Joy and happiness are two different things. Both impact things like creativity, individual productivity, and the company’s bottom line (yes, it’s true). But joy is more sustainable. Here’s a 5-minute per day, one-week plan for kickstarting your path to getting more joy out of work.
Are you missing joy at work? Or maybe, you’ve never even put the two words joy and work together in the same sentence. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Joy is important to mental health. Finding it at work is very challenging for many of us. However, finding it may be more important than ever.
Isn’t joy just another word for happiness? Not really. According to Merriam Webster dictionary joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune. Joy comes from being connected to our uniqueness, authenticity, to others and to something meaningful. Joy is something we create and more intrinsic. Happiness is sparked by an external event or situation. Research shows both joy and happiness impact our creativity, energy, productivity, health, ability to handle stress, and the company’s bottom line. Joy is more sustainable.
Interested in (re)gaining joy at work? After all, we do spend most of our days working. Creating joy needs to be an active pursuit made up of small steps we take every day. I challenge you to take the 5-minute, 5-day challenge to (re)gain joy at work. It works best when you implement it over 5 consecutive days and jot your answers down somewhere so you can look back on them.
Day One: 5 minutes: Reconnect to your North Star. What is your big why? Why do you do the work you do? How is it helping you live your values? How does your work connect with other important things in your life? What about it is driving you right now?
Day Two: 5 minutes: What is one thing you can influence or change at work that will allow you to align with your North Star more completely – even if it’s a small thing. What is one task you could do? Or stop doing? What is one opportunity you could take to give yourself a few minutes to focus on something more meaningful? Or to laugh? Or to take a deep breath?
Day Three: 5 minutes: What colleague could you help? Maybe you’re thinking you don’t have time to help a colleague because you have so much on your plate. What if you grabbed them a cup of coffee when you go to grab one yourself? Could you have a walk and talk to help them think through a challenge while you both go to pick up lunch (that you may be eating at your desk so you can keep working!)
Day Four: 5 minutes: What are your strengths? What energizes you? What is one way, in the next week, you could more fully use that strength? How could you craft your job so that you are able to do this more consistently and frequently?
Day Five: 5 minutes. Reflect and reward yourself. What accomplishment are you proud of this week? How did you live your big why? What one thing did you influence or change? Who did you lend a hand to? How did you use your strengths more fully? Do you feel more joy today than you did 5 days ago?
Integrate this challenge into your daily routine every week. Assess the impact at the end of 3-weeks and 3 months. Let me know what happens.
Let’s face it – the world of work is unlikely to ever be the same again. Most companies that have been remote over the last two years are unlikely to ever require 100% office attendance of all their employees. And that’s a good thing.
No two employees are exactly alike. They have differing capabilities for working productively at home, and different work-life balance needs. Companies are recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all. The best companies will find ways to accommodate the best talent. And every company will make decisions about how flexible they want to be. Likewise, every person will make decisions about which organization is the best fit for them.
Even with this increased flexibility, there are benefits to going into the office … at least a couple of days per week:
- Your career – good companies will work to create a culture where your work location doesn’t dictate opportunities. All other things being equal, there will still be an unspoken bias that favors those who come to the workplace more often than their peers. For most executives and managers, this won’t be consciously planned. It’s just human nature. People give opportunity to those they trust the most. And trust is built through relationships. Relationships that include face-to-face time are typically built more quickly and deeply. Grabbing lunch, a chance meeting walking down the hall, or popping into their office for a quick chat. That VP who just hired you? You’re sitting in her office and notice that picture off to the side with her golfing friends and begin a discussion about your favorite courses in the area. Those are meaningful ways that people develop closer personal ties. And they happen more effortlessly and more deeply face-to-face.
- Your sanity – some people don’t miss going to work one bit. Maybe it’s the commute. Or you’re a complete introvert and don’t need or want social connection as much as the next guy. It could be you’ve just gotten used to the convenience of crawling out of bed, pouring yourself a cup of coffee, and firing up the laptop. Most people, however, need social interaction to maintain their mental health. Covid has been difficult for all of us for numerous reasons and social isolation is a big part of it. Even if you have a bunch of friends that you’ve been able to stay close to for the last two years, being at work provides a greater variety and number of interactions – both of which are healthier for most people. And sometimes we just need to get away from our home because there are distractions that we need a break from. For some people, there are times when “quiet time” to reflect and get things done is more doable at the office than at home.
