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New Year, new normal: resolutions to help public servants make the most of 2021

28 January 2021

News and media


new year 2021

If last year was one that most of us want to forget, what are you going to do to make 2021 your best and most productive year yet?

While your personal New Year’s resolutions may have bitten the dust, now is the perfect time to shake things up at work and make sure the post-COVID ‘new normal’ works for you.

Last year was a difficult one for many public sector workers, as they were forced to work more intensely as they tackled the huge policy and implementation challenges of the pandemic. And that’s without taking into account the challenges of working from home, and looking after children.

On the other hand, many felt proud to be part of Australia and New Zealand’s successful responses to the challenges of COVID. The rapid changes made many question their assumptions and think more creatively about how they and their organisations work and deliver value to the public.

While we are not out of the woods yet, the start of this year is a great time to rethink your priorities or plan a return to projects that were set aside. Here are some ideas from ANZSOG to build on your achievements in 2020 and help you make the most of 2021.

Set some goals

Last year’s plans may have had a nasty encounter with reality, but that doesn’t change the fact that to achieve what you want, you need to plan. Think about where you want to be this time next year, talk to the people who can help you achieve it, and set some tangible, achievable goals. If the experience of 2020 has made you reassess what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to make big changes.

Some inspiration: Teamwork is vital to achieving your goals, read our article on ‘How to avoid common pitfalls to build a high performing team’.

Commit to communication

2020 emphasised the importance of communications – both for governments looking to educate and persuade citizens and for organisations trying to maintain a common purpose in the face of change. Many organisations used new tools to help teams work remotely, and lifted their standards of communication. Others thought more deeply about what the public needs to hear from government. Don’t let that energy and innovation go to waste, and slip back into bad old habits.

Some inspiration: Read our article on ‘Committing to clear crisis communications’ written as the pandemic took hold in 2020.

Get motivated

Remind yourself why you work in government or policy work. Find a quote or mantra that captures your passion for why you turn up to work each day. If you and your team achieved great things last year, set up some permanent reminders. Stick them to your screen or cubicle, and remind yourself each morning why you do what you do.

Some inspiration: Read our research brief on ‘Trust in government’ to find how COVID-19 helped change perceptions of the work that you do.

Lose some weight

No, not the gym, we’re talking about trimming the fat from your diary. Focus on cutting out the extraneous tasks and distractions that are diverting you from your key goals or vision for the year. Focus on what is essential, not what’s urgent, so you can make up ground you lost in 2020.

Some inspiration: Read our article on ‘Using adaptive leadership’ to discover leadership practices which can help you absorb, learn and adapt in 2021.

(Re)Building resilience

The challenges of 2020 threw light on the importance of resilience in individuals and organisations. The ability to step up when required, or to work for long periods without burning out, became vital. It’s important that organisations think about how to maintain resilience in the long-term and invest in people. If you are leading a team, think about what your people need to stay happy and productive for the long-term and try and ensure your organisation has the capacity to cope with future emergencies.

Some inspiration: Read our article on ‘organisational resilience in mega-crises’ to learn more about personal resilience

Save money

This one works at home or in the office. What ways can you find to improve public value or enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of existing programs? How could improvements or savings be redeployed to benefit the common good? Set a goal. Stick to it. Talk to others about what you could do collectively to make it a priority.

Some inspiration: Read our research brief on ‘Ten ways to optimise evidence-based policy’ for some quick tips

Embrace diversity

A lot of public sector workplaces talk about diversity but few are making it work. The experience of COVID-19, and other crises, has shown that organisations with a wide variety of viewpoints are better able to make innovative leaps and adapt to changed realities.

What can you do to make your workplace more inclusive for staff with diverse backgrounds and experiences? Why not make an effort to celebrate holidays from different cultures or organise a lunch where people bring meals from their home or heritage? Learn about the First Nations history of your area and learn some greetings or other words in the local language. Look into cultural competency or diversity training.

Some inspiration: Register now for our 2021 First Peoples Public Administration Virtual Conference to think beyond the way things have always operated and consider how First Peoples knowledge can be mobilised to meet the needs of communities.


If you are itching for new challenges and opportunities, don’t just wait for your career to progress; get the knowledge you need for the position or role that you want. If you are ambitious perhaps it’s time to gain some further executive education?

Some inspiration: Check out this summary of professional development opportunities designed specifically for public sector workers.

And finally…..

Look after yourself

It’s going to be a long year, and you’ll be in better shape to tackle it if you spend some time getting physically and mentally ready. Technology has made it harder to switch off from work, but you’ll be happier and more productive if you set boundaries, know when to say ‘no’ and make time for family, friends, exercise and anything else that brings you joy.

Have a great 2021.

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