It's Not Your Work That's Weighing You Down: It's Probably Your Co-Workers

drain at work If you're like most people, 2010 was a long, exhausting year. You're tired, depleted, and quite frankly just done with "business as usual." You're laying the blame for your fatigue squarely at the feet of the increased responsibilities and long hours you faced. But according to Jon Gordon, you might be wrong.

He insists that working hard -- when done with a good attitude in the right environment -- can actually be quite invigorating. In other words, what's wearing you out at work might not be the work.

"Most people wrongly assume that their tasks and responsibilities are what's grinding them down," explains Gordon, author of the newly released 'Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture.' "However, while 'work' is a convenient scapegoat, the real culprit is often the negativity of the people you work with and for, their constant complaining, and the pessimistic culture that is now the norm in a lot of workplaces."

The fact is, many of us work in a world of drainers. And what, exactly, is a drainer? Gordon says the term can describe anyone in the workplace -- a boss, co-worker, employee, or client --who sucks the life and energy right out of you.

No one sets out to be a drainer, of course. It's just that some people regularly (and inadvertently) exhibit energy-draining behaviors. What's worse, many bosses allow them to continue -- or are themselves guilty of practicing these behaviors. And over time, the entire culture becomes poisoned.

Don't fret, though: Gordon promises that if managers are able to identify the offending behaviors and fix them, they'll be able to spend more time nourishing their companies' cultures -- which will, in turn, make employees happier and more productive, thus increasing the bottom line.

Gordon lays out the ingredients that make up a nourishing culture, instead of a draining one.

Here are some of his do's and don'ts for specific draining situations:

1. The energy vampire attack

DON'T: Let negativity become your go-to response. There's nothing more draining than a boss or coworker who is constantly negative. Gordon calls these folks "energy vampires." They are never happy, rarely supportive, and constantly nay-saying any and all ideas and suggestions that aren't their own. According to them, you might as well give up before you start.

DO: Respond constructively when someone offers up an idea. Even if you know more about a particular project, have more experience than the rest of your team, or are positive that the suggestions others are making are off the mark, hear them out. Let employees and coworkers know that when they come to you with their ideas, they'll be heard with an open mind and received with respect. Insist that everyone else practice positivity as well. While negativity squelches creativity and initiative, an encouraging attitude will keep creative juices flowing and encourage constructive dialogue.

2. The out-of-control complain train

DON'T: Give in to the temptation to whine. It's a well-known phenomenon that can have catastrophic consequences: One person's complaint resonates with someone else, who then proceeds to add grievances to the pile, which prompts yet another individual to throw in her two (negative) cents ... and so on. Before you know it, everyone is complaining, and any work that gets done thereafter is marred by a bad attitude.

DO: Push for solutions. The next time a water-cooler conversation threatens to barrel out of control, into Complaint Central, step in and ask the complainers how they would make things better. Better yet, take a cue from Gordon's bestselling book 'The No Complaining Rule' and ban complaints altogether. It's tough love for sure, but it will also create and sustain a positive work culture.

Jon Gordon

3. The vicious voicemail (or e-mail)

DON'T: Leave critical or harsh messages on voicemail or send them to an e-mail inbox. Nine times out of 10, these critiques seem much more vehement and condemnatory than they actually are. Plus, any communication you send via electronic methods can potentially last forever. Not only could your words come back to haunt you, they'll also be a constant reminder to your co-worker or employee of his or her supposed shortcomings.

DO: Suck it up and conduct the tough talks in person. If you need to have a stern talk with someone, or if you need to talk through a conflict or problem, do it in person if at all possible. You'll be able to ensure that your words and tone aren't misinterpreted, and you'll be able to immediately have a constructive dialogue with the other person. By talking about ways to improve, you can end the conversation on a positive and encouraging note.

4. The loaded Monday morning inbox

DON'T: Overwhelm your team with a mountain of e-mails before the week is under way. If you're finishing up your own to-do list late on a Friday night, or if you're simply trying to get a jump-start on the week ahead, it can be tempting to dish out the details and to-dos as you think of them. After all, if you wait till Monday morning, you might forget to tell those who need to know! However, coming in to an inbox of 57 new messages is draining and makes folks feel like they're fighting an uphill battle from the start.

DO: Boil down and bundle your communication as considerately as possible. Inevitably, people are going to be working late and sending e-mails over the weekend; in today's business culture it's unavoidable! However, there are a few things you can do to make "You've Got Mail!" less stressful and more efficient for the recipient. Be sure to flag any urgent e-mails so that your teammates know which tasks to tackle first, and include as many details as possible so that you won't forget the specifics, and so that the recipient can get started on their tasks as quickly as possible. If you can, combine as many of the tasks and questions as you can into a single document.

