How to reduce job stress

WHILE JOB STRESS isn’t new, there is no doubt it’s on the rise. This workplace coach sees an alarming trend in frazzled, burned out and exhausted workers. The constant theme I hear: Everyone is increasingly challenged to do more with less.

According to a Northwestern National Life survey, one out of four workers view their jobs as the No. 1 stress in their lives (40 percent of workers surveyed said their job was “very or extremely stressful”). I help my clients find ways to decrease work stress factors that contribute to a long list of health concerns (migraines, anxiety attacks, sleep deprivation, etc.). Many report working 80-hour weeks and routinely facing morning inboxes with more than 200 new messages — with no end in sight.

The price is high: skyrocketing illness, friction between co-workers (“desk rage”) and lower productivity. Workers return home to their families short-tempered and depleted, often anxious about unfinished work, resulting in an inability to recharge.

There are many contributors to workplace stress: unrealistic deadlines, lack of supervisor support or understanding, feuding co-workers, misallocated or simply too few resources … the list goes on. Another big contributor is supervisors who fail to involve workers in decision-making that affects their daily work.

What causes workplaces to be in this state of constant overdrive? Increasing global competition, a tightening economy and excessive performance expectations all drive the ever-spinning hamster wheel. The information age is our blessing and our curse. Technology has made it easy to communicate and difficult to ever get away from the job. BlackBerrys, PDAs and laptops keep many workers tethered to their work, including on the well-deserved family vacation to Hawaii. If you find yourself sneaking out of the hotel room late at night, or slipping off the beach to compulsively check just “a few e-mails,” you might just have a problem. (If in doubt, ask your family.)

Many of my clients are at a critical juncture: continue down the same burnout path and suffer the inevitable consequences, or change.

If everyone in your company is stressed looking for efficiency or looking for cover, there may be a need to address the issue systemically. One thing experts and surveys agree on: Happy workers equate to productivity.

What companies can do:

  • Don’t expect your people to do it all. Unreasonable goals are counterproductive. They demotivate your work force and cause unnecessary frustration.
  • Watch for signs of depletion in your workers. Monitor workload and schedules to make sure they are in line with resources. Find ways to decrease the burdens by decreasing daily or excessive paperwork and approval processes. Consider outsourcing.
  • While many jobs have normal cycles of “crunch time” or heavier workloads, don’t allow this to become a yearlong constant. Appropriately acknowledge and compensate people for extra work (additional time off, bonuses, etc). Work exceptionally hard during these times to let your employees know they are valued and appreciated.
  • Survey employees and their perceptions of job conditions, stress and workplace satisfaction. Supervisors should consult with employees around decisions that affect their day-to-day work lives and responsibilities; giving them more control and flexibility over their work can yield great returns (like keeping talent!).
  • Provide opportunities for workers to socialize, have fun and blow off steam.

What workers can do:

  • If you are the poster child for workplace exhaustion and stress, stand up for your rights! Be professionally assertive and express your feelings to supervisors who make unreasonable demands. Communicate when you don’t have the time or resources necessary to accomplish the request. Ask for prioritization. If the boss demands it “has to be done,” counter with, “What piece of my other workload can I give up to get this done?”
  • Don’t inundate co-workers with e-mail overload. Clarify critical e-mails from noncritical ones. Note when it’s an FYI only or action required.
  • Avoid being your own worst “stress enemy” by setting unrealistic expectations on yourself. No, you really can’t do it all, and trying to do so more often than not means you (and your loved ones) pay a very high price. Consider establishing a great job or good enough bar vs. a standard of perfection.
  • Make yourself a priority. You are the foundation on which all else hinges. Humans need to unplug to recharge. Plan unplugged time and activities to refuel — a walk, meditation, massage or yoga class and real vacations.

I am not suggesting it isn’t important to work hard. What I am suggesting is that it’s important to have balance and to work smarter vs. solely working harder.

Re-frame Your Performance Review

The dreaded annual performance review. In addition to pay increases, reviews offer other opportunities, like securing flextime/extra vacation days or development resources, improving the relationship between you and your boss, identifying the path to your next promotion and getting feedback to help your career. How you take advantage of this time and process, where the focus is all about you, is up to you.

This week’s focus: How to maximize the opportunities your review presents.

The “self evaluation” part of your review process is your chance to demonstrate your value.

  • Provide documentation of your accomplishments, particularly any results/benefits to the team and company (keep a log/file throughout the year so you aren’t starting from scratch when you sit down to write your review).

Focus on numbers and concrete examples, such as appreciative e-mails.

