October 01, 2014

Overwork in America: How to stay alive

When I read about someone dropping dead after intense periods of overwork, it makes me wonder -- did anyone try to step in?

In a society in which overwork has become the norm, and work life balance a constant struggle, is it our responsibility to prevent a co-worker, friend or employee from working himself sick.

It's tricky from a boss's perspective. A boss wants his employee to be superstar. It's a boss's  own best interest for someone to put in longer hours and get more work done. But at what expense?

As I wrote in my Miami Herald column today, on rare occasions, decisions to ignore or defy excessive work stress can reap unknowing consequences. There are a few horrific examples: 

-A Wall Street intern who worked through the night eight times in two weeks, including three consecutive nights, before he collapsed and died in his apartment in 2013

-A Skadden Arps associate who died in 2011 after months of intense pressure and rumored 100-hour work weeks,

- A copywriter for an ad agency who in 2013 suffered heart failure and slipped into a fatal coma just after sipping energy drinks and tweeting “30 hours of working and still going strooong.”

Because we live in a culture that applauds overwork, stories of people working themselves to death or collapsing of exhaustion force us to look at what has become the new normal. Employers are asking almost all workers to take on higher workloads. But when multiple 15-hour workdays get met with a pat on the back rather than a look of concern, we need to figure out our role in workplace well-being.

The signs of burn out are rather easy to recognize — hair loss, weight loss or gain, fatigue, the popping of stimulants to combat anxiety or exhaustion and extreme over-reaction or irritability.
 
Intervention can be complex. For some workers, getting ahead is their priority. It is not only what they spend the majority of their days doing, it represents a core part of their identities. They choose to tip the work life balance scale in favor of work.
 
 
But there are ways to help. Here are a few approaches:
 
  • Push it. Leah Carpenter, CEO of Memorial Hospital Miramar says as the company leader, “you have to push it a little,” with those who may not realize they need work-life balance. I tell them, “We are no good to the patients we treat if we don’t take care of ourselves.”
     
  • Set an example. “I have to put myself in check so they won’t follow.” Carpenter says she won’t send out emails past 9 p.m. and she conscientiously takes vacation days: “I don’t want to send the wrong message about expectations.”

     
  • Show a general concern. If pointing out a lack of balance or extreme overwork leads to resistance, workplace expert David Torrance, CEO of Renaissance Executive Forums Dallas, recommends another approach: a more generic show of concern such as, “Hey, are you doing OK? I see you’re working long hours. I’m concerned for you. What’s going on?”

 

  • Use good judgment.  In most workplaces, co-workers are most tuned in to a peer’s exhaustion or anxiety and often reluctant to get involved. “At first blush, it’s no different from me going to a colleague and saying, ‘Not married yet, what’s going on with that?’” said Nikki Lewis Simon, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Miami. “Working around the clock is a personal decision, not unlike the decision to have kids, marry, be openly gay. Some people don’t know what to do without work. If you forced them to go home, they would be in a funk.”

 

  • Offer to pitch in.  Simon said she would show interest as a friendly overture: “I might say, is everything OK? I see you’re working hard, is there something I could do to help?”

 

  • Point out health concerns. Sometimes it takes a health practitioner to convey the message that changes behavior. While balance can be a struggle for all, Simon says people need to need to be told: “You must unplug and rejuvenate because your body will not forgive you forever.”


 

 

September 30, 2014

In Search of an Uncluttered Life

Has there ever been a time in your life when a message seems to come to you from every direction?

For me, that message is  "Clear the clutter!"

Over the weekend, I read William Zinsser's On Writing Well and the book spent an entire chapter on clutter. When I finished reading it, I became fixated on unneccesry words that clutter emails, articles and even recipes. I began eliminating clutter from my sentences and seeing the power that simplicity can produce.

Today, I woke up and noticed one of my favorite columnists, Ana Veciana-Suarez wrote an article about uncluttering her garage in an effort to simplify, simplify. "The older I get, the more I realize how little I need for a truly satisfying life." So true, Ana.