- Your options– being at work at least part-time opens up options that aren’t as easily available if you work from home full-time. Here is a partial list of things that are often done more easily, effectively, or enjoyably from the office:
- Collaborating on the fly
- Improving your health as you get up and move around. (It takes many more steps to go grab a coffee or lunch at the office than going to your kitchen.)
- Work / life balance: the kind where work ends when you walk out the door, not when you finally eat dinner or go to bed
- Networking before, during or after work
- Developing a new set of daytime acquaintances that aren’t tied to family and “weekend friends,” which promotes mental health
- Shopping for the perfect gift at that cool store around the corner
- Celebrating team and individual successes, holidays and birthdays, and important milestones like promotions and retirements
There is no question that returning to work will also be difficult for many people, and that’s to be expected. It was a big change when you abruptly started staying home and it will be a big change if and when you go back to the office, even if only for a day or two per week. There are steps you can take to help yourself prepare and adjust once you’re back. And make no mistake, your attitude toward going back will impact how hard it is for you to return.
No one is better at gauging how to best meet your personal and professional needs than you are. And that’s why taking a second look at what you’ve gained… and lost… over the last two Covid years might lead you to a more nuanced view of the benefits of going back to the office at least part time. Even if it’s not your choice, appreciating the silver lining is good for your mental health and probably your career.
Recently, I’ve been talking with leaders, including mid-level leaders, about the challenges they are facing with staff shortages, continued ambiguity from COVID, and end of year pressures. In these conversations, the underlying theme is the toll these issues are taking on their emotions and their continual effort to push those emotions away or to simply plow through them.
The context for these conversations is a broader discussion about leading with emotional agility. Susan David and Christina Congleton, in their Harvard Business Review article, define emotional agility as the ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings in a mindful, productive way. When most of us get hooked by our negative thoughts, especially at work, we have one of two reactions. We buy into them (“I always do something stupid that gets in the way of my success.”) and avoid the situations that may evoke them. Or, we rationalize them away (“I shouldn’t have these thoughts. Just get on with it.”)
When we get hooked and choose one of these two common reactions, we are not giving ourselves the opportunity to respond effectively and intentionally. To choose to respond rather than react, the first step you must take is to recognize what is going on with you.
When I talk with these leaders, I ask them how many times a day they check in with themselves to assess what they are feeling. The overwhelming response is never. Some will say rarely. A very small fraction will say regularly. Then we do the following exercise:
First, we pause the conversation right there and I give them 30 seconds to just stop and check in with themselves.
Before the pause, I encourage them to work hard to accurately name what they are feeling. Don’t just tell themselves they are feeling stressed. Rather become more granular in the assessment. Are you angry? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Constrained? To respond, rather than react, the first step is to accurately identify and understand what you are feeling. You can’t create an effective response or strategy if you are unable to clearly define what you are responding to.
At the end of 30 seconds, I ask them about their experience. They often say it makes them feel more centered, have more clarity, and are better able to manage those emotions than have the emotions manage them. It provides them the space to choose a response.
We then discuss how pausing 1-2 times a day – taking 1 minute out of an 8, 10 or 12 hour workday– can significantly impact the ability to become more emotionally agile and the impact of that agility on their ability to lead in challenging times.
Over the next few weeks, take a moment or two throughout the day to check in with yourself. What are you feeling? How are you reacting to those emotions? What opportunities do you have to pause to make the choice of how you will respond?
These are stressful times. You’ll find that this technique also works quite well at home.
Everyone wants a competitive advantage. In our last article, we talked about the critical nature of purpose (a North Star) and strategic clarity. They provide much needed direction in a time of change and uncertainty. The third key to better results in 2021 is culture. And it’s considered by many to be the most important.
- Companies with strong cultures saw a 4x increase in revenue growth compared to those with weaker ones.
- A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 9 out of 10 CFO’s believe improving company culture would increase their company’s business value and performance.
Culture is what bonds people together (or doesn’t) – and it usually determines how effectively you pursue strategy. Whether your organization or team will be remote, blended or back in the office, one of your 2021 priorities should be ensuring your culture is positioning you to take advantage of opportunities.
Just Words on a Page?
Culture is a Reflection
Build, Maintain and Adapt Intentionally
Start with your North Star and strategy: Purpose and strategic clarity need to be defined and communicated regularly. They provide the context and direction for the culture choices the company makes.
Align it with the company’s brand: Your brand is how your company is perceived and experienced by the customer and other stakeholders. David Matting, Head of Trends and Insights for TrendWatching notes “There’s really no such thing as internal culture anymore. Your culture is always public, and it’s your most powerful, public-facing asset or liability.” It’s difficult to tell the market you are, for example, positioned around an outstanding customer experience when your business doesn’t support an outstanding employee experience.
