August 13, 2015

How to return from vacation and stay relaxed

                                           Relaxed


You are on your way back from vacation feeling rejuvenated, but after a few days, you feel like you need another vacation. The tsunami of work comes flooding back with a vengeance. Projects and deadlines you had sidelined now are front and center, and dirty clothes still await your attention.

Is this just the inevitable evil of vacationing from work, or is there a way to return from time off without stress?

The good news is that it is possible to make a smooth transition. This week, I returned from a 10-day vacation feeling great. I followed some of these tips and my return to reality was easier than after prior summer vacations. 

Here are some suggestions for how to return from vacation and stay relaxed:
 
Start before you leave. Get into the mindset that work may pile up, but you will be going forward with a fresh outlook and a better state of mind. Executive coach Eric Rogell advises you create a “first day back” plan before you leave. “It’s easy to get sucked into emails and phone calls, but those are time and energy drains. Hold off on those and do the important things first. Stick to your plan.”
 
Delegate. While you're on vacation, if someone else can do it, make sure someone else is doing it. During her vacation this summer in Napa Valley, Kathryn Orosz, a Miami insurance broker and winery investor, designated an associate to cover for her at work. She forwarded email messages that need handling to that person: “They copied me back so I could stay in the loop on how it was being handled. I had to remind myself not to answer anything, just to move the email along.” By delegating, Orosz said she avoided a backlog of correspondence and could jump back in on transactions when she returned, without much stress: “I was just responding on the end of the continuum rather than going back in time.”
  
Decide upfront how you will handle email. Your decision will make all the difference in your level of post-vacation stress. Rogell said if you’ve created an out-of-office message for your vacation, include directions for whom to contact while you are out and keep the message on for an extra workday. An extra day gives you space to get things sorted out without new expectations piling on. “Use that day to get to the priorities you want to get done,” he said. Even with an out-of-office message, most people check their emails, even if only sporadically. If your emails have piled up, consider making a quick scan, flagging priority messages and deleting all others. Chances are, if it’s important, someone will follow up with you.

Create a buffer.  Professional organizer Diane Hatcher says giving yourself a day or two buffer between vacation and work makes the return much easier. Some people try to maximize their vacation by returning the night before they return to work. They sit on the plane or in the car dreading the next morning and the harsh return to reality it represents. Hatcher advises against that approach. Give yourself at least a day to unpack, wash clothes and open mail, she said. “Sure, unpacking signifies the end of vacation,” she concedes, “but there are consequences of not emptying your suitcase right way.” An unpacked suitcase becomes another thing piled up to tackle while readjusting back to work. “Get it over with, close the door, get dirty clothes into wash, clean clothes put away so you don’t have it hanging over your head,” she said. Instead, you can return to the office ready to take on the workweek.

Schedule properly. Rogell, who loves to take adventure vacations, plans something relaxing the last day of vacation and something fun to look forward to the first post-work evening. He also cautions against packing your work schedule your first day back. Be OK with giving only 70 percent, and don’t force yourself into a 10-hour day, he advises. The goal should be to hang on to that vacation recharge as long as possible.

 

April 16, 2015

Take a pause, Get in flow, Learn to play

                                       Trapeze

 

 

Have you ever heard of flow? Let me describe it to you....

Picture yourself on a surfboard, riding a wave. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the feel of the board on the water, the sound of the wave and the splash of the ocean on your face.  Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice. According to Steven Kotler, what you are experiencing in that moment is known as flow, a state of complete immersion in an activity. 

When you're in flow, your attention is focused and you are capable of amazing things,  every action flows effortlessly and innovation gets amplified. 

Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. A writer might experience this when working on a novel and the pages seem to write themselves. A basketball player might experience it when he gets into the zone, undergoes a loss of self-consciousness and focuses only on his shot from center court.

Flow states are now known to optimize performance, enhance creativity, drive innovation, accelerate learning and amplify memory.

