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. 

 

 

January 08, 2014

What does work life balance look like for you?

Below is my column in today's Miami Herald:

 

Wherever I go lately, people tell me they want better work/life balance in the new year. My response is to ask, “What does work/life balance look like for you?”

Finding a balance between work and personal life is not like reaching balance on a scale with equal weights. It is not about working less. It is about spending your time in a way that brings satisfaction. In a survey by the University of Scranton, one of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to enjoy life to the fullest. In a society where stress levels have soared, that’s a good goal for all of us.

As 2013 came to a close, I heard such statements as this: My family life and my health have suffered because of work, and I am not going to let that continue. I also heard the opposite: I want to acquire language skills or get a certification to finally advance at work.

Experts say we need to get more specific about what personal fulfillment looks like and define our path to find it because less than half of us will keep our resolutions past the first six months. Does fulfillment and better work/life balance mean eating dinner as a family a few nights a week? Does it mean reclaiming Saturdays to take rides with a bike club? Or taking on a new project at work that excites you?

“Narrow it down and set one important intention, because behavioral change is hard,” says Shani Magosky, executive coach and owner of Vitesse Consulting in Fort Lauderdale “Our brains are hard-wired to reinforce habits that exist.”

Once you know exactly what a better work/life balance looks like, Magosky suggests you figure out what you need to do to make it happen. Remember creating a habit or breaking an old one takes time and practice. It requires change. What specifically are you going to do to make sure that change happens?

If your goal is to eat dinner more often with your kids, post a photo of you doing it somewhere you will see it each day — maybe on your computer desktop. “You need some kind of reminder to keep the intention in the forefront of your mind,” Magosky says. Digital reminders with built-in alerts are catching on, too, and often provide the nudge to get a late-night dweller out of the office at a scheduled time.

If you find yourself spending a Saturday at the office instead of with your bike club, don't fret or give up. Change the background on your mobile phone to yourself on your bike as motivation for making it happen the next week.

The key is to examine what is at stake if you don’t make a change. For example, if you are on the phone or online all the time, will your health suffer, your relationships become strained, your children become resentful? “Considering the consequences will help you get clear on why you should put forth the effort to make that change,” Magosky says.

Judy Martin consults stressed employees who want to feel better, work better, and live better. Studies highlighted by the American Institute of Stress show that jobs are by far the major source of stress for American adults, and that job-related stress levels have escalated over the past decade. If your work life has you feeling pulled and anxious, Martin, founder of Work Life Nation, recommends taking baby steps toward change in 2014. “The secret sauce is in the planning. Plan out the change you need to make and the actions you need to take.”

For example, Martin says, one client in middle management felt stressed every night by trying to get home early enough to spend time with his family, yet complete his job responsibilities. Together, they came up with a plan for him to go to the office an hour earlier, use the quiet time to more strategically plan out the day and work while it is quiet, and leave an hour earlier to enjoy family time. “It wasn’t just about changing work hours,” she explains. “It was also about giving him time to switch modes and start the day more positive.”

Business consultant Nigel Marsh notes: The companies we work for aren’t going to create work/life balance for us. We have to take control of and responsibility for the life we want to live.

Often in January, people become convinced they need to change jobs to feel like their work and personal life are more in synch. Tom Connelly, an executive recruiter with Boyden global executive search in Coral Gables, said he already has seen a flood of résumés from people who feel unfulfilled in their current jobs.

“It’s not just a pondering about their professional situation, family stuff comes into play. Over the holidays, people are spending time with family and everything bubbles up into a volcano and they think if they find a new job everything will be OK.”

If you do feel that way, Connelly suggests you network and find a business coach to help identify your weak areas and improve on them as steps toward a job search. The economy is expected to show more life in 2014, which will present workers with a number of opportunities, he believes.

But Connelly cautions that a new job does not guarantee better work/life balance, regardless of whether you work fewer hours. You can have satisfaction with work, despite having a work profile that would scare the living daylights out of the 40-hour work week.

