Giving Your Brain the Resources to be Productive

Multi-tasking is a myth. If you think that you are busy juggling multiple tasks, but end your day feeling unproductive, it is probably because multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain does not multi-task; it is not like a computer with multiple systems. The brain needs to attend to one task at a time – called sequential tasking. And so when you think you are multi-tasking, your brain is actually switching back in forth from one task to another, splitting one’s attention and slowing processing speed. Studies suggest that it takes the brain up to 50 percent more time to do two tasks at once vs. one at a time.
Solution: Give your full attention to one task at a time. Start with 15 minute intervals.

Technology = Distraction. Today, we are bombarded by many streams of information – emails, social media, news alerts, texts, phone messages, etc. – and we can become overwhelmed, experience brain fog, and lose focus. With so much information coming at us, it becomes more difficult to filter out what is not relevant to the task at hand. One report stated it takes an average of 15 minutes to re-orient to a primary task after checking email.
Solution: Identify your two most critical to-do tasks and allocate prime brain time to them. Shut down streams of information where you can (schedule time to check them) to avoid unwanted distractions and focus on the task at hand.

Breaks are essential. Sitting in one place staring at a computer or working on a project for a long period of time, can take its toll and can slow our productivity. Two recent studies suggest that performance is improved when we take breaks from what we are working on, and that the longer one performs a task, the longer the break needs to be to prevent a decline in performance. If we don’t give the brain a break, it becomes fatigued and not as effective.
Solution: Determine a break schedule, at least 5-10 minute breaks every hour. Some suggest for maximum performance taking a 5 minute break every 25 minutes, or 10 minutes every 50 minutes.

Mindfulness belongs in the workplace. Fortune 500 companies are introducing mindfulness into the workplace because they see the results – more present, productive, and happy employees. The good thing about mindfulness is that you can do it anytime and anywhere – and it’s free! You can try mindfulness breathing by simply sitting comfortably, shutting your eyes, and focusing solely on your breath. If you become distracted by your thoughts, just recognize it and gently return your attention to your breath.
Solution: When feeling overwhelmed, stressed, running frantically from one activity to the next, or operating on autopilot, take 1-5 minutes to practice mindfulness to refocus and give your brain the resources it needs to perform at your best.

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Is it Failure, or Opportunity?

Do you remember the opening scene in the movie Jerry Maguire with Dicky Fox who said, “To be honest, in life, I failed as often as I succeeded?” It’s a good reminder that failure may be part of the journey but it doesn’t define us, and often gives us the insight to reach our potential.

How does your workplace perceive failure? A fear of failure may hinder innovation and make employees resistant to trying new things and taking risks. If you maintain a culture that criticizes failure, then will you reach your potential?

Maintaining the status quo might seem safe and not a perceived failure, but it also doesn’t mean success. Are you doing your best to serve your clients/customers? Do you proactively try to improve your processes and programs? Are you willing to change course when you realize you are going down the wrong path?

Failure should not be defeating, but revealing of new opportunities. Each failure provides a learning experience, and each learning experience becomes a building block to a more successful outcome. Success is usually not easy, endures setbacks, and requires persistence and determination. Essentially, the real failure is not trying.

If you reassure employees that mistakes aren’t failures, but opportunities to grow and learn, how will that change your workforce? If you preach that failure is our greatest teacher, how will that get employees to move outside their comfort zones?
Failed ideas not only show initiative, but could be the catalyst to your next big idea – your next success, if you will.

When we fail, we aren’t starting at zero. We now have more information, feedback, and new direction. As Henry Ford shared, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

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Creating a Bring-Your-Dog-To-Work Policy

By Sandra Bennett, LCSW

Studies have shown that allowing dogs in the workplace can reduce work related stress, improve morale, and increase job satisfaction. But prior to allowing employees to bring their pets to work, employers need to set some ground rules and make sure that everyone (people who don’t have pets and/or may be allergic to pet dander) are on board with it.

To help avoid issues that may arise, here are some rules to consider. These rules reference dogs mostly, because that is primarily the focus of the current trend. However, “pets” as used here, can also refer to cats.

1. Make sure no one objects. If it bothers anyone, either because of phobias, allergies or just don’t enjoy having pets around, it won’t work.

2. Check your insurance. Even a well-trained dog can become reactive in an unfamiliar environment and so make sure you’re covered. You might also want to have employees sign paperwork committing to pay for any damage caused by their pet.

