August 07, 2014

The business of work life balance

In my 12 years of writing about work life balance, I have watched it become a giant industry, and I would venture to say it is only going to get bigger. All of us are struggling to create boundaries with technology making that an increasing challenge.

I thought it was time to highlight the industry's evolution. Where do you think the industry is headed?

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN
BALANCEGAL@GMAIL.COM
At Perry Elllis corporate offices, a group of employees are gathered in the company conference room, stretching into various poses and and taking deep breaths. At the front of the room, a yoga teacher from Green Monkey gives instruction. In the increasing struggle for zen, yoga businesses like Green Monkey have discovered opportunity: a demand for restoring balance to stressed out workers.

The work/life balance industry now encompasses venders and consultants who make money selling services to employers increasingly concerned with wellness, engagement, morale and productivity. Workplace wellness alone has become a nearly $2 billion industry, projected to hit $2.9 billion by by 2016, according to a study by consultants IBIS World.

Newer to the scene are service providers who appeal to individuals — working mothers and fathers or stressed-out leaders — looking to take tasks off their plate, bring order to their lives or create easier ways to work remotely. The category includes personal shoppers and trainers, virtual assistants, meditation leaders, elder care consultants and life coaches.

What has changed most in the evolution of the industry is widespread acknowledgment that work/life balance is not a problem just for women or a concern that is going to be solved — but rather an ongoing challenge. “The recognition has made work/life balance the subject du jour,” says Jim Bird, founder of WorkLifeBalance.com. “It’s something people look at when considering a job or deciding whether to take a promotion and it’s probably the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs.”

Fueling the focus on work/life issues is research. Quantifying stress, distraction, perks, engagement and productivity has become a business in itself, with academics and consulting firms spitting out surveys on the factors behind dissatisfaction and turnover.

Inevitably the research points out one crucial finding: Employees are struggling more than ever before with the demands on their time. Though many companies remain reluctant to hire large numbers of new employees and beef up salaries, almost all large employers now survey employees on job satisfaction and work/life balance. Using results, the company typically goes on to provide some benefit to alleviate work/life friction and improve productivity.

“From an employer perspective, it’s no longer just about helping employees,” explains Rose Stanley, a work/life practice leader at WorkatWork, a nonprofit HR association for organizations focused on strategies to attract and retain a productive workforce. “It’s about tying it back into business strategy.”

Case in point: An estimated one million workers miss work each day because of stress, costing companies an estimated $602 per employee per year, according to HeathAdvocate.com.

Providers such as Bright Horizons Family Solutions are catering to employer demand. Twenty-eight years ago, when Bright Horizons CEO Dave Lissy approached a Fortune 500 company to offer on-site childcare to employees, the HR director’s first reaction was to ask why, he says. Today, “why “ is obvious and that same employer company now uses Bright Horizons Family Solutions also to provide employees with back-up elder care, elder care case management, sick-child care and other work life benefits such as college or educational advising.

“The core issue of child care remains a challenge for companies and their workers,” Lissy says. “What has changed is an acknowledgment of other key life-stage issues that cause the same friction. Companies now show more of an appetite to address those multiple issues.”

Bright Horizons, now a public company based in Watertown, Mass., has close to 1,000 corporate clients; in 2013, it grossed $1.2 billion in revenue. Lissy predicts even more growth. “Time is on our side. Those organizations who don't offer help with work/life concerns will be behind in a world where human capital is the competitive advantage.”

Emerging from the recession, employers are hiring vendors to structure flexibility programs as a tool for innovation rather than just as a benefit. They are tapping stress-reduction experts as a way to increase productivity.

Atlanta-based WorkLifeBalance.com is an 8-year-old company that sells training programs on time management, stress management and work/life balance, both online and on site. CEO Jim Bird said his company has seen an increasing interest from employers, not only of white-collar but also of blue-collar workers, who want to re-engage employees by helping them help themselves. “They are doing it for bottom line reasons,” he says.

Service providers who sell directly to individuals are finding success with a variety of approaches. In South Florida, for instance, Green Monkey has built its meditation/yoga business on the motto “Live in Balance,” targeting stress out workers of all ages and both genders. In six years, it has grown from one studio to three. It also has attracted more than 20 corporate clients with its on-site yoga programs.

Elizabeth King has found a niche in work/life conferences targeted at businesswomen. A licensed psychotherapist, King was running International Holistic Center in Fort Lauderdale when she noticed an increase in women suffering from adrenal fatigue. “They were stressed out and overwhelmed.”