I think we all know, it's excrutiatingly difficult to live clutter free.  I've acquired way too many items that promise to help me do things better, faster, easier.  From apps to appliances, my screens and shelves overflow with things I really don't know how to use well enough that they make me more productive.

So, like Ana, I am going in search of a more simple, uncluttered life. 

Breda Stack, the Declutter Therapist, says: "Decluttering goes beyond cleaning, organizing, or putting broken items in the bin. Clutter is anything physical, mental or emotional that doesn't serve us. It's letting go of anything that doesn't enhance our life." She says decluttering makes us feel happier and in control.

When I tidy my desk, my inbox or my garage, I feel lighter, happier and more balanced.

Like Ana, I'm shifting priorities, shedding stuff I don't use, and opting for experiences, over items, as the cooler air begins to flow in and holiday season looms.

Here's to ending 2014 with much less clutter in my life. Will you be joining me in the quest for simplicity?

 

 

 

 

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 27, 2014

Fall: the right season to think about work life balance

Running-in-fall-season

 

Last week, we experienced the Fall Equinox, one of only two days in the year when day and night are of equal length.

From now until December 21, daylight hours are going to get shorter and our days are going to feel like they fly right by. It is the season when we have to be more cautious about work life balance.

Finding balance can be tricky when we awake in the dark and emerge from our workplaces in the dark. I hate the feeling that my entire day was all work. But that feeling motivates me to be more conscious of the lure of connectivity.

In fall, we need to keep checking, re-adjusting, and re-aligning our priorities. We need to be efficient and leisurely at the same time. Don't beat yourself up if you get a little out of balance this time of year, just catch yourself and make some changes before the craziness of the winter season.

If you are emerge from your workplace in the dark, think carefully about why. Research has suggested that employees lose their focus within seven hours of work. Are you sitting at your desk too long without real focus? Would you be better off coming in earlier and leaving earlier? Who do you need to consult to gain more control over your work schedule?

Now, take a bigger picture view. 

Look at your work/life blend up to this point in the year. How many times have you gotten away with family or friends? Were there particular weeks/months where you worked really, really long hours? Were there times you were less busy? You might find that, when viewed that way, you are having a balanced year. Or you might realize you need to make a change in the way you do things during the upcoming months to take time off around the holidays.

You might also want to think about what you want to add or eliminate from your daily routine.

A priority for everyone should be exercise. Research shows if you exercise regularly, you're less likely to feel a conflict between your working life and your home life. There isn't a perfect time to exercise, but exercise is a perfect way to release stress. If you've already given up your summer exercise routine, how can you integrate exercise into your day?

I tend to mourn the loss of the daylight hours that I would have used to ride my bike with the kids after dinner or enjoy an outdoor meal. But even with less daylight, we can still take advantage of the 24 hours in our day.

We might have to adjust our sleep schedule, our work schedule or our play schedule. Like most of you, I've discovered perfect balance is elusive. But the goal for any season should be squeezing joy and satisfaction from both work and life. 

 

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?

 

September 19, 2014

How to Ask Like a Man

Askforraise

Let's say you are a high level executive and you get a great offer to serve on a corporate board. There is a ton of prestige in a board position and you really want to say yes. But first, you need your CEO to give his approval, particularly because the board position involves a substantial time commitment.

So, what do you do? Do you go ask your CEO if it's okay for you to take the board seat?

Apparently, that's the tactic some women have taken and the result hasn't been favorable. The CEO's answer was a pretty swift "no" followed by "we need your attention here at our company."

The lesson...it's all in the ask.

A few days ago, I moderated a panel of search executives who spoke about how important it is to frame the way you ask your boss for something.

Bonnie M. Crabtree,  Managing Director of Korn Ferry's Miami office, said the way the women executives SHOULD have asked their CEO is the way men tend to ask when they want to take board seats....not really seeking permission but explaining the benefits and making the CEO feel it would be bad business not to agree to it.

It's the same approach women should take when they are asking for a raise or a flexible schedule.

