Although there are still some leaders who stick to the antiquated notion that they should expect their people to perform high quality work regardless of the environment, more and more organizations are acknowledging the benefits of focusing on culture.
Nowadays, savvy leaders recognize that promoting emotional wellness isn’t a mere “touchy-feely” agenda item that they have to do begrudgingly in order to placate their employees. Instead, they recognize that there are many business benefits that come from putting an emphasis on employee well-being.
A review of the research suggests that employees with a sense of well-being tend to be more productive. Happier employees are more engaged with the work that they’re doing, and, for those in client-facing roles, that translates into better customer service.Research also shows that employees who experience more positive emotions make better leaders, are more successful at sales, more resilient, and better colleagues.
How Can Employers Help?
Although each individual is obviously responsible to determining how best to achieve a sense of well-being, there several things that employers can do to create an environment that is supportive of employees’ emotional health. See some suggestions below:
1. Keep workloads manageable
Although this one seems like a given, it’s one that employers often neglect in the quest to get more done with less. However, if employees have more work than they are able to comfortably handle, it can create a sense of pressure and contribute to workaholism. Overwork not only takes diminishes emotional health, it can also decrease work performance because people tend to be less productive when they are experiencing high levels of stress.
Therefore, as a boss it’s essential to check in with your employees to make sure their workloads are reasonable. And, to help them to manage their responsibilities coach them to ensure that they are prioritizing and delegating appropriately.
2. Emphasize the Importance of Taking Vacations
Another way employers can support organizational emotional healthis by making sure their employees take time away from the office. And, while it would seem that employees would be clamoring to have some time off from work, a survey by Project Time Off found that over half of American employees didn’t use all of their vacation time. Although there were a number of reasons for leaving vacation time on the table (i.e. finances, concern about returning to a pile of work, feeling that others can’t do their job), a staggering 80% of employees reported that they would be more likely to take time off if they felt that their bosses supported it. Therefore, if you want your employees to manage their stress, encourage them to use their vacation time – and reinforce that message by making sure to take time off yourself.
3. Make sure employees have a chance to disconnect
Our laptops and smartphones provide us with convenience and flexibility, however, they also make us available around the clock. Research suggests that when employees are available 24-7, they are more prone to burnout in the workplace. Being unable to disconnect also tends to decrease their sense of autonomy (a major contributor to work stress), because they feel that they can never escape from their work responsibilities. Further, the effects often trickle over into personal lives by causing conflict in the home, because they’re not fully present with their families.
To combat this, consider setting organizational boundaries regarding after-hours emails. And again, watch the example you’re setting as a leader by refraining from sending emails in the evenings, unless they’re really necessary.
4. Make it easier for Employees to engage in self-care
Employers can also help to increase emotional wellness amongst their employees by encouraging them to take time for self-care. For example, one company that I consult to has Wellness Wednesdays, in which employees are encouraged to wear gym clothes to the office so that they can work out. Others have mindfulness programs, which encourage employees to learn how breathing, meditation, and an intentional approach to life can help them to manage stress. Others have ditched the office candy dish and replaced it with nutritious snacks to promote a healthy lifestyle.
When employees are able to care for their minds, bodies, and spirits, they come to work less stressed, and better able to perform up to their potentials.
5. Encourage employees to build meaningful relationships
Lately, we are learning more and more about the negative effects of loneliness in the workplace. Lonely employees are less productive, less engaged, and more likely to miss work. However, employers can help to combat this, by making it easier for employees to build relationships with one another.
To help employees to build connections, aim to create a culture that encourages friendships by promoting communication, collaboration, and psychological safety. Encourage people to get to know one another. Some ways to do this include featuring employees on the intranet, taking time for employee celebrations (like birthdays and work anniversaries), celebrating successes, and providing opportunities to get together outside of work (like lunches or volunteer activities).
