Workplace stress

April 7, 2017

Is Your Workplace Laughing Enough?

We always had a copy of Reader’s Digest at home when I was growing up. The monthly publication had several humor sections, including my favorite, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.”

There is a lot of wisdom in that title, especially in today’s workplace, where stress is a huge problem.  Do a mental look around your workplace right now. At any given time, would there be a larger percentage of workers smiling and laughing, or frowning, studious, or with knitted brows? Your answer tells you two things about your culture.

Companies that foster lighter cultures with real laughter in meetings and hallways are likely to have lower levels of stress. Two reasons why their stress is lower are:

  1. When people are laughing together, they are bonding. One measure of workplace stress is how much social support employees feel. When laughter creates bonding, it also creates social support.
  2. Laughter is recognized as having strong health benefits. The Mayo Clinic says that over the short-term, laughter causes you to take in more oxygen, which stimulates your heart and brain. It soothes tension in your muscles.  And it cools down stress responses. Over the long-term, Mayo says that laughter can improve your immune system, mood, personal satisfaction, and even relieve pain.

If we did one of our workplace stress assessments at your organization, do you think you’d find that your employees have plenty of social support? In other words, are they laughing enough?

Let me know if you want to find out for sure.

March 7, 2017

Time: The Blood Out of Turnips Problem 

In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks taught me about Einstein time. Hendricks shares that with Einstein time, time comes from within us, so we can make as much of it as we want.  That’s very different from the Newtonian time model in which time is fixed and we are all struggling against it.Squeeze time

This is a huge shift in thinking for most people.  But I can attest to you that if you bring this into your consciousness, it works.  When I am rushing around, sure that I am going to be late for an appointment, I think about Einstein time, and remind myself aloud that there is plenty of time and that I will arrive on time. And I do!

Time Management Tips for Managers

Does that mean I can just goof off until the last minute, and then magically be where I want when I want? No. It does mean that if we are smart with our time, we will have enough of it.  Let’s face it, we all do so many things that are truly time-wasters.  Here are three. See if any of these hit home for you:

  1. Relying on mental notes. Failing to commit things to some sort of formal calendar or “to do” system can ultimately create confusion and even chaos. Trying to hold everything in your head bogs down your clarity, accuracy, and efficiency.
  2. Conducting frantic searches for mislaid items. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like when I do get in a hurry, my car keys disappear or that one thing I really have to have to do the job gets up and plays hide and seek. There’s a lot to be said for “a place for everything,” but also for taking a deep breath and causing yourself to focus.
  3. Insisting on perfection. This can be a killer. There comes a point in productivity where “good enough is good enough.” When we go beyond that in search of absolute perfection, we give up time that could be used on the next task or project.

What time-wasters could you do without to make yourself more productive?

December 7, 2016

Three Ways to Turn Down the Stress of Mistakes

“Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes.”                  ~Judy Hopps, Zootopia

MComputer keyboard with "oops" on return keyistakes in the workplace can be the source of huge stress. They can slow down productivity, cause rework, and/or create conflict. And right now, as many organizations have to balance the crunch of year-end deadlines with the social demands of the holidays and the unexpected impacts of winter weather, opportunities for mistakes intensify.

Managing Mistakes

Following are three things companies can do to reduce the stress employees feel when mistakes occur.

1. Expect. Unless your workforce is totally robots, mistakes will happen. You can reduce employee stress by giving them tools, including processes and procedures, to counter mistakes that you can anticipate.

2. Accept. Create a culture that supports the idea of learning from mistakes rather than punishing for them.  When you can remove the fear, you reduce stress.

3. Learn. Pay attention to “mistake trends” like creating routine time binds. Departments or individuals put others in time binds when they are overly cautious or they fail to properly prioritize. Creating time binds sets the stage for increased levels of mistakes when people have to work too quickly and/or have to ignore checks. You create unnecessary stress when you reduce employee ability to provide quality work.

The organizational attitude about mistakes starts at the top. Is your “mistake culture” fear-based or learning-focused?

November 9, 2016

Does Your Company Encourage Strong Working Relationships?

