Conflict Guidelines in the Workplace

The following are some practical suggestions for workplace conflict:

One person versus the team: This is usually a situation in which one person “loses control” when stressed. Over time, co-workers avoid giving feedback, fearing an angry reaction. The best results occur when the manager gets involved. The manager provides the missing feedback, lets the person know that he/she is having a negative impact on the team, and outlines a performance improvement plan.

The plan often includes webinars/seminars and visits for personalized education and coaching. Follow up with the manager is key, as are encouraging people to come back for additional coaching if needed.

Two individuals who can’t get along: Misunderstandings happen, negative assumptions are formed, and both people conclude that the other person is “not a team player.” They spend time talking to other co-workers about how difficult it is to work with him/her, avoid each other, and the conflict creates a negative environment for everyone.

In these cases, the best outcomes happen when a manager or other business leader invites an EA professional to facilitate and let the two people know that their current working relationship is not acceptable. Use a structured process that helps both people feel heard and understood, and provide coaching on feedback and listening skills as needed. Follow up by the manager is essential for success.

A team is fractured: Individuals can’t get along, the manager either makes mistakes in handling the situation or feels overwhelmed, and team productivity and morale hits an all-time low. When asked to facilitate these situations, it is usually only after higher levels in the organization and/or HR have been involved. Record what the team sees as the positives and negatives of the situation.

Then, outline a “desired state” for the team, listing positive behaviors and the resulting positive environment. The final step is for the team to create guidelines that will bring about an improved situation.

Instruction on how to listen or offer feedback may be necessary. Follow up is a shared responsibility among the team, the team leader, and the manager of that unit or department.

Source: Joan Murray, MBA. At the time of this writing, Joan was a development specialist at Concord Hospital in Concord, NH. Included in EA Report (Vol. 20, No. 8) Brown Bagger August 2017 (

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Keeping Cool: Anger, Conflict Tips

Anger is a powerful emotion. It can energize us to right a wrong, fight a righteous battle, and address important issues in relationships. When we keep our cool, anger can even be beneficial. But when we allow our emotions to boil over, we are likely to create tension, conflict, or even worse. When it comes to the workplace, important questions include:

• How and when is anger a problem in an employee’s life?
• How is anger affecting productivity?
• How can anger be expressed in a more positive manner?

When someone expresses anger only occasionally, the impact will probably be only fleeting. Any transgressions will likely be forgiven. However, when anger is expressed inappropriately over and over, the effect will likely be greater and last longer – and conflicts will invariably increase. Eventually, the employee’s job may be threatened.

The Cases of Marcy and Sam
Let’s take the example of “Marcy.” Marcy’s feelings over how slow her son got going in the morning did not blow away easily. She often left the house so irritated that her drive to work was very stressful, which set the stage for her first encounter at the office. Her secretary dreaded Marcy’s frustration and mood. Once triggered, Marcy’s anger was intense and lasted a long time.

Marcy found it difficult to concentrate on work when she was irritated, causing her to fall behind. Her team’s performance was set back when several co-workers decided they couldn’t work with her due to her outbursts.

Similarly, “Sam’s” withdrawal from his fiancée was hard to turn off. He seemed unable to quickly move beyond what had angered him in the first place. Sam found that his withdrawal from his co-workers made it hard for him to keep up with new developments at work. As others felt distant from him, they were less likely to open up or invite him to be a part of team meetings. When you’re angry, make a point of noticing how intense the anger becomes and how long it lasts. Chances are that others are watching!

Research shows that when stress rises beyond a moderate level, performance rapidly deteriorates. Unresolved anger is like a silent brake, taking a toll that the individual may not even be aware of.

Is Anger a Problem?
By better understanding anger, it will become easier to determine how it is affecting a given individual. It may not be easy to control anger, but recognizing how anger can quickly lead to conflict that was often avoidable, it is vital for the employee to be aware of warning signs so that he/she can better deal with emotions – so that “Sam” can control his anger, and his anger isn’t controlling him.

