Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Nurture Happy Workers.

A coworker said to me one morning, "Do you ever feel like alls you ever do is get up and go to work?" Well, yeah, I'm sure everyone feels this way but interestingly that is usually as far as it goes: A complaint. And it's no surprise. We go to work under the idea that working 40+ hours a week is normal, even though it's a form of 'enforced normal', or the 'going rate' of our society.... we rationalize that it's just 40 hours, everyone else is working that much or more, this is just the way it is.

So why does our body and attitudes about work tell us something different from what our willpower and society tell us?

What people don't realize is that it's never just 40 hours, which is why we are always so tired by the time we arrive home each Friday. Here are some things to take into account. We wake up earlier than we would on the weekend to get dressed professionally, get the kids ready and take them where they need to go. We then have the commute to work where we invest mental and emotional energy to work for at least 8 hours with an additional one hour lunch break that is overshadowed with work mentality. At the end of the day, we commute back home after picking up the kids. This 40 hour week turns easily into 55+ hours.

This process gets old pretty quickly when it is repeated 5 days in a row. Our attitudes during the week are based on how we feel about work. Most of us categorize the work week: We dread Mondays, name Wednesdays 'Hump Day', say 'TGIF'. Some even have have daily 'happy hours' to numb the stress from the work day. It's the daily grind, it's time to make the doughnuts, we just want the day to hurry up and be over and we race to each weekend. We do this week in and week out to help deal with the stress of the long week and before we know it, our birthdays have arrived again.

And two days off hardly seems like enough time to recharge from the previous week, and even being at home seems somewhat foreign due to the amount of time spent at work. We give our best hours to work and have nothing left over for creativity, for home life, or for extracurricular activities, which explains the explosion of the fast food chains, obesity, and increase in illness (health care costs).

It often feels like running laps on a hamster wheel, when the only scenery that changes is our reflection in the mirror. Time passes with the monotony and we accept the way things are without reflecting honestly on how things could or should be. This is made especially clear upon retirement or during a serious illness, where regrets surface, when you realize that your life was like speed walking through a windy, wooded trail with your head down instead of walking at a slower rate and enjoying the scenery....Why torture ourselves with the notion of a race when we can take more time to 'smell the roses' by just adopting a new work/life perspective in our society and create the change.

We can do this by changing a few things from the business side of work. Oftentimes, managerial positions use company policy to coerce worker motivation to be productive. Rules and policies are held over workers heads to enforce a worker mentality, when the truth is that workers are just tired of the monotony and stress. Instead of having two forces at work, one pulling from the top management and one pulling from the workforce, adopting a new, basic perspective grounded in that we are unique humans trying to live and enjoy life while making ends meet may provide a more solid and substantial foundation for happy workers and a more utopian environment.

Happy workers have a healthy work/life balance having more personal time with flexible work schedules.
We ALL want more hours in the day to do the things we need and want to do, so when asked what the ideal work week would be, most people would say reduced hours for more personal time with the ability to still afford an adequate standard of living. Creating more options for reduced hour positions, 'as needed' positions if feasible, and positions with open hours where workers can leave when they have finished what needs to be done. Allow more work-from-home scenarios which would reduce gas expenses, alleviate traffic congestion, save on daycare expenses, and allow more autonomy in the worker's life. Workers do not want to be defined by their occupation, but that is exactly what our society does. And it's no surprise when we commit 63% (conservatively) or more of our waking hours during the work week focused around work! By creating new options for positions, this percentage is reduced and productivity can be increased due to happy workers.

Happy workers do not get sick as often because they have more time and energy to make better choices.
They will prepare healthier meals, exercise more and develop better sleeping habits which all build a stronger immune system, develop a stronger body, and greatly reduce stress. A worker that is too exhausted, stressed and unhealthy to take care of herself is a liability for any company because it results in sick days with paid time off and increases workload on other employees. A result of this would be a reduction in health insurance costs.

They give excellent customer service.
Workers who have downtime to revive their energy levels are able to serve customer needs through thoughtful assessment and with patience. Most businesses rely on customer service being a priority and the foundation of its success. When customer service issues arise, which they do, having strong customer service skills is vital to retaining customers. Stress, sleep deprivation, and being unhealthy can take its toll on even the strongest skill set.

Happy workers are higher quality workers.
Every company wants the best employees, but employees become great employees through their attitude towards the company. This attitude is shaped by the perceived value the company places on its workers and the quality of life the person perceives about their own life. Workers who have downtime to revive their energy levels are able to positively handle workplace dynamics. They have better attitudes towards others and help out when the need arises without complaining. They have reduced errors and higher productivity because they have a reasonable workload. When there is ample time to commit thought to the complexity of problems and scenarios, people make better decisions with better outcomes rather than making a short-sighted quick decision which has to be reversed and repaired. In nursing, an error that took one minute to make can create 1 hour of extra work to repair.

As Mozart said, "I have to have time for composition." Allow full-time employees to have downtime at work, where 10- to 20% of their time each week to do what they want, can lead to great ideas for streamlining company operation to be more effective.

Happy workers are treated as humans and colleagues rather than subordinates.
They find solutions rather than complain because their contributions are respected by the company. When treated as fellow humans, they seek meaning in their work and care about their place in the company. When they express their ideas, beta test the best ideas. They are valued for the time they give despite the level of skills, and therefore able to afford an adequate standard of living and make ends meet.

The company goal should be to nurture happy workers because happy workers are an asset to the company. This is done by viewing work from a human-to-human perspective rather than from a boss-to-subordinate perspective.

Copyright ©2011 Teresa Bruneau

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