Archive for the ‘Improving Morale’ Category

The Limits of Compassion (and yes, there are some)

Thursday, July 15th, 2010
© Beatrice Killam |

© Beatrice Killam |

I am human.  And I’m willing to bet that four out of five readers of this column are human, too.

As humans, we come equipped with massive contradictions and imperfections.  Our emotions battle with our intellect.  Our community spirit wrestles with our selfishness.  We think thoughts both lofty and low and emit smells both lovely and, uh…not.

But when we come together in the workplace, we’re making a deal with each other to bring our higher, stronger, better selves to the game.  It’s not that our weaknesses cease to exist, but they do cease to ride shotgun on our day.

There are days when I’m running on two cylinders or less—not enough sleep, not enough breakfast, too many pressures, bad news, whatever.  You have to figure at least one out of every four people around you feels about the same on any given day.

Now suppose we all had permission to give full expression to those feelings—you’d have 25 percent of the people in any given workplace whining, sighing, crying, or screaming their way through the day. The drain on productivity would be impossible.  Forget about achieving anything great or being of profound service, even on your own good days.

A little expression of fatigue or frustration once in a while is fine, and we can all be there for each other at those times.  But then there are the people who seem to have woven dramatic emotional displays into their job description, day after day after day.

Not okay.

Approach this carefully by all means, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, DO approach it.  Start by expressing genuine concern.  Is there something going on in this person’s life that they’d like to talk about?  Is there anything you can do to help?

If he or she waves off your attempts to help and continues to be a vortex of negative energy, ramp it up a bit.  Ask Human Resources or your immediate manager if anything can be done to assist the person—and drop a mention of how long it has gone on and how difficult it is to work well in the presence of such displays.

If you have offered personal concern AND attempted to get help at a higher level and no improvement is made, it’s time to call in that mutual contract, that unspoken but rock-solid agreement to bring our higher, stronger selves to work.  Let the person know gently but firmly that something’s gotta give, that she MUST take advantage of offers of help, that the situation is impacting the work and attitudes of those around her.

If no improvement is forthcoming, it is incumbent on you to return to management with a stronger insistence that something be done.

Confessions of a Recovering Workplace Gossip

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
© Varina And Jay Patel |

© Varina And Jay Patel |

So you’ve never gossiped, you say – never talked about a colleague behind her back, never spread a juicy rumor.  Congratulations!  I don’t believe you.

Okay, I suppose it’s possible.  But most of you out there have probably indulged in this bad behavior at some point.  I’m sorry to say there was a time when I did as well.  Then I came to realize how poisonous and destructive workplace gossip is.  Now I spend my time spreading the anti-gossip gospel.

A workplace full of whispered gossip is excruciating.  It is destructive to the soul of your workplace and the souls of the people in it.  They never feel safe, always wondering who is talking behind their backs.

Jack has a problem with Tom. So what does Jack do? He tells Lynne, and Jess, and Steve, and Jim, and Sandy.  Everyone, that is, but Tom.

It gets even better. Jack quickly realizes he can’t trust Lynne, Jess, Steve, Jim, or Sandy. They are the kind of people who welcome gossip, you see, and people who accept gossip tend to be equal-opportunity mudslingers. Soon enough, they’ll be welcoming gossip about Jack.

Okay, now let’s suppose you’ve got the message.  You’ve quit cold turkey on gossiping and backstabbing.  But what do you do when someone ELSE comes to you with gossip?

You can certainly put your fingers in your ears and hum the 1812 Overture while tap dancing.  But that won’t do anything to help Jack out of his own nasty gossiping habit.  And since it’s your watering hole he’s muddying, you have a vested interest in helping him on the road to recovery.

Next time Jack comes to you with complaints about Tom, simply say, “Gee, this sounds serious!  Let’s go talk to Tom directly so you can work this out.” When he looks panic-stricken, underline the point: “Well is this a serious problem or isn’t it?  I can’t do anything to help you solve it – only Tom can do that. So please promise me you’re heading directly there. If it isn’t serious, then what are we talking about?”

This approach may or may not shock Jack into giving up gossip, but it will certainly send a message that YOU are not an available receiver.  It also lets him know that you will not be gossiping behind his back – a positive message in and of itself.

Give yourself a break—for productivity’s sake

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010
© Siart |

© Siart |

How are you responding to these stressful times?  Feeling frazzled?  Going to bed a little later and getting up a little earlier?  Eating lunch at your desk?

If your intention is to strengthen your job security as layoffs happen all around you—you just might want to reconsider that six-cylinder, 24/7 strategy.  It’s counterproductive.

Overstressed employees are less engaged, less focused, and less vision-driven.  This hurts customer service, which in turn hurts everything.  Stressed employees are also more likely to get sick, lose sleep, and develop dysfunctional behaviors, all of which further hurts productivity.

Martin Luther once said, “I generally pray for two hours every day, except on very busy and demanding days. On those days, I pray three.”

Productivity WINS and the bottom line WINS and quality goes UP when employees are happy, rested, and well cared for.  We need to say, “In normal times, I get seven hours’ sleep each night.  But during busy and demanding weeks, I get eight.” It makes sense, and it works.

Want to improve the quality of your work, boost your productivity, impress the boss?  Become a well-oiled machine, not an overheated engine.  Here’s how:

•  First and foremost, take responsibility for your physical and emotional health.  Get rest, eat right, and exercise.  If you see a frazzled, sleep-deprived face in the mirror, consider it not as a badge of honor but as a failure to maximize your abilities by taking proper care of yourself.