The following are warning signs that Sam’s anger has become a problem:
• Others comment on Sam’s reaction to stressful situation or criticize his behavior. Most people will not readily discuss their feelings about someone’s actions, so when they do, it usually means the problem is relatively serious.
• Sam feels embarrassed following an outburst of anger. It’s important to not ignore inner feelings that one may have stepped over the line. These feelings may be valid.
• A relationship Sam values is strained or lost. Another person may seek Sam out less or even sever a friendship or other tie. Has anyone explored why the relationship is cooling?
• Sam has an indignant, “Who, me?” response. However, others begin complaining that Sam’s anger is a problem.
• Sam’s boss, wife, etc., has warned him about his outbursts. In other words, he has been told several times that his most recent blow-up was the last straw. He has to do something about the problem – or else.
• Sam is increasingly irritable. Sam has been exhausted and irritable and often snaps back at others, and then regrets it.
• When Sam gets angry, he holds it all inside. Then, when asked if something is wrong, Sam responds: “No, nothing. I’m fine.”
• Sam can be downright sarcastic when someone irritates him. For instance, he tells a personal and embarrassing story about a person or makes fun at his or her expense. Then, he feels that this individual is overreacting – when the real issue is that he’s angry and doesn’t want to admit it.
• Sam sometimes responds only minimally or avoids speaking entirely with a colleague at work, friend, etc. this may occur for days at a time when he is angry. He may even enjoy making other people guess what’s wrong.

If Sam sounds a lot like someone you know, don’t be alarmed. It’s not an individual’s personality that is the problem, it’s what this person does when angry that needs to be changed.

Tips for Successful Workplace Resolutions:
1. Agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
2. State your thoughts, feelings, etc. in the “I” form: “I think,” “I feel…” etc.
3. State the situation positively. “I appreciate it when you clean up your work station.”
4. Listen without commenting, defending yourself, or arguing.
5. Discuss current details.
6. Be ready to be wrong – or equally guilty.
7. Try to understand the other person’s point of view.
8. Take a break from the situation, if necessary.
More Tips: Choose Your Words Wisely
1. Be honest. As noted start with statements like “I feel…”
2. Be aware that you might be misunderstood. Ask questions.
3. Be open.
4. Be creative. Humor helps.
5. Be specific. The other person may not understand.
6. Be sensitive to the other person’s reactions.
7. Be expressive when you listen. Use verbal and non-verbal feedback.
8. Be patient. Interruptions can be irritating.
9. Offer reassurances that you are truly interested in the situation.

Assertive Problem Solving
One of the best ways for keeping cool under fire involves assertive problem solving so conflict can be defused and solutions to differences worked out in a positive, non-threatening fashion. Assertiveness is often described as a clear, bold, and informative statement of your position that is not threatening or aggressive. Problem solving is a way of finding the best solution to a given problem. Using assertive problem solving to successfully resolve workplace conflicts includes:

• Defining the problem in behavioral language so that another person can understand it.
• Mutually brainstorming different potential solutions.
• Selecting the solution that both parties agree is best, after thoughtful discussion of costs and benefits.

Assertive problem solving combines assertiveness and problem solving to ensure that two people not only talk through a problem calmly but also craft a solution that meets the needs of both.

Don’t accuse and criticize. Listen to each other without interrupting to share ideas and feelings about the issue in dispute. Use a calm tone to restate ideas and offer new ones. As an issue is a problem-solved, each will feel respected by the other. Here are some additional suggestions:

Voice – What you say can invite calm discussion, or it can prevent it. How you say something is important. Avoid interrupting – the focus needs to be on understanding the other person. If there is confusion, ask for clarification of feelings or the other person’s position. Paraphrase the other person’s feelings, thoughts, and needs at appropriate times and always before you state your own position.

Tone and loudness – Keep your voice even, showing interest. Don’t raise your voice even if the other person does.

Body language – Remember that we often communicate without words! Look at the other person and demonstrate interest. Avoid facial negatives like eye rolling or frowning. Position yourself to fully face the other individual, sit comfortably (if sitting), and lean forward a little to show involvement.