Again, as a leader it’s important to set a good example, by taking a personal interest in your employees. Make sure to take time at the beginning of meetings to allow people to chat with one another. You might also consider bringing in a professional to conduct formal team building. I’ve facilitated a lot of team building sessions, and a common piece of feedback that I hear is that employees really enjoy the opportunity to get to know their colleagues on a deeper level. Not only does it help them to build relationships, it also helps them to better understand one another’s work styles – and that’s key for effective functioning.
6. Show an Interest in Your Employees’ Development
When I ask employees about their favorite bosses, they commonly tell me that they experienced the most growth working for leaders who took an interest in their career success. Therefore, to be a supportive leader, make sure to ask your employees about their career aspirations and what motivates them.
Then, with that information in mind, strive to give them opportunities that can help them to accomplish those goals. When employees know that their employers care about them and are committed to helping them to be successful, it can be incredibly motivating, create a greater sense of loyalty to the company, and increase their level of engagement on the job.
Focusing on boosting your employees’ emotional wellness is a win-win proposition. Your staff will be happier and more engaged, and your organization will have a competitive advantage.
As an executive coach, I have the privilege of talking with people about their very personal hopes, dreams, worries, and fears. And, over the past little while, I’ve worked with several clients who have been struggling with finding meaning in their lives. A freelance musician told me that reading and writing fiction make her heart sing, but that she doesn’t have the time to do either. An IT executive explained that he craves intellectual stimulation, but feels deeply unchallenged in his job. An HR Vice-President desperately wants to pursue some volunteer work, but feels constrained by her professional responsibilities and a need to tend to her children and husband.
Unfortunately, I hear these types of grievances from clients all the time.
In today’s world, most of us are told to “do what we love,” or at least are constantly reminded of the importance of “work-life balance.” The mythology of the first seeks to remind us that we can make a living doing something pleasurable — even though we’re not all privileged enough to have this luxury. The second presumably instructs us to carve out enough time in our “lives” (separate from “work”) to pursue our passions. Both of these scenarios can be easier said than done.
As a result, many people see the the options as follows: either sacrifice steady income to follow your dreams, or stay in your current situation, feeling stuck because other options seem too risky.
Existential psychologists argue that a central aspect of the human condition is to imbue life with a sense of “meaning.” In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that searching for meaning is “a primary motivation” for each of our lives, and that it must be “unique and specific” depending on the person.
Finding meaning is indeed a tall order. Because of this, many resign themselves to inertia, and an ongoing sense of dissatisfaction.
Does this sound uncomfortably familiar to you? If so, consider this as a gentle nudge, and here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Remind yourself that life really is too short.
Of course, we all know that death is inevitable — but how often do we really think about it with a conscious reminder? While this seems a little morbid, reminding yourself that you won’t be here forever is a powerful motivator to shift from inertia into action.
A recent study supports this as well. When a largely female sample of undergraduates were told to live the next month like it was their last in a particular city, they were found to have twice as much of an increase in their sense of well-being at the end of the study compared to a control group. Let this reminder make you more connected to yourself, your desires, the present moment, and those around you. Merely increasing your sense of connection and presence will enrich your sense of meaning day to day. And that’s a great place to start.
2. Take small steps — and notice your satisfaction at each one.
When clients of mine believe they will have to drop everything in their current life to pursue a greater sense of meaning, I’m quick to reassure them that such rash action isn’t required.
I’ll tell them to start doing something — anything! Small as their first action step may be, it will be more fulfilling than procrastinating. If you enjoy writing, for example, then try free-writing just for fun, or create a blog. If you want to be of service, find opportunities to volunteer. Want to create a business? Take a course, investigate how you might do it, or get something started on the side. Instead of having to deal with the gnawing feeling that you’re not doing anything, you’ll find that engaging in activities that bring you joy will give you a greater sense of purpose in your life — even if they don’t become a new career for you.
3. Recognize the meaning that’s already here.
In our ongoing quest for self-improvement, we often overlook the good that is all around us, and lose sight of the present moment. When we reflect on our own mortality, we are not only better prepared to reflect on how we spend our time, but we’re also primed to adjust our perspective at large.
