Category Archives: Erick Lauber

Battle Burnout: Address the 6 Motivators for Enjoying Work

By Erick LauberErick Lauber

Gloria wasn’t happy at work. It wasn’t that she hated her job or anything like that. Her co-workers were fine and she didn’t mind the type of work she did. In fact, she thought she did it pretty well. Of course, she wanted more money, but who didn’t? No, something else was bothering her. At some basic level she simply didn’t enjoy coming to work. Whatever excitement or sense of accomplishment she used to get had been replaced by a lack of motivation.

Gloria’s issue was a common one. Employees around the world sometimes lose sight of what makes their work worthwhile. They get run-down, burnt out and de-motivated. At times like these it can be difficult for anyone to enjoy work and find the old levels of motivation and energy.

To help Gloria and the millions like her, it is necessary to look at the underlying causes. Why do any of us enjoy work? And can we re-ignite those causes in our own work environment? The answer is yes, there are at least six different reasons why we enjoy work, ignoring money, of course.

Inner Accomplishment: The remarkable time and energy some people put in to their work can only be understood as an “inner drive” – they simply want to achieve that goal. Seeking a personal sense of accomplishment is natural and can be harnessed everyday by millions of workers and employers. It can be described as “taking pride in one’s work” or a sense that “this is what I was meant to do.” Whether the objectives are short-term or long-term, making progress toward a goal makes all of us feel good.

The Greater Good: Many of us are also motivated by a sense of community. The feeling that we are part of something larger and that life isn’t just about our own individual needs and wants. This particular joy and peace is experienced by millions as they volunteer for church or service club tasks, but it can also be encouraged in the workplace. For example, it is claimed many Asian/Eastern companies reinforce this message. Clearly many Americans are also motivated by community considerations. Perhaps Gloria could be encouraged to reframe her circumstances and see how she is contributing to the greater good.

Personal Relationships: Many get enjoyment from the individual relationships they experience at work. It helps them look forward to each day. The laughter, the camaraderie, the forgiveness and even the occasional stress are all something they enjoy and know they wouldn’t want to live without. But not everyone is the same, and certainly we’re not all our best self every single day. Enlightened managers respect this basic human need to connect with others and allow it, if not encourage it, in their workplace. Has Gloria’s manager given her the opportunity to connect with others? Has he diagnosed that this is something important to her?

Sense of Team: Similarly, some people enjoy a special sense of completeness and wholeness by experiencing team. In the workplace, many employers work hard to encourage this shared identity by conducting internal PR and messaging campaigns. For quieter teammates, a sense of camaraderie might provide an extremely important opportunity to connect and feel like they belong. Does Gloria feel she’s part of a team? How much team spirit has her boss created?

Physical Exertion: For some, a special sense of joy comes from physical exertion, and the absence of it makes any job less appealing. It just doesn’t feel like work if they aren’t breaking a sweat or doing battle with the weather. This is partly a product of socialization and might be tied up with what “work” means to them. Modern day psychology re-affirms the benefits from physical labor. We all know how endorphins can give us a slight high. And everyone knows about the stress-management benefits from working out? Is getting physical a way for Gloria to battle her “lack of motivation? If her job is sedentary, does her employer even offer a “get in shape” program?

Mental Challenges: Finally, a great many of us enjoy the special mental feeling that comes from exercising our creativity or satisfying our curiosity. The small euphoria that comes from developing something new or conquering a complex problem can be for a big part of enjoying work for some. Does Gloria’s boss know whether she’s incredibly bored or frustrated by her tasks? Is it time for a promotion, or perhaps a little job engineering to offer a chance at being creative?

“Why” is the Answer to “How?” So, what can be done more generally to help employees enjoy their work? Or what can Gloria or any employee do themselves? The answer is simple: treat the cause, not the symptoms. Instead of worrying about symptoms like aggressive behavior or poor attitude, employees and employers can create a more enjoyable work environment by directly addressing one or more of these common denominators. Why not casually interview Gloria about whether she feels connected to her fellow co-workers? Does she have any friends at work? Why not ask “is this job challenging enough?” or “would you like the opportunity to be more creative?” Stepping back and reflecting on each of these six motivators can guide any manager or employee toward a more enjoyable work place. There is hope for Gloria in the application of modern day psychology to the workplace.

Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. He has won 19 educational TV/film awards and has been published in numerous psychology journals and book chapters. His video log is located at LifeFraming.org. Contact: www.ErickLauber.com or call 724-464-7460.

Healing a Broken Relationship at Work

By Erick LauberErick Lauber

Maybe you have a broken leg at work.

I don’t mean the physical kind; the type where you see a doctor and try to stay off of it for a while. That kind will heal in a few weeks all by itself. I mean the broken relationship kind; the type that’s much harder to heal, keeps you awake at night and can end up making you unproductive for years if it isn’t fixed.

