How to Beat the Blahs at Work

Our Ask the Coach series shares perspectives from experienced executive and team coaches. This week we’re sharing leadership smarts from organizational psychologist and executive coach Dr. Karlyn Borysenko. Read more from her over at Forbes.

RB: Spring is a time of new beginnings for a lot of people. What’s your most effective spring-cleaning-type workplace task?

KB: Spring cleaning, for me, has less to do with tidying up your office than it does tidying up your work experience. It’s easy to get into a rut at work, which leaves you with a feeling of “blah” all day long. But once you have the blahs at work, the only person who can fix it is you! So, think about the type of experience you want at work, and what changes you need to make to bring you closer to that reality. That might involve building new habits or doing things differently than you’ve done them in the past. This can be a bit painful, but it’s worth it if you’re more energized and excited about what you’re coming to every day.

And this doesn’t just work with individuals. Those teams who’ve taken our Resilient Teams assessment are working through the same questions but on a group level. They’re thinking about what their experience is now, where they’re strong, and where they can improve. Then, they are coming up with a plan and taking committed action to get them there!

RB: The job market is booming, but there are a lot of reports that people are unhappier than ever at work. What’s your advice for leaders/managers who want to help their people avoid the blahs at work and feel fulfilled?

KB: People need to be able to be a part of a solution to a problem. There is a tendency among leaders to try to fix all the problems on their own, rather than getting the team involved. Perhaps they see it as a sign of weakness if they need help or don’t have the answer. However, displaying that vulnerability is part of what makes for a successful team. If people are not given an outlet to be a part of creating a better work experience, their only outlet to deal with it is to vent about the experience. Making them a part of the solution allows everyone to be accountable to creating a positive environment that will help the entire team.

RB: That idea of team ownership really resonates. What are some relatively easy ways people at work can help create those positive environments that help carry their teams and teammates forward?

KB: This might sound too simple, but taking the time to talk and truly listen to the perspectives that other people have really makes a difference because it gives people the sense that their actions matter. This is critical – if people don’t think that what they say or do matters, they are going to be very disengaged. They won’t be a part of creating a successful environment. The story they are telling themselves is that no one listens to me when I speak up, and things are never going to change, so why bother? They’ve learned over time that being proactively engaged won’t be rewarded.

So, you have to change the story and the experience. The easiest way to get started is to offer them a chance to feel heard and respected as an individual. If more people took the time to listen to their colleagues, it would be a game-changing experience for all involved. And we’d see less of the blahs at work.

RB: What’s a common issue you see among today’s professionals that holds them back from achieving their full potential?

KB: The most common thing I see is that people see themselves as victims of their circumstances. If they don’t work in the ideal context, they blame the context for the struggles rather than looking to the opportunities they have to work within it. Empowerment starts with the individual. If you don’t give yourself permission to be the solution then nothing your boss says or does will be enough.

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