3. Designate pet friendly days of the week and communicate the schedule to everyone. Making up a calendar that lets everyone see which pets are scheduled also ensures that pets get along with each other. Or, limiting the number of pets per day which would eliminate the possibility of pets not getting along.

4. Establish pet-free zones. Having pets wander everywhere can be a distraction. And so before you allow employees to bring in their animals, establish some ground rules where pets can roam free and where they should steer clear. Having these areas set up should also take care of ensuring that the office is pet-proofed. Things like cables, cords, and open waste baskets can all be tempting for pets. It also helps if cats and smaller dogs wear a bell so employees know they’re under foot.

5. If your pet is sick, keep him home, especially if there will be other pets on site.
Sick pets spread germs. If your pet is coughing, has a rash or you spotted a flea, keep him home. It may also be prudent to have the employee sign a form stating that their pet is healthy, up to date on vaccines, as well as flea, tick and heartworm treatments.

6. Make sure your pet is well-socialized and comfortable being around other people. A dog that is constantly jumping on new people can be a nuisance. If a pet can’t handle new people, it is best that they are leashed and in an area where they won’t cause any disruption.

7. Pets must be supervised. Employees should only bring their pet to work on days where they are available to keep an eye on them. If an employee is going to be in meetings part or most of the day, perhaps a different date would work better.

8. The pets should not be super hyper. If a dog needs constant stimulation and activity, it will be a distraction to both the employee and those working around them.

9. Come prepared to clean up after your pet. Make sure that everything a dog needs throughout the day is brought. Whether it’s their favorite toy, food or bed, make sure they will be well accommodated so you can work. That also involves bringing plastic bags with ties for dog poop as well as a hair removal brush. Leave the office the same way you found it.

As more companies are allowing employees to bring pets to work it is important for employers to establish boundaries and rules that will ensure success. There are multiple resources available online including templates to assist employers in creating a policy that is fair for all concerned.

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Service Dogs and the Workplace

By Sandra Bennett, LCSW

Until recently when the topic of service dogs came up, most people probably thought of a seeing- eye dog. More recently, the definition has expanded to include many different disabilities, and research is helping us continue to understand and develop ways that dogs can assist people who have unique challenges in their everyday life.

According to the Department of Justice revised ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Title II (which covers state & local government programs) and Title III (which covers businesses, aka, places of public accommodation such as restaurants & retail merchants), the definition of a service animal is as follows:

“A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.”

The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be related to the individual’s disability. The ADA has a lengthy list of examples; however, each state can either broaden or lessen the scope of tasks covered under the act. Under the Indiana Service Dogs Law, and specifically the section titled “Under Public Accommodations Law,” a service animal refers to an animal trained as:

1) A hearing animal;
2) A guide animal;
3) An assistance animal;
4) A seizure alert animal;
5) A mobility animal;
6) A psychiatric service animal; or
7) An autism service animal.

This list is somewhat limited based on the wide array of tasks now being provided by service animals. Legally, these dogs are welcome in places where pet dogs are not. Unfortunately, the practice of non-disabled people passing off pet dogs as service dogs has eroded the rights of real assistance dog handlers especially with invisible disabilities.

Listed below are some specific categories and definitions of service dogs, some being relatively new.

Diabetic alert dogs. Also known as DADs, these dogs can smell changes associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events and alert their humans to blood sugar highs and lows before they become dangerous.

Seizure response dogs. Not to be confused with seizure alert dogs, these dogs are trained to provide help to a person experiencing an epileptic seizure. These dogs can be trained to bark for help or to press an alert system during a person’s seizure. They can also get a person out of an unsafe place as well as bring medicine or a phone to a person coming out of a seizure.

FASD service dogs. As an emerging category of service dogs, these dogs support children who were exposed to alcohol prenatally and have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These children may have physical and mental difficulties as well as behavioral problems. FASD dogs are trained similarly to autism service dogs.

Allergy detection dogs. With the rise in food allergies has come another category of medical service dog. Allergy detection dogs are trained to sniff out and alert their human to such things such as peanuts or gluten. This type of dog provides kids with a greater sense of independence and gives parents a great sense of security.

Other kinds of working dogs, including therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, are not classified as service animals as they are not trained to perform a specific task to help their handlers. In most cases, these kinds of dogs are not afforded the same privileges as other service dogs, although they can provide valuable support in a number of venues.

