Make the Most of Your Minutes: Time-Management Tips for Stressed-Out Professionals

Don’t be ruled by the clock at work or at home. Time management expert Jackie Gaines shares tips to help you make the most of your time and increase your productivity — without losing your mind in the process!

Ask any working professional what they could use more of, and you’ll probably keep getting the same answer. Time. In the frantic pace of the digital age, time is something everyone seems to be short on now. It’s almost laughable that we once thought technology would help create more leisure time! But according to author, speaker, and time management expert Jackie Gaines, if workers could figure out how to make the most of their waking moments, they could be far more productive and happy regardless of their time constraints.

“Success at work and in life often comes down to one thing: developing better time management skills,” says Gaines, author of Wait a Hot Minute! How to Manage Your Life with the Minutes You Have (Fire Starter Publishing, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-6221805-4-7, $28.00). “Our minutes have become hot since time is so scarce these days, and we toss them away without a second thought. The truth is, we are always going to have obligations, deadlines, and responsibilities, but if you learn how to handle your hot minutes, you can work with the clock instead of against it.”

Gaines offers a number of recommendations for achieving a healthier and happier work-life balance.

Prioritize sleep so you can function when you’re awake.
“If you do nothing else [on this list], prioritize your sleep needs,” insists Gaines. “You will be more productive and feel more ambitious when you get the rest your body requires. ”Gaines suggests scheduling sleep like any other daily activity on your to-do list. Pencil in a stopping point in your day and stick to it without fail. Then wind down with a book or another relaxing bedtime ritual to help you drift off to sleep.

Establish what the “workday” means to you and your boss. It’s common for employers to call or e-mail you after hours, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you’re available after hours. If you choose to be off-duty on nights and weekends, that is your choice (and your right!). Just make sure you respectfully address your “workday” limits to your boss upfront, so everyone is clear on the boundaries.

Don’t stay on your email all day. Constantly checking your inbox is distracting and slows you down. Designate a few times in your workday to check email so that you remain in control of your schedule and aren’t being reactive to new messages as they appear.

Choose human connection over technology.
Although technology has improved our lives, it comes with its own set of problems. Emails and texts are convenient, but they create room for confusion and miscommunication. Whenever possible, talk in person in order to get your message across clearly.

Learn to say no and mean it. It’s okay to turn down invitations, cancel plans, or disconnect from the outside world every now and then. Saying no is a skill that will benefit you throughout
life, and so allow yourself to politely start bowing out of unnecessary commitments right now.

Set achievable goals each day. “Even the most thoughtfully constructed to-do list will be useless if it is too ambitious,” insists Gaines. “What’s the point of writing down unachievable tasks? We’re not superheroes and shouldn’t try to be. Make your daily goals small enough that you can actually get them done. Remember that you can always do more if you have the time.”

Give multi-tasking the ax. According to Gaines, multi-tasking is ineffective and counterproductive. “People work best when they give focused attention to the task at hand,” she says. “So aim to work on only one project at a time and give yourself permission to forget about other priorities until you are done.”

Listen up! Active listening consists of being present and engaged when communicating with another person, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s very common to forget to listen after you speak your thoughts in a conversation, and you often lose important info as a result. When you are talking with a co-worker, manager, or anyone else, be sure that you turn off that pesky inner monologue and focus when it is the other person’s turn to speak.

Don’t be a sheep. While maintaining the status quo is often a good thing (especially at work), there may come a time when it is advisable to stop following the herd and innovate in the name of productivity. If you can envision a way to work smarter and better, you may just create new best practices for your place of work that will save time and increase quality.

Stop shuffling papers. Most of us waste a lot of time shuffling papers from one pile to another. Chances are that your desk is full of paper you don’t know what to do with. Gaines says to stop this maddening cycle by touching each sheet of paper just once and figure out the appropriate action. Either put it in a to-do pile so you can deal with it immediately, a file (for documents you must keep), or the trash. This keeps the papers moving and keeps you sane!

Step away from the Internet. Surfing the web is a huge time waster for most people. An innocent little break often turns into an hour (or more) of wasted time that you can’t get back — especially when you should be working or headed to bed to get some rest. Gaines advises shutting off access to the Internet at a certain time each day to avoid getting lost in cyberspace. She also recommends breaks from recreational Internet use — about once a month — to focus on other aspects of your life that may need attention.

Have some fun along the way. It’s important to remember that stressed-out people aren’t all that productive. You have to relax and schedule “recharge time” into your life to avoid burnout — especially if you have an intense work environment. Be sure to build in time for fun on the weekends and on some evenings but try to make work fun, too. If appropriate at your office, find ways to infuse a little lighthearted play into your workday.

