It’s difficult to have to work in an environment that often stresses us out and drains us of our energy.
Many of us probably spend between 30-50 hours a week dedicated to our job or career. It makes up a huge part of our lives. Yet we seem to accept the mantra that “work sucks,” so instead of trying to adjust our work environment and make it more pleasant, we learn to grin and bear it.
I disagree with this perspective.
I think a healthy workplace depends on our ability to feel more in control. And while some jobs don’t permit us with a lot of freedoms, there are always a few key things we can do to make our work environment more bearable and less stressful.
So let’s get straight to some of the things you can do.
Ease tension with coworkers and bosses
Relationships can make or break a work environment. When people don’t get along and don’t know how to communicate effectively, there is a lingering tension in the office that can ruin everyone’s day.
We dread walking into the office, not because we don’t like what we do, but because we have to deal with an assortment of jerk-offs, bullies, whiners, and other vampires who suck up any positive energy in the room. Every office has them.
So what can we do? First, you have to learn how to let a lot of this negative energy just roll off your shoulders. The more you respond to negative energy in a negative way, the more you are contributing to the problem. Trying to reframe some of the negative aspects of work in a humorous or joyful way is often very effective for breaking the cycle of negativity in your work environment.
When someone makes a sly remark to you, just nod your head and smile. When someone gives you an order in a condescending tone, just imagine that person with a baby face talking in a really high-pitched voice. When someone starts a heated argument with you, know how to defuse it as soon as possible (whether that means cracking a joke or politely walking out of the room).
No, you won’t get along with everyone, but there will always be some people who you hit it off with better than others. Build solid relationships with these people. Get to know them better. Have lunch with them. Share interesting stories. Vent about work to each other. Having a work buddy (or two, or three) can really help you get through those tough days.
Also, if you have a bad past with some coworkers, try to fix them. You can try to patch things up with them, apologize for your mistakes, and start again on the right foot. Or – if they are truly that unbearable – try to deal with them on strictly business terms and minimize any excess interaction.
If you can, consider avoiding some vampires entirely. Some people you just can’t get along with no matter how hard you try. It’s very likely your work environment has one or two of these people. Recognize those boundaries. Sure, it’s not the ideal situation to be in, but it’s better than feeding into a destructive relationship and making it grow worse. If avoiding these people means moving to another office or part of the company, consider bringing up your concerns to management.
Make your office come alive and inspire you
Despite spending most of our work hours cramped in our office, we often spend very little time keeping it fresh and stimulating. The truth is that our surroundings, even when not consciously noticed, can have a huge effect on our mood and well-being.
For example, studies have shown that the presence of plants in the workplace help boost people’s moods and increase cognitive functioning.
Another study has shown that when workers have more control over the design of their workplace, this improves their happiness, productivity, and even health.
Often when working for large companies we can lose a sense of our personal identity. Your office is usually the one place you are allowed to express yourself. Create a work environment that works for you. Something that reflects some of your own values and interests. And something that motivates and inspires you.
If this means changing your office around every few months or so – do it. Keep things interesting. Make your work environment stimulating (but not too distracting).
Have healthy snacks around for when you need a physical boost
A lot of people get so focused on their work that they sometimes forget to eat. Or they have so much to get done, that they have to skip lunch to make sure they meet their deadline.
I’m a strong believer that we need to stay healthy and nourished if we want to be effective at our jobs. Ignoring our bodies, and focusing all our energy on our work, is going to drain you and hurt your work ethic.
No matter what kind of work you do, your body and brain need fuel to do it. This means drinking water and having healthy snacks between meals to keep your body replenished. The less you take care of your body, the more it’s going to affect your work.
A fatigued body and mind can’t possibly work to it’s fullest potential, so keep yourself hydrated and nourished as often as possible.
This rule is actually pretty simple and easy to follow. Re-stock your office with healthy snacks every Monday: grapes, nuts, water, cheese and crackers, tuna, eggs, etc. If you have the choice, I recommend storing this stuff in a personal office vs. the company kitchen. This just makes it easier to access food when you are in the middle of work (and it prevents other coworkers from taking your stuff).
Identify the purpose of what you do
I don’t expect everyone to romanticize the importance of their job. It’s true that not everyone has a career that really resonates with them deep-down. I respect that. But I also think most jobs serve an important function in our society. And when you recognize that you are an important part of what keeps society going, you sometimes find a new sense of purpose and pride about the things you do.
Ever seen the documentary The Philosopher Kings? It’s an interesting portrayal of some custodial workers at major universities (Duke, Princeton, U.C. Berkely, etc.) who are really passionate about their job. Now normally a custodial worker may not be a very revered job, but these workers clearly had a fire in their souls for what they did. They cared about where they worked and how it looked, and they recognized the importance of their job.
We could all learn something from these custodians. No matter what type of work you do, it plays an important role in our society. Sometimes you just need to look at the “bigger picture” of your actions, and how it fits into the grand scheme of things.
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