Use smooth movements and gestures. Sit in a “receptive” position with arms uncrossed. Avoid nonverbal negatives like shaking your head “no” as the other person talks. Nod affirmation that you are listening or agree when appropriate.

Changing the thoughts and expectations that fuel anger is not easy. How an individual expresses his or her anger does not spring up overnight, and strategies for dealing with these feelings won’t happen overnight either.

It is also important to point out that while getting new behavior started isn’t easy, it is often easier than sustaining it. Strategies need to be reinforced so they work with the going gets tough. When roadblocks or setbacks occur, it’s important to reassess and adjust your efforts.

However, the strategies and suggestions used in this article are designed as helpful tools to get started in successful conflict resolution.

Source: “Taking Charge of Anger: How to Resolve Conflict, Sustain Relationships, and Express Yourself without Losing Control”, by W. Robert Nay, PhD, © 2004, © Guilford Press. EA Report (Vol. 20, No. 8) Brown Bagger August 2017 (

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The Tremendous Effect of Drinking on the Workplace

The use of alcohol or other drugs can have a tremendous effect on both an individual’s personal and work life. When someone you care about is abusing a drug, it is difficult to watch this individual destroy relationships and job security. It can be risky to bring these issues to someone’s attention, but it may also be what the person needs to help them begin to make some changes.

Roughly 14 million Americans – or about one in every 13 adults – abuse alcohol or are alcoholics. Throw in the percentage of people who are using illicit drugs exclusively, and the problem clearly is significant.

By occupation, the highest rates of alcohol or other drug use occur in the following fields, many of which are dominated by men: construction, automobile repair, food preparation, truck drivers, and laborers.

The lowest rates are found in the following jobs: data clerks, personnel specialists, administrative assistants, teachers, childcare workers, and police officers and detectives.

Common Drinking Problems
The following are the most common types of drinking problems:

Binge drinking – This is typically defined as the consumption of five or more drinks at one sitting for men, and three or more drinks at one sitting for women. Binge drinking is most common among young adults 18-21.

Alcohol abuse – Abuse often results in impaired performance on the job, neglect of childcare or other responsibilities, legal difficulties, and alcohol consumption in dangerous circumstances such as while driving.

Alcohol dependence – This is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes a strong need to drink despite repeated social or interpersonal problems such as losing a job or deteriorating relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. Alcohol dependence – or alcoholism – is the most severe alcohol problem and is characterized by three of the seven symptoms listed below, over a one-year period:

Neglect of activities – Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are eliminated or reduced because of alcohol use.
Excessive use – Alcohol is consumed in larger amounts over a longer period than intended.
Impaired control – Ongoing, unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol consumption.
Persistent use – Alcohol consumption is continued despite having a persistent or recurrent physical psychological problem that is likely caused or made worse by alcohol.
Large amounts of time spent in alcohol-related activities – A great deal of time is spent in activities to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of alcohol.
Withdrawal – Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety are present when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
Tolerance – This is the need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel its effects.

The Workplace Suffers in Significant Ways
But isn’t alcohol use a personal issue? Actually, a drinking or drug abuse problem may have a significant effect on a workplace. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a leading treatment center and recovery community, one-third of employees thought a co-worker’s job performance was affected by drug or alcohol abuse.

Co-workers may feel compassion for the individual and cover for him, especially at first, but ultimately they may come to resent this person. Interestingly, co-workers are not likely to bring up the subject with the individual. In fact, Hazelden Betty Ford reported that fewer than one in five had discussed the problem with the employee and his or her manager or supervisor.

This doesn’t mean that supervisors don’t have a clue what is going on. According to a Hazelden Betty Ford workplace addiction survey, over 60% of HR professionals said they believe addiction significantly affects employees in their workplaces.

In fact, the National Institute on Health estimates that alcohol use costs companies $27 billion annually in lost productivity, and some estimates are even higher than that. Put another way, CEOs estimate that the use of alcohol and other drugs cost them 1% to 10% of payroll.