Positive relationships with colleagues in the workplace have never been so imrelationshipskeytobusinessportant.  Those relationships are obviously important to effective teamwork.  But more than that, they are crucial to balancing workplace stress.  The level of social support, that is, having a supportive work environment, is one of seven factors we consider when addressing workplace stress.

A supportive environment includes both managers who communicate clearly and consistently and peers who are there to provide assistance when you need them. Additionally, a supportive environment flows down from the top, where leaders actually encourage positive working relationships and they willingly address unacceptable behavior.

Symptoms of Unhealthy Environments

In an environment that is not supportive, you see three specific symptoms:

  1. Conflict: Employees and managers alike avoid conflict.  In fact, you might see people walking down the hallways with their eyes downcast to avoid looking at people with whom they might have conflicts that need to be addressed.  You will see people skipping company events to avoid potentially conflicted situations.  And you will see leaders who refuse to address conflict and just let it fester.
  2. Cooperation: When environments are not supportive, you are likely to see the effects of silos where departments don’t support one another, or an atmosphere of “me” where people are focused on their own projects and achievements and fail to offer support to other team members even when asked.
  3. Frustration: High levels of conflict and low levels of cooperation inevitably lead to frustration. Progress is stilted, opportunities are withheld, and a general sense of annoyance permeates the workplace.

When an organization fails to ensure that employees have positive working relationships, there are high stress and disengagement levels.  As a result, productivity falls, turnover rises, and customer service and quality suffer. In this day and age, no company can afford that.

April 26, 2016

This Job Sucks 

If you have never uttered or thought the words, “This job sucks,” or “Working here sucks,” you are probably a very unusual bird.  I say that because every month, Gallup tells us that only about 30% of employees really like their jobs.

Working Here Sucks Concept text on backgroundThe feeling that “my job sucks” or “my manager sucks” or “this whole place sucks” can cause some pretty powerful repercussions for employees.

I think we can all agree
that people who have these thoughts and feelings are under stress, and likely a pretty high level of it.  According to WebMD, when employees are under stress, there are a number of symptoms they can experience, including:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Upset stomach (or worse)
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Short temper
  • Low morale
  • Decreased job satisfaction.

The list includes symptoms that can lead to impacts on health care costs as people seek treatment to deal with either physical or emotional issues. They also impact productivity, because employees who don’t feel well or who can’t think straight, can’t give 100%. You may only be getting 50% depending on the level of severity.

Because negative feelings are the most contagious, then having lots of stressed employees will impact your corporate brand.  Who wants to work at a place where employees are talking about experiencing work-related stress illness, where people explode in anger or frustration, or where the entire culture is saturated with low morale and dissatisfied employees?

That’s not a place I’d want to work — would you?

Last time you checked, were people saying “This place sucks” or “My job sucks” at your organization?  That’s an important bit of information that you need to know (and deal with).

April 23, 2016

Social Support and Stress in the Workplace 

According to the American Psychological Association’s report, Stress in America: Paying with Our Health, “One in five Americans (21 percent) say they have no one to rely on for emotional support.” Wow! Think about that.  Twenty percent of the workforce has no one they feel they can truly vent with when they have stress events in their life.

Given that, it is even more important for employers to provide an environment that promotes positive working relationships. It is equally important that employers address unacceptable behaviors, not just because they impact productivity and employee engagement, but because at least one in five employees are relying on them to do it, because they won’t or can’t.

When social support, specifically the lack of it, is an issue, three things happen:

Employees Avoid. They bypass people or events that could cause conflicts. This is not always a conscious act, but it happens nonetheless. When people are avoiding, then:

Cooperation Ebbs. When employees are avoiding, the ability of a team to work together to achieve goals is impacted. When goals don’t get met, then:

Frustration Ensues. Levels of upset or annoyance increase, which amplify feelings of stress. This can be a vicious cycle of growing stress, for the individual, for team mates, and for their families.

Does this situation exist in your workplace? If we are talking about 20 percent of employees, then you bet it does.  What are you doing to address this important element of workplace stress and employee disengagement?

April 13, 2016

Three Dangerous Things Disengaged Employees Say

There are some standard phrases you will hear from employees who have disengaged from your company. Three of those are dangerous because they have a direct connection to your bottom line.  When you hear any of the following three, your red alert siren should immediately start sounding.

