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What To Do When a Good Employee Is Having an Off Day

Updated: Jul 5

Let me ask you a question.  What do you do when an employee is having one of those days where they just can’t get motivated?

What if that employee is you?

Was your answer the same?

It happens to the best of us, we get to work and just can’t get focused.  We feel like we are just spinning our wheels, or moving in slow motion. It’s frustrating. And, of course, we worry that people are going to notice, or that it might impact our next performance evaluation, which can makes it all the harder to get ourselves back on track.

Most of us will simply try to power through and hope our bosses and coworkers don’t notice that we are unfocused or off our game.  But what if there was a better way? What if we could be honest about struggling to focus? What if your boss noticed and asked if you were OK or if you needed something?  What if they recommended a quick break or a offered to bring you a coffee?

Sometimes, we just need a moment to collect ourselves or find enough silence to figure out why we aren’t focused so that we can address it.  Our office environments should allow for us to be honest about needing to take that moment to clear the cobwebs, or recharge, or sit in silence.  

Our management teams should also be able to recognize when we might need to take advantage of a little time or space so that we can refocus and recharge. They should be open to reminding us that it’s OK to take a break and encourage us to take time to care for ourselves so that when we return to work we can be more productive.  Maybe, they should even be willing to lend a hand, an ear, or offer to bring something back from the break room if you just can’t get away.

So what are some really good ways to get your focus back.

If you are used to fast-paced multi-tasking; slow down and focus on one task at a time.  Seems like odd advice doesn’t it? But, if you are trying to work on two or three things at once and you aren’t making progress on any of them, focusing on just one thing makes perfect sense.  It will allow you to make progress on one to-do-list item. And if your manager needs you to change from one task to another, say “Yes.” But, let them know that you will need to shelve your current task so that you can fully focus on the new one.  Let them decide which is of greater importance in that moment. Get up, stretch your arms and back, take a walk around the building, get that blood flowing and breathe. Physical activity, even if it’s mild, gets the blood flowing and increases oxygen to brain. It really doesn’t take much to reinvigorate yourself if you’ve been sitting at your desk all day. Go look out the window or take a moment to get outside.  Let your mind wander. Practice mindfulness techniques or meditate for a few minutes. Sometimes the brain needs a break from thinking so that it can actually think. Drink water! It’ll energize you more than you realize.  Eat a healthy snack. If there’s something bothering you that you just can’t stop thinking or worrying about, write it down.  You can always take it straight to the shredder. But, take a few minutes and force it out of our mind and onto the paper.  You’d be surprised at how the act of writing your problems and worries down can make them easier to manage. OK, coffee.  A lot of us rely on coffee.  Probably way more than is healthy. It can certainly jump start us. Most of the time.  But it’s not always the most effective way of getting re-energized.  That’s why it’s here at the end of the list. You really should try to do something from the list above before, or while you enjoy your coffee.

Now, if you are a manager and notice that one of your employees is having an off day, what can you do?

When it can be done without calling unwanted negative attention to the employee, ask if they are doing OK.  Ask if they need anything; a moment to chat, help with a task, a short break, or something to eat or drink from the break room, and encourage them to take a few minutes to recharge and refocus.  

The goal is to encourage your employees to take a few minutes to refocus and re-energize. Be careful and make sure that the way you approach your employee is helpful and affirming. If they look tired and sluggish, asking them if it was a “late or a rough night” will probably come across as judgmental and demotivate them further.  Try saying something like, “You know, when I don’t sleep well, I find that getting up from my desk and being a bit more active can help keep me fresh. Maybe, you might want to take a few minutes to get away from your desk. You’ll probably feel more energized afterward.”

Reminding our employees to take breaks and engage in stress reduction techniques may seem like loss of productivity on its face, but in actuality, 15 minutes away from the desk can significantly improve overall performance.

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