If you’re like most people, you’re tired, depleted, and quite frankly just done with “business as usual.” You’re laying the blame for your fatigue squarely at the feet of the increased responsibilities and long hours you faced. But according to Jon Gordon, you might be wrong. He insists that working hard—when done with a good attitude in the right environment—can actually be quite invigorating.
“Most people wrongly assume that their tasks and responsibilities are what’s grinding them down,” explains Gordon, author of the book, Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture. “However, while ‘work’ is a convenient scapegoat, the real culprit is often the negativity of the people you work with and for, their constant complaining, and the pessimistic culture that is now the norm in a lot of workplaces.”
Don’t fret, though: Gordon promises that if managers are able to identify the offending behaviors and fix them, they’ll be able to spend more time nourishing their companies’ cultures—which will, in turn, make employees happier and more productive, thus increasing the bottom line.
1. The Energy Vampire Attack
DON’T: Let negativity become your go-to response. There’s nothing more draining than a boss or coworker who is constantly negative. Gordon calls these folks “energy vampires.” They are never happy, rarely supportive, and constantly nay-saying any and all ideas and suggestions that aren’t their own. According to them, you might as well give up before you start.
DO: Respond constructively when someone offers up an idea. Even if you know more about a particular project, have more experience than the rest of your team, or are positive that the suggestions others are making are off the mark, hear them out. Let employees and coworkers know that when they come to you with their ideas, they’ll be heard with an open mind and received with respect.
2. The Out-of-Control Complain Train
DON’T: Give in to the temptation to whine. It’s a well-known phenomenon that can have catastrophic consequences: One person’s complaint resonates with someone else, who then proceeds to add grievances to the pile…and so on. Before you know it, everyone is complaining, and any work that gets done thereafter is marred by a bad attitude.
DO: Push for solutions. The next time a water-cooler conversation threatens to barrel out of control into Complaint Central, step in and ask the complainees how they would make things better.
3. The Vicious Voicemail (or Email)
DON’T: Leave critical or harsh messages on voicemail or send them to an email inbox. Nine times out of ten, these critiques seem much more vehement and condemnatory than they actually are. Plus, any communication you send via electronic methods can potentially last forever.
DO: Suck it up and conduct the tough talks in person. If you need to have a stern talk with someone, or if you need to talk through a conflict or problem, do it in person if at all possible. You’ll be able to ensure that your words and tone aren’t misinterpreted, and you’ll be able to immediately have a constructive dialogue with the other person.
4. The Loaded Monday Morning Inbox
DON’T: Overwhelm your team with a mountain of emails before the week is underway. If you’re finishing up your own to-do list late on a Friday night, or if you’re simply trying to get a jumpstart on the week ahead, it can be tempting to dish out the details and to-dos as you think of them.
DO: Boil down and bundle your communication as considerately as possible. Be sure to flag any urgent emails so that your teammates know which tasks to tackle first—and include as many details as possible so that 1) you won’t forget them, and 2) the recipient can get started as quickly as possible. If you can, combine as many of the tasks and questions as you can into one document.
5. The Busy Bee Bamboozle
DON’T: Confuse activity with progress. You know the person. She’s always soooo busy but doesn’t ever seem to meet deadlines or get anything done. She’s living proof of the fact that just because your day is full of things to do doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting them done.
DO: Set goals and hold yourself and your employees accountable for results. Most importantly, don’t put your team in situations where the lines are blurred. If the goals are crystal clear, they’ll be easier to accomplish.
6. The Low Performer Look-Away
DON’T: Let sub-par work slide. Simply put, low performers drag the rest of the team down. They are like a cancer inside your organization, creating resentment and generating more work for everyone else. And if you allow them to linger and thrive for too long, your best employees will move on to a more productive environment.
DO: Institute a zero-tolerance policy for low performers. Hold your entire team accountable for meeting their goals and adhering to the same performance standards. If one person consistently misses the bar, then you need to take swift action. Let your employees know that you value their hard work and that you will not allow others to do less and get away with it.
7. The Unclear Communiqué
DON’T: Assume others have all the information they need, or that something you know isn’t really all that important. These hastily drawn conclusions that result from chronic poor communication can lead to serious mistakes and major missed opportunities. Plus, lack of clarity is incredibly frustrating to those who must work with you. When employees, coworkers, or supervisors have to spend their time tracking you down for clarification, rather than getting the communication from you that they need, productivity falls and creativity is stifled.