It’s Not My Job. You hear this phrase and your mind needs to think, “Uh oh, silos.” The “not my job” folks either have lost their desire to be team players, or they never really were.  “Not my job” means the employee is going to do their specifically defined job and nothing more or they have a distinct allegiance to their departmental team and will do what it takes to make that unit successful and nothing more. Fixing this starts with having a management team that is free from turf wars, and who cascades those attitudes and values down throughout the organization. The fix also includes ensuring that each and every employee can tell you how their  specific job supports the company mission, and they believe in that connection.Graphic depicting the three clues described in the article

Those Pesky Customers. Customer satisfaction can take a huge hit from disengaged employees. So can employee satisfaction, for that matter. Because disengaged employees are just checking a box, they fail to go above and beyond for customers, to actively problem-solve, to put on their smile before they pick up the phone. And they don’t hesitate to complain about customers, sometimes loudly, affecting the attitudes of others around them. Unless a company has a standard definition of “excellent customer service,” and what “above and beyond” means, employees will make up their own definitions and resulting customer satisfaction levels will vary based on that.

In most companies, “customer” is defined as those external people who buy our products and services. There is usually little recognition that each employee has both external and internal customers. For example, while administrative employees (IT, human resources, finance, etc.) touch external customers in some of their processes, they serve other employees with much greater frequency. What are the standards of performance for serving their colleagues? Instituting standard definitions of “excellent service” for all customers is a starting point to begin re-engaging employees.

I’m Taking a Mental Health Day. “Mental health days” are sick days and/or personal time off used to provide time and space to manage stress. However, it’s the reason that employees take these days that we need to pay attention to. Today, the level of stress in the workplace is greater than it has ever been thanks to longer hours, constant connection, and more sedentary jobs.

Encouraging employees to disconnect and manage their stress is a good thing. Maybe there is about to be an unusually sunny day when it would be great for any employee’s mental health to spend a day hiking, golfing, or just drinking in the sunshine. So they manage their priorities and take a mental health day to do just that: disengage and de-stress. That’s good.

But when an employee takes a mental health day because they simply cannot face dealing with an obnoxious boss, a difficult colleague, or because they don’t see how their job matters, mental health days are problematic. In this case, the company is creating an environment that is affecting the employee’s outlook and their health. It’s a broken culture. One that has to be fixed from the top down.

March 30, 2016

Take These 3 Steps to Address Employee Engagement 

If only 30% of your employees are truly engaged with your company, my best guess is that nobody at your workplace is truly happy, not even the 30%.  Why? Because they are stuck in the same broken system, the same broken culture that is causing the other 70% to disengage. Likely though, they have the self-motivation and internal drive to engage wherever they are.

So what can you do right now, today, to begin fixing your engagement challenges?  Here are three suggestions to get started:employeeengagementsteps

  1. Clear mission. Check your mission statement, or company purpose, whatever you choose to call it. Randomly ask your employees two things: (1) What is the mission statement, and (2) How does their job directly support the company mission?  If they can’t answer both of those questions, then maybe your mission statement isn’t clear.  Is it filled with buzzwords? Is it long and drawn out? Or is it short, to the point, and clear enough that your children know what your company does? If you don’t have a clear mission statement that employees can draw a direct line to from their jobs, then fixing that is job one.
  2. Cascading goals. Similar to the mission statement, check your operating goals (the standards you judge success by). Are they clear, and do employees know from month to month how well you are performing against those goals? Beyond that, do departments have stated goals that link back to organization goals? Do employees have individual goals that link back to department goals?  It should all be tied together.AND, be sure you are including employees in your goals. By that, I mean you need goals that encompass employee satisfaction and well-being. Without those, how would you even begin to know the health of your organization and of your culture?
  3. Ongoing communication. I’ve already mentioned communication in the first two suggestions. That should tell you how important it is.  Employees want to feel like they are a part of something. They need to know you value them.  So keep information flowing.  Don’t have secrets from employees.  Secrets erode trust. Openness, transparency, and frequent communication build trust and also create a healthy culture.

