Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Being happy at work

A recent e-mail from a client ended, “I often asked myself, why can I not be satisfied with what I have achieved, or just see my job as a means to earn my living.” My immediate thought was, “because you wouldn’t be you, and you wouldn’t have achieved the success you have.” The client is a senior manager who has built up a very successful business unit within a large organisation.

Keeping that famous life / work balance is tricky and sometimes the balance comes from two equally unbalanced phases - working flat out - and then taking a complete sabbatical. The headmaster at King Edward V11 school recently did that. He has been head for eight years so took an entire term off to travel through the Kruger and other game parks. Sound inviting?

Although driven people sometimes do question themselves, they for the most part thrive on being driven - on the achievements and on creating something just a little better than last time – it makes them happy. And being driven is not stressful if it fits your personality - a laid back life would quickly become boring for them.

I am reading a book called “Happiness at Work. Maximising your psychological capital for success” by Jessica Pryce-Jones. For years I have ‘preached’ that we can create productive, effective businesses with happy, engaged, fulfilled people working in them. What is great about Jessica’s work is that she and her team have conducted really robust research that proves that people who are happy at work are more productive.

The happiest employees focus on their work 78% of the day compared to the unhappiest who focus on what they need to do for only 53% of the time. That means the happiest people put about 60 extra days of work effort into their year.

A very big, proven key to productivity at work is happiness!

She also states, if you are happy at work you get promoted faster, get more support. generate better & more creative ideas, achieve your goals faster, receive superior reviews, are healthier, and many more ...

The book explores many factors that determine how happy we are at work. I maintain that all leader-managers should be managing in such a way as to make it easier for people to enjoy their day at work (and get the job done!). However the book really focuses on what each of us as individuals can do so as to increase our own happiness at work. My work with past clients didn’t use the same structure as Jessica uses but I have seen many people who were so unhappy that they came to me to explore changing jobs and yet ended up finding themselves becoming happier and deciding to stay where they were!

As an individual are you happy in your work? And if not consider changing that. Life is too short to waste it being unhappy.
If you are a leader-manager do you know how to manage so that your team are productive and creative, and happy?

Sunday, 24 June 2012


A bit of recent good news made me think how easily the outcome could have been different.
A little over a year ago, a young 16 year old enthusiastically participated in pre season rugby training hoping to make the First team. But he wasn’t selected for the squad. This squad would later become the first and second teams for the season.

He was disappointed, but after a couple of days he asked the coach if he could please continue to train with the squad for the experience alone.

When the season began he was placed in the 3rd team. After a few games a player in the Seconds was unfortunately injured. Our young player got an opportunity to take his place for the rest of the season.

This year he did make the cut for the first squad and was selected for the Firsts.

And just last week, the now 17 year old, was announced as Vice Captain for the Golden Lions Craven Week team (provincial school age rugby).

I wonder if he’d have got this far if he hadn’t pushed for the extra training a year before?

And one more quick story.

A second year dance student had her heart set on performing at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival last year. However she wasn’t cast in any of the three pieces. All those not in the cast were told they could still attend rehearsals if they wished, and a few chose to do so.

Our young dancer worked at all the dances, hoping to be an understudy. When the final touring cast, including understudies, was announced she wasn’t in it.

However she continued to attend rehearsals. A couple of weeks before the Festival one of the cast members pulled out and the young dancer was asked to take her place.

In the new Dance Season, which followed the tour, she got to perform not only the touring pieces but all the new ones as well.

How different would the year have been if she had given up after the first setback?

Most of us have experienced obstacles on the way to a goal. When that happens do you only see one blocked path? Do you give up?

Sometimes we need to be like the young people in the stories above - creative, flexible, give a bit more of ourselves without a guarantee of reward. And perhaps we can still reach that goal, all be it along a different path.

Pushing back

“Why isn’t the work we agreed on finished?” “Bess from dept A asked me to extract some data for her and Jim from Dept B needed graphs prepared”. Does this happen to you or to people you work or live with?

In 2002 I was managing a team at SARS. I found that because my staff had a reputation for being able to provide answers and deliver, they were constantly interrupted with requests. With the result that they had to work overtime to keep up with their own work, sometimes fell behind and were feeling stressed. I called a meeting and we discussed what was happening. They were all helpful people who felt guilty to say No to anyone who asked them nicely.

So we set some new rules (or boundaries). I would let the departments we supported know that we would be planning our week’s work on Monday mornings. Anything they required from us was to be communicated to me by the previous Friday (or very early on Monday morning). Anything not so requested would stand over for scheduling the following week.

My team agreed that they were answerable to our schedule before anyone else’s. If someone asked them for something during the week they learnt to say “No” in a nice way such as “I’d love to help you once I have finished all of this week’s work” or “If you give the request to Alison I am sure she will schedule it for you.”

Naturally there were emergencies and we did make adjustments to accommodate the legitimate ones, but for the most part after a few weeks everyone pretty much cooperated with us.

The result was a happier, fulfilled, engaged team delivering on time and getting through even more work than they’d ever done previously.

All of us have a need for boundaries in some aspect of our life. Without them our values, needs and priorities get subjugated by those of everyone else. We lose sight of what is important, suffer health problems, miss important events with loved ones. Some of us do too much for others. We think we are helping but we are denying them the opportunity to be strong.

Think about how you could modify what we did at SARS to help you in your own circumstances.