Did you know that over two-thirds of the American workforce is either unhappy with their job or just doing it for the money? The number of employees that are engaged at any level is less than 32%. So it’s safe to say that the majority of the workforce struggles from time to time with low morale, a lack of enthusiasm, and possibly even burnout. Have you ever had one of those days where you feel overwhelmed, unmotivated or apathetic? Has it ever turned into a week or several weeks? How about when you look at the employees on your team or in your department—have you ever noticed a negative or listless attitude? And have you ever wondered why some workers still seem passionate about their job, while so many are miserable? Science can help us here.
Under certain positive conditions, the brain produces chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins. The presence of these chemicals will result in a state of well being, accompanied by the ability to focus and stay motivated.
However, under certain negative conditions the brain produces another kind of chemical—it’s called cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol depletes or inhibits the production of the positive neurochemicals, which in turn produces a state of mild or severe depression.
So the key to avoiding burnout and restoring morale is creating the right conditions to stimulate healthy brain chemistry by engaging in certain intentional activities. Six of these activities deal with self-management; four deal with relationship management; and two deal with talent management.
Our workshop “Avoiding Burnout and Restoring Morale” looks at all of them, but let me take a minute to talk to you about just one. The first activity that will stimulate healthy brain chemistry is learning to avoid rumination.
Rumination is the term used for a cow chewing its cud. A cow takes nearly eight hours just to eat and swallow its food. It chews for a while, swallows then regurgitates and chews some more. So when we talk about a person mentally ruminating it is a metaphor for continuously dwelling on a negative thought and obsessing over it.
Maybe we’re worried about a performance review that is a week away, and we keep thinking about it morning, noon and night. Maybe somebody said something in a staff meeting that we found insulting and we keep replaying it in our head like a broken record. Occasionally we have a hard time concentrating on the task in front of us because our minds are wandering all over the place. This constant dwelling on past slights and future fears can become addictive, which negatively affects your brain chemistry (producing high levels of cortisol). This not only creates unhappiness and stress, but it can lead to apathy and diminished productivity.
Here are a few tips to help you stop ruminating.
First, “snap out of it”—learn to become aware that we are ruminating in the first place, and then sending a signal to the brain to stop it. Some psychologists suggest wearing a rubber band around your wrist and quite literally snapping it when you catch yourself obsessing over the past or future.
Another thing that may be beneficial is to schedule “worry-time”–giving ourselves permission during a set time (say on the commute home)to ruminate, and then be done with it. This way ruminating only takes up 30 minutes of our day, instead of every waking hour.
And finally, the healthiest way to stop ruminating is to learn to stay in the present moment. The more we focus on the present, the less we have the mental capacity to think about the past or the future. This involves awareness and mindfulness—paying attention to what you are doing in the moment. Practicing meditation can really help you achieve this.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to avoid rumination (and the other activities that science says leads to well-being and higher levels of motivation), I encourage you to consider our training program “Avoiding Burnout & Restoring Morale”.
*Gallup’s State of the American Workplace 2017