  • Whatever form your company uses, note key successes and emphasize any outstanding contributions, challenges overcome, growth you have made and new responsibilities you have taken on.
  • If asked about your challenges or weaknesses, try to be objective. Resist the temptation to claim you have none. We all have areas for improvement and your boss is likely well aware of yours.

If the boss thinks you can’t see your own shortcomings, the boss becomes concerned that you are a) unaware, and therefore unable to grow, or b) aren’t being straightforward and honest. Neither of these serves you.

Tips for the review conversation (I deliberately use the word “conversation;” your performance review is your opportunity to have an important dialogue with your boss regarding your relationship and your career!):

  • If your boss isn’t clear about how you spend your day, enlighten him or her. Revisit your role, job expectations and what your boss views as your priorities.

Ask for clarification about anything that is confusing or unclear.

  • Find out what keeps your boss awake at night so you can figure out how to help and increase your likelihood for a raise or promotion next year.
  • Address any relationship issues, such as ongoing annoyances that frustrate either of you. For receptive bosses, offer feedback or requests on how the boss can better support you to be successful in the future (what you would like more, or less, of from them). Let your boss know what you need to do your job better, such as resource support during rush or busy periods, new software programs or any self/leadership improvement support like personal coaching, training or academics.
  • Looking ahead to 2009, negotiate goal setting. You should be comfortable that your targeted goals are reasonably “doable.” Try to get detail about what specific actions or behaviors your boss wants (i.e., projects completed, sales targets, units produced or customer complaints handled, etc).
  • At the end of your review, summarize what was said (and agreed to) and then submit a document that captures these.
  • If you want more money, ask for it (it surprises me how many workers fail to ask) and make a solid case. Base your request on what you have brought in.

Quantify your value and contributions. If you can’t get the money you want now, see if you can get your boss to agree to a bonus or increase based on hitting targeted goals along the way in ’09. If not, try for flextime, extra vacation days, etc.

  • Lastly, thank your boss for his or her time and consideration.

How to receive any critical feedback your boss may offer during your review:

  • Attitude matters. Don’t sit there glowering with your arms crossed. Your career advancement may depend on how you react to the information and what you do with it.
  • Listen to understand first before you go into automatic defend or deny mode. Ask clarification questions. Summarize what you hear to make sure you have it correct. Offer any rebuttals professionally.
  • Ask your boss what he or she wants you to do differently. Explain how you will keep a negative from happening again: “I understand how my actions might have been perceived that way. Next time, I will handle it by … .” Or, “I want to strengthen our team and improve.”

A reminder: feedback is information from someone else’s perspective. Receiving tough feedback is an opportunity to learn about yourself and how your behaviors or actions are interpreted by another. If it’s something you have been blind to (and that can hinder your career advancement) it may well be a gift because now you can do something about it. If you can’t find a shred of truth in any of it, check in with others to see if your boss’ perspective is shared. In the end, you have to decide what to do with it.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Respect at Work

Sadly, I often hear from people in distress from co-workers who undermine each other. It seems workplace rudeness and disrespect are on the rise.

Demonstrating personal and professional respect is a fundamental expectation for any workplace. Leaders need to e diligent and promoting workplace cultures of respect.

At the risk of this blog post sounding like “everything you learned in kindergarten” basics, it’s important we revisit the value of workplace courtesy and respect.

We are all human beings with feelings and are at risk for being hurt. There are also serious consequences for treating a co-worker with disrespect.

Bad behavior has derailed many careers, and in extreme cases has resulted in legal action-and worse.

A common reason good people leave good jobs is because of disrespectful co-workers or bosses.

