Most of us spend far more hours at work than we do with the people we love. Some days, we give every last ounce of energy to our professions, and when the weekend finally arrives, we fear the loss of contact so much that we check our smartphones in between every paddle on the river, every step on a hike, or every song at a live music performance.

But the truth is, when many people are asked if they even like this work life that they are so deeply committed to, they give a kind of “meh” response.

So, what can executives do to get their employees recharged? How do they transform that “meh” into a “Hell, YEAH”?!

Here are a few ideas to consider that could very well be the game-changers you need to generate more excitement, more productivity, more connectedness, and more motivation. Every one of these is designed to improve morale for your team – but guess what? They could very well also improve your bottom line!

1.     Design a corporate community relations program. I developed a corporate community relations program with an employer group a few years ago, and witnessed first-hand the total transformation. We held a big meeting with the staff, and as a group, they picked a charitable organization who was most aligned with their values to be the benefactor of their program for that year. We then created a schedule for our volunteer corps; every employee was gifted company time to go out and make the world a better place. How awesome is that? They developed stronger relationships with one another on volunteer days, enjoyed being ambassadors of goodwill, and gave this publicist a bunch of awesome photo-opps to use for media placements! (Yep, companies can get the added value of serious publicity when they do good work in the community, elevating their image and raising awareness about their brands). It was a win for everyone. It made the employees proud to be associated with that company, and there were so many benefits for the employer as well - not to mention the not-for-profit organization, who were totally wowed by this wonderful group of people who came in to help them.

2.     Plan a team-building retreat. Here in the Hudson Valley region of New York State, the options are endless – but you can find great retreat venues no matter where you live - and they don't have to be fancy. Close the company for a day, and enjoy spending time as a group offsite, doing things that are TOTALLY UNRELATED TO WORK! My former employer took his entire staff to the Dutchess County Fair every year, and treated us to a day of rediscovering childlike wonder. He paid for all of the carnival rides and all of the fried food we consumed, and gave everyone the option to stay as long as they wanted. As a group, we created memories based on a shared experience that was total bliss, which stayed with us for weeks and months afterward when we were faced with challenging projects and clients that we needed to manage as a strong, solid team. Other corporate clients of mine have taken their groups to rock-climbing parks, spas, the beach, hiking trails, waterslides….you name it. No matter what, people love time away from the workspace, a few good belly laughs with colleagues, and an opportunity to just be themselves.

3.     Create atmosphere. That's right. Atmosphere is IMPORTANT. Change the mood of the workspace by painting the walls a new color, adding a few comfy chairs to make the break room feel more comfortable, or piping in music.  Music has universal appeal, and often generates some pretty incredible conversations between people who might not otherwise think they have much in common. If you want to use it to boost morale, get the employees involved - make them the DJs of sorts. Ask each employee to bring in his favorite CDs, and then give each person a set time or day to share their go-to tunes with their colleagues. You’d be surprised how music brings people together. “Wait, seriously? You love Springsteen? OMG! ME TOO!”… “Got my first vinyl in fifth grade; have followed him ever since – I think he winked at me when I saw him in Asbury Park!”…"No way"..."We should go to a concert together this year"....and the dialogue continues, bringing people together who share the soundtracks (and stories) of their lives - all because you created atmosphere! Yeah. When it comes to building morale, music pretty much rocks.

4.     Do something really special to incentivize your team. Look at their goals, and launch a contest to see who can be the first to meet or exceed expectations. Don’t necessarily throw cash their way as a reward, though – think of something unique that will be more memorable. Give the winner a half-day chartered sailing trip on the river, or make reservations for the winner to go to the Culinary Institute of America. Give the employee an EXPERIENCE, not just a bonus. They will remember that as being something unique and special, and think of you and your company as being unique and special too.

5.     Write thank-you notes. If you catch an employee going above and beyond, or you just notice that you have someone on the team who really gets the job done, take the time to express gratitude. Send some fan mail right to his or her home address to make it more personal. Thank-you notes seem to be a lost art form, but I am determined to resurrect them as a regular practice, because it feels pretty awesome to find a nice note in the mailbox instead of the typical stack of bills – especially from a boss! Hand-written notes are the best. Every leader should have a stack of blank notes in his or her desk, ready to be written, and should carve out a few hours a month to acknowledge employees in this way.

