Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey
Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey

In 2011, I wrote an article about the true cost of job stress. In that article, I cited Dr. Rebecca Goldin (a Professor at George Mason University and Director of STATS.org) throughout and shared Dr. Goldin’s observations about the American Institute of Stress’ baseless claim of the $300 billion price tag of stress on the U.S. economy.

Today’s 2016 article is a supplement to the 2011 article, and includes additional information and supporting references.

First, the original URL link to Dr. Goldin’s “Counting the Costs of Stress” article on the stats.org website is no longer valid. I’ve reached out to Dr. Goldin to see if her article is posted elsewhere but did not hear back from her. Luckily, I had saved a PDF copy of the article and have posted it to my own website. Citations to Dr. Goldin’s 2004 article will now to point to a PDF of the article [hosted on my own website] rather than to an invalid URL on the stats.org website.

Second, I’ve located a copy of Dr. Paul Rosch’s 2001 newsletter in which he explained his rationale for how he arrived at the $300 billion price tag. According to Dr. Rosch (2001), via the American Institute of Stress, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

Rosch also wrote in the International Stress Management Association newsletter (2001): “Job stress is estimated to cost American industry $300 billion a year from absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers compensation awards and other legal expenses, direct medical and insurance costs, etc.”

In his 2001 Health and Stress newsletter, Dr. Rosch wrote [emphasis added for readability]:

Job stress is estimated to cost American industry in excess of $300 billion a year. When [Dr. Rosch] started writing about this subject over twenty years ago the price tag for job stress was pegged at $150 billion annually and ten years ago it was claimed to be $200 billion. The $300 billion figure posted on our [American Institute of Stress] website has attracted a large number of inquiries over the past several years, particularly from reporters. Most people want to know if this is based on a formula or series of calculations with scientific underpinnings that have statistical significance as opposed to a personal estimate that was picked out of thin air. The answer is as follows: In 1979, Albrecht postulated an annual 4 percent rate of absenteeism and a 5 percent turnover rate in a company with 1000 employees. He assumed that 2 percent of all absences and turnovers were due to stress and that it would cost $1000 for recruitment and training for each turnover. In addition, there would be a 5 percent need for overstaffing to compensate for associated problems. Based on these figures, which were considered to be quite conservative at the time, he estimated that the hidden costs of stress to U.S.companies were $150 billion annually. That was over two decades ago and absenteeism and turnover rates have now almost doubled as have their expenses.”

Rosch added that Albrecht’s calculations did not include the cost of accidents, diminished productivity, direct health insurance, medical, legal and workers compensation costs.

It’s important to point out that Rosch incorrectly explained in his newsletter that Albrecht used a company with 1,000 employees. It was actually 2,000 people (1986, p. 128).

Third, let’s take a deeper dive into how Dr. Karl Albrecht came up with the $150 billion price tag for stress. This passage from Albrecht’s book (1986 [paperback edition]) is especially worth noting:

“Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation. That’s what I [Albrecht] have done (brazenly) in this section. As an intellectual challenge . . . let’s make some crude assumptions about stress effects in a hypothetical business organization and see what the bottom line impact might be” (p. 128).

Albrecht’s hypothetical organization in 1979:

Size: 2,000 people
Sales: $60 million/year
Profit: 5% = $3 million/year
Avg. salary (gross avg. for all employees): $6.00/hour
Personnel cost (salary + overhead costs): $100/person-day
Absentee rate (excluding vacation): 4% = 10 days/person-year
Turnover rate (assume stable workforce size): 5% = 100 people/year
Turnover cost (advertising, hiring, processing, etc.) $1,000/person

Albrecht explained that he took a conservative estimate in determining absenteeism (4%), turnover (5%), and personnel costs ($100/person-day).

For the 4% absenteeism rate, Albrecht speculated that 2% came from unavoidable disabilities and 2% came from stress. “In this 2% figure we include any genuine illness that is stress-induced as well as effects of life stress that may originate outside the job [emphasis added]” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

For the 5% turnover rate, Albrecht speculated that 3% was the result of retirement and voluntary (i.e. quitting) and involuntary turnover (i.e. fired). The other 2% turnover is assumed to arise from stress-related causes which includes “life stress originating outside the job [emphasis added] that interferes with the person’s ability or inclination to remain on the job” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

Albrecht also added an overstaffing ratio (5%). “5% of the work force (sic), or 100 people, are on the payroll because of the reduced performance of the others” 1986, p. 131). He justified this overstaffing ratio in this manner: “if a large proportion of people experience stress levels that degrade their performance capabilities, then we will need more people to get a given amount of work done — and to achieve a given level of sales and profits in our hypothetical company — than we otherwise would” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 131).

And if that weren’t enough, Albrecht tacked on the cost of antisocial acts (“theft, sabotage, deliberate waste or breakage, ‘invisible’ slow downs, and the like”) [Albrecht, 1986, p. 131]. For these antisocial acts (e.g., theft of a machine and “temper tantrum that results in a broken window or a damaged typewriter” (p. 131), Albrecht admitted that “we have no way of knowing which of these costs are stress-linked and which are simply isolated events [emphasis added]” (1986, p. 131).

The result looks like this for stress-linked personnel costs according to Albrecht:

Stress-linked absenteeism: $1 million/year
Stress-linked turnover: $40,000/year
Performance degradation (overstaffing cost): $2.5 million/year
Antisocial acts: $20,000/year
TOTAL $3,560,000/year

Even though Rosch might not have come up with the $300 billion price tag “out of thin air,” the source (Albrecht’s book) from which he based his calculations is quite unconvincing. In fact, Albrecht even admitted as much. Despite his own initial warning to not guess or speculate a dollar amount on the cost of stress, Albrecht marched right into speculation and guesswork.

Albrecht’s original estimate/guesstimate of cost of stress on organizations (1979) was derived from taking a hypothetical firm and extrapolating the cost of stress per person for that firm to 80 million U.S. workers: $1,780 (total stress cost divided by number of employees) x 80 million = $142.4 billion (“a national cost figure for stress-induced loss of effectiveness and efficiency approaching $150 billion no longer seems unbelievable” [Albrecht, 1986, pp. 132-133]).

So Rosch cited Albrecht’s $150 billion price tag from 1979, then modified that original amount (sometime around 2001) by doubling the $150 billion to $300 billion, and (almost) everyone (the general public, the media, writers/authors, professors, and researchers) jumped onboard and accepted it as a certainty.

The undeniable truth is this: Two men made up those numbers ($150 billion & $300 billion) in an attempt to guesstimate the cost of stress. Albrecht, the first man in 1979, “brazenly” made lots of “crude assumptions” and came up with an arbitrary number as an “intellectual challenge.” Roughly two decades later, Rosch, the second man, then based his calculations off the “crude assumptions” of the first (Albrecht). Thus, whatever number Rosch arrived at is pointless because it does not have anything to stand on. Albrecht offered sage advice in his book: “Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation.” Unfortunately, no one, including Albrecht himself, followed that nugget of wisdom.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

The American Institute of Stress. Workplace Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

Albrecht, K. (1979). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Albrecht, K. (1986). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. STATS.org.

International Stress Management Association (ISMA-USA). (2001) Newsletter. Vol. 3. Issue 1. [PDF]

Rosch, P. J. (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 1-8.

Book Review – Psychology and Work: Perspectives on Industrial and Organizational Psychology

psychology and work textbook cover

NOTE: I am reviewing this I/O psychology textbook from a reader’s perspective (i.e., the student’s/learner’s point of view) and not from an instructor’s perspective.

From the very first few pages, I could tell that Psychology and Work is a refreshingly different I/O psychology textbook. I was immediately drawn to the highly readable and clear writing styles of the three authors. The book reads as though I were sitting and listening to them present in a classroom. In the preface, the authors wrote that they “set out to create a book that would reflect [their] enthusiasm for the field as well as [their] love of both teaching and researching the many important issues involved in I/O psychology” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016). I believe they succeeded in doing just that and more.

