5 Misery-Making Things At Work We Accept (But Don’t Have To)

As a recognition expert, I often find that following a keynote, or when coaching leaders, there are a few common things mentioned that annoy, frustrate and roadblock their productivity, yet they’re so commonplace they haven’t put steps in place to change them. What if in fact, you could make your own workday and others more enjoyable, satisfying and productive? Wouldn’t you try it?

You may be thinking, if the solutions were that obvious, why wouldn’t we be fixing them? As I begin to share this list, you’ll probably realize they are deeply embedded in workplace behaviour and culture – your workplace and many others! Yet, with some help and commitment to tweaking things, you may find you can take more of your time, focus and energy back, redirecting it to what you do best and enjoy most.

1. Emails

There’s some research now that’s showing that emails are becoming one of the biggest stressors that people deal with. Not being caught up, having to check it while you’re on vacation, arriving to 50 more after just one meeting (that you notice on your way to your next meeting). Ring a bell?

Some people think email is inevitable. A necessary evil. However, there are lots of things you can do to reduce email traffic. Check out systems like Slack and Click. Tools like these and others are helping work teams contain conversations around projects so that your communication stays focused, productive and updated. Say goodbye to long never-ending lists of emails in your inbox!

2. Committees and Meetings

Death by committees and meetings! Patrick Lencioni wrote a great book on this a number of years ago. Sitting in meeting after meeting, 8 am to 5 pm, it occurred to me we didn’t have to be this overscheduled. Furthermore, I began to notice how many things we discussed just to feel like everyone was included because no one read the written communications (perhaps because they were always in meetings), and as the only means to keep a project on track. Some meetings didn’t even have a structure such as an agenda! Oh, the pain!

When a new CEO came in and he said, “What is with all of these meetings?” I, perhaps unpopularly said, “Why don’t we put a hiatus on all meetings that are not absolutely required? Only support meetings that are legislated and mandated, but every other meeting is on hold for three months. Let people get their time back. And that after three months, people need to pitch to bring back the meeting.” He agreed. Initially, people said, “Oh my gosh, we can’t do without these meetings!” But it is incredible how focused, productive, and collaborative people were able to be when their calendar was not blocked during their most alert hours. You can probably imagine, many fewer meetings came back. Could you try a meeting holiday, even meeting free Fridays?

3. Task Delegation

When support departments delegate tasks to busy middle managers who are already overwhelmed to do work that is very specialized, not only will they feel anxious that they can’t do it as well as a trained professional, but also, they don’t have time to do it. Consider your processes and determine if there’s something that we’re asking people to do that isn’t really reasonable and, frankly, is causing them undue stress.

Also, consider what tasks people are doing that aren’t necessary. Plan your next group meeting with Doodle or purchase a scheduling software system like Calendly or TimeTrade. You are too busy and it’s painful to go back and forth setting up meetings (it just compounds problems 1 and 2 we discussed above). Let technology do the work for you.

4. Corner of the desk phenomenon

When we add projects, we may have great reasons why we want somebody to do it, and yet, they cannot get it done because they already have a full-time job. How much do you ask people to do without having a conversation about what’s coming off their plate? Why don’t you initiate that conversation?

5. Annual recognition only

Failure to recognize people in a meaningful way on a regular basis leaves people to feel less motivated, energized or clear if what they’re contributing is making a difference. Leaving it to annual (or worse, only at 5, 10 or 25-year marks) is even worse than infrequent recognition!

I can’t tell you how many people have still had large amounts of email in their inbox, sat on many committees, and still have tasks that haven’t made it off their plate yet. However, when somebody takes the time to acknowledge and appreciate how hard they’re working, the strengths and the skills that they’re bringing to the organization, how they know that there has been an extra push lately and that it is valued and appreciated, when it’s specifically, authentically, meaningfully acknowledged, people are willing and able to work for you; that much harder, that much more focused, that much more productively. You won’t get your best from people if you only make a big deal of them once they’ve been with the company for 25 years (and believe it or not, the main investment Canadian organizations make in recognition is this!)

If you find that people are not performing at their best, and that includes you, perhaps burnout has set in from the very things we can change in organizations. Isn’t it worth trying to shift? Wouldn’t a small improvement make a huge impact when you consider your whole workforce?

There are many easy things you can do about each one of them, which is why I invite you to spend 15 minutes chatting over a virtual cup of coffee to strategize how I can help you.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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