Category Archives: Attitudes & Emotions

Divisive Leadership and Uncivil Followership

Here at WorkplacePsychology.Net, I don’t take political sides. What I am interested in is examining effective leadership. The Center for Creative Leadership’s Bill Adams recently wrote a piece called “Crisis in Leadership: The Healthcare Bill.” It’s a well-written and balanced perspective on leadership in Washington.

The Center for Creative Leadership describes leadership using the acronym DAC, direction, alignment and commitment. Effective leaders are able to set the direction, create alignment, and secure commitment from their followers.

Back in February, I wrote about “Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance” (it is one of the most visited posts on WorkplacePsychology.Net). In that post, I shared professor John Kotter’s 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change. I also cited Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn’s (2005) tips for overcoming resistance to change.

Like many Americans, I have been following the healthcare debate and (unfortunately) all the uncivil debates and actions (from both sides and from angry politicians and passionate Americans). Though there was much talk about gathering support, the healthcare vote became very one-sided as its passage included not one Republican vote in Congress.

From a leadership perspective, I wish leaders in Washington had followed Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn’s (2005) advice in gaining alignment and overcoming resistance. To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  1. Benefit: Whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as “a better way.”
  2. Compatibility: The change should be as compatible as possible with the existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change.
  3. Complexity: The change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use.
  4. Triability: The change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

I believe the two biggest obstacles which contributed to and exacerbated the strong disagreements and hostilities are compatibility and complexity. Somehow, I think the leaders in Washington forgot these little gems of leadership.

By strong-arming the healthcare bill through Congress using solely Democratic votes, the leaders have failed to see that this was not an effective solution in getting buy-in from the general followership. With the healthcare debate still ongoing (albeit very heated, discourteous, and even violent), the leaders decided to bypass the compatibility step in overcoming resistance.

The other piece that certainly did not help was the complexity of the healthcare bill, which totaled nearly 2000 pages. I highly doubt that anyone sat through and read it cover to cover. By the time a 2000-pages document gets translated and explained, something is bound to get lost in the translation. Politicians talk politics and sugarcoat or conveniently skip important facts and details. Special interest groups have their agendas, and so on. Throughout this maze of complexity, few have been able to (1) clearly explain what the healthcare bill is and (2) how the average American can use it (due to the many caveats).

What is equally alarming is that people upset over the healthcare bill’s passage have taken such extreme and sometimes violent displays of dissatisfaction, while those responsible for its passage turn a blind eye.

My hope for all Americans (those for, against, and indifferent to the healthcare bill) is to honor one another even as we disagree. When members in Congress yell out “you lie” to a sitting American President and another shouting “baby killer” while a fellow Congressman is talking, we have sadly forgotten the civility & decorum that is required and expected of all adults. It is sad (at least to me) that adults need to be reminded to practice polite & courteous behaviors.

When I worked as a behavior specialist in the school system, I certainly expected discourteous and rude behaviors from children. But, when I see adults (leaders and role models) behave worse than children, it makes me ashamed to call myself a “grown-up.”

Reference

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Career Well-Being

In their upcoming book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (Available May 4, 2010), Rath and Harter (2010) offer this interesting piece of information about career and its impact on our well-being.

It’s quite astonishing that people recover faster from the death of a spouse than from prolonged unemployment.

Although career well-being is discussed, it is just one of five elements covered.

The Five Essential Elements

  • Career Wellbeing
  • Social Wellbeing
  • Financial Wellbeing
  • Physical Wellbeing
  • Community Wellbeing

This is one book I’m really looking forward to reading.

Adopting a Child’s Perspective Helps Adults Regain our Inborn Talents

My niece is so adorable and creative. She can turn something as simple as a blank sheet of paper and transform it into a game of checking into a plush hotel with concierge service. Kids are amazing because they see the world not as it is but what it can be. Unlike adults, children have a natural gift of creativity and imagination.

The 1988 movie “Big” (starring Tom Hanks) is a story of a 12-year old boy named Josh who got his wish to be “big.” He wakes up the next day to find that while his physical body had grown and aged to that of a man, he was still the same 12-year old kid on the inside.

The heart-warming story follows Josh as he finds work at a toy company. Unlike the other executives and managers who conduct market research into what kids like about toys, Josh actually plays with them. In a meeting on bringing a toy robot to market, a manager stated that research with children of a certain demographic indicated that the toy robot would be successful. As the manager is showing how the robot works (it’s a robot that transforms into a house), Josh raised his hand to ask,

“What’s so fun about that?”