Christine Denton, a Miami Mary Kaye executive sales director, said accomplishing her work goals fuels her. She enjoys inspiring her team to become a million-dollar sales unit and that motivates her as she puts in nights and weekend hours. This year, she will keep a photo of a pink Cadillac Escalade on her desk as she aims to hit her sales goals and become a national sales director even while giving birth to her first child in April. Denton said the baby, the Escalade, and the idea of leading by example are motivation as she resolves to use her time wisely in 2014 and establish the boundaries that will allow her to feel satisfied at work and home.

As many of us have learned, you can have more personal time but spend it in ways that aren’t fulfilling. If you’re coming home from work just to pick up where you left off, it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. As a blogger on WallStreetOasis.com notes: “Having more ‘free time’ won’t make you happy. Having a job to which you want to contributeand a life that you're enjoying every minute of will.”

It will take some planning and discipline, but if work/life balance is your resolution, you really can accomplish it in the new year.

MOR_4731

 Christine Denton, a Mary Kay Elite Executive Sales Director, and her hubby get ready for their first child, scheduled to arrive in April! ( photo by Cristina Morgado)

Escalade

Christine Denton keeps this photo of a pink Escalade on her desk as motivation!

December 26, 2013

Rearview Mirror: Work life balance and workplace challenges of 2013

When I look at the year in review, I see a continued struggle for work-life balance exemplified by a question I raised in a recent Miami Herald column: What is an average work week?

For those of us with anything beyond the most basic level of responsibility, most agree that a 9-to-5 work day no longer is a reality. Many of us feel like we’re “always on.” The technology that brings our home life into our workplace and our jobs into our homes presents opportunities and challenges. I have tackled some of them in this column in 2013.

One area of challenge arises from where we do our work. Can people be as productive at home as they are in the office? And, aren’t most of us working from places outside the traditional workspace at least some of the time? Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer called remote employees back to the office and set off a firestorm of debate.

In my March 6 column, I asked: Can anyone really argue that Mayer is wrong to feel that there is value in the conversations that arise when people are physically together in a room? There’s a reason that Google has configured its offices with a lunch room extraordinaire. It’s to keep people on campus and working together, I noted.

After a multitude of conversations with experts and employees, I’ve come to believe that the best workplaces strike a happy medium — allowing workers to come to the office some of the time but also manage their own schedules.” Corporate futurist Christian Crews, principal of AndSpace Consulting in Fairfield, Ct., said companies with the greatest competitive advantage are “managing the tension between getting engagement from employees who can make their own hours with the tension of getting critical mass in a building to create innovative new approaches to business.” To me, companies that get that right will be around much longer than those that don’t.

Another challenge involves the technology we use to do our work. In my July 3 column, I noted that with continuous new technology, many employees want the latest smartphones, tablets or laptops to balance their work and home lives on their devices. We are more satisfied when we use our own preferred devices on the job. Allowing us to do so saves our employers money buying and maintaining equipment.

But as more employers embrace the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, questions abound over whether we are ready for the heated issues cropping up such as our expectation of privacy and what happens if there’s a security breach. Should an employer have the right to search our personal device or wipe out the memory remotely should it suspect a concern?

Niza Motola, special counsel with the Miami law firm of Littler Mendelson, says the BYOD trend has made it evident that with the rapid advance of technology, the laws and workplaces haven’t caught up. “The lines are blurred on what’s personal and what’s professional at work and that’s only going to get more obvious.”

Some see opportunity in blurred boundaries between work and personal life. My July 24 column addressed the trend toward working vacations. It seemed the economic worries that led American workers to limit themselves to drive-by vacations for the past several summers had lifted. The two-week vacation made a comeback, mostly because people have figured out ways to integrate work and travel to make for a better return. The new guilt-free vacation centers on knowing when to check in and field calls and when to disconnect.

Cristy Leon-Rivero, chief marketing and merchandising officer with Navarro Discount Pharmacy, discovered that working on vacation meant she could take a full week off, but she and her husband tag-teamed to ensure their children wouldn’t feel shortchanged when their parents connected to their offices.