For starters, let’s take the introduction to and history of I/O psychology — which is typically quite boring and dry when presented in other I/O psychology textbooks. In the Psychology and Work text, the authors walked the readers through the two major areas of I/O psychology (namely, industrial psychology and organizational psychology). Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) explained that “Industrial psychology and organizational psychology merged many decades ago, such that there is no longer a separate ‘industrial’ or ‘organizational’ psychology. This is because a dichotomy between the two areas is neither accurate nor useful. Both are concerned with the psychology of work, and any separation of the two is a bit artificial. But more importantly, concepts from both industrial and organizational psychology inform one another” (p. 5).

I love that! What an explanation to ensure that students don’t confuse or continue to wonder about the distinction between the two areas of I/O psychology.

Among the things I found engaging about this I/O psychology textbook is a mention of how change management connects to and falls under Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology:

“Change management is a specialization within I/O psychology that is referred to as Organization Development (OD)” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 526).

Although I applaud the authors for connecting change management to I/O psychology, I disagree with them that change management is referred to as organization development (OD). Organization development (OD) is sometimes incorrectly used to also mean change management (Cummings & Worley, 2009). However, organization development is a subspecialty in industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology (Muchinsky, 2006; SIOP, 2016). Change management actually belongs under the domain of organization development (Cummings & Worley, 2009). Thus, it would have been more accurate to say that organization development (OD) is a specialization within I/O psychology and within OD is an area called change management.

For more, read my article on the link between Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology, Organization Development (OD), and Change Management.

The authors of Psychology and Work nicely linked change management to I/O psychology:

“Planning, implementing, and monitoring change is a place where I/O psychologists can add value to organizations” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 526).

“In the news media, organizational change is often portrayed as revolutionary (as opposed to incremental) and as directly attributable to the actions of specific individuals, most notably a new CEO, or a few heroic individuals. . .In contrast, the I/O psychology literature…has generated a large body of literature describing the ingredients of successful change. What this literature suggests is that the success of a change effort is ultimately the result of how change recipients — those employees who are affected by the change — receive it. . .Given the importance of the human element in successful planning and implementation of change, I/O psychology has a lot to contribute to organizational change management” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, pp. 545-546).

Another area I appreciated was Psychology and Work’s chapter (Ch. 12) on stress and occupational health psychology. Many I/O psychology textbooks either ignore or fail to cover the field of occupational health psychology, opting instead to talk about stress & worker well-being, worker stress, or stress management (the exception is Spector’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology which devotes an entire chapter to occupational health psychology). Occupational health psychology (OHP), an interdisciplinary field within I/O psychology, concerns the application of psychology to improving the quality of work life and to protecting and promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers (Journal of Occupational Health Psychology – Description). Thus, for I/O psychology textbooks to talk only about work stress or stress management, while ignoring workplace safety, does not adequately inform students/learners about the broader field of OHP.

The Psychology and Work textbook covers occupational health psychology directly and this is much appreciated. Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) wrote that OHP is such an important and integral part of I/O psychology (the focus in I/O psychology is, after all, on individuals at work) that no introductory textbook on I/O psychology would be complete without a chapter dedicated to occupational health psychology.

I really enjoyed the chapter on Training and Development (Ch. 8) and the fantastic reference to the article by Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch (2012). Salas and colleagues (2012) stated, “decisions about what to train, how to train, and how to implement and evaluate training should be informed by the best information science has to offer” (p. 74). The article is packed full of clear principles (informed by science) as to what matters most in the design and delivery of training.

Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan’s Psychology and Work makes it a joy for learners to not only digest a lot of information, but to also retain, and later retrieve that information (from memory or by referring back to the book). The Training and Development chapter provides a good illustration of this. In the introduction to the chapter they wrote:

“[W]e will provide an overview of the training process, beginning with the training needs assessment, followed by a discussion of factors within the trainee and in the work context that can help — or hinder — the effectiveness of a training program. We will follow this with a discussion of specific training methods and when to use each of them, and how to evaluate whether or not a training program is working. We conclude by discussing current training issues and offering advice for how to take charge of your own training and development” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 273).

Psychology and Work features a huge section/header font size, as well as key terms, highlighted in a separate color, that are easily distinguishable and in bold in the body of the page and definitions of those key terms displayed on the side of the page. There are learning goal statements at the start of each chapter to help students know what to expect. There are workplace application boxes which offer examples to illustrate key concepts. There are also case studies that highlight how the theories and concepts in I/O psychology matter to workers and the organizations that employ them. I also like the “What does this mean to you?” sections at the end of each chapter showing how the material can be applied to students — those already in the workplace or about to enter the workplace.

In order to truly evaluate (“size up”) the Psychology and Work textbook, I compared it to two popular I/O psychology textbooks [textbook #1 is my old I/O psychology book and textbook #2 is my “go-to” I/O psychology text]. The Psychology and Work textbook was matched against these two I/O psychology textbooks on three topics: (1) training and development; (2) adverse impact determination in employee selection; and (3) use of cognitive ability tests in personnel selection.

For the topic of training and development, I/O psychology textbook #1 (my old I/O psychology textbook) was difficult and painful to read and absorb, while the Psychology and Work textbook was just effortless. Both textbooks contained the same or very similar information about training and development but the manner in which the material was presented made the choice to go with the Psychology and Work textbook an easy, obvious one.

Next, I decided to compare a topic that’s one of the most well-covered in I/O psychology textbooks — adverse impact determination in employee selection. I/O psychology textbook #2 was less verbose, used less legalese, and was less confusing than I/O psychology textbook #1. Unlike I/O psychology textbook #1, which explained adverse impact determination using only text, I/O psychology textbook #2 provided a table to explain the 80 percent or 4/5 rule in determining adverse impact. This was helpful, but still not as clear as it could be.

The Psychology and Work textbook, on the other hand, offered text as well as a simple equation and two examples to explain the 80 percent or 4/5 rule — one in which the employer was not in violation of the 4/5 rule, and the other in which the employer was in violation of the 4/5 rule. What’s more, to help readers understand this concept, Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) walked us through a 3-step adverse impact case. Simply brilliant!

Step 1: The person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) must show/demonstrate adverse impact. The plaintiff has to establish that a selection procedure used by the organization has adverse impact against the group to which they belong (e.g., using the 4/5 rule).

Step 2: Employer demonstrates test validity. If the person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) is able to show that adverse impact exists, the employer will now need to defend themselves. One of the most important defenses is to show the validity of the selection procedure.

Step 3: The person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) demonstrates other predictors were available. If the employer can show that their selection procedures are valid, the plaintiff can show that other, equally valid selection procedures with lower adverse impact were available for the employer ti use. “This is a fairly high bar for most plaintiffs to reach, and thus most adverse impact cases end if the employer can show that its selection procedures are valid” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 244-245).

For the final comparison, I decided to look up cognitive ability tests in personnel selection. Here’s what I found:

Psychology and Work textbook – Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) clearly explained at the outset that tests of cognitive abilities have a long history in I/O psychology and that “general cognitive ability [also known as g] (which psychologists consider to include reasoning, symbolic representation, and problem solving) is one of the best predictors of performance across jobs” (p. 184).

“The main reason that g [general cognitive ability] is such a good predictor of job performance: It allows workers to learn their job more quickly” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 184).

Equally important, however, is that tests of general cognitive ability have been shown to have adverse impact on minority groups. Thus, due to legal reasons as well as fairness and diversity, employers are reluctant to use cognitive ability tests to make hiring decisions (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016).

I/O psychology textbook #1 (my old I/O psychology text) – I actually had quite a bit of trouble locating this piece of information using the table of contents and had to resort to the subject index. It was hidden deep inside an obscurely worded chapter, with cognitive abilities and cognitive ability tests more than 25 pages apart! What’s interesting is that there was no mention, in the section on cognitive ability tests, of general cognitive ability tests and their adverse impact on minority groups (which the other two I/O textbooks mentioned).

I/O psychology textbook #2 (my “go-to” I/O psychology text) – Although the same information was covered, reading it made me feel as if I were being lectured to, rather than a professor talking with me and the class. The writing style is mechanical and dry.