Imagine if we could bring the candid outlook of kids into the workplace as Tom Hanks’ character did in the movie! Instead, we conduct research and analyze things so much (e.g., SWOT analysis) that we sometimes miss the golden opportunity to act.

Arnold Lazarus, a psychologist who founded multimodal therapy, shared a story of a friend who (by profession, a dentist) was “an absolute natural when it came to understanding people and showing genuine warmth, wisdom, and empathy” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). The dentist friend was so good that many people confided in him with their troubles.

Due to his natural talents, this dentist friend decided to pursue training in psychology and eventually obtained a Ph.D. in social and clinical psychology. Ironically, Lazarus observed that “as my friend learned more and more psychology, as he took more and more readings and courses in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, it seemed to me that his natural skills eroded” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Shortly after Lazarus’ mother died, Lazarus opened his heart to this friend, someone who Lazarus had previously considered a “naturally great therapist” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). But, instead of the natural warmth, support, and understanding that the—former dentist now psychologist—friend once exhibited, this now trained psychologist responded to Lazarus’ sorrows with psychological clichés and labels (Lazarus, 1990).

“The formal psychology and psychotherapy courses he had received were tantamount to taking a can of spray-paint to an artistic masterpiece” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

What happened to the dentist-turned-psychologist friend made Lazarus question, “whether formal training causes most of us to undergo a similar truncation of our helpful inborn capacities” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Now don’t get me wrong, education, training, and experience are great, but…

Has “growing up” and being indoctrinated with formal knowledge and training hindered our natural-born skills of creativity, curiosity, and common sense to be a better worker or leader?

Reference

Lazarus, A. (1990). Can psychotherapists transcend the shackles of their training and superstitions? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46(3), 351-358. doi: 10.1002/1097-4679(199005)46:3<351::AID-JCLP2270460316>3.0.CO;2-V

Consumerism & Affluenza – How Society Shapes Our Thinking about Happiness

Within the past several decades, an alarming trend has developed, one that goes far beyond just “keeping up with the Joneses.” You see, no longer is it enough to simply “keep up.” It seems that in today’s microwave mentality, we have to have things, and we have to have them right now. Everything becomes a necessity. We no longer eat to live. We live to eat. We no longer shop to survive. We survive to shop. Or as I heard it on the radio – shop til you drop, then crawl!

We have, in fact, become a society of conspicuous consumption [spending lavishly on goods and services for the sole purpose of showing off] and consumerism [equating happiness with buying and consuming goods].

There is a name/description/label to this madness. It’s called AFFLUENZA, formed from the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (also known as the flu).

Affluenza is defined as (1) The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; (2) An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream (Affluenza, n.d.). Affluenza is the term used to explain the problems that occur “when individuals are in pursuit of money, wealth, and material possession at the expense of other sources of self-esteem and contentment” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

Although I originally wrote about this topic of affluenza (several years ago while working in the school system) to address the madness that parents go through to feed into their children’s demands to have the latest and greatest material things, I am presenting it here now to shed light on this epidemic and its impact on adults.

Affluenza affects people across all age groups and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. “Contemporary affluenza researchers contend that if we do not begin to reject our culture’s incessant demands to work harder, spend more, and buy more, our society will begin to pay later with significant effects thrust upon our offspring” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

The incessant pressure to acquire material goods can result in the following (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006): As you go through the list below, notice that it easily applies to both children and adults.

  • Inability to delay gratification or tolerate frustration
  • Difficulty maintaining interest in anything requiring effort
  • False sense of entitlement
  • Expectation of material goods without responsibility
  • Loss of future motivation
  • Life activities don’t seem very real and nothing matters much
  • Low self esteem, self worth, and loss of self confidence
  • Approval dependent on possessions and status rather than on personal values
  • Preoccupation with externals and habituation for more material goods
  • Difficulty believing people like them for themselves rather than for possessions and status
  • Inability to trust prevents true friendships
  • Emotional energy becomes invested in material gains and sensitivity toward others declines

Here are some interesting tidbits (Affluenza…Diagnosis, n.d.):

  • Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.
  • Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.
  • Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world’s population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.
  • Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

Back in December 2009, I wrote about the hyperactive workplace. I believe what lies at the root of the hyperactive workplace is affluenza – the “epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream” (Affluenza, n.d.). We work long hours and remain in a state of frenzy to pursue that elusive dollar to buy the things we and our families desire. And we do this day in and day out like the hamster running in circles in a cage.

