Enjoying Work Once More…

How many of your people, after months of lockdown and ‘work from home’ edicts, will say…

“I just want to enjoy work again. I want to feel like myself.”

The reality is that many employees will be feeling this way because let’s not forget that physically going to work energised people and the last seventeen months or so have de-energised because a lot of the days have ‘melded’ into each other – ‘same old’ – every day.

Across different locations, industries, and roles, driven professionals who have always loved their vocations tell us that they just want to enjoy work again. Research has shown that enjoyment is an emotional response and outlook that’s vital to our well-being, cognitive functioning, and our performance at work.

To bring this positivity back into your life and the life of your people, it helps to understand why it has disappeared. The obvious answer is “the pandemic,” but it’s worth taking a closer look at what specifically is amiss. We feel there are four root causes of this current malaise:

  1. We’re all burned out from almost a year and a half of sustained stress and sadness. Even in organisations that have fared well through the pandemic, necessary changes meant pressure increases. We’ve faced continual uncertainty and hunkered down in survival mode in response. Though we’ve all experienced the pandemic differently, we all have been affected by losses and grief.
  2. Many of us have also struggled with feeling inauthentic at times throughout these months as we’ve needed to show up like ‘we’re okay’ even when we’re not. This has been especially true for leaders, who have ‘bucked themselves up’ knowing that their people depend on them. A sustained disconnect between our inner self and the behaviours we exhibit to other people can diminish our psychological well-being.
  3. We also haven’t always been able to play to our strengths: We’ve had the pressure of just doing what needs to be done and getting on with it as efficiently and practically as possible. This has disconnected us from the enjoyment we have naturally found in our vocations.
  4. Finally, research indicates that perceived social isolation may contribute to poorer cognitive performance and executive functioning, including reduced cognitive flexibility and ability to deal with novelty. This can increase negativity, making people feel bad about their reduced performance and ability. This kicks off a negative spiral that may rob them of the enjoyment they once felt upon doing the same work.

The reality is that the pandemic and its dreadful effects are dragging on, and it may seem that enjoyment isn’t possible when we’re experiencing pain or being challenged — so why bother pursuing it now? But the strange thing about enjoyment is that it doesn’t require the absence of suffering.In fact, it may even be a route through which fulfilment arrives, as we note what is meaningful in difficult times.

What to do to get our enjoyment back? It’s not about striving for perfection. Instead, the research and some of our experience shows us that it comes from taking advantage of our strengths, being courageous, authentic, grateful and connected. Here are four ways we recommend to bring enjoyment back at work for you and your people.

Some positive psychology scholars post that our strengths can be catalysts to cultivating joy. These strengths are people’s natural energisers and building them into a working day can give people a big boost.

The first step is to identify what these are for you, or as a manager, ask them of your people. What energises one person is different from what energises another. They need to ask themselves: “When are the times recently that I have felt energised at work? In these situations, what was I doing?

Once people are clear about their strengths, they should consider ways to build them into their day. For example, they might be motivated by coming up with new ideas. So how could you or they create more opportunities for this? They may feel energised when they are able to get head down into the detail and knock some important projects off their list. How can they carve out time in their schedule when they won’t be interrupted? Even half an hour of playing to their strengths can make a difference for the whole rest of the day.

After a season of giving so much of themselves to defending their business and supporting others, it’s likely that an individual’s own development has taken a back seat.

Enjoyment from learning results from the effort that is put in — from persistence and working through difficulties that leads to success in achieving meaningful goals.  Working hard towards important goals and courageously overcoming impediments can fulfil a need to learn in the context of a profession and refresh passion for the work.

When enjoyment is mentioned to our clients – and they are asked where do they experience this in their work, they tell us about a range of learning experiences, from short but intensive online courses to improve technical skills to being part of management development cohorts that share challenges and ideas, or three-month virtual leadership courses that require hard work on the road to achieving meaningful leadership goals. As a manager think about giving people these experiences.

Research suggests that authenticity is integral to psychological well-being. But living authentically isn’t only about understanding yourself, it also requires being in an environment where we feel able to safely share how we’re thinking and feeling. For many people, work has not been that place over the past year and a half, as we’ve been called upon many times to appear more resilient than we may really feel.

To restore some of that sense of authenticity, you should encourage your people share thoughts with someone you/ they trust to open up to at work. Reflect on what’s happened and how they have experienced the last year. Reveal what was challenging but also what they are grateful for. (Some evidence suggests that gratitude and enjoyment may mutually enforce each other.) They should share aspirations and hopes for the year ahead, noting what will help them move closer to achieving meaningful goals.

Enjoyment is not just an individual phenomenon, it’s also what psychologists call “affiliative,” which means that it has to do with strengthening our bonds with others through positive behaviours such as being kind and friendly or actively peace-making. Some psychologists even conceptualise enjoyment as our response to being in a situation that we feel will bring us closer to people who are important to us.

To combat isolation, as people come back to the office, find ways for them to engage in meaningful collaboration. Try a “walk and talk” with your people to understand what is most important for them, their big opportunities and challenges as well as your own and areas of mutual interest and value. This connection will not only bolster your own sense of energy but will also improve team results. The trust built through such a connection fosters a collaborative culture which in turn enhances team creativity.

As an example, one of our clients told us that in the past year he would engage in team tasks but still felt increasingly isolated from his co-workers. Based on our work together, he began weekly walks with different colleagues, chose to create time to help a team member each week and sought out a mentor in the firm who he now meets for monthly catch ups. Since then, he has reported feeling more energised at work overall.

These past 18 months have been challenging for most people, both personally and professionally. At times, enjoyment is understandably far from reach. As the economic, business, societal and personal consequences of the pandemic continue to unfold, simple practices like these may help you and your people to prepare for and pursue enjoyment in the season ahead — whatever it may hold.

Need some help in getting it all together for your business? – get in touch with us at ignite@tinderboxbusinessdevelopment.co.uk. or call us on 01162325231

The Tinderbox Team