Learning to pivot

Last weekend, I “officially” retired as my sons’ coach. I use quotes around the word “officially” because if they ever want me to coach a neighborhood team or help out in coaching a summer league in the future, I would do it in a heartbeat. But this past weekend, my younger son’s basketball team lost in a final four playoff game, thus ending my long tenure – over ten straight years – of coaching them in various sports as they’ve grown up. Those parents that have coached their own children can probably relate when I use the term bittersweet here – while I’m getting back some time that I can use to enjoy other pursuits, I will miss helping boys on the teams develop as players, and hopefully, as young men.

While my sons have played numerous sports in their short lives - soccer, baseball, and football among them – basketball is their most recent sport of choice. Therefore, for the last few years, I was learning all I could about zone defenses, shooting drills, and how to break a full court press. But perhaps the most important component that I discovered, and the one that I made sure my players practiced often, was the pivot. In basketball, when you are stationary with the ball, you can move one foot around, as long as the other foot - the “pivot foot” - remains planted on the floor. Why is pivoting so important? First and foremost, turning on your pivot foot allows you to turn away from your defender if you’ve already used your dribble, and either shoot or pass. There are also several different moves started with a pivot: squaring to the basket, blocking out for a rebound, rolling after a screen, drop stepping and deep stepping. But here’s the catch…if you ask many youth players or talk to their coaches, most will say that not a lot of time is spent working on the pivot. Most of the coaches I talked to just assumed that kids know how to pivot and don’t make pivot drills as part of their practices at all. But I’ve seen enough youth basketball games, and weak pivoting, over the years to know that we all should make pivoting drills a regular part of our practices.

In terms of work, a pivot is a transition point. Instead of pivoting with a ball, we pivot with our knowledge, skills, and abilities. Just like the pivot in basketball is the beginning of so many different moves on the court, a pivot we make in our work lives can be used to begin a new project, a new position, a new career, or a new business. However, just like in basketball, if we try to pivot without knowing how to do it properly, at best it could be a weak pivot - at worst, it could blow up in our faces.

“I just can’t do this anymore.”

There are countless examples of people that have accomplished a great pivot at work. An example from my own life experience: A friend of a friend had a fabulous job at a NY investment firm, but he was exhausted with all the travel associated with his work and the daily grind of commuting to New York City from New Jersey. He barely saw his kids, his wife - a doctor - also worked long hours, and they all felt like they were just going through the motions. He explained to my friend that he just couldn’t do it anymore. So he and his family pivoted in a direction no one expected them to take. They sold their house, cars, and most of their possessions, and moved to the Bahamas. He’s in the process of becoming a real estate agent and his wife is exploring her options to become a doctor there. Their pivot was absolutely huge – a life-changing transition. But not all of us have the resources or even the desire to pivot that much. Fortunately, pivots don’t need to be that big to be significant, especially when we’re talking about occupational burnout.

“I’m overworked and underpaid.”

One of the top reasons why people need to pivot in terms of their work lives is burnout. “Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions,” said Charlie DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which provides workforce management and human capital management cloud solutions. “While many organizations take steps to manage employee [burnout], there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout. Not only can employee burnout sap productivity and fuel absenteeism, but it will undermine engagement and cause an organization’s top performers to leave the business altogether.” A survey that Kronos recently commissioned along with Future Workplace, an executive development firm, found that 95 percent of HR leaders said employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. Respondents stated that, “unfair compensation (41 percent), unreasonable workload (32 percent), and too much overtime or after-hours work (32 percent) were the top three contributors to burnout.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

To pivot away from burnout, we must first identify it. This process must start with being truthful about our answers to the following questions:

Have I become cynical or critical at work?

Do I drag myself to work and have trouble getting started once I arrive?

Have I become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?

Do I lack the energy to be consistently productive?

Do I lack satisfaction from my achievements?

Do I feel disillusioned about my job?

If your answer to any these questions is ‘yes’, the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education, and research, recommends that we take action with the following:

Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout. Once you’ve identified what’s fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.

“Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Perhaps you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Is job sharing an option? What about telecommuting or flexing your time? Would it help to establish a mentoring relationship? What are the options for continuing education or professional development?

“Adjust your attitude. If you’ve become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work. Recognize co-workers for valuable contributions or a job well-done. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy.

“Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services.

“Assess your interests, skills and passions. An honest assessment can help you decide whether you should consider an alternative job, such as one that’s less demanding or one that better matches your interests or core values.

“Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also help you get your mind off work and focus on something else.

“Get some sleep. Sleeps restores well-being and helps protect your health. Aim for at least 7-8 hours each night.”

A good pivot starts with making a transition in our work lives. Do it right by asking thoughtful questions of ourselves, being honest with ourselves, and taking action to ensure the pivot truly makes a difference.