In “Success Intelligence,” (2005) Robert Holden wrote, “The rise of consumerism has certainly influenced our thinking about happiness and success…We are making every effort to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ our way to happiness and success” (pp. 110, 111). While buying things can temporarily bring short-term pleasure, our prior levels of happiness soon return. In other words, we can’t buy our way to happiness.

“[W]e place all our faith in external things to make us happy. The danger here is that we lose sight of inner happiness…We forget how to be happy” (Holden, 2005, p. 112).

Imagine what your own work and workplaces would be like if you changed your views about overconsumption and what it means to be happy.

References

Affluenza. (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/

Affluenza…Diagnosis (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/diag/what.html

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Koplewicz, H.S. & Williams, K. (2006). Affluence-Benefit or Handicap? New York University Child Study Center Letter, 11(2), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/dec.pdf

Workplace Violence, Organizational Justice, and Wounded Pride

Recently, a Harvard-educated Ph.D. professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting because she was denied tenure. But why is this topic getting attention here on WorkplacePsychology.Net? We normally don’t think of college and universities as organizations, but they are.

In industrial-organizational psychology, the topic of organizational justice is important because it plays a critical role in workplace violence. The manner in which employees see themselves being treated (fairly or unfairly) by their companies affects how these employees will behave (emotionally and behaviorally) in the work environment. In the case of the accused professor, being denied tenure might have caused her to feel that she was unfairly treated by the university.

There are three types of organizational justice: distributive (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees); procedural (perceived fairness of the process/procedure by which rewards are distributed); and interactional (sensitivity with which employees are treated & degree to which employees feel respected) (Landy & Conte, 2007, citing Colquitt, Colon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng).

Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) found that regardless of age, gender, race, and education, all people view justice similarly. In their examination of 190 studies totaling 64,757 participants, these researchers discovered that job performance and counterproductive work behaviors were mainly related to procedural justice (the perceived fairness of the process or procedure by which ratings are assigned or rewards are distributed) and that perceived injustice causes negative emotional reactions in the forms of mood and anger. Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) further predicted that procedural justice will be more important than distributive justice (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees) under certain contexts, especially in situation involving difficult decisions that might hurt or be of great significance to the person affected by them (e.g., layoffs).

Another factor related to workplace violence is a wounded pride (ego threat). Challenging the myth that low self-esteem is an important cause of violence, Baumeister, Smart, & Boden (1996) discovered that violence usually results from egos that felt threatened.

People whose favorable self-conceptions are inflated, uncertain, or unstable may become quite sensitive to unflattering feedback and may react with hostility…[H]ighly sensitive individuals may react with considerable hostility to seemingly minor ego threats (Baumeister et al., 1996, p. 11).

In this context, the college professor might have felt that those individuals who denied her tenure threatened her ego (how dare they deny someone with my intelligence and educational background) and violated procedural justice (it’s unfair how they treated me).

Research says that it takes an individual’s personality, a threatened ego, and a view of injustice to contribute to workplace aggression (Baumeister et al., 1996; Hershcovis et al., 2007). Tragically, the mixture of the professor’s personality, her wounded pride, and her perception that others had treated her unjustly resulted in workplace violence that left three people dead, three others injured, and a community in shock and mourning.

References

Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103(1), 5-33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5

Cohen-Charash, Y. & Spector, P.E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86(2), 278–321.

Hershcovis, M. S., Turner, N., Barling, J., Inness, M., LeBlanc, M. M., Arnold, K. A., Dupre, K. E., & Sivanathan, N. (2007). Predicting workplace aggression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 228-238.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd Ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

In “Leading Change” (1996), Kotter outlined an 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency: Examine market and competitive realities; identify and discuss crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
  2. Create the Guiding Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change; get group to work together as a team
  3. Develop a Vision & Strategy: Create a vision to help direct the change effort; Develop strategies for achieving that vision
  4. Communicate the Vision: Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies; have Guiding Coalition role model the behavior expected of employees
  5. Empowering Action: Get rid of obstacles to change; change systems or structures that undermine the vision; encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins: Plan for visible performance improvements or “wins”; create those “wins”; recognize and reward employees who made “wins” possible
  7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change: Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision; hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the change vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents
  8. Anchor New Approaches in the Corporate Culture: Create better performance via customer- and productivity-oriented behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success; develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Professor Kotter (1996) shared about a time he consulted with an intelligent and competent executive who struggled trying to implement a reorganization. Problem was many of his managers were against it. Kotter went through the 8-stage process. He asked the executive whether there was a sense of urgency (Stage #1) among the employees to change. The executive said, “Some do. But many probably do not.” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). When asked about a compelling vision and strategy to implement (Stage #3), the executive replied, I think so [about the vision]…although I’m not sure how clear it [the strategy] is” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). Finally, when Kotter inquired whether the managers understood and believed in the vision, the executive responded, “I wouldn’t be surprised if many [people] either don’t understand the concept or don’t entirely believe in it [the vision]” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22).

