Things More Managers Need to Do

By Bernard Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Determining Your Boss’s Communication Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Increase the Holiday Spirit, Not the Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Natural Ways of Dealing with Anxiety Without Medication

By Sandra Bennett, LCSW

In this busy day and age, we all experience some type of anxiety. Whether it is because of the world situation, the future of our country, job security or just free-floating anxiety, most people experience a degree of it from time to time, or in some cases, every day.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety – roughly 18 percent of the nation’s population. Many different types of medications are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. These drugs can provide temporary relief, but they also come with side effects and safety concerns – some significant. They are also not a cure. In fact, there are many questions about their long-term effectiveness. What’s more, it can be very difficult to get off anxiety medications without difficult withdrawals, including rebound anxiety that can be worse than the original problem.

And so if symptoms of anxiety are interfering with your daily life, consider these simple lifestyle changes that are proven natural cures for anxiety.

1) Try to drink three cups of chamomile tea a day when you’re feeling anxious. Chamomile has natural ingredients that promote relaxation.

2) Try to get between 1 and 3 grams of omega 3s a day. Canned fish such as tuna and salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds are great sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.

3) Breathe in lavender. Try putting a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow or in your bath, or add a few drops to a cup of boiling water and inhale for a quick rest. You can even dab a few drops right on your skin – it’s one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly.

4) Try and get outside for at least 15 minutes every day. Even a short break can make a big difference in your stress level and promote calm.

5) Try and cut out (or down) caffeine. Caffeine can give you energy but can also cause anxiety and jitteriness.

6) Eating certain foods can help provide anxiety relief. Blueberries and peaches have nutrients that have a calming effect and relieve stress. Avocado, eggs, milk and meat are rich in B Vitamins which can prevent anxiety. Foods that help regulate the stress hormone cortisol include foods rich in Vitamin C like oranges, and other foods rich in Magnesium, like spinach and other green leafy vegetables.

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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.

“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.

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.

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

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?)

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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