I can’t say enough how clear and easy-to-understand the writing is throughout Psychology and Work! I selected three topics (training and development; adverse impact determination in employee selection; use of cognitive ability tests in personnel selection), intentionally choosing a boring, but important, legal topic (adverse impact determination in employee selection) to see if the writings and clarity remained consistent all through the Psychology and Work textbook. It is and that’s an incredible achievement.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite my quibble about the authors’ assertion that change management is referred to as organization development. It is truly a rare treat to find a book, written by college professors, that’s this much fun and easy to read! I only wish more I/O psychology textbooks were as well designed and written as Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan’s Psychology and Work. It is absolutely one of the finest and most carefully crafted textbooks I have seen! Bravo!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Aguirre, D., Brown, A., & Harshak, A. (2010, October 5). Making change happen, and making it stick: Delivering sustainable organizational change. Strategy&. Retrieved from http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/reports/making-change-happen-making-stick-2

American Psychological Association. (2016). Recognized Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/recognized.aspx

Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2009). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western.

Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Description. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/ocp/

Muchinsky, P. M. (2006). Psychology applied to work (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Prosci. (2015, November 24). Exploring the Relationship between OD and Change Management: Interview. Retrieved from http://blog.prosci.com/exploring-od-and-change-management-authors-interview

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science In The Public Interest, 13(2), 74-101.

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). (2016). Approved CRSPPP (Committee on the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology) petition for the recognition of Industrial and Organizational Psychology as a specialty in professional psychology (Abr. ed.). Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/history/crsppp.aspx

Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2016). Psychology and work: Perspectives on industrial and organizational psychology. New York: Routledge.

Disclosure: I received Psychology and Work: Perspectives on Industrial and Organizational Psychology as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Giving Feedback Is Easy, Much Harder to Accept, Learn From, and Apply It

Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions
Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions

About 15 years ago, I was enrolled in a counseling psychology Master’s program. It was quite good and I learned a lot back then and continue to use many of the counseling/coaching skills today in the corporate world.

As part of the program, we were required to conduct counseling sessions with real clients and film these sessions (after securing the client’s permission) so that our classmates and professors could review these sessions and offer their feedback.

One day, during a feedback session about my counseling skills (again, where my peers and professor watched a video of my counseling session with a client and provided their feedback), I listened to them go on and on about what I was not doing right, what I had missed, or that my timing to talk was off, etc.

It is always hard to hear others criticize your work/performance but, by this time in the program, we had done this many times already so I was fine with receiving feedback, even tough feedback.

This went on for some time (at least it felt that way) and I tried to be patient, thinking and hoping that my professor would cut them off because, after a while, it started to sound the same (that is, they started repeating what someone else had shared). Unfortunately, my professor did not jump in and the “feedback” turned personal and became attacks on my character. It was very surreal because I could not believe that this was actually happening to me (a counselor-in-training) and the sources of the attacks were my peers (other counselors-in-training) and then having a professor (who was also a practicing psychologist) just sit there and do nothing made the entire experience feel like a bad dream.

I finally stopped them and told everyone that while I love and appreciate their feedback, because that’s how I learn, and although I try to always be open to feedback about my performance, when it turns into personal jabs, then that crosses the line and that’s where I have a problem. I told the professor that I was disappointed that she just sat there and did nothing while my classmates were attacking me (as a person) and not redirect them to focus on my actions (as a counselor).

Next, I offered my own feedback to my peers and professor about how they completely missed the cultural perspective in evaluating my performance and that their perspectives and opinions about when to interrupt a client while the client was talking (in order to offer the suggested counseling response) and how to come across as “professional” failed to account for a cultural dimension (both the client’s and the counselor’s), one in which age and experience (or lack of one) both play an important role in how and how often one offers feedback.

You would have thought that that might have been the end of it, but the attacks began again, with the professor sitting idly by not knowing what to do or not wanting to intervene. Again, I told the group that it felt like this was a character attack because they were criticizing my personality/character (or what they believed they “knew” about me) and not my actions in providing the talk therapy.

My counseling classmates and professor were very fast to give out all sorts of feedback (ideas, tips, suggestions), but when it was given back to them, they weren’t just slow to accept it, they dismissed it entirely.

In his book, “The Complete New Manager,” John Zenger shared that inside our minds is a picture of how we view ourselves. This mental self-portrait consists of our behaviors, values, and self-image.

“In most cases, leaders with a fatal flaw are totally unaware of that flaw. For example, people who immediately reject others’ ideas would probably describe themselves as having such extensive experience that they know what ideas will succeed and fail. These individuals don’t know they are perceived as rejecting everyone else’s ideas” (Zenger, 2010, p. 167).

Zenger explained that feedback that these leaders receive (from team discussions, 360-degree appraisals, or coaching sessions) convey messages which are contrary to how they view themselves.

When faced with this situation, these leaders have three choices:

(1) Deny the information – It’s very easy to dismiss feedback from one or two sources, but when you receive feedback from multiple, reliable sources then it can be much harder to ignore.

(2) Change their self-concept – Leaders admit to themselves that they do not know everything and that their own ideas are not the only good ones.

(3) Change their behavior – Feedback is most powerful when it is actually applied to altering behavior. 

According to Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) the single best predictor of who will advance up the corporate ladder and do well once there is — learning agility. Eichinger et al. said we demonstrate learning agility when we’re able to reflect on our experiences and be disciplined enough to change our behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to predict leadership is to use a combination of cognitive ability (i.e., IQ), personality, simulation, role play, learning agility, and multi-rater assessment (i.e., 360-degree assessment). But if you only had one choice, use learning agility (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

“Learning agility is the ability to reflect on experience and then engage in new behaviors based on those reflections. Learning agility requires self-confidence to honestly examine oneself, self-awareness to seek feedback and suggestions, and self-discipline to engage in new behaviors” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 495).

Takeaways: (1) It is essential that you take an honest look inside yourself. Be self-aware and brave enough to ask for feedback. And most of all, learn from and apply the feedback to improving yourself and your behaviors. (2) It can be very easy, especially for extroverts and people who love to talk, to give feedback to others, but those who tend to be quick to give feedback are sometimes slow to accept and apply feedback themselves.

“Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.” —African proverb

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Zenger, J. H. (2010). The complete new manager: Essential tips and techniques for managers. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Are You Depressed Because of Your Job or Are You Depressed Regardless?

Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images
Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images

A Careers Reporter for Business Insider contacted me about signs that a person’s job is making him/her depressed. I’ve been wanting to write about mental illness and the workplace but just never got around to doing it and was happy that this gave me a chance to do so.

Here is what I wrote back:

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.) defines depression as follows:

“Depression: a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.”

According to “Mental Illness in the Workplace” (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014), depression is the most prevalent type of mental illness both inside the workplace and outside of it.

Signs of depression (and I’m referring to clinical depression) include significant sadness lasting most of the day and occurring most days of the week. What’s more, many depressed people also have trouble sleeping and/or eating. They’re tired or are chronically fatigued, can’t concentrate, feel worthless, have thoughts about suicide, or have lost experiencing joy from activities that they once enjoyed (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

Other signs to look for, particularly in the workplace, are employees who look sad, angry, unmotivated, withdrawn, or who are tired with frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or decrease in performance or performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable. They may also have interpersonal relationships that are stormy or diminished (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

So how would you know if your job is making you depressed? We would want to look at workplace factors that include the following:

  • High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  • High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  • Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?

If we were to take what I just shared and put them into a list, it might look like this:

Is Your Job Making You Depressed?

  1. High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  2. High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  3. Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?
  4. Being or feeling sad, angry, unmotivated, or withdrawn.
  5. Feeling tired and making frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or being less productive or demonstrating performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable.

But, and I believe this is very important, we should also phrase it this way . . .