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Bridging the Gap: Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

Each generation complains about other age groups. The fact that there are differences between generations is nothing new. What IS new today is the magnitude of these differences. It is time to understand and value this diversity so that everyone, manager and employee, Baby Boomer and Millennial, can benefit. Failing to do so can result in failure for everyone. There are predominately three generations co-existing in today’s workplace:

• Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964;
• Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1976; and
• Generation Y, typically referred to as Millennials, born after 1977.

Generational differences create many challenges in the workplace. These challenges can be positive or negative. It’s the manager’s job to make sure that potential rifts are turned into positives. The following are some of the most common differences between generations, and ways to ensure that each group’s talents are recognized, accepted, and maximized.

Different Work Attitudes
One of the most common complaints that Boomers have about Gen Xers and Millennials is that “they don’t have the same work ethic!” Well, they don’t, that’s true. But this doesn’t mean they don’t work. While for many Boomers, work is more of an end in and of itself, Gen Xers and Millennials work to be able to fulfill other, more important (to them) priorities.

To motivate both:
Although different things motivate Gen Xers and Millennials, both age groups need the following:
• Frequent communication, including being told the “why,” not just the “what” of projects and priorities;
• To be included, and not just in what affects them most directly;
• Short-term bonuses, which will work better than long-term rewards; and
• To have fun at work, fun with a capital F!

To motivate Gen Xers:
• Make sure you provide the flexibility needed for them to manage their other priorities, such as dependent children, aging parents, and others. This flexibility can be as simple as providing schedule changes to accommodate these needs. Managers need to understand that these are needs, not wants.
• Give work/life issues more than lip service. Attracting and retaining Gen Xers goes beyond tossing a few family-friendly and flexible work benefits into the ring. While many companies say they offer flexible schedules, the reality is that it often extends only to special circumstances and certain types of work. Also, organizations that want to recruit talented workers need to focus on performance rather than time clocks.
• Consider work/life benefits that appeal most to Gen Xers. These include paid parental leave, sabbaticals, and other options for working parents who need to suspend their careers. The following are some examples:
–Definitions of sabbaticals might include giving people a paid month off or two to explore their own interests, while other employers might offer a longer, unpaid educational leave;
–Allowing non-traditional time off, such as Thursdays instead of weekends; and
–For those interested in community service, integrating volunteer work as a goal on quarterly performance reviews
–Offer plenty of opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. This is the generation that “fuels their fire” through teamwork.
• Provide recognition in ways that connect with what the employee values most. For some, this might be a handwritten, thank-you note for a job well done. Others might be motivated by a tangible gift, such as flowers or gift certificates. Whatever the compensation, short-term, performance-based rewards work better than long-term promises like corner offices and big promotions that may never happen.

To motivate Millennials:
• Give Millennials flexibility in when and where work is done. Millennials resist what they see as rigid workday starting times. They do not understand why coming to work 15 to 30 minutes late is something Boomers view as irresponsible behavior. Also, if you can provide technology that allows them to work at home one or two days a week, all the better!
• Millennials are interested in change and challenge. They will leave a higher paying job for the opportunity to experience something new. They do not see their careers as needing to be linear, and they are right. Remember, these are the workers who will have at least five different careers, not just jobs, over their working lives. Their tenure in a particular job is often no more than two to three years.
• Provide professional development and tuition reimbursement. You’ll enhance your chances of retaining talented Millennials if you offer professional development such as paying for them to attend career-related conferences, and seminars. They think about career advancement a lot, and so should their managers and human resource representatives. Since Millennials may not have families, benefits are often not as important as enabling them to develop new skills and offering opportunities for advancement. Another retention tool is to help talented Millennials pay off student loans or offer tuition reimbursement. Benefits like these are likely to have immediate appeal to younger professionals who have spent most of their lives receiving education and envision a path of lifetime learning.
• Like Gen Xers, short-term rewards based on job performance are a good retention tool for this age group. Immediate gratification is effective for young workers who grew up playing video games. As a result, award bonuses are very important to Gen Yers. Of greater importance are strategies that help employers build bridges to longer tenures that Millennials may not envision on their own. Companies should ask themselves, “Can we put in smaller steps up (the ladder), not just a big promotion every five years?”
• Do not interpret Millennials’ rebellious nature as negative. Let them vent, don’t take it personal, and by all means avoid “writing them up” unless circumstances really warrant it. Remember, this is the generation that will not only challenge, but also change much of what needs to be changed in the workplace.