“I might say, ‘Watch the kids for a minute; I’m going to get on a call,’ or he might do the same, but we keep our family activities time-protected.” Leon-Rivero found that when she took a full week to let go of stress and relax, she was more productive when she returned. “The best ideas happen outside the office.”

Throughout the year, I dug deeper into the mindset of millennials, our youngest employees who are changing how all of us think and act on the job. In my Sept. 11 column, I wrote that millennials want an entrepreneurial culture in their workplaces where their ideas can help shape the business. But research shows managers often feel millennials want too much too soon and don’t know how to keep them on a career path that keeps them engaged. Frustrated, young innovators often take a “move up or move on” attitude.

Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, feels the best strategy for managers is tell younger workers specifically what to do to become a manager in a set number of years. “Those expectations are so important, and nobody is setting them, which is why turnover (and frustration) is so high,” he said.

While most of us have tried to separate our work and home lives, millennials want their personal and work lives intertwined. In my Sept. 18 column, I wrote about new research showing that this generation wants workplaces to be like second homes, their co-workers to be their friends and their bosses to be their workplace parents or mentors. While the big push in creating social workplaces has centered on ice cream-making contests and costume competitions, experts say the future is going to require a more strategic approach. Employers will need to build a “fun” culture that encourages camaraderie, collaboration and dedication. Employers who get it and create that culture will find this innovative generation has a lot to contribute.

Of course, it’s not just businesses that can win from working well with millennials. In my Oct. 2 column, I wrote about a trend called reverse mentoring: Companies are pairing grizzled veterans with young up-and-comers. The arrangement works to retain eager young workers and keep older executives technologically and socially relevant. In some instances, it’s a formal arrangement; in others, it’s casual — much like traditional mentoring. But those of us seasoned workers who allow the younger generation to teach us how to use better use technology to communicate and connect will find ourselves more efficient. Our work-life balance is sure to benefit.

Lastly, I must point out that the Family Medical Leave Act celebrated its 20th year in existence in 2013. In our struggle to balance our family lives and our work lives, it is the one law that has made a giant difference for 35 million American workers. It’s been a godsend for those of us who want time to bond with our newborn, care for an aging parent or deal with a health emergency without the fear of losing our jobs. But as I wrote in my Feb. 6 column, FMLA does not guarantee time off with pay, and some of those who need it can’t afford to use it. Those involved in the passage of FMLA say they are pushing forward on the next step — federal legislation that would expand eligibility to more of the workforce and introduce a nationwide paid family leave. I hope the men and women of this country understand how vital this is for all workers and push for change.

Going forward, I believe the big work-life debate will be whether constant connectivity will lead to additional productivity and profitability, or whether just the opposite is true. Time will tell. In my experience, those who manage to disconnect, at least for a while, will find more of the balance that makes life fulfilling.

 

 

December 05, 2013

Stressed Out? This Holiday Season Just Say "NO"

 

Holiday stress

 

It’s the holidays – the hardest time to say no to people demanding you do the gift shopping for your mother or stop by a holiday party that deep inside you don’t feel you want to do. It's a real skill to to learn to say 'no' tactfully, graciously, and without offense. 

Jill Brooke, author of The Need to Say "No", offers a few tips to resist the time demands that undermine your peace and happiness. I have a few of my own I've added.


It is OK to say "NO". The word no is baked into the word kNOwledge.  Assess a value system to everything about how much time it requires whether it’s a task outside of your job description or that chocolate éclair that requires an extra hour at the gym to work off. “No, not now but perhaps later”  is a perfectly fine response.

Hold to your boundaries.  Whether a relative or friend is bossing you around to create holiday parties or hosting doddering Dad for the week since “you’re so good at it”, bullies target empathetic people but don’t let yourself get used. “ Have boundaries of what you are comfortable doing and not doing. As long as you say your 'no' confidently and calmly, you will get results. Bullies then move on and target other people.

Assert your position, don't try to change theirs.  A colleague is suggesting a project that you see as futile and unproductive or you hear someone gossiping and wanting you to join in.  You can say “I see your position. I understand that is the way you are thinking. But no, I am not comfortable doing that.” Or , "I think we will have to agree to disagree on that position."

