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Fall back in love with your role as a food safety professional this new year

The new year means an opportunity to start afresh. But despite the new page on the calendar, you may simply dread going back to work this week.

Working in food safety in today’s food industry isn’t typically rated as a favourite activity. In fact a recent Gallup poll found that only 13% of employees worldwide are “engaged” at work. Even people who have started new jobs with great enthusiasm may burn out as soon as the initial thrill fades.

Yet all of us with jobs spend 70% of their waking lives at work, and even more in the run up to BRC audits. Our jobs in food safety and managing the food supply chain shape a large part of our identity and significantly affect our levels of happiness and satisfaction in life. If we seek greater meaning, work and family are our primary arenas. Work and family are where we make or break ourselves.

So why do we separate our business lives from large parts of our humanity? When we are at work we track, quantify, analyse, maximise and optimise performance. We strive to minimise risk and eliminate emotion, ambiguity and subjectivity. In other words we are stripped of any semblance of personality from our workplaces.

What I am advocating as we start the new year is that we endeavour to introduce some spontaneity and personality back into our work lives. We might be surprised with the results.

Acts of spontaneity subvert the normal routine; they give us a feeling of doing something for the first time, making the familiar feel intriguing again. They point to something greater and help us keep the flame alight when we find ourselves journeying through the rut of routine as we plan for this years BRC audit and round of inevitable unannounced retailer audits.

When you go back to work this week, try some of the following principles to introduce spontaneity into your work life.

Talk to strangers

A couple of years ago researchers in Chicago conducted an experiment: one group of train travellers were asked to keep to themselves during their commute and the other group were group were encouraged to engage with fellow passengers. Those who interacted with strangers reported more positive emotions than the commuters who kept to themselves. Encounters with strangers can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. Obviously only a very small portion of those working in food safety will be using public transport to get to work, so how do we find opportunities to talk to strangers. Well if you work in a large company there are probably whole parts of your building where people working in the same company as you are strangers, try the engineers or sales departments, you will probably find some strangers in there.

Principle 1: Connect with someone you don’t know every day

Be a stranger

Extend the above sense of strangeness by sitting in a new spot around the office or factory as often as you can. If your office is open plan, all the better. If not, swap your desk with a willing colleague. Its a simple move that gives you a chance to view your organisation with fresh eyes. Extend a lunch invitation to someone in your company whom you’ve never met and then follow up and revel in the new connection. Enjoy the thrill that comes from doing something out of character and outside your comfort zone.

Principle 2: Extend a lunch invitation to someone in your company whom you’ve never met before.

Hold “thick days”

How often do you hang up after a conference call or leave a team meeting only to feel that it was a complete waste of time? How often are you present in body but not in mind? Imagine spending a “thick day” with just one colleague instead: lock yourself in a room and work on a single task for a full day a month rather than spending two “thin” hours every week with several colleagues on the phone. You will not only be happier, but also more productive. This is one principle which I personally could benefit from as I seem to have slipped into a rut of ensuring that no internal meeting is longer than one hour, but there are some large meaty tasks and issues which cannot be resolved in a series of fragmented one hour meetings.

Principle 3: Hold “thick days”

Cherish the pressure of deadlines

In our modern work lives, deadlines are what evolutionary psychologists call “critical events” or experiences that spur in us a primal need to survive. Deadlines direct us to what is essential and serve as powerful vehicles to stretch us so that we fulfil the immediate task at hand. Intense work experiences make us suffer, but when they are over they can also provide a sense of elation and satisfaction. Think of how you feel when you have just passed the BRC audit and got a provision Grade A.

But beware of falling into the trap that I see too many food safety professionals falling into of being in a permanent state of firefighting and going from crisis to crisis.

Spontaneity is an under served dimension of our modern workplace experience. It’s up to us, not our employers, to create it. Spontaneous experiences allow us to bring our full selves to the office meeting others and ourselves in unexpected, more meaningful ways.

This blog post has been derived from a Sunday Times article by Tim Leberecht who is the author of The Business Romantic: Fall back in love with your work and your life.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a romantic and would sooner eat my hat than blog about romance in the work context, therefore I have used spontaneity instead of romance.

Lets get into 2015 and be spontaneous.

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