6.     Flex out time. If feasible, give your employees the chance to design their own schedules. By giving them the power to make their own hours (within reason, of course), you send the message that you honor their personal lives and that you want them to feel as balanced as possible. For people who want to go to the gym before work, maybe a 9am start time is better than the 8am start time that has been required of them for years. For the working parents, perhaps it would make life so much easier – and make their spirits so much happier – to be able to work 7am-3pm so that they can be present for homework and afterschool sports. Perks like flextime can breed greater productivity and build a healthier, happier corporate culture, which will ultimately make everyone more successful.

7.     Invest in training. When you invest in training, you send the message to your employees that they have tremendous potential and that you want to see them advance in their careers. By giving them professional development opportunities, you are empowering them with new skills, new perspectives, and often a newfound desire to be more successful. Trainings can be fun, motivational, and give members of your team a chance to get to know one another, discuss important workplace topics, communicate more effectively, share ideas, and experience the self-confidence that comes from learning and growing.

8.     Regularly show them the results of their hard work. What does your product or brand do to improve life for others? Share STORIES of human beings who have benefitted, either directly or indirectly, from the projects and products that are only possible because of their diligence. Give them examples of how their work has impacted others; demonstrate the importance of each and every role within your company by helping people understand that it takes every one of them to make these stories a reality for consumers and clients. It's a great way to open and close team meetings, by the way.

9.     Set the tone. As a leader or executive, you know that YOU can set the tone. Let employees know that you are accessible, open to their suggestions, and that you genuinely enjoy your work and your team. Remind them of the bigger vision that the company has, and that they are all a part of that. Ask them questions that show you care, and that will probably make them want to care more, too. If they’re happy, you and your customers will probably be happy too.

10. Honor the importance of time off. If a hardworking employee wants to use earned time off, he or she should be able to easily make that happen most of the time. Let your employees know that time off is important and that you encourage them to use it. Instant morale-booster? Build a new day off into the 2016 calendar for everyone: birthdays!

There are countless ways to boost morale and to help your team feel more connected to their work life. I would bet that if you put a few of these ideas into place, or some other versions of these concepts, you will see some exciting shifts take place pretty quickly.

Here’s to a successful 2016 for you and your team.

Be well,

Marybeth Cale

Marybeth Cale is a publicist and executive/life coach who offers comprehensive public relations and communications services, one-on-one professional and personal development coaching, and a full library of corporate trainings for clients from all over the country. Call 845.876.2220 to learn more.

The Pursuit of Work-Life Balance

Written by life coach Marybeth Cale

Several years ago, I experienced the game-changer I needed to better define “work-life balance”, the elusive but high-in-demand goal that mystifies most of us working parents on a daily basis.

At four years of age, my youngest son came home with a colorful painting representing his home life. Despite countless visits to sophisticated museums and galleries, I had never been so profoundly impacted by a piece of art. I will never forget how I felt when I saw his depiction of our family, and the powerful emotions it evoked that resonate today.

He, of course, smiled ear to ear as he presented the painting to me. To him, it was the perfect reflection of life in our happy home, and he was so very proud to share it. In the piece, he and his brother played happily on the kitchen floor while Daddy stood inches away making their favorite pizza for dinner.

Also pictured, though, was a mop of curly hair surrounding a laptop screen. There was no face. The screen covered the eyes and smile that would connect one to a human being, but I knew it was me. Yep, in his painting of his home life, I was seated at my desk, just a few feet away from the three wonderful guys in my life. While I was indeed in the same room, I can only imagine that my mind was a world away from them, lost somewhere in cyberspace, in a galaxy far away from dinnertime with my family.

Oddly enough, up until that day, I thought I had mastered the concept of “work-life balance.” I felt like a rock star; I had it all – a great career, a caring family, and exciting days full of cool projects and people. By working from our house, I could be “totally available” to our beautiful children. I only wore the power-suits for client meetings that were meticulously scheduled during school hours, and in the evenings, I could easily fire off emails before and after dinner, respond to texts while the rest of my family threw the football around in the yard, and answer calls as the kids were getting ready for bed.

I was present, and yet, much of the time, really very absent.