Say "NO" kindly and mean it.  You can say no without a future yes. For example,  a friend or relative calls asking for yet another favor in your jam-packed holiday schedule. “Because I am a perfectionist, I want to always do a good job. No, I can’t commit to another project at this time but maybe later”, might be your response. Or you can say, "No, I can't at this time. Good luck with it. "

 

Understand that saying "NO" is a healthy decision. "No" is a choice not a scolding. Say it with a smile in a calm voice that won't invite debate. "No, that doesn't work for me" is not selfish but the construction of  a protective shield against the onslaught of countless requests that truly undermine our ability to focus on what is important such as meaningful friends, family and work.

The two biggest tips I can share about saying NO are these:

* Pause before you say yes. Giving yourself 24 hours to "think about it" will help you to figure out how much you really want to do something -- or not do it. It also will give you time to think of a reasonable way out.

* The less you explain yourself the better. Just say NO without detailing why you can't pick up the cake for the office holiday party or why you can't come in and finish something the weekend before Christmas. "No, I can't do it" is a good enough explanation.

 

In his recent blog post, advertising guru Bruce Turkel points out: 

When you say “no” you establish who you are, what you stand for, and — most importantly — what you will and will not do in a given situation. And whether you’re an advertising agency desperately trying to make payroll; an unwilling young woman being offered another drink at a fraternity kegger; an elected official being told by their party leaders to change course on an issue that they promised to their constituency; or an artist debating changing a piece of artwork in order to have it hung in a gallery, getting the “yes” you want often comes down to your ability to say “no.”

Turkel says:  “No” might very well be the most powerful word in the English language... “What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?” says it all about as clearly and succinctly as any comeback you can employ.

I, like most of you, want to be agreeable and liked. I don’t like to say “no.” I makes me uncomfortable, especially during the holidays when everyone is supposed to be spreading cheer. But Turkel explains that saying no in the long run is actually a nicer way to go.  

"What’s nice about agreeing to a task that you already know you’re not going to be able to complete well or on time? What’s nice about saying “yes” to a social engagement that you don’t want to go to, don’t have time to attend, and will probably wind up blowing off? And even if you’re not concerned about being nice to the person asking you to do something, what’s nice about putting yourself under the pressure of doing something you don’t want to do?" Turkel asks.

Here's the point he makes that I really appreciate:  unless we’re willing to draw our line in the sand and say “no,” then we can’t really achieve the outcome we want. Ironically, sometimes the only way to get to “yes” is to start with “no.”

So, instead of driving yourself into a state of overwhelm over the holidays, you might want to try out your "NO!"  If you learn how to use it effectively now, you will be well positioned for a less stressful 2014.

October 30, 2013

10 Workplace Trends that Affect the Way We Work

 

Eric Holland designs office space for ADD, Inc. at One Biscayne tower in Miami, but his own office reflects the new design of a more collaborative space where workers can move themselves to other desks around them to work in teams. CW Griffin / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

As we wind down the year, I’ve identified major workplace trends affecting the way we work.

From an individual perspective, understanding these trends will give you an advantage. From an employer perspective, it will help make more informed business decisions. Here are my top 10 that I believe will define 2013 and reshape the way we work in 2014.

1. Flexibility rises in importance. Ask employees what benefit they most value: Flexibility is at the top of their wish lists. Most say it is a key factor they consider when looking for a new job or deciding between offers — and they’re often willing to sacrifice salary to get it.

 What might surprise you is that most working parents (80 percent) say they have “at least a little” flexibility in their current job. That number rises a little each year, according to Moms Corp., a professional staffing franchise that has a focus on flexible placements.

2. Job stress gets attention. More than eight in 10 employed Americans are stressed out by at least one thing about their jobs — mostly poor pay and increasing workloads, according to a 2013 Work Stress Survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College.

