Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mindful Minutes: A Simple, Effective Way To Manage Stress At Work (Or Anywhere)

Having written an entire workbook teaching people how to reduce the "frazzle" of life, it always surprises me when I stumble on a new stress management technique that actually works. Sure, there's always some new fangled idea floating around. Unfortunately, more often than not, I find such ideas are full of promise but lack the substance to really make them worthwhile.

This is why I'm so excited to share my latest discovery and how it came about. Here's the story:

I caught a radio interview with Goldie Hawn the other day. Yes, she's the stunningly beautiful blond actress who appears to be aging backwards in a Benjamin Button kind of way. But she wasn't sharing beauty tips. Instead, she was talking about a new children's education program her foundation is supporting called Mind Up.

This program seeks to incorporate mindfulness strategies into traditional classroom education. The research of positive psychology shows that teaching children strategies for focusing their attention and monitoring experience without immediately reacting has the potential to impact brain function as well as improve social and emotional well-being and balance.

During the interview, the actress-turned-advocate discussed one aspect of the program that particularly caught my interest. Among other activities, children in the Mind Up program enjoy "Mindful Minutes," where they simply sit quietly and reflect. This gives them a few short meditative breaks during the otherwise chaotic school day in which they are given the space and freedom to decompress and wind down. They're finding that children in the program are experiencing less stress, have better concentration, and feel more optimistic in general.

So, this got me thinking. What if we all took Mindful Minutes throughout the day? What if, every few hours, we just shut the door or stepped away from the computer for just five minutes and let silence wash over us? How would that impact our stress throughout the workday?

I've been trying out the technique for the past few weeks since I heard this interview. And, though it's been somewhat difficult to get into the rhythm, I've definitely noticed a significant impact on days when I make Mindful Minutes a priority.

My final verdict? Mindful Minutes are a great addition to any stress management program.

Here's why:

Strength of Body and Mind

It only takes a few minutes to re-energize your body and mind. Energy levels stay remarkably higher when you aren't camped out at your desk all day. Mindful Minutes will force you to get up and step away from your groove. If possible, go outside and enjoy a little sunshine and fresh air in the process. Physically, you'll feel less tense and mentally, you'll be more alert when you return.

Improved Creativity and Enthusiasm

Even if you're totally absorbed in a project, breaking your stride is actually a really GOOD thing. It gives you a chance to take a step back, shift your perspective and gain clarity. Sometimes, we get so deeply focused on the details; we lose sight of the bigger goals. A few minutes to reflect and mentally reorganize can do wonders for creativity and enthusiasm.

More Rational Decision-making

When emotions are running high or you're feeling anxious and stressed, it can be tempting to make snap decisions. This is especially dangerous in the workplace. A few minutes spent relaxing in a quiet environment can help put things back in perspective and inspire you to handle frustration in a more rational, professional way.

How to Use Mindful Minutes

If you're interested in using the Mindful Minutes technique, here's what I would recommend:

  • Make a schedule and follow it. Every two to three hours worked well for me, but you might want to play around with it. Just don't let yourself do it "whenever you feel like it" because, chances are, you'll get distracted and won't follow through. Plus, part of the impact comes from the routine. When you don't think you need to do it, you often have the most powerful experiences.
  • Keep the breaks short. Don't dawdle and waste time. This isn't a real "break". It's a brain break. Five minutes is really ideal.
  • Have an established place to go where it's quiet and you won't be bothered. If possible, go outside and stand in a ray of sunshine.
  • Don't DO anything. This isn't a break to run an errand, pick up lunch or chat with a co-worker. Resist the urge to multi-task. Your only responsibility for these five minutes is to yourself.

I know how hard it is to manage stress, whether at work, at home or on the road. Even with all the research I've done and all the techniques I've used, I still have trouble on some days. I know regularly incorporating the Mindful Minutes strategy into my regular routine will have a profound effect. I hope you'll try it as well and report back.

Chrissy Scivicque (pronounced "Civic"), founder of Eat Your Career, is an award-winning freelance writer/editor with a passion for two things: food and helping others.

Thanks to Chrissy Scivicque / Careerealism

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When You Become Your Friends' Boss

Find out how to keep your friends when you become their boss.