Her answer: Suits, Stilettos and Lipstick, an annual conference in Fort Lauderdale addressing such concerns as making time for romance, health and spirituality. The event draws about 500 women. Her third conference, slated for Sept. 12, will focus on coping skills. “I want to help women build their careers without sacrificing their health and identities,” she says.

Of course, as the industry booms, new “consultants” are following the money. Some, such as life coaches and meditation instructors, may not have training or certification.

“Don’t fall prey to people who are not trained professionals,” King warns. “Work/life balance is a growing business, but if people are selective and ask the questions, only those vendors with experience and credentials will survive.”

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!

April 08, 2014

The secret weapon behind work life balance

We all  struggle for work life balance, but most of us don’t realize that sometimes the path towards achieving might be something so simple.

Some of the most successful people I know are sharing their secret weapon for remaining strong and finding balance. 

 

One of them is Donna Shalala. By her own admission, Donna Shalala is a workaholic. She is the president of University of Miami and has a resume that anyone would find impressive -- accomplished scholar, teacher and administrator. Her jobs titles include a stint working for President Bill Clinton as secretary of health and human services. While Donna doesn't have kids, she does take care of her elderly mother and oversees thousands of employees. Last week, I was at a luncheon in which Donna was asked about work life balance. 
 
The secret weapon, she says, is a good night's sleep. "The biggest mistakes I've made in my career happened because I was overtired," she told more than 400 women at a lunch sponsored by The Commonwealth Institute South Florida.
 
Coincidentally, or maybe not, Arianna Huffington, cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, also is on a campaign to advocate for a good night's sleep. Her personal wake-up call came in the form of a broken cheekbone and a nasty gash over her eye -- the result of a fall brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep. She wondered, "is this really what success feels like?"
 
 
Instead of bragging about our sleep deficits or how busy we are, Arianna urges us to shut our eyes and see the big picture: We can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness — and smarter decision-making. The first step, she says, is getting 30 minutes more sleep a night.
 
So, there you go! Two powerful women are telling you that sleep is key to good decisions and our well being. If you're giving up sleep to get more done, it's time to change that habit. Arianna says sleep deprived women will learn the hard way the value of sleep as she did, especially when trying to see the big picture in business. 
 
As someone who is guilty of giving up sleep, I'm going to change my habits. I hope you will, too. 
 
 

March 12, 2014

Managing a business through personal challenges

A friend of mine recently lost her mother. She confided in me that some mornings, she's so grief stricken, she can't get out of bed. It's a problem because she runs a business and relies on it for her income. When we think about work life balance, many of us tend to think it's all about juggling work and children. But sometimes, it's about juggling a business with unforeseen events in one's personal life. 

I tackled the topic in my Miami Herald column today. The biggest take away for business owners: learn the art of delegation!

 

For entrepreneurs, life events can disrupt business, too

 

 
Jackie Velazquez is a business owner who is just returning from surgery and now continues her busy schedule.
Jackie Velazquez is a business owner who is just returning from surgery and now continues her busy schedule. 
CARL JUSTE / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
 

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

There’s nothing more exciting than breaking free of a cubicle and starting your own business — until you discover the drawbacks.

While entrepreneurs make their own rules, set their own hours and decide how they want to do business, they almost inevitably discover they lack a safety net when their personal lives get challenging. Many tackle divorces, medical setbacks, childbirth and loss of loved ones while still handling deadlines, tackling customer issues and making payroll.

Earlier this month, Jackie Velazquez tried to keep her 13-year business operating while undergoing surgery to prevent breast cancer. “The first thing that goes across your mind is how can I accomplish this and not miss work.”

Velazquez, owner of Miami-based Smarttarget Marketing, planned ahead for her business, creating targeted direct marketing lists. She asked clients to place requests by a specific date and informed them that she would be hard to reach for four days. She will do the same for an upcoming surgery with a longer recovery.

Meanwhile, she tried to adjust client expectations and answer email as much as possible from her hospital bed. Still, she says, she worries that clients will go elsewhere, or tasks will go unnoticed. “There is never a good time to be gone from work when you are a business owner. If your phone is ringing and you’re not answering it, money is not coming in.”