Are You Depressed Regardless of The Job You Have? In other words, it might just be that an individual is depressed no matter what type of job he/she has. And if that’s the case (that it’s really about a person who is or might be depressed), then we would want to look for a combination of symptoms below:

  1. Significant sadness lasting most of the day, and occurring most days of the week.
  2. Difficulty sleeping and/or eating.
  3. Feeling tired or is chronically fatigued.
  4. Unable or trouble concentrating.
  5. Feeling worthless.
  6. Have thoughts about suicide.
  7. Does not enjoy activities that you once enjoyed.
  8. Rocky or reduced interpersonal relationships.
  9. These problems are significantly interfering with your daily life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Harder, H. G., Wagner, S., & Rash, J. (2014). Mental illness in the workplace: Psychological disability management. Burlington, VT: Gower.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Why Philanthropy Is Important to Me

Hands holding letters spelling words | Credit: John Rensten
Hands holding letters spelling words | Credit: John Rensten

Many long-time readers of WorkplacePsychology.Net know that I have a special place in my heart for philanthropy. I give because I know what it feels like to struggle. My life’s journey has been marked by challenges. These hardships have served as important life lessons. They keep me humble and remind me daily to give thanks, help others, not complain, and be mindful that no matter how big and successful I might become one day I’m never too big to help others.

People typically use the words philanthropy and charity interchangeably. Although both terms describe helping others and also giving money to help, there is an important difference.

“Charity is often thought to be helping someone or something right now by giving directly to solve the problem, not necessarily through financial contributions. It could be direct aid and is generally aimed toward the needy or suffering. Philanthropy, on the other hand, is love of humankind, the act of improving the situation of others through charitable aid or donations. Individuals also state that philanthropy in their opinion is long term, whereas charity is immediate and often short term in focus. . . . [A]ll of us have heard the adage that if you give a person a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach him to fish, he will eat for his entire life. Charity at its basic sense is giving the person a fish, whereas philanthropy is teaching the person to fish” (Dietlin, 2010, p. 5).

I am very thankful to be able to support three incredible non-profits:

charity: water brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. They raise awareness about the 1 billion people living without life’s most basic need, water. 100% of public donations go directly to fund clean water projects in developing countries. Here are two sobering facts:

▪ Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. 43% of those deaths are children under five years old.

▪ Kids in developing countries spend 3+ hours each day collecting water instead of going to school.

Room to Read combats global poverty by improving educational opportunities for children and helping primary school children become lifelong readers. It does this by establishing libraries, improving school infrastructure, publishing local language children’s books and supporting reading and writing instruction through teacher training and material development.

Room to Read’s model focuses on transformation within schools in low-income countries during two time periods which are most critical in a child’s schooling: early primary school for literacy acquisition and secondary school for girls’ education. They work in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children and ensure girls can complete secondary school with the skills necessary to negotiate key life decisions (Room to Read, Press Kit).

Here’s a somber fact: 781 MILLION PEOPLE in the world are illiterate, about 16% of the world’s adults. Of the illiterate, 2/3 are women and girls!

The Navy SEAL Foundation offers support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Community and its families. The United States Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Teams, better known as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force and a part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and United States Special Operations Command.

Did you know that Navy SEALs can spend up to 270 days away from their home each year in the most unforgiving environments and training at an unrelenting pace in order to maintain their ability to execute our nation’s toughest military missions?

“A SEAL’s state of readiness is directly linked to the health and resiliency of their family. Their overall well-being and ability to cope with uncertainty and lack of predictability have a huge impact on the warrior’s ability to remain focused in combat and in training. In their line of work, a SEAL’s ability to focus means the difference between life and death. Their family’s ability to draw from the strength of their support networks, and become resilient themselves, is essential for the preservation of family cohesion while their SEAL warrior is defending freedom across the globe” (Your Commitment Makes an Impact).

The Foundation helps “preserve the force and family by providing a comprehensive set of programs specifically designed to improve health and welfare, build and enhance resiliency, empower and educate their families, and provide critical support during times of illness, injury or loss. The challenges faced by SEALs and their families aren’t short lived – they are perpetual, ever-changing and unrelenting” (Your Commitment Makes an Impact).

One area I especially like and applaud is the educational programs and assistance the Navy SEAL Foundation provides to NSW service members in transition, and NSW dependent children. For instance, the Foundation helps pay for college and graduate school test preparation. They also offer tuition assistance to enlisted active-duty NSW service members. Finally, the Navy SEAL Foundation has scholarship opportunities available to NSW active duty service members, their spouses and dependent children, as well children of qualifying former NSW service members (Educational Programs: Education and Motivation).

Every time I give, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be alive, healthy, and living in America (giving evokes gratitude). For those of you who do not know my story, here’s the short version: In 1979, when I was about 8 years old, my family and I escaped from Vietnam. We joined countless others and got onto a small vessel in search of a better life. Three days and four nights later, after outrunning Thai pirates and discarding a dead body, we found ourselves stranded at sea with little food and water remaining. By the grace of God, we were rescued and brought into a refugee camp on a tiny island called Galang (in Indonesia). After almost a year there, we were sponsored by my uncle to come to America. In the spring of 1980, more than one year after we left our homeland in Southeast Asia, my family and I set foot on American soil for the very first time.

My hope is that, by sharing about why I give, it will leave an impression on people reading this piece and inspire them to give too. As Suttie and Marsh’s article notes, “Giving is contagious. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community.”

I urge you to make a small, recurring monetary donation to one of the reputable charities listed on Charity Navigator. It does not need to be a large amount and the frequency does not need to be often. Start small and pick two months this year to donate. For example, you might donate $10 to charity X twice a year (June and December). Simple.

Read this page first, Charity Navigator — Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors.

Need more reasons to give? How about 5 ways giving is good for you?

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Charity Navigator — Overview. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=628

Charity Navigator — Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=419#.VsAsQJMrKQU

charity: water — The 100% Model. https://www.charitywater.org/100percent/

charity: water — Why Water. http://www.charitywater.org/whywater/

Dietlin, L. M. (2010). Transformational Philanthropy: Entrepreneurs and Nonprofits. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Greater Good – 5 Ways Giving Is Good for You. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

Navy SEAL Foundation. http://www.navysealfoundation.org/

Room to Read — Press Kit. Quick Fact Sheet. http://www.roomtoread.org/document.doc?id=180

Room to Read — Press Kit. http://www.roomtoread.org/PressKit

Don’t Have to Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves

Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains
Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains | Credit: vm

Throughout 2015, one consistent and recurring theme kept appearing over and over again for me. Whether in the workplace or in a social gathering, I observed that there are people who need to put others down so they can feel better about themselves.

I’m not sure what’s the root cause or causes of this behavior. It might have to do with low self-esteem, being afraid (of failing, of what others might say, etc.), the desire to self-promote, the need to one-up someone else, or a combination of all these (or none of the above). I’m not certain. What I am certain is that engaging in these types of negative, mean-spirited behaviors (of putting others down) shines a very bright and unflattering light on your character, or lack of one.

One reason, I believe, some individuals feel the need to criticize, belittle, disparage, or denigrate another person is because of envy — of the target’s career and financial success.

Very few people get to where they are by accident or mistake. Regardless of how they were back in high school or college, they took active steps toward correcting their path and ensuring that their future states would be markedly different from their current states. Change does not happen overnight (unless you win the lottery). Therefore, from the time that these targets were viewed as “losers” (10/20/30 years ago, back in high school or college) to their current state of career & financial success today, they must have done many things right and worked hard (graduate from school, pass board exams, secure jobs and demonstrate their value to their organizations) to “earn their keep” (i.e., proved they’re worthy of the money, time, and effort their company has invested in them).

Many people today want to skip the hard work part and go straight to the success stage (whatever that might be for them). I attribute this to youth, inexperience, not enough life lessons or scars, not learning from mistakes, no insight into own weaknesses, impatience, arrogance, feeling entitled, feeling envious, and/or bad advice from their friends or confidants.

In my 20s I was hungry for success. I felt that I deserved a piece of the success pie that others seemed to enjoy. In my 30s I thought I had matured enough to earn the respect of others and therefore be given more important responsibilities and a higher place on the organization chart. I was wrong.

Through the ups and downs, the doubts and fears, and getting kicked in the teeth by painful life lessons and experiences, and with the help of good, sound advice from my wife, and my relationship with God, I finally realized that I can be successful but only if I stop feeling sorry for myself, stop playing the victim, stop blaming others or put them down, and start “owning” my situation and life, and come up with a game plan for how to go about getting the job or attaining the education or certifications I had always desired for myself.

