8 Business Lessons from Story Land
Now that fall is really underway with cool evenings, apple cider, and pumpkin everything feeling nostalgic about summer feels allowed. As I shuffle photos for end of year family gifts I come across this cute shot from a trip to New Hampshire's Story Land. Have you been? A lovely, right-sized family friendly amusement park that works for children from "2-102" as they say on little signs throughout the park. What might be easy to overlook is that this "little park" pulls in over $20 million a year in revenue and employ hundreds of workers each season. Workers come from nearby Conway but they also come from Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Tokyo and New York (hey, it's northern New Hampshire, it's all pretty exotic up here!). How can a seasonal place be so successful in cultivating a workplace culture where staff are friendly and engaged with customers, in all weather, even when the tasks they engage with are monotonous and routine? I noticed 8 things that Story Land does right.
1) Start Small and be Authentic
When you line up to ride the "old fashioned cars" (which you will, don't try to be too cool!) you will notice the large maps hung on the wall which depict the park from various eras. It's a great trick to keep you from noticing your wait in line, and a lovely way at the end of the day to reminisce with grandpa about the first trip he made to the park. But there is a lesson here about growth: the park did not start with 5 major rides, 5 central themes, and 6 dining areas. Instead, it started with a small playground type area with only a few rides. Over time attractions were added and the crowds returned. And what was added was always with the goal to appeal to family fun, not single rider fun. This commitment to authentic fun pays off.
2) Add value
In a day and age when income generated from family amusements comes largely from concessions, upgrades, and add ons Story Land's approach is refreshing: charge a reasonable entry fee and allow families to bring items they prefer. The result: families willing to make multiple trips, indulging in treats and extras, and lots of little painted faces which adds to the fun. By keeping their full costs upfront for families they gain loyalty and increase revenue AND goodwill.
As you pass through gates onto rides you notice name tags on worker shirts which say their names and where they are from along with information about how long they have worked at Story Land. Countries, cities, little towns. Men, women, age and ethnic diversity is on display. The result is a wonderful combination of youthful enthusiasm, careful attentiveness, helpful graciousness. Add in conversations in line about trips and places visited and the atmosphere is one that feels inclusive and benefits from the cross section of people and talents they have hired.
4)Brand is your culture
Story Land means family and fun, natural beauty, clean environment, and valuing leisure time. This culture results returning workers, happy customers, and an atmosphere of trust and fun. These are not accidental elements, each are attended to in order to promote the experience that keeps families returning.
5) Pipeline is local, recruitment is global.
As diverse as the staff are within Story Land, it might be easy to think there is an externally focused strategy in place. While this is likely true, it is also obvious that there is attention to cultivating local relationships as well; workers from the surrounding region return again and again because the opportunities are there and structured to encourage return. And they don't think of pipeline as only about converting non-worker into new worker; they have techniques that convert new worker to returning worker and returning worker to recruiter. Attention to the reputation they have in the region as an employer pays off with a significant percentage of staff that are returning or legacy hires. And the blend of this with new international workers lends itself to responsiveness.
6) Train and Crosstrain in Advance
Workers and tasks are efficiently aligned, but a sick day or malfunctioning ride can require a shuffle that can disrupt operations. Solution; introduce skills as modules, rotate trainees through, and give everyone ownership over the customer experience even if they don't touch all parts. In your organization you can benefit from creating or encouraging cross functional teams, job share days, and rotating leadership opportunities.
7) Turn a disadvantage into an advantage
How does a family amusement center attract and retain a talented set of regional and international workers year after year? They are located over an hour from international airports, over an hour from any major metropolitan city, and their hours of operation are 9:30-5pm so youthful workers have plenty of downtime and few urban-style outlets. Rather than this being a challenge, Story Land has turned this into an advantage, highlighting the natural beauty of the area and offering a lifestyle that translates as active and an escape from the chaos of urban life. What can you reframe to attract talent?
