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Paula Marshall's Blog

The musings of a female CEO, trying to change the way business is done.

Everyone wants to feel encouraged to reach their full potential. In our society, we’ve internalized the belief that we can only receive this encouragement from our friends and families. If we deliver this kind of love and fulfillment in the workplace as well, it will be returned to us tenfold. Plus, we will have happy, fulfilled, engaged employees.

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Bored at work?

Bored at work?

On a typical day in the office, you click past your “swimming fish” screen saver. It’s password protected of course, because you wouldn’t want a co-worker’s casual mouse-wiggle to reveal what’s beneath the colorful and bubbling seascape. Your browser is up and has seven tabs open and ready for you to update your Facebook, your Twitter, bid on that Jonathan Adler lamp on e-bay, check your personal email, and check out that new band on MySpace (cue: headphones, of course most of the time you use them for ambient noise, to drown out the office chatter, just like you told your boss). 

 

It’s not that you don’t have plenty of work to do, and it’s not that you don’t enjoy your work. It’s just…well…it’s…I don’t know. You’re easily distracted, you tell yourself. Must be ADD. Or the classic, I get more done this way, it keeps me from spacing out.

Truth be told, I don’t care if you have all those things open, and I hope you get that lamp! The thing I care about is what are you updating about? Is is something like “I can’t wait until this day is over, and I can go home and watch the new Top Chef,” or is it “I am working on a really cool project at work, and feel great about what I’m doing!” 

All too often, the answer is the former. So many employees suffer from disengagement, and with the system the way it is, it’s not surprising. With management fluctuating on average every 5-7 years, employees are forced to change their habits, production levels, and quotas every time a new manager takes over, bringing his or her own people with them. With so much flux in the workplace, and competing goals, people are just checked out. Give me my eight hours, and let me go home.

How can we bring our workforce back from mental comatose? We need to empower our managers to stay for longer terms, to create a sense of permanence and accountability in our structure. Those managers need to promote from within, instead of bringing their former coworkers/frat-brothers/third-grade-pen-pals with them to fill positions already promised to people in the organization. Who wants to work for a company for 5 years, with a promotion in the balance, only to see it go to a new manager’s minion from a previous job? No one. This is the best way to squelch ambition to move up, and kill one’s passion for their work, all the while fostering resentment in the work place. 

Another way to allow our people to feel fulfilled, and to see them more engaged, is to…well…allow it. Here’s how: Cindy is  a remarkable manager, always tries to keep her people motivated and always shows up on time. But lately, Cindy seems to be withdrawing more. She’s not voicing her ideas as much and her people are starting to question her authority. When approached, Cindy replies that she’s not sure if this career path is right for her, she is bursting with an idea for a new novel. Cindy wants to be a writer. You, as her supervisor, have 2 choices: Let her go with some severance, and wish her the best with the new work of fiction…or Google “Writer’s Workshops.” Find a 2 or 3 week program that Cindy can attend, that will help her hone her writing skills.  Give Cindy the information, tell her you’ll allow her to use this as her vacation time. All she needs to do is select the most promising of her subordinates to take her place while she’s away, and who can shoulder some more responsibility as Cindy begins to take more time with her writing.

This does several things. It helps Cindy put her money where her mouth is, if she is serious, and this is the direction she wants to take her life, then she will jump at the chance to keep her job and be supported. If she’s not serious, and she’s just looking for a way out of her current situation, this will show in her reaction. If she chooses to take the offer, she’ll be grateful to be embraced and cared for by her employer. Also, her replacement will feel valued and that the promotion was deserved.

If your employees are looking for fulfillment, help them find it! It might not always mean promotions and pay raises and a bigger workload (in fact, it’s usually not). This is how competitive companies keep their people. Their people are the competitive edge. If people feel supported, and feel that they can be honest about their life goals, then they feel empowered and engaged to do their work while they’re at work.

Everyone wants to feel encouraged to reach their full potential. In our society, we’ve internalized the belief that we can only receive this encouragement from our friends and families. If we deliver this kind of love and fulfillment in the workplace as well, it will be returned to us tenfold. Plus, we will have happy, fulfilled, engaged employees.

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