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Employee Languishing: It’s a Real Thing

Employee Languishing: It’s a Real Thing

I’m an avid consumer of the writings, talks, and podcasts of Adam Grant, Wharton professor and organizational psychologist. Recently, I listened to his TedTalk on how to stop languishing and start finding flow.

Are you feeling meh?

Let’s be real – there is a lot happening in the world right now. Mass shootings are pervasive and horrific, the war in Ukraine is devastating, and the pandemic journey is ever changing and exhausting. Many are assessing their career lives to consider how their values are being met, or not. I’m still a cup half full person and positivity is in my top 10 Strengthsfinder themes. However, I do believe the weight of the world is impacting how we navigate our daily lives, and some days just feel meh. The official definition of meh is expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm. Meh even has an emoji.

[Related: Three In-Depth Steps and Strategies to Regain Motivation in Your Career]

Prolonged meh can morph into languishing and be a risk factor for depression. Defined by sociologist, Corey Keyes, languishing is “the absence of wellbeing.” Adam Grant takes it a step further adding:

As if everything in life is in grayscale as opposed to vivid color — the sense of being a little joyless or aimless. While someone who we say is flourishing has a powerful sense of meaning and mastery, languishing can dull motivation, interfere with our focus, and on average makes us 3x more likely to cut back on work, (as cited by Corey Keyes in the Journal of Health and Social Research piece From Languishing to Flourishing in Life) which can ultimately lead to performance issues and drag other colleagues down.

How organizations can be proactive.

While finding your mojo is an individual experience, organizations can also take steps to address employee languishing. Here are actionable tactics from Adam Grant.

1) Broaden our understanding of mental health and well-being.

According to Adam, “we need to help people grow across the spectrum, not just cure ill-being. An important thing is shifting away from response and cure toward prevention,” for your entire workforce.

2) Take a preventative and more holistic approach.

“Prevention is extremely lower cost than crisis management — it creates higher performing employees, leads to less turnover, and more engaged employees."

3) Use surveys to spot languishing warning signs.

Pulse surveys are a great way to track employee engagement, but the mistake organizations make with them are over-indexing on “measuring engagement, but not accounting for whether people are languishing."

4) Leadership must model behaviors that drive lasting change.

Nickel LaMoreux, CHRO of IBM joined Adam Gant in a live event powered by BetterUp and noted that for IBM, successfully addressing languishing started with “creating space and psychological safety to have companywide conversations around these feelings.”

5) Use coaching to help employees build key mindsets and behaviors.

Coaching can be one of the biggest drivers to help employees “learn from their own resilience and practice self-compassion” needed to overcome languishing.

[Related: Why Employee Wellbeing Should Be at the Forefront of Every Back-to-the-Office Strategy]

Culture of care.

I recently heard Jason Lippert, President, and CEO of LCI Industries talk about how he and his team initiated a cultural transformation to find creative ways to move the needle around leadership and culture. LCI initiated a transformation known as Everyone Matters and Lippert’s philosophy states, “By caring for others more genuinely while at work, you develop trusting relationships, your team members become like family, and family tends to stick together.”

Lippert hired a team of leadership directors that spend time coaching and working on personal and professional development with leaders. Personal development coaches are available for front line team members as well and provide a safe space to talk about life challenges and creating personal and professional goals with the Lippert Dream Achiever Program.

Employee retention in the company is exceptional and the business is thriving, so the return on investment of coaching for employees is clear. As a coach this warms my heart. More importantly, it validates the coaching profession and underscores the need and value of coaching for all employees – not only executive leadership.

Find your flow.

Languishing can also be the tipping point into burnout and leaders and organizations must be mindful about providing work environments that nurture wellbeing. It’s ok to have bad days – nobody likes the toxic positivity of the person who is artificially perky all the time. Honor your emotions and consider how you can bring more color into the grayscale of languishing or meh and move it towards motivation and flow.

The best predictor of wellbeing is flow – a feeling of being in the zone with total absorption in an activity. Your happy place when you lose track of time. Peak flow requires active participation in something you truly enjoy. Adam Grant breaks it down into three parts: Mastery, Mindfulness and Mattering.

Find your momentum with small wins and true focus on a single task. Flow requires boundaries to dedicate your full attention to something you enjoy doing. Think about what matters to you when finding your flow. Who is impacted by your work? Dig deep to see faces, know their names, and consider how you are impacting others. Flow can be a team experience as well.

"Peak moments of flow are having fun with the people we love…” according to Adam Grant.

If you are a leader of people, honor their wellbeing and give them the tools to find their flow. In a world where languishing is real, we must all be accountable for our wellbeing.

[Related: Company Values are the Foundation of an Inclusive Company Culture]

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Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Thrive Global, Ellevate NetworkLinkedIn, and is a sought after subject matter expert in the career development arena. Her online video series about career and life empowerment is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.


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