Office Perks
Re-Energize to Get Through the Blahs

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 28, 2005

Even if we like our work, sometimes it takes a little extra something to get up that oomph during the day -- and no, I'm not talking about a double espresso with a side of espresso. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

But how do we get reinspired in the midst of a long project? How do we re-energize ourselves during a rough time at a company that may leave us reeling with hair-pulling moments? How do people get rid of their workday blahs?

As with anything, it depends. Many people find little ways in their otherwise crazy or monotonous, chaotic or draining days to get back in gear and ready to take on that project again with clearer eyes and maybe even a smile.

Take the folks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which is expanding and due to open its new addition soon. It's something the staff has anticipated for a long time. But as the date approaches, the "more tension and added workload" there is for the staff, said spokeswoman Hillary Bates. "People are excited about it, but to sustain that excitement for that long, that can be a problem. There's definitely been some morale issues from being overworked."

A few weeks ago, Bates's boss came to work with a big yoga ball. She replaced her office chair with the ball, saying she thought it would be good for her posture and perhaps relax her the way it did in yoga class. At first, most of her employees laughed at it. Then they started to take turns sitting on it. Bouncing. And then giggling.

"We got kind of jealous, so we bought them, too," Bates said. So everyone in Bates's small department now sits on yoga balls. And it really helped rid them of some of those tense moments. (Picture the IT guy balancing on that ball while replacing a CD drive, as he did with Bates's computer.)

"It just inserted an element of fun. Posture is nice and everything, but just to have people stop by to have something to laugh about" has been refreshing, she said.

When things got hectic, people just retreated into their work, she said. There was little chatter in the office. "The niceness had eroded a bit," she said. "It's nice for us now, because it's a conversation starter."

Others motivate themselves in a more traditional way: They think about the reward waiting for them. They are the ones who feel that work isn't everything, but a paycheck is the means to what makes them happiest.

"Since I am in sales, I think about the reward I get for closing new business -- the commission check -- and the things it will allow me to do that I really enjoy," Tony Wang said in an e-mail. "Or I think about the feeling I get when I am successful at something and how it makes me feel good, and use that to get me going."

He, like so many others, enjoys what he does but works mainly "to make the money I need to do the things I really enjoy."

Then there are others who get so engrossed in a project, they need a break from it to get their energy back.

Antonia Balazs was thrilled working as a researcher last fall on "The Appalachians," a three-part series on the history of Appalachia that has been airing on public television. She summed up her excitement when she said, "I'm blessed to have worked on such a project." (How many people can say that about work?)

But a big part of her job was to list every single clip of the stock footage. Every second of a documentary has to be accounted for, as it often belongs to someone else, she explained. So, obviously, her work was incredibly detailed and engrossing. That portion of the project took up all of Balazs's time for about three weeks. "I was doing just absolutely nothing but that. It's engrossing. But after a while, you really do begin to feel like you're down in a dark tunnel," she said.

It was about that point when the producer pulled Balazs away from the VCR to help with the final sound mix. "Just to walk in and see what they had done, just hearing the music, it brought everything alive again for me," she said. "It was suddenly like seeing the film in brilliant color again when I feel like I had been working in black and white."

It was just one day, but it was an experience that re-energized her to get back to cataloguing clips with a new mind, she said. "It doesn't mean you don't love what you do," Balazs said. "But having an experience that reinspires you puts you in the right frame of mind for those moments where you feel as if it's a little plodding."

Join Amy from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday athttp://washingtonpost.comto discuss your life at work. Do you have something interesting to tell about your life at work for an upcoming column? Let Amy know atlifeatwork@washpost.com.

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