Alcohol also has a tremendous impact on individuals. For instance, the non-alcoholic family of an alcoholic employee use 10 times as much sick leave as families in which alcoholism is not present. In addition, individuals with alcoholism or other drinking problems suffer lost wages ranging from 1.5% to nearly 19% compared to non-drinkers. Alcohol also plays a role in nearly half (41%) of traffic fatalities and 50% of homicides.

Signs and Symptoms
Despite the problems that alcohol and other drugs can cause in the workplace, there remains a surprising lack of information about steps that can be taken to help resolve the situation. For example, over half (54%) of respondents to the previously mentioned survey reported not knowing how to identify addiction.

It should be pointed out that work performance, not the clinical diagnosis of a drinking or other drug abuse problem, is the responsibility of the manager or supervisor. A key part of every supervisor’s job is to remain alert to changes in employee performance and to work with the employee.

Therefore, the following signs and symptoms should only be considered as guidelines to a possible alcohol or other drug problem – not as proof. Conclusions should always be based on facts, not assumptions.

• Increase in mistakes or inconsistency in quality of work;
• Poor concentration;
• Decrease in productivity;
• Increased absenteeism;
• Unexplained disappearances from work;
• Poor judgment;
• Increased risk taking;
• Disregard for safety;
• Extended lunch and other breaks; and
• Leaving work early.

• Financial problems;
• Avoiding family, friends, and co-workers;
• Complaints about personal problems;
• Deterioration in physical appearance;
• Changes in attitude;
• Borrowing money from friends or co-workers;
• Stealing items from work or friends;
• Vague physical complaints; and
• Association with known drug users.

Additional Signs of Possible Alcohol Abuse:
• Odor on breath;
• Difficulty focusing, glazed eyes;
• Uncharacteristically passive behavior;
• Combative or argumentative behavior;
• Unexplained bruises and accidents;
• Absence on Mondays;
• Irritability;
• Flushed skin and slurred speech;
• Loss of memory or blackouts;
• Impaired personal relationships;
• Consumption of alcohol becomes main point of social and professional activities; and
• Drinking alcohol to get over a hangover.

Accessing Treatment
Even if the individual and his or her supervisor are aware of drinking or other drug problems, directing the employee into treatment is yet another barrier. More than one third (36%) of respondents to the previously mentioned survey said they don’t know how to get treatment. This is surprising since most (89%) of survey respondents believe that addiction treatment programs are effective in helping employees beat addiction. What can be done to help bridge this gap? The following are some ideas:

Don’t assume that the individual will seek treatment. Surveys reveal that many employees won’t seek treatment on their own. One possible reason lies in the fact that men typically derive a great deal of their self-esteem from work. As a result, many men will try to keep any work-related problem a secret. Therefore, it’s important that the employees know that help is available. Ask something like, “Can I tell you about EAP benefits?”

Increase awareness. Do managers and supervisors understand that EAPs are available to help employees with addiction problems? Tell them what the EAP is about and how it can help. (Editor’s note: In some cases, it may be the manager or supervisor with an addiction problem. The EAP can frequently help in these situations as well.)

Use absenteeism as an opportunity to speak with the employee. Since absenteeism is common with addicted employees, take advantage of this opportunity to confront the individual in a straightforward, yet caring manner. Ask questions such as: “You don’t look well. Are you seeing anyone about it?” Or you might try, “Your productivity has really slipped lately. This is serious.”

Is Treatment Too Expensive?
Let’s assume you’ve identified an employee with an alcohol or other substance abuse problem, and he or she is willing to seek treatment. What then? It’s crucial to note that as opposed to firing the individual, treatment can actually save companies money.

The Chevron corporation estimates that it saves $10 for every dollar it spends to treat employees with substance abuse problems. Then, of course, there is the high cost to employers caused by lost productivity, absenteeism, etc. Treatment also benefits society. Before treatment, roughly 37% of patients report having been arrested, but after treatment, the number drops substantially, to about 6%.

“People sometimes make bad decisions, but if they have the right skill sets and work ethic, they could be an asset to a business if they get professional help,” notes Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Montgomery County, Ohio.