To motivate Boomers:
• Offer position, power, and prestige. Boomers are often traditionalists, and perks of the position matter. They want titles and authority commensurate with responsibility.
• Allow Boomers to participate in associations and conventions that keep them professionally connected to their peers. Working together on professional projects in affiliates motivates Boomers with colleagues.
• Offer long-term compensations. Older workers are often more interested in profit sharing, 401Ks, and healthcare benefits, including long-term care.

Different Sets of Commitments/Loyalties
Boomers have always been seen as being loyal to their companies. They feel a sense of belonging and dedication based on their work history. Gen Xers and Millennials usually don’t feel this way. They are more focused on the present and the future. They have little problem with going elsewhere when a better opportunity comes along. But while this may be interpreted as being disloyal to their current company, this isn’t necessarily true. Younger workers can be very committed to their work, just not to a particular job. They will do what is required, but not because of a sense of belonging based on tenure, but because they find meaning in the work. They need to feel that they are making a difference in their work.

So, how can managers motivate workers whose loyalty lies within? The answer is simple, although the solutions aren’t always easy to provide. To motivate Gen X and Gen Y, directly connect the job to their interests, and make sure they find meaning and fun (yes, fun!) in their work.

Providing fun in the workplace does not meaning goofing off or wasting time! Examples include:
• Provide regular social outings, such as sports events, picnics, etc. Be sure that the activities are a good fit with the culture and interests of the co-workers. Make sure that these events are optional – not everyone will be interested.
• Celebrate successes. Throw a late afternoon party at a favorite watering hole when an important project is completed, or even throw a party for no reason at all from time to time. When an employee has an important occasion, such as a school graduation, new baby, or new house, celebrate with them. Vary the celebrations, so surprises can accentuate the fun. Again, make these events optional, so that those who aren’t interested in these types of activities aren’t made to feel that they’re not part of the group.
• Do something really different. What about closing the office unexpectedly for an hour or two occasionally?

Try some of these ideas for managing different generations differently, and you may be able to avoid the revolving door syndrome that is costly in terms of advertising, recruiting, hiring, and training. Consider these activities part of “talent management.”

Each generation of workers requires a different set of standards for motivation. In order for a company to be successful, all co-existing generations in the workplace need to understand and value each other, even when their perspectives and goals are different. Management plays a key role in how different generations will interact together.

Rather than focusing on a quick solution, employees and managers alike need to spend some time with co-workers in order to better learn their perspectives and goals. Then, everyone will be in a better position to capitalize on the strengths that each age group brings to the workplace. 

Sources: EAP Report Brown Bagger, December 2016 (part of the Employee Assistance Report, Vol. 19, No. 12): Patti Fralix, author of “How to Thrive in Spite of Mess, Stress and Less”; and Workforce Insights, an online resource center about emerging labor trends produced by Veritude (, a provider of strategic human resources. Veritude, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fidelity Investments, serves clients throughout the U.S. and Canada. © 2006 Veritude, LLC. Reprinted with permission.

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If Your Organization Isn’t Doing So Already, Consider Mentoring

Millennials are typically more interested than previous generations in finding a mentor. They have grown up with the notion that one must constantly seek the advice of someone else. This has especially been true since the advent of social media.

But Millennials typically want mentoring to be more of a two-way road than it’s been in the past. Today’s workplaces have seen the rise of “reverse mentoring” in which younger people typically mentor the older worker 20% of the time while the more experienced employee advises the younger person roughly 80% of the time.

Boomers and Millennials need to embrace reverse mentoring. It is part of the postmodern worldview that they have been raised with; they believe that their ideas are important and valuable. If you don’t listen, Millennials aren’t likely to respect you.

Consider: You have invaluable knowledge that demands to be shared, but in this technological age so do Millennials! They typically understand emerging technologies and social media trends better than older generations, and they can often teach us more than a thing or two.

Karl Moore, a writer and mentor, adds, “As a manager, I have to make a point of giving more thought to providing more feedback than to previous generations of workers. It used to be more of an afterthought, but today I must more actively spend time thinking about not only a couple of points of feedback, but four or five pieces of feedback.”

Further, Millennials are used to searching for and choosing their own mentors. In fact, mandatory corporate mentoring programs are likely to feel forced and unauthentic. Millennials are more likely to find it difficult to connect with an individual that they do not personally deem relevant.

Rather than focus on your differences, why not join forces? Step up to the plate, embrace a mentoring role, and accept whoever comes forward. Identify and utilize each other’s strengths. Millennials are the inevitable leaders of tomorrow and older workers have the ability to nourish the growth of these young employees. As the saying goes, it’s a real win-win.