8) Be part of an ecosystem
A stop at the gift shop shows a variety of souvenirs, which you have enough money to buy since you packed a picnic. Grabbing the iconic Humpty Dumpty doll and reading the tag reveals that he was created right there in New Hampshire, at a manufacturer in Hudson in the southern region of the state. This may seem inconsequential, but for an item easily outsourced and able to be brought into the shop for pennies this is a big statement. Story Land makes a commitment to being a part of a statewide ecosystem even while making national and international purchases. But what customers leave with, and that lives on with them, is a cute little guy that reminds them of a NH connection. Your role in an ecosystem has many advantages and can boost a brand and culture greatly. Think about the various touchpoints you have with staff or customers and consider a local partner that can enhance that point.
Story Land is open for one more weekend before closing for the season but these lessons will help them ramp up for next year and help your company enjoy multigenerational success.
Clarity in Chaos.
It is a central focus of our service offerings. When we established a firm devoted to crisis response planning, culture, inclusion, and conflict management we knew we were the partner companies needed to handle the hot button issues that detract from mission. What we didn't know was how varied and consistent the efforts would be. Our services are designed for high growth companies and non-profits; organizations that have a growing demand but limited resources to respond. These are the perfect environments to see innovation and creative problem solving. They are also the perfect storm for unintended offense, massive missteps, and sometimes outright mistreatment. What we have known all along is that little missteps during the growth phase are set ups for problems in the adapting phase. When reputation, relationship, and results are most essential is not just before a big service launch or public offering; they matter when the room size starts to double from 6 to 12, from 12 to 24, and especially from 48 to 96. We have known this and helped our partners see that too. Yesterday the NY Times shared some recent management data that support our claims (you can find their post here).
Our insight wasn't based soley on gut instinct; we had read the results of studies produced by Stamford's Emerging Company division (their site outlines a recent history of findings, and links to some full text for the wonks among you). We know quite a bit about teams, leadership, and accountability mechanisms. We know how marginalized people (read as "anyone who is different in a group of sameness") are treated within homogeneous settings. Our insight and services were positioned after witnessing multiple start-up cultures, both non-profit and high tech, burgeon and then flounder when opportunity and growth collided.
When we offer a course like "Manager's Tool Kit" it's because we know scaling well means avoiding crushed toes. When we participate in a panel discussing how women in non-traditional settings can be supported we know we are there to celebrate and inform those who work with women in all fields.
Our work with clients has taught us some valuable tips that any company facing hypergrowth would do well to learn:
"What is the ROI on that?"
"Can you give me some easy to implement suggestions?"
"It might be something we can roll out, but I am not sure I know how to message it, any tips?"
The past few months I have been lucky to land some great lunch meetings with some key contacts. It gets ideas flowing, opportunities for further collaboration are revealed, and a great deal of good will gets fostered. I make a habit of annual check ins with key contacts, not always back loaded to the end of the year, in order to celebrate the work we acheived together that year and to listen for areas that can be improved. The innovation that so energizes an organization rarely appears wrapped on your door, rather it slinks in one chat at a time and suddenly appears fully formed only because so many minds have already contributed to the vision. I love being in the position I am to observe and facilitate this process. I often get to do this in organizations seeking to be more inclusive and conscious of ways individual and cultural differences can be leveraged and supported within a system. With newer contacts I am often confronted with a set of questions that boil down to one common request:
"Can you bullet point exactly what will work so I can copy that in my company? And combine that with dollar by dollar analysis of exactly what economic benefit will occur for the effort? I prefer to look at projects only limited to the next 2 quarters please. Thanks!"
The rationale and intent of the request is certainly understandable: when you need to sell an idea up the chain you want to empower yourself with the kind of information you know holds currency. But when I hear this question it tells me the inclusion effort isn't ready to be launched. Rather, there is more planning work needed to ready the system for the tasks that will actually lead to greater effectiveness.
My business card says "Translating Results". It's a tagline I used when my consulting firm first launched back in 2007. At the time I was positioning my services to be a within-reach option for Kahneman/Gladwell/Arielly type feedback. If you don't know what I am referring to you, you now have some idea the challenges I encountered those first years! I keep the reference because it accurately reflects my method of consultation. I don't know everything, but I know how to locate, vet, and apply many things that will have impact in your organization. I see my role not as building something new for you, but as helping you locate resources and talents that exist within your systems and that can be strengthened by some tested best practices.
The approach doesn't always translate well into a three step plan, but the chance to connect an idea with direction is well worth the conversation. Looking forward to our next chance to connect.