It was only when I stopped letting others dictate the story of my life and instead started writing my own life story that I began to enjoy the “success” (for me) that I had once envied of others. The irony is that, as Shawn Achor (2010) shared in his book The Happiness Advantage, when we’re happy first (e.g., not feeling the urge to put others down), then we’re in a better position to start enjoying the success—both at work and in our personal lives—we’re hoping for and dreaming about.

Takeaway: Forget about what other people are doing with their lives. Try focusing on being happy and improving your own life by creating and mastering small, achievable goals instead. When you’re happy with your life, you won’t have time or energy to worry about other people or feel the need to talk bad about them. Remember, you do not need to put others down to lift yourself up.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Listening To Music While Working Can Be Distracting

Young man working at computer with headphones on
Young man working at computer with headphones on | Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez

I’ve heard college students and even business professionals claim that listening to music while working made them more productive. While it’s true that music can lift your mood and give you a relaxed focus, it can also decrease your performance on cognitively demanding tasks.

So when can music improve performance? Annie Murphy Paul, in an article in Time.com, wrote “Music can improve performance when a well-practiced expert needs to achieve the relaxed focus necessary to execute a job he’s done many times before.” For example, surgeons often listen to music while they’re performing surgeries and they’re more effective.

The irony, however, is that while the surgeons’ preferred music helped them, the music was distracting to others who work alongside them, such as the anesthetists.

When you are doing repetitive or routine tasks (e.g., folding laundry or filing papers), listening to music can make it less boring. But when you need to perform cognitively demanding tasks, music can actually be distracting. What’s more, singing along to the music may further increase the distraction.

The message is this:

“When you need to give learning and remembering your full attention, silence is golden.” -Annie Murphy Paul

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Link

TIME.com – Listening to Music While Working: Does It Hamper Productivity?
http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/12/does-listening-to-music-while-working-make-you-less-productive/

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

Businessmen discussing in office
Businessmen discussing in office | Credit: Morsa Images

In a previous life and time, I worked as a mental health counselor. I was trained in the art of listening and would periodically have my listening skills evaluated by professors, supervisors, and even peers (on videos and in live sessions). It was stressful and sometimes I felt more like the patient/client than the therapist.

After pivoting from the mental health field to the corporate world, I was naïve enough to think that I would no longer need to tap into my counseling skills.

Today, more than a decade after leaving my counseling life behind and much to my surprise and delight, I continue to find my counseling skills useful when interacting with people. In particular, I’m seeing many areas in the business arena that are in desperate need of the skills of a counselor.

Talk First, Ramble On Second, and (Maybe) Listen Third

It is incredible to me how quick business people are to talk before hearing what the other person has to say. Let me share one example: I had scheduled a meeting about a project and prior to the meeting, had sent out an email outlining the purpose of the meeting as well as the limited parameters within which we had to work. Once the meeting started, a woman began suggesting ideas on how to improve things. They were fantastic ideas. The only problem was that these great ideas were not applicable to the project nor were they aligned with the reason for the meeting.

Had she listened to what I was explaining at the start of the meeting — the presentation is limited to one hour so we are limited by what we can do — then she would not have wasted her time talking and everyone else’s time listening to her go on and on.

The business environment demands that a person speaks up in order to be noticed and, sadly, many are too quick to talk rather than listen to another person talk. It’s as if talking first and fast is somehow a sport and the first one to speak wins.

Given this context, we can see that listening achieves the exact opposite effect (i.e., listening means not talking much and not drawing attention to yourself because you’re not talking).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. They’ll interrupt as someone is talking to try to force their point across. Because they’re too busy trying to think about their own responses, it’s easy to see that they’re actually not listening. As a result, others form opinions about the person not listening, such as he’s arrogant, or doesn’t care, or does not value others. Perhaps they might think this person is too busy, has selective hearing, or is just impatient or insensitive.

One of the dangers of talking too much and not listening is that you’ll completely miss the point that the other person is trying to make, and even worse, when you restate or relate the conversation (if you can even call it that), you’ll restate it incorrectly because, not surprisingly, you weren’t listening and got the facts and important points all wrong!

Active Listening

In The First-Time Manager, Belker, McCormick, and Topchik (2012) said the ability to actively listen is one of the best-kept secrets of successful management.

Active listeners “encourage the other person to talk” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 25) and “continue the other person’s line of communication” (p. 26). We know when a person is truly engaged in conversation with us – they’ll look at us when we talk, they will occasionally nod their heads and smile, and they’ll use statements or comments to let us know they’re interested (e.g., that’s interesting; tell me more; why do you think he said that, etc.) and, finally, they’ll restate or rephrase what we just said (e.g., “So let me see if I understand what you just said [then add the rephrase version]. Is that right?” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012)

Here’s a great piece of advice:

“[Y]ou don’t want to dominate the conversation . . . Rather, you want to create a dialogue in which you speak only about one-fifth of the time” (Stone, 2007, p. 77).

One important caution about active listening is that if your only goal is to check off the list of active listening how-tos (i.e., maintain eye contact, nod your head, paraphrase) then even active listening can become mechanical. You MUST concentrate on listening, not just demonstrate that you are (Nichols, 2009).

Takeaway (from The First-Time Manager): “Active listening is one of the most valuable traits [you] can demonstrate for two important reasons: First, if you do a great deal of active listening, you will not be thought of as a know-it-all, which is how most people perceive someone who talks too much. Second, by doing a lot of active listening and less talking, you’ll learn what is going on and gain insights and information you would miss if you were doing all the talking” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 24).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Belker, L. B., McCormick, J., & Topchik, G. S. (2012). The first-time manager (6th ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Stone, F. M. (2007). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community.

Forbes.com lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

Links

BBC. (2012, March). Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16314901

Dishman, L. (2013, January). The Future Of Coworking And Why It Will Give Your Business A Huge Edge. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3004788/future-coworking-and-why-it-will-give-your-business-huge-edge

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Elsbach, K. D., & Cable, D. (2012, June). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-showing-your-face-at-work-matters

Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehjf45edikj/11-tips-for-being-part-o/

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011). http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/03/Telework-in-the-UK_4-3-11.1-Final-Rev.pdf

Henderson, J. M. (2015, August). Three Pitfalls Of Remote Work That You Probably Aren’t Thinking About. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2015/08/17/three-pitfalls-of-remote-work-that-you-probably-arent-thinking-about/

London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from http://www.london.edu/news-and-events/news/want-to-get-promoted-stay-at-your-desk#.Vdk9PNNVikp

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/12/21/virtual-workplaces-and-telework/

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/06/art3full.pdf

Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. CIO.com. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2431521/collaboration/17-telecommuting-pet-peeves.html

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/volkswagen-silences-work-e-mail-after-hours/2011/12/23/gIQAz4HRDP_story.html

Job Crafting: Shape, Mold, and Redefine Your Job

In his book, Drive (2011), Daniel Pink wrote that one of the motivating factors for employees is having the autonomy over four areas of work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom they do it. Pink called these the four Ts: employee’s task, time, technique, and team.

When I was working for a school system overseas in the Northern Mariana Islands, serving the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian, I came up with the idea of creating a crisis management workshop. Because there was no such thing in my organization as a 15 percent time (like 3M) or 20 percent time program (like Google), I crafted my job by integrating the crisis management training project into my official job duties.

Job crafting is “actions that employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 180). Job crafting is what workers do to redefine and reimagine their job to make it more personally meaningful to them (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013). Job crafting is initiated by the employee, from the bottom up, and not by the manager from the top down.

There are three types of job crafting techniques: task, relational, and cognitive.

Task crafting [Job crafting through changing tasks] is when employees change their formal job responsibilities by either adding or dropping tasks; by changing/altering the tasks; or the time and effort devoted to different tasks (e.g., “a tech-savvy customer service representative offering to help her colleagues with their IT issues”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Relational crafting [Job crafting through changing relationships] involves altering how, when, or with whom employees interact in the process of performing their job duties (e.g., “a software engineer forming a collaborative relationship with a marketing analyst”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Cognitive crafting [Job crafting through changing your perceptions] is when employees alter the way they perceive the tasks and relationships that comprise their jobs (e.g., “a ticket salesperson seeing the job as an essential part of providing people with entertainment, not just processing orders”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

While the idea of job crafting evokes images of positive benefits (to the employee and the organization employing that individual), it’s worth noting that job crafting can be negative for the organization. Job crafting is positive when the altered meaning of work and the new identities lead to behaviors that align an employee’s work patterns with the organization’s objectives. “However, if job crafting altered connections to others or task boundaries in ways that were at odds with organizational objectives, job crafting could harm rather than enhance organizational effectiveness” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 195).