Source: EAP Report Brown Bagger, December 2016 (part of the Employee Assistance Report, Volume 19, No. 12)

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Does EAP Say it All? A Holistic Approach to Overall Wellness

Does EAP really say it all? Does the industry name really reflect what an EAP does? We tend to think no. Oftentimes when you tell someone you work for an EAP, they typically think you find people jobs. That may seem like a logical assumption, but it makes me wonder why it is not a more recognized term as the majority of companies offer EAPs.

And although the mission of an EAP is to help create a healthy, positive, and productive workforce, many don’t consider the EAP for overall wellness. Wellness consists of more than just physical health. And, an EAP works with individuals on more than just emotional/behavioral health. We are made up of many parts, and each is important to our well-being and overall life satisfaction. If you think that you have to be experiencing a major problem or your life has to be falling apart, rethink how to use the EAP to address the many areas of wellness.

The National Wellness Institute identifies six dimensions of wellness. The EAP shares how it can assist in each of these wellness areas:

Social Wellness – establishing and maintaining positive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.
Why access the EAP: The EAP can help you improve communication skills; work on creating healthier relationships; find ways to get along better with co-workers or your boss; and identify how to enhance your social wellness by avoiding isolation, setting boundaries, and finding ways to make sure you get the social interaction you need to maximize health.

Emotional Wellness – increasing one’s self-awareness, being able to share feelings in a productive way, and coping better with life’s challenges.
Why access the EAP: Gain a better insight to what you are experiencing and feeling; learn to better communicate your feelings; find strategies to better cope with unexpected events such as loss and grief; better manage stress, anxiety, or depressed feelings; and identify what other areas may be affecting your emotional wellness.

Spiritual Wellness – living a life of purpose based on one’s beliefs and values.
Why access the EAP: Explore your sense of purpose, what it means to your beliefs and values, and how to best fulfill your purpose in life.

Occupational Wellness – engaging and contributing fully to one’s job, meeting career goals, as well as working toward the organization’s overall mission and those they may serve.
Why access the EAP: Learn ways to become a more effective employee or manager by identifying areas of enhancement such as: communication, time management, concentration and focus, being more productive, leadership skills, collaboration and teamwork, decision-making skills, problem-solving, resolving conflict, and how to pursue your ultimate career goals.

Intellectual Wellness – the desire to learn and increase knowledge, improve one’s skills, and seek challenges in pursuit of lifelong learning.
Why access the EAP: The EAP has many online resources that can encourage learning on a variety of subjects in the forms of articles, health assessments, financial calculators, skill builders, links to additional resource sites, and more. The EAP offers onsite and online trainings.

Physical Wellness – living a healthy lifestyle to perform daily activities (whether at work or at home) without undue fatigue or physical stress, adopt healthy habits (routine check-ups, a balanced diet, exercise, etc.), while avoiding unhealthy habits (tobacco, drugs, alcohol, etc.).
Why access the EAP: Statistics have shown that an estimated 75-90% of doctor visits are due to stress. Certain health conditions are known to increase the risk of depression, and substance abusers are among the highest users of healthcare. The EAP can be a preventive measure to decrease risk for stress-related health conditions, identify non-compliance with current treatment recommendations, and help individuals develop plans to reduce barriers and increase success for better physical health.

There are also other areas of wellness one should consider:

Financial Wellness – experience minimal financial stress by avoiding debt, living within means, having a safety net with savings, and a clear plan to meet financial goals.
Why access the EAP: There are financial tools provided within the online Work/Life resource, as well as financial counseling based on your company’s add-on service.

Legal Wellness – identifying areas where one needs to better protect themselves under the law (consumer and credit protection, insurance, identify theft, estate planning).
Why access the EAP: There are legal forms available within the Work/Life online resource, as well as access to legal consultation based on your company’s add-on service.

Hopefully, reviewing these areas of wellness and how the EAP can help will broaden the view of some who may think the EAP has a more narrow view or is not for them. Most are open to wellness and the EAP is a confidential and free resource to help employees and their household members work toward their overall wellness.

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Things More Managers Need to Do

By Bernard Marr

The gulf between manager and employee can often seem impossibly wide. Yet employees in these situations rarely feel empowered to offer criticism (even constructive criticism) to their superiors at work. But what would they say if they could? Tiny Pulse asked 1,000 workers what they would change about their managers, and many of the answers came down to interpersonal skills.