It was such a charming version of my everyday. Jet setting, scouting locations, long chunks of time simply waiting for the real work to begin. My favorite might have been the fancy dinners on another company's dime or the lack of roots required to do good work. When I read the recent "what a consultant does all day" article that circulated late last week I had to laugh. I knew it was describing the details of a young entry level employee of a high level consulting firm, and that of course the founder of said firm wasn't necessarily carving their time in the same way. Even so, while it made me laugh I also felt some degree of frustration that this was the version of consulting that was presented to those who many not appreciate what the work actually entails; particularly if done well. So, in case my clients, future and current, wonder how different the story looks I figured I would lay out my everyday.
After getting up to a house full of children and negotiating morning routine duties with my partner I get to my office and begin working my customer relationship pipeline. I make note of events within the industries we serve, edit some content for this blog, a column I co-write, or material for my monthly Insider newsletter and social media streams. I respond to requests for proposals, answer questions about training logistics, and at least three times per week serve on a variety committees related to my professional interests. I usually spend at least 1-3 hours a week managing material for various collaborative practice groups that I participate in or organize. I spend some amount of time each week learning skills relevant for my business and I spend some time each month teaching others something that will help them grow their business.
When I am not managing my CRM, I am planning and delivering learning material for my clients. I spend a few hours per week reading recent behavioral science research and mapping skills training to match relevant results that might help a client achieve their aims more effectively or efficiently. When I am not planning such learning opportunities I am delivering them to companies and agencies that are equipping their teams with skills to manage change, respond to conflict, or engage diversity within their system.
It isn't all reading and writing. My favorite aspect is when I can work even more closely with an organization to support leadership and staff engaged in big picture events. As a sounding board and strategist I listen for strengths and challenges that can be opened to provide options that may not have been obvious to those within the system. My goal isn't to develop a winning idea, it's to bring the space out that will allow the system to see the great idea that already exists within.
Most nights I end up back where it all started, and instead of dishing out advice I dish out something worthy of a young eater's complaints before baths, homework, stories, and last minute scrambles consume the evening. While my evening does occasionally involve dinner out with a client, it most usually has to do with some marquis event that I attend to celebrate their achievements. If there is a dinner, it's usually chicken, and since many are also fundraisers, I can't really say they happen on the company dime. I can say that I wouldn't change my version of a consultant "typical day" for the version the hot-shot recent college grad shared. I spend most of my time doing for clients, and that is what makes me keep showing up each and every day.
When was the last time life called on you to be lovingly and patiently accepting of imperfection? How good were you at answering that call? I bet it depends on who was on the other end, and how long that particular phone was ringing.
Compassion is a quality that is gaining new attention because it seems to sit at the heart of so many human experiences and its presence, or absence, can tell us a lot about what might follow.
In crisis, compassion can be the quality that assists a first responder in dealing professionally with a suspect. Doing so may allow more successful prosecution, and ultimately the justice that a more adversarial response may have garnered. Compassion for the crisis survivor goes another way too; when we can see our own actions in a compassionate light we have a better time coping with the emotions and guilt that frequently arise as a result of traumatic events.
In relationships, compassion is the skill that gives us pause when we are feeling most frustrated at our partner or child. Just as most healthy people would not fault a dog for wanting to sniff the ground, compassion allows us not to fault our partner for sometimes being selfish, sometimes not listening, sometimes not following through. When we respond with compassion we elicit the type of relational response we were craving to begin with.
When we try to connect across divides, be they class, gender, or race; compassion helps us to develop awareness and understanding of our own and others biases, which in turn helps us to select different responses than we might otherwise have generated.
Looking at relationship and stress response outcomes, those with higher self-compassion often report more positive outcomes. There is truly something powerful about the ability to see imperfection and tolerate and embrace it anyway.
You can turn compassion into a powerful tool for yourself, and the more you try it, the greater the rewards. Compassion is a quality that can be cultivated. Small steps to increase your awareness and acceptance of imperfection, in the environment, yourself and other people, can result in big gains in areas of decreased stress, increased productivity, and increased positive interactions. Think about how much energy and time you would save when you stopped trying to change things that can not be changed and instead moved into where things are as they are. Curious about how self-compassionate you are with your own imperfections, Dr. Neff has a useful tool I use in my coaching practice and in areas of my research. Her copy for the general public can be found here. She also has a great book you may want to read.
