I wonder, does it? Does achieving goals make us happy?
I wrote last time about new year’s resolutions and how I have an appalling success rate with them, but still somehow love setting them. I delude myself that this time will be different. Although to be fair, I am making progress 😊. In this post I explore some of the reasons why I think it's problematic, and how to make a change for the better.
Resolutions or goals?
Instead of resolutions, maybe we could describe them as goals. So, if we think new year’s resolutions don’t work, if we fall foul of Quitter’s Day, should we just set goals when we need to, when things we want to achieve come up?
Well, I have another confession. I struggle with the standard advice on goal setting too. It’s either, ‘set SMART goals and monitor your progress towards them’, or ‘set big fat hairy audacious massive goals’. Then visualise yourself achieving them. Feel, what will it mean to achieve your goals? What will you see, what will you hear, what will you feel?’ As a serial procrastinator, I can spend ages setting goals, working out plans, and not getting on with them.
I’m certain this works for many people. But I sit there unable to really create that strong feeling of success, achievement of those goals. Maybe I have no imagination? Maybe I don’t want it enough to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals? I dunno, neither of those explanations feel right to me, and they also don’t serve me. I’ve concluded that these ideas are too airy fairy for me, they’re not practical or tangible enough to motivate me. Focusing on these explanations is also demotivating in itself, it feeds into the false belief that I’m inadequate, or don’t deserve to succeed with my goals. So I’ve ditched them as explanations.
I’m also motivated by deadlines, I’m very much a last minute person. Some may say that’s a bad sign, the sign of a procrastinator. Well, yes, there’s certainly some truth in that. But in his book Start Now, Get Perfect Later, Rob Moore introduces the idea of complex planning. Back in prehistoric times, it paid to stop and consider whether taking on that mammoth was a good idea before acting. Scientists have pointed out that without such complex planning, the human species would not have survived beyond prehistoric times. Such complex planning is therefore a useful tactic.
It was a standing joke between me and some friends for a while; we weren’t procrastinating, we were doing some complex planning. But joking apart, if we have a mammoth task in front of us, or a big decision to make, sometimes that thinking time is a crucial part of the process. As a mature student a few years back, I usually completed essays at 3.30 am the day before it was due in. My closest call was standing in line as the 12 noon deadline approached, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t shut the doors before I handed my work in. But I usually started the reading as soon as I knew the assignment. It was just the writing up I left till the last minute. All that reading time – now I know that was complex planning.
Conversely, I remember once at work that a manager asked me to do a task involving Excel spreadsheets at the last minute – as task she was supposed to have done, but had also left till the last minute. Because I didn’t have the complex planning time, I really struggled with getting this done on time, and felt majorly stressed about it. I can’t deny that writing undergraduate assignments at 3.30 am was stressful too, but somehow it didn’t seem as bad as that spreadsheet task. I believe this was because I knew I had it under control, knew that I’d get it done to a good enough standard, when I’d had all the thinking and reading time. I had no such belief when the whole thing had been dropped on me at the last minute.
Getting my degree though, that was a goal. I really wanted to achieve this. I don’t think I visualised what it would mean to me to get it. Maybe I believed that it would improve my career prospects, but that wasn’t the reason I wanted to do it. I just wanted to study for its own sake. I wanted to go to university. Open University study didn’t motivate me in the same way, I wanted the full undergraduate experience. A few years before, I had a job near the university campus, and would watch with envy when the students were flooding in to their classes while I was going to work. When I finally decided to apply and the university told me I’d have to do an access course first, I just ignored that advice and applied anyway, I wasn’t willing to waste any more time. And got in. I may have fantasised a little about swanning about in the cap and gown for the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t really go in for visualising success.
So I was frustrated with myself for such a long time about not being able to visualise success, and not making good progress towards my goals. I thought it was my fault. Maybe I didn’t deserve to achieve success, maybe I didn’t want it enough, maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Achieving success - what then?
