There are days when I feel like I’m pulling myself along the sidewalk to work like a dog on a leash—like I’m dragging myself to the office like you would drag a dog to the vet. I think many other people may feel the same way. And then, at least once in the past—years and years ago—I remember feeling like I had so much energy walking to the office that I felt like I was floating, like my feet weren’t even touching the ground. Which employee would you prefer showing up for work? The one who reminds you of your dog going for his rabies vaccination booster shot, or the one who has so much drive she’s flying?
A recent blog in The Huffington Post, “Can You AMP Up Your Workplace?” by Michelle McQuaid, looks at how to energize your workforce. It’s not as straightforward as training an employee a new skill, such as how to use a new computer system, or even a soft skill, such as how to communicate or make better business decisions. It’s much more complex because it has to do with an employee’s mind-set and psyche, rather than his or her knowledge or competency. You can have all the knowledge and skills you need to do a job well, but if your heart isn’t in it, or you’re weighed down by some other factor, you won’t be a good employee.
One of the great burdens that weigh an employee down is anxiety. There’s anxiety about your fate, as in worrying you will be laid off in the next six months, or worry that your job is a dead-end position and you will never advance. And there’s anxiety about having a boss you need to manage, rather than having a boss who is on top of the to-dos of your department and able to mentor you. There’s anxiety that your co-workers are being paid more than you, and that you may be getting taken advantage of but are not sure what to do. And there’s anxiety that you simply don’t like the people you have to spend the most amount of time with in your life—your co-workers and boss.
I could go on for pages about the multitude of things that cause an employee anxiety, and you probably can add to the list from your own experiences. But the question is what can a company do to alleviate the anxiety and other drains on an employee’s energy?
A corporate culture that’s focused on the right things, meaning how to produce the best products and services for customers, is a good start. If your company’s leaders are focused on nothing but delivering the best products or results for customers, then there are a lot of anxiety-producing factors that fall away. For example, once you know you only care about the results of the work, rather than exactly how the work is done, employees are set free to do their work any way they choose, including from their living room sofa or propped against a tree in the park with their laptop. Or they’re free to come in at noon and stay until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. Do you care, as long as they make it on time and prepared to all meetings, regardless of the time of day, and they do their work so that your customers are happy and your company is growing? You could try a six-month, or one-year, trial of this only-results-matter modus operandi and see how your company fares. You might notice a newly energized workforce that’s focused on what they need to get done, rather than on meeting time requirements, or keeping appearances up in their cubicle or office.
Another thing that energizes is when you see you have a future at the company, and your hard work is going to result in a pay raise—or if not a pay raise, than a higher-level title and/or more exciting responsibilities. Or a chance to segue into another kind of work you enjoy more. In Training, we’ve written a lot over the years about the importance of employee development plans, and most of our Training Top 125 companies seem to do employee development plans religiously. But many companies still do not. My current company, for instance, does not. I feel like my energy and enthusiasm level would be much improved if I could see I was working toward an improved station at the company. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when you feel like you’re toiling in what feels like a long train tunnel, rather than traveling toward a destination.
Assembly line-like monotony also is de-energizing. When I was a little girl, I felt the ideal job would be as an elf in Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. I’m Jewish, but felt Santa might still hire me anyway. I didn’t think I’d mind being on an assembly line as long as I enjoyed what I was helping to create. But now, even though that still sounds like a cheerful and kind place to work, I don’t think I’d like it. Screwing on the same arm onto a doll all day or fastening the jack-in-the-boxes all day no longer appeals to me. After doing the white collar, desk version of an assembly line, in which the same tasks are repeated on the same days of the week year after year, I can see the danger of monotony. There’s a security to continually doing the same thing at the same time, but also a numbing of your brain that occurs in which you operate under a psychological anesthesia. It’s hard to get your brain to work to full capacity in that condition. It’s similar to how hard it is to smile, chew, or move your mouth after getting back from the dentist with Novocain still active in your gums. Your brain can’t move like it should because it’s been deadened by the monotony. The good news is, just as Novocain wears off, your employees’ deadened brains can be brought back to life with new tasks. There’s something to be said for lateral job rotations and cross-training if upward advancement opportunities are not available. I wouldn’t mind trying out another role at my company, and I bet many of co-workers in other departments probably feel the same.
Can you think of any other ways to energize your workforce? What do you think brings down your employees? How can you lessen their anxiety and boredom, and increase their enthusiasm?