But a broken relationship at work is a lot like a broken leg. It can make you avoid certain places or take a different route in and out of your office. It can dominate your conversations with friends and make your spouse wish you would just shut up about it. Broken work relationships make you less productive and tempt you to overdo the “pain medication,” despite how dangerous you know that is.

Unfortunately, the risks of not treating your broken relationship are also like having a broken leg. It can become an ever-increasing problem or infection. It might change how you act in the future, making you a bit gun-shy and eager to avoid another broken leg. The broken relationship might even wear you out emotionally and physically, so much so that you just want to escape and maybe accept any offer to change jobs – even for less pay!

You might think that it makes sense to go back and examine how your leg or relationship became so broken. Thoughts like “What did I do so wrong?” and “How could this happen to me?” might float through your head. But how it broke isn’t nearly as important as how you respond.

Healing a Broken Relationship: So, what can you do about your broken relationship at work? Is there a way to avoid being one of those martyrs who in some weird way seems to enjoy having a broken relationship? Fortunately, there is. But, like a broken leg, it will take some uncomfortable work.

1. Choose to Heal: The first thing that must be done is to approach the situation correctly. You have to make a choice: is this thing going to heal and get better or is it going to be a pain forever? This choice is completely under your control and it really matters which option you choose.

For example, martyrs won’t listen to any advice, even from professionals. They don’t believe the relationship will get any better so they won’t try anything. They stick to complaining as their only “therapy.”

But healers work toward a solution. They try things, they ask for advice. They refuse to accept that the future has to look like the present. They believe.

2. Avoid “Compensatory” Behaviors or Work-arounds: For example, those who don’t believe a relationship will get any better start to work around it. In medicine, such activities are called “compensatory behaviors” because the patient is “compensating” for the deficient limb or process. This can be a problem; first, because it puts extra strain on the other parts of someone’s life. Long-term problems can develop in those relationships that have to bear the extra weight. Second, compensating behaviors don’t allow the original broken relationship to fully heal. They simply hide it.

3. Use Crutches and Other Aids Temporarily: On the other hand, doctors do prescribe crutches and other aids when damage initially occurs. It is not unreasonable to keep weight off a relationship for a bit while the anger subsides. But importantly, doctors prescribe crutches so you can still function normally – not so you can avoid putting any and all weight on the foot. In real life, we still have to function even with a broken relationship. The proper temporary aids, like having a third co-worker present, or alerting a boss to keep things operating smoothly, is allowable – but only temporarily, and only in extreme situations.

Other temporary aids might include compliments and extra “Thank Yous.” Think of these as adding ointments or icy-hot to a broken leg. They don’t really heal it from the inside, but they do ease the pain and make it more bearable while the real work of healing is being done.

4. Put It Up At Night: Everyone knows that a medical doctor will recommend putting a broken leg up at night. This helps it heal and can be thought of as “draining the blood out of it.” The same thing applies to broken relationships – you need to drain the blood out of them occasionally. Many a close friend and spouse have wished a loved one would put a broken relationship out of mind. Stop picking at the wound. If you wish, think of it as allowing your subconscious to work on the problem while your conscious self gets some time off. Either way, put it up at night. It will actually heal better if you don’t obsess and worry it constantly.

5. Exercise It As Soon As You Can: Eventually, every broken relationship, like a broken leg, demands exercise and real use. This is the part that most people are afraid of. What if it hurts? What if it doesn’t feel exactly like it did before it was broken?

One piece of advice is to go slow and gentle at first, listening for when you might be pushing too hard and then easing up a little. But every doctor knows waiting too long is a much more common mistake than jumping in too early. Avoiding pain is a built-in characteristic of all humans. But there’s a reason going “outside our comfort zone” is such a common expression in management and business. The difference between success and failure is sometimes just the difference between those who succumb to our natural human tendencies and those who climb above them.

6. The Most Important Ingredient – Trust: Did you know that a healed broken bone is often stronger than the original bone? It’s true! The biological processes that stitch bone back together produce stronger bones than the originals. Is that possible with your broken relationship? Actually, it is.

Consider: in our life, accidents happen; miscommunications, misinterpretations. Sometimes people will misbehave around us for reasons we could not possibly fathom because we are truly not inside their heads, so bumped and bruised relationships are inevitable.

But fundamentally, people are to some degree a little bit scared and insecure. They are worried other people won’t like them or will somehow “be out to get them.” They are also very, very worried that they can’t predict what other people will do. Somehow bad things will come their way, unexpectedly.

The best human relationships eliminate these two fears. A good friend is fundamentally (a) someone you know will not purposefully do things that damage you and (b) will act in ways that you can predict. We call this “trust” in our normal, social lives.

Our relationships at work require the same thing. We need to do things to communicate to people that they can trust us – that we won’t “act out” and purposefully hurt them, even when we feel bumped or bruised. We also need to demonstrate that our actions are understandable and normal. They can be predicted – even when we might have a “right” to act out. These two things help people trust us. And a healed relationship is one where there is trust.