Compassion doesn't mean lack of excellence or surrender. Progress can happen even when imperfection is tolerated and social science research, and your own memories of loved ones who guided you, confirm that progress is more durable, more fun, and more contagious when true understanding and concern has directed it forward.
I was thinking once again about the many service offerings BDSinsight has and it struck me one day after sitting behind an older driver (who lacked my sense of urgency when responding to a green light) how compassion is a thread that runs through each of the areas we serve. Culture and diversity, crisis, and conflict management are all enhanced when we can bring compassion. Here are some great TED talks that share lessons learned by others about compassion's role.
This is the inaugural post of my new website. In a few more days I will enter my prior posts into the archive. If you have been reading along you may have noticed that my posts have focused on a variety of human resource topics. From time to time they also shared thoughts on current events, in my life or in the news. It was nice getting an audience, and the blog helped me open some other writing opportunities for myself. I will keep blogging. But this entry, and this new site, represent a narrowing of focus and a clarification of my mission and vision for BDS Insight.
I am not an organizational psychologist that can help a hi tech company recruit and select talent.
I can do that, but it isn't where my passion rests. And that was the lesson of the past year and a half of finding my way to my mission.
If you have had a chance to poke around my new site you have no doubt noticed a number of service offerings. To some it may seem there is little in common in these threads. Culture and diversity, on-site trauma response, coaching and training, and collaborative law facilitation. It hardly seems my focus has narrowed. But the common thread in these is me. My background, talents, interests, and experiences are all represented in these practice areas. Over the past 18 months I have clarified and credentialed myself to deliver these services well.
In the recent words of Dustin Pedroia "I don't have to do everything I do. It's just that I like it."
And like it I do, but also I have lived it, learned from it, and listened to or lectured about it over the past many years in such a way that this feels like the right time and the right way to bring these parts together.
I know a lot about helping people through hard times.
I know a lot about setting goals and knocking them out of the park.
I know a lot about getting people who don't agree, to find ways of agreeing.
I know a lot about how important people are, and how easy it is to miss what is important to them because of blindspots and uncertainty.
I hope you will think of BDS Insight when you or a company you know needs insightful, smart, well-grounded, and science driven support for issues related to crisis, culture, or conflict resolution.
If you are a C-Suite-er looking to rise, an A-lister looking for perspective, or a First Responder exhausted from your work, I hope you'll call me for some coaching support and strategies to sustain your passion.
If you are a couple seeking a different kind of divorce, or a company attempting to settle without litigation but with advocates, I hope you will make use of my collaborative coaching services.
Call this a refresh, rebrand, or pivot; to me it just feels like a perfect fit. Looking forward to our future work together.
This week it seemed my news feeds were advertising the latest stories about happiness, tips, tricks, and how to’s. It didn’t matter if the source of the information was from a business journal, a relationship columnist, or a parenting forum; the hot headlines were each shouting about the latest research, anecdote, or personal journey to achieving lasting happiness. One columnist quipped that workers who were happiest were the ones doing the least amount of work, while a marriage counselor released research to suggest that happy couples have fewer episodes of forgotten kindnesses shared between them. And how can you escape the battering-ram of happiness when it comes to children? This past weekend was a celebration of Easter for many, Christians and seculars alike, with toothy smiles of overflowing baskets and chocolate bunnies missing ears. All around us we get fed stories of the centrality of happiness to our relational and occupational existence.
While I sure like feeling happy, happiness isn’t the point. If you are basing your company’s, you own, or your marriage’s success on a measure of happiness you are absolutely going to be disappointed. And the level of disappointment is not a predictor of your future happiness, but it is an indication of how well you will weather the ups and downs that lay ahead.
Want your work, relationship, company, or kid to turn out great? Focus on purpose and meaning instead of happiness. When we experience a sense of importance in what we do and who we spend our time with, we are not only more likely to spend our time doing or being with those tasks or people, we are more likely to be better at it, create more pleasurable experiences for others, and basically be more pleasant to be around. If we worked harder to help our children think about their experiences from a meaning-based perspective, instead of a function-based one (wasn’t that fun?), we would do much to create resilience in them when they face challenges that are not easily conquered.