The other side of this emphasis on goals is, what happens when you achieve them? Does getting that graduate job make us happy? Does getting that promotion? A new car? The house we want for our family? Maybe. But often, only until the novelty wears off, and then we start asking ourselves what next? I saw an interview with Tyson Fury, the boxer, where he talked about his mental health. I’m not a fan of boxing, and my only prior experience of Tyson Fury was when he checked into a hotel in front of me and my husband. I didn’t recognise him, but my husband did. I had not heard good things about him, but this interview was in the middle of Russell Howard’s show on Sky, which is the only reason I caught it. I was totally surprised by Fury; he was not at all what I expected. But for the purposes of this post, the interesting thing is that he said once he’d achieved his goal of winning the world heavyweight titles, he crashed. He said he’d always been anxious, depressed, but while he had a goal of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, put it to the back of his mind. Any traumas, losses, he didn’t have time to think about, he was too focused on achieving his goals.
He said his dad asked what was he going to do when he became champion? Fury said he could feel it coming, he’d probably be down for a couple of years. All his eggs were in one basket, to win this fight. He knew that after, he wasn’t going to have a goal any more. With nothing more to strive for, it all came crashing down. Fury felt he had nothing to live for and wanted to die.
Although I’ve never been suicidal, I do recognise that feeling of a crash when the goal is achieved. When I got my degree, when my three years at university were over, I remember being depressed too. I’d identified so strongly with being a student, and now I needed to get back into the world of work, what should I do? What was my identity now?
Achieving goals is not what makes us happy
So sure, goals are important. But achieving goals is not what makes us happy. As Shawn Achor has it, happiness comes before success. It’s about the journey, not the destination. It sounds like a cliché, but clichés only become clichés because they are true. If you’re not enjoying the journey, what makes you think you’ll enjoy the destination? What counts is the mindset, the approach, the little things. As I said in my last post, achieving goals is about implementation. It’s about systems and processes. It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress. It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
You can visualise success all you like, but if you don’t take action, if you don’t do the things you need to do to reach your goal on a daily basis, then that vision in a cap and gown will never materialise. Tyson Fury would not become world heavyweight champion without his training programme, without watching his diet for months before a fight, and yes, without getting his mindset right. I would not have got my degree without doing the reading, without spending time crafting my arguments into 3000 word essays, without getting them complete and handed in before the deadline. What made me happy was spending that time reading, gaining new information, working out what it meant, putting it together. (And what’s interesting is that now I use that process to write or share videos about what I’m reading and learning these days.)
One thing that works for me now is that I use systems and processes, many learned from the 12 week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. It was a light bulb moment for me when I read about lead indicators and lag indicators. We tend to focus on lag indicators. Have we seen a weight loss on the scale? Have we succeeded in getting a new job? Have we won the world heavyweight championship? But what we need to focus on are the lead indicators. Have we followed our fitness and nutrition programme? Have we applied for enough new jobs? Have we practised our fight techniques every day?
That link between your actions every day and your goal is crucial. I’m sure it sounds obvious to those who have never had problems working towards their goals, who don’t bother with new year resolutions because they don’t need to. But for the rest of us mere mortals who set SMART goals, or even big fat hairy audacious goals, it’s less obvious; it was revelatory to me. By monitoring such lead indicators, we can give ourselves a better chance of reaching the goal. Moran and Lennington reckon about 80% success rate in implementation gives a strong likelihood of reaching the goal. But in the meantime, we also have the satisfaction of knowing that we’re working on them, focus on what we’re doing right, and making ourselves happy on the journey, not just the destination.
If you’re like me and have difficulty working towards your goals, maybe it's time for a rethink about your approach. Instead of agonising and planning and visualising to no avail, strip the process down. The goal is simple - you know if you want to lose weight, get a new job or promotion, be happy at work, have happier relationships. Focus instead on what do you need to do to get there. What is the process, and what systems do you need to put in place to ensure you follow that process? If you want to be happier at work, you need to take daily actions to make yourself happier. More about that next time, or take a look at these videos in the meantime.
Did Quitter's Day get you?