The happiest people have flow. I don't have flow. I have stress. I am walking around with a to-do list that never gets shorter and I'm always thinking about ten things at the same time.

But I can get flow and so can you.

I bet you're thinking, "How in the world would I do that?" That's what I was thinking when I heard Steven Kotler speak about flow earlier this week at Human Capital Media's  Chief Learning Officer Symposium in Miami. Steven wrote  the book "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance and says we can tap flow at work, home, or skiing down a mountain.

Here are a few of Steven's suggestions for triggering flow: Choose your own challenges, Put yourself in an unpredictable environment, stretch yourself just slightly greater than your skill set, embrace solitude, be aware of your senses, engage in serious concentration.

After hearing Kotler speak, I wandered into a nearby room at the conference to hear Yogi Roth talk about finding your inner grit. Roth, calls himself an Aventure-preneur (don't you love that title!) From Roth, I learned that I don't pause enough to think about my personal style, my vision, my theme and my philosophy.  I want to pause more, and think about these things. I want inner grit.

To get it, Roth says I must make sure how I describe myself, how my best friend describes me and how my mentor describe me are the same. I will start working on that...

Thanks Yogi, good stuff to know.

Most important, from Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time and the final speaker at the conference, I learned that I don't take enough time to play. When is the last time you jumped on a trampoline, glided through air on a swing or climbed a tree? For me, it's been way too long ago. So, if I want work life balance and a less stressful life, I must learn to play. I like the idea of playing more, don't you? At Patagonia,  managers have their meetings while hiking mountains and people take time in the afternoons to surf with co-workers. I love that concept -- play at work.

Do you know that in some parts of the country  there are women's play groups? Yes, these women get together weekly for playdates for a fun activity -- they trapeze, rock climb and bike ride. How cool is that!

Clearly, I have a few things to work on if I want to up my game. 

What are your thoughts on flow, grit, and play? If you have tapped into flow or found a way to fit play into your day, I want to hear from you. How do you make these concepts a reality? 

January 26, 2015

Is stress contagious?

                                                Stress


Some days when I feel stressed about work deadlines, I complain to my husband about everything on my to do list. After a few minutes of listening to me vent, he tells me I'm stressing him out. 

He may not be experiencing stress to the degree I am, but it doesn't surprise me that new research has found stress is contagious. It's pitiful but there's just so much to be stressed about these days -- demanding clients,  never ending streams of incoming email, huge bills from the vet or daycare provider, a parent that's showing signs failing health. Work life balance issues are a huge source of stress.

While we may not even realize it, we experience stress and then pass it on to others through what we say, the facial expressions we make and the way we physically show tension. 

Research found when we become aware of stress of others, it sends a signal to our brain and our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol. It doesn't matter what's causing stress for our spouse, co-worker or best friend, it only matters that we observed the other person in a stressful situation. How strange is it that our bodies actually process other people's stress?

It's no wonder we're seeing shorter tempers and higher levels of impatience! 

Of course, if it isn't stressful enough that we pass along stress through personal interaction, now, there's a new way to expose others to our stress -- social media. 

Just today, I saw on Facebook that my friend's adorable dog Charley, has cancer. It worried me because I know she lives alone and has a close bond with her dog.

Pew Researchers are calling the heightened stress we're feeling from learning on social media about undesirable events affecting our friends or relatives "the cost of caring." They say this is adding to a growing pool of evidence suggesting stress is contagious.

So while we might be venting on social media to make ourselves feel better, our posts about rough patches that we've hit or disappointing life events are stressing out the people near and dear to us who read what we write. 

In other words, while increased levels of stress have us searching for ways to blow off steam, we're blowing it right on to the people we count on to prop us up. Pathetic, right?

Think about how much stress we would save from multiplying if we just learned how to manage our stress through simple activities like breathing, walking or visualizing calm.

Or am I fooling myself by thinking the solution is that simple? 