Undoubtedly, running a business, especially in today’s economy, is not easy and comes with stress. Most entrepreneurs say that they work long hours — an average of 55 hours or more — and 97 percent work on weekends, according to a 2013 Small Business Pulse survey by The Alternative Board, a business consulting firm. Handling life’s upheavals can be a serious concern for entrepreneurs whose jobs extend well beyond 9-to-5 hours.

One such challenge is childbirth. Even with the flexibility of working for themselves, few women entrepreneurs report giving themselves the luxury of three-month maternity leaves. “When you are dedicated to your business, you simply cannot in good conscience check out completely,” said Jessica Wilcox, founder of MoneyClip Direct, a direct mail advertising publication for businesses in South Miami-Dade.

Wilcox quickly learned that juggling isn’t just a metaphor. After giving birth, she gave herself a short one-month maternity leave before returning to sales calls with baby in one hand, invoice in the other. “If I’m not working, money is not coming in and the company is not growing,” she said.

Most importantly, she adjusted her expectations to sustain the business rather than build on it, holding on to existing advertisers rather than courting new ones. She worked just enough to handle “all those little things that can fall by the wayside if you’re not paying attention.” Now that her son is 1, she has hired child-care assistance and recommitted to expanding her business.

The larger the small business, the more challenging it can be to balance the rigors of running it with the demands of life and unforeseen events. A 2013 Small Business Annual Survey by U.S. Bank found that owners with employees are less likely than solo entrepreneurs to have enough time for friends and family and more likely to have their life defined by their business. But the successful ones understand the role their team plays.

Lisa Cann said her team is the only reason that her Pembroke Pines cupcake/dessert business remains open. For the past few years, she has juggled marriage counseling, health issues and financial concerns. “It has been so stressful,” she says. Throughout, she has relied on her employees at Royal Treatz to handle the day-to-day tasks while she focuses on the higher level work.

“I had to get them to realize we’re a team. I don’t want clock punchers. I want employees who are happy to be here and want the business to survive.”

Cann said she scaled back some, closing a kiosk in the Pembroke Pines mall. She continues to operate her storefront/party room with eight full-time staff, whom she relies on to handle sales, communicate about inventory and decorate cakes. “I’m one person wearing lots of hats. But if you hire well, train them right and build trust, your employees will run the business when you can’t.”

Read more...

 

Click here for the full results of The Alternative Board Survey.

February 25, 2014

Can you go too far with weight loss?

Poor Rachel Frederickson. She has been a topic of discussion after winning NBC’s The Biggest Loser  and revealing a staggering weight loss on national TV. The pop-culture universe is publicly asking: Did she go too far?

After stunning the audience by losing 155 pounds, 60 percent of her body weight, some believe the show sparked an eating disorder in her. Rachel revealed that she's been spending 6 hours a day exercising. My reaction: Holy moly! Who has that kind of time to devote to exercise? Yes she probably did go too far. But while the public is worried that she's too thin now, I doubt she will be able to sustain that kind of effort to stay thin. Think about it, that's 42 hours a week devoted to exercising! I'd rather be sleeping!

As someone who has been thin all my life, I have had people comment  on my size. Sometimes, it's downright mean. They will say, "you're soooo skinny." How do you respond to that? Of course, as I get older I'm battling the belly bulge so I'm finally experiencing the struggle others go through to keep weight off. I've finally learned the challenge of balancing dieting, exercise and work. It ain't easy!
 
For me, the late afternoons are tough. That's when I start stressing over all I have left to get done and I crave sugar, coffee and snacks. I'm sure there are other workers out there who are stress eaters, too. Sometimes, I start fantasizing about how great life would be if my job was an exercise instructor and I got paid to work out. 
 
A few weeks ago, I ran into Donna Goldstein at an event. Donna looked great and was smiling from ear to ear. She has slimmed down, sustained her weight loss, and recently got married. Donna is a psychologist and Certified Health Coach with Take Shape for Life. She  has helped over 1,000 people achieve their health and weight loss goals. Most impressive: She has sustained her own 70-pound weight loss for six years, after a lifetime of struggle. 
 
I asked Donna to write a guest blog post on what's realistic to set as our goals when we're trying to stay fit, lose weight and hold a full time job. Obviously, we want to look good and feel good without spending 6 hours a day working out. Of course, our goal is to look good, NOT to have people wondering if we have gone too far! Below is Donna's photo and her suggestions.
 