Unfortunately, people are often promoted based on their hard skills rather than soft skills. In my experience, I’ve seen eight distinct things employees tend to wish their managers would do more:

1. Communicate
It’s the number one thing employees complain about when it comes to management: lack of communication. This includes communicating expectations, goals, deadlines, metrics, and more. If you can’t communicate, you aren’t going to be an effective manager.

2. Lead
It may sound redundant, but a manager needs to actively lead the team, not just hope things happen the way they’re supposed to. This includes having a strong vision for projects, holding regular check-ins, and keeping employees accountable.

3. Buffer
Great managers help buffer their teams from outside forces. This includes protecting the team from outside threats and losses, and removing barriers and obstacles that appear in the way of achieving the team goal.

4. Procure resources
Another main job of a manager is to ensure that the team has everything it needs to meet the goals. This could include financial and material resources, but also getting answers or input from other departments, getting more time for certain projects, or getting buy in from other departments.

5. Connect
A great manager is also a connector who helps people communicate and connect in smart ways. They facilitate relationship building both inside the team and outside the team with other key players.

6. Praise
A little thank you can go a long way when it comes to keeping employees happy. Managers who notice when things are done well and thank or praise the responsible parties are much more likely to be well liked and trusted.

7. Train
Most employees want to move up in the company or in their careers, and managers should take the role of helping to train and educate employees so that they can do their best now and in the future. If you’re not available or qualified to train in a particular field, open up possibilities for your employees to take seminars or online courses to improve — and encourage continuing education.

8. Trust
Micromanagement is one problem that will quickly erode employee satisfaction. Employees want to know you respect them enough to give them an important project, and that you trust them enough to do it. Be there to help as necessary, but allow the employee to figure it out. That shows great trust. Of course, employees might also wish they could get a raise, or make other changes that are beyond a manager’s direct control, but these eight qualities show up again and again in the great managers I’ve known and studied.

Source: Employee Assistance Report Lifestyle Tips Insert, Vol. 11 No. 12. Bernard Marr is a keynote speaker, best-selling author, and a regular contributor to LinkedIn and “Forbes” magazine.

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Determining Your Boss’s Communication Style

We all communicate a little differently, and nowhere is that more important than in interactions between bosses and employees. As employees engage with their boss in everyday activities, it’s important to identify the messages behind their speech and behavior. Words and deeds matter, of course, but the values that underlie them often mean more. Listening with a keen ear and observing with a sharp eye can make all the difference in understanding, not just labeling, a particular manager’s communication style.

‘My Door is Always Open’
Consider the statement “My door is always open,” a statement that many bosses say to the employees who report directly to them. Simple, right? In reality, this seemingly transparent sentence can have a variety of meanings. Here are three examples:

When she says, “My door is always open,” Jamie means it literally. To foster honesty and camaraderie, she wants people to feel free to approach her in person at any time. It invigorates her when an employee has an idea and spontaneously pops into her office to share it. When a problem arises, she wants to hear about it immediately, because it reassures her that everyone is working as a team. She bristles when people who come in to speak to her close the door behind them. Indeed, she worries that colleagues will see a shut door as evidence of hypocrisy. If Jamie must talk with someone in complete privacy, she reserves a meeting room.

Josh’s “open-door policy” is one that he expects people to observe in spirit, but not in absolute terms. The door to his office is open roughly 90% of the time, but when a deadline is imminent, he shuts it so he can concentrate, especially if he is writing. He wants people to see him as easy to approach and “always available,” but he views email and team meetings as legitimate ways for people to reach him. If someone considered him a hypocrite for shutting his door once in a while, Josh would think that this person lacked common sense.

Debra works in a cubicle with low walls, as do her employees, so she doesn’t even have a door. To her, an “open door” is merely a metaphor for how colleagues work together. She doesn’t want people to fear making mistakes, even in front of her. But she also places a high premium on giving folks the mental space to do their work quietly and to consider proposals deliberately before acting on them. She wants employees to share novel ideas but expects them to submit those in writing before asking other people to react. To Debra, an open door does not mean an “instant response,” a phrase that she often uses when describing slipshod work.

As varied as these “open door” interpretations are, at least Jamie, Josh, and Debra give their employees something to go on. Some managers don’t even have an explicit policy about how—and how often—to communicate with them.