Define the behaviors that epitomize values. Values are often stated as words or phrases like ‘act with integrity’ or ‘delight the customer’. What does that look like? Define the behaviors that epitomize those values. By watching how people behave, what they say and what decisions and trade-offs are made, any leader or employee should be able to say what your culture is.
Connect roles and work to purpose. What does a salesperson, developer, machine operator or the CEO do (and not do) that represents the best in your culture? Go beyond traditional job descriptions and define how that role connects to the purpose and culture. Hire for those attributes; expect them, celebrate them and reward them.
Actively and regularly assess. Whether through surveys, focus groups or an assessment by an external consultant, regularly take a step back and assess how well people in your organization understand the cultural goals.
According to Gallup, Only 41% of employees strongly
agree that they know what their company stands for
Leaders also should be asking how well their teams reflect the stated culture. It’s easy for employees and leaders alike to become unmoored from cultural goals. An honest look will continue to position your culture as a competitive advantage, including when it comes to attracting talent.
Adapt in real time. Change can’t wait. When the culture no longer represents who the organization or team should be, adapt it to meet changing needs.
In these first few weeks of 2021 one thing is abundantly clear – change, disruption and challenge are going to be with us for the foreseeable future. It’s time to move beyond survival mode and figure out how to thrive. Simplicity and focus are key. The organizations and teams that create sustained alignment, keep engagement high and outperform their competition will start 2021 answering two questions:
What is our North Star?
How will we create and maintain strategic clarity?
Without a clear purpose and understanding of what continues to be important in a rapidly changing environment, work becomes fractured, misaligned and frustrating. Recently, McKinsey examined how 30 top companies are preparing for the future. 83% are taking bold moves around their purpose, their North Star. Research by LSA Global shows that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. Research also tells us that finding meaning – having purpose, a North Star – is a universal intrinsic motivator.
Answering “What Is Our North Star?” Provides Clear Purpose
Strategic Clarity Provides the Map
Strategic clarity follows from strategic simplicity. Donald Sull, a global authority on strategy execution, recommends three questions that create simplicity and actionable clarity out of complex strategies.
- What are your critical business drivers?
- What are the 3-5 challenges we need to overcome to succeed in 2021?
- What are our must-win battles?
- How will we keep ahead of or quickly be responsive to changes that occur?
Answering the first three questions brings clarity to targets and daily choices. Why did we choose these targets and those activities? For example, why is our target 3 % growth instead of 5% growth? Why are we focused on digital transformation? Sure, it’s to stay competitive; but specifically, HOW will it help your organization? What business strategies will it support? Can everyone in the organization explain strategy and how it manifests in their function, and in their role? If not, some of your people may be rowing in the wrong direction.
During my conversations with a number of leaders over the past couple of weeks, it’s been interesting to hear about some of the positive impacts the new way of working is having on them and their teams. They are simple but powerful examples of how leaders and their teams are responding to challenges. Here are a few:
- A much deeper connection with each other. Leaders and members of their teams are starting conversations by asking, very genuinely, ‘how are you?’ It’s no longer a throw away greeting we use with each other. Communication is more frequent and it’s not just about the work. Leaders are finding and sharing the innovative ways in which they are creating connection with their team. One shared that he interviews a member of his team each week and shares their bio with the entire team on Fridays. He said he talks to some of these people all the time and now knows them on a completely different level. Teams are building in other ways to have fun and strengthen connections and trust – trivia Tuesday, times to share something silly they did as a child, and so many more.
- Intentional communication. Leaders are having short stand-up meetings at the start or end of every day to talk about what’s going on, issues that have arisen and what is on the horizon. These meetings are helping teams become more united because they are continually discussing common purpose and creating greater awareness of what each other are accomplishing, struggling with, and how they can support one another. Several leaders have shared with me the frequent check-ins they have with their teams. They are asking people if they are getting what they need, what else they can do and how they can improve the way they are working together. They are hearing that their teams are communicating more frequently and effectively than they ever have. One leader uses a survey to check-in. His team gave the current way they are working a 4.9 out of 5.0 and said they need to talk about how they continue communicating and collaborating this way once they are co-located again.