Listen to a successful businessman ask for something from the boss and it usually goes like this: I'm going to do it and it's going to benefit you too. We both are going to prosper. (There's really no permission seeking involved)

Sheryl Sandberg tells women to stop showing self-defeating behavior in the workplace. If we're going to do that, we need to master "the ask." Let's say we want more money. Rather than ask for a raise, Sandberg explains, tell your boss the reasons you should get more money and how it is in his interest to give it to you. 

Not knowing how to ask, and not asking well, can cost all of us money and opportunity. Simply put: our boss wants to feel like a winner. So if you're going to ask for something, keep that in mind and make yourself a winner, too.   

September 12, 2014

How to help a co-worker who is burning out

One day at work, one of my co-workers put her face into her hands and screamed. It was bizarre. All of us just watched, not really sure how to react. After a few minutes went by, the screaming got louder.

She was having a HUGE meltdown and it felt like acknowledging it might make it worse. I know that burnout happens. But watching it happen feels awful. For weeks, this co-worker, a single mother, had complained to me about having too much on her plate. When I arrived at the office, she was there. When I left, she was there.

Burn out has ended more than a few careers. But is it possible to help prevent a co-worker or even a boss from burning out?  In most companies, hard work is rewarded with more work. Should anyone step in when they see someone who can't seem to strike a work life balance? 

CareerCast.com says "We usually reach the point of being burned up when we try and tough out unpleasant work-related situations without an effective strategy. We ignore the signs of unhappiness, make excuses for the miserable way we feel on the job, justify staying on the job with any number of reasons, and gradually fall into a downward spiral where our motivation to change the situation is gone and, running on fumes becomes running on empty."

While it may be hard to recognize in ourselves, burn out could be easier to recognize in our co-workers. So, if we see some like my co-worker on the verge of a meltdown, what should be do about it?

CareerCast.com offers these suggestions:

 

  • 1. Urge your co-worker to seek help from a trained mental health professional who treats work-related problems.

 

  • 2. Step in with a gentle suggestion before the problem becomes so severe your co-worker loses his or her job or burns bridges.

 

  • 3. Urge your co-worker to consult a career counselor to find out if he or she has other career and work interests at a new and possibly different type of job, profession or career.

 

  • 4. Let your co-worker know that just because he or she is burned out on a current job or in a current role, doesn't mean it will necessarily be the same on a new job or new position. Circumstances change and, with it, a different job could lead to increased energy and a more positive frame of mind.

 

After my co-worker's complete crash, she was encouraged by her boss to take a long weekend. When she came back to work, she was offered a  less stressful, lower paying position at the same company. I encouraged her to take it, although it meant she has to live more frugally. 

A year later she seems much more in control of her work life balance and happier at work. 

Lot of us see co-workers every day who can't or don't make time for a personal life. Sometimes it is by choice. Sometimes he or she feels the company expects a 24/7 commitment.

Have your ever witnessed a co-worker burning out? Do you feel a responsibility to say or do so something? 

 

September 08, 2014

Would a pay raise improve your work life balance?

 

                                   Pay raise

 

 

What would you do with a raise?

Would you make changes that would make your home and work life easier? Would you buy a more reliable car to drive to work?  Or how about hiring someone to care for your elderly parent while you're not home?

My son gets minimum wage as a bus boy at a local pizza restaurant. He works like a dog for each cent he brings home. Still, he doesn't think a small increase would make a big difference for the dishwasher who works a second job to support his family. I disagree and have told him that every penny counts when you are living paycheck to paycheck.

Across the country, fast food workers have been rallying for higher wages, trying to get food businesses to pay at least $15 an hour. Now that's a significant increase from the $7.93 a cook at a Miami fast food joint says he makes. The cook says that extra $7 an hour would  allow him to pay rent and have enough left to buy an ample supply of food for his family.

White collar workers are struggling, too. In some workplaces, staffers haven't seen a pay jump in at least five years -- even if they are busting their butts.

The good news is U.S. employers are planning to give pay raises averaging 3 percent  in 2015, on par with the 2.9 percent average raise in 2014 and 2013, according to a survey of nearly 1,100 U.S. companies by compensation consultant Towers Watson.

A small raise is better than no raise, right? But what if you feel like you're working harder than your colleagues?