 
  Donna

 

Many people set unrealistic goals for 2014 involving two-hour  gym work outs or starvation diets. These have likely already failed, as they are not sustainable components of a long-term healthy lifestyle.  What does a busy,  stressed  out person, who can’t get to the gym, do? If  you  are overweight,  like 65% of us in the U.S. are,  or just want to have more energy, here are five simple  tips:

1. Frequent fuelings – I know it sounds counterintuitive,  as “diets” always seem to suggest you  eat less, not more, and  then you feel deprived, hungry and exhausted! Adopting the habit of eating 5 to 6 small protein rich “mini meals” will do more to help you lose weight and maintain a consistent energy level than anything else. Some healthy choices you can eat at work -an oz. of low fat cheese and an apple;  1 Tb. of PB and a few whole grain crackers; a protein bar or meal replacement protein shakes, or a small handful of nuts, seeds and raisins.
 
2. Take more steps – stand up every 45 to 60 minutes to take a short walk around your office and or to do some stretching, use the stairs, try some chair yoga.  This will  increase your productivity too.  Researchers at Stanford found that just one minute of stretching can increase your brainpower and  energy by 45% for an hour!
 
3. Get rid of your candy dish at the office. Also, take a pass on bagels, donuts or pastalitos in the break room or at staff meetings. This only causes your energy to spike and then crash, and then you crave more! Carlos Martinez, the Miami-Dade County Public Defender, who lost 100 pounds on my program, and now routinely runs half marathons,  used to bring these type of “sweet treats” to his staff- now he brings fruit.
 
4. Schedule appointments with yourself. Set aside time for walks, gym time, meditation or exercise classes, and make these a priority. I put my 3 times weekly yoga and Pilates classes immediately on my calendar right after any recurring business meetings-it works!
 
5. Get accountable. Just as a coach in sports can help athletes accelerate their performance, using the services of a health coach, will make it 3 times as likely that you will achieve your health and fitness goals. Find someone to teach you new strategies and hold you accountable.

 

While Donna's advice is practical, I'm wondering about your thoughts on Rachel Frederickson. She pocketed $250,000 from winning The Biggest Loser. Do you think she went too far with her diet and exercise routine?

 

Rachel

 Rachel Fredrickson

 

February 21, 2014

How to handle work life conflict

A decade ago, my friends would complain about how work often conflicted with their little ones activities. One close friend cried to me for 20 minutes on the phone when she had to miss her son's first day of kindergarten because of business travel. At the time, all I could say was, "That really stinks!"

Through the years, I've discovered that work life conflict continues, regardless of your stage in life.

Now, as I approach 50, some of my friends are balancing different work life conflicts. Unfortunately, they are juggling their jobs and cancer treatments.  What may make this work life conflict different is that often continuing to work isn't optional. They need to keep working because they need the health insurance and/or income to cover medical expenses.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Jackie Velazquez, a reader and business owner who faces this work life conundrum. 

Hi Cindy, 

As  a reader of you articles & blog, I thought of you this morning. Today I scheduled to have a double mastectomy due to having previous pre-cancerous lumps removed and now testing positive for BRAC1.

Being a business owner the first thing that goes across your mind is how can I accomplish this and not miss work.

Well, the answer is pretty simple...I can't.

I run a direct mail company, which my clients never know if they will need to get a mailing list all of a sudden, so trying to prepare for the workflow is completely impossible. Trying to balance work out, is almost like saying will have a baby when we can afford it. There is never a good time to be gone from work when your a business owner.

Some of the work I do for my clients is so hands on, trying to get someone to do it while your gone is impossible to teach in such a short time.

So here I sit saying ok, I can do this on Friday, will I be able to check emails by Monday?? Its difficult to say you have to put yourself/health ahead of business. That's hard because in our business, if a client calls and can't get what he needs, it puts everything behind and the mailing can be very time sensitive.

 Also, being a business owner you juggle with the fact of do you even tell your clients?

  Looking for any thoughts you may have on this one.

 

By now, I have a little more experience under my belt and can offer a little more advice to Jackie than just the sympathy I offered my friends years ago. The biggest lesson I've learned is there will ALWAYS be work life conflicts. The solution is rearrange your schedule when you can and let go of the guilt when you can't.

I also learned there is ALWAYS something you can take off your plate to help with the juggling act. If you have limited time and energy, focus on what absolutely can only be handled by you. There is no shame in delegating. Sometimes you just have to think more broadly about who can take over a task. Most business owners feel the need to do everything themselves. But if you physically can't, accept it. Consider hiring a virtual assistant.