Practice breathing and mindfulness. Imagine how productive you could be if you could focus, calm all anxious thoughts, and truly be present. You can find out by practicing mindfulness. “Breathing is a tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind,” asserts Gaines. “There are multiple methods for achieving this state, including tai chi, meditation, yoga, or simple breathing exercises. Find one that resonates for you and practice it daily.”

Stop owning other people’s stuff. How often do you hear yourself saying, “Never mind, I’ll do it myself?” asks Gaines. Probably more often than you’d like, and this habit takes up your precious minutes in no time. The solution, according to Gaines, is to hold others accountable for their responsibilities. This includes your children, your spouse, and your colleagues. Let “never mind…” be the exception instead of the rule.

Let go and delegate
. Learn to know when to let someone else handle a task. It can be hard to relinquish control, but it is also necessary to delegate, especially if you’re in a leadership position. Remember that delegating is not admitting you can’t handle your responsibilities — not at all. Rather, it’s about maximizing the potential of your entire workforce.

Summary
“Remember that you have two choices when trying to manage your time,” concludes Gaines. “You can either let your priorities and obligations run your life, or you can take charge of your minutes and let them work for you to achieve your goals in a timely manner. While you won’t ever succeed long term by racing the clock, you can drop your bad habits, improve ineffective practices, and kick stress to the curb so that your whole life improves.”

Jackie Gaines is a senior executive with more than 38years’ experience in leadership and accomplishments with major health systems and organizations. She lectures all over the country and has received numerous awards along the way. She has written four books: “Wait a Hot Minute! How to Manage Your Life with the Minutes You Have,” “Believing You Can Fly,” “The Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership,” and “Destination Infinity: Reflections and Career Lessons from a Road Warrior.”

Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 10, October 2016

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Answering the Dreaded ‘Got a Minute?’

By Edward G. Brown
Got a minute? The fact is, unless you are a great rarity today, no you don’t have a minute! Yet when almost anybody asks, “Got a minute?” you automatically answer, “Sure, how can I help?” How do you stop doing that? I offer the following suggestions.

Name the problem. First, recognize it’s not a minute, it’s an interruption. A minute freely chosen and freely given is innocuous, but interruptions are thieving little intrusions. There’s the interruption that throws you off task. There’s loss of momentum due to the work stoppage. There’s also the time wasted in reassembling your thoughts.

Recognize the cause. Why do you say yes when inside you’re thinking, “God grant me patience, how will I get everything done?” Because you’re afraid – not shaking in your boots afraid, but you have fears. If it’s your boss, you’re afraid he or she will think you’re not responsive to any needs but your own or you can’t handle your workload. If it’s a customer, you’re afraid they’ll take their business elsewhere. If it’s your colleagues, you’re afraid you won’t sound like a team player.

Don’t say “no.” The opposite of “yes” doesn’t have to be “no.” “I would like to give you my full attention. May I let you know when I can do that?” Some version of those words needs to be custom-tailored to every got-a-minute interrupter, or “Time Bandit” on your list. They let your interrupter know that his or her best interests aren’t served any better than yours by this interruption. Most of all, they keep you from sounding like that selfish jerk you dread. Scripting your negotiation and rehearsing its delivery, tailored for each of your main “Time Bandits,” will banish any remaining fear.

Make time a gift. In this day and age, when it seems like everyone is distracted, it’s no small thing to offer your would-be Time Bandit your full attention to his or her needs. When you say, “I want to take care of that for you, and when do, I want to be focused so that the outcome will have the quality both of us expect,” the Time Bandit will not only be mollified about your current unavailability – he or she will be gratified, which is what you want. And you get to keep your “minute,” too.

Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and cofounder of the Cohen Brown Management Group.

Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 10, October 2016

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Successful Financial Wellness Programs Benefit Businesses

By Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW

Employees’ Overall Health is Crucial

Healthy employees are happy employees. An estimated 78% of employees in excellent health report being happy with their current job, as opposed to only 51% of employees in poor health.

Healthy employees are better off financially. Compared to employees in poor health, healthy employees are more confident in their financial future – and by wide margins.
• 69% of healthy employees have a plan for achieving major financial goals, but just 43% of unhealthy employees do.
• 87% of healthy employees feel they are able to make ends meet, while just 61% of unhealthy employees feel the same.

Healthy employees value their benefits more than others.
• 75% of employees in excellent health are satisfied with their benefits.
• 56% of employees in fair or poor health are satisfied with their benefits.

Quotes about personal finances:
“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to be one of them.”
Ralph Marston

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
Henry David Thoreau

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”
Will Smith

“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”
Steve Jobs

Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW, is the founder of the Financial Social Work discipline and the Financial Therapy Network.

Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 9, September 2016

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Taking the Lead in Financial Wellness

By Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW

What is the difference between financial wellness and financial well-being? What are the basics of financial problems? Why is financial wellness important to employers? This article will address these and other important matters pertaining to employees’ financial health.

Financial Wellness vs. Financial Well-being
Well-being has traditionally focused on improving physical, emotional, and mental quality of life. But how dependent physical, emotional, and mental quality of life is on an individual’s financial well-being has been essentially overlooked. Historically, financial well-being has been associated with the financial planning industry and focused primarily on building and protecting wealth.

What is financial wellness? It may be defined as, “having a comprehensive understanding of your current financial circumstances” or as, “having the skills and motivation to manage your money in a matter that consistently improves your present financial situation and contributes to a financially stable and secure future.”

Financial well-being may be defined as, “the ability to navigate life’s events. It’s more than just setting financial goals, it’s actually building toward them.” Financial well-being means “feeling competent to manage your money to create financial stability today and in the future.”

It means knowing what steps need to be taken and then taking them, in terms of:
• Managing finances;
• Adjusting daily spending;
• Developing a savings plan; and/or
• Understanding credit.

Understanding financial well-being requires recognizing how well someone:
• Makes ends meet;
• Plans ahead;
• Chooses and manages financial products; and
• Possesses and uses money management skills and knowledge to make sound financial decisions.

The Basics of Financial Problems

Fifty-two percent of Americans spend more money than they earn, out of which 21% regularly have monthly expenses in excess of their income; and 13.5% adjust their spending the following month to get their finances back on track.

The typical person spends $1.33 for every dollar earned. In addition, one in four Americans has more debt than savings.

While Americans struggle with their finances, talking about it remains taboo. When asked which personal problem they would be most comfortable discussing, only 14% of respondents said finances, far behind other problems such as workplace concerns (23%) and health (21%).

Perhaps even more telling, 28% said they do not have anyone to talk to about their financial problems. Nearly half (44%) sought the advice of a family member, while only 13% of respondents solicited a financial professional for assistance.

Moreover, 65% said that keeping financially “fit” (e.g. saving regularly and paying down debt) is as tough as or tougher than keeping physically fit. A few other telling statistics:
• Nearly half (43%) of people with credit card debt aren’t making any progress toward paying it off.
• One-third (33%) of people spend money they don’t have.
• Nearly one-third (31%) pay their bills with a credit card because they don’t have the money readily available.

What Happens to People with Financial Problems?
Nearly one in five Americans has either considered skipping or skipped going to a doctor in the past year due to financial concerns. An overwhelming 75% of Americans report experiencing at least one symptom of stress in the past month due to financial worries.

People with financial problems may experience:
• Divorce;
• Bankruptcy;
• Wage garnishment;
• Credit card debt;
• Foreclosure;
• Hunger or homelessness;
• Job loss or underemployment;
• Increased healthcare costs; and/or
• Delayed retirement.

Financial problems also strongly impact people’s emotional and physical health. Key money emotions include: Fear – More than half (52%) worry they will not be able to retire by age 65; Embarrassment – 28% hide their debt from other people; and Stress – 33% admit to losing sleep because of their finances.

Conversely, financial stress manifests itself physically in terms of: severe depression; insomnia/sleep problems; headaches; severe anxiety; high blood pressure; ulcers; back pain; and heart attacks.

Why Employees’ Financial Problems Matter to a Company
Lack of financial wellness impacts an organization in three critical ways:

Productivity. Nearly half (44%) of employees worry about personal finances while at work. Nearly one-third (29%) actually spend time at work dealing with personal financial problems. The total time spent worrying about finances is also substantial. Almost half (46%) spend between 1-3 hours worrying about money.

Retention and benefits. Almost half (49%) of employees are somewhat likely to look for new jobs, with the majority of those leaving citing financial concerns. An overwhelming (71%) of employees satisfied with their benefits list it as an important reason why they remain with their employer. Roughly half (49%) of employees surveyed say that they are counting on employers’ benefits programs to help with their financial needs.

Health-related costs. Roughly one-quarter (26%) of employees put off doctor visits due to economic conditions. This potentially allows minor medical issues to escalate into more costly problems.

Employees who have levels of stress due to financial debt:
• Have twice the rate of heart attacks;
• Are three times more likely to have ulcers and other digestive tract issues;
• Are much more likely (44%) to suffer from migraines; and
• They experience a 500% increase in anxiety and depression.

Employees’ financial problems are their employer’s financial problems because they inevitably spill over into the workplace. There are several seriously negative implications, which then impact company profits:

Absenteeism. Financially stressed employees use more sick leave and are absent from work more often.

Presenteeism. Although employees are at work, they spend time on activities unrelated to their jobs, such as talking to creditors. The Integrated Benefits Institute reports that presenteeism can account for three times more lost work than absenteeism.