The stress has permeated all levels within organizations. Lindsey Pollak, Gen Y career expert and spokeperson for The Hartford Insurance Group’s My Tomorrow campaign, says stress and anxiety are the top reasons millennials use disability insurance. Over the past three years, Ceridian, a provider of employee assistance and wellness programs, reports a 30 percent increase in calls related to stress. Mary Jane Konstantin of Ceridian said employers are addressing this growing concern through stress reduction workshops, on-site chair massages and wellness programs: “It’s within a company’s best interest to think through how it can support activities to help employees better handle stress.”

3. Freelancers rise in numbers. Right now, mid-size and large businesses are hiring freelancers in record numbers to help deal with the rapid pace of change and innovation in the global economy and control costs. New data show one-third of American workers are freelancers. Next year, there will be millions more freelancers, replacing full-time workers, reports NBC News.

A study by Accenture, a management-consulting firm, shows that “even top-level managers and executive teams are being replaced by temporary CEOs, CFOs, COOs and other highly skilled troubleshooters.” Accenture found that the top fields for freelance work include sales and marketing, IT and programming, design and multimedia, engineering and manufacturing, and writing and translation

4. Overtime pay heats up. Employers continue to be besieged by wage-and-hour lawsuits. The wave of class actions started with claims that employers were misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying benefits and overtime. Settlements of wage-and-hour cases totaled about $2.7 billion from 2007 to 2012, with $467 million coming from last year, according to a new U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform trends report. “Certainly, the trend in wage-and-hour class actions is they are growing and they are here to stay,” said Paul Ranis at the Greenberg Traurig law firm in Fort Lauderdale.

5. Collaboration gains importance. Companies want their staff working in teams, sharing ideas and solving problems. The concept has sparked changes in staffing, office design and the way work is done. It has even triggered some companies, such as Yahoo, to bring remote workers back to the office. Eric Holland, a senior associate principal at ADD Inc., an architecture and design firm in Miami, said clients from accounting firms to call centers have hired him to redesign their workplaces to decrease worker isolation. Many clients want more open layouts with shared spaces and more break rooms, he said. He also said that some clients also want less hierarchy: They want workers at all levels to occupy the same size offices or workstations so they can move and work together more easily.

6. Generational shifts take hold. The shift in workplace demographics is happening in a workplace near you. Boomers are starting to retire, freeing up positions for Gen X and Gen Y managers to move into.

“There will be shift in leadership and the way companies are run,” said Lisa Bonner, senior vice president at Roberts Golden Consulting, Inc. “If there is no pipeline, we’re going to see some gaps. That’s going to be a challenge.”

7. Work-life boundaries erode and get reset. Technology enables many workers to take their jobs home with them and their personal lives to the office. “We’re not hemmed in anymore by walls or clocks,” notes Konstantin.

Yet for all the benefits, workers are feeling exhausted by being “always on.” Konstantin says companies are realizing it — yet many have set up the expectation that their workers are on call 24/7. Now, the conversations are around what’s the middle ground and how to create boundaries, she said.

8. Women outpace men in workplaces. One billion women will enter the workplace in the next decade. Research shows that they are more educated than men and are starting to take leadership positions. Already, four in 10 American households with children younger than age 18 include a mother who is the sole or primary earner for her family, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Jennifer Van Buskirk, president of Aio Wireless, plays that role in her family. “It’s empowering,” she said. “You establish your values, priorities and what you want to accomplish.” However, at home, the new dynamic does require marital negotiation: “In my family, we discuss how team Van Buskirk is going to approach life, and we divvy up responsibilities. It all works.”

9. Employees take to social media. Companies are struggling with policy around use of social media at the office. Some will start to leverage their talent and use employees as social-media advocates to recruit staff and market to customers online. Of course, employers will continue to need to remind workers to use common sense on the Internet.

10. Companies embrace employee retention. Employees have lost their enthusiasm. According to the latest State of the American Workplace Report, 70 percent of U.S. workers don’t like their job. In 2013, companies began realizing that they should be concerned about this because it’s costing them money. Disengaged workers can impact everything from customer service to sales and other business areas. The best companies will take the time to understand what drives their workforce and customize a plan to motivate their employees.