5. The busy bee bamboozle

DON'T: Confuse activity with progress. You know the type that's constantly guilty of this. She's always so busy but doesn't ever seem to meet deadlines or get anything done. When teams are being formed, people secretly hope she isn't assigned to theirs. She's living proof of the fact that just because your day is full of things to do, doesn't necessarily mean that you're getting them done.

DO: Set goals and hold yourself and your employees accountable for results. These results should be ones that matter and that are visible and valuable to your team. It can be helpful to transition over to a day-to-day plan that will help everyone stay on the right track. Most importantly, don't put your team in situations where their goals are blurred. If the goals are crystal clear, they'll be easier to accomplish.

6. The low performer look-away

DON'T: Let sub-par work slide. Simply put, low performers drag the rest of the team down. They are like a cancer inside your organization, creating resentment and generating more work for everyone else. And if you allow them to linger for too long, your best employees will move on to a more productive environment.

DO: Institute a zero-tolerance policy for low performers. Hold your entire team accountable for meeting their goals and adhering to the same performance standards. If one person consistently misses the bar, then you need to take swift action. Let your employees know that you value their hard work and that you will not allow others to do less and get away with it.

7. The unclear communiqué

DON'T: Assume others have all the information they need, or that something you know, isn't really all that important. These hastily drawn conclusions, which result from chronic poor communication, can lead to serious mistakes and major missed opportunities. Plus, lack of clarity is incredibly frustrating to co-workers. When employees or supervisors have to spend their time tracking you down for clarification, rather than progressing toward their goals, productivity falls and creativity is stifled.

DO: Make a concerted and proactive effort to make sure that the right people are in the know. Whether it's letting your boss know that a client's daughter is getting married (so he can call-in with congratulations) or telling a co-worker that a vendor prefers to be contacted only via e-mail, be sure to tell the appropriate people. You'll set your entire team up for success and ensure that your clients get the service they deserve. Also, make sure you copy the right people on e-mails, promptly return voicemails, and are clear about directions and expectations. And if you say you are going to do something, then follow through!

8. The disorganization drag-down

DON'T: Allow disorganization to impede productivity. If you're managing or leading a company, heading up a big project, or traveling non-stop, it's likely you've lost an e-mail, important document, phone number, or pie chart during your day. You're busy, and that's understandable. But constant disorganization can drain your employees and co-workers if they're always having to cover your tracks. Accidents do happen on occasion; but not being able to find the quarterly report for the third meeting in a row sets a bad example, and it depletes others of the energy they could be putting toward other, more productive work.

DO: Make a concerted effort to keep up with your tasks and responsibilities. And if you can't immediately put your hands on something you need, don't automatically ask others for help. Take a few minutes to try and find what you need on your own. Better yet, try to think of better systems and processes than the ones you're using (or not using) now. If you see that someone in your office has a particular knack for organization, ask her for some tips to help you out.

9. The hasty plate clear-off

DON'T: Sacrifice quality on the altar of expediency. There's a lot of work to do, and you (understandably) want to get your own tasks done so you don't hold up others. However, moving through assignments quickly in order to get them off your own plate can also mean that you're piling the work on someone else. If you've rushed, you're more likely to have made mistakes and been sloppy, which isn't fair to the person who gets the assignment after you.

DO: Take the time you need to do the job right. Rather than rushing through a report or clicking "send" just because it's 5PM, get focused and make sure you do your best work the first time. Pay attention to details, check over your work, and make sure you've followed the proper guidelines. Your co-workers and employees would rather have a project that's done right than one that's ahead of schedule. (And if you have to turn in a project a day late on occasion, it's not the end of the world.)

10. The chronic deadline dodge

DON'T: Allow unmet deadlines to throw everything, and everyone else around you off-track. With all the unexpected obstacles you face in a workday, it's not always easy to meet deadlines. And yes, sometimes it's impossible to avoid, but those times should be few and far between. When people chronically miss deadlines, it's a sure sign of a issue with the office's corporate culture. Either people aren't giving it their all, or they're truly overburdened. Either way, your company's productivity will suffer.

DO: Set reasonable, clear deadlines for everyone involved (and hold them accountable). Once something gets off track, nobody is willing to own it. Make sure you set reasonable deadlines that you and your teammates can meet, in order to avoid setting folks up for failure. And even if it takes some extra elbow grease from time to time, make a conscious effort to meet every deadline every time (and hold your team accountable for meeting them, too!).

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