“Whoopee! Holidays are over.” Said no-one ever.

I trust you had a great time and have come back to work refreshed, with positive intentions that “this year is going to be different”.

Sorry to burst your January reverie, but 2024 won’t be, unless you do something differently.

Albert Einstein has been attributed as saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.

While taking a break from work may have enabled you to put difficult working relationships out of your mind, it is unlikely that they will have improved simply because you do not have to deal with your colleagues.

In fact, time away may have encouraged you to ruminate on the situation. Talking to well-meaning friends and family may have provided you with an echo chamber that has amplified your own version of it.

Regardless of where you get your inspiration from — the latest self-help book, TikTok or the Otago Daily Times — they will all be advising you to make a plan for the new year on how to improve your fitness/finances/parenting (the list goes on) and to take action.

When you google “10 top New Year resolutions” (or variations of that search), many relate to reducing stress, better performance and career advancement.

There is nothing specific about improving relationships at work or business, however to do so will naturally help you reach those goals. Difficult working relationships are often the root cause of why we get stressed, underperform and miss out on opportunities.

And, when you think about it, you will probably spend over two-thirds of 2024 at work. According to the latest OECD data (OECD (2024) Hours worked (indicator). doi: 10.1787/47be1c78-en (Accessed on January 16, 2024), the average annual hours worked by Kiwis per year is 1752. Because 2024 is a leap year, it has 366 days in total. In New Zealand, this will include 104 weekend days, 11 public holidays, leaving 251 working days.

So rather than avoid the difficult situation you are returning to at work, I encourage you to plan and take steps to improve it. Be mindful that you cannot control other people, but you can control yourself, your assumptions, your feelings, your actions and reactions. Here are questions to ask yourself before you make the plan:

1. How are you feeling about returning to the situation at work?

2. When do you feel this? What triggers you?

3. What assumptions are you making about the situation and the other people involved?

4. How do you want to feel in 2024?

5. What needs to change for you to feel this in the future?

6. How much of what needs to change is inside your control?

7. What do you need and want from the other people involved?

8. What would change for you if you accepted that the other people are doing their best with the skills and awareness they have?

These questions are the key to shifting yourself from being stuck in 2023. It may be that you need an objective view from a person who is outside your situation.

You may need someone to keep you on track with your plan so that you don’t slip back into past reactions and assumptions. Getting this kind of support can be an action point for you when making your plan.

If you are like me, sticking to the plan may be challenging. And at the end of the day, if your plan does not work, you can always change it. Just don’t change the goal!

Two steps forward, one step back is still progress (and about as sophisticated as my dance steps).

— Kate Keddell is a mediator, investigator and director of Balance Consultancy.