January is over. How are the new year resolutions going after one month? I've made progress on one of mine, struggled a bit with the fitness because of illness, and put one on the back burner for now, to revisit in the spring.
I’ve seen a lot of comments on social media this year from people saying that they don’t believe in making new year resolutions. They prefer to set realistic goals anytime.
Personally, I’ve always loved new year’s resolutions, even though I have an abysmal past record of keeping them. There’s something about the idea of a new start that’s appealing to me, and I’ve developed a theory about this. No scientific research to back me up, just a pet theory based on my own observations and personal experience, but hear me out on this one.
There are two types of people – those who believe in making resolutions, and those who don’t. (Actually, as I’m making this up as I go along, maybe there are three types – those who don’t are subdivided into two types.)
Those who don’t believe in making resolutions
People who prefer to set realistic goals anytime.
My pet theory about these people is that they are the ones who don’t struggle with motivation, are able to deal with setbacks and persevere with working towards their goals, have good systems in place to track their progress and adjust if things aren’t going to plan. They don’t suffer from procrastination. I spoke to one of these creatures a few years back, a guy who said he didn’t suffer from procrastination. I was envious. He gave me some advice, which was to read Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. Now, I know that people love Brian Tracy, but this turned out to be rubbish advice for me. He said it worked for him. Or rather, I think he just knew this stuff without having to read it in a book. Being the kind of person who didn’t suffer procrastination, he didn’t really understand a procrastinator’s brain. The sum of the advice I took from that book was, do the most difficult thing first, get it out of the way. What this resulted in for me was that I didn’t get anything at all done. I procrastinated. I needed to do the difficult thing, I procrastinated on that, and didn’t do anything else instead.
What that advice doesn’t take into account is that procrastination isn’t a time management problem, it’s an emotional management problem. Better advice is to do some very small, unthreatening thing first. Success breeds success. A procrastinator is more likely to feel that success by doing some small non threatening thing first, not their most difficult thing of the day. There’s lots of scientific studies that back up that this is the way our brains work, but I can’t be bothered to look them all up right now. My task for today is to write this article and I’m in flow. If I have to stop to look up sources then damn, I’ve got to make myself start again! I wrote last year about taking the first step, you can read this article here. I think I might have cited some sources in that one.
Those who do believe in making resolutions
I put myself very firmly in this group. I love the idea of a fresh start, and have set new year’s resolutions probably every year of my life. I’ve set the same (ish) three for probably around the last ten years.
I even wrote about these three aims in one of my very early posts, and considered whether it was feasible to succeed in all three at the same time. The fact of me still working on them after all this time probably gives me the answer. Unless it’s just that I was still looking at it all wrong at that point.
Another popular theory is that what motivates us is big fat hairy audacious massive goals. Whatever adjective you prefer. Or SMART goals, let’s set SMART goals.
Long experience of setting goals – aka new year’s resolutions – have taught me that it’s not about the goals. Not for me, and I suspect many other resolution setters. It’s about implementation. It’s about systems and processes. It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress. It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
Where I think we’ve been going wrong, us people who love setting resolutions, is that we want something, and we want it badly, but we don’t really know how to go about getting it. So in January (and September) we join Weight Watchers or Slimming World. We join a gym. We start looking for a new job. We wish for things, and think we’re working on them, but really, we’re not sustaining that effort long enough. Or we’re doing the wrong thing, and when that doesn’t work out, we get despondent and give up.
Strava, the fitness app, has analysed its users’ data and found that people give up on the third Friday of January. They’ve called this Quitters Day. Which just goes to show how prevalent this phenomenon is. More about this below.
Those who don’t believe in making resolutions
A sub group who have no ambition or goals at this time in their lives.
I’m making no judgements here. Maybe you’re genuinely happy with your lot. If so, fabulous. If you have more complex needs, I have empathy and sympathy, but I’m not equipped to help you. I mention this just for completeness, and I hope you're able to find the help you need.