November 18, 2014

Never bring your boss a work life balance problem

This morning, a male friend called me with a management issue. He wanted my thoughts on how to handle a situation with one of his female employees who is struggling with a work and family conflict. 

The problem is that each member of his staff takes a turn with a task that requires they stay late at the office one night a week. This one employee, a mom, has a young child at daycare and finds it impossible to rely on her husband or a family member to pick the child up when it is her turn to stay late.  She approached her boss and told him she couldn't continue to stay late once a week. 

"She's a good employee," my friend explained. "I don't want her to quit. But we are making everyone else take a turn at staying late."

My immediate response was to rattle off questions. 

First, why is this just this woman's problem? If there's a father in the picture, why isn't he working to find a solution, too?

Second, if she knows in advance she needs to stay late once a week, why can't she plan for it?

Last, and most important, why did she approach her boss with a problem, rather than a solution?

The number one rule in negotiation of a work life accommodation is bring a solution to the table.

I advised my friend to tell his employee to come back with a proposed solution to this dilemma. Then, she and her boss can negotiate from there.

If I were the frustrated mom, I might have asked my boss if there's a task I could take on early in the day in order to skip my turn on the late night rotation.

Long ago, I learned that bosses respond best to proposed solutions rather than problems. Because this woman's co-workers are single or have no kids, there is a possibility of resentment. As a manager, my friend needs to make sure whatever accommodation he makes for this working mom comes off as fair to all. 

We work in an era when the needs of the 21st Century workforce must be considered. In two-job families, men and women may both confront work life balance challenges. No one wants to lose his or her job over a child care issue. And, a good boss wants to keep a good employee. 

As I hung up with my friend, he said: "Let's see what she comes up with. I really want this to work out."

I pretty sure most bosses feel that way. 

 

September 29, 2014

Must you work overtime?

Last week, I was talking to a CEO who said to me, "I am not going to hire anyone anymore who can't work overtime."

He explained that at certain times of the year, he needs to ramp up, usually for only a few weeks at a time. But when an employee can't put in longer hours ( even if paid extra) it creates a problem for all.

I responded by telling him that many people have outside responsibilities that could prevent them from coming in earlier or staying later. That's understandable," he said. "But I have a company to run so a job at my company would not be for them."

There in lies the clash of business needs with real life responsibilities of many of today's workers. This is a complicated issue: Even if someone signs on for occasional overtime, what it his life demands change? Should a worker be allowed to say, ' I don’t want to work overtime and would rather go home?' And,  when does occasional overtime become more than “occasional”?

Allison Green at Ask A Manager says this:

* Generally, you should try to be flexible and accommodating when you’re asked to take on something at work outside of your normal work schedule, particularly when it’s temporary, but there’s a point beyond which it’s reasonable to push back. Certainly sleeping at work and working 18 hours days falls well over the line of reasonable (unless you knew you were signing up for that, such as if you were working on a political campaign).

* Your employer can require you to work whatever hours they want, and can change it at any time, unless you have a contract that states otherwise.

* A reasonable manager will work with someone who isn’t able to take on additional work hours, particularly when it’s many extra work hours, and particularly if the employee is willing to be flexible to the extent they can be.

* Not every manager is reasonable. But plenty are.

The CEO I spoke with said he  is upfront about expectations. His position on it made me wonder:  If overtime is mentioned during the interview process, could it eliminate your ability to get any flexibility on this issue in the future? 

Here's what you should know: There’s no federal law on the number of hours someone can be required to work or the length of a break (or even requiring any break at all); that’s all up to individual states.

CEOs have their eye on the bottom line and the health of the business, and they may forget that employees are persons with real needs and real responsibilities. I find it unrealistic for this CEO to think he can hire loyal employees who will be willing to work overtime at any given point in time. In life, complications arise with kids, parents, friends, community commitments -- even our own health. There will be some who will jump at the job because they want the opportunity to earn overtime pay. But will they stay long term?