For example, in the aforementioned study, researchers found that participants who thought about their time as limited were more likely to savor their experiences by focusing on the positive. This is like the last day of a vacation, when you try to squeeze out every last bit of enjoyment so you can imprint it into your memory.
Try to shift from focusing on everything that you see as “not enough” in your life, and instead, savor the goodness that is already there. It might just change your overall world view.
A few years before my father died, I asked him some questions about aging — specifically, what surprised him about the aging process, and what he would do differently. He said he had been surprised by how swiftly time passes, and, that if he were to go back, he would probably spend more time slowing down, smelling the roses, and connecting with those close to him. When I asked my mother, she added that she would have tried more things, and not have sold herself short in some areas. (These observations are consistent with other research in this area, suggesting that when people look back on their lives, they regret the chances they didn’t take and not fully savoring the potentially meaningful experiences in their day-to-day lives).
Remember, it’s up to you to live your life in a way that is meaningful to you. I hope you’ll take the challenge, and get started with some step, no matter how small, today.
A mindfulness practice can also help you to experience greater meaning. To learn more, click here.
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Lately, a variety of big companies have been dominating the news cycle for the wrong reasons. Reports of toxic culture, executive firings, sexual harassment allegations, unscrupulous sales practices and other negative stories paint the picture of many organizations whose values are more focused on the bottom line than their people.
It’s obvious that working in such an environment would be unpleasant, but research shows that the effects of working in a problematic corporate culture can actually cause significant harm. In fact, working in a toxic organizational culture can have a negative impact on your overall well-being—and even your health.
Here are three potential aspects of your culture that could be harming you.
1. Your coworkers—and your relationships with them
Research has shown that your boss and co-workers can influence your health in a number of ways. For example,one study suggests that being the target of workplace bullying is linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Thanks to hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, boosted levels of stress, anxiety and depression can lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, among others. Most of us know that keeping stress in check is the key to maintaining good health—and navigating relationships at work with your own well-being in mind is a key thing to keep in mind.
Another studyshowed higher degrees of emotional exhaustion among employees of abusive supervisors. Again: this isn’t surprising—but it’s an important opportunity for us all to consider the dynamics we experience with our supervisors at work. Do we feel respected and considered? Or do we feel denigrated and taken advantage of? Emotional abuse includes a vast array of behaviors, and many of them can manifest themselves in subtle, but insidious ways.
While the effects of an abusive boss might be easier to recognize, research has also shown that having a boss who is simply ineffective can also have potentially negative consequences. One Swedish studyfound that employees of leaders who were rated as “less effective” in a variety of areas (such as consideration, ability to manage change, and encouraging employee participation) were more likely to experience heart attacks. Another study similarly found that employees who rated their managers poorly were at heightened risk of heart disease relative to their peers who viewed their bosses more favorably. And, those risks increased the longer the employee stayed at the organization. Needless to say, there’s a reason that recent research has drawn attention to the “brain-heart connection.”
2. The daily grind, and the things you can’t control
While the people you work with can have either a positive or negative impact on your health, so too can your job itself. A 10-year longitudinal study of female workers found that women who experienced high job strain (which was defined as having both high demands and low control on the job) had a 38% increased chance of suffering cardiovascular disease compared to those with low job strain. Chronic stress on the job was also linked to higher BMI in a mostly male sample. While the behaviors at work of those with high or low stress were similar, the researchers suggested that the individuals who experienced chronic stress were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors at home, perhaps as a way to unwind.
The idea that your entire job description impacts your health may seem like a bitter pill to swallow—as most of us don’t choose the work we do, or the particulars of our work environments, with our health in mind. (And, of course, most Americans don’t feel a great sense of opportunity when it comes to jobs in the first place.) But once again, the thing we can control is the role we play in response to the external stressors we face: can we develop healthier habits at home—before and after work—to counteract the effects of inevitable stress? Can we speak to HR about the way our boss may treat us, and the stress it causes us on the job? With every stressor that arises, there is likely a small step you can take to reframe the situation, and take a little more control into your own hands.