I have recently seen the intersection of these ideas come to the fore as I dig deeper into an emerging area of law. Collaborative Practice is the process of two (or more) parties agreeing to forgo litigation in favor of jointly creating a resolution. The parties are represented by counsel, and the process is facilitated by a specially trained coach facilitator who has both a mental health and mediation background. The coach’s role is to handle the emotional labor involved in helping the parties identify their needs and move towards a resolution that best meets their shared interests. Collaborative law is seeing a surge of interest in family law matters, due in no small part to the very lengthy hearing process and collateral damage associated with litigated divorces. In civil disputes there is a rich history of success for collaborative law, but fewer seem aware of its power as a tool for change.
In seeking to resolve disputes, happiness as an end goal is usually a non-starter. There has been a long history of hurt and bitter feelings, and parties often wish separation rather than union as they work through a collaborative process. But flipping this desire into a goal of feeling valued, feeling heard, and leaving a lasting impression of one’s commitment or integrity may make the two parties more likely to come to agreement because of a shared vision.
Last week’s unfortunate unfolding of Adria Richards’ tweet heard ’round-the-dev-world and this week’s responses to gaming leaders stepping down in response to sexist party events underscores that workplaces are once again facing the strains between status quo and inclusivity. These efforts to frame distance and dispute from a meaning-based, rather than happiness-based, space may result in more human, and humane, responses to each other and to our roles and responsibilities.
I’m really not against having fun! But in the spaces where my work is conducted: leadership coaching, collaborative law process, and company culture and inclusivity, I far too often see the cost of focusing almost exclusively on “happy” to the detriment of “fufilled”. You can click on a lot of recent headlines to learn tricks to happiness, but you will need an endless loop of headlines to hold onto that feeling once achieved. Instead, look to create a map to meaning and your search efforts are likely to be less exhausting and more rewarding than you (or your company, partner, or child) felt possible.
Want to read more?
Petersen, Park, & Seligman (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies.6:25 41
When I teach students in my undergraduate psychology course about culture, I always start with helping them learn about their own. Many times students who are members of a majority group will have difficulty identifying what aspects of their routine, clothing, and diet represent their culture. Turn the tables and assign them an “exotic” culture to research and they easily spot the cultural indicators. Culture is invisible, at least our own often is. We are so steeped in our culture we hardly notice it other than to observe when something different intersects with it.
The same is true for corporate cultures, which is today’s hip way of referring to human resources, physical plant, and corporate governance procedures. Culture is now currency in many sectors, with conferences, webinars, and initiatives all focused on defining, spreading, or improving the invisible essence of a company. In some ways these efforts are about branding, but the branding effort is internal rather than external. Savvy businesses in the day of social media are furthering the internal branding effort, the Culture effort, into a strategy to engage external audiences more deeply than pure marketing or product might do. The most successful Culture practices are translating to the outside observer as authentic, organic, and participatory atmosphere within the organization.
The Circus Hotel and Apartments is a series of hostel, hotel, and flats designed to immerse the traveler into the life of Berlin, Germany. Rather than a box with a bed, the hotel aimed to create a community of travelers that would learn and support each other, while becoming a meaningful, if temporary, part of the community in which it operates. Resources are used to spread this message to workers and to patrons. A hotel magazine connects the traveler to staff, who are columnists, featured guests, and contributors. Add to this a set of policies around uniforms, customer responsiveness, and community participation and the experience for the visitor is one of belonging, even if they have never been. And, it works, the Circus has been able to grow and expand despite economic challenges, they are committed to a living wage for their staff, and place an emphasis on sustainability. They have staff that are committed to their vision and the community. And under the hood, the imperfections that exist are part of the tapestry that makes up their Culture.
How do you take these lessons into your own organization? My students always struggle at first when labeling their cultural indicators, how would your employees and leadership team fare when asked this of your organization? How about if you turn the tables and frame it as a question about the competition’s culture, or a client partner’s culture? Often this is easier and may be a starting point for your organization to conduct a Cultural inventory of its people and practices. Once there is widespread recognition of what your organizational culture really is, you can begin to enhance or message the culture more easily.
