July 1, 2008

News & Opinion: Reduce Stress and Have more Fun at Work by Joel Zeff

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 5:40 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Today we have a small article from Joel Zeff, author of Make the Right Choice: Creating a Positive, Innovative and Productive Work Life. A trimmer version has appeared at the Orange County Register blog, and it has been previously posted in it's entirety (as was Zeff's 11 Ideas to Enhance the Creative Process) at the photography blog Black Star Rising. Since most of our dear readers probably don't frequent the OCRegister or BSR, we thought we'd post it for you here. So, without further ado, here is:

Twelve Ideas to Reduce Stress and Have more Fun at Work
By Joel Zeff

It's hard to have fun at work during stressful times. Your stress builds after each media report about the recession. You start hearing whispers of a merger, layoff or the all encompassing "restructuring." Your manager does not listen. Your customers don't listen. The guy that sells sandwiches in the lobby does not listen. Maybe it is just easier to be cranky.
Maybe your sales numbers are down this quarter. Clients are taking longer to make decisions. You start to worry about expenses. What happens next? You walk into your next important meeting a bundle of nerves, tension and worry. Do you really think you are at your best?
It is time to stop worrying and relax. Give yourself a break. Stop letting the media feed your fears with the dreaded "r" word. Even during an "r" people work. Companies manufacture, transport, distribute, sell, market, advertise, produce, grow, research, develop, entertain, build and purchase. We have to figure out a way to do it without being cranky and stressed. Yes, we need to have more fun.
I sense that many of you have thrown this magazine down on the table, rearing back from these words with a shriek. How dare we have fun during a merger/recession/layoff/restructure/something else that takes up time before retirement? Fun is scary. Fun doesn't work. We are not fun people.
Yes, you can have fun. And in the process, reduce your stress and help create a more productive, innovative and fun work environment. First, we have to create a foundation so that fun can exist. Here are twelve simple ideas to reduce your stress at work and have more fun.
1. Be patient and positive in your tone of voice. Sounds simple, but a reassuring and patient tone in your voice will do wonders for teamwork and for helping reduce stress. You will rarely see a stressed, impatient person having fun. Watch people stand in line at the airport. The guy in the suit with three carry on bags and a phone hooked into the Matrix is not having fun. The guy in the Hawaiian shirt and hat made from palm reeds is relaxed and having fun. Same standing in line. Different attitude.

2. Take a break.
Again, a simple idea but something that has very real results. Ever try and assemble something from the store? Ever get frustrated? Ever throw the directions across the room in frustration? Stop, take a break, and then reassess. Just a few moments away will give you the energy to move forward.
3. Think about what makes a great day at work. The next time you have fun at work, take a moment to reflect. Write down what happened that made the day so great. What did you do? What did you say? You now have your "great day" list. You know what you need. Work toward it. Fun is different for everyone. Remember the kid in your high school algebra class who got really excited when he solved a complex math problem? That is fun for him. For me, math is the equivalent of jury duty, going to the dentist, and cleaning the garage all in the same day.
4. Sometimes you have to ask. If something is bothering you and causing stress, then speak up and say something. Most people will just stew or whine in the break room rather than speak up. They don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Guess what? Someone's feelings are being hurt--your feelings. If you ask nicely, most people would be happy to oblige and help. They probably don't even know their words or actions are bothering you.

5. Be in the moment with your co-workers.
Working in the moment means being focused and connected. Listen to each other. Make eye contact. Engage in the communication process. Try something new: put your e-mail enabled phone down and communicate with the living, breathing person sitting in your office.

6. Tell your co-workers you appreciate them.
We all want positive support at work. When we don't receive appreciation and thanks, we are not very happy. You know how you feel when someone says, "You made a difference," or "Great job," or " really appreciate your help." You get an incredible feeling right in the middle of your chest. Giving that feeling is a gift. And it doesn't take a budget, plan, or approval. It just takes a few seconds from your day.
7. Create opportunity. We all want the same things from our jobs: opportunity and positive support. We may want the opportunity to be creative; to be a leader; to help people; or to make more money. When we don't receive opportunity and positive support, we are not very happy. Figure out what kind of opportunity you want from your job. Make sure your employer understands what you need to be happy. Again, stand up and say something.

8. Be a better listener.
Everyone thinks they are good listeners. In reality, we get into bad habits that prevent us from being good, active listeners. We multi-task. We wait to talk. We play solitaire on our computer during a conference call. Pay attention to your listening skills. When we listen, we are more effective as a team; we are better communicators; we are more productive; and we have more fun.
9. Be flexible to change. When change happens, ask yourself two important questions: Does this change affect my ability to be happy and successful in my job? Does this change affect the ability of those around me--my family, colleagues, clients, and vendors--to be happy and successful in their jobs? If both answers are no, then you know the change is not worth creating stress.
10. If you really want to reduce your stress, make a list of everything that caused you stress and frustration in the last week. Take a really hard look at what you wrote. You will giggle. Why? Because most of the things on that list don't matter. Sure, there are some very important items on the list. Most of the items, though, we will forget about in a short time. Why do we forget? Because they really were not that important. When you are in the middle of a stressful and frustrating situation, take a moment and ask, "Am I going to giggle about this in a week?"

11. Help your teammates (stressed or otherwise) take ownership of their happiness and passion.
Too many times, employees let other people's actions or words determine their happiness. Happiness is a choice. Unfortunately, when we give control to other employees, managers, customers, partners, or vendors, we are never very happy. We have to take back that ownership. We have no control over many things at work. We always can have control of our reaction and our attitude.
12. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. During my presentations, I use improvisation as a tool to communicate my messages. The audience participants engage in the process with passion and energy. They have fun. They are relaxed. Because they are enjoying the process, they are more creative and productive. Why? They are not afraid of making a mistake. They understand they are working in a positive and supportive environment. We are all going to make mistakes. We want to minimize our mistakes and learn from them. If we take some of the pressure off, and support each other, we will figure out that we will make fewer mistakes. We will also have more fun.
I hope these twelve ideas will help you reduce your stress. Fun helps create the energy and passion that fuels our productivity, creativity and effectiveness. Without fun, we don't have any fuel. Just like everything, fun is a choice. We each have to take responsibility and ownership of our fun and our goal to reduce stress. Remember, it is always your choice.
Joel Zeff is a national workplace expert, speaker, author and humorist. He shares his experience and insight on creativity, communication, work/life balance, leadership, teamwork, passion, and fun through his speaking presentations and book, Make the Right Choice: Creating a Positive, Innovative and Productive Work Life. He has appeared on CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, the Fox Network's Fox and Friends Weekend and been featured in the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, The Kansas City Star, and many other media outlets. For more information on his book, please visit