 

September 24, 2014

The new work life balance: We're not working more, just differently

The longer I write about work/life balance, the more I hear and see that technology challenges are universal. From CEOs to sales persons, today’s workers are trying to build balanced lives by battling the impulse to stay connected 24/7. Checking work emails on our tablets or smartphones in bed or at a bar makes us feel like we’re working all the time.

The reality, though, is more complicated.

While we are logging onto work outside of traditional work hours — from our bed or a soccer practice — we are also taking time for our personal lives during our workday. Almost everyone, from the office secretary to the store manager, makes a personal digital escape thoughtlessly throughout the day. We tell ourselves: “I’m just going to buy Beyoncé’s new single on iTunes and go right back to work.” The problem, however, is that it doesn’t end there.

While at work, we’re checking our fantasy football results, browsing our Facebook feeds, shopping on Amazon, playing Candy Crush, catching up on news, talking to friends on Twitter and texting constantly during the day.

Work and home no longer are separate spheres. Blurred lines are the new normal.

Researcher Laura Demasi says we aren’t working more, we’re working differently: “For every moment we give away to work outside of traditional work hours ... we claw back when we’re officially at work.”

Countless new apps and the roll-out of improved smartphones make the blending and blurring of our life roles increasingly challenging. Flexibility has become an integral part of daily life thanks to our devices.

We balance our personal demands by leaving early, arriving late, or slipping out of the office during the workday and then ironing out details of a business deal on our laptop once the dinner dishes are cleared.

Demasi says technology has transformed work into something we do, rather than only a place we go.

Miami Stonegate Bank executive Erin Knight feels empowered: “There are no more traditional business hours. I can keep deals moving along and take phone calls on the go, wherever I go.” At the same time, she can deal with family issues from her office. Through text messaging, she was able to get her mother an emergency doctor’s appointment with a client. “It took a few minutes to arrange, and she would have been suffering in pain.”

Of course, it has become more common than ever before to find yourself staying later at the office because you spent more time than expected on Facebook. Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether technology is to blame for overwork or our inability to set boundaries that's the problem.

Do you find that the blurring of lines has made your work life balance more stressful? Or do you think that being able to deal with work and personal issue both in the workplace and at home makes juggling life's demands easier?

 

April 17, 2014

Is your paycheck stressing you out?

Our paychecks aren't big enough and that's stressing us out. 

For the fourth year in a row, American workers told Neilsen our low pay is our biggest stressor. That makes sense because most of us haven't had substantial raises in more than five years. 

When you're struggling to pay the bills, typically the padding is gone that gives you the leeway to better balance your work and family life. Who can afford a babysitter when food and gas prices are going up and our paychecks aren't. 

So what can we do about it? Fortunately, it looks like there may be some hope of raises or a better paying job in the near future. Here's what some experts shared in my Miami Herald column this week:

 

Low pay

 

 

 

 

Workers at all income levels are frustrated that their workloads have increased but they haven’t seen a raise or hiring of more workers. Even as revenues have improved, for the past two years pay raises at private employers have hovered at around 2.8 percent and are expected to be only about 2.9 percent in 2014, according to global services firm Towers Watson. At the same time, the cost of living has gone up with housing, gas and food prices rising.

Career experts suggest we get aggressive and creative to fatten our paychecks. For skilled workers, the best route may be a new job. “One factor has decreased: the fear of being fired or laid off,” says Wendy Cullen of Everest College. “Now that there are more jobs, people aren’t afraid to start looking, but there is still a big question as to whether it is better someplace else.”

This may be the time to find out. “Slowly, companies are starting to compete for talent again and add to their headcount,” said Matt Shore, president of Steven Douglas Associates, a South Florida executive recruiting firm specializing in finance, accounting and information technology. “People who are in stagnant jobs are starting to look around and, in some cases, the market finally is telling them they can do better.”