What is the value of identifying Culture within an organization? It can lead to some high profile industry wide notice, which in turn can lead to talent finding you rather than you hunting talent. These certainly are great benefits, but an additional, and I think more important one, is that knowing culture allows you to better understand the transitions and challenges that will arise in the organization. By knowing that your organization is shaped by a leadership vision of independence and autonomy, you can predict that growth, which will bring with it additional regulatory demands, will likely be difficult for staff. Using culture to frame the challenge and the opportunities it presents will assist in shaping a productive response to the change.
A word of caution. Remember that earlier point that effective organizational culture is often organic and authentic? Sometimes cultural pride can transform our replication efforts into repetition or sloganeering. Avoid treating your organizational culture as an object to be manipulated or messaged or you will devour whatever amount of commitment your employees and stakeholders have provided. “Cultural Evangelists” are trendy now, a designated staff person that is in charge of programming and spreading the message about your corporate culture, and in charge of alerting leadership to problems within the cultural fabric of the company. But the real staying power of spreading your culture lies in the people and the positions you already have. Empower them with ownership of the environment they share, and allow authentic expressions of support, and you won’t need an “evangelist” to spread the word; you’ll have missionaries in spades.
The goal to expand US exports has apparently been successful and you might be finding it is time to allocate some human resources within your organization to establishing a presence in the communities that are emerging markets for your company. Whether the distance is great or small there are likely to be challenges for the organization that are both practical and philosophical. If you have to schedule a phone call, whose time table should you use if there are time differences? How much does it matter what experience an employee has with a new cultural environment? What role does the organization have in preparing an employee for a relocation?
These issues are not the exclusive concern of well established institutions, although they tend to have some successful models worth noting. Rather, these are concerns relevant to even the smallest start up operation if there is a plan to do business with those who differ in location, background, language spoken, or country. And, really, isn’t that all start up operations? The goal of every business is growth and by now we are aware the growth often won’t be confined by national borders or boundaries. If you are about to send a salesperson or plant manager out into the wider world what can you do to prepare them and your organization for this challenge?
1)Where is “over there” (place)? Where is “back there”?
For some companies expansion will mean travel to Europe, Latin America, the Middle and Far East. For others it may be a trip within North America. The length of time for an employee stay and the depth of your organization’s presence (office, relocation packages vs. long term hotel) may vary. What you may ask of your employees in this context is likely to vary as well based on the task and role demands. A salesperson may be charged with a very different set of demands than a branch manager. Knowing and understanding not only where they are heading, but what is unique about the place they are departing from is essential to being effective in these environments.
2)Identify if they are checking in, visiting or staying.
Visitors, no matter how frequent, will be perceived differently from residents (no matter how brief the move). Callers will be seen again as entirely different from these other categories. If you intend for a team of implementers who are operating abroad while responding to a manager operating within your home base you will need to be mindful of what role status you want your manager to have. Is it right to be managed by remote, do you benefit from the investment of on the ground face to face time? What gets lost without this investment?
If an employee is ‘staying’ there are multiple considerations to prepare. One will be how communication will be managed between the host and the home base stations. Understanding and building into the process a format and rhythm to communication channels can help alleviate the frustration and alienation that can beset those who are working abroad. Another concern will be preparing the employee for cultural exchange. While the agenda of the company will be measured in sales, or productivity, or other tangibles there will need to also be respect for the non-tangible exchange that will occur as well. Sharing insights into the “American” or “Texan” or “East Coast” way of doing things is a valuable exchange that will contribute to the bond the host country employees, customers, or partners will feel towards your employee and your company. A simple strategy to use in preparing a traveling employee is to have them think about what items represent your company culture well and to find ways to share these with the host community while sharing the host community artifacts with the company. If nothing else it becomes a point of commonality with which to begin conversations between the host and home bases. Of course, you will also need to know how such items are received in the host environment. Bringing pork rinds to a mostly Muslim or Jewish community isn’t likely to engender warm feelings no matter how well that represents your corporate culture.
3) identify the main values of the host location.
