I don’t want to go to work.
When the alarm goes off in the morning and we’re yanked from our cozy cocoons, for many of us, our first thought is dread at having to spend our days a) doing work that doesn’t feed our passions, b) working in a culture that doesn’t allow our talents to be fully utilized, or c) leading a team that we don’t really know how to lead. Ask a room full of people how many of them are either in one of these situations themselves or know someone who is, and almost every hand in the room will be waving.
When I tell people that I started my company to help leaders lead in an authentic way that makes their people want to come to work every day, they start telling me stories. They tell me about:
- The terrible boss they had at that job they stayed at way too long.
- The immense amount of talent on their team, but a boss who wouldn’t listen to their ideas.
- The ways in which stress at work impacted their lives in incredibly harmful ways: they didn’t have energy to spend time with their kids, their marriages suffered, they gained weight and began drinking more, only to keep going back to that office day after day.
Often, leaders themselves tell me how miserable they are, unsure of what they can do to make their people want to work for them. Most of these leaders start their stories by telling me that they have a retention problem on their team – “I just can’t keep a team for more than 6-months!”
Some of these story tellers figured out a way to escape or change those toxic teams, and their stories are ones of “and then, we did this and everything got so much better,” but the majority of people who tell me their stories are still working in these environments, afraid to leave what’s known, no matter how dangerous. They ask me what they can do to break link between dread and work. Below are my most frequently offered recommendations:
- Examine your leadership style. This is best done with a coach, a trusted colleague, or family member who will ask you good questions, be direct, and (painfully) honest. If you have a retention problem on your team, the buck stops with you. Consider your hiring practices, ability to delegate, recognition style when work is well done, willingness to walk into healthy conflict, skillfulness when delivering and receiving hard feedback, and enjoyment of your own job.
- Listen. Get to know the people on your team. Everyone has personal motivations bringing them to work every day. To some, it will be a paycheck. To others, the company mission. Some people on your team will truly enjoy the work they’re doing on a daily basis. Once you know the motivations of the people in your care, you will be able to tailor your leadership and messaging to maximize the impact you’ll have on each individual on your team.
- Engage. Ask your people what aspects of their job they enjoy most, and in what aspects they’re most confident. Work to maximize their time working in those areas, and tell them you’re going to try to do so. Learn what aspects of their job they most dislike or feel less confident in. Create a plan to either eliminate those tasks, or provide additional training or mentorship. No one wants to spend their days doing work they don’t feel skilled enough to do.
- Follow-through. The quickest way to lose an inch (or a mile) of newly gained respect is to make promises that get your team excited, then fail to follow through on them. Put calendar reminders in your phone, sticky notes on your computer/desk, write in marker on your hand. Whatever you have to do to follow through on promises made to your team, do it.
- Write down your non-negotiable list. If you could wave a magic wand and create your ideal job, what elements would be present? Consider commute, office environment, dress code, colleagues, type of work you’d be doing, number of hours worked per day/week, salary, etc. Check out your list and highlight how many of these elements are possible at your current job.
- Identify and write down what specific elements of your current role/experience/daily routine you dislike and want to change. Avoid statements like “I’m bored” and instead write down, “I hate typing memos and organizing spreadsheets when I want to be more creative and work on designing the layouts of presentations.”
- Consider how many of the elements from your non-negotiable list could be possible at your current job. For example, if you really want to work on other types of projects, consider how you might advocate for that. Want a work from home day each week? How might you present your case to make it happen?
- Get some support from people who ask good questions and can help you figure out next steps. Ideally, this person will be outside of your workplace to avoid going down the rabbit hole of “I know, isn’t it awful” conversations. Choose someone who will help hold you accountable to taking next steps toward your magic wand work environment.
Deciding to change something to lessen or banish the weekday alarm clock dread is an extraordinary act of courage.
When we become adults, we are not suddenly thrown onto a hamster wheel, where we have to keep going to the same job over and over again, doing the same things and wishing for different results.
We are competent, capable, kick-ass people who have within us the ability to make choices to effect outcomes. Do not stay at a dread-inducing job one more day without taking at least one step to fix it.
Making a decision to change a situation that makes you unhappy can be terrifying. However, as Teddy Roosevelt said, ““It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Decide today, be you leader or employee, to do one thing differently; to take one tiny, great dare. Decide that your alarm clock will be now be the signal of a new day – one in which you get to make the choices, and walk a surely zigzagged path toward something you believe is possible.