Sure, a promotion is a cause for celebration. But if your advancement up the corporate ladder puts you a rung above your former peers, don't be surprised if their words of congratulations are tinged with anger, envy, or even mistrust.

How should you handle it when your new position turns your office mates into your underlings? According to Val Arnold, senior vice president of the Minneapolis consulting firm Personnel Decisions International, begin by recognizing that relationships with coworkers will inevitably change. And keep in mind that your colleagues' reactions--whether jealousy or joy--may have less to do with you than with the new role you're taking on.

While your work friendships won't quite be the same, you can and should try to preserve them. Organizational psychologist Harry Levinson, Ph.D., strongly encourages new bosses to extend a hand to employees. "A simple thing to do is bring your colleagues together and tell them that although you're pleased to be promoted, you don't want to lose old friends," Levinson says. Describing the duties of your new position and privately explaining what you expect of each person can prevent misunderstandings and alleviate tension.

But rather than rule with an iron fist, new bosses should assert their authority gradually. Asking employees for their input when problems arise will help them respect you, and your increased authority, more easily.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

3 Worst Mistakes Managers And Supervisors Make

They say the perfect business has no managers, no supervisors, and no employees. Unfortunately, your business isn't perfect, and you have to deal with managers and supervisors who will make today's "worst mistakes" if you don't train them.

Here are the worst mistakes managers make:

Worst #1 — Failure to Be Honest in Performance Management

Supervisors and managers don't like to deliver bad news, so they just avoid it. They observe bad behavior, they accept poor performance, and they say nothing, then it's time to complete the performance appraisal. Since they've said nothing about the poor performance, instead of hitting the employee with the truth, the supervisor or manager simply awards a "satisfactory."

The manager thinks that he or she is sending a message, because "satisfactory" is considered a low rating.

This creates a double edged problem. First of all, nothing's being done about the poor performance, so it will just continue as a productivity drag.

Second, you're setting yourself up to lose a lawsuit—already, the manager's thinking doesn't match the written record.

And things are only going to get worse. Eventually, the poor performance is going to cause the managers or supervisor to take action.

The manager fires the employee, but, unfortunately, once again, the manager doesn't tell the truth. The manager says, "Sorry, due to budgetary restrictions, we had to let someone go."

Later, the employee sues, saying, "I found out there are no budgetary restrictions. The firing was because I am in a protected group."

Now the manager backpedals—"Well actually, the reason for the termination was poor performance."

Boom. The framework for the successful lawsuit is in place.

An employee with demonstrably "satisfactory" performance (as documented by his appraisal forms signed by the manager), was officially terminated for "budgetary restrictions." Now the manager is saying the real reason was poor performance.  Clearly the manager was untruthful at some point.

And unfortunately, the poor performance is not documented. The jury is going to side with the employee. Or, more likely, this case is going to settle.

Worst #2 — Making Snap Decisions When Responding to Employee Requests and Complaints

Certainly, many employee requests are annoying, or unreasonable, or even outrageous, but that doesn't mean that you can ignore them, or refuse them, or even react angrily to them.

That's not easy when, for instance, a key worker asks for FMLA leave with the busy season coming up. Or you had a very good shot at getting a proposal out on deadline and then the writer needs "bonding time." Or his "back is acting up" or her "migraines are getting worse."

Whatever the situation, managers and supervisors need to be trained to "keep their cool" and give the request due respect. Training managers to deal with these situations is relatively easy—Tell managers "If this kind of situation arises, say 'I'll get back to you,' and head to HR."

Complaints are similar in that they can be upsetting (especially if directed at the manager or supervisor in question) but must be dealt with respectfully. For example:

  • Allegations of discrimination, retaliation, or illegal practices
  • Questions about safety or a refusal to do a job because it is viewed as unsafe
  • A report of an illegal act or refusal to perform an act perceived to be illegal
  • Questions about wages, hours, overtime, etc.
  • Requests for workers' compensation
  • Requests for accommodation on the basis of disability or religion

Employees have rights in these areas, and they must be respected. In addition, be aware that your denying these rights will rarely look good in court. ("Even after being informed that the action was unsafe, you tried to force the employee to do it?")

As one expert says, "Don't let your managers and supervisors deal with these situations—they'll mess it up for sure."

