Dr. Nicole Tschierske

Most of us can easily name behaviours that we’ve seen in our best and worst leaders that impact our own work experiences, but it isn’t always as easy to connect our own behaviours with others’ experiences. That’s where Better Work comes into play. If you’re a leader who cares about doing your part to make your people’s work happier, healthier, and more productive, this book is for you.

In this guide, you will find 50+ strategies you can use to support yourself and your team as you cope with a heavy workload, the impact of the physical workplace, dealing with bureaucracy, and managing conflict. These are what’s known as job demands. Then there are job resources such as freedom and autonomy, finding purpose or meaning, creating a positive climate, and giving great feedback. Understanding the interplay between these demands and resources is the key to designing better work.

Based on the Job Demands-Resources model, Better Work offers you evidence-based confirmation for all the things you’re doing well and inspiration for what to try next. In the introduction, you will find two assessments (one for job demands and one for job resources). Starting with these assessments will give you a personalised guide for reading the rest of the book. From there, you can jump to the chapters you want to focus on, follow the many cross references, and develop your own leadership training to address any specific situations as they arise.

Welcome to the world of better work!

What You'll Learn in 'Better Work'

Chapter 1: The Problem with Mental Health at Work

Three levers for creating and sustaining mental health at work: individual resilience, leadership interaction, and work structure.

Companies need to address the root causes of workplace stress and support employees, leaders, and work structures for effective change.

Warning signs of employee exhaustion may not be immediately visible but can lead to performance issues and health problems.

Five common ‘solutions’ to workplace stress that sound good, but don’t actually work (including overworking, using incentives, offering wellness initiatives, reducing workloads, and expecting leaders to handle motivation).

A better approach addressing root causes, involving employees in identifying stress factors, and adopting the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model.

Chapter 2: The Job Demands-Resources Model

The JD-R model, based on over two decades of research, offers a scientific approach to improving well-being and performance at work. It helps understand the relationship between job demands (stress factors) and job resources (motivation factors).

The JD-R model can be applied to various occupational settings, focusing on the two general categories of job demands and job resources.

Job demands encompass physical, psychological, social, and organizational aspects that require continuous effort and have associated physiological and psychological costs.

Job resources counteract job demands and include factors that help employees achieve their goals, develop, and reduce the impact of job demands, ultimately leading to motivation and engagement.

Chapter 3: Managing a Team with a Heavy Workload

Heavy workloads during the pandemic have raised concerns about well-being, mental and physical health, and work-life balance.

Prolonged high workloads can deplete physical and mental energy, hinder work-life balance, and affect cognitive and emotional resources.

Leaders should understand individual perceptions of workload, as these are not solely based on objective measures, and consider factors like task difficulty and motivation.

Chapter 4: Better Tasks and Getting Into Flow

Not all tasks are equal in their impact on energy levels; achieving a flow state can make work more energizing.

Flow occurs when skills match challenges; leaders can influence this by understanding individual needs and preferences.

Recognizing team members‘ need for achievement and adjusting challenges accordingly can improve work performance and motivation.

Chapter 5: The Physical Environment at Work

The physical work environment, including ergonomics, lighting, noise, and layout, can impact productivity, satisfaction, and stress levels.

Poor environmental conditions can deplete energy and hinder performance, highlighting the need for comfortable, functional, and psychologically satisfying workspaces.

Factors like privacy, access to nature, and quiet spaces should be considered to create an ideal work environment, emphasizing the importance of workspace assessment and proactive changes.

Chapter 6: The Impact of Job Security on Employees’ Health and Well-Being

Job security, the feeling of a stable and safe job, affects employee health and well-being, including mental health and quality of life.

Job security influences employee turnover, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment, contributing to increased productivity and morale.

A study during the COVID-19 lockdown found that higher job insecurity correlated with anxiety, depression, and insomnia, highlighting the importance of perceived job security. Leaders can influence their team’s sense of job security through the organization’s climate and culture.

Chapter 7: How to Deal with Bureaucracy at Work

Bureaucracy is often associated with inefficiency, but it can be reimagined as a tool for designing resilient systems.

Bureaucracy tends to depersonalize work but has advantages in creating predictability, standardization, and documentation.

The choice of bureaucratic practices should consider the type of tasks and the needs of employees, aiming to enabling formalization over coercive formalization.

Chapter 8: Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities in Teams

Role ambiguity can negatively affect team performance, job satisfaction, and mental health, increasing turnover and lowering commitment.

Role clarity results from a dynamic process of communication and feedback between employees and managers.

The level of role clarity needed depends on factors like routine vs. non-routine work, employee experience, and individual need for clarity.

Chapter 9: Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict in the workplace can be divided into task and relationship conflict, each impacting team performance differently.

Well-managed task conflict can be beneficial, particularly in complex tasks without standard solutions, while relationship conflict negatively affects performance.

How conflict is managed can influence stress levels, health, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment, impacting absenteeism, staff turnover, and burnout.

Chapter 10: Autonomy and Motivation in the Workplace

Motivation exists on a continuum, from extrinsic (external pressures) to intrinsic (inherent enjoyment).

Intrinsic motivation is driven by autonomy, competence, and relatedness, while extrinsic motivation often results in dissatisfaction.

Employee well-being, performance, and engagement are highest on the intrinsic motivation end, emphasizing the importance of satisfying psychological needs.

Chapter 11: The Impact of Purpose On Work Performance

Employees who find a sense of purpose or meaning in their work tend to be more productive and motivated.

Task significance, the belief that one’s actions benefit others, contributes to meaningful work and performance.

The impact of task significance on motivation depends on individual personality traits, such as conscientiousness and prosocial values.

Chapter 12: Creating A Positive Climate in the Workplace

Creating a positive work environment involves fostering more positive emotions, which leads to reduced stress, increased well-being, and better performance.

Positive emotions result from favourable judgments of current circumstances, influencing behaviours and productivity.

Positive emotions have numerous personal and interpersonal benefits, including improved health, relationships, and career success. Leaders can contribute to a positive climate by inducing positive emotions.

Chapter 13: Relationships, High-Quality Connections, and Trust at Work

Positive relationships at work significantly benefit well-being, happiness, and organizational performance.

These relationships fulfil various functions, including task assistance, career advancement, emotional support, friendship, personal growth, and giving to others.

Short interactions, if high-quality, can also positively impact well-being and productivity, focusing on respectful engagement, task enabling, trusting, and playing.

Chapter 14: How to Leverage Your Strengths at Work

Strengths are what people are good at and enjoy doing. Using strengths more leads to greater happiness, less stress, and better performance.

Often, people don’t know their strengths or overuse them, turning strengths into weaknesses.

Leveraging strengths in a team can lead to synergy and better performance, but it’s essential to understand and appreciate others‘ strengths.

Chapter 15: How to Give Great Feedback to Your Team

Feedback is a powerful tool for motivating and improving performance, benefiting both individuals and organizations.

Failing to provide feedback can lead to poor performance expectations, feelings of unsupportiveness, and a lack of trust.

To give effective feedback, separate positive and corrective feedback, focus on important issues, be specific, and engage in a conversation for growth.

Chapter 16: The True Impact of Pay and Time off on Your Team

Low pay is a significant contributor to job dissatisfaction and high stress levels for employees.

When addressing compensation as a leader, benchmark salaries, be transparent about possibilities, use rewards and incentives wisely, and consider non-monetary ways to appreciate and acknowledge your team.

Time off from work is vital for recharging and managing stress. Absenteeism and burnout can result from chronic stress, but time off helps reduce them temporarily.