- Greater agility. Working remotely when other members of your household who are doing the same or your children are home from school or daycare, creates distractions. Learning to use meeting tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams is new to some people and sometimes the technology is overloaded, so you can’t work as planned. Leaders and teams are being more agile in how they’re approaching the work — readily sharing best practices, calibrating expectations, creating alternate approaches in the moment, laughing when someone’s cat walks across the keyboard, or understanding when you have to step away from a meeting for a few minutes because the 3 year-old needs something.
Even with all the positives, we are all still adapting. One area where people are struggling is how to make sure work doesn’t take over their lives (or at least anymore than it had prior to the pandemic). Most leaders have told me that it’s difficult for them and their teams to turn work off. It’s easy to lose track of time – you aren’t catching a train, getting in your car, or seeing that everyone else has left the office. It’s just you and your laptop. You can just keep working or go back to it after dinner or before breakfast.
One solution to this challenge is to create a visual signal – for yourself and others you work with – that you’ve ended your work day. It could be a simple “I’m signing off now” text. One leader I know has a brief team call right around 5:00 or so which has become the signal that they are done for the day. Physically putting your laptop away, shutting off the desktop, or closing the ‘home office’ door are other signals you could use.
No one is glad the coronavirus has changed our world. But we must and we are finding ways to rise to the challenge. The real silver lining is that the pandemic has forced us to become more agile in ways that will pay dividends long after things return to “normal.”
When I’m facilitating leadership development workshops or coaching executives, I often find that participants – who are often very high performing individuals — really struggle with how to handle emotions that arise during important conversations. I’m not even talking about those really difficult situations where someone has an angry outburst or is crying in their office. I’m talking about the conversations that happen every day. It may be those times when a new mandate comes down from corporate that causes disruption and frustration. It can be when the individual has made a mistake. It’s when deadlines are tight, and tension and stress run high.
For many of these leaders, the natural reaction is to jump in and act, to focus on tasks, figuring out what needs to be done move things forward or fix the situation. The problem with this approach is that the emotions get in the way. Until someone feels their emotions are recognized and addressed, it’s challenging to just push through or get on with it.
We need to start those conversations with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the other person’s experience, perspectives and feelings. These five tips can help you become more comfortable with and skilled at putting feelings first:
Check in on yourself. How do you feel about engaging with you team members about their emotions related to work situations? Are you aware of what you naturally do when presented with others’ emotions? Do you go right to task? Do you just try to avoid the conversation until the emotions go away? Are you naturally empathic? The starting point for increasing your empathy is to start with understanding yourself.
Increase your social awareness. How good are you at picking up on how people are feeling? It comes naturally to some people and is difficult for others. One way to do this is be present in the conversation with the person. Don’t be thinking about the meeting you just had or what is on your to-do list. Do a gut check with yourself. Are you completely focused on this individual and this conversation right now? This can take practice. If this is a development area for you, keep practicing.
Recognize the emotions the person is feeling. Call out what the individual is experiencing. Say something like “that sounds really frustrating” or “these deadlines are stressful. I’m not surprised that you feel overwhelmed.” Many times, people feel like their emotions aren’t recognized enough, especially at work. Speaking to the emotions will help the person feel those emotions are important.
If you don’t know how they’re feeling, ask. Rather than shying away from emotions, ask about them. A simple question like “how are you doing with the change that was just announced?”
Recognize when someone feels really good about something that you may need to say no to. To this point, my tips have focused on negative emotions. Sometimes people come to us with really positive emotions connected with something that can’t move forward. Rather than simply telling them it can’t be done and why it can’t be done, recognize the positive they see in it. Saying something like “I can see why you would be really excited about that idea. Unfortunately, we can’t move forward with that for two reasons.” This recognition of how they feel will keep the individual from feeling embarrassed or unrecognized by having an idea turned down. Also, remember: do NOT use the word “but” after you recognize it. The word ‘but’ is interpreted as nullifying everything said before it.
By recognizing emotions that impact how people are feeling about their work, their team and the work environment, you can then more effectively move to the task at hand.
When is the last time that you felt like things were comfortably status quo? Changing business strategies, morphing project parameters, and turnover that leaves you short-staffed are more the rule than the exception these days. So how do you ensure your team stays focused in an environment of ever-changing priorities? Clear communication with your team and proactive change leadership are key to keeping your teams engaged and on track. Here are three strategies you should employ on a regular basis.