Worst Mistake #3 — Basic Wage/Hour Stumbles

Employees will tolerate a lot, but start messing with their paychecks, and there will be trouble, guaranteed. Many wage/hour problems seem relatively small, but they can be magnified dramatically as class actions.

For example, say you fail to pay 5 hours of overtime per week to an employee. Call it 250 hours in a year, with a $10 an hour premium, and it's $2500. No big deal. Now multiply by 200 employees. Whoops, that's half a million. Double it and add in attorney's fees—yours and the employee's—and you've got a big number.

Here are the most common wage/hour failures:

Failing to Pay All Hours Worked

One common scenario is employees who put in unpaid hours willingly ("Don't worry, I'll finish that up at home."). That's thoughtful, but it doesn't relieve you of the obligation to pay. The other common scenario is when people are expected to do setup before clocking in (filling cash register, setting up tables) or do cleanup after clocking out. ("Do you mind just prepping for tomorrow after you clock out?")

Another increasingly common scenario is employees who are expected to take calls or answer e-mail on their phones or Blackberries (or home computers) off hours. If it's more then de minimis, it's probably hours worked.

Making Special Arrangements

Another wage/hour problem that crops up is that managers and supervisors make special arrangements with employees. For example:

Offering comp time in private sector. There's no such thing as comp time in the private sector. If employees work, they get paid. (Hours may be exchanged during a work week, however; a non-exempt employee can leave work early and make up the time the next day with no problem as long as both days are within the same work week.)
Lesser or no overtime rate. No matter what employees agree to, or even ask for, they must be paid time and one half their regular rate for overtime hours.
After clocking out. Before clocking in. Employees may want to "help out" and work some hours off the clock, but that is not permitted. If they work, they have to be paid.

Failing to Properly Calculate the 'Regular Rate'

The regular rate, the amount on which overtime is calculated, includes non-discretionary bonuses, shift differentials, etc. If such bonuses are awarded after the pay period closes, you have to go back and recalculate.

Wage and hour, one of what, 20 things you need to train managers and supervisors on? Training is critical, but it's tough to fit it in. To train effectively, you need a program that's easy for you to deliver and that requires little time from busy schedules. Also, if you're like most companies in these tight budget days, you need a program that's reasonable in cost.

Thanks to Steve Bruce / HR Daily Advisor BLR / BLR Business & Legal Reports

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

3 Things We Can Learn about Compensation Communications from the News

The news is always a great place to learn about communications skills and methodology. How to keep things positive while you deflect charges like a "Teflon" president. What happens (or doesn't) when you don't build consensus. The list could go on and on.

Oddly enough, the teachable moments for me in the last few weeks have come from the Occupy Wall Street movement. I keep thinking that their words can teach people in our business a lot about compensation communications. After all, participants in Occupy Wall Street have a message to send that they hope will change behaviors in large groups of people, especially those in organizations. See what I mean?

Let's take a look.

  • Describing their purpose. They have told news sources that they are mainly protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed and corruption. The words make their efforts sound straightforward. But I've also been thinking about the impact on the listener. Even as you hear their philosophy, you may be thinking, "But it's not that simple." Or you may be thinking as I did, "Do they mean me?" As in, since I work in and around corporations, does your criticism apply to me, too?

Lesson? Neither of these reactions will encourage me to listen or act. I'm pointing this out to show that words really do have power and that there's a communications lesson here for us. If your audience doesn't "get it" the way you think they should, you have spoken but you have not influenced their opinion. This can easily (and regularly) happen if you don't audience-test your compensation communications. You can create communications that have no impact, or barely the impact that you want, because your audience doesn't get it the way you assumed they would.

  • Explaining how. As the audience for Occupy Wall Street over the last few weeks, have you learned how they would go about the change they are promoting? Any idea what they think your role should be? What the world will look like after they have achieved success?

Lesson? If Occupy Wall Street's representatives have talked about these things, the information has gotten lost. But we need these details to be vibrant and compelling if we are going to react in any way that would lead to change. We need to be able to envision what the changed world would look like, what we would be doing in it and what's in it for us to make the effort to get there.

  • Communicating best when something goes wrong. I live across a bridge from Oakland, so I have heard a lot about that location's story. If they weren't having problems, I would have heard a lot less even though I am in the neighborhood. We all may be the 99%, but we feel most comfortable talking to the guy next to us who is probably on the same wavelength.