For those stressed by low pay because of underemployment, negotiation may be necessary. After losing his marketing position at a bank, Jorge Espinosa saw his finances fray as he spent month after month in a job search. Now in a job that pays much lower than his previous one, his credit card debt has piled up. Espinosa says he has begun a new search but notices job ads reflect far lower salaries than what he previously earned. “It’s stressful to think I may be locked into a lower salary for another few years.”

Rather than get discouraged, one CEO suggests having a conversation with your boss. Most employers still have the mindset that workers are fortunate to have a job, admits Michael Rose, CEO of Mojo Media Labs, a Dallas Marketing Agency. However, Rose says certain arguments could justify a raise: “Come to your boss armed with information. Maybe you’re doing more than what is in the scope of the job description. Maybe you just got a certification. Maybe you can work on project or learn new skill set that will allow you to start in a new role that pays better.”

Even if negotiations don’t pan out, there is hope. Recruiters say salaries in some occupations are creeping toward pre-recession levels. Terri Davis, a Miami recruiter for a global software company that specializes in IT solutions for the travel industry, said that in her industry, job offers are about 20 percent higher than two years ago. Davis says job seekers also have a little room for pay negotiation: “When an employer extends an offer, they are evaluating it, and if they don’t feel it’s competitive enough, they are questioning the potential for a bonus — and getting it.”

All of us have some control over our paychecks, depending on how much we are willing to invest in ourselves, by adding to our skills, Cullen says. “I don't think you can ever eliminate all the factors that cause workplace anxiety, but as individuals, we can definitely create a plan of action to improve our careers and change our lives.”

 

 

 

 

April 15, 2014

Foods that help you de-stress? Who knew?

It's tax day and that might have some of you stressed out. But of course, we're always stressed.

Last week, I spoke at a luncheon and asked how many people in the audience had experienced stress in the last week -- to the point where they said out loud, or in their heads, "I'm so stressed!"

Almost everyone raised their hands. Including me. We have so many things that we're balancing that most of us feel close to the breaking point on any given day. 

So, I read with interest an article in The Miami Herald this morning that said there are foods that contain nutrients that nourish the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones. 

Nutritionist/Dietician Sheah Rarback lists a few of the many nutrients important for healthy adrenals.

•  Vitamin C. The body’s highest level of vitamin C is found in the adrenal glands. Like all nutrients, vitamin C has multiple functions. In addition to adrenal support, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, critical for wound healing and collagen production, and necessary for serotonin production. Great vitamin C foods are bell peppers, papayas, citrus foods, broccoli, pineapple and Brussels sprouts.

•  Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). This might not sound familiar, but as a structural component of Coenyme A, B5 is vital for the proper functioning of the adrenal glands. Best foods for B5 are shiitake and crimini mushrooms, avocados, sweet potatos and lentils.

•  Omega 3 fatty acids. Best known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, omega 3 fatty acids also slow down the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress. Flaxseed, walnuts, sardines, salmon and soybeans are all rich in omega 3 fatty acids.

•  Magnesium. The stress that produces cortisol also produces the adrenaline that increases heart rate, blood pressure and muscle contraction. These reactions use up magnesium. Dark greens, beans, nuts and quinoa are terrific sources for maintaining adequate magnesium intake.

Sheah says it can be tasty to support the adrenals. A spinach salad with bell peppers, orange slices, sautéed shiitakes, avocado, walnuts, quinoa and olive oil vinaigrette beautifully supplies every important nutrient.

So, if you're feeling stressed. Here's permission to eat. Just stay away from the vending machine!

January 24, 2014

Do employers care about your stress?

Stressed worker


I received an interesting email in response to my article and blog post on companies encouraging mindfulness at work. (Mindfulness is a stress-busting technique that focuses on being reflective rather than reactive) The email came from a reader who believes companies don't care at all whether their workers are stressed out.