Health concerns. Unhealthy workers produce lower quantity and quality of work and have higher health costs. Distress over financial matters is contributing to irritability, anger, fatigue, and sleeplessness for over 52% of Americans.

Work conflicts. Tardiness, incomplete work tasks, and accidents result when workers’ personal issues interfere with their jobs.

Financially-stressed workers are less satisfied with their pay regardless of the money they make. Their disenchantment with work can lead to a lack of pride in their jobs and negative feelings about employers.

Successful Financial Wellness Programs
An estimated 72% of companies believe that employee financial education will benefit them, and yet only half of all companies currently offer some sort of financial education. Of companies that DO offer financial education, 68% find the information offered to be very useful.

Reasons for offering employees financial education include:
• Enhance employee and company performance, 46%;
• Improve morale, 42%;
• It’s the right thing to do, 39%;
• Demand from employees, 37%;
• Increase participation in pension and benefits, 33%;
• Improve the bottom line, 24%; and
• As a benefit requirement, 18%.

There is a 3:1 or more return on investment (ROI) for employers who offer quality financial programs to employees. Moreover, financial education: 1) increases productivity; 2) decreases turnover; 3) and decreases workplace accidents caused by stress.

It needs to be stressed that financial circumstances are NEVER about money. They are always about a person’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs ABOUT MONEY. Your relationship with money drives financial behavior, which determines financial circumstances.

The 10 Basics
A successful financial wellness program helps employees understand that:

1. Change is a process.
2. Financial well-being is a very personal, individual, and emotional choice.
A successful financial wellness program will help employees to:
3. Be more aware of their financial behavior.
4. Understand why they are in their current financial condition, and how they want those circumstances to change.
5. Identify WIIFM (what’s in it for me?)
6. A successful financial wellness program will help employees develop the tools and skills to cope with the stress of financial problems.
7. A successful financial wellness program will help employees address the financial issues that drive financial behavior.
8. A successful financial wellness program will help employees eliminate the actions and habits that sabotage financial well-being.
9. A successful financial wellness program will help employees recognize the relationship between taking control of their money and gaining control of their lives.
10. A successful financial wellness program will help employees improve their relationship with money, change their financial behavior, reduce debt, and build assets.

Summary
A successful EAP financial wellness program will motivate employees to choose to create financial well-being; provide the financial information required to make better financial choices and decisions; support behavioral change and success; help employees learn how to anticipate, prepare and cope with personal and financial setbacks and disappointments; and reduce self-sabotaging financial thinking, behaviors, and habits.

Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW, is the founder of the Financial Social Work discipline and the Financial Therapy Network.

Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 9, September 2016

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How is Nutrition Mindful?

By Health Coach Frank Alvarez, Lt. Col. United States Air Force (retired)

Our stomach acts like a “second brain.” As a result, the “brain-gut connection” is powerful. Bad food is addictive, just like gambling, drugs, or anything else. Be mindful, pay attention.

Nutritional 9-1-1
• Don’t skip breakfast!
• Add one nutrient dense food each day for 30 days. This is as opposed to trying to change your diet too much at one time. Add one “banana,” then one “apple,” etc. Before you know it you are eating a much healthier diet.
• Make each meal “right” – in other words, the proper amount of protein, carbs, (low) fat, etc.
• Move it or lose it – the need for daily exercise.

Each of these points are expounded upon in the following sections.

Don’t Skip Breakfast
• You are literally “breaking the fast” you incur from a full night’s sleep.
• Breakfast is the most important meal of the deal, but it’s not the meal, it’s the food you eat. Good breakfast foods include wholegrain cereals, whole fruit, and eggs.

Add One Whole Food Each Day
• Each day add a whole food to your diet and/ or meal.
• Don’t replace, add to it.
• It is not cumulative.
• What will begin to happen is that you will find you like, and your body needs, these foods.
• You will crowd out the bad stuff (non-nutrient dense).

Make Each Meal “Right”
• Protein, carbohydrates, fats at each meal.
• Essential or not?
• The good, the bad, the ugly.

Movement
• Move it or lose it!
• Bad conditioning can even lead to loss of memory, depression, and discontent.

Summary
Socrates had this to say about mindfulness: “You should learn all you can from those who know. Everyone should watch himself throughout his life, and notice what sort of meat and drink and what form of exercise suit his constitution, and he should regulate them in order to enjoy good health. For by such attention to yourselves you can discover better than any doctor what suits your constitution.”