3. The quirks of your work habits
While it might seem that workaholism is an internal quality that is driven entirely by the individual’s personality, research suggests otherwise. It’s been found that having a demanding workload in and of itself can contribute to aspects of workaholism, such as work-family conflict. Knowing that you have to keep afloat with current and future assignments can cause people to work excessively, and in turn, this can negatively impact relationships and job satisfaction. Although the research showed that workload in and of itself did not create all of the symptoms of workaholism, it definitely could play a role.
As you might expect, workaholism is linked to feelings of burnout and increased stress. This, also unsurprisingly, can have physical health implications. A longitudinal studyof white collar workers found that people who worked 10 or more hours a day had a 60% higher risk of heart problems relative to their peers. In addition, the workers who spent more time working were more likely to exhibit “Type A” behaviors such as aggression, hostility, and competitiveness.
Even if you wouldn’t define yourself as a workaholic, your work habits—and attitudes—are likely still impacting you. Are you someone who checks your email throughout the day? (Most of us fall prey to this habit.) In a study conducted by the University of British Columbia one group was told to limit checking their email to three times a day, while the other group was told to check their email as often as possible. The study found that those who checked their email less often reported less stress (although they did find that limiting themselves to checking it that infrequently was difficult to do). Another studysuggested that frequent multitasking might actually change your brain structure. In particular, people who reported using several media devices simultaneously were found to have less grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a part of the brain associated with high level functions such as decision-making and emotion. Because the study showed a correlation, one can’t know if the less dense ACC made one more susceptible to multi-tasking, or if multi-tasking affected the density of the ACC. Still, given that we know multitasking can decrease productivity, this certainly gives you something more to think about.
If you realize things like your work relationships or approach to work are draining you of energy, it’s a good time to take a pause and re-assess the factors that are impacting you. Believe it or not, prioritizing your mental and physical health are not “lazy” or “indulgent” things to do, despite the assumptions we make all the time in our can-do culture. In fact, disregarding our well-being can put us at risk for far bigger problems. Each day, it’s up to us to assess how we feel, and make the changes we need to enjoy a happier and healthier life.
Need to get a handle on how you’re managing stress at work? Mindfulness can help. Click here for more details.
Recently, I was coaching a client I’ll call Justin, who was complaining about his difficulty falling asleep. As his company goes through major structural transitions, Justin is, unsurprisingly, very stressed out. As a senior executive, he has a lot on his plate, and often finds himself obsessing about what he needs to get done rather than just diving in.
To be clear, Justin has good reason: as an analytical guy, he typically tries to address all sides of a given issue before making major decisions or taking definitive action. While this problem-solving impulse is definitely a huge asset for him on the job—when having to develop new business strategies, or engage with clients—it can be hard for him to turn it off at night when he’s trying to go to sleep.
And Justin’s definitely not alone. I can’t tell you how often I hear about sleep issues in my work. There are the top managers who rely on cutting back on sleep as a way to get more done (especially before big meetings or presentations); then there are the company founders plagued with insomnia, who spend their sleeping hours stewing in questions and obsessions about high-level business matters. Across the board, the likely result of poor sleep is fatigue, poor concentration, and hampered productivity—plus a range of conditions spanning diabetes to immune suppression. Needless to say, pulling all nighters is rarely “worth it.”
So, how common are sleep issues?
Well, let’s just say it’s not just company founders who are finding themselves struggling to get some shut-eye. According to the American Sleep Association, 30% of Americans experience short-term insomnia, and 10% have chronic difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep during the night. Further, inadequate sleep (or consistently getting low-quality sleep) has been shown to increase stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, leading to all the ill effects associated with chronic stress—from reduced focus to hypertension and high blood pressure, among others.