If you’ve succumbed to Quitters Day this year, read on
But if you recognise yourself in the resolution setters, this is for you. This is about beliefs. And the things I said above – implementation, systems and processes, monitoring and reviewing progress, overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
If you’ve taken a look at my previous post, you’ll see that I talked about my weight loss progress, and how I’ve finally cracked it after a lifetime of failed diets. Well, I’ve got to confess that it hasn’t gone so well since then. I’ve had some setbacks. Since October last year, I’ve struggled with the exercise programme. A back injury , a wrist injury (neither serious, but enough to disrupt the exercise programme), Christmas, a cold, dental treatment – all got in the way of a regular gym commitment. Add in some wintry weather, and even the daily walking has suffered. This also means I overeat, so not losing weight either.
It's easy to give up in the face of a challenge. And certainly, I have, many times. As I said, a lifetime of failed diets. But now I’m still tracking and monitoring my progress. I’m persevering. I’m going to the gym as soon as I’ve finished writing this article. I’m working on getting my diet back on track, even though it’s more difficult now that I’ve already lost some weight. I haven’t given up. I haven’t put weight back on.
So what’s different? I don’t really like the word ‘mindset’ it sounds like a buzzword to me, but it’s mindset. Anyone who’s read anything about goals or personal development has probably come across the word ‘mindset’. You may well have come across Carol Dweck’s book of the same name. I’d seen this referenced so many times, and figured I got it – fixed mindset, people who think they can’t change, versus growth mindset, those who know they can and love personal growth. I believed I had a growth mindset – after all, I love reading, learning new things, personal development. It wasn’t until I actually read the book that I discovered it was more nuanced. I was horrified to realise that sometimes, in some areas of my life, I had a fixed mindset. I gave up in the face of challenges, instead of dealing with them and overcoming them. You know those people who, when told they can’t do something, respond by ‘showing them’. I usually didn’t do that. I was more likely to agree - oh yeah, I can’t manage that, get despondent and give up ☹. That’s a fixed mindset. Not always, not with everything, depended what it was. But reading the book opened my mind, and that has made the difference. You can watch my review of the book here.
And how can you use the lessons I’ve learned to help you reach your goals? This isn’t meant to be a post about weight loss, but it’s such a useful analogy I can’t help using it. If your goals are work goals, if your new year resolution was to get a new job, or get a promotion, or have better working relationships (Ok, I doubt anyone set that as a resolution, but it’s a great goal to have, right?) how are you feeling about progress one month in? Did you quit on or around Quitters Day? If you have, don’t worry, we’re into a new month. You can have another fresh start for February. If you need a bit of a boost to get you back on track, this is a great book to help you make changes.
In my next post I’m going to talk more about those goals and how useful is it to set them. In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions about how to make changes at work, feel free to contact me or leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to talk to you.
New year’s Eve, when we start thinking about what we’re going to do to be better people, starting tomorrow. Well, soon, anyway. As soon as we’ve finished up the last of the mince pies and other Christmas goodies.
Lose weight or get fit are typically up there with the most popular resolutions. But get a new job or improve my career prospects are also up there. We often start thinking about where we’re going with our careers as we think about getting back to work after the holidays.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a top ten of my favourite personal development books, focusing on work, productivity, happiness, habits and change.
3. Nine Lies
Why work life balance is a myth and we should learn to fall in love with work. Busts other common beliefs about work too.
5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
An astonishing account from a survivor of a WW2 concentration camp that has much to teach us about our response when we’re in a situation we don’t like.
6. The 12 Week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington
A practical strategy for getting things done
9. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
Compares the approach to mistakes and failure in the aviation industry with the healthcare industry. Shows us how a healthy approach to failure is better for everyone, with some things we can learn and take away as individuals
Happy new year!
Can you really learn to be happier at work? Without changing your job? Even if you have a difficult boss?
You hate Mondays....
You're enjoying life at the weekends, but then Sunday afternoon comes around, the evening approaches, and you start to think about Monday. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you can't sleep. Monday morning, you don't want to get out of bed, you start to work out if you can come up with a good excuse not to go in. But you threw a sickie only last week. Perhaps you can say the kids are sick and you’ll work from home? But you know the boss doesn’t like you working from home, so even that’s not without its stresses.