Kotter (1996) states that when Stages #1-4 of the Kotter model are skipped it’s inevitable that one will face resistance. The executive ran into resistance because he went directly to Stage #5. Kotter states that in attempting to implement change, many will rush through the process “without ever finishing the job” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22) or they’ll skip stages and either jump to or only do Stages 5, 6, and 7.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) maintain that when employees resist change they are protecting/defending something they value and which seems threatened by the attempt at change.

Eight Reasons for Resisting Change (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Lack of good information
  3. Fear of loss of security
  4. No reasons to change
  5. Fear of loss of power
  6. Lack of resources
  7. Bad timing
  8. Habit

To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • Benefit: Whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as “a better way.”
  • Compatibility: The change should be as compatible as possible with the existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change.
  • Complexity: The change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use.
  • Triability: The change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

There are 6 methods for dealing with resistance to change (and their advantages & drawbacks)*** (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005; Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979 & 2008):

Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger's 2008 article "Choosing Strategies for Change"
Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 article “Choosing Strategies for Change”

  1. Education & Communication: educate people about a change before it is implemented; help them understand the logic behind the change.
  2. Participation & Involvement: allow people to help design and implement the changes (e.g., ideas, task forces, committees).
  3. Facilitation & Support: provide help (emotional & material resources) for people having trouble adjusting to the change.
  4. Negotiation & Agreement: offers incentives to those who resist change.
  5. Manipulation & Cooptation: attempts to influence others.
  6. Explicit & Implicit Coercion: use of authority to get people to accept change.

***For additional (and quite valuable) information related to the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues, there is a Harvard Business Review article by Kotter and Schlesinger (1979 & 2008). The 2008 article, “Choosing Strategies for Change” is a reprint of the same 1979 article. For better layout and graphics, I’ve referred to the 2008 article. I believe the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues (2005) is based on or came directly from Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 article.

***In Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 HBR article (and in the 2008 HBR reprint) the six methods for dealing with resistance to change included the six approaches (e.g., education + communication, negotiation + agreement, etc.) as well as three more columns (commonly used in situations; advantages; and drawbacks). I found this to be especially useful and have posted a screenshot (above) of the graphic used in Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 HBR article. I would encourage readers to read Kotter and Schlesinger’s HBR article.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (1979). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 57(2), 106-114.

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (2008). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 86(7/8), 130-139. Also retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/07/choosing-strategies-for-change

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Follow Your Heart

One of my all-time favorite quote is from Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. It was a speech given to the graduating class at Stanford University in June 2005. Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, the year before. Luckily, it was eradicated through surgery and he has since recovered. Below is part of his commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

What Really Motivates Employees

In an article titled, “What Really Motivates Workers” in the January-February 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Amabile & Kramer (2010) invited over 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors:

  1. recognition,
  2. incentives,
  3. interpersonal support,
  4. support for making progress, and
  5. clear goals

The #1 ranking of the managers was “recognition for good work.”

However, and this surprised me, from their multiyear study in which they tracked the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in various settings, Amabile & Kramer (2010) discovered that the #1 motivator for employees is progress.

You read that right folks, the top motivation for workers is making progress.

On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44.)

Ironically, progress was the factor ranked dead last by managers as something that motivates employees.

The researchers analyzes nearly 12,000 diary entries, along with the writer’ daily ratings of their motivation and emotions. The analysis indicated that “making progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event” (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44).

The HBR article offered this advice to managers:

Avoid impeding progress by changing goals unilaterally, being indecisive, or holding up resources (Amabile & Kramer, 2010).

How managers can help facilitate progress (Amabile & Kramer, 2010):

  • Clarify overall goals
  • Ensure employees’ efforts are properly supported
  • Refrain from exerting time pressure so extreme such that minor glitches are seen as crises
  • Cultivate a culture of helpfulness
  • Roll up your own sleeves and help out
  • Celebrate progress, even small ones

Reference

Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2010). What really motivates workers. Harvard Business Review, 88(1), 44-45.

