4 Ways to Fix the Greatest Stressors and Engagement Killers at Work


It appears that the rate of change in the workplace is having a significant impact on our engagement and discretionary effort at work. A recent survey of 470 people asked what caused them the most stress and disengagement.

So what are the greatest causes?

What is causing you the most stress and disengagement at work? (n=470)
Change fatigue39%
I don’t have the opportunity to do what I do best each day37%
Unclear priorities35%
Not enough feedback and recognition 34%
My supervisor doesn’t “walk the talk” when it comes to leading a healthy and sustainable life23%
My supervisor or colleagues don’t seem to care about me as a person19%

So let’s look at the top 4 contributors and what can be done about them.

1. Change fatigue

Most leaders or employees you speak to describe the significant change they are being asked to adapt to each day. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are in the public, private, or not for profit sector. Many describe feeling fearful of the future, and often complain about having no sense of control. This uncertainty can lead to energy sapping worry.

What can be done today?

According to research by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, our mood, and therefore our productivity, are determined by 3 things:

  • Our genetics (50%)
  • Events that happen to us (10%)
  • Actions we take each day (40%)

There is very little we can do about the first two elements described above, but we can choose our daily actions – and this has a significant impact on our mood.

Taking just 10 minutes at the start of each day to decide the most important things to focus on for that day, allocating time to address these in 45 minute chunks, and taking breaks to recharge (exercise, breathe, switch off) is critical to sustaining energy and productivity.

2. I don’t have the opportunity to do what I do best each day

This finding shows that many people are in the wrong role.

Having worked for over 15 years in recruitment and career planning, I learnt that many people can’t accurately describe what their work strengths are.  Perhaps even more worrying for them and their organisation, is not realizing the opportunity cost of this.

Research from Gallup shows that those that use their top 5 strengths each day are:

  • 600% more likely to be engaged in their work
  • 300% more likely to report high life satisfaction

What can be done today?                                                   

It takes approximately 30-40 minutes and costs USD15 – to find out your top 5 strengths – register here. Once you have a Gallup account and have found out your top 5 strengths, you are then eligible to:

  • Download an ebook version of StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath – which provides suggestions about how to develop your top 5 strengths.
  • Download a pdf for each strength which provide further insights to improve self-knowledge.

Once you have a good knowledge of your Top 5 strengths ask yourself:

  • How can I use my strengths more in my current role?
  • Can I find or create a new role that allows me to use my top 5 strengths more?
3. Unclear priorities

“Change fatigue” and “unclear priorities” are very closely related, and obviously can be a significant drain on engagement and discretionary effort. If you are unclear on what to focus on, this can cause stress and drain productivity.

What can be done today?

If you are a leader, remind your team of the purpose and mission of your team, and help them to:

  • Understand their role in delivering the mission
  • Decide the top 2-5 things to focus on in the next 90 days
  • Understand how they will be evaluated against the 2-5 things

If you are a team member and don’t feel you know what to focus on, ask your leader to help you understand the 3 elements outlined above.

4. Not enough feedback and recognition

When there is rapid change, it can be difficult to recognize that you are winning, yet nothing is more important.

Therese Amabile and Steven Kramer, in their book The Progress Principle, found that the most motivating thing for information workers is knowing they are making progress on meaningful work. They show that having small wins ignites joy, engagement, and creativity at work.

What can be done today?

If you’re a leader, start catching people doing things right. Amabile and Kramer’s research shows that recognition doesn’t have to be an expensive big deal. It can be as simple as a “well done”, a pat on the back, or a thank you note. Regular recognition of progress has an immediate impact on motivation. Brainstorm with your team about how you can create a “progress culture”.

If you are a team member, recognize and be grateful for your own small steps of progress. Research by Martin Seligman shows that writing down 3 things you are grateful for – for 7 days in a row – can lead to boost in mood for up to 6 months.


Your organisation may be interested in experiencing the 7 RITUALS OF THE RESILIENT LEADER Workshop –    Sign up for our free poster and course to learn how to create rituals that improve your resilience, mood, and performance.

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