•  Show up fully wherever you are.  When you’re at work, be at work, 100 percent.  When you’re at home, be at home.  Both work and home will benefit from your full attention.

•  Set definite limits on work done at home.  Sometimes bringing work home is unavoidable, and that’s fine.  But when it becomes a norm to work through the evening, you are sapping your energy and reducing your productivity.

•  Share your planned limits with those around you.  If you’ve decided not to work after 7 p.m., tell your wife or husband and the kids.  They’ll hold you to it.

•  Build non-negotiable breaks into your workday.  I’m talking about real breaks.  Eating lunch at your desk does NOT count.  Reading spreadsheets in the break room does NOT count.  Get away and recharge your battery.

•  Learn when to say no.  Over commitment destroys productivity.  Stop seeing it as a virtue.  It’s a failure of personal quality control.

One of the keys to all this is silencing the nagging voice in our heads—the one that says “no pain, no gain,” that tells you working more and harder and longer with fewer breaks and less sleep will make you better and more productive.  It’s NONSENSE. 

Run a car’s engine in high gear for hours and you’ll end up with a pile of junk.  Why would running a human being be any different?

The Terrible Trio—Vampires, Victims, and Whiners (oh my!)

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
© Rinderart |

© Rinderart |

Part 3:  The Whiner

Ah, whiners.  Instead of telling you what can be done, whiners spend hours vividly outlining what can’t be done and why. Had whiners ruled the world, we’d still be sitting in our caves, huddled around the fire complaining that we can’t find the remote control.

Whining is an attempt to “one-up” others by dismissing all possibilities before anyone has a chance to make a suggestion. Oddly enough, while a whiner’s statement may sound definite, the bluster is actually born of insecurity. Although they have enough mental sharpness to point out problems, they don’t have enough confidence to work at resolving them.  Many people who grow up to be whiners learned early on in life that they could get more attention and by voicing a complaint than by trying to correct a situation.

There isn’t much room for someone like that in a workplace where team members want to rock or in an office where everyone is willing to carry their weight and then some.

Of course, this is not to say that there will never be any whining again, ever. Sometimes it goes with the human condition.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’ve ALL have had our moments of whining.

We all have our occasional pity parties or bouts of attention seeking. Despite our knowing how whining can negatively impact others and render us ineffective, there’s a remote chance we might once again choose to uncork that bottle of whine. We’re only human.

Although the ugly truth is that there’s nothing attractive about whining, there are ways to prevent and avoid the condition in ourselves AND in others.  The key is to name it, to make it public, to give ourselves and others permission to laugh it away.

Forge an agreement in your workplace to drive whining away once and for all by flashing the “W” sign—three fingers extended—whenever anyone starts to whine, moan, or groan.  It’s a humorous, non-threatening reminder to stop whining and start creating a solution.

Whenever someone gets the sign, they must agree to stop IMMEDIATELY.  The usual result is a good-natured laugh.  Make sure you distribute the sign evenly around the office—don’t gang up on a single person—and be sure to handle your own occasional dips into Whine Country with good humor and honesty.

The Terrible Trio—Vampires, Victims, and Whiners (oh my!)

Friday, February 26th, 2010
© Lisavan |

© Lisavan |

Part 2:  The Victim

The second in our three-part series on energy drains in the workplace is the perpetual victim—the person who is always yammering on about the crud hand the world has dealt them.

Their past jobs lost, their failed marriages, their C in Chemistry and their FICO score that looks like a batting average are all on the topic list, and most importantly, all the fault of someone else.

Onlookers have no difficulty in figuring out who really ruined the victim’s life. She did. She did it by not moving on and by choosing to stay miserable.

Victims remain victims because they receive feedback that supports their victimhood.  This support comes from others who are often well-meaning and unconscious of the negative impact.

When perpetual victims complain about how awful their lives are, their supporters support them by buying into it. “Yep,” they’ll say, “Ain’t it just awful.” That’s all the positive reinforcement the victim needs, as off they go seeking the next hit of YPT (You Poor Thing—their drug of choice).

A person who supports a victim in that way is not really a friend but an enabler. Sane and loving people will distance themselves from victims precisely to help them stop being victims.

So what do you do when a victim comes to you and complains yet again about something someone else or some other department did? It’s easy. Place accountability for change back on that person. “Sounds like an opportunity, really. What are YOU going to do to make sure that doesn’t happen again or to make peace with it so you can move on?”

Victims hate that—but it’s the intervention they need. They either have to stop being a victim and draining your energy, or find someone else who is a willing enabler to victimhood. Either way, you win!

Another strategy is to appeal to their inner ego, no matter how deeply buried, to contradict the self-image as a victim. “You’re pretty powerful,” you say, “so I know you don’t view yourself as a victim. I can’t wait to hear what you’re doing to make the situation better!”

The person must either admit to helplessness and weakness or seize on your appraisal of strength.  Ninety-nine out of a hundred will go for the strength.

If you’ve done everything you can to reprogram, empower, and redirect a perpetual victim, the next step is simple avoidance. Steer clear of the person so that you can preserve your own energy.  If they seek you out and begin their monologue, simply raise one hand, silently, and continue on your way.