If you see other workplace trends, what are they? Which ones on my list do you think are long-term trends?

 

October 23, 2013

When work life balance gets overwhelming, consider a radical sabbatical

My friend, Laura Berger, did what most of us only dream of doing. She ditched her stressful life in the city and her struggles to achieve work life balance and headed to the jungle for a radical sabbatical. Berger is now back in the corporate world, coaching corporate executives how to get ahead, but she credits her time in the jungle with giving her new perspective. 

Laura and her husband, Glen Tibaldeo have published a book about their experience and lessons learned on their sabbatical. It's a great read and has been described as a couples Eat, Pray, Love meets the Hangover. Today, Glen is my guest blogger and shares some insights.

Radical Sabbatical, an Amazon Kindle bestseller by Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo, is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com. Check out Owen Wilson Loves Radical Sabbatical

Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo

The Joys of Imbalance

Is your life out of balance? Why you should be thrilled.

by Glen Tibaldeo

“I was a magnet to a better professional image. If all of a sudden those guys following horses in parades with shovels drove BMWs, wore Armani, and were the talk at cocktail parties, I’d be the first to sign up for a Master’s of Science in Equestrian Excrement Elimination. Add to that my all-or-nothing mentality and my need to be a hero for more kudos and accolades. If too much of a good thing is bad, then what’s too much of a bad thing?”

This is how my wife Laura and I describe my life before our big adventure in Radical Sabbatical began. But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and nowhere is it more apparent than in our story. I was a hopelessly overworked geek who had inflicted an extreme imbalance to my life, and the universe was yearning to rectify it.

And so at 35, Laura and I moved to the gorgeous, untouched seaside town that we call Pair-o-Dice village. In less than twenty-four hours we had gone from roaring subway trains and dodging fellow sidewalk pedestrians to rugged dirt roads and wildlife dripping from the trees—so plentiful that sometimes it just randomly fell from the sky.

And all the while, all we could wonder was, “why us?” “Why here?” And “How did we get here?” But with time comes wisdom. We can see how the universe corrects all imbalances -- and get this: the less balance you have, the more the cosmos wants to get you there. So how ironic that when your life feels out of whack — when it is, you’ll know it — the universe is waiting to push you to center.

So what are the laws of nature waiting for? They’re waiting for you to just give things a good, deliberate nudge. Yes, Laura and I went from the big city to the middle of nowhere overnight, but it took us 2 years to analyze all our options and make our decision. But once we decided to quit our jobs and move to the jungle, our world blew up.  

We describe that life-changing explosion in Radical Sabbatical, our new comedic travel memoir about the time we risked everything we had to get the life we always wanted. In the midst of a setting that couldn’t be better for someone in the right mindset to find inner peace, we struggled to adjust to our abrupt life change. We battled serpents and surreal insects. We risked our lives on harrowing mountain runs in decrepit 4x4s. We were given mysterious potions from shamans. Laura, until then deathly afraid of heights, launched herself off a 2,000 foot mountainside. And last, but certainly not least, we rather clumsily navigated a brand new culture.

And to experience all that, all we had to do was decide to make a change. That may seem hard from where you’re sitting, but once you have decided to move, you’ll wonder what you were waiting for.

Still not convinced you’ve got it in you? Here are a few things you can do to give things that little nudge:

1. Think of a handful of easy and enjoyable tasks you can do to make progress toward your big dream. The hardest and most important part is starting.

2. Post pictures or collages of your dream life in the places you go most frequently. The more joy you can simulate, your subconscious will eventually want to make that dream happen.

3. Clear minor changes from your life so you can focus on the big bang of your dream. Your spirit can only take so much change at once.

4. Anyone trying to shake up their lives experiences significant setbacks. God knows we did. Anticipate them, so they won’t throw you off balance when they happen.

5.If you’re having trouble getting in the right mindset to start, go on vacation somewhere with the express goal of thinking and fantasizing about your new life. Habits play a huge part in staying in a rut. Just changing settings can be enough to get you to decide to get going.