Bottom line? If you have sleep issues, they are affecting way more than just the quality of your life—because the quality of your life affects the quality of your work.
If, like Justin, you often find yourself awake at night stimulated by work-anxiety, here are some suggestions.
1. Tire yourself out.
For those who deal with chronic insomnia, moderate aerobic exercise has been proven as an effective sleep-aid:regular exercise has been shown to halve the average time it took to fall asleep, while also improving sleep quality and feelings of restedness in the morning. These research results stem from a relatively long-term study (the duration of which was several months), suggesting that regular exercise isn’t a short-term fix, but a worthwhile investment that will have a positive impact on your sleep (and your mood, your relationships, your diet, and a myriad of other facets of your life).
2. Be disciplined with a bedtime ritual.
Those of us who have children know that parenting experts frequently suggest having some sort of a routine to get the kids mentally and physically prepared to fall asleep (e.g. I use a bath, book, and lullaby with my preschooler). Yet most of us ignore this wisdom when it comes to ourselves, instead choosing to “lull” ourselves to sleep by checking email, surfing social media, reading news reports about crime or politics, or something else equally unsettling.
Well, the parenting experts have long-been right: just like our children, we do far better when we are conditioned for sleep with a wind-down routine of our own. So try going to bed at a consistent time each night, choosing a relaxing activity or two (e.g. bath, reading, quiet time, meditation) as a lead-up to bedtime, and you might find that it helps you to wind down and go to sleep.
3. Resist the temptation for digital distraction.
Perhaps it’s comforting to know that our entire culture is constantly tempted by distraction, inundated with images, updates, notifications and more at all times. Whatever your reaction, it’s clear that indulging these distractions isn’t a recipe for relaxation.
When you’re tossing and turning in bed, it is certainly tempting to pass the time by scrolling through social media or getting caught up on your stack of magazines. However, by doing these things, you’re engaging your mind in activities it finds “interesting,” and therefore increasing the odds that you’re not going to fall asleep.
Fortunately, I’ve never had problems with insomnia; but I have spent countless nights staying up later than I wanted to be because I got sucked into Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. (If you’re wondering if that extra time spent scrolling was particularly edifying or enriching to my life, the answer is no). If it’s too hard to resist the siren call of your smartphone, don’t keep it near your bed.
Commit to putting your work away at a certain time, and stick to it. And, while it might be comfortable set up your laptop and work in your bed (even before your cut-off time), if you have sleep problems, you should really avoid doing this. Aside from the fact that it’s bad for your posture (my massage therapist has admonished me for this on multiple occasions), it’s also strengthening a connection between your bed and work. (i.e. like Pavlov). A classic piece of advice from sleep experts is that the bed should be reserved solely for sleep (and sex). (Similar reasoning to the wind down routine – want to condition yourself appropriately).
5. Schedule your “worry-time.” Really.
This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a Cognitive Behavioral Technique (CBT) for people who suffer from anxiety disorder. Select a time on the calendar during which you deliberately decide to devote 15 – 30 minutes to worrying. You can aim to do this every day for a week or more. And instead of leaving it to chance, insert it as an entry on your calendar, along with a reminder. Think of it as a trick for your mind.
Strangely, when we are having anxious thoughts, we usually try to avoid them; we feel like we shouldn’t be worrying, or start telling ourselves stories to try to convince ourselves that we feel differently. But with this paradoxical technique, you are actually embracing your worries, and giving them less power. During your “worry appointment,” spend the whole time worrying about whatever problems are bothering you.
This might cause anxiety the first few times, and that’s normal. But what tends to happen over time is that people can become bored with their own worries, which are often repetitive. The other benefit of this approach is that when you catch yourself worrying about something at other times during the day, you can tell yourself, “I don’t need to think about that right now— I’ll worry about it later during my scheduled time.” (And, since you have the time scheduled to do so, you actually will).
