What you can do to improve your wellbeing at work
You may not always have full control over your workload, the success or failure of your projects, or the behaviors of your colleagues – but you may have more control than you realize! Effectively managing such stressful workplace realities and, in particular, their impacts on your wellbeing is one of your most important responsibilities, regardless of your activity or function.
If you struggle with feeling overwhelmed and burned out at work, you are not alone. In 2015, 52% of American professionals felt overworked and burned out, while a February 2014 report from consulting firm Technologia reports that over 3 million French workers are at high risk of crippling burnout. While author Caroline Webb does not deny the stressful realities of today’s work world, she does argue that by understanding more about how your brain works, you can manage them better. In her book, she translates the latest research in psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience into concrete insights into how to get more enjoyment out of your days and thereby protect yourself from the damaging effects of burnout. In her words, “Less of the day seems driven by chance once we understand some of the forces that shape our choices and our emotions, and once we recognize how our thought patterns can affect everything from our perception of reality to the moods of those around us.”
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START
Your wellbeing is determined to a large extent by your outlook – hence the importance of consciously, deliberately forming a healthy one.
The importance of outlook
Several years ago, Webb had a particularly bad day at work. Assigned to a project that didn’t interest her and partnered with a colleague whose working style contrasted with her own, she felt vaguely pessimistic as she entered the fi rst big project meeting. It turned out to be just as bad as she had feared: “The long discussion felt to me like pushing a boulder uphill — lots of little misunderstandings, people talking over each other, the air thick with unspoken irritations and concerns.” When Webb reviewed the meeting with her colleague, however, she was shocked to hear him point out all the reasons why it had been a success. As Webb came to realize, the meeting was neither a total success nor a total failure; rather, the dramatic differences in her and her colleague’s perceptions were the result of the different outlooks that each had held going into the meeting. Importantly, her colleague’s outlook not only made him more effective during the meeting itself but also left him feeling far more energized afterwards than hers had. Webb came to realize that her colleague’s healthier outlook wasn’t just the result of chance: he had formed it with conscious intention. “Lucas had been deliberate in deciding what he wanted to see, what he wanted to accomplish, and how he wanted to feel,” she writes. “But I’d let the morning kind of happen to me. I’d been professional, yes, but I’d drifted into the day” (See box “Setting your outlook with intention”).
Articulating energizing goals
Setting concrete goals at the start of the day is a great way to focus your energy, reduce distraction, and thereby ward off procrastination (procrastination is a primary warning signal of burnout). What’s more, research shows that how you articulate your goals can either boost or undermine your energy levels: “Research suggests that we should aim to describe (our goals) in a way that is positive, personally meaningful, feasible, and situation-specific.”
To read the article in full:
Based on How to have a good day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life by Caroline Webb (Crown Business, February 2016) and an interview with Antony Mayfield, CEO and founding partner, Brilliant Noise (April 2016).