As we’ve heard and experienced around us (and even personally lived), so many professionals today don’t enjoy what they do, or feel rewarded by it, and they’re exhausted and overwhelmed doing everything they feel is required to “succeed.” Overwork, stress, exhaustion, and unhappiness are increasingly becoming the norm for far too many people in the workplace and thousands feel a lack of control to fix it.
If you do a Google search on this topic, you’ll find thousands of articles and research studies that work-place stress and anxiety are on the rise, and there are measurable factors and influences that are feeding into this. According to a 2018 Korn Ferry survey, nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago. Dennis Baltzley, a Korn Ferry senior partner and global head of Leadership Development Solutions, states, “There are many factors that cause increased stress levels at work, including keeping up with changes in technology, increased workloads, and interpersonal conflict.”
But there are effective steps and measures we can take to address our overwhelm and exhaustion, and there are proven strategies that will help us take the reins back, even just a little, on how we work and approach our jobs and teams, that can make a significant difference.
I recently caught up with Bruce Daisley on my Finding Brave podcast to learn more about what science and research share about how to make work more enjoyable, meaningful and rewarding, for both individual contributors and their teams. His insights were powerful yet simple to do, and they help anyone who wants to make a change in their work and achieve it in easy, practical ways.
In the book, Daisley distills the wisdom of science and research on what makes work more fulfilling into thirty simple changes that anyone can try, to make work more enjoyable, meaningful, and rewarding for themselves and their teams.
Here’s what Daisley shares on top hacks for bringing joy (and a sense of greater control and meaning) in your work:
Kathy Caprino: It seems like stress, burnout and unhappiness are becoming the norm for so many people at work. What has your research shown is driving this?
Bruce Daisley: When email arrived on our phones, it felt like joyous escape—we felt like work stopped being a place and became a thing we did and we were no longer required to be pinned to a desk. Anyone who was in employment at the time will remember the envious glances that people with Blackberries used to get from those of us who could only tackle our inbox when seated at our fixed workstations. Their tantalizing whirrs, buzzes and clicks seemed to represent a more fun and convenient way to work.
But what happened next has crushed the joy from the experience. Silently, unnoticed, the average working day started increasing. Today, data suggests that the average working day is two hours longer (at 9-and-a-half hours a day) than it was 20 years ago. If you’ve ever found yourself tapping a reply to a colleague while your partner at home scolds you for not paying attention to your latest binge watch, you may recognize the way that our work has gobbled our leisure time.
And the toll of this is clear to see all around us. We’re witnessing record burnout levels across the U.S.—by some counts half of all office workers report feeling burned out, with even higher numbers in professions like teaching and healthcare. We need to find a way to bring balance to the way we’re using electronic communication before burnout takes even more of a toll.
Caprino: Until recently, you were a Vice President at Twitter, where you oversaw Europe, the Middle East and Africa. What led you to write a book about how to make work better?
Daisley: Everyone probably remembers a time when they loved a past job. Maybe it was a great team, or an inspiring boss. I was immensely proud that we’d created a magic culture like that at Twitter in London—I felt so lucky that my favorite job was the one I was in right now.
And then—largely down to my own clumsy mistakes—something went wrong. Business wasn’t going as well as we wanted and we didn’t always tell people straight. I asked myself, can I put the toothpaste back in the tube? Can I get this culture back to being energized, positive and productive again?
What I realized was that I could stand on the shoulders of giants. There were countless academic papers written about how to improve workplace culture and team cohesion but very little of this work ever reached people in full-time jobs. I knew that the optimistic version of me loves buying books that the real version of me never reads, so I wanted to write something that was fun to read and really easy to pick interventions at whim. Eat Sleep Work Repeat is like a work culture recipe book, suited to any diet.
Caprino: The first part of your book focuses on how we can recharge our own energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. What are some of your favorite hacks that came up in your research?
Daisley: The book is largely about improving team culture and making work fun again, so you might ask: “Why do you start a book on that with techniques to get your own mojo back?”
I chose to do that because many people were showing me that they felt so fatigued by their work that the notion of improving their team culture didn’t feel like a priority right now—they felt hazed by their jobs. So, what can any of us to do to renegotiate our relationship with our profession?
Try a lunch break
Some of the best things to do are interventions such as taking a lunch break. It seems almost mundanely trivial, but we find that people who take a lunch break everyday report much higher energy levels, not only through the week but also on their weekends.
Silence your device notifications and weekend emails
I’ve also found myself recommending that workers silence their notifications on their devices—with the effect of reducing the frazzled feeling we get from being constantly interrupted all day. This part of the book has lots of simple hacks that leave people feeling slightly less scorched by their jobs.
Caprino: Much of our happiness at work depends on how we feel about our teams. And you discovered that laughter is a powerful way to get teams in sync. Tell us what you found.
Daisley: This was the most joyous discovery for me. We need to laugh more.
I’d once had a boss who had scolded our team: “Now’s not the time to be seen laughing.” Times were tough and it was his hunch that the optics of a team creasing up might not look like they were earnestly endeavoring to turn things round.
I set out to find he was right, and candidly, I was sure that he probably was and wanted to know how right he was. I spoke to the world’s leading expert on laughter, Professor Robert Provine, who told me that, in fact, laughter was our way to signal connection with other humans. He said that when he went into workplaces and observed when workers were laughing it was quite often around episodes that—to outsiders—weren’t remotely amusing.
So why do we laugh? We laugh to feel connected with others. But not only that, laughter seems to embolden us, strengthening our resilience in difficult times. In combat, troops often talk about the importance of laughter to them as a collective way to reset their heightened anxiety levels. We’d all willingly concede that a team that laughs a lot is often a happier one but also a more cohesive one.
Caprino: Your book presents 30 research-backed hacks for bringing joy back to work. Which one do you turn to the most when you’re having a tough day?
Daisley: I love a walking meeting. Often, 30 minutes strolling with a colleague can revive us even when we feel kebabed by a relentless day.
Walking meetings are incredibly refreshing for our energy but also have the side effect of helping us come up with more creative solutions to challenges. No doubt some people will wonder if going out and talking work on the streets might be a security risk and that’s why I want you to know that walking meetings come with the seal of approval from the mafia. The mafia felt it was much safer to have discussions on the street than in meeting rooms or cars.
Caprino: In your book, you offer advice to make work better for ourselves and our teams. But what if you don’t have a management position? Can you still have an impact?
Daisley: Non-managers are very much the intended audience for the book. Most of us feel there are times when we can’t call the shots ourselves, so this book was bringing ammunition to team discussions. If someone can provide a short chapter of evidence to a discussion about how, say, they should silence weekend emails or why a social meeting might make the team feel more cohesion, then a productive discussion can follow.
Many of us feel a degree of helplessness with regard to our jobs. We feel obliged to check emails in the evening, we feel obliged to spend evenings catching up on what we missed, and the lesson of the evidence in the book is that we often have more control than we tell ourselves.
I’m an optimist, and I believe that even in the darkest hours of feeling run over by our jobs, there’s a spark in most of us who just wants to get back to enjoying things again. I think the evidence that I’ve unearthed in this book would be a great starting point for many of us.
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