Who gets a raise and why can create major contention. Employees believe that employers are falling short in how pay decisions are made, and that there is much need for improvement,'' says  Towers Watson managing director Laury Sejen. Only half believe they are paid fairly. Their big gripe is that employers are not differentiating pay for top performers as much as they have been in recent years.

The median annual salary among the nation's 106.6 million workers is now about $40,560, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Base pay is the No. 1 reason why employees join a company or choose to leave,'' Sejen told USA Today.  "So there's value in companies making the effort to improve base pay."

Would a pay raise make a difference in your work life balance? How significant a raise would you need to see a real different in your lifestyle?

September 05, 2014

Work Life Balance Joan Rivers' Way

                                                 Joan

 

Life was not always easy for Joan Rivers, but in her struggle to balance her life as a comedian with her role as a mother and wife, she had one thing going for her. Joan liked to laugh.

It was humor that took her through the toughest times in her life.

Humor. 

Joan made jokes about issues that others considered taboo: Her husband's suicide. Her plastic surgery. Her weight. Her so-called lack of sex appeal. Her husband's one leg. 

For Joan,  it was work that fulfilled her, the pursuit of laughter. Joan never relaxed, always looking for the next and better punchline, according to her obituary. It was a trait that kept Joan in the limelight --  even at age 81.  

During a brief time in the 1980s, Joan's career seemed in shambles.  She even became estranged from her daughter. Struggling with grief, Joan made jokes: "Think positive. Make a list. One, I don't life in Bosnia. Two, I never dated O.J."

In the end, it wasn't just Joan's ability to laugh at herself that I found admirable. It was the close relationship she eventually formed with her daughter, the way she eased Melissa into show business and the way she was proud for the world to see her as a mother and career woman. 

When your morning routine goes awry, your client gives you grief or you have an argument with your spouse, kid or boss, think about Joan. Would she melt down, or laugh it off? Would she say it is just too hard to overcome the setbacks that life throws your way? Or, would she turn up the raunchy humor and pursue on?

The New York Times says, that around Joan's 80th birthday when an interviewer asked her whether she planned to retire, there was no laughter in her voice as she replied, "And do what?"

Clearly, it wasn't fame and fortune that Joan was after. She drew fulfillment from an audience that enveloped her in laughter.

R.I.P. Joan and may we all incorporate the lessons you taught us into our work life balancing acts. If we follow your lead, we will know what fulfills us in life, use laughter to release stress, and never give up when the going gets tough.

 

September 03, 2014

Who to go to for advice

A few nights a week, my husband and I walk around the neighborhood for exercise and talk about our days. We often discuss work related problems that come up in a typical day. While neither of us asks for advice, it's natural to give it.  Often, we view the same scenario differently and give suggestions the other person never considered. 

Knowing how I interact with my husband, I often have felt that my boss' spouse had more influence on my future at a company than any other high level manager.  A new survey proves me right.  Most CEOs admit they consider their spouses the person they turn to first for advice on tough business decisions, more than senior members of their staff. 

According to a survey from the staffing firm Adecco, 37 percent of CEOs and business owners say the opinion of their spouse is what matters most to them. This is followed by their head of business development department (16 percent) and operations department (13 percent).  

“A spouse can be someone to discuss ideas or decisions off of without judgment or agenda. If you’re in a partnership with someone, you hold their thoughts and opinions very highly,” Joyce Russell, president of Adecco Staffing in the US told Business News Daily. 

For most of us, seeking advice is tricky -- particularly from a significant other. While I appreciate the business advice my husband gives me, at times, resisting it has created marital tension. Sometimes, when I just want to vent, he chimes in with a solution that I don't want to hear. 

My friend Jill, who owns her own business, says it has taken her a long time to ask for her husband's advice without feeling guilty if she doesn't take it or getting upset by his more practical appraoch to problem solving. She's convinced listening to her inner gut or her female mentor, rather than her spouse, has led to better business decisions.

Have you ever taken — or totally resisted — business advice from your spouse/significant other? Do you feel like your spouse knows you best and guides you well or doesn't asking for advice open the door to resentment or problems down the road?