David Sturt, an executive vice president for O.C. Tanner, shared an interesting story about Ted Geisel and job crafting in a Forbes article.

In the 1950s, “Dick and Jane” books that many schools used were very dry and boring. There weren’t any storyline only illustrations of kids and simple words reused over and over throughout the book.

That all changed when Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, an illustrator pal of William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, redefined and shaped his job into a more meaningful role and, ultimately, “changed the world of children’s books” (Sturt, 2013).

William challenged Ted (better known as Dr. Seuss) to take 225 vocabulary words that every six-year-old knows and then come up with a story that even a first-grader can’t stop reading. Ted’s talent was as an artist, having already done many children’s books. However, he had only drawn for books that were much longer and never with the limitations such as those set by William (Sturt, 2013).

But rather than refusing or giving up, Ted used that opportunity to reimagine children’s books, reframing his job as a storyteller and illustrator. Initially, Ted thought he could finish quickly, but it took him a year and a half to work within the parameters given to him, dealing with one- or two-syllable words and few verbs (Sturt, 2013).

Intent on creating something great, he told himself that if he could just find two words that rhyme, that would be his book. And find them he did.

The two words Ted found that rhymed? Cat and Hat.

“When Ted Geisel (now known as Dr. Seuss) published The Cat In The Hat in 1957, children’s literature was changed dramatically for the better. It was the first successful book that did not talk down to children. It had wacky illustrations, humor, sarcasm, rhythm, character development, and a story line. There was tension and resolution. The cat challenged authority. The children in the story learned a lesson. It was silly, oddball, and unexpected. Gone were the soft illustrations of Dick pulling Spot in a wagon. Instead, Ted’s book had a cat in a top hat, a know-it-all fish, and two blue-haired ‘Thing’ that made a mess of everything. It was different” (Sturt, 2013).

People, young and old, loved it. But what’s especially revolutionary was that the book was instrumental in promoting phonics as a replacement for rote memorization (Sturt, 2013).

“Imagine the loss to the world if Ted had seen William’s challenge as just another job with unreasonable constraints to crank out; if his eyes weren’t open to new possibilities; and if he didn’t have the mindset to do a little job crafting” (Sturt, 2013).

My own job crafting story involved all three of the job crafting techniques (task, relational, and cognitive [Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013]). I altered my job responsibilities to include crisis management and crisis intervention training in the school (task crafting). I reached out to and partnered with a group of school counselors and, along with a half-dozen counselors, started a Counselors Monthly-Level Sharing Meeting and Training program (relational crafting). Finally, I began to think of myself and my job as a liaison between what was happening at the school-level and what the counselors and administrators were dealing with and my responsibility to assist each school, the school system, and the local community (cognitive crafting).

The impetus for my job crafting came from a frustration with the lack of crisis management training for the schools. Countless conversations with colleagues in and outside the school system coupled with my own observations and experience led to an undeniable conclusion — at least for me — which is that someone needed to start a crisis management workshop and that someone was me. Of course, this was nothing new. Those who live and work on the islands have talked and heard others talk about the need to have some type of crisis management training. The BIG difference, however, is that I not only talk about a problem. I also suggest a solution and then do everything in my power to make that solution work.

As I detailed in my post, Less Talk More Action, there were many challenges and naysayers, but something inside me moved me to keep pressing forward and find creative ways to gain buy-in for my idea.

This crisis management training project was not required nor was it expected of me in my role. But I knew that it would greatly benefit students, teachers, school staff, and the overall school system if we were able to implement this nonviolent crisis intervention workshop.

I would spend nights and weekends absorbed in my project. It was exhilarating and the more I devoted myself, the more energized I became. It truly was intoxicating!

As a result of my being able to work on my own project and select my own teammate, and as validation for my efforts and achievements, I was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the CNMI Mental Health Planning Council and even received a Letter of Appreciation from the Executive Director at the Crisis Prevention Institute.

Anyone who’s ever worked on their own project and see it through (from defining the initial problem to the project launch) will tell you the euphoria and sense of accomplishment (and relief) they feel. Beyond any public recognition, accolades, and thanks is the feeling that you did something worthwhile.

Pink said there are three essential elements that motivate us:

1. Autonomy — the desire to direct our own lives.
2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

My time working abroad in the Northern Mariana Islands and the crafting of a crisis management training program into my job was one of the most satisfying times in my life (professionally, emotionally, and socially). The ability to have significant control (i.e., autonomy) over what I did, when I did it, how I did it, and with whom I did it was liberating. In addition, what further motivated me was the need to be better at my job and learn new skills and thinking (i.e., mastery). Finally, changing the way I perceived my job role and building new relationships helped me achieve my desire to serve the needs of the children in the school system and the local community (i.e., purpose).

Takeaway: Don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference through your job because you absolutely can. Regardless of what you do or what your position might be in an organization, you can always shape and redefine your job to make it more meaningful. Make sure you do what’s expected of you in your role, but then take the chance to branch out and find creative ways to add something new or different, something that benefits your colleagues, your department, your organization, and your clients.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

3M. Time to Think. Retrieved from http://solutions.3m.com/innovation/en_US/stories/time-to-think

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job Crafting and Meaningful Work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81-104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dr. Seuss. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/dr-seuss-9479638

Goetz, K. (2011, February). How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo. Fastcodesign.com. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663137/how-3m-gave-everyone-days-off-and-created-an-innovation-dynamo

Google. 2004 Founders’ IPO Letter: “An Owner’s Manual” for Google’s Shareholders. Retrieved from http://investor.google.com/corporate/2004/ipo-founders-letter.html

Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Sturt, D. (2013, June). ‘Job Crafting’: The Great Opportunity In The Job You Already Have. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/06/20/job-crafting-the-great-opportunity-in-the-job-you-already-have/

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Manager and HR

100-Things-You-Need-to-Know

Description (from a Lominger flyer): In 100 Things, three internationally-recognized experts in human capital management provide the research behind the best people practices in an easy-to-read and easy-to-reference format. You’ll find research, discussion and a “so what” section (that tells you what best practices to follow as a result of the research) on the full range of HR people issues you deal with all the time—change management, HR effectiveness, measurement, campus recruiting, career development, feedback, selection, pay practices and more.

I shared before about how I love Half-Price Books. Recently, I discovered other sources of used books – online bookstores! I’ve been impressed by the convenience, price, and quality of the used books I ordered thus far.

Previously, I had written about Lominger’s (now a part of Korn/Ferry) book, FYI For Your Improvement (a development and coaching tool for learners, managers, mentors, coaches and feedback givers). The FYI book can be used in conjunction with 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

100 Things You Need to Know is listed at $44.95 on the Korn/Ferry website (Lominger originally sold it for $49.95), but I bought a used copy online for $4.00 (that includes shipping/handling)!

What I especially like is that the authors have sifted through, pulled together, and presented research that back up HR and people practices, and then (and this is important) translates that research into what it means for you in your HR role – that is, what should you do based on the research findings. I also love the “How sure are we at this time?” a 5-point scale in which the authors indicate how certain they are of their answer/response.

Here’s an example:

What is the relationship between being smart (having a high IQ) and the ability to manage others effectively?

Select One:

    A. There is a strong relationship; the smarter you are, the better manager you can be.

    B. There is a moderate relationship; the smarter you are, the more likely it is you can manage others well.

    C. There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

    D. There is no relationship; the level of your IQ has nothing to do with how well you can manage others.

    E. There is a negative relationship; the smarter you are the more likely it is that you won’t listen or delegate.

The correct answer is C: There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

How sure are we at this time (based on the research evidence)?
[on a scale of Hint, Suggestive, Trending, Substantial, Solid] — Substantial*

*Substantial: Enough research has been done to feel strongly about the answer, although further research might shade the answer slightly in one direction or the other.