6. Vent about your stress…to your journal.
Research has shown that expressive writing can help to reduce intrusive and avoidant thoughts. To make this exercise effective, focus on creating a cohesive narrative, using words related to cause and insight. In other words, try to use the writing to make sense of the experience – instead of just getting stuck in the worries, look at the meaning you can make of it, or the learning you can experience from the events. (e.g. If you have a friend that is constantly complaining about the same thing over and over, it’s unlikely to make her feel better. However, if she is gaining perspective and growing as a result of the experience, then the mental exercise is much more likely to be beneficial to her).
7. Keep a notepad by your bed.
When you have a lot going on in your daily life, it’s totally natural to feel your upcoming tasks and agenda items tugging at your mind when you’re lying in bed each night. There are the projects steps that need to get done, the ideas that need to be generated, the people you need to remember to call.
To deal with this, it can be helpful to keep a notepad by the bed, so you can make a quick note of these thoughts when they came up, rather than ruminating about them. In my own experience, this little trick saves me from the worry that I’ll forget the thoughts. And once you write the thoughts down, think of it as a release—then you can think about something else. (And, if you’re thinking you’ll save yourself a step by entering these ideas straight into your favorite organization app of choice, I recommend staying with the old school approach so that you don’t get pulled into all of the other potentially distracting delights that your smartphone has to offer).
8. Give your mind something else to do.
Instead of counting sheep, you might want to try out University of British Columbia researcher, Luc Beaudoin’s technique called the “cognitive shuffle.” To do this, when you are in bed, come up with a word that has no repeating letters. Then, think of words that start with each letter of the word. For example, if you came up with the word “plate,” you would first, come up with a list of words that start with “P,” then “L,” “A”, and so on. Apparently, this strategy is engaging enough that it gives your mind something to do instead of worrying, but not so exciting that it will get in the way of falling asleep.
9. Meet your new friend mindfulness.
I know you’ve probably heard the benefits of mindfulness touted for productivity, but hear me out. Developing a regular mindfulness practice will also help you to create a different relationship with your thoughts, and help you relax a bit—especially before bed, when monkey-mind can go wild.
The Greater Good Center at the University of Berkeley defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” A simple mindfulness practice is to strive to observe your breathing. As you notice thoughts coming up, gently notice them, let them go, and resume focusing on your breathing. Repeat this process throughout your practice.
By learning to observe your thoughts with a greater sense of spaciousness, you’ll get more skilled at letting them go, instead of getting caught up in them. With consistency, your mindfulness practice will create changes in your brain that will help you to better regulate your emotions and stay calmer.
To learn more about the benefits of mindfulness and how to develop a practice of your own, click here.
We’ve all worked with someone who had difficulty managing their emotions—especially the “bad” ones like anger, fear, frustration, disappointment.
You know, the impatient boss who lashes out at employees in response to the slightest bit of bad news; the overly negative colleague who complains about almost everything in the office; the co-worker whose stress and burnout are palpable in every meeting; your supervisor who becomes hostile at the drop of a hat when he’s overworked.
As you’ve probably experienced, working around people who struggle to manage their emotional struggles independently can be pretty unpleasant, and even unbearable, if you happen to be on the receiving end of the negativity. But even if your boss’ criticisms are aimed at someone else, or you’re not the pessimistic colleague’s chosen confidant, you might still find yourself absorbing the negativity around you through osmosis.
There’s a term for this in psychology: Emotional Contagion (EC) is defined as the tendency for our moods to be influenced by the moods of those around us. Researchers Elaine Hatfield et. al.argue that this occurs because we can tend to unwittingly mirror others’ expressions, postures, etc. This can cause us to experience similar emotions to those others are experiencing. On the positive side, this is a foundational piece of empathy—when we are able to “put ourselves in another’s shoes,” in other words. Or, when we’re around someone whose happiness or enthusiasm radiates forth, their positive emotions, too, may become infectious. But this dynamic can be a real downer if we’re around someone in a bad mood and we’re unaware of a need to manage our own emotions.