 

We owe our exciting lives as they are now to that magical and trying time in the jungle. The people we met, the experiences we had, and all our successes and failures made the jungle both a natural theme park and life boot camp.

The brilliance of it all is that if you are so far out of balance that you can’t even see straight, you might just be on the precipice of the ride of your life.

 

October 22, 2013

Resigning for family reasons -- work life balance or bogus?

As I sat eating my breakfast, reading my newspaper and saw an article that Mark Templeton, the CEO of Citrix had temporarily resigned for family reasons.

My reaction was "really?"

Mark has been at Citrix since 1995. He led the Citrix vision and is responsible for the company’s market direction, product strategy and passion for customer care. Mark transformed Citrix from a $15 million organization with one product, one customer segment and one go-to-market path, to a global powerhouse with annual revenues of $2.59 billion in 2012. He is the face and the brain of the Fort Lauderdale company. 

So, for him to resign must have been difficult.

Usually, when I read that someone resigned for family reasons, I have my doubts. The majority of the time, when it's men, "family reasons" is code for I want to leave gracefully and take another job as soon as possible." It can often mean "I'm being forced out." It kills me when that top leader who resigned for family reasons takes another high profile job within a few months -- turning that term into a big farce.

The article went on to say that Mark's son had died this summer. Here's a man who has wealth, and business success, but may be in need of some down time to grieve or regroup. In this case, "family reasons" seems plausible as the explanation for a leave.

The press statement read like this: 

Citrix Chairman Thomas F. Bogan said, “As many know, Mark recently suffered a tragic death in his immediate family. He now needs to step back from his executive responsibilities for a period of time to be with his family and heal from the impact of this loss. "

Mark's example may help other men. 

Recently, I read about a head college football coach who never missed a day of work when his son died  -- but struggled season after season to bring his team victories. 

Will Mark's example send a signal to the younger generations of men who look up to him as a role model? I would like younger managers and future leaders see that it's okay to step out of the workforce temporarily when family matters take priority.

Some workplace experts believe millennial men already think differently.

 University of California at Hastings law professor Joan Williams  argues that Millennials—particularly the men—want a different structure in their work life priorities. She writes in the Harvard Business Review blog that there's a generational shift taking place between those currently in executive positions (where 75 percent of the men are married to homemakers) and the group behind them. The "he works all of the time, she does all the housework" arrangement won't cut it with the younger group, writes Williams

She cites a study by Michèle Lamont who finds that blue-collar men regard the competitive, all-consuming corporate ethos to be signs of "selfishness." Instead of accepting the work-till-you-drop culture, she says millennial men are beginning to do what women have done for decades: to work as consultants or start their own businesses that give them the flexibility for better work-family balance.

Men shouldn't need to work as consultants or step permanently out of Corporate America if they can create workplaces where dealing with personal problems are as accepted as dealing with work concerns.

I already admire Mark Templeton for the culture of mobility he has helped create at Citrix. Now, I will admire him even more if he becomes a role model for work life balance and gives some credence to citing "family reasons" as a valid explanation for taking time off. It will be interesting to see how and if the company handles his return.  

Readers, do you think a change is on the horizon? Are men able to comfortable take time off and return to the workplace?

 

October 14, 2013

Stop displacing your stress and improve your work life balance

Yelling

No matter who we are, we all stress about something, sometime.

It creeps into our lives and comes out in ways that affect our behavior.  The cause might be a change in our work situation -- the boss piles more work on us; it might be a problem with a parent -- mom fell and needs more supervision. Now, our work life balance is out of whack, we're likely to unleash our stress on an innocent bystander -- an assistant, our children, our spouse. One simple question from your husband or child, like where to find the peanut butter might cause you to roar, "Don't you have eyes? Would it kill you to use them?" 

Oprah Magazine calls it "stress rolling."

Learning to reclaim our ability to relax and stop our stress rolling is one of the best things we can do for our relationships and our work life balance. 

So, how do you stop it?

Here are a variety of suggestions gleamed from different sources, including O Magazine.