These are three items strongly related to employee engagement that you can look at and begin to address today, if they aren’t already in good shape. They aren’t the only three, but you have to start somewhere.

Be honest with yourself. How well is your organization doing with these three things?

March 8, 2016

Here’s How Workplace Stress Is Everybody’s Fault

What would you say is going on in the photo here?  What are the roles of the two people? Are they:
Horizontal view of victim of man and woman in conflict in the workplace

  1. Female supervisor and male employee?
  2. Male supervisor and female employee?
  3. Colleagues?
  4. HR Director and another member of the management team?

The fact is, it could be any of these pairings.  I searched a photo site for “workplace stress” and this is the picture I chose.

Let’s dig a little further. The woman standing is obviously frustrated, perhaps even angry, with the man in the chair. What could the issue be that has them both so obviously stressed?

Communication and clarity

Let’s imagine that he has missed an important deadline, resulting in the stressful encounter depicted here. If she is the supervisor, she is upset that he has failed to meet a deadline and now she will have to face consequences with her boss. His fault. Unless she, as the supervisor, failed to communicate her expectations, including the deadline, clearly. Her fault.

What else could be going on?  Given the same missed deadline scenario, she is now the employee, heatedly defending herself and intruding into his personal space, causing him to back up. Her fault, unless she is heated because he waited until the last minute to share critical information that meant meeting the deadline was impossible, and now her job has been put on the line.  His fault.

If these are colleagues, rather than supervisor/employee, there still seems to be a communication issue. Most likely, whatever caused the missed deadline, the situation has devolved and we see two people locked in conflict and unable to communicate about it effectively.

Lastly, suppose the woman is the HR Director and she is furious with her colleague. Once again, because of his failure to communicate clear expectations, they have lost a qualified employee, but her boss will not let her deal with the big issue: the manager’s incompetence.  She has had enough and has just blown a gasket.

At the heart of all of these scenarios is failure to communicate, specifically the failure to communicate clear expectations. And the result, no matter who was involved, was big, bad stress.

October 14, 2015

Are You Self-Aware? Test Your EQ

[Part 2 of a 6-part series]

In The ABCs of Emotional Intelligence, we talked about the two dimensions of emotional intelligence
(EI): intrapersonal and interpersonal. Within those two dimensions are the five aspects of EI.

The intrapersonal aspects help you understand what is going on inside of you when you experience day-to-day events. In this post, we are peeking into the intrapersonal self-awareness aspect.

An angry Donald Duck tangled up in Christmas lighrsTo begin to understand self-awareness, take note that there are seven true emotions that we deal with when talking about self-awareness and other intrapersonal aspects. They are: love, fear, hate, anger, joy, envy, and sadness.

The definition of self-awareness we are using here is your ability to “recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others.” In other words, self-awareness is your ability to self-assess and your self-confidence. With that in mind, consider the following statements:

  1. “I was so mad I hung up on her.”
  2. “I am upset about this meeting and I need time to calm down and think about it.”
  3. “I was so excited I forgot to save the presentation.”

Two of these statements reflect low levels of self-awareness. Can you pick them out?

If you chose A and C, you are right. Statement B comes from a person who recognizes and acknowledges their strong feelings and feels confident enough to step away from the situation to gain control.

Do you relate more to statements A and C, or to statement B? The good news about EI is that you can improve it. Following are five things you can do to begin to improve your self-awareness:

  • Practice self-reflection. Recognize your emotional state throughout the day and look for patterns.
  • Make a list of your strengths and areas for improvement. Look at it daily.
  • Ask a family member or trusted advisor to describe your strengths and weaknesses. Compare what they say with your own self-assessment.
  • Journal about your emotional responses to significant situations.
  • Think about some situations that have triggered your emotions. Create a list of positive ways you can react to those situations to maintain your equilibrium.

If you work these activities, they will get you on the road to improved self-awareness.

Next time, we will look at self-regulation, which is your ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and to suspend judgment and think before acting.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in finding out your emotional quotient (EQ), shoot me an email and we’ll schedule an assessment.

(Continue to Part 3: In Control or in a mess? Regulating your EQ)

(Return to Part 1: The ABCs of Emotional Intelligence)

Scroll to top