In our new age of television where shows are rarely viewed live, there’s little need to wait for next week’s episode. While Walking Dead and Better Call Saul may require my immediate attention, my DVR is full of entire seasons of programs just waiting for me to have a free weekend. This “binge-watching” is an effortless way to watch hours of television, but what are we losing by removing that which we would otherwise anticipate?
In the past, shows were predicated on having to wait until next week to find out what happened. Who shot JR? Why is there a polar bear on a tropical island? What do you mean the villain gave the President a poisonous handshake? These cliffhangers make shows exciting. When watched live, we spend the last fifteen minutes on the edge of our seat. As it ends, we are disappointed but anxious for next week.
Binge-watching alleviates much of our angst. The immediate gratification provided means we don’t need to worry ourselves with “what’s going to happen?” Just wait a few minutes and you’ll find out. While satisfying, it is possible that removing anticipation takes away from the viewing experience. It is also possible that these same practices can have disastrous effects on the workplace.
Any leader with an aspiring vision of their career is working towards a goal. When that goal is removed, when there’s nothing lying ahead, even the most dedicated individual will only be able to sit still for so long before moving on to the next opportunity. This is the result of what my colleague and I call Horizon Engagement Anticipation Theory.
Horizon Engagement Anticipation Theory (H.E.A.T.) states that people are most engaged when they have something to look forward to. Foreseeable points of reference on the horizon provide direction, are self-motivating, and focus our efforts. And for the ambitious amongst us, this “horizon” becomes a moving target that remains just beyond our reach, preventing complacency and promoting further engagement.
H.E.A.T. is supported by research that has found we experience more intense emotions about future events, not those that have already occurred. In a study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, the act of planning a vacation generated a larger boost to happiness than actually taking the vacation (eight weeks of joy during the planning stage versus less than a week after returning). According to Leaf Van Boven and Laurence Ashworth’s work, we have an expectation that future events will make us feel more fulfilled. Their research suggests that, “the enjoyment people glean from anticipation might also be an important component of life satisfaction.”
As leaders, it is our responsibility to provide the horizon to those on our team. They may tell us where they want to go, but their enthusiasm will quickly fade if we aren’t encouraging them along the way. Plus, besides our emotional support, a perk of leadership is that we can create the tangible programs to help them determine their future – career tracks, succession planning, strategic planning objectives, etc. If communicated effectively, these visibly prospective focal points become the drivers to inspire those on our team and further engage them in their work and in the company.
“[Leaders] must pair personal promise of potential with their organization’s promise of purpose.” – Joshua Levine, Brand Strategist and Partner at Great Monday
The way you caught up on last season’s episodes of Empire should not be the way you manage the culture of your workplace. Incorporate anticipation. Give your team something to look forward to, something to work towards, and something they can achieve. Set well-defined milestones so people know where they are going and let a few cliffhangers fester so as to pique their interest. They may not enjoy delaying the win, but it will be more satisfying when they do.