Working Hard at Hardly Working: The tragedy of underworked employees- Part 2

Working Hard at Hardly Working: The tragedy of underworked employees- Part 2

Our Program Director for the Coaching Cadre, Chuck Allen,  continues with part-2 of his blog:

How to balance challenge and skill

Here is a diagram from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” that illustrates the balance of challenge and skill that make satisfying work satisfying:

Balance of Challenge and Skill that makes Work Satisfying

Perhaps some of you reading this are horrified that I am ratting you out to your boss. Nope. I’m not suggesting that managers work their employees harder. That’s not the point. If anything, I’d like to see managers team up with workers to identify and create that optimum “flow” state in every workday. It might result in more work; it might result in less. In either case, it will result in good work and satisfied, loyal, healthy employees.

The workflow conversation

The first step is for managers and workers to have a frank conversation about workflow. In order to make this conversation productive, everyone will need to drop the overworked act. You know what I’m talking about: the conversations about how busy and overextended you are. “Busy-busy-busy.” “Crazy day, huh?” “Whew, I’ve got a to-do list as long as my arm.” Even if you really are overworked, this conversation makes it feel like good workers are the ones who are stretched beyond their limits. It gets competitive and encourages dishonesty.

Employees who are avoiding this conversation have good reason to be nervous. Companies that are looking to cut jobs may be on the hunt for underworked workers. So how about turning this into an opportunity to shine? “Hey, boss. I can handle more than you are giving me, and I’d actually like the challenge. Can we brainstorm some other projects I can take on?”

Ideas for how to grow as a manager

On a human level, the most important thing is not to let your job turn you into a vortex of stagnation. It is important to continue growing, taking risks and challenging yourself – even if that means cutting into your evening TV viewing.  Here are some ideas:

  • Exercise. If your job doesn’t get your heart racing, a good cardio routine will do the trick. You need this sort of thing to stay healthy.
  • Adopt a hobby. Take that creative writing course, or voice lessons. Join a chess club. Do something that makes you a more well-rounded, interesting person.
  • Get personal with co-workers. Finding things to appreciate about your employees and discovering stuff you have in common, can make the day go by faster.
  • Challenge yourself. Find a work-related challenge and go after it. How neat can you get your office in the next two hours? How many people can you sign up for a food drive?
  • Consider restructuring. You may be happier converting your job to a part time or work-from-home scenario. If your employer sees the logic of cost-saving that goes with restructuring your job, they may go for it.
  • Snap out of it! Most important: Break up your routine, so you can break up your thinking about what is possible and get yourself re-engaged.
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