With the U.S. unemployment rate hovering stubbornly above 8% after a prolonged economic downturn, plenty of workers feel like they're lucky to have a job at all and that they shouldn't make waves at work. It's not exactly the setup for great morale in the workplace.
However, in most workplaces there's room for employees to make the workplace more enjoyable. Obviously this will mean something different in an investment law firm than in a cupcake bakery, but we're all human and it's only natural that we want to feel motivated, valued, and positive about the place where we spend a third of our lives.
Business.com recently spoke with Frode Heimen of nevermindthemanager.com about things the ordinary worker can do to make the workplace and the workday more bearable.
Q. In a recent blog post you discussed ways to make work positive even when "real life," (bills, relationships, family obligations) weighs heavily. You remind people that when we're feeling down, doing something positive for another person at work can help us refocus and feel like we're making a positive, if small, difference. How can we do this at work without being overbearing or giving the wrong impression?
A: It's really about the small things: being friendly, or getting coffee for your co-workers when you get your own. "A smile is free" someone once told me. Make sure to say it when you think, "Oh, that was nice". But be true in your actions.
It is not just about bringing cookies to work. You can also share your knowledge and help people, kind of supplying excellent service to your co-workers. Helping other people is very rewarding, and it will give you a good feeling. If you struggle in one area in life, it might spread to others too, so why not flip it around? Start doing good in one area, and it might spread to others as well.
Q. Leadership styles differ among professions, and even among players within a profession. As an employee moves toward a leadership position, how can he or she develop effective leadership style without giving up too much of what makes him or her a unique individual? It would seem that quashing one's individuality in pursuit of a leadership attitude would be counterproductive.
A: You shall not give up what makes you unique. But the best way to prepare for leadership is to start learning about leadership, business, coaching and motivation up front, before you get that promotion. And by displaying your skills and knowledge at work, leadership will come naturally.
Think two steps ahead. The challenge is not necessarily who you are or what you say, but how you handle how others perceive you. When you transform into a leader, you get new expectations. Your former co-workers analyze your every move, what you say and what you do. This is the biggest change from being a buddy at the floor. So the key in preparation is to get the knowledge up front.
Q. The fishmongers at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle famously made some big changes back in the 80s when they were nearing bankruptcy; changes that involved throwing fish, engaging with customers, and generally making the place a world-famous destination rather than a stop on the way elsewhere. Most people can't throw fish at work, so what could, say, an office manager do to inject some of that positive attitude and enthusiasm into the workplace?
A: First of all, the manager must have a positive attitude himself. Employee engagement is essential for good results, and the difference in contribution between a disengaged and an engaged employee is tremendous. Most people can throw fish at work, as soon as you replace fish with a positive philosophy. It can be small celebrations with balloons, cake, or a radio-controlled car race. Be creative and have fun. I have yet not seen a person that wants less fun at work. But it shall not be all fun; the results must still be the main goal. Just think about it: would you do a better job being in a good or bad mood? Start with a paper plane race.
Q. Great coaches, whether in the workplace or on a playing field, are those who take a group of people and help make the group into something more than the sum of the individuals. Is that a skill that can be learned, and if so, what are the first steps for someone who may be taking on coaching duties at work?
A: Yes, you can learn to be a good coach. First, you must acknowledge that people are resourceful, and get a few books about coaching and attend classes/courses.
Q. Finally, sometimes you simply have to move on. You've given everything you know to give, and made the effort, but you know your heart will never be in the work you're doing and it's making your life miserable. How do you know when you're at that point? It can be hard, particularly if you're leaving a well-paying job.
A: When you reach this point is very individual, but get a new job before you quit. I am very careful about recommending someone change jobs. In most cases, I only do if there is a major conflict of values.
It is also interesting that you bring in a "well-paying job" as an argument to stay. Being happy is important, and paying your bills are important. That is why I always try to help people where they are, and most people realize that money is not what makes them happy, but it has become a necessity. Try to find your passion that can pay your bills. As soon as you work with passion, and can feed yourself, you will no longer worry about the paycheck, and that is very liberating.
Photo Credit: Vivek Khurana