The Case of ‘Kate’
Kate (who asked that her last name not be used to protect her identity), was an alcoholic who abused cocaine and marijuana when she worked for an auto manufacturer in Ohio in the 1980s and 1990s.

She said what started off as a drink at lunch escalated to a point where she operated vehicles and machinery drunk. She wrecked company property. She started leaving for lunch and not returning. Her work attendance was terrible, and her job performance suffered.

Kate, a former addict who has sober for nearly 20 years, said companies should support employees who want to get help for substance abuse. She sought help from her company’s EAP, which helps workers with drug abuse and other personal problems. She was able to overcome her addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous and other support programs.

Alcohol has a huge impact on individuals’ lives and companies’ bottom lines. Organizations that haven’t addressed the issue need to do so, and businesses that have should reassess what they’re doing to ensure that their programs and/or policies are working. In either case, the EAP is in a perfect position to help.

Additional sources: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers; and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Source: July 2017 EA Report Brown Bagger (Employee Assistance Report, Vol. 20 No. 7, July 2017)

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Emotional Intelligence: What is it? Why is it Important?

According to psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, emotional intelligence may be defined as, “the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.” Put another way, this concept means recognizing that emotions can impact behavior and affect people (positively and negatively), therefore it’s important to learn how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under stress.

When emotional intelligence came on the scene in the 1990s, it presented a most unusual finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. This concept threw a monkey wrench into what many people had always assumed was the only source of success — intelligence quotient, or IQ. Today, research points to emotional intelligence as the crucial element that separates star performers from the rest of the pack.

Emotional intelligence is pretty intangible, but it’s something that dwells within each of us. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, “affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.”

What Emotional Intelligence Is
Salovey and Mayer introduced the concept of emotional intelligence and demonstrated how it might be measured. They believed that people with high EI (their term for emotional intelligence) could solve a variety of emotion-related problems, and do so both accurately and quickly.

High EI people, for example, can accurately perceive emotions in people’s faces. Such individuals also know how to use emotional incidents in their lives to promote specific types of thinking. For instance, they understand that sadness promotes analytical thought and so they may prefer to analyze things when they are in a sad mood. Mayer notes that high EI people also grasp the meanings that emotions convey: “They know that angry people can be dangerous, that happiness means that someone wants to join with others, and that some sad people may prefer to be alone.”

Does Emotional Intelligence Exist?

To test whether EI exists, Salovey, Mayer, and David Caruso developed a number of ability measures. They wanted to determine if they could measure emotional intelligence abilities, if these abilities improved with age (generally thought to be a characteristic of intelligence), and if, taken together, they formed a cohesive intelligence.

One sort of test question they devised asked test-takers to identify the emotions expressed in a photograph of a face: for instance, to understand that sadness might be indicated by a frown. Another type of question asked people how emotional reactions unfold. For example:

Mike was sad, but an hour later he felt guilty. What happened in between? (Choose one):
A. Mike took a neighbor to a medical appointment to help him out.
B. Mike lacked the energy to call his mother, and missed calling her on her birthday.

High EI test-takers recognize that alternative B, the missed birthday phone call, would better account for Mike’s change in mood from sadness to guilt.

The ability to answer such questions correctly appears to improve as children grow older. In addition, people who perform well in some areas also tend to do well on others as well. “For these reasons and others, EI is now believed to exist and is considered by many to be an established intelligence.”

What Emotional Intelligence is Not
The concept of emotional intelligence is not always readily understood. The researchers note that emotional intelligence is not agreeableness, optimism, happiness, nor is it calmness or motivation. “Such qualities, although important, have little to do with intelligence, little to do with emotions, and nearly nothing to do with actual emotional intelligence.”

Mayer and his colleagues suggested in an American Psychologist article, “… groups of widely studied personality traits, including motives such as the need for achievement, self-related concepts such as self-control, emotional traits such as happiness, and social styles such as assertiveness should be called what they are, rather than being mixed together in haphazard-seeming assortments and named emotional intelligence.”