DO: Make a concerted and proactive effort to make sure that the right people are in the know. You’ll set your entire team up for success and ensure that your clients get the service they deserve. Also, make sure you copy the right people on emails, promptly return voicemails, and are clear about directions and expectations. And if you say you are going to do something, mean it.
8. The Disorganization Drag-Down
DON’T: Allow disorganization to impede productivity. If you’re managing or leading a company, heading up a big project, or traveling non-stop, it’s likely you’ve lost an email, important paper, phone number, or pie chart or two in your day. You’re busy, and that’s understandable. But constant disorganization can drain your employees and coworkers if they always have to cover your tracks.
DO: Make a concerted effort to keep up with your tasks and responsibilities. And if you can’t immediately put your hands on something you need, don’t automatically ask others for help. Take a few minutes to try and find what you need on your own. Better yet, try to think of better systems and processes than the ones you’re using (or not using) now.
9. The Hasty Plate Clear-Off
DON’T: Sacrifice quality on the altar of expediency. There’s a lot of work to do, and you (understandably) want to get your own tasks done so you don’t hold up others. If you’ve rushed, you’re more likely to have made mistakes and been sloppy, which isn’t fair to the person who gets the assignment after you.
DO: Take the time you need to do the job right. Rather than rushing through a report or clicking “send” just because it’s 5:00 p.m., get focused and make sure you do your best work the first time. Pay attention to details, check over your work, and make sure you’ve followed the proper guidelines.
10. The Chronic Deadline Dodge
DON’T: Allow unmet deadlines to throw everything and everyone off-track. When people chronically miss deadlines, it’s a sure sign of a cultural issue. Either people aren’t giving it their all—or they’re truly overburdened. Either way, your company’s productivity will suffer.
DO: Set reasonable, clear deadlines for everyone involved (and hold them accountable). Once something gets off-track, nobody is willing to own it. Make sure you set reasonable deadlines that you and your teammates can meet in order to avoid setting folks up for failure. And even if it takes some extra elbow grease from time to time, make a conscious effort to meet every deadline every time (and hold your team accountable for meeting them, too!).
11. The Unattainable Atta-Boy (or Atta-Girl!)
DON’T: Get so caught up in what’s coming down the pike that you forget to acknowledge what’s happening now. Most managers and business leaders would agree that they feel a lot of pressure. However, when responsibilities give you to-do tunnel vision and cause you to skimp on the “job well dones,” employees can get discouraged in a hurry—especially if you immediately ask about another goal that’s gone unmet or push more work at them to try and make up for losses in other areas.
DO: Express appreciation and admiration when appropriate. Employees don’t need a pat on the back and a round of applause at every turn. What they do need is to know that you can be satisfied. If, like a hamster running in a wheel, an employee feels as though no amount of hard work or hours spent will ever garner the boss’s approval or satisfaction, his energy and self-motivation will be zapped.
12. The Blame Game
DON’T: Point fingers at others in order to take the heat off of yourself. A mistake is made, the boss is mad, a deadline is missed. If all eyes are on your team and you start pointing fingers, you could be making a huge mistake. If your employees or your coworkers don’t think you shoulder your share of the blame or are unapproachable when it comes to constructive criticism, they’ll start to shut down toward you.
DO: Accept responsibility for your actions gracefully and humbly. Nobody likes to be the one at fault. But owning up to your mistakes and learning from them are big parts of working together and being successful. If you make a mistake, be the first to own up to it and try to do things differently in the future. Also, be open to suggestions and criticisms—they may make the going much smoother!
If some of these behaviors sound all too familiar, don’t despair. The cusp between the year that’s just passed and the one that’s to come is the perfect time to take stock of what’s making your culture less than nourishing—and resolve to make it better.
“It’s important for managers to acknowledge that it’s been a tough twelve months and that you understand why folks are feeling drained and depleted,” concludes Gordon. “Above all, tell them that you are willing and eager to help alleviate some of that stress! A little acknowledgment can go a long way toward a brighter, more productive, and much more energized.”
Jon Gordon is a consultant, keynote speaker, and the international bestselling author of Soup, The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule, and Training Camp, all from Wiley. A graduate of Cornell University, he holds a master’s degree in teaching and works with numerous businesses, professional sports teams, schools, universities, and nonprofit organizations. Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4704878-4-6, $22.95, www.Soup11.com)