Enjoying the long weekend? Feeling burnt out or seeking work life balance? Better read this first.

For many, the Easter long weekend is a long-awaited respite from feeling burnt out due to the pressures of work. Many people find work life balance challenging, so long weekends are a chance to down tools, draw breath and to recharge batteries. But there’s an elephant in the boardroom. The notion that holidays are needed to ‘recharge our batteries’ suggests we are spending most of our time slowly burning out. It paints a picture where we start the year in January, with a full tank, then slowly bleed our reserves throughout the year hoping to make it across the finishing line in December.

This unhappy description is the reality for many people. And as workforces recover from the disruptions of COVID, more people are voicing their reluctance to return to previous work practices. Faced with the prospect of returning to normal routines, with long commutes, office politics, deadlines and personality clashes many employees are re-evaluating their priorities; this is the so-called great resignation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In the last two decades the idea of creating more positive workplaces has been the subject of serious scholarship. More than just a ‘fashionable idea’, pragmatic ways of improving organisational culture and building positive teams have been researched, with a few interventions filtering through to the real world of organisations and workplaces.

Here are three examples

  • Firstly, most workers naturally make small deviations from their written job descriptions. Interestingly, studies show when people do this, for example, spending more time performing tasks they find more interesting or rewarding, they report higher levels of engagement and are more likely to describe their job as a calling. Smart managers understand this and encourage degrees of such ‘job-crafting’ as a genuine win-win. Encouraging this kind of role flexibility costs little, and usually translates into increased productivity. It also deepens the capability of the team, given people differ in what they consider to be their favourite tasks, allowing the overall repertoire of the team’s specialist skills to increase.
  • Secondly, when employees are encouraged to focus on their strengths, rather than fixing their weaknesses, they achieve more productivity, better physical and mental health, and are more likely to rate their manager as supportive and trustworthy. This may seem counterintuitive to ‘old school’ managers who assume they are supposed to stamp out employee faults. However, the benefits of ‘strengths-coaching’ is one of the most consistent findings in positive psychology research, with the benefits to staff wellbeing and team productivity well demonstrated.

Smart managers understand this and spend less time focussing on ‘areas for improvement’ and more time coaching employees to identify and use their strengths in their current work. There are formal strengths assessment tools available to assist this process. But even without formal tools, managers can easily start a conversation with employees about what they bring to the team, and how they can make more use of their favourite strengths and talents.

  • Thirdly, when employees are presented with concrete examples of how their efforts impact the lives of customers or stakeholders, their motivation soars. Motivation is the holy grail of leadership, and yet there is little agreement on how to achieve it. However, studies have found lasting increases in both motivation and engagement when employees are shown real-life examples of how their work makes a difference in the lives of others. This phenomenon has been observed when staff meet face-to-face with an individual who has benefited from what the team does, or when simply reading written case examples describing how the team’s work had impacted others. It seems human beings are hardwired to feel good when we see our efforts benefit real people. Smart managers understand this and find ways to showcase examples of satisfied customers. This can be done with staff newsletters, group emails, compliments registers etc.

Positive workplaces don’t have to be difficult. And given how much of our lives are spent at work, positive team building is worth the effort. Then, perhaps holidays can be for enjoying, not just recharging.

Brad Desmond has recently authored ‘The Matilda Principle; Covert strategies for building positive teams in difficult environments.