Here's what reader Julio Ugarte wrote to me:

"Maybe a few businesses are willing to practice this (mindfulness) but the majority of Corporate America is not in that bandwagon. Have you checked the Post Office lately? How about all the retail businesses? What has to happen is that not only they practice "mindfulness" but also "COMPASSION". Starting from the CEO on down. Apply this to their WORKERS! After all how are you going to change Corporate America when they are making the biggest profits in years treating their workers like GARBAGE!"

He continues...

"I wish what you write becomes true. I can only pray that it will happen. But that is not what is happening now in Corporate America."

Julio, you have a point. As a nation, our job-related stress levels have soared. People feel under pressure if the demands of their job are greater than they can comfortably manage. Other sources of work-related stress include conflict with co-workers or bosses, constant change, and threats to job security.

Businesses are making efforts to promote wellness, which in the end enhances their bottom line by reducing health care costs and curbing absenteeism. But do you think employers realize their workers are stressed out? Are they reading the signs such as aggression, depression, impatience and even physical illness?

Employers could help reduce stress if they wanted to. Just to start, they could make sure workers are properly trained for their jobs, provide an outlet for communicating grievances, and staff appropriately.

Julio convincing argues that businesses don't care about their workers' stress levels. Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts...  Is interest in helping workers reduce their stress levels isolated to a few employers? 

 

January 13, 2014

Is working long hours a bad thing?

Is there anything wrong with wanting to put in long hours at the office?

After reading a fantastic post on WallStreetOasis.com by a blogger named NorthSider who says he happily puts in the 60-plus hours required of an investment banker, it made me think about the work side of the work life balance equation. 

The blogger wrote: 

I had gone into the job with the preexisting belief that my work/life balanced sucked, and I should be upset/sad/angry about it. I chatted with my coworkers about it and occasionally mentioned it to my friends. I was the picture of a perfect post-undergrad IB analyst: disgruntled and passionately pursuing greener pastures.

Until, one week, I started to realize that I was neither dissatisfied about my work nor my life (whether that means I have a "work/life balance", I have no idea)...

And it wasn't long before I started to realize that my friends in more "traditional" jobs complained just as often about working too much as my friends in IB.

Since reading the post, I've been thinking about the long hours some professionals happily put into their work. And, I realized that regardless of what job you are in, there's always someone at a different stage of life than you who is willing to put in more work hours than you or gains more enjoyment from it. As this blogger pointed out: if you're in a job and you're working tons of hours and you enjoy it, you may be happier than someone working 40 hours a week.

In this work life balance discussion, have we shifted the focus too much away from finding satisfaction in work? Do we frown too easily on people who want to spending the bulk of their waking hours working?

Recently I was at a concert and heard a young singer, Austin Mahone. To me, he looked like a younger version of Justin Bieber, only I enjoyed his music more. Just as Justin is taking a hiatus from music, there's a young up and comer right behind him who is putting in the hours to get his name and music out there. 

Work life balance is about spending our time in ways that bring us satisfaction. If someone is at a time in life when they want to put in hours to build a business or advance in their careers or because they enjoy what they do, the rest of us shouldn't feel threatened by that. How many times have you muttered..."so and so has no life?" If someone wants to tip the work life balance scale in the direction of work, shouldn't we be okay with that?

Of course, we know that an extreme commitment to work (70 hour weeks) over a lifetime may not be sustainable, particularly when job-related stress levels are at an all time high.  At some point, you would want to find ways to create free time to decompress.

As one commenter noted: working 40 hours per week doesn't guarantee happiness. Nor does working 80 hours per week guarantee unhappiness. So true!

In this work life balance discussion, the key is making choices about how we spend our time and being satisfied with our choices. If someone else is okay with putting in long hours at work, even energized by it, that's their choice. Let's stop being judgment when we talk work life balance and respect the trade-offs all of us make to achieve our definition of what it means to us.