In office environments,research has shown that when a team’s boss is in a positive mood, the effects tend to spread to their team members; participants showed a greater ability to coordinate and collaborate compared to groups whose leaders were in a negative mood.
So, the golden question: how is it that you develop greater awareness of your emotions in the moment so that you can (1) recognize what’s going on and (2) manage them so that they don’t unintentionally hijack your behavior?
Here are my suggestions.
1. Honor the cliché: listen to your body.
Believe it or not, we experience emotions physically. Take stress, for example. Cortisol and adrenaline (aka “stress hormones”) are released in the blood, and several effects unfold. We may begin to sweat, or feel our hearts beating faster. These symptoms may happen, too, when you’re scared or angry.
Whether or not you’ve realized your body’s responses to various emotions, they are there—so start to pay attention. You can get better at catching negative emotions early on by becoming aware of how they tend to show up for you in your body.
2. Determine your trusted colleagues, and reach out.
Find someone at work who will be real with you and let you know when you seem to be having difficulty managing your emotions. Perhaps you are excessively stressed and are exhibiting irritability in meetings. Try to think of someone in your team who could gently call you out on this, and encourage them to help you notice the strengths and weaknesses of your behavior. Even if you get defensive in the moment, I assure you that the wisdom will help you in the long-run.
3. Identify your triggers.
When you have an incident of inadequately managing strong emotions at work, try to trace it back to your triggers. Do you feel angry around certain people? Did your reaction have something to do with your internal state (e.g. not getting enough sleep, skipping meals)? Were there psychological triggers such as feeling criticized by a supervisor or, feeling overwhelmed by too many demands?
When you are able to recognize potential triggers, you put yourself in a position to know that you will need to be vigilant about applying your coping skills appropriately when those situations arise. Keeping track in a journal can be a helpful means of getting more in touch with your triggers
4. Be proactive about the situation, as uncomfortable as it may be.
If there’s a situation or person at work that’s an ongoing stressor for you and you’re avoiding it, then you might be causing more trouble for yourself, your work, and your colleagues. By avoiding what is bothering you, you’re allowing your emotions to corrode inside of you, which may end up causing resentment in the near-term, and decreasing your resilience in the long term. If you’re someone who tends to be unassertive, then explode when it gets to be too much, learning to manage conflict effectively and speak up is a more constructive approach.
5. Get enough sleep at night.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to greater susceptibility to mood disturbance. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences of being more irritable after a poor night’s sleep. While this tip is more of a preventative measure, it’s a tool to rely on always for greater mood stability, boosted immunity, heightened productivity and focus. There’s no ill effects of getting adequate rest!
Of course, many of these tips require a bit of planning in advance—so what to do if you’re stuck in a crisis-moment? The answer is simple, but not easy. 1. Try to be mindful of what’s happening in the moment. Notice your emotions bubbling up, how they’re showing up in your body, and simply take note. 2. Take a deep inhale and exhale, making sure to expand your belly (not just breathing into your chest). This will help calm the nervous system. 3. Check-in with your thoughts. Is there a way to look at the situation differently? What other explanations might there be for what’s going on?
This 3-step process itself may not be possible each and every time a tough emotion catches you off guard. But the good news is that these tools are portable and always available to you. So practice on!
Need some more help managing your emotions on the job? Click here.
The Vietnamese Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, “We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing.”
There are perhaps few environments where this rings truer than in the work world. Ironically, though, most professionals have heard time and time again that “work/life balance” is positive, and burnout isn’t—both for health and for productivity. Yet in my work as a consultant and corporate psychologist, I find that most high-achievers are resistant to the prospect of scheduling breaks during the day.
Recently, I had a coaching session with a talented but hyper-stressed retail director who I’ll call Stephanie. In addition to having a busy job and raising her kids, she was also in the midst of getting her MBA. After hearing her talk about how burnt out she felt as a result of all of her myriad responsibilities, I asked her to give me a simple description of what her day-to-day life was like. They were, she told me, a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings and calls. Lunch wasn’t a given, but when she did eat, she was usually doing something else simultaneously—answering emails, checking things off her to do list. After a commute (luckily hers wasn’t too long), she either went to class, or tended to her kids, before studying or getting work done that she hadn’t been able to attend to during the day because of non-stop meetings.