Positivity Ratio
Determining an individual’s positivity ratio is an important part of growing an individual’s emotional intelligence. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson recommends promoting a 3:1 Positivity Ratio – in other words, a ratio of 3 positive experiences to every 1 that is negative. The idea is that since people often remember negative experiences much more than positive ones, using this 3:1 ratio when working with clients can help offset this negative tendency.
Positivity Ratio Test for an example of a positivity test.

Why Emotional Intelligence is Important
The concept of emotional intelligence has become a hot topic of psychological research in recent years, especially in regards to how it affects today’s workforce. Businesses are essentially people, so anything that impacts the effectiveness of people’s minds also impacts the businesses they run or work for. According to writer and consultant Royale Scuderi, the following are a few of the ways in which emotional intelligence is important:

Mental well-being – Emotional intelligence affects our attitude and outlook on life. It can also help alleviate anxiety and avoid depression and mood swings. A high level of emotional intelligence directly correlates to a positive attitude and happier outlook on life.

Relationships – By better understanding and managing our emotions, we are better able to communicate our feelings in a more constructive way. We are also better able to understand and relate to those with whom we are in relationships. Understanding the needs, feelings, and responses of those we care about leads to stronger and more fulfilling relationships.

Conflict resolution – When we can discern people’s emotions and empathize with their perspective, it’s much easier to resolve conflicts or possibly avoid them before they start. We are also better at negotiation due to the nature of our ability to understand the needs and desires of others. It’s easier to give people what they want if we can perceive what it is.

Numerous experts believe that an individual’s emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) may be more important than his or her IQ and is certainly a better predictor of success, quality of relationships, and overall happiness.

Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Discover the real power of positivity.
Mayer, J.D. (2009, Sept. 21). What emotional intelligence is and is not. Psychology Retrieved from
Mayer, J.D.; Salovey, P.; Caruso, D. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63, 503-517.
Scuderi, R. (n.d.) Emotional intelligence: Why is it important? Lifehack. Retrieved from
TalentSmart (2017). About emotional intelligence: What everyone needs to know: Emotional intelligence is the other kind of smart.

Source: June 2017 EA Report Brown Bagger, part of June 2017 Employee Assistance Report Newsletter, Vol 20. No. 6, June 2017

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EI and the Workplace

Emotional intelligence (EI) involves an individual’s ability to recognize and understand our emotions and reactions, referred to as self-awareness; manage and adapt one’s emotions, reactions and responses, known as self-management; and to discern the feelings of others, understand their emotions, and use this understanding to better relate to others, or empathy.

Ways in Which Emotional Intelligence is Important
There are numerous ways in which emotional intelligence is important. Several of them were listed in the main section of this Brown Bagger insert. Others are listed here:

Physical health – The ability to take care of our bodies and especially to manage our stress, which has an incredible impact on our overall wellness, is heavily tied to our emotional intelligence. Only by being aware of our emotional state and our reactions to stress in our lives can we hope to manage stress and maintain good health.

Success – Higher emotional intelligence helps us to be stronger internal motivators, which can reduce procrastination, increase self-confidence, and improve our ability to focus on a goal. It also allows us to create better networks of support, overcome setbacks, and persevere with a more resilient outlook. Our ability to delay gratification and see the long-term directly affects our ability to succeed.

Leadership – The ability to understand what motivates others, relate in a positive manner, and to build stronger bonds with others in the workplace inevitably makes those with higher emotional intelligence better leaders. An effective leader can recognize what the needs of his people are, so that those needs can be met in a way that encourages higher performance and workplace satisfaction. An emotionally savvy and intelligent leader is also able to build stronger teams by strategically utilizing the emotional diversity of their team members to benefit the team as a whole.

Emotional intelligence is still not completely understood, but we do know that emotions play a crucial role in the overall quality of our personal and professional lives, more critical even than our measure of intelligence quotient (IQ).
Source:Royale Scuderi, “Emotional Intelligence: Why is it Important?” via the June 2017 EA Report Brown Bagger (June 2017 Employee Assistance Report Newsletter, Vol 20. No. 6, June 2017)

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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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