Healing a broken relationship at work is perhaps harder than healing a broken leg, but it can be done. In most places we don’t have the benefit of a doctor to diagnose and prescribe treatment, but we can do these six things to help heal the relationship ourselves. The bad news is that all broken relationships will require us to go outside our comfort zone and “put some weight” on the relationship, perhaps while we are still afraid – even when we know it might be painful. But in the end, a healed relationship, perhaps one so healed it is even stronger than before, is better than a broken relationship.

Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. He has won 19 educational TV/film awards and has published in numerous psychology journals and book chapters. His video log is located at LifeFraming.org. Contact: www.ErickLauber.com or call 724-464-7460.

What Leadership Is NOT! 3 Leadership Myths to Avoid

By Erick LauberErick Lauber

Bradley was failing, and failing badly.

Not only did the members of his team avoid him in the lunchroom and never stop by to say “good morning,” they had begun taping a target to his back every day and everyone had signed up for archery lessons. Bradley’s leadership style just wasn’t working.

Unfortunately, Bradley’s core problem was that he suffered from several leadership myths he’d picked up from pop culture. Like many of us, he didn’t have any formal training in leadership so his beliefs came mostly from watching movies. Leadership to Bradley was square-jawed men taking on insurmountable odds, rallying the troops with award-winning speeches, and humbly waiting for passionate kisses from pretty co-stars. Bradley thought he was prepared to be a great leader because though he didn’t have a square jaw and no one had tried to kiss him in years, he had been practicing his motivational speeches in the mirror. He had worked up his volume to “passing car with the bass too loud” level, and he could spew out all of the latest leadership buzzwords without spitting too much. But somehow it just wasn’t working.

What Bradley didn’t realize was that his ailments were completely fixable. They are pretty common today. Perhaps you’ve seen these leadership myths in your workplace:

1. The Myth of Omnipotence: This shouldn’t be confused with the “myth of ominipresence” (the power to be everywhere) or the “myth of omniplexes” (the power to watch all of the movies in a theater on only one ticket). The myth of omnipotence is thinking you can tell anyone on the team to do practically anything and they’re going to just hop to it, with a grin and a nod and a comment that means “You got it, boss. I’d walk through fire for you.”

It might happen in the movies but we know in reality a brand new leader doesn’t automatically get enthusiastic cooperation. He or she more often gets quiet acceptance, or perhaps begrudging compliance. Building cooperation and energetic participation requires time and careful nurturing in the real world. You might have to listen to a co-worker tell that unfunny story about their nephew’s brief stint with the Ice Capades. You might have to not get your way a few times in order to “collaborate” with your team. Real humans don’t give blind obedience because of someone’s position in an organizational chart. And leaders can’t alienate people, even if they do suspect some of them might be possessed by aliens.

2. The Myth of Omniscience: This is the belief that being the leader means knowing everything about everything. It comes in two varieties. In some environments, it makes the brand new leader micromanage and attempt to oversee the smallest detail. In others, it makes the leader think they have to know the answer to every question. Why else would they be the leader?

Bradley had these two issues. He started looking over everyone’s shoulder. Bradley also never failed to give an answer even when he was clueless. His staff noticed. They even started reading questions from the back of a quantum physics text book just to mess with him.

3. The Myth of Omni-adrenaline: This is probably the most damaging myth in today’s complex, skill-driven team environments. It is the belief that excellent execution from a team demands adrenaline surges, rousing speeches and lots of shouting. Every movie has such inspirational moments and Bradley tried to create them every day. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work on his team.

Bradley’s attempts at motivating were actually hurting his team’s performance, not helping. Shouting and adrenaline surges are only useful for invoking over-learned, mindless performance in the face of fear and actual physiological arousal. Military units and sports teams are perfect for this type of leadership. They also provide clear winners and losers and are wonderful backdrops for the kind of dramatic storytelling Hollywood thrives on. Would you want to see a movie about complex, skill-driven teams toiling day after day to solve logistics issues, problems with customer service, or trying to get the copier man to arrive on time?

But adrenaline surges also narrow cognition and thinking. Today’s American work environment demands creative problem solving, flexible decision making and complex reasoning. When was the last time you had to jump on a grenade or charge into an enemy bayonet line? A leader suffering from “omni-adrenaline” in the modern workplace looks clueless and simple-minded. “Why is he shouting? I’m trying to concentrate over here!”

Americans and movie watchers worldwide are taught myths about leadership every day. The myths of omnipotence, omniscience and omni-adrenaline are just a few of the leadership stereotypes that can be fixed with training or mentorship. Fortunately, these “inoculations” are available in all kinds of dosage sizes. Everyone can get access to leadership training in today’s technology-connected world. And why not? Wouldn’t you want to create a more productive, cooperative workplace by dispelling the myths of leadership you suffer from?

Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. He has won 19 educational TV/film awards and has published in numerous psychology journals and book chapters. His video log is located at LifeFraming.org. Contact: www.ErickLauber.com or call 724-464-7460.