Professional and respectful Do’s

  1. Follow the golden workplace rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  2. Be considerate of your co-workers’ personal space (never assume touching someone else is welcome) and time. Workplace cubicles make this ultra important. The lack of privacy is compounded when others treat your workspace like their own.
  3. Pay attention to your impact (i.e., how your loud booming voice or annoying cell phone ringtone carries into the next cubicle).
  4. Treat others with respect (remember that, culturally, respect means different things to different people). Use “please” and “thank you” regularly (again, what you learned in kindergarten!)
  5. Think before you speak. Ask yourself, could this possibly offend someone?
  6. Listen well. Give co-workers the benefit of the doubt, even if you prejudge them as off. Be curious about how they came to their conclusions (you might discover the idea is more on the mark than you previously judged). If you are always suspicious, overly judgmental and/or a micromanager, consider what you are communicating to others.
  7. Watch your language. Stressful situations can get worse with profanity, finger-pointing or loaded words such as “rude,” “unprofessional,” “untrustworthy,” “unethical” or “uncaring.” Instead, use neutral, descriptive words such as “loud” or “abrupt.”
  8. Tell co-workers when their behaviors negatively affect you. “I am offended when I hear you using that word. I would like you to stop using it with me.”
  9. Recognize that being passive aggressive or condescending to co-workers (including snide remarks or sneers) is simply bad form and unprofessional.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t confuse (or excuse) being informal or in a hurry with being rude. We all have busy schedules. It’s no excuse for impolite words or behaviors.
  2. Don’t stereotype or profile co-workers — instantly sizing them up and developing assumptions about them. Don’t give co-workers private nicknames. Differences exist. As human beings, we all create stories about what we believe is true about “others.” We are often wrong.
  3. Don’t gossip about or undermine co-workers. It was nasty behavior in junior high, and guess what — it still is. (It often says more about the person gossiping than the person being bad-mouthed.) When I hear people bad-mouthing someone else, I wonder what they say about me behind my back and I lose respect for them. Try responding with, “Oh, really?” then change the subject or get back to work. If you don’t respond, gossipers move on.
  4. Don’t be the company complainer. It can and will alienate your colleagues. The only good reason to bring up negative issues is to create a plan for resolving them.
  5. Don’t assume; instead, try expressing empathy vs. judgment. Notice when someone looks tired, unhappy or stressed. Express concern instead of judgments, such as, “What a slacker.”

Managers: Don’t tolerate bad behavior. Bring the behavior to the offender’s attention, document it and develop a plan for the employee to fix it. (Getting them professional help is often less expensive than attorney’s fees or headhunters.)

None of this is rocket science, but being aware of your behaviors and their effect on co-workers is important.

COMMON PET PEEVES

1. Being condescended to, 44 percent

2. Being reprimanded publicly, 37 percent

3. Micromanaging, 34 percent

4. Loud talkers, 32 percent

5. Cell phones ringing, 30 percent

Source: Fast Company

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

New Job? Dos and Don’ts

Congratulations — you got a new job! No doubt you are anxious to make a good first impression. You can bet your new co-workers and boss are anxious to see how you will fit in. Here are some tips to get you off on the right foot.

Dos.

  • Have a positive attitude. Attitude speaks volumes about who and what you are.
  • Get clarity early with the boss about your role, priorities and expectations. Ask questions, listen well and take notes. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you are unclear about something, including where to go to when you get in trouble. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Request regular one-on-one meetings about how you are doing — and what you can do even better. Developing a “can learn” in addition to a “can do” reputation will help you develop a professional and positive rapport with your new boss.
  • Find a mentor — someone you respect, whose experience and opinion can help you grow in your career. Consider someone who has been there long enough to help you navigate the “political” environment. Find someone with whom you can speak freely with about workplace or career concerns (bosses don’t typically make the best mentors for this reason). Mentors can be critical relationships to your career growth. Most people are flattered and happy to help if you ask (particularly if you remind them of themselves). Remember: Having a mentor is a two-way street. Ask how you can help and contribute to their success as well.
  • Show up early (you don’t have to overdo this), and don’t sprint from your desk at 4:59 p.m. You don’t have to be the last to leave but don’t always be the first to leave. Demonstrate your willingness to stay longer to finish an important project on deadline. Believe me — others notice your work ethic. There is an old saying: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. In a challenging environment it may make the difference between your getting going or simply being “gone.”
  • Convince your boss that he/she made a good choice in hiring you. Most new hires are in an unofficial “probationary” period. This “honeymoon” period is when the little things, including attendance and punctuality, are noticed. If traffic is unpredictable, leave earlier. Getting there early beats getting there late any day of the week. Starting off being habitually late and/or demonstrating a lackadaisical attitude leaves bosses wondering how committed you really are and whether he or she made a mistake hiring you.
  • Do what you say you will do. This is tried and true advice. Don’t promise tasks you can’t deliver. Track and honor any commitments you make to your team and boss. Deliver results that exceed commitments and expectations — consistently. Want a promotion — fast? One way is to become a “go to get it done” resource early on with both your boss and co-workers.
  • Demonstrate you are a team player. Pitch in on things like lunchroom cleanup, making coffee or replenishing the printer paper. Work hard to get along with all your colleagues — from the janitorial staff to the receptionist. You might be surprised about who has leverage with the boss when they hear you are well-liked (or not!) by your co-workers.