Welcoming a Fresh Start

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

Here in the U.S., we think of ending the old year and starting the new one with a New Year’s Eve celebration. But in Japan, the tradition is very different.

My wife told me that in Japan, the tradition of welcoming the new year is drastically more peaceful and zen-like compared to the U.S.

For Japanese, the tradition is called 大掃除 “oosouji” meaning a big cleaning. During this cleanup time (which lasts until the end of the year), Japanese clean their homes and cars.

New Year is the biggest and most important holiday in Japan. It’s a way to start over, a fresh start. Japanese believe that New Year’s day represents how the rest of the year will be like. Thus, the day should be stress-free and everything should be clean.

Unlike the festive traditions involving fireworks and loud parties, Japanese enjoy a zen-like moment of peace. Monks in temples ring large bells (Joya-no-kane) 108 times throughout Japan signaling the end of the old year and the start of the new one. The bells are rung 108 times because, according to Buddhism, humans have 108 problem desires and by hearing the bells 108 times, we can rid ourselves of all these desires at the end of the year.

While waiting for the arrival of the new year, Japanese eat 年越し蕎麦 (としこしそば or toshikoshi soba), which means “end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles”. Toshikoshi soba (or buckwheat noodles) dates back to around the Edo period (17-19th century) and are believed to symbolize longevity.

Having spent a good portion of my life here in the U.S., I’m used to the loud fireworks and parties. However, I am starting a new tradition — a cleansing of the old and a more peaceful and zen-like beginning to the new.

I wish you a fresh start in the new year.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

Reference

Itoh, M. (2008). Toshikoshi Soba or Year-End Soba: A bowl of hot soba noodles to end the year. Retrieved from http://www.justhungry.com/2003/12/toshikoshi_soba.html

The Cost of Unemployment

When people are employed, common stressors at work include physical/task stressors (e.g. heat, noise, pace of work, workload, and number of hours worked) and psychosocial stressors (e.g. role ambiguity, interpersonal conflict, and lack of control) (Landy & Conte, 2007). Workplace stress takes an incredible toll resulting in physical/medical (e.g. heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure), psychological (e.g. burnout, anxiety, family problems), and behavioral (e.g. absenteeism, substance abuse, accidents, violence) (Landy & Conte, 2007, citing Quick, Quick, Nelson & Hurrell) and research has shown a connection between job stress and depression (Dragano, He, Moebus, Jockel, Erbel, & Siegrist, 2008).

Unfortunately, when an individual becomes unemployed, he/she may still experience many of the same symptoms of stress (as when employed) such as poor psychological health, depression, insomnia, irritability, and general anxiety (Landy & Conte, 2007, citing Warr).

In a New York Times’ article about the emotional and financial toll of being unemployed (Luo & Thee-Brenan, 2009), 708 unemployed adults were surveyed between Dec. 5 and Dec. 10, 2009. Here’s what they found about unemployed Americans:

EMOTIONALLY

  • 69% are more stressed.
  • 55% have had trouble sleeping.
  • 48% have experienced emotional or mental health issues (e.g., anxiety or depression).
  • 46% have felt ashamed or embarrassed about being unemployed.

FINANCIALLY

  • 53% have borrowed money from family members or friends since losing their jobs.
  • 54% have reduced visits to doctor or medical treatments.
  • 47% is without health care coverage.

“How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.” -George Washington Carver

References

Dragano, N., He, Y., Moebus, S., Jockel, K., Erbel, R., & Siegrist, J. (2008). Two models of job stress and depressive symptoms: Results from a population-based study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 43,72–78.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Luo, M. & Thee-Brenan, M. (2009). Poll reveals trauma of joblessness in U.S. The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2009 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/us/15poll.html

People with a Situational Value System

rude-customers

“A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person” (Barry, 1998, p. 185).

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2015]

Many years ago, while waiting for a show at a nice hotel in Dallas, my wife and I were standing in line to order some coffee. As we were in line waiting (we were second in line) at a busy one-person coffee stand, the woman waiting behind us (she was third in line) yelled out, “Can I go ahead and pay for this?” It didn’t matter to her that two other people (the first lady in line and us) were ahead of her in this ordering process.

I forgot what this was. It might have been a bottle of water or something small. But pretty much everyone else waiting patiently in line was ordering something small. After she interrupted and cut in line, she made some disparaging remarks about the single employee working there.

