Five Workplace Problems to Resolve Away from Your Desk

Most on-the-job problems have solutions. The key is to step out of your routine—and your office—if you want to find them.

Problem: A Lagging Performance

Quick Fix: Refuel Outside the Office

Twelve-hour workdays and desk-side lunches are the new norm. But they might not create a foundation for high performance.

In fact, in Harvard Business Review’s The Making of a Corporate Athlete, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz conclude that when it comes to maximum professional efficiency and effectiveness, the quality of clocked hours overrides quantity.

Loehr and Schwartz discovered that top executives who shift to a schedule not unlike a professional athlete’s—with performance peaks, followed by valleys of mental and physical recovery—tend to approach work with increased engagement, focus, positivity, and calm. They get more done, and they do it better.

The secret to hitting professional responsibilities out of the park isn’t living at the office. It’s occasionally spending time away from your desk to reset and refuel.

Problem: Satisfaction Deficit

Quick Fix: Invest in Developing Yourself

An astounding 87 percent of global employees aren’t engaged at work, according to a recent Gallup poll. If you’re part of the demotivated majority, consider breaking down some typical barriers to engagement: lack of training, stagnant career development, and poor communication.

Training and conferences are a great place to start. But not all organizations offer the support to formally pursue growth opportunities during business hours. Take matters into your own hands with initiatives that can coexist with your schedule.

In a leadership mentor program, for example, you can partner with an experienced colleague to set and work toward professional goals. A lunch hour can accommodate exploratory interviews with individuals you admire outside your organization or industry. Ask the right questions, and you’ll leave armed with knowledge and a new spoke in your network.

And never underestimate the power of an after-hours team-building retreat. If negative workplace energy is an obstacle, something as low-key as a Saturday barbecue can boost team spirit and improve communication long after the burgers are gone.

Problem: Cruising on Autopilot

Quick fix: Shift Gears with a New Challenge

Feel like you’re just going through the motions as demands and stress mount? The last thing on an overwhelmed professional’s wish list is a new challenge. But that might be the best way to alleviate anxiety.

Professional development programs can fill in knowledge gaps and refresh existing skillsets. They can also improve your sense of well-being. Yoojung Yang enrolled in Essential Management Skills for Emerging Leaders through the Harvard Division of Continuing Education. She participated in the program during a demanding period at her organization.

As the director of global HEOR for oncology at Shire, she was hesitant to invest time and energy into the intangible—her management style—when hard deadlines loomed. But rather than detracting from her productivity, her participation in the program had a positive ripple effect across her department.

“It was an opportunity to self-reflect and understand where my strengths and weaknesses lie,” she says. “I gained a better understanding of how to represent myself at work, and how to help my team reach their full potential.”

Yang admits that the program required focus and determination typically reserved for the office. “Fatigue set in at the end of each day,” she says, “but there was also a feeling of excitement for what the next day would bring.”

Any preprogram anxiety dissipated when she returned to her desk. “Work had piled up, but I was rejuvenated,” she says. “I felt like I’d been on a retreat.”

Problem: Tunnel Vision

Quick Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

You likely spend more time with your colleagues than any family members or friends. You understand their work styles, can predict their reactions, and may even know what they’re thinking across the conference table.

That’s not always a good thing, at least when it comes pushing your organization forward. Fresh perspectives can reframe our thinking, challenging our current approach to meeting objectives and tackling problems.

Colleagues across departments are an excellent workplace resource. They understand the organization and have experience navigating internal hurdles.

Beyond office walls, you can establish a network of friends, former colleagues, and mentors that you can tap for brainstorming sessions or advice (you’d be surprised at how warmly an invitation for coffee is received).

And don’t forget the people who’ll often have the most to say about your business: customers. Get out into the field and interact with your audience if you really want to understand their wants and needs—and your organization’s potential.

Problem: Vacation Anxiety

Quick Fix: Strike a Work/Life Balance

According to a study by Expedia.com, stress at the thought of missing time at work prevented 21 percent of employees from taking their full vacation last year. Another 7 percent worried that using all their vacation days would be perceived negatively by their employers.

One way to assuage out-of-office concerns is to incorporate a holiday into a professional development experience.

When choosing an off-site program, an institution’s reputation and instructors will wisely factor into your decision. But consider your personal bucket list, as well.

Always fantasized about catching a ball game against a certain rival team? Imagined tipping back artisanal beer in the company of locals? Vibrant cities and picturesque towns across America are host to all sorts of programs. So think like a tourist and set your sights on a dream destination.

Call us biased, but we’re partial to Boston. And we’re not the only ones. Our hometown racked up its fair share of superlatives in 2015, securing a spot as one of America’s best cities (Travel + Leisure) and ranking among the top 10 coolest cities in the United States (Huffington Post).

Cambridge, site of Harvard University and the eponymous Harvard Square, certainly pulled its weight with history and culture. Brimming with must-see sites, nightlife, cobblestone streets lined with boutiques, and the best seafood this side of the Mississippi, there’s no shortage of ways to spend an evening or weekend off campus.

The same Expedia.com study reports that 85 percent of the world’s workers feel happier after a vacation. Go ahead and mix business with pleasure. You’ll be better for it, and so will your organization.

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