Next, Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich provide summaries of what they’ve found in support of the conclusion they reached. Finally, in the “So what difference do these findings make?” section, the authors share what you should do that’s in line with the research evidence and what are the best practices that can be gleaned from the research findings.

Human resource practitioners and many others will find 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR to be an incredibly useful, reputable, evidence-based, must-have resource. I wish I could get a copy for every HR, OD, and I/O consultant I know.

As Madigan and Dickson stated, citing Denise Rousseau (2007), there “remains a gap between much academic research on the workplace and I-O and HR practitioners’ day-to-day decision making and managers’ daily activities” (Madigan & Dickson, April 2008, p. 72). 100 Things You Need to Know will help bridge this gap by linking practitioners with research and providing them with guidance in performing their day-to-day activities.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Madigan, J., & Dickson, M. W. (April 2008). Good Science-Good Practice. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 45(4), 67-72.

Rousseau, D. M. (2007). A sticky, leveraging, and scalable strategy for high-quality connections between organizational practice and science. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 1037-1042.

Cajoling and Betraying Trust

The Oxford American Dictionary defines cajoling as “persuad[ing] someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery.” It’s another way of describing how we sweet-talk others into doing our bidding.

A damaging consequence of a leader cajoling employees is losing the employees’ trust or confidence in that leader, and in his words and actions. Although they may, initially, trust the leader it often does not take long for employees to recognize that it’s simply deception designed to get them to do what that leader wanted them to do.

“Cajoling employees (i.e., using persuasive tactics) is a poor leadership approach because it’s more about getting what you want and tricking people into listening to you. It’s sleight of hand. Employees might be deceived for a while into thinking they are following you, but they’ll eventually figure it out.” -John Brandon

FYI: For Your Improvement (2nd ed.) tells us betrayal of trust is problematic when we (a) say one thing but mean or do something else, (b) are inconsistent with our words or acts, and/or (c) fail to deliver on our promises or follow through on our commitments (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

Some reasons why a business professional betrays trust include (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998):

  • Wants to avoid conflict
  • Is dishonest, underhanded, devious
  • Has trouble saying no
  • Is disorganized, has poor time management, or is forgetful

Here are two remedies to help you to not lose people’s trust:

(1) Are you conflict-averse? I knew a guy who would (and could) never say no. He was notorious for always saying yes but everyone knew that he actually meant no. Friends would invite him to come hang out with them and he would always say he’ll meet them there, but, without fail, he would never show up. After a while, his friends stopped asking because they knew his hollow promises (to meet them) were never supported by his actions (of showing up). Some people are so worried about offending others that they’ll say yes or commit to something when they actually have no intention of following through.

Here’s something those who are afraid of saying no don’t realize: People will respect you MORE if you say “NO” instead of saying yes and not mean it.

(2) Intentionally saying things to gain an advantage? Another type of betrayers of trust are folks who “know ahead of time that what [they] are saying is not really true or that [they] really don’t think that [way]” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 455). These people “say things [they] don’t mean to gain an advantage or forward a relationship or get some resources” (p. 455).

When we talk about people who say things they don’t mean just to make a sale or to gain some type of advantage, snake oil salesmen or car salesmen quickly come to mind. But, I bet we all know or work with, or for, someone who does this (i.e., say things they don’t mean or make empty promises, etc.). As the FYI book explains, individuals who habitually overpromise (to impress others) and underdeliver on those promises will “lose in the long term because others will learn to discount promises and only measure results” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, pp. 454-455).

Takeaway: In daily life and in the workplace, people trust us to do what we say we’ll do. Human beings expect and demand a certain level of trust in their interactions with one another. When that trust is severed because a person uses sleight of hand to dupe others into carrying out his/her agenda, relationships are damaged, business projects derail, and drama ensues.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Brandon, J. (2014, November 19). How to Stop Making the Most Common Leadership Mistakes | Inc.com.
http://www.inc.com/john-brandon/10-common-leadership-mistakes-and-how-to-stop-making-them.html

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Critically Examine Information to Avoid Garbage In, Gospel Out

One of the aims of my WorkplacePsychology.Net blog is to encourage and insist on evidence-based practices. A huge pet peeve of mine is the stating of opinions or thoughts as facts or providing incorrect or false information, such as when someone will matter-of-factly state something as fact when it’s actually just their opinion or sharing something they heard or read or concluded incorrectly. What’s troubling is that this occurs so often today despite the wide availability and ease of access to the Internet to help confirm or challenge these mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen in conversations as well as writings — in social gatherings, the workplace, and even in business magazines and books. To me, the fault lies not only in the individual(s) passing along the mistake but also in the receiver(s) who careless accept it as facts. If information (news, stories, statements, claims, and so on) is not properly vetted (i.e., carefully examined), by both sharers and receivers of that information, it can quickly snowball into useless noise or, worse, damaging rumors or unintentional (or even intentional) misinformation.

For instance, I heard two people talking about a news story (of which I had read about). Person X made an emphatic statement about the type of weapon used to commit a crime and Person Y simply accepted it as truth, without ever verifying that this was actually true or not.

In another case, I was very curious as to how writers and authors arrived at the $300 billion cost for the toll of stress on the U.S. economy. This price tag is often cited in newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and even textbooks. After some research, I discovered that the $300 billion cost of stress on the U.S. economy is actually based on speculation made in a 1979 book that were then later adjusted to account for inflation.

According to IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

Indeed, as our demand for and use of mobile devices grows so too will the unbridled growth of what’s called unstructured data which are “generated by all our digital interactions, from email to online shopping, text messages to tweets, Facebook updates to YouTube videos” (Wall, 2014).

While it would be impossible to critically examine every piece of information, it is wise to use an evidence-based approach in the planning and execution of key business initiatives (e.g., employee selection, training & development, assessments, leadership development, etc.).

Here’s one example for employee selection:

Despite their popularity and frequency of use, free-flowing, unstructured job interviews are the least effective tool when hiring. Situational interviews, patterned behavioral interview, job simulations, and a realistic job preview are four effective, research-supported tools for hiring (Latham, 2009).

There are a lot of noisy distractions (e.g., unsubstantiated claims, statements, posts, tweets, emails, texts, comments, etc.) and it’s up to each one of us to sift through mountains of data (of all types), curating the best/most useful, and ignoring the rest.

In 2015, let us all become better, more proficient, curators of information or, better stated, evidence-based professionals. If you hear or read something, look it up (using reputable online or offline resources, and no Wikipedia is not one of them) and confirm that the information stated has merit. It does not matter if the information came from someone’s mouth, a popular blog, a business website, or a book — you should practice your due diligence and vet that information before absorbing it into your own mind. Carelessly accepting everything you read and/or hear as fact will result in a “Garbage In, Gospel Out” (an updated term to Garbage In, Garbage Out) mindset and way of life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Ault, M. R. (2003). Combating the Garbage-In, Gospel-Out Syndrome. Radiation Protection Management: The Journal of Applied Health Physics, 20(6), 26-30. http://www.radpro.com/RPM-206full.pdf

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. http://stats.org/stories/2004/counting_costs_stress_sep23_04.htm

IBM Study: Digital era transforming CMO’S agenda, revealing gap in readiness. http://www.ibm.com/news/ca/en/2011/10/11/s358732u66669q21.html

IBM. What is big data? http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

Latham, G. P. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

Wall, M. (2014, Mar. 3). Big Data: Are you ready for blast-off? http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26383058

Being an Arrogant Know-It-All: A Surefire Way to Derail Your Career

If you listen to people talk, sometimes overtly and other times more subtly, you’ll catch them talking about themselves, bragging about their own skills/abilities, and/or taking credit for things. It’s funny how people will fall in love with their own ideas, methods, and processes. And when they talk about their ideas, which seems to somehow always originate from their own insights (never anyone else’s), it’s as if it’s something miraculous. I am reminded of those TV infomercials which always claim that before this idea or product came along, things were slow, inefficient, miserable, etc. and that because of this “new” idea/discovery things will now be faster, more efficient, wonderful, etc.