You're bored when you get there...
The work is unfulfilling, you have no control over what you do, you just have to do as you're told. The boss is a control freak and micromanages even the simplest task. She seems to constantly worry that you don’t know how to do your work properly or seems afraid that you might use some initiative and not to the job exactly how she wants. So you feel there’s no point in showing any initiative anyway.
Maybe you're overworked and stressed, and can never get on top of what you have to do. Always firefighting, dealing with the most pressing problem and never planning ahead. So you always feel like there’s things outstanding, no sense of achievement or a job completed well.
You don't like your boss or your colleagues...
Your boss doesn’t have your back, he never gives you any help, just keeps piling it on. He expects you to get through it all and doesn't care if you have to stay late. Then there's your colleagues. Always bitching and gossiping. No-one works as a team, there's no sense of a shared purpose.
How on earth can you learn to be happier in these circumstances?
Mindset. Not ‘think positive’, but mindset.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with positive thinking self help books; that skill of always putting a positive spin on things? Sometimes it’s really hard. But by making small adjustments to the way I think about myself, my skills and my situation, I’ve learned so much about mindset and how important it is. Viktor Frankl in a concentration camp experienced at first hand how much difference this makes to survival. Buckingham and Goodall in Nine Lies about Work encourage us to find the ‘red threads’ in our daily lives, and weave more of them into the fabric of our work. Zig Ziglar tells of the woman who complained about how awful her place of work was, but by getting her to focus on gratitude showed how ‘everyone else’ had changed. (It can be found on YouTube, but most have foreign captions. Search for Zig Ziglar and gratitude if you want to watch him.)
I was talking with Michael, who worked for a local authority office. He had hated the work and didn’t get on with his managers. Public expenditure cuts meant the working environment was very negative. One day, in a flash of personal insight, he decided to stop complaining about it and see what he could do to make things better. To look for solutions instead of expecting others to change. He said it took some time, but after a while he found he was enjoying his work more. He discovered a growing respect for his managers, who also started to show him more respect. His managers started to come to him for help, which led to him getting more interesting work, and they started to show him more appreciation.
It’s kind of like when two people fall out, who is going to apologise first? Do you hold on to a grudge and expect the other party to make the first move? If they’re doing exactly the same, no-one does it, and the rift grows. If you want to be shown some appreciation and respect at work, show some to your bosses and your colleagues first. If you want interesting work, demonstrate that you can be trusted to do the simple things well, without complaint, on time. Change your approach, and people will change their behaviour in response.
I’m not saying this will work 100% in every situation. There are some work situations that need more. A bullying manager. A severe micro manager. A ‘rules are rules’ approach. But even in severe situations, acceptance of the situation puts you in a stronger position to act. If you have a bullying manager you do need support, but accepting the situation and not embracing victimhood will mean that you can consider your options – go to HR, go to another manager, look for another job, leave.
In most cases though, it’s not a bullying manager, it’s more that you don’t see eye to eye, you don’t get on, you don’t respect or trust each other. Those things can all be worked on.
And the bottom line is, you can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but you can control your own. You can learn to control your responses and your emotions. If you want to know where to start, download seven things you can do today to be happier at work. These seven simple things can be implemented easily. Make a start on your new habits and new behaviour at work.
Let me know if you’ve tried any of these out, and how you get on.
Friday afternoon! Yay!
How has your #WeekofHappinessatWork been?
That makes it sound as though that’s it, no more happiness at work. Obviously, that is so not the intention of this week. We want every week to be a week of happiness at work. This may seem unattainable to some, but there are things you can do.
And in all honesty, even at the happiest of workplaces, there are bound to be days where things don’t go your way. So what then? How do you deal with that?
It’s all about resilience, dealing with your emotions, emotional intelligence.
This week started very badly for me. I started tired, got up late on Monday, and a personal disappointment that day put me in a bad mood. A very early start on Tuesday made me even more tired and my exercise regime suffered. Alright, I did none on Monday or Tuesday. Healthy eating went out of the window. And work productivity slowed right down. Just goes to show how much being tired screws things up.