Source:Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 8, August 2016

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Mindfulness: Transforming Yourself

By Elaine M. Schachelmayer, MA, NCC, CCTP, LPC

In today’s go-go-go, 24/7, constantly checking-our smartphones society, it seems we’re rarely alone with our thoughts. While mindfulness is not “new” – it has Buddhist origins dating back 2,500 years or more – it is the realization of today’s continual “busy-ness” that is no doubt helping fuel the growing mindfulness movement. What is mindfulness? As opposed to our minds being too FULL of activity, worries, and concerns, mindfulness is the state of being conscious, aware of, or “mindFUL” of one’s surroundings. Additional definitions of mindfulness include:

• The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings;
• The process of calmly accepting, acknowledging the present moment and the feelings, thoughts, and bodily perceptions and sensations that exist; and
• Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present, according to scientist, writer, and mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

The purpose of mindfulness is an awareness of being “in the moment” and the directions we give our mind to stay fully present in our experiences.

What Meditation & Mindfulness is NOT
The concepts of “meditation” and “mindfulness” are confusing to some people, and so here is some clarification. Meditation and mindfulness is not:

• Going into a trance or self-hypnosis;
• Attempting to empty your mind;
• Just for spiritual leaders, monks, priests, nuns;
• A technique for relaxation;
• Another form of positive thinking; and
• A reason not to work with mental health or medical professionals (mindfulness can complement traditional Western medicine).

Why Mindfulness is Needed
• Fear and anxiety are worthy of our attention.
• Upsetting feelings are not a punishment or a sign of weakness.
• Opening a door to the unknown makes possible a corridor to curiosity.
• We can pay attention to unpleasant sensations and thoughts and still be okay.
• Changing mental states through attentive mind-body experiences can transform destructive reactions into peaceful insight and acceptance.

Anxiety is Rampant in Today’s 24/7 Society
Chronic anxiety is especially troublesome. It can be identified as:
• A higher intensity that has become alarming;
• There is no real reason or evidence why anxiety should be present;
• It lasts for weeks, and even months at a time … well beyond typical bouts of anxiety;
• Detrimental signs result in painful and damaging living; and
• Frequently masked by withdrawal, alcohol or other drugs, abuse of food, lost work performance, and somatic symptoms.

What Mindfulness Can Do
In today’s busy society, we need to be able to find our bearings, to step back. Mindfulness is a great gift for our own lives and in the workplace. Mindfulness offers a viable tool for EAP practitioners in the treatment of fear, anxiety, addiction, stress, trauma, panic, and other conditions that limit individuals in their function and relationships with themselves and with others.

As professionals in mental wellness, mindfulness provides an encouraging opportunity for self-care. Mindfulness also offers:

• A gateway to transformational living with endless compassion and unconditional acceptance of self;
• A conduit to health and healing; and
• An opportunity for kindness and openheartedness; friendly, “allowing,” non-judging.

Mindfulness is an Important Ally
• Balancing distortions, moving from hyperarousal and chronic stress to calm and relaxed attention – an opportunity to “let go;”
• Reducing fight-or-flight responses, activated stress hormones, immune deficiencies, worsening depression, memory impairment, and possible breakdown of disease-fighting repair;
• Checking chronic stress that becomes a debilitating barrier frequently associated with depression, panic and anxiety disorders, and mood regulation;
• Lessening the dependence on alcohol and drugs that interfere with life (the need for self-medication); and
• Restoring balance, needed especially for combat veterans and others suffering from PTSD, traumatic grief, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and individuals with social anxiety.

Mindfulness Offers the Potential for Healing
• Research cannot explain fully how the practice of mindfulness works, but evidence from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience shows a marked decline in the amygdala stress response.
• Mindfulness can help individuals better cope with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
• (PTSD), aggression, social fears, depression, fear-related learning, and many physical, painful, and chronic conditions.
• Using mindfulness together with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), narrative therapy, psychotherapy, and journaling can help “layer” effective mental health treatment.
• Mindfulness can assist the aging elderly population, individuals with brain injury, people who have a history of cognitive disorganization, hospice patients, and professional caregivers coping with compassion fatigue.

Mindfulness Enhances Compassion
Of all the wonderful gifts that mindfulness has to offer, among the greatest is our heart qualities such as loving kindness. Cultivating a heart filled with love for others and self is to embrace all of life. We appreciate life even in the pains of suffering through it. Compassion is seen in our vulnerability as we age and die … as we find our way in life. We learn to love more softly, with greater tenderness, and at our own pace. When we see what mindfulness can do for ourselves, we see what it can do for others. But it does not happen easily, it has to be practiced daily.

Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s 7 Stepping Stones about Mindfulness
1. Non-judging (Not having preconceived notions about others or our surroundings);
2. Patience (This has always been a virtue, but in a “gotta-have-it” now or “have-to-know-it” society, this seems to be especially true today);
3. Beginner’s Mind (This is the idea of looking at things for the first time, not unlike a child);
4. Trust (Confidence, faith, hope, and assurance … as opposed to disbelief, doubt, uncertainty and mistrust);
5. Non-striving (“This is not supposed to be work,” says Kabatt-Zinn. “If you think it is just one more thing to do, don’t do it. Mindfulness involves being, not doing.”
6. Acceptance; and
7. Letting go.