In a previous post, I shared about a book called, FYI-For Your Improvement. In it, under the “career stallers and stoppers” section, there’s an entry for arrogance.

Being arrogant is a problem because a person “always thinks he/she has the right and only answer [and] discounts or dismisses the input of others” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 447). Some causes of arrogance include: lack of feedback, like own ideas too much, very smart and successful, and/or poor reader of others (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

“Arrogance is hard to fix for two reasons: It’s hard to get feedback on what the problem specifically is since people hesitate giving arrogant people any feedback, and it’s hard to change since you don’t listen or read the reactions of others well” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 448).

So what are two remedies for arrogance according to FYI (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 449)?

(1) Answers. Solutions. Conclusions. Statements. Dictates. That’s the staple of arrogant people. Instant output. Sharp reactions. This may be getting you in trouble. You jump to conclusions, categorically dismiss what others say, use challenging words in an absolute tone . . . Give people a chance to talk without interruption. If you’re seen as intolerant or closed, people will often stumble over words in their haste to talk with you or shortcut their argument since they assume you’re not listening anyway. Ask a question, invite them to disagree with you, present their argument back to them softly, let them save face no matter what. Add a 15-second pause into your transactions before you say anything and add two clarifying questions per transaction to signal you’re listening and want to understand.

(2) Watch your non-verbals. Arrogant people look, talk and act arrogantly. As you try to become less arrogant, you need to find out what your non-verbals are. All arrogant people do a series of things that can be viewed by a neutral party and judged to give off the signals of arrogance. Washboard brow. Facial expressions. Body shifting, especially turning away. Impatient finger or pencil tapping. False smile. Tight lips. Looking away. Find out from a trusted friend what you do and try to eliminate those behaviors.

In my 20s, I lived and breathed volleyball and, naturally, found myself coaching others. Many sports coaches will tell you that the hardest players to coach are the ones who do not listen to feedback. They might be talented but uncoachable because they think they’re more talented than they actually are or they don’t think the coach can help them improve.

I remember coaching a girl’s volleyball team and almost all the girls on the team were eager or at least quietly listening. As I was talking and sharing tips about volleyball and how to work as a team, I noticed one girl rolling her eyes, a sign of her displeasure of being coached. I tried several times to engage her because I could see that she was skilled in one or two areas but lacking in others. Unfortunately, due to her arrogance she could not accept the fact that she was not as good as she thought she was or that I, the coach, had the coaching talent to help her. She would blow off practicing with the team and when game day rolled around, she struggled. She started making mistakes but would make it seem as if one of the other teammates had messed up. It created a toxic environment and it was just not fun.

Thinking that you know it all is perhaps one of the worst habits for an athlete but I contend it’s an equally harmful habit to have for a coach, employee, or a boss. When I coach, whether it’s coaching a player on the volleyball court or a director (on presentation skills) in the business office, I never say or act like I know it all. No one can possibly know everything, and the more experience and education I acquire the more I realize just how much I truly do not know.

When I see or hear people taking credit for ideas or patting themselves on the back (after blurting out quick solutions, drawing nifty diagrams on flip charts, or regurgitating what they’ve heard from others or read in a book) alarm bells immediately go off in my head. Don’t delude yourself into believing that your own ideas are best or original. Chances are, they’re not. Take time to listen to other people’s ideas and feedback, and you might discover that they, too, have just as many (sometimes the same or even more) bright ideas and magical solutions as you do.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Self-Development – Suggestions for How To Continually Grow and Change

FYI 2nd ed

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, “I love Half Price Books!” This past weekend, I bought a $65.00 book for $1.00 (actually, with my educator’s discount, it was 90 cents)! In this case, it’s a book I’ve been waiting for a while to get my hands on – FYI: For Your Improvement. It’s an older edition (the 2nd edition), but what a bargain. Incredibly, when I compare the wording and text layout of the 2nd edition to the 5th edition (the most recent version which is $95), I actually prefer the 2nd edition. The content (at least for the competency I looked up) is identical, except for a few extra sections here and there. Other than that, I am surprised how similar the 1998 version (2nd edition) is to the 2009 version (5th edition).

For those not familiar with FYI, it is a guide for coaching and development. It’s a reference guide and library. In the 2nd edition, one section lists the 67 competencies alphabetically by chapter. Each chapter contains descriptions, possible causes, and suggested remedies. Another section I like is called “Career Stallers and Stoppers.” There are 19 chapters devoted to this section.

There are many great entries among the 67 competencies in FYI: For Your Improvement, but the one I found interesting and want to share is self-development (competency #54).

According to Lominger International (now a Korn/Ferry Company), a competency is “a measurable characteristic of a person that is related to success at work. It may be a behavioral skill, a technical skill, an attribute (such as intelligence), or an attitude (such as optimism)” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2011, p. 5).

The “remedies” to these 67 competencies “were developed from research on competencies—what experiences teach them, what they look like, what their elements are. They are also tested ideas from working with executives on what’s getting in their way and how to fix it” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009, p. 14).

The content is so well worded—simple, yet powerful and extremely practical—I will quote them verbatim for the self-development competency (from the 2nd edition) so as not to dilute the message.

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. Whatever skills you have now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best insurance you can get for an uncertain future. Some of us won’t face our limitations; we make excuses, blame it on the boss or the job or the organization. Others are defensive and fight any corrective feedback. Some are just reluctant to do anything about our problems. Some of us want a quick fix; we don’t have time for development. Some of us simply don’t know what to do” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 302).

For many of us, being unskilled in developing ourselves means a few of the following (many more are listed in the FYI book):

  • Not putting in the effort to grow and change
  • Not doing anything to act on helpful/constructive feedback
  • Knowing what to do, but not acting on it
  • Is arrogant or defensive
  • Refusing to acknowledge shortcomings

Some remedies include (again, these are verbatim from FYI 2nd ed.):

Assessment. First, get a good multi-source assessment, a 360° questionnaire, or poll 10 people who know you well to give you detailed feedback on what you do well and not well, what they’d like to see you keep doing, start doing and stop doing. You don’t want to waste time on developing things that turn out not to be needs.

Next, divide your skills into these categories:

  • Clear strengths – Me at my best.
  • Overdone strengths – I do too much of a good thing – “I’m so confident that I’m seen as arrogant.”
  • Hidden strengths – Others rate me higher than I rate myself.
  • Blind spots – I rate myself higher than others rate me.
  • Weaknesses – I don’t do it well.
  • Untested areas – I’ve never been involved in strategy formulation.
  • Don’t knows – I need more feedback.

Balance your overdone strengths in important areas. If you’re creative, telling yourself to do less of this won’t work – it’s the primary reason for your success to date. The key is to leave it alone and focus on the unintended consequences. (You’re seen as lacking in detail orientation or disorganized.) Get the downside of your strength up to neutral; the goal is not to be good at it, but rather to see that it doesn’t hurt you.

You can also compensate for your weaknesses rather than build the skill. We are all poor at something and beating on it is counterproductive. If you have failed repeatedly at sales, detail work or public speaking, find others who do this well, change jobs, or restructure your current job. Sometimes you can find indirect ways to compensate. Lincoln managed his temper by writing nasty letters, extracting the key points from the letters, tearing the letters up, then dealing with the key points contained in the letter when he regained composure.

Blind spots. Be very careful of blind spots, since you think you’re much better at this than do others. Resist trying challenging tasks involving this skill until you clearly understand your behavior, have a target model of excellent behavior, and a plan so you don’t get yourself into trouble. Collect more data. Ask someone you trust to monitor you and give you feedback each time. Study three people who are good at this and compare what you do with what they do. Don’t rest until you have cleared up the blind spot.

If you can get a hard copy of this incredibly useful guide (FYI: For Your Improvement), I would strongly recommend that you do so. An older edition works just as well as a newer edition. If you are a manager, a mentor, a coach, or you’re just interested in improving yourself, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. I would not pay full price for it though because you can easily find used copies for a fraction of the list price or, if you’re really lucky, you can find a used copy at your local Half Price Books for a $1.00.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2011). The Leadership Machine: Architecture to Develop Leaders for Any Future (10th anniversary edition). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

The Science of People at Work