But I rescued my week. Want to know how? Here’s my top five tips on how to get out of this kind of funk. Using one or more of these at work can help you to feel happier in a very short time.
On Monday I missed my walk. On Tuesday I missed the gym, although I did manage about 5k steps getting to a meeting and back. By Wednesday I was thoroughly fed up. So I made myself go to the gym. I did half an hour of weights and then some intervals on the rower. Big tick for feeling happier.
If you’re not a regular exerciser, just take a 10 – 15 minute walk, after lunch is good. In a park or green area is helpful, but even if you’re in a busy street, the movement will lift your mood.
Reading is my favourite thing when I need to recharge, but relaxation – sitting in a park if the weather is kind, meditation, get a manicure in your lunch break….
Eat your favourite healthy meal. Or sometimes, your favourite treat. Cake, chocolate, bread, cheese, whatever it is. (Not alcohol, not in the workday anyway). If you go for the healthy option, feel the virtue of this. If you go for something else, be mindful as you eat it. Don’t stuff it down. For Friends fans, like Phoebe’s psychiatrist boyfriend Roger said to Monica about the cookies, ‘Remember, they’re just food, they’re not love.’ Sit down, make an occasion of it. Enjoy every mouthful.
Take a short break from what you’re doing and have some social interaction with someone whose company you like.
Sometimes, giving yourself permission to slow down means you get more done.
By Wednesday, I‘d decided that getting to the gym was enough for that day. But if I look back over this week, I’ve
Another friend did the same – decided she was going to stop and take the afternoon off. And in doing so had a new idea for a business project, which she made a start on. Sometimes the space to slow down leaves room for other great things.
How about you? What’s your favourite thing to do to lift your mood at work when it’s not going well?
Who loves being told what to do? Not many of us, I’m willing to bet. I was talking to my daughter earlier, and she mentioned she’d been looking for new glasses with a friend. The friend said her husband has the last word on her new glasses – he would say if she could have them or not. My daughter was horrified – and said if her husband tolde her she couldn’t have them, those are the ones she’d buy, even if she didn’t like them herself. Just to make the point he couldn’t tell her what to do. (He doesn’t, just to be clear. Which is possibly one reason she was horrified that someone else’s husband would.)
It’s one thing for husbands and wives, but does your boss have the power to tell you what to do? Certainly some bosses act as though they do, and I guess if you push it, there is an expectation that they can. I remember years ago a colleague recounting a conversation with one of her team members
Jane: Are you telling me to do it?
Sue: No, I’m asking you
Jane: If I say no?
Sue: Then I’m telling you
Daniel Pink says that autonomy is one of our most important drivers, so what do you do if your boss is always telling you what to do? It's a key aspect of happiness at work.
It can feel stifling if we feel powerless at work, and certainly some work environments drain the life out of people because of this. But there is always something you can do. Job crafting means thinking about the purpose of your work, what is important to you, what you enjoy, and crafting more of those things into your work every day.
Even if you have the most micromanaging manager of all time (I’ve met one or two of them) you can take control of how you feel about your work. As Viktor Frankl said in Man's Search for Meaning,
'...the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.'
Both books are an inspiring read, and you can watch my reviews of them here.
I've written more on this subject here
What will you do to take control and gain a little autonomy for yourself? Taking even the smallest of steps will help you to feel happier at work. Let me know in the comments below what change you will make to be happier at work.
Maybe I should have written this on Monday, because I have an irresistable urge to continue..tell me why....I don't like Mondays. It's kind of relevant, because this is all about purpose at work, why do you do what you do? And what has that got to do with the #WeekofHappinessatWork?
From Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, via Daniel Pink’s Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, to Kevin Murray’s People with purpose, authors and researchers are showing us how purpose makes a difference with our motivation and productivity at work. According to Murray, your job as a leader is to give everyone in your team or organisation a greater sense of purpose. It delivers better performance and faster growth. Employees live longer, have fewer illnesses (less sickness absence) happier lives and feel fulfilled
I wrote that in February last year. The problem often is, what if your manager isn’t delivering on his job of creating a sense of purpose in the team? The solution is to take control yourself. This article in Forbes said
'People often attribute their sense of purpose to three elements: feeling connected to something bigger than themselves, knowing their work matters and, perhaps most importantly, understanding how their work affects other people—not just the organization's bottom line.'
If you’re finding it difficult to be happy at work, maybe reconnecting with why you’re doing the job you’re doing will improve your mood. Think further than ‘because I need the money.’ Take a notebook and make some notes on what it is about your work that is bigger than you. Who does your work matter to? And how does it affect other people? Whether that’s the people in your life, or the people you’re serving with your work.
I'd love to see what you discovered, let me know in the comments below.
For more thoughts on purpose you can also watch my review of How to be Happy at Work by Annie McKee here
One of the key indicators of a good workplace is whether you have friendships at work. And one thing that can foster friendships is shared activities. The simplest and most obvious one in the workplace, especially if you work a roughly 9-5 work day, is lunch. What happens at lunchtime? Do you work through and eat a sandwich at your desk? I hope not, because there are so many benefits to taking a break.
If you have a dedicated space in your workplace to get away from your desk and eat lunch, make a point of doing that for the rest of this week. If you don’t have a dedicated space, suggest to a co worker or three that you get out of the office and go somewhere for lunch. Use it as an opportunity to get to know someone a little better.
Let me know what you’re doing for lunch for the rest of this week.
If you want more ideas for how to be happy at work, start here.
Today marks the beginning of the International Week of Happiness at Work. Hmm, if you need this, I guess you’re in trouble. My view is that every week should be happy at work. But too many people don’t feel like that about it.
To mark the week, I’m going to post a new article every day looking at the issues. If you want to join the conversation, you can find me on twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, You Tube and my website.
What are your initial thoughts about a week of happiness at work? Post in the comments below, or on any of the social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook and Linked In links are below in About the Author.
Instagram is new ish, but I can be found here
If you want to make a start, get my seven things you can do today to be happier at work
This cautionary tale tells the story of Dawn, who worked for a large customer service organisation. During one of those team building awaydays, they were asked to write some anonymous feedback for someone they worked with, who they wished didn’t behave the way they did.
Dawn wrote a lengthy letter, writing what she thought of Gemma, a younger manager she worked with. Dawn thought Gemma was too abrasive, and not considerate enough of others in the team. She didn’t hold back in the letter – after all, it was anonymous.
Only, it wasn’t. The trainers pulled a sneaky trick on the delegates. They were then asked to sit opposite the person for whom they had written this no holds barred feedback and read it out to them. My desktop won’t play along and let me post an emoji for this, but it would be the shocked one. I was horrified for Dawn.
I cannot see what is to be gained from this. I’m a big advocate of feedback. It is one of the best ways of learning and improving relationships with others. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to deliver it. This was definitely the wrong way. There are three obvious problems with the approach taken here.
What's the problem?
Is there a better way?
Yes. Yes there is.
On a day to day, informal basis, make sure the only uninvited feedback you give is positive. Make sure it is to help someone feel good. Make it as specific as you can. And genuine. And work related. As often as you can, not just ‘good job on that presentation’ but ‘I can see you were really thorough in your research for that presentation, I can see how hard you worked. I especially like the point about.....because.....’
If you’re invited to give feedback (by the actual person, not by a trainer who lies about it!) then you can give honest feedback about where they could improve. There’s still a sensitive way to do this though. We’ve all heard of the sandwich technique. Sometimes known as the shit sandwich; quite possibly because it’s often uninvited feedback, and done in a clumsy fashion. ‘I’m saying something nice about you as a cover for the criticism I really want to give you, then I suppose I have to say something else nice.’ The nice things somehow don’t seem sincere.