Three Key Questions
Whatever your manager’s preferred style of communication, an employee will probably need to do a little investigating to figure it out. Again using the examples of Jamie, Josh, and Debra, let’s start by asking these questions:
• Is Jamie a listener or a reader? Listeners want to hear information first and read about it later. Readers prefer to see a written report before discussing it with someone.
• Does Josh prefer detailed facts and figures or just an overview? If he thrives on details, focus primarily on accuracy and completeness; if he prefers an overview, emphasize the clarity and crispness of the main idea.
• How often does Debra want to receive information? Your manager may always want to receive updates at specified junctures or she may have different thresholds for each project, such as daily reporting on critical endeavors and periodic updates on secondary tasks.

Tips for Efficiency
Every conversation or other interaction with a manager has implications for productivity. These tips will help any employee to be more efficient:
• When discussing deadlines, use specific language. Pinpoint a certain date—even a specific hour, if applicable. Avoid vague commitments like “sometime next week,” “ASAP,” or “as soon as we can get to it.”
• Be honest about what you can and cannot handle. When you commit to an assignment, clearly identify what resources you need to get the job done.
• Explicitly identify your objectives each time you communicate with your manager.
• Ask questions to clarify what you don’t understand. Inquire about opportunities for follow up in case you think of other questions later.

Strengthening a Relationship with a Boss
• Put yourself in their shoes. Figure out the challenges your boss will encounter that day and be prepared to offer solutions. Anticipate the questions that your supervisor may ask about your work or a project and have thoughtful answers or next steps for them to take. Thinking ahead shows that you’re an invaluable team member. Remember that bosses have a job to do, just like you. There’s a lot about their job that you don’t know about or see, so don’ t assume that they’re out to get you. Sometimes they act a certain way for a reason –perhaps their boss is putting a lot of pressure on them – so try to be understanding.
• Demonstrate value. They hired you for a reason, so make sure that you’re adding value to the organization and/or position. Bosses want employees not only to agree with them, but also be willing to speak up about the realities and challenges in the business that need to be addressed. Be the person that speaks with facts, confidence, and reasonable suggestions that produce results. This builds your boss’s confidence in you.
• Do whatever it takes to make your boss look good. Everyone cares about their work reputation, or at least they should. If you can make your boss look good, they will be happy – and if they’re happy, you’ll be happy. This also means that you shouldn’t correct your boss in front of others. There is almost nothing worse for a boss than to have a subordinate correct them in front of other people. This is embarrassing for them, even if they are wrong. You’re better off mentioning their mistake after people leave.
• Know how to communicate with your boss. This point is particularly crucial for many of us. Does your supervisor like one or two sentence emails or prefer a detailed account of what’s going on? Does she want to receive an outline of where your project stands, or do you need to provide all of the details? Learn how your supervisor likes to communicate and receive communication, and then mimic this style.
• Recognize when to communicate with your boss. This is a point that’s easy to overlook. You should ask yourself questions like: “What time of day would my boss prefer to answer questions I might have?” and “What day of the week is the best time to approach him?” If your boss is a notoriously slow starter, and you’re an early bird, curb your enthusiasm and wait until your boss has had his second cup of Joe before approaching him about a given problem. In terms of a certain day, what if he has an important board meeting on alternating Wednesdays? Then that’s probably not a good day to approach him – at least if you can avoid it. If the interruption can’t be helped, then say something like, “Josh, I know you have an important meeting tonight, but this can’t wait. Do you have a few minutes, or should I come back later?” Sounds simple enough, but knowing something about your boss’s schedule in advance can greatly improve – or sour – an employee-boss relationship.
• Ask for feedback. Don’t assume that your work isn’t valued because your supervisor is juggling multiple deliverables and not spending as much time with you as you’d like. Too many people shy away from speaking up for fear of the unknown. Ideally your manager should already be providing feedback but this is your career so don’t be afraid to take the driver’s seat.
• Offer to help. Many bosses have a full plate, and sometimes will not speak up about needing help. So during a conversation, ask them if they need a hand with anything. We all feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Demonstrating that you’re willing and able to take on more is one of the best ways to position yourself for advancement. And who knows, you might get the opportunity to tackle a project that will let you learn new skills, earn new fans in the organization, and position yourself for bigger and better opportunities.
• Stay above office politics and gossip. Your behavior reflects on your manager, so avoid snarky commentary, and when in doubt, be circumspect. Whether you think you can trust co-workers or not, it’s best to never engage in gossip about your boss, nor anyone else for that matter. Word always gets out when you do, which can weaken your relationship with your boss and peers.
• Show your boss respect. Even if you don’t like your boss, respect them. Chances are they’ve earned their position for a reason. Whether you like it or not, they are your supervisor. They’re higher up in the food chain than you and if you disrespect them in any way, this will definitely hurt your relationship.
• Be honest and open. If you are honest and communicate openly with your supervisor, this will help build transparency and trust in the relationship. Some business experts suggest scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly phone or in-person meeting (15 to 30 minutes). Use this time to build rapport, share progress and seek advice. If possible, try to get out of the office for lunch or coffee every so often, too.