Every day, women and men from all over the world strive to figure out how to simultaneously fulfill the demands of personal and professional lives. For me, working from home seemed a perfect solution, but the poignant messages in my adoring four-year-old’s painting spoke loud and clear: I was failing on some level, quite miserably.

In the months that followed, I studied up on work-life balance and ended up making some transformative changes. I had heart-to-heart discussions with my husband, my children, my friends, my supervisor, and myself to determine what I could do to change that picture my son had of me. I then made a major career change, and while not perfect, strive toward a healthier balance between personal and professional life.

Like every working parent though, the work-life balance, five years later, is still a work in progress – and likely always will be. But I have learned a few key things that have made all of us far more joyful (and, ironically, have made my productivity at work grow exponentially.)

1.     Use quiet time wisely. I am, by nature, an early riser. I have learned to use that time to get work done before the sun (or my children) rise for the day. It’s peaceful, and it’s incredibly productive for me. My husband is the total opposite, a complete “night owl.” He has learned to save some of his projects for those hours when all is quiet in our home and he can tackle his work without distraction. What are your natural biorhythms? When do you accomplish the most? When can you work without getting sidetracked? Take those times of day to maximize your own success by knocking out projects that might otherwise take twice as long.

2.     Complete the most important tasks of the day first. For me, developing a to-do list before I begin each workday allows me to prioritize my projects. It’s not always easy, but I do follow a ritual now that has helped me immensely, which is that I spend the first two hours of my day getting one of the most intense, challenging projects done before I begin anything else. By doing this, I get to feel total gratification before I have even had lunch and that productivity tends to breed more productivity. Typically the to-do list is done before my kids return home from school, and I feel like I can be present to them because the most overwhelming tasks are behind me. The evenings can then be spent on more of the “mindless” maintenance-type activities, which allows me to relax and enjoy family life more during that time of day.

3.     Exercise your ability to work from home, but set very clear start and stop times. Working from home is, simply put, pretty awesome. Throw in a load of laundry while on a conference call, print out the kids’ permission slips from the school parent portal while developing a strategic plan – there’s no question you can do it all, and do it well. That said, though – give yourself a real work schedule, whatever the hours might be (even if they incorporate those blocks of time in the wee small hours of the morning or after midnight.) If you are working on projects that allow you to multi-task, great – head to the laundry room and do some ironing too. If not, though, keep your bottom planted in the chair at your desk for the hours you are officially working –and get the job done – so that when the children come running to you after school, you can embrace them fully.

4.     Unplug completely. Every day. Figure out what times of day you will set the devices aside. Walk away. Trust me, everyone who is trying to reach you will be okay while you enjoy dinner with your family and a bike ride in the neighborhood. And you will be better for it; you need that time to refresh and rejuvenate, and your family needs you to look them in the eyes when they are sharing stories from their own lives with you. Let’s face it - so long as there is a device in hand, it’s difficult to focus on the human beings in our midst.

5.     Go for a walk. I am big on walking. Walk alone, walk with a colleague if you need to meet with him or her to discuss something – just get away from the office (whether at home or in a cubicle) and breathe in the fresh air that makes everything right with the world again. I feel far more balance in my life when I carve out some time for the great outdoors – and I believe that is a fairly universal experience. Walk daily. It can make a world of difference in your life and can put everything into perspective, thus making you feel a little more centered than you felt before.

As technology evolves, our kids grow up, and our professional responsibilities change, so too will our interpretations of what it means to achieve ‘work-life balance.’ It’s not a destination – it really is a journey of constant self-evaluation. But if we listen to our children, and really consider their responses to us at different points in time, we can usually keep ourselves in check, redesigning our lives as needed along the way.

Most importantly, though, in order to stay balanced, we all need to be gentle with ourselves. As working parents, we are doing our best each and every day. 

I am sure he still sees the cellphone as an appendage to my body sometimes, but my hope is that the picture my son has of me will be one of me outside playing football with him, laughing as he tells his jokes and radiating the joy that comes from being a mom who is present to the wonder of her children.

Marybeth Cale is a life coach and speaker who lives in her hometown of Rhinebeck, New York. She conducts workshops on work-life balance and a number of other topics, in addition to offering one-on-one personal and executive coaching for clients nationwide. You can learn more by visiting her website: marybethcale.com. Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.

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