Remember, customers, clients and bosses may be sympathetic but they are  more concerned with how their needs will be met. When my friend cried to me on the phone about business travel, I listened. But if she went to her boss, do you think he would care?

What co-workers, clients and bosses respond to is solutions. I think Jackie should be honest with her clients and let them know that she will try her best to handle their concerns despite the fact that she may need some time off. She can let them know that her assistant will take over some tasks and she will handle the high level matters as much as possible.

That's my thoughts. Readers, Jackie and I would love to hear yours. What advice would you give someone who owns her own business and needs to take time off for personal reasons?

 

 

 

January 31, 2014

How Heather Faces Her Fear

Today, my guest blogger is Heather Von St. James. I received this email from Heather and wanted to share it with all of you:

 

Heather-family

My name Heather and I am an 8-year survivor of mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. When I was diagnosed at the age of 36, I had just given birth to my little girl and was told I had 15 months to live. After undergoing a risky surgery, which required the removal of my left lung, I beat the odds and created Lung Leavin’ Day as a way to commemorate this day that changed my life forever.

Lung Leavin’ Day is now used to encourage others to face their fears! One important thing cancer taught me is the importance of acknowledging these apprehensions that prevent us from living life to the fullest extent. Each year on February 2, friends and family gather at my house for a bonfire where we write our fears on plates and smash them into the fire.

This year, we are asking you to face your fears and raise awareness of this event by virtually participating in Lung Leavin’ Day! I have created an interactive page that tells the full story of this special day, and allows all of you to face your fears and virtually smash them. The website can be found here: Lungleavinday

 

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 22, 2014

Mindfulness in the workplace

My column today in The Miami Herald delves into a workplace trend that peaked my curiousity. If you're looking to reduce your stress and improve your work life balance, you might want to consider practicing mindfulness in the workplace.

Working with ‘mindfulness’ reduces stress in the workplace

A few years ago, when Miami attorney Paul Singerman received a hostile email from opposing counsel, he would react with an immediate terse response. Not anymore. “The first thing I do is nothing,” he explains. Then, he says, he takes a deep breath, processes both his mental and physical reaction, and thinks carefully about how to stop the negative dynamic taking shape.

For Singerman, reflecting before reacting is the first step in practicing mindfulness — a stress-busting technique quickly spreading in workplaces across the country. In the rush to accomplish multiple tasks or respond to job pressures, people often lose connection with the present moment. They stop being attentive to what they’re doing or feeling, and react from a place of stress. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness on the present moment.

Teaching and encouraging mindfulness in the workplace has become a part of corporate efforts to reduce the stresses that can lead to burnout. Increasingly, the practice has gone mainstream, buoyed by the recent endorsements of CEOs, educators, actors, and politicians who link mindfulness to improved psychological and even physical health.

Singerman said not only is he working on mastering mindfulness, his law firm, Berger Singerman, has sponsored workshops for clients, employees and colleagues. “I really believe mindfulness can make you more effective and enhance your prospects for success,” he says. Singerman’s own experience with mindfulness has been cultivated over 2 ½ years and has helped him become a better listener and more observant person, he says.

Businesses have bottom-line reasons to embrace it. Using mindfulness at work can make for a happier employee, according to Sharon Salzberg, author of the book Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement and Peace. Salzberg believes mindfulness can be applied in any career and says once an employee trains his mind, all kinds of conscious moments of awareness start seeping into the workplace. For example, practicing mindfulness at work could be pausing and planning before picking up a phone, or taking a deep breath and focusing on the desired outcome during a contentious meeting. “It’s a great tool for coming back to the moment and remembering your intention,” she says.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as $300 billion — a cost estimate that includes healthcare and lost productivity because of diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses. For businesses, stress reduction and mindfulness have become a key part of wellness efforts.

Mindfulness programs in the workplace typically involve multiple sessions that teach meditation techniques, such as controlled breathing and bringing thoughts back to the present. They also include exercises for toning down mental chatter and improving listening skills. Employees learn how to apply the techniques in their daily routines on the job and in their personal lives.