Mind-Body Thinking
• “I am not my thoughts.”
• “I am more than my thoughts.”
• “My thinking does not define me.”
• “Stay in the moment, utilize all five senses.” (What do you see? What do you feel?)

Summary
Stop striving and you will start thriving. Remember that everything happens in the present moment.

Elaine M. Schachelmayer, MA, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a clinical psychotherapist, community advocate, and Herzing University educator.
Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 8, August 2016

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Positive Employees Pay Off

Positivity is one of those soft skills that is hard to measure. Have you or do you know anyone who has put, “I’m a positive employee,” on their resume? Well, maybe it is not a bad idea.

Sigal Barsade, a Wharton management professor who studies the influence of emotions in the workplace reported that, “emotions travel from person to person like a virus” and suggests that emotions determine what happens in an organization, specifically related to job performance.1

Just as positivity can be contagious, negativity can be just as contagious, but with bigger losses.

Studies have shown that positive employees are actually more productive. Why? Because positive employees:
• Don’t engage in gossip or negative talk of co-workers or the organization;
• Encourage creativity and are open to ideas;
• Know how to collaborate well with others;
• Process information more effectively;
• Communicate well even in stressful or difficult situations;
• Support other colleagues; and
• Maintain a better work/life balance.

Essentially, positive employees put their energy into their job, not negativity.

Negative people can make a significant impact on the workplace as well. They tend to:
• Increase the overall stress in the workplace;
• Complicate decision-making;
• Criticize and blame others;
• Impact the success of teams;
• Are problem-oriented rather than solutions-oriented;
• Cause co-workers to shut down or disengage;
• Deliver poor customer service;
• And even worse – cause good people to leave.

Negativity that spreads can lead to big losses for an organization, including:
• A decreasing bottom line due to declining productivity;
• Less satisfied customers or loss of customers;
• Increase in turnover causing increased costs of hiring and retraining;
• Decrease in morale due to employee dissatisfaction; and
• A culture where people do not want to work.

Organizations need to always be assessing their culture, their leaders, and their employees. A few ways to try to promote positive employees and culture, include:
• Identifying who or what is causing negativity;
• Offering trainings that help employees better manage stress, focus on positive attitudes, build emotional intelligence, get along with co-workers, and become more effective supervisors;
• When hiring employees, posing questions to candidates and their references regarding how an individual responds to negative situations and how they present a positive attitude and contribute to a positive culture;
• Rewarding individuals for their positivity;
• Not accepting or overlooking negative attitudes, even if these employees are producing. Not only does avoidance send a bad message to positive employees, but you are failing to consider the overall financial impact of the negativity; and
• Asking for regular feedback from employees.

It is important not to underestimate the value of positive employees and the harm negative ones can do to your organization. Ultimately, positive employees pay off and make a difference to your bottom line.

1 Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (April 18, 2007). Managing Emotions in the Workplace: Do Positive and Negative Attitudes Drive Performance? Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu

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Putting an Ethical Culture into Practice

Parents understand that values are caught more than they’re taught, and companies really aren’t all that different. Management can’t conduct business dishonestly and then turn around and expect their employees to be honest and demonstrate good character.

If Americans have learned anything from all the corporate meltdowns, it’s that real ethics must be more than a written code. Enron had a written code, and integrity was a stated value, but integrity wasn’t infused in the everyday practices of the company. Certainly, creating a true culture of character isn’t easy.

Start with a Code of Ethics
While a code of ethics isn’t enough, it’s still necessary. The code should start with a statement of values that’s clear, and inspiring. There should be input and support from everyone in the organization. Consider areas such as: “What is a conflict of interest in this organization” and “How will we treat our customers?”

As well as an overall code, there also needs to be concrete examples that are part of everyday tasks and responsibilities. For instance: How are sales contracts written? What will happen if manufacturing specifications are not met?

Develop a Culture that Puts the Code into Practice
While a code is necessary, the corporate culture needs to enforce the code. To make a code of ethics work, a company must have leaders of character who create a culture of character. When we say someone has character, we are usually referring to a person who:
• Works hard and gets results;
• Is responsible;
• Has a solid base of integrity; and
• Treats people with respect and dignity.

Companies with character are similar. These firms promote character instead of rewarding those who get results without integrity or respect.

Integrity as the Foundation
A culture of character, like leadership character, must be grounded in integrity. Honesty must be the norm for the company and modeled by every leader in the workplace.

