale and beat ‘January Blues’

January 4, 2023, 1:37 PM UTC
tired man at desk
How to beat the January Blues this year.
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January marks the start of a whole new year yet to unfold in all its glory. But for many, any excitement for what’s to come is overshadowed by an impending sense of overwhelm.

Knowing that there are a whole 12 months of challenges ahead can be a draining prospect that makes people want to crawl back under their blanket and hibernate.

Plus, finding your get-up-and-go can be even harder for those in the northern hemisphere where the days are cold and dark.

This is known as “January Blues,” and unfortunately even the toughest of leaders aren’t immune to it.

Here are some tried and tested techniques that CEOs told Fortune they’re using to banish January Blues and boost morale. 

Practice gratitude

One of the words that came up most was “gratitude.”

For some CEOs this looks like a literal list of things to be grateful for, and for others it’s more of an outlook on the past year and the year to come.

By writing three things to be grateful for every morning, Georgia Gadsby, cofounder and CEO of Unearth PR, has been able “to see the joy in running a business again and what a privilege it is to hold the position I do.” When the January Blues kick in, she looks back at past entries for an instant hit of positivity. 

Jessica Alderson, CEO and cofounder of dating app So Syncd, similarly spreads joy throughout her team by reminding them what the business’s key metrics were a year ago and how far it’s come.

“It can be easy to get caught up in the everyday details, and taking a step back to recognize the milestones we’ve hit can help to energize everyone,” she says.

Gene Fay, CEO at security services firm ThreatX, echoes that having goals to look back on is a great way to check in, reflect, and feel more positive.

So much so, that he writes them down on a sticky note which he keeps tucked away in his wallet.

“Anytime that I feel myself experiencing low energy, I revisit my goals to reignite my mind and remind myself of all the things I want to accomplish in the year ahead,” he adds.

Get excited for the year ahead

Nothing boosts morale more than having things to look forward to.

Many of the CEOs Fortune spoke to use January as a time to set ambitions for the year ahead, book their vacations, and meet up with their team in person to preemptively celebrate smashing 2023.

Lucas London, CEO of the U.K.’s fastest-growing decorating company, Lick, sets companywide targets to fire up his workforce for the year ahead.

“In the first week of January, our C-suite signs off on the company objectives and key results. In the second week, key department heads present their plan for the year ahead to the entire business.”

Although the main purpose of this is to inspire his team and encourage accountability, he finds having that structure “personally motivating.” 

Tap into the Swedish art of ‘lagom’

Just as it took some time to switch off and enjoy your festive break, it’s going to take some time to gear back up into work mode.

CEOs are not immune to this transition. If you want to avoid feeling blue, or worse, burned out, embrace the Swedish concept of “lagom” which translates to “not too much, not too little.”

Ally Fekaiki, CEO of employee benefits platform Juno, asserts that even the busiest of CEOs must prioritize work-life balance.

“Trying to curb the number of late nights spent at the laptop is crucial if leaders are to stay healthy and balanced throughout the year. There’s no point overdoing it in January,” he says while adding that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Other CEOs told Fortune that they get balance in their day by going for a walk first thing in the morning, setting a strict sleep time, and scheduling in pockets of stillness in their diary.

But if carving out some “me time” sounds more stressful than relaxing, James Kirkham, CEO of advertising agency Iconic, says that this time can be aligned with your tasks and to-do lists.

For example, considering a creative challenge while jogging can combine recovery with subconscious problem-solving. “The creativity you can unleash and ability to solve will actually be enhanced and galvanized by finding these little passages of tranquil time. More importantly, they’re the magical transitions essential not just to find your best performances but to beat the blues as well,” he adds.

Fake it until you make it

It’s dark outside, there is a global recession on the horizon, and we are all feeling far less “holly jolly” now that Christmas is over, but as CEO, your mood has a ripple effect on your entire organization.

Asher Moses, CEO of the taxi company, Sherbet, is acutely aware of this and makes a conscious effort to be positive, even if it “isn’t coming naturally due to wider circumstances.”

His advice? Don’t fret too much about things that are out of your control, like the wider state of the economy, which will invariably get you down.

“We’ll achieve better results if we try to block out some of the noise and focus solely on our businesses,” he adds. 

But ultimately, if nothing makes you more downbeat than the thought of heading to work (or opening up your laptop from your dining-table-turned-desk) then perhaps it’s pointing to more than just January Blues.

“The thing that gets me out of bed, whether it’s January or July, is that I lead an organization with over 1,000 staff who are all inspired and playing a part in delivering our vision. If they are willing to show up, then I am motivated by seeing them grow and develop,” says Paul Seabridge, CEO of investment firm Opulentia Capital.

“Make sure you are in a role as CEO in a business you live and breathe and genuinely get a buzz from running,” he adds. 

Really, if you no longer get excited about running your business, then it’s probably time to hand the baton over to someone who does and find something that instills joy in you—even on the dullest January day.

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