I asked if she ever took breaks to rest and recharge.
“Occasionally,” she explained, “But I always feel guilty—like I’m being lazy if I do it.”
I don’t know that “lazy” would be the first word that came to mind for anyone listening to Stephanie describe her day, yet it occurs to me that this self-assessment isn’t rational, albeit very common. In my work, I come across countless individuals who, despite intellectually knowing that a bit of rest might do them some good, cling to the notion that more work always means more productivity. But that is simply not the case—not scientifically, or intuitively. Let me explain.
If Stephanie’s perspective resonates with you, let me provide you with a bit of scientific research that might help you change your mind, even if you don’t need much convincing.
1. Breaks help you to refocus and perform tasks more effectively.
While “grinding” it out—just getting something done—might seem like the best approach when you’re strapped for time and stressed out, research suggests that singularly focusing for too long on a given task leads to being less effective at it. This phenomenon occurs because when we are presented with an unchanging stimulus for too long, the brain stops registering it. This is why, for example, you may not notice a certain odor when in the presence of it for a sustained period of time, or why you don’t tend to consciously feel your clothes on your body unless you purposefully bring your awareness to them.
In the study on this subject, participants were asked to complete a computer task for an hour. One group was given two brief breaks during the study in which they did a diversionary tasks; whereas the other groups in the study were not given such breaks. The researchers found that performance declined in the groups who were not given breaks; however, the group who had breaks showed no such decline. The lead investigator concluded that prolonged attention to a single task to reduce performance across time.
2. Breaks can increase your sense of satisfaction on the job.
In a study out of Baylor, researchers studied the effects of taking breaks in the workplace—and defined breaks to include everything from lunch breaks to socializing with coworkers, to checking non-work email. They found that employees who took what they considered “better” breaks (e.g. breaks taken earlier in the day and spent doing something “enjoyable”) reported greater job satisfaction, and even better health. The researchers also suggested that taking more short breaks throughout the day resulted in better outcomes than fewer, longer breaks. Put in layman’s terms, stepping away from your work for a well-deserved break increases your perspective, and better conditions you to recognize the parts of your job you do like.
3. Breaks can increase your job performance
In their HBR article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time, Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy explain that our bodies work based on ultradian rhythms —90 – 120 minute cycles that are characterized by high energy at the beginning, and low energy at the end. Our body typically gives us signals that it would like us to recharge (e.g. feeling restless, tired, or hungry), but many of us have trained ourselves to ignore these signs and to continue working.
But there is a reason our bodies give us signals. In Schwartz and McCarthy’s study of employees at 12 Wachovia banks, they found that encouraging employees to focus on intermittent recovery by having them take breaks (including power naps, going for walks, listening to music, etc.) led to a two-thirds increase in the number of employees who reported feeling more productive and better connected with their clients and customers. In addition, the group who took breaks showed a 13% greater increase in year-over-year loan revenue and a 20% greater increase in deposits compared to a control group.
So what happened to my client Stephanie? I encouraged her to experiment with taking breaks; after all, I reasoned with her, she could always go back to her current lifestyle of working around the clock if she found that prioritizing her quality of life led to a decline in her overall productivity. So, she took control of her calendar and made giving herself short breaks throughout the day a priority. She also gave herself a cutoff time during the evening after which she wouldn’t work.
The result? Let’s just say she decided not to go back to her previous lifestyle. Not only has her new schedule encouraged her to be more efficient with her allotted work-time, she also has much more energy when she is working and has found that she’s much less overwhelmed.
If you don’t take enough breaks, I encourage you to take a similar experiment to see how it affects your performance. You might just be pleasantly surprised—and remember that you can always just start by trying it out.
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