Many business leaders think they’re doing the workforce a favor by “protecting” them from difficult news or circumstances. Nothing could be further from the truth. In today’s workforce, which is filled with highly educated people with access to tons of information, this kind of behavior only breeds cynicism and distrust.

At an ethics summit, Frank Chamberlain, a turn-around specialist, commented that he frequently discovers integrity problems when he visits troubled companies. He said that, in many cases, employees haven’t been told the truth by management, and because they have seen ethical lapses, they don’t trust their leaders.

“In most cases,” Chamberlain says, “simply telling the truth did more to revitalize workers’ commitment than anything I could do. Invite employees’ ideas, but don’t spin anything. They’re just too smart. If you tell the truth, it will inspire belief, which will inspire trust, which leads to loyalty, then to commitment, and finally to results.”

Loyalty = Profits
Let’s briefly examine one aspect of Chamberlain’s statement – loyalty. The long-term success of any company depends heavily upon the quality and loyalty of its workers. Few executives would disagree with this concept in theory. The problem is that many executives don’t realize that loyalty is a two-way street – you can’t ask employees to be loyal to you if you’re never loyal to them.

The truth is, when the going gets tough, managers usually focus on “hard” numbers, such as the cost of labor. The reality is that most organizations that downsize fail to realize any long-term cost savings or efficiencies! In fact, such cutbacks often lead to even more restructurings and layoffs! For instance, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that spending 10% of a company’s revenue on (physical) capital improvements increased productivity by nearly 4%. However, investing that same amount in developing employee capital (such as worker trainings) enhanced productivity by almost 9% – or more than double!

The fact of the matter is this: Employees are only as loyal to a company as they believe it’s being loyal to them. Building an organization of committed, loyal employees comes down to demonstrating that the company deserves their loyalty.

More Impact on the Bottom Line
Leaders with integrity do more than talk the talk – they walk the walk. The following is still more evidence on the positive effect that integrity and loyalty has on the bottom line:
• A survey of Holiday Inn hotels reported by Harvard Business Review found that the more employees positively answered questions such as, “My manager delivers on promises,” and, “My manager practices what he preaches,” the more profitable the hotel.
• According to Business Ethics magazine, the financial performance in companies that were considered ethical was significantly better than firms that received a lower rating.

Distrust May Lead to Theft
As stated, creating a corporate culture of character is a two-way street, and that includes the employee as well as the employer. The well known CEO might be a dishonest person seen on CNN, but the employee that steals is cheating his company as well. Consider:
• Employee embezzlement costs companies about $4 billion annually.
• As many as 25% of all businesses that fail do so as a result of employee theft.

Mike Barnes, an expert in employee theft, also estimates that:
• Only 25% of employees are 100% honest;
• 25% of employees will steal any chance they get; and
• The remaining 50% are only as honest as they want to be.

Barnes has some ideas why employees steal. “Many times people will think, ‘They (the employer) don’t pay me enough,’ or, ‘They’re rich. They won’t miss it.’ The thing is, if the worker gets away with it, he’ll get the idea that the business doesn’t care about them or the fact that they’re stealing.”

If some workers steal because they don’t think management is interested in their concerns, it stands to reason that part of the cure is for the employer to demonstrate otherwise. “Employers really need to know their people, and the biggest thing they can do is care,” Barnes stresses. In fact, he views employee theft as a management problem and not a disciplinary issue. “To me,” Barnes says, “internal theft is like a cancer. If it isn’t properly addressed by management, it will spread.”

Responsibility: Being Accountable and Courageous
One of the reasons that leaders who hold themselves accountable get results is that they spend little time on blame. They take 100% responsibility for success, but when they see a problem they set out to solve it.

However, this level of responsibility requires another important quality – courage. It’s easy to tell the truth when it’s pleasant – it’s quite another matter when the truth is uncomfortable! But courageous leaders tell the truth anyway, and they encourage others to do the same. Organizations with courage:
• Admit mistakes;
• Make reparations quickly; and they
• Take risks.

Keeping Ethics in the Forefront
There are many ways to make character and ethics a part of everyday practice in the workplace. Solicit ideas from employees about practices you might adopt. The EAP may be able to assist. The following are several possible suggestions on how managers can work together with employees to get started:

• Have an “ethics officer” in meetings to alert the group to possible ethical concerns. Rotate the position or select the person randomly each time. Celebrate honesty and accountability. Make honest leaders corporate heroes.
• Be as honest as possible about business plans. Regardless if the news is good or not, share numbers, forecasts, and invite questions. When fear is running rampant, it’s difficult for any employee to have a good attitude and be focused on job responsibilities. Morale suffers, and the rumor mill runs wild. Conversely, honest, but not sugarcoated communication can boost morale and keep gossip from spreading.
• Find ways to give managers and supervisors regular feedback. One company uses a “stool exercise,” in which each business leader takes turns sitting on a stool while others offer suggestions for improvement. The idea isn’t to nitpick but to get constructive criticism out in the open.
• Administer regular employee surveys with results that are widely distributed. For instance, tough questions should be addressed such as: “Does the company provide the necessary tools and training for employees to perform their jobs well?” and “Is a commitment to serve customers rewarded and encouraged by the organization?” Like the previous point, if the workplace is to truly exhibit a culture of character, shortcomings can’t be swept under the rug.