Lesson? It's a nuisance to struggle to be  understood. It takes a lot more effort to speak clearly and understandably to those outside of HR and we put it off a lot. As a result we wait until we can't avoid it, like the end-of-year performance management and compensation activities. Then, we talk to those outside the department but rush back inside our own group -- where we can speak among friends -- as soon as we can. We've got to get out there more often if we want to be understood and achieve change.

It seems like such an complex and interesting time in our world. Interesting, I think, because there so much to learn from watching and listening. (As soon as I stop hyperventilating and get my fingers out of my ears!)

Margaret O'Hanlon is founder and principal of re:Think Consulting. She has decades of experience teaming up with clients to ensure great Human Resource ideas deliver valuable business results.  Margaret brings deep expertise in total rewards communications and change management to the dialog at the Café. Before founding re:Think Consulting, she was a Principal in Total Rewards Communications and Change Management with Towers Perrin. Margaret is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Pacific Plains Region. She earned her M.S. and Ed.S. in Instructional Technology at Indiana University. Creative writing is one of her outside passions, along with Masters Swimming.

Thanks to Margaret O'Hanlon / Compensation Café

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Monday, June 2, 2014

5 Common Pitfalls Of Work Friendships

How not to end up fired and friendless.

She's your boss-- and your friend (at least when she can actually loosen up and act like a normal human being). As the lines between professional and personal life become increasingly blurred, and people spend more hours of the day working (or at least pretending to), it's unrealistic to think that work can't-- or shouldn't-- engender true friendships. Nonetheless, there are six common missteps that can spell doom for the ever-tenuous dance between colleague and friend:

Drawing Inadequate Boundaries: You need not put Saran Wrap around your cube, but you must find a way not to violate the first tenet of professionalism: maintaining adequate boundaries. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time to let your team members know about your blog, or confide to that intern about that you went through a bit of a hallucinogenic phase in high school. Tread carefully. Whether it's too loud of personal phone calls or having a bright-pink email signature listing every last one of your favorite movie quotes, it can be quite tempting to reveal too much-- greatly damaging your professional identity in the process.

Creating an All-for-One and One-for-All Partnership: If you and your closer-than-close work buddy are virtually indistinguishable from each other (it's a bad sign if your bladders are in sync because of all the dual coffee and bathroom breaks), then you're denying yourself the opportunity to shine as an individual. And you're also entrusting your professional identity-- and future opportunities-- to someone else, who might be a fabulous friend but a less-than-stellar worker. If a natural, genuine friendship develops with a coworker, by all means, enjoy it. But don't let your bosom-buddyhood keep you from being seen as your own person.

Overindulging in Gossip: What would a workplace be without a little dirt? The answer is hard-- and quite boring-- to imagine. It's a natural human instinct to discuss other people, and it makes sense that in a self-contained community such as a workplace, occasional gossip-- just like passive-aggressive kitchen notes-- will happen. But becoming known as the office snarker, or being indiscreet or hurtful in your discussions, will only lose you trust-- and keep you from moving forward, both personally and professionally.

Letting Your Work Friends Be Your Only Circle: If your office is particularly close-knit, or you work grueling hours in a particularly emotional environment, you might truly feel like your coworkers understand you even better than your family does. In fact, the concept of the "work spouse"-- that partner-in-crime who gets you through the day-- is just beginning to get attention. But just as we all need relationships outside our family, so too do we need friends outside of our workplace. Outside friends might not know a thing about your TPS reports, but they'll be more able to provide you stress relief and distraction-- and better able to ring the the alarm bells if your work seems to be leading you down an unhealthy path.

Expecting To Be Treated as a Friend Instead of a Coworker: You might have the best boss in town. You're close, it's comfortable, and you count her among the people you care most for in life. That's wonderful! But it can easily come back to bite you if you forget that she's still your boss. Sometimes when you've got such a great rapport, it's easy to start expecting to be treated a bit better than everyone else, or to be surprised when special consideration doesn't come your way. Don't fall for this. Your boss expects you to follow the same procedures and rules as everyone else, whether your kids have playdates together-- or you share a shoe-shopping obsession-- or not.

Adapted from "The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends" (St. Martin's Press), by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.

Thanks to Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. / Psychology Today

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