But if you are asked to give feedback, keep to the same rules of making it specific and genuine. And yes, you do need to find actual positives to share, even when you’re also delivering a point where someone can improve. You still need to ensure they feel good about your feedback, and you can only do this by being genuine about wanting to help them. The sandwich technique comes from a good place, and if you bear this in mind, that you want the person to feel good, then you can deliver feedback that will actually help.
What I think this trainer should have done is acknowledge that the delegates may not have had the skills, or be in the right place with a working relationship, to deliver effective feedback on 'areas for improvement'. The task then, was to help them gain the skills. Or alternatively, spend some time on looking at why relationships may not be as good as they could be at that workplace. Maybe both.
And if you’re ever in a position where you’re asked to do this, here’s my advice; call the trainer out on it. Ask them what the purpose is, what is the exercise meant to achieve? If they have an answer, but you don’t think the objective will be achieved, say so. And I'll be very surprised if they do have an effective answer. Lead a mutiny and refuse to just read out a letter that you didn’t intend the other party to hear. Although, seriously, I hope team building has progressed past this kind of nonsense. To be fair, this did happen some time ago, and we’ve learned so much more about how people learn, how the brain responds to threatening situations, and how to foster good working relationships since then.
As a counterpoint, I once went to a team building away day that did something like this far more effectively. We were split into small groups, and had to do a round robin type of exercise. We had puzzles to solve, one I remember was to build something in lego. There were other types of practical tasks too. After a given amount of time, we moved to the next table, and had to work on a different task. I remember being really confused about what we should be doing, should we undo the previous team’s work and start again, or carry on where they left off? The trainers refused to answer, telling us it was up to us. By the end of the exercise, I’d twigged. I realised the point was, we’re all supposed to be on the same team, we’re all working towards the same aims, our communication needed to improve so that we could build on what the previous group had done. Not undo it all and start again, destroying what they had achieved, wasting everyone’s time and the organisation's resources.
Many years later, this lesson remains imprinted on my brain. This was before I understood about purpose at work. Before I understood how fundamental it is to feel valued at work. At least before I understood it at an intellectual level, because those things had long been important to me on a visceral level. But this is a much better memory than being coerced into sharing some negative feedback to a antagonist at work.
Do we need feedback at all?
Let’s take the concept of negative feedback and examine it a little more closely. I was going to conclude that feedback is good, but negative feedback should be handled carefully. But then I remembered something I read just recently. In Nine Lies about Work, Buckingham and Goodall’s lie #5 is ‘people need feedback’. Should we even give negative feedback at all? Parenting guides talk about ignoring bad behaviour in your children and praise the good. (Easier said than done, I know!) Does this apply to the workplace too?
Looking back over workplace experiments and citing some research by Gallup, the engagement at work people, Buckingham and Goodall conclude that what people need is not feedback, but attention. The Gallup research found that the worst scenario for workplace engagement was where managers paid no attention whatsoever to their team. Even negative feedback is attention, and this achieved forty times more effectiveness in engaging the team. So it looks like a win. But as the point of engagement is to achieve more effective performance, is this still the best way to get this result? You might not be surprised to learn that positive feedback is more effective still, but you may be surprised to learn that it is thirty times more powerful again than negative feedback.
Buckingham and Goodall also borrow from the research on personal relationships; it has been found that a happy marriage has a positive to negative ratio of between three to one or five to one – so for each negative experience, you need to give positive attention three to five times. You can watch my review of Nine Lies about Work
here. If you want to explore these ideas further, or if you still need convincing of the merits, I highly recommend a read of the book.
So what are the takeaways from this?
If you’re a manager and want to get the best out of your people, give them positive attention – catch them doing something right, and feed that back to them, help them see what was working.
If you’re a team member and wish you got on better with colleagues and managers, give them some positive feedback. As often as you can. It counts just as much whatever your place in the team.
If you’re a trainer, help your students to understand this concept.
If you'd like more ideas on how to be happier at work, you can get a free download here
What is your experience? Do you have any other tips for improving working relationships that have helped you? Let me know in the comments below.
Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley, 2019 Nine Lies about Work, Harvard Business Review Press Boston, Massachusetts