Summary
To build a truly ethical organization, ethics can’t be separate from everyday business. Just as every business decision is made in light of financial implications, each decision must also take ethical issues into account. Creating a corporate culture of character takes time and effort – but it leads to ethical considerations, which eventually become second nature.

Source: Employee Assistance Report July 2016 Brown Bagger. Additional sources: Robert and Lyn Turknett, authors of Decent People, Decent Company: How to Lead with Character at Work and in Life; employee assistance professionals John C. Pompe and RaeAnn Thomas; and Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy, co-authors of Why Loyalty Matters.

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A Different Approach to Failure

By Sandra L. Bennett, LCSW, Solutions EAP
We all know what it’s like to make New Year’s resolutions and we all know how it feels to fail. What follows is usually a period (sometimes a long one) of self-criticism and hopelessness (“I’ll never lose that weight!” or “I’ll never be able to run a marathon!”).

However, self-criticism never helps keep resolutions; it just makes you feel unhappy and annoyed, mostly at yourself.  And so you either give up and go get Baskin Robbins or you throw away your running shoes.

There is a third option: Relax and work on accepting yourself. There are good reasons to relax about your lack of resolve.  As you may have heard in the past few years, it has been discovered that our brains can be re-molded. Repeated self-criticism can literally shape brain pathways into patterns that sustain negativity while self-acceptance can reinforce more positive ways of thinking.

In addition, anytime we fight an issue in our lives the thing we’re fighting has a way of fighting back, i.e. what we resist, persists. It brings up another fact that has been true for many, many years: All the resolving in the universe can’t conquer our emotions.

Therefore, the bottom line is that taking a forgiving approach to any failure puts us precisely in the place of kindness and acceptance where positive changes are the easiest. It doesn’t mean that this process will be easy, which is why it’s called “re-solution” rather than “solution.” Know that you’ll have to re-do, resolving the same problem over and over. But each time you go through the process you get more strength, more practice, and more wisdom about what works for you.  If you don’t succeed, the failure will help you find the upside so that you can re-solve the issue better next time.

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May is Mental Health Month

We often hear the clinical terms used by doctors and other professionals to identify the symptoms of mental illnesses, but if someone hasn’t gone through it, would they know how to recognize it?

So often, clinical terms don’t do justice to what life with a mental illness feels like. We know that two people with the same diagnosis can experience the same symptom and describe it in very different ways. Understanding the signs of a mental illness and identifying how it can feel can be confusing—and sometimes can contribute to ongoing silence or hesitation to get help.

It’s important for people to talk about how it feels to live with a mental illness. We know that mental illnesses are common and treatable, and help is available. But not everyone knows what to look for when they are going through those early stages, and many simply experience symptoms differently. We all need to speak up early—Before Stage 4—and in real, relatable terms so that people do not feel isolated and alone.

This May is Mental Health Month and raising awareness of the importance of speaking up about mental health, and asking individuals to share what life with a mental illness feels like by tagging social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike. Posting with our hashtag is a way to speak up, to share your point of view with people who may be struggling to explain what they are going through—and to help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness.

Life with a Mental Illness is meant to help remove the shame and stigma of speaking out, so that more people can be comfortable coming out of the shadows and seeking the help they need. Whether you are in Stage 1 and just learning about those early symptoms, or are dealing with what it means to be in Stage 4, sharing how it feels can be part of your recovery.

Mental illnesses are real and recovery is always the goal, and that the best prospects for recovery come when we act Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4).

Addressing mental illnesses B4Stage4 means more than burying feelings and refusing to talk about them, and waiting for symptoms to clear up on their own. B4Stage4 means more than wishing that mental health problems aren’t real, and hoping that they will never get worse. B4Stage4 means more than thinking that someone on the edge of a crisis will always pull himself or herself back without our help, and praying that someone else will intervene before a crisis occurs.

B4Stage4 means, in part, talking about what mental illnesses feel like, and then acting on that information. It means giving voice to feelings and fears, and to hopes and dreams. It means empowering people as agents of their own recovery. And it means changing the trajectories of our own lives for the better, and helping those we love change theirs. So let’s talk about what life with a mental illness feels like, to voice what we are feeling, and so others can know they are not alone.

 

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