Discretionary Effort

“Discretionary effort” is often considered the crown jewel of employee engagement. Simply put, it’s the discretionary – or extra – work that people give to a cause. These are all the little gifts that go above and beyond what’s required to get the job done. It’s the special sauce that makes things great instead of good.

You might imagine that there isn’t a lot of discretionary effort happening in the workplace right now, and you’d be right. Gallup consistently finds employee engagement levels to be dismal – currently at just 15% worldwide and 34% in the US. To be sure, poor leadership is a leading factor in this state of affairs. Managers create conditions that result in behavior and relationship patterns in the workplace. If they fail to acknowledge their teams, to practice effective communication skills, to engage in healthy difficult conversations, or to promote a culture that supports emotional intelligence, teams will struggle.

If you want to grow in your career, you probably already know that you’ll need to give some discretionary effort. But how do you give more when you believe there’s nothing extra to give? What do you do when it seems that others take advantage of your extra efforts? What if your boss is the last person who makes you want to give above and beyond?

The Law of Circulation

If you can’t fathom the thought of giving more at work, you may want to have a closer look at what you’ve been receiving lately. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Ultimately, this is the law of circulation in action. Think of it this way: it’s getting ready to be winter in Dallas, and if I had a wood burning stove, I’d ask it to give me some heat. However, no fire will burn if I don’t load it with wood. For the stove to give generously and abundantly, it must first receive generously and abundantly. Once the fire is lit, a caretaker can stoke it and replace logs every so often to keep the warmth going. The caretaker is both giver and receiver, and so is the wood burning stove.

When’s the last time you allowed yourself to receive discretionary effort in the workplace? Are you holding on to all of “your” work fiercely? Do you resist asking for help?

Sometimes, past experiences hold us back from receiving abundance at work. That is, residual beliefs and emotions hold us back in order to avoid harm. We strive to avoid fears that reside in our other-than-conscious minds. As we operate in auto-pilot, our discretionary effort reserves become depleted. Over time, we find that because we haven’t allowed ourselves to vulnerably receive, we have little left to give.

I believe that we must work with the law of circulation for new things to happen in our lives. If you find it hard to reside in this space, don’t fret. High quality support is available to help you work through it. I’d be honored to be a part of your journey.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Oftentimes when we feel depleted, it’s because we’ve lost a sense of gratitude. Thankfulness can be quickly run over by unprocessed emotions of anger, guilt, shame or fear. To get into the flow of giving and receiving, it’s important to embrace and process these emotions in healthy ways. When we become aware of our feelings and make intentional choices about how we respond to them, our emotional intelligence increases. In this space, we become more grateful for things that are going well and enjoy the benefits of a more giving mindset.

Consider the alternative. This time of year, the classic play A Christmas Carol is running in theatres around the country. In this production, we learn that the Scrooges of the world choose to align with a story about how crummy the world is. They become a victim of their own decision to eschew gratitude. Ebenezer Scrooge did not live in a discretionary effort mindset. As a result, he lost many years of joy.

To change your resonance, you must change your story. Be careful about what you’re holding, because what you hold on to becomes sacred. You can hold on to the ways you’ve been wronged, and this will become your story. Alternatively, you can hold on to gratitude for the things you appreciate. Ultimately, this choice will determine the kind of energy you embody. One empowers discretionary effort – the special sauce that makes life rich. The other does not.

“I Have to,” vs. “I Choose”

If you frequently find yourself saying, “I have to,” or “I can’t,” consider where this might originate. Remember, these phrases don’t always have to be spoken out loud to have an impact.

To recognize that something is discretionary says that you have choice. For example, you get to decide what you want to do with discretionary income because it’s not essential to your basic living expenses. You might donate it to charity, spend it on a vacation, take a trip to the spa, or buy a gift for a loved one. Ultimately, you get to choose.

However, money is not the only resource that can be discretionary. For instance, time is a valuable resource. When’s the last time you clearly identified your discretionary time and honored that you have choice over how it is spent? Another way to think about this is to consider the words you use when addressing your time. Do you ever find yourself making excuses to decline a social invitation because you “have to” honor another commitment? Or, do you say you “can’t” do something, rather than acknowledging that you chose a different use of your time?

The words we use have a great impact on our power. The phrases, “I AM…” and, “I choose,” are empowering, while those that say “I have to,” or “I can’t,” contract our energy with their rigidity. Just knowing this, and being conscious of your choices, will open your life to greater power and positive energy. If this seems impossible, engage some high quality support. You don’t have to live in a world without choice.

Discretionary Effort Impacts Every Aspect of Life

If you’re stuck in a pattern of telling yourself, “I’m not going to do any more than what’s required of me,” you’re living in survival mode. While this may seem safer at work, it’s important to recognize that the mindset will spill outside those boundaries. In essence, you’re honoring something in esteem that’s really not true. Perhaps it seems more important to hold on to something from the past, such as an injustice or violation, than to release it. Or, you may have developed patterns that are a way of connecting with someone or something from your past. However, these survival tactics don’t necessarily ensure survival. They certainly don’t lead to a flourishing life experience.

If you find yourself in a pattern where it’s difficult to give to others, or it’s hard to recognize your discretionary resources, get some coaching or leadership training to work through it. There is no shame in getting help to have a better experience. The reality is that if you could’ve done it by yourself, you would have! We can provide a sacred space with good leadership, and we’ve iterated through this many times before. It would be our honor to lead the way.

Team Engagement: How to Get Support

With choice comes power. In our Dallas workshop in December, we’ll be empowering attendees to communicate effectively so they can get more of what they really want at work!

Can’t make it to a workshop, or prefer a private coaching environment? Click here to book your coaching session now.

Breakthrough Therapy Written by Monttein Alonso
Breakthrough CoachAt Engaging Breakthroughs, Craig Tennant and Monttein Alonso deliver
breakthrough success workshops and online life coaching to increase emotional intelligence. They offer proven leadership development for leaders who seek to build effective teams, break through to success in their careers, and discover life beyond the 9 to 5.

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