Don’ts

  • Don’t use company time to surf the Internet, send personal e-mails or stay plugged into your iPod (at the very least until you become more familiar with the company’s culture and tolerance or boundaries around these kinds of activities). Take care of your personal needs on your time. Take the initiative during slow or down time to research and learn something new you can apply to your job — there is always something you can be working on to improve or helping someone else out with.
  • Don’t establish yourself as the newly designated “water cooler gossip.” Stay out of personal issues and office politics for as long as possible. (Yes, I know it is tempting and human nature.) Avoid getting sucked in and coerced by the naysayers and complainers. You will be judged by your discretion, including those people you choose to surround yourself with — choose intentionally and wisely.
  • Don’t bring your boss problems without also offering options for a solution. Don’t say, “Sorry, boss, the printer broke so those handouts you wanted won’t be done in time for the meeting.” Instead try, “The printer broke. I submitted the materials online to Kinkos and am leaving to pick them up so you will have them in time for your meeting.” Demonstrating you are resourceful and capable of resolving challenges will help put you on the fast track.

Lastly, don’t get defensive or upset when your boss offers constructive criticism or feedback. Instead, take feedback as a learning opportunity and thank your boss for helping you become more aware.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Your Workplace Emotions Matter

Many workers are downright grumpy– companies have cut back on resources all while asking workers to “do more with less.” As a result, nerves get frayed and tempers can flare.

Tempers flare when the amygdala part of our brain gets triggered and sets off an alarm, firing powerful adrenaline stress hormones in response to perceived threats (like fear of losing your job). There are many ways we can perceive “danger” in our workplaces. For example, believing a co-worker is trying to make us look bad to the boss can be seen as a threat to our livelihood (and therefore our survival). Hearing a co-worker say something that we perceive is insulting or demeaning can be seen as a threat to our self-esteem. Scenarios where we perceive threats put us at risk for losing control of our emotions — otherwise known as an amygdala hijack.

Losing one’s temper or composure in the workplace puts jobs and careers at risk. Most companies won’t put up with it. Workers with anger management issues are seen as a serious risk.

Feeling angry isn’t the problem; the problem is inappropriate behavior. You may not be able to choose how you feel, but you can choose how you respond. Here are tips for responding appropriately:

  • If you feel out of control, take a timeout and remove yourself from the situation. Walk around the block or leave for the rest of the day (infinitely better than losing it in front of your boss or colleagues).
  • Calm down your body’s natural adrenaline response. Try deep breathing from the belly, visualizing your “happy place” or silently repeating a calming word. This will help decrease blood pressure and heart rate, which naturally increase with feeling angry.
  • Identify and acknowledge your emotion. Just naming it can be helpful. Take responsibility for your own feelings and share them directly to clear the air by using an “I” statement. (“I feel angry when …”) Unexpressed anger can result in passive-aggressive behavior (like getting back at someone indirectly with cynical or critical comments vs. confronting issues head on), which can harm relationships.
  • Identify what triggers your anger. Self-awareness is key to controlling how you respond. Working with a coach or therapist can help. A professional can help you connect the dots, increase your self-awareness and learn new behaviors — work you can do to hugely benefit your career.
  • Find a release for your emotions outside work: exercise, kickboxing, chopping wood, etc. Exercise is a powerful release for pent-up emotions.
  • Check your assumptions and perceptions. It’s our appraisal of the behaviors of others that often cause us to react with anger. Humans often jump to inaccurate conclusions. We often guess at the motives or intentions of our co-workers. Electronic communication is particularly fraught with danger for misinterpretation. Check in with the “offending” person to see if your perceptions are accurate. Ask clarifying questions. Be open to the idea that you might have it wrong.
  • Slow it down. Think before you speak. Saying the first thing that pops into your head is rarely a good thing when you’re upset. Rapid-fire responses are what get people escorted out of buildings. Before you speak or hit “send” on an e-mail, check in with yourself and ask: How could this be misunderstood? What is my intention here? Do I want to vent, blame or resolve this? When you speak, use “I” statements and avoid blaming; if you respond with “You …,” odds are you will trigger a defensive response from the other person.
  • Take time off over the holidays to rejuvenate and recharge your batteries. Spend time “disconnected” from the office (that means no compulsive checking of the BlackBerry or other work-connected devices!). Give yourself a break — you deserve it.

Inappropriate outbursts can define how you are viewed in the workplace. Many people are unaware of how poorly their behavior reflects on them (or affects co-workers). There is help available for those with challenges in this area of emotional intelligence.

Workplaces are filled with frustrations. You won’t succeed trying to eliminate feelings of anger. You are still human. What you can change is how you react and respond.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com