Breaking the workplace
Breaking the workplace
These days there is so much pressure to perform at work. So many people I speak to tell me how busy they are, that there is too much work to get done and not enough hours in the day to deal with everything that comes across their desk. Many are taking work home or working longer hours just to be able to keep up with the job at hand.
Work, especially in an office setting has become full of distractions, from the constant pinging of the phone or computer as another email or message lands in our mailbox to the team member who needs support or the answer to a question or simply swings by for a chat. The urgent meeting that was unexpected and unplanned, the difficult client who took longer than expected and technology failing can send us into a tailspin. These interruptions and distractions may be some of the reasons that the level of productivity and output has dropped and why things seem to take much longer to complete; but is there more going on here?
When I ask these busy people if their workload has increased and if that’s why they are so busy, after some contemplation the majority have to admit that their workload hasn’t changed – so why then, if this is the case, are they struggling to fit their allocated job duties into their work week?
Well, the same people who tell me they are so busy also tell me how tired they are, and how desperate they are for a break or a holiday but at the same time wear their work effort and input like a badge of recognition and reward, telling me that they just can’t afford to take a break right now and having time off is out of the question.
But is it this mentality of pushing through and getting the job done no matter what that is breaking the workplace and the people in it or is there more going on here than we are seeing or willing to admit?
If you could spend an hour outside the entrance to an office building and watch people on their way to work, you would notice these days that nearly all of them are carrying a takeaway coffee, sipping on it as they make their way to the office, getting their caffeine shot ready for the day. Some will also be munching away on some sort of pastry or carbohydrate sugar-laden snack, infusing the body with a large hit of sugar. You may think there is nothing unusual about that, and I would agree as it is such a common and everyday normal sight now.
But is it normal for us to need not only one but oftentimes two or even three cups of coffee just to start the day? Is it normal that it seems we can’t function unless we top up with another coffee and sugary snack midmorning, lunchtime and mid-afternoon and workers often have what they refer to as a snack drawer in their desk so they can dip into their supplies whenever it suits, not even waiting for their breaks anymore as they consume chocolate and cans of soft drink right there at the desk?
Yet, if we turned the clock back some 40 to 50 years when our parents were going to work the scene would be very different, not a takeaway coffee in sight. Ok, granted, our parents didn’t have a coffee shop on every corner and sippy cups for adults hadn’t been invented yet, but that is not the point I’m making or the line of enquiry I’m asking you to consider. The question becomes – why is it that our workforce is relying on and perhaps needing an on-tap supply of caffeine and sugar to be able to perform in their work roles? What is so broken in the workplace that we don’t have the level of work fitness to be productive and meet the requirements of our jobs without being pumped full of stimulants to do so?
Perhaps the answers would come from posing the question differently ...
What is so broken with our workforce that people don’t have the natural level of vitality and energy to be productive and fulfill the demands of their job without being pumped full of stimulants to do so?
Solutions to our lack of productivity, work-stress and burnout have been put forth; companies provide resilience training, counselling, quiet spaces, flexible or reduced hours, work from home arrangements, job share, 38-hour weeks and now 4-day weeks and yet nothing has changed – our workforce is still spent. Do we have a case of trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted or are we simply barking up the wrong tree?
Blaming work or our workplace for our inability to cope with work may seem like the right approach but are we in fact just looking for a scapegoat to avoid taking some self-responsibility and accepting accountability here?
Work is a part of life – on average for most taking up 40 hours of our 7-day week. That’s 40 hours out of 24 x 7 which equals 40 hours out of a possible 168 hours a week. Why then are we homing in on the working hours and not exploring, considering or asking what is happening in the remaining 128 hours that we get to do life in?
We are designed to work, it’s good for us, it gives us purpose and supports us to grow personally and professionally as well as to develop one another through collaboration and teamwork. However, we are also designed to intersperse periods of work (activity) with rest, sleep and the ability to recharge by taking time to care for and nourish the body so that we naturally have sufficient energy and capacity to be able to handle the demands of work and be fit for our jobs both mentally and physically. And hence it would appear that it is not our capacity to handle work that is the issue here but our capacity to handle life and to support ourselves with a way of living that affords the body to be vital and ready for the day ahead.
We stay up late, binge watching TV, engaged on social media, living a life of rollercoaster emotional ups and downs, juggling family, hobbies and the essentials required to feed and clothe ourselves and keep house. We are constantly on the go, often internally unsettled and unfulfilled, trying to squeeze every drop out of our waking hours in search of happiness and a sense of satisfaction. But we do these things at the expense of the body, draining our energy reserves and our health and wellbeing, in a cycle of tiredness and exhaustion that we ignore because we have the crutches of caffeine, sugar and drive and drama to get through the day. We are barely functional yet so proud of how busy we are and herein lies the problem – we have championed a life of doing over one of being, over a life of quality and vitality, a quality and vitality that, if honoured and nurtured and lived, would naturally supply us with more than enough fuel to work not only an 8 or 9-hour day but easily more without sacrificing the body to do so.
Now, I’m not here saying or pushing that anyone should work more than they do but that, if we truly lived in a way that cared for the quality of our beingness, we certainly could work more, be more productive and that we could do it without needing to rely on caffeine and sugar to rev up the body to make it perform.
Perhaps, if we approached work as part of life and not something separate to it or a thing that we have to do to make money, we would apply ourselves to it differently. That we would prepare our bodies to be ready for work and to be fit for the challenges of it and not be constantly watching the clock for home time (and what we see as me time) or calculating how little we can get away with not to be fired or pushing ourselves to extremes in search of recognition and acknowledgment to provide our sense of worth. That we would work more harmoniously firstly with ourself and thus with others, naturally reducing workplace conflict and stressors and the draining way of working that we currently find ourselves in.
There is a saying in the health and fitness world that you can’t out-exercise a poor diet, which means if you want to improve your body you have to look at what you are putting into it first. And thus, if we apply that approach to work, if we want to fix what is broken in our workplaces, we must look at the workforce, ourselves and what we are putting into the way we live first and foremost.
This would require a large dose of honesty and a willingness to admit that the way we currently live is not working. One only need look at health statistics to see that despite some incredible advancements in health care we are the sickest society has ever been; surely this is a strong cry for help if not an indication that the way we are living is not working to sustain the quality of our beingness and our ability to be productive and contributing members of society and in our workplaces.
Our workplaces are breaking, our workers are at breaking point. Absenteeism is no longer the major problem but one of ‘attendeeism’ where we are at work but not actually working to capacity. We may see this as an issue of poor work ethic and employers often think they can performance manage their way to a better outcome – but at what price to a body that is already depleted, exhausted and running on nervous energy, supplanted by caffeine and sugar instead of the true vitality of our bodies? And how do we say to the busy worker, the one that looks busy but is not truly productive, the one that is struggling to complete tasks on time and drowning under their own inefficiencies that they are not working hard enough, that they are not achieving their targets without pushing them into more busy-ness as their way of coping and keeping up?
How do we balance the goals of the business and service our customers with what our workers need? Do companies just keep taking on more staff – employing two people to do the role that one should be able to comfortably manage? Do overheads blow out and the cost of services and products keep ballooning or do we need to take a stop moment, come back to ourselves and the way we are living, press reset and start again in a different way? A way that accounts for the fact that life is energy first, a way of life that applies the teachings of The Ageless Wisdom and incorporates the fact that we are more than only human.