The host location may place an emphasis on efficiency, directness, and self effacement (see Globe Project’s leadership reports on Germany) or may prefer warmth, relationship, and trust as priorities in exchanges. This type of knowledge can be deciphered from the communication history with members of the host location, from studying history and culture relevant to the location, and from research on cross cultural differences. Using this knowledge will assist the employee in developing an approach to their interactions that will likely be more effective at obtaining the long term goal of organizational growth, impact, and success.
Cultural competence is a process and a company has a choice to make the investment in the process. Doing so is an excellent investment. Training and coaching can assist, as can a detailed organizational plan. We can offer guidance if you find yourself in need.
A colleague of mine was recently given feedback about their job performance and was informed that they “care too much”. Doesn’t really seem like much of a criticism; and if anything seems more like an indication of the low standards their workplace has for committment. Following this feedback my colleague went on a pre-planned long weekend and played with animals, visited good friends, ran a few road races and came back to work with a bit of perspective.
Is job involvement such a bad thing? Can there be such a thing as too much? A recentreview of the available information regarding job detachment- one’s ability to leave work at work and to mentally disengage with work while away from it- suggest that there are individual and institutional benefits for employees (and employers) who can successfully disengage from their work.
Individual benefits for the employee range from decreased psychological distress, less burnout, and greater job satisfaction once back at work. Institutional benefits for employers whose staff can become disengaged include increased worker proactive behavior – when a worker can forsee a challenge and preemptively engage in problem solving. Not surprisingly Sonnentag et al.’s review also highlights the u-shaped Yerkes-Dowdson phenomenon: too much disengagement and your likely to not care enough about work at all; too little and the benefits won’t translate.
A lot of disruptive companies will tout the 24/7 work ethic their employees have in their work. This ethic seems to translate into availability and commitment that other organizations can’t carry. Sonnentag’s findings suggest that not encouraging true breaks from work, wether it be overnight, over a weekend, or during a work day, will only hurt employee satisfaction, prodcutivity, and retention over the long haul. Is there anyway to have it both ways; an engaged and committed workforce that unplug fully so as to restore themselves in time for the next round?
Turns out there are some ways to cultivate this seemingly impossible contrast.
Not surprisingly culture matters; explicit messages about the expectations of employee off duty time and peer support for disconnection after hours can assist employees in setting more clear boundaries between work and play.
Absorbing activities can be fostered within the work enviroment or encouraged out of office. If you want to be sure your staff stops checking their emails or messages encourage them to engage in some physically or creatively demanding task on regular bases. A pick up game of basketball, a yoga class, an art collaborative can all be useful tools to signal the appropriateness of turning off periodically.
Once upon a time there was a debate about the burden vs. benefit of having workers who also juggled other roles (moonlighting, volunteer, parenting). Sonnentag’s review suggests that while work pressures can bleed over into other roles there is a value for the worker in assuming other roles as this may allow them to more clearly disconnect and return more engaged and effective.
If you are wondering how you might give yourself the psychological permission necessary to reap the benefits of job detachment for yourself you might try some strategies that have worked for others.
Disengage the smartphone. Putting it aside is not enough; find a space to place it far from view for at least an (awake) hour each day. Giving yourself the evening off is even better, as Sonnentag details in her review. And if you can’t disconnect every evening be sure to build in permissible off duty time slots into the week. Research shows your likely to be engaged and effective if you allow the downtime.
Immerse yourself in an engaging environment (Sonnentag calls it “fascination” inducing wherein effortless attention is possible). Wide open spaces or creatively rich environments facilitate detachment by drawing your attention to the present moment. It may be helpful to place cues in the areas where you are most likely to be drawn back into work mode that will help anchor your attention where you need it to be for a break.
A real trick? When you are feeling most pressured and overworked may be the most essential time to engage in these activities. If you are finding yourself over scheduled and drained it may pay unexpected dividends if you visit the museum or go for a hike in the midst of these times. The time away will recharge your focus in meaningful ways and may make it possible for you to execute priorities upon your return.
Seems like a good time to take my own advice and immerse myself into some long awaited Mad Men premier!
Sonnentag, S. (2012) Psychological detachment from work during leisure time: The benefits of mentally disengaging from work.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(2), p114-118.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014