At Aetna, more than 49,000 employees have access to three different wellness programs that incorporate mindfulness. Paul Coppola, director of wellness-program strategy at the insurance company, says about 13,000 have participated either in person or virtually. “Classes always fill up quickly,” he says, mostly because word of mouth has increased interest. Coppola says employees who have participated report a decrease in stress levels and more awareness of triggers. Employees who participated in a 12-week program saw increased productivity and even improvements in physical health, such as lower blood pressure and weight loss. Aetna also offers two mindfulness programs to its employer customers; some are offering it through one-on-one coaching.

Other big companies that have offered mindfulness programs include Google, General Mills, Nike and Proctor & Gamble. Media mogul Arianna Huffington, a proponent of this stress-busting technique, has referred to mindfulness as “a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.”

Kelley McCabe Ruff runs eMindful, a Vero Beach company that puts on virtual workshops for businesses, including Aetna. Myriad timely factors are bringing attention to mindfulness, she says, including high, job-related stress levels, an increasing corporate interest in wellness, an explosion of research on the neuroscience behind the technique, more data on its effectiveness, and more buy-in from corporate leaders. She has been able to tie mindfulness programs to results, showing that these tools support behavioral change that leads to physical changes, such as reduced cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. “We actually supply employers a return on investment calculation.”

Life coach Judy Martin, founder of Work Life Nation, says she now includes mindfulness in her consultancy toolkit. “It makes sense that we’re seeing more interest in mindfulness. If workers are worried about past projects that weren’t stellar or a future deadline creeping up, how can they be creative and focused on the work at hand?’’ Martin says she teaches her clients that even lunchtime can provide mindfulness moments: mindfully eating a meal, noticing the scent of your food, the colors and texture of the food in your mouth. She also recommends talking a walk outside and being aware of the weather, the trees, the colors of the flowers, the warm sun.

At the University of Miami, associate psychology professor Amishi Jha has delved into brain research on the link between mindfulness, productivity and health. She says the science behind mindfulness training shows it can build resilience, and enhance memory and concentration. “Just as physical exercise is critical for our body’s health, mental exercises, such as mindfulness training, are necessary for our psychological and brain health.”

One profession where mindfulness has gained particular traction is law. University of Miami professor Scott Rogers pioneered a Mindfulness in Law course, introducing more than 700 students to the technique during the past five years. He isn’t alone; at least 50 faculty members at 25 law schools have introduced mindfulness to law students. Now, he says, mindfulness workshops are offered at law firms and at judicial and legal conferences.

Lawyers like Singerman, who apply mindfulness in the legal setting, are able to gain more control during heated disputes, Rogers said. “They are more clear about what’s taking place so they can be more effective in those moments,” he explains.

Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on work/life issues. To suggest topics or provide comments, connect with her at www.workinglifebalancingact.com or balancegal@gmail.com


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/21/3884295/working-with-mindfulness-reduces.html#storylink=cpy

 

January 20, 2014

Want a better work life balance? Exercise.

Exercise2

Today, I have a lot on my plate  -- work deadlines, kids home from school, my parents coming over for dinner. I just don't have time to workout in the gym, even though I made an exercise schedule and I should be sticking to it. When I'm stressed and feeling overwhelmed, I usually give up exercise to get more done. 

Now, I'm rethinking my behavior.

Researchers have found that exercise empowers people to feel they could better manage their work life balance. People who exercised regularly were more confident they could handle tough tasks. They felt better prepared for the challenges of the interaction of their work and home life and were less likely to be stressed at work, researchers found.

"The idea sounds counter-intuitive," admits Russell Clayton, assistant professor of management at Saint Leo University and lead author on the research report. "How is it that adding something else to our work day helps to alleviate stress and empower us to deal with work-family issues?"

However, Clayton said,  "We think exercise is a way to psychologically detach from work -- you're not there physically and you're not thinking about it either -- and, furthermore, it can help us feel good about ourselves." 

The study's researcher believe the findings suggest employers can help employees with work life balance by encouraging them to exercise. I think we are seeing many employers move in this direction. We definitely have seen more of an emphasis on wellness in the workplace. 

As the new year arrived, many of us made resolutions to exercise more and take better care of ourselves. Our motivation might have been the physical benefits but now we know there are mental benefits, too. As researchers put it, "an hour of exercise creates a feeling that lasts well beyond that hour spent at the gym." 

So, I guess I have to break the habit of blowing off exercise when my plates start overflowing with to-dos. This research is just another nudge to get moving. 

As Clayton put it:  "If you have been feeling torn between resolutions to exercise more and to be a better working parent or spouse, then this should come as great news: You can do both. Here’s to your success and happiness in 2014."