When it’s all said and done, it’s about building trust within the relationship between you and your supervisor. Employees need their supervisors to be a mentor, cheerleader, go-to person, and advocate. Instilling trust can make each of these things happen.

Source: November 2016 EA Report Brown Bagger : Harvard Business Review (Employee Assistance Report, Vol 19 No 11), “14 Tips for Improving Your Relationship With Your Boss,” Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes magazine.

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Increase the Holiday Spirit, Not the Stress

If signs of the holidays are already making you sweat, take the time now to adopt a plan that will reduce the stress and highlight the spirit of the holidays. Here are some tips to get started.

Get a Handle on Your Biggest Holiday Stressors
Do you tend to overschedule, procrastinate, overspend, have unrealistic expectations, or eat way too many holiday cookies? List the things that give you the most stress. Determine if they are a “must” or if you can make life a little easier on yourself by approaching these holiday stressors in a more proactive and healthy way.

Determine Your Priorities
Take the time to schedule your priorities. To do so, first list all your priorities from the most important to the least important based on necessity and what makes the season most meaningful. Take each one and assign it to someone and set a deadline. Seeing what is at the bottom of the list might help you shave things off. Involving others might make you realize that things that once seemed important are not so much anymore. This will help those that tend to overextend themselves. Procrastinators will benefit from starting early, pacing themselves, and adding some fun to those things they dread most.

Avoid Hectic Schedules
Sit down with family and discuss your calendar. Choose which events are the most special and eliminate those that are no longer as special. You don’t have to be going 24/7 during the holidays. To keep a regular schedule, determine what holiday tasks that you can fit into your existing routine and tackle one big task at a time. Don’t forget to rest and avoid the hustle and bustle that can get in the way of being present and enjoying the holiday moments.

Set a Budget
Do you know how much you devote to the holidays or do you endure the shock when you see your bank statement and credit card bills? We typically think about the cost of gifts for loved ones, but do you consider all the expenses? Adding up the cost of work gift exchanges; gifts for teachers, babysitters, or hostesses; charitable donations; hosting a dinner or party; decorations; holiday cards; gift boxes and wrapping; shipping and postage, and gas to travel out of town can be surprising. Setting a realistic budget will not only help you spend within your means, but it will help you figure out how much you need to save throughout the year so that you are not swiping that credit card. You might find that you need to cut back. Think of creative gift giving such as the gift of time, avoid impulse buying, and take the time to search for those deals.

Don’t Abandon Healthy Foods and Exercise
Holidays are times to enjoy good food with family and friends. But you don’t have to abandon healthy eating and exercise all together. Practice moderation by enjoying holiday foods on the specific holiday. Choose the foods you love and pass on the ones you don’t. Have healthy snacks available so you don’t grab sugary or fatty alternatives. And don’t forget to incorporate physical activity into your schedule. Make an appointment on your calendar like you would do any appointment and keep it.

Fight the Blues
Not everyone feels cheerful during the holidays. For some, it can be sad and lonely due to a loss of a loved one, being far from family, or difficult memories. This can sometimes leave people isolating themselves and avoiding interaction with others. If this is you, commit to attending some holiday events or celebrations. Find out who else might be alone during the holidays and have your own get together. Volunteer for a local charity; this not only puts things in perspective, but can lift one’s mood.

Navigating Family Conflict
If you don’t want to avoid your family during the holidays, but you do want to avoid conflict, ask those members if you can agree to set aside differences for the holidays. Stay away from controversial subjects, avoid criticizing, and be ready with a polite response if you are typically the receiver of criticisms. Know when to take a break.

A Time for Gratitude
The holidays are not like the movies or a picture in a magazine. Expecting too much from yourself and others can lead to disappointment. Evaluate your expectations and determine if they are realistic or not, if they are yours or someone else’s, if they are still feasible, and if they are within your control. Too much time working toward that perfect holiday might prevent you from really experiencing it. Instead, focus on what you are grateful for this season and write it down. You can then review your list or add to it if you find yourself back in the trap of what should be or what should have been.

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