Strategy 1: Talk About Priorities Regularly
Setting priorities doesn’t come naturally to everyone. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be learned relatively easily. Start by making it a part of your ongoing conversations with your teams. Yes, work with them regularly, in a structured way, to help them establish and revise priorities. For more on that, Derek Lidow outlines “A Better Way To Set Strategic Priorities” in this Harvard Business Review article. But it’s also important to engage the leaders who report to you in general, ongoing conversations about their priorities. It helps them become more fluent in the language of managing priorities and it conveys the importance you place on that fluency. And it helps you to gauge how closely their priorities are in step with yours and the organization, and where their prioritization skills need to be improved.
A lot of leaders struggle with how to engage in everyday conversations with their direct reports about priorities. Here are some questions to start the conversation:
- How do you differentiate between what’s urgent and what’s important?
- Of all the things on your team’s plate, what adds the most value to the organization?
- Are you familiar with the idea that “perfect is the enemy of progress?”
Strategy 2: Get Ahead of Changes in the Workplace
When teams get hit with unanticipated changes, it can feel like “here we go again… another fire-drill.” Well, preventing fires is a lot more effective than putting them out, especially when they seem to crop up on regular basis. Not only is it a more efficient approach, but it keeps the level of frustration down when people don’t feel blindsided.
As soon as you anticipate changes that will affect your part of the organization, reach out to your direct reports (or your leadership team?). Apprise them of what you know and ask them questions. You want them thinking about this… really engaging in the challenges ahead. The earlier they’re involved, the better their responses will be. And they’re also likely to provide food for thought that will help you manage the change upward.
Consider these conversation starters to help make the inevitable transition happen more smoothly:
- What obstacles do you anticipate with the upcoming change?
- What knowledge and skills do you think will need to be shored up to make this change work?
- Which of your team’s current priorities can take a backseat while we’re transitioning?
Strategy 3: Teach Your Team to Shift Gears On Their Own
Ideally, you want your teams to be able to shift their priorities effectively with only the lightest of steering on your part. That leaves you more time to focus on strategic issues. The challenge? Too many managers have been taught by their organization and past bosses to take direction on prioritization.
If you’ve been leveraging the first two techniques, this third one will be easier. Some things to keep in mind:
- First, make sure they’re well-acquainted with your organization’s business strategy and goals. They provide a framework for them to understand what their priorities should be.
- Second, in the simplest terms, what are your highest-level priorities? “Client problem resolution will always be my number one concern.”
- Third, what are your expectations on the latitude they have for changing priorities and how to communicate with you about them?
If you want them to better manage their own priorities, never, ever tell your direct reports what you want right away. Encourage them to present you with their ideas first. Probe for why they’re thinking the way they do. Test their assumptions. Here are some effective conversation starters for setting parameters and promoting self-reliance:
- Let’s talk about our organization’s goals and how they should be reflected in our department’s priorities. How do you see them aligning?
- If you were in my shoes, what would be your biggest priority? Why? How will you reflect that in your priorities over the next quarter?
- On a regular basis, you’re more than capable of managing your team’s priorities. Here’s what I want you to do any time you’re on track to miss your monthly goals…
Once upon a time, managing priorities was a standard, quarterly process. Now shifts happen too often and too quickly for such a static approach. In my Harvard Business Review online article 5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change I talk about how critical it is for every leader to integrate change leadership into the very fabric of who they are and what they do on a daily basis. An essential part of that is guiding your team leaders’ ability to re-prioritize.
A question many of us think about on a regular basis is ‘what do I need to do to continue to be successful?” The definition of success itself is very personal. If you’ve been successful up until now, it could be easy to assume that what made you successful in the past will work in the future. In reality, it’s uncertain what will make us successful in workplaces, markets, careers, and industries that are changing so rapidly.
Change has a way of doing that – creating uncertainty. What do we seek when we feel uncertain? A return to a comfortable degree of certainty again. Certainty helps us feel in control. News flash: at work, we’ll never have 100% certainty. That said, maybe rather than searching for certainty, we should ensure our relevancy.
There is a prescient article in the Wall Street Journal titled “I’m Still Under Construction; Six Tales of Lifelong Learning.” It profiles six very different individuals who are living the idea of life-long learning. It demonstrates that learning can happen in a wide variety of ways and that it pays off in big ways. If you read the article, you’ll see that learning didn’t create more certainty, but it gave them more opportunity and relevancy.
There are some predictions that 30% of today’s skills and knowledge will be obsolete in a few years. Overstated or not, this statistic represents the reality that we need to be thinking about how we are continually preparing ourselves for what’s next. Second news flash: learning isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.
Where is your journey going?
NextBridge partners with you to create and execute pragmatic, sustainable business solutions focused on building your organization and culture, developing talent and navigating change.
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