Does effort affect outlook? Thoughts on curing the workplace blahs.

Maybe it’s because we are in the dead of winter and I am located in cold and blustery New England, or maybe it’s because of my relative age – or maybe it’s just because! – but it seems that I have run across a whole lot of tired people over the past few weeks.

By “tired” I am referring to those who are no longer engaged; counting the days (if not hours) until retirement; wishing they worked anywhere else; the “OMG I can’t take it anymore!” types who, while very nice and engaging, morph into real downers in the workplace.

What’s more, these tired folk seem to crop up in the darnedest places. One I know is an executive at a successful OEM; another is the quality manager at another company; others are in sales, administration and product development at companies ranging from very small companies to the very largest global corporations. Now I could imagine someone at a small backwater company tiring of their job after many years. When I see the same behavior from those who appear on fast-track careers in the most dynamic organizations, however, I shake my head and wonder what happened to cause this?

When I talk with those tired folks, two common themes clearly emerge. Some wallow in a “woe is me” self-pity, where they feel the world is passing them by. Others seem to dwell on the past, usually on past failures, not successes. The future or present is rarely mentioned. Both themes tend to be morose and are the start of conversations that are real downers!

My guess is the common denominator that causes otherwise dynamic people to become so tired in outlook is that they have given up trying. Sounds simple, but it's difficult to comprehend why anyone involved in our fast-changing, high-tech industry could ever stop moving, but if you look around I’ll bet you’ll find coworkers demonstrating to varying degrees that tired behavior. Even more scary, you may find yourself exhibiting those same tired traits every once in a while.

How do we arouse the tired and make work more exciting in a positive way? First, you have to identify the symptoms and admit that you are beginning to act like a tired and, yes, boring person – the type that nobody, especially the boss, wants to be around. Once you have crossed that hurdle – on your own or with help from those who know you best – it’s time to make some basic changes both in approach and outlook.

Change of approach is to realize that the world is changing and is not static! With technology changes come material and process changes. Those changes demand that we think about how we interact with our staff, superiors, customers and suppliers. What worked yesterday very well may not work tomorrow. Likewise, what failed yesterday very well may work in the future. Just think about what we are making today vs. yesterday. Yes, maybe some of the equipment that worked well 10 years ago is keeping up with higher technological demands, but we also have had to incorporate new processes, materials and equipment unthinkable even five years ago in order to produce what is needed today. Ditto for skill sets. It is great to have been the best at any task a decade ago, but if that skill is no longer needed, you need to retool your thinking.

And this retooling is especially necessary at the executive, managerial and supervisory levels. Any executive who is trying to operate by managing people, processes and technology today the same way as when they started their career is doomed to appear tired. People’s expectations and abilities have changed. Equipment and processes have changed. Materials and technologies have changed, and most of all, the competitive market has changed. You can’t look back, but you have to look at every task, every day, as being new and different.

Changing one’s outlook is equally important. Often this can best be achieved by interacting with different people who share a common interest or challenge. Fortunately our industry has many opportunities for people to get together – in person or virtually – and gain a new outlook on what and how to do things. From personal experience, I have never attended a local or national industry meeting without learning something new, meeting interesting and knowledgeable people, and walking away thinking about something new and different that could bring positive change to me personally, as well as my company. Keeping a fresh outlook is the catalyst that enables continually being able to change your approach to meet new and dynamic opportunities.

However, sometimes even more than refreshing your outlook and rebooting your approach is required. From time to time, everyone could benefit from a real paradigm change – be it task, job function, product line/technology or even company. Change for change’s sake does not guarantee that the old tired feeling will go away, of course. Morphing successfully from one paradigm to another still requires positive outlook and approach.

While this may be the depths of a long cold winter, this is also the beginning of a great new day. And, remembering that with the right outlook you can work around challenging people, problems and possibilities will assure that more often than not you will appear to be anything but tired, with no trace of self-pity but instead focused on the exciting future.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His column appears monthly.

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