1. Notice it in other people. For example, the mom on the phone with a client who yells at her kids in the grocery store when the kid asks for a bag of candy or the guy who yanks his dog around after a hard day at work. When you see it in others, identify the same sort of reaction in yourself. One sign you're stress rolling might be a hint of guilt.

2.  Catch yourself doing it. The moment you get the slightest inkling you're stress rolling, be aware of it. Take some deep breaths, figure out what's really bothering you, and ask yourself, 'what's the worst thing about that?'

3. The next step is action. Apologize, admit to stress rolling, and go find someone who offer you guidance with the real issue at hand. This is where you think big about who's in your advisory team from best friends to couple counselors to senior leaders in your office.

4. Be cautious. Not everyone you ask for help will be able or willing to give it. Be aware enough to know when someone's advice to you is wrong. Yet, it's possible that the very people you once stress rolled onto may join you in solving the problems you face.

5. Expect glitches in life. The goal is to gain confidence in how to manage when things don't go according to plan. If we remain open to the unexpected instead of panicking, be willing to change what we think we know and more aware of how we react, we're likely to feel less overwhelmed and more balanced.

Just last week, I caught myself stress rolling onto my son when I had too many writing assignments on my plate. He asked me to sign a permission slip at the last minute with the carpool mom waiting for him in the driveway. I signed the form but unleashed fury on him. When he arrived home from school, I apologized, came up with a new system of staying on top of school paperwork, talked with my editor and reevaluated how many assignments I take on in a given week.

Of course, not every cause of stress will be easy to resolve, and it may take time to get work life balance issues under control, but having a game plan helps. 

Do you think stress rolling is unavoidable? Have you ever caught yourself doing it and justified it?

 

August 26, 2013

Can you work yourself to death?

Overwork

Last week, I cringed when I heard the tragic story of a 21-year-old Bank of America intern. The poor young guy, an intern in the bank's Merrill Lynch investing banking unit was found dead in his London apartment after allegedly working round the clock for three days in a row. 

The incident has created a lot of buzz about work life balance and whether it's possible to work yourself to death. It also has raised questions about whether employers need to play more of a role in discouraging an unhealthy work pace.

Bank of America has said  it would be studying how to improve the work-life balance of the institution’s junior staffers, a week after the summer intern unexpectedly died.

Right after the death was announced, an intern at a different investment bank described the toll his daily 12 to 13 hours on the job had taken on his personal life and health: “I don't have time to do much else after work, and when I have a little rest over the weekend, I can feel my heart pumping faster than usual. A standard 6-hour sleep is considered decent around here.”

While it may still be a badge of honor to show such commitment to work, I think employers have a duty to step in when someone puts in night after night of work, with little sleep.

About a year ago, I wrote about a law associate who also appeared to have worked himself to death. The 35-year-old passed away at home after working "maniac hours" at his regional law firm the week before. While the cause of death was not certain, his friends said he was gunning for partner and had been billing over 20 hours a day for multiple days in a row prior to his death. No one had stepped in to stop him. 

There's a reason we are seeing so much conversation around the need for work life balance. There are plenty of workplaces with hard-charging, competitive cultures. But we are seeing that maniac work schedules can't be sustained. You CAN die of overwork.

To its credit, Bank of America isn't taking this death lightly. It has told The Huffington Post  it will be looking at, among other things, whether its interns and other junior employees are encouraged to work overly long hours or are pushed into unhealthily competitive environments as they vie for a limited number of jobs.

Someone needs to teach young workers that it's a combination of work ethic and results that count -- and that there are ways to impress with quality, over quantity.

Nathan Parcells of InternMatch.com, an online community that links employers and potential interns recommended Bank of America give interns and young employees more access to senior mentors: They can still remain a very competitive culture, and provide better expectations and goal-setting, and maybe show interns how to manage so that they can get the work done in 80, instead of 100 hours." 

To me, the death of this young intern is a real tragedy, but also a wake up call. If it really causes management introspection, then maybe this tragedy can be the springboard for change. Do you think some corporate cultures encourage overwork at the expense of employee health? If so, what would it take to change the culture other than a tragic death?