5 Common Workplace Obstacles that Impact Well-Being

Every workplace harbors potential drains to creative energy. Do you recognize yours?

Illustration by Jason Lee

A little quiz: What gives you energy at work? Odds are strong that an answer quickly sprang to mind. Maybe it’s collaboration, a new creative challenge, or an uninterrupted chunk of time to focus. Now consider, what drains your energy? Likely a mix of people, places, and scenarios come to mind, since there are so many things that sap our energy at work. Why does this matter? Because our creative and productive energy is what fuels our best thinking and makes us feel connected to our jobs. When that energy is diverted, blocked, or drained away, not only are we far less effective, we’re usually not very happy. Here are five common energy zappers in the workplace:

1) Drama

You might be attracted to it or you might create it—either way its purpose is to distract from and avoid unpleasant issues. As a way of dealing with fear or uncertainty (or putting off dealing with it), it’s common for people to invent “stories” to fill in missing details. For example, people create their own theories about why changes are happening in business strategy or personnel. The next time a little melodrama comes your way, try to see the story and return to the facts. Ask yourself, or the people involved, “Is this true?” This question can interrupt the downward drama spiral that can kill productivity and morale.

2) Perfection

This is the belief that there’s no room for mistakes. When people feel they’re working in an environment where their best is not good enough, it’s not only demoralizing, but it also limits innovation: no one wants to take a risk for fear of “doing it wrong.” The way to redirect this energy is to be honest about both what you know and don’t know and what your strengths and weaknesses are. For example, “I’m great with content, but I need help with images to communicate my words for presentations.” Letting go of the idea of perfection and being open to failure is how we learn.

Letting go of the idea of perfection and being open to failure is how we learn.

3) Glass-Half-Empty Outlook

When your focus is always on what’s going wrong, it’s downright exhausting. And if you linger in that mindset for too long, it can cause hypervigilance (and trust me, this is not a productive use of your energy!). Instead, make a daily effort to recognize and celebrate what is working. This doesn’t mean avoiding or ignoring the issues and challenges that need to be addressed. It means starting with the wins first.

When your focus is always on what’s going wrong, it’s downright exhausting.

4) No Boundaries

Without clear boundaries about what’s acceptable, comfortable, and tolerable in your worklife, there’s always going to be confusion (for you and for the people dealing with you). If you have a family commitment on a given day of the week, let the people you work with know, so they have context for why you’re not free that day. Setting and communicating boundaries—for yourself and for your team—lets everyone know what is and isn’t expected and permitted. It keeps the energy flowing in a positive direction.

5) Control

This shows up as a compulsive desire to know everything and control outcomes. (Hello, micromanaging!) When we rely on controlling behaviors, we are likely fearful—either of the outcome not going our way or of being “exposed” as not good enough—both of which can deplete your energy by focusing on incomplete or false data (aka drama). You can avoid this drain by allowing the action to occur as it would naturally, without your interference. Take a step back and reflect when you notice the urge to force an outcome to be what you want it to be. Releasing control doesn’t mean you stop caring. It means you are able to see things from many points of view and assume everyone means well and is acting with the best of intentions.

This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.

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