My wife and I both used to work as a waiter (me) and waitstaff trainer (wife) and thus we’re especially sensitive to and aware of how we and others treat waiters, waitresses, or anyone in a people service profession (e.g., hotel maids, bellmen, etc.). When I see behaviors like this woman’s, it brings me back to the time, more than 20 years ago, when I worked as a waiter for a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

I didn’t know it at first but was quickly informed by the other waitstaff that I was waiting on a baseball celebrity and his family. “Ok, not a big deal,” I thought. I’ll just make sure that I’m at my best and take care of them as I always do with all of my customers.

Because the family was busy visiting and chatting loudly, I stepped back to give them time to decide what they wanted to order. Not long afterwards, the wife snapped her fingers at me (like a rich person does when she beckons her servants). After the family ordered, she dismissed me, like “I’m done with you now leave my sight” type of attitude.

William H. Swanson, Chairman and Former CEO of Raytheon, cautioned:

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with . . . Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.” [Cited in USA Today “CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character”]

I think this advice should be taken very seriously, especially by those in a supervisory or management role. In a USA Today article, Siki Giunta (CEO of Managed Objects, but who previously worked as a bartender) summed this up well when she said this type of situational behavior is a good predictor of a person’s character because it’s not something you can learn or unlearn easily but instead it shows how you were raised.

The woman who cut in line to place her order felt that she was special and deserved special treatment and gave herself permission to cut in front of others and then displayed contempt by mumbling unkind comments about the person preparing the coffee.

Takeaway: Whether it’s ordering coffee on a Saturday night or interacting with employees at work on a Monday morning, each of us—whether you’re a CEO, manager, or employee—needs to treat everyone, both in and outside the office (regardless of their status or title in the social or corporate ladder) with kindness, dignity, and respect.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Barry, D. (1998). Dave Barry Turns 50. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group.

Jones, D. (2006, April 17). CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-04-14-ceos-waiter-rule_x.htm

Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses

Work stress
Work stress

Earlier this week, I talked about the Manic Society and the Hyperactive Workplace. For today’s post, we’ll shift gears and cover workplace incivility. This topic is a favorite of mine, so I’ll leave you with something to think about for the weekend. NOTE: The information for this post came from an assignment I completed for a class.

Workplace incivility is defined as “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms of workplace conduct” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 12).

“Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001, p. 1397). These are rude, insensitive or disrespectful behaviors in the workplace.

Examples include: ignoring or making derogatory remarks about someone, taking credit for the work of others, passing blame for your own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, failing to return phone calls or respond to emails, setting others up to fail, leaving snippy voice mail messages, withholding information, leaving a mess for others to clean up, shutting someone out of a network or team, avoiding someone, throwing temper tantrums (Pearson & Porath, 2009).

Workplace incivility is so common that we often don’t even notice it. Pearson & Porath (2009) found in their studies that 1 in 5 people in their sample claimed to be targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. 10% said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.

A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).

What’s more, it’s not unique to the U.S. The researchers (Pearson & Porath, 2009) discovered that 50% of Canadians in their study also reported suffering from incivility directly from their coworkers at least once a week. 99% said they witnessed incivility at work and 25% reported seeing incivility occurring between coworkers daily.

When civility is disregarded in the workplace, the results are negative effects – not only on the target(s) of the incivility, but also the on effectiveness and efficiency of the teams and the overall organization (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Pearson & Porath, 2009).

Researchers found that workplace incivility has an insidious effect, first negatively impacting the targets, and later with repercussions rippling like waves to other areas of the organization. The end result is an adverse effect on the health of the employee (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001) and the efficiency and productivity of the organization (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001). What’s even more troubling for psychology and business is that workplace incivility harms not just the targets and the organizations but also those who are witnesses to these incivilities (e.g., customers).

References

Andersson, L., & Pearson, C. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 452-471.

Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6, 64–80.

Pearson, C., Andersson, L., & Wegner, J. (2001). When workers flout convention: A study of workplace incivility. Human Relations, 54(11), 1387-1419.

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Hyperactive Workplace

This is part II – Hyperactive Workplace – of a 2-part series on Dr. Robert Holden’s book, “Success Intelligence: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World’s Leading Coaching Program on Authentic Success.” In his book, Dr. Holden discusses the impact that a Manic Society, Busy Generation, and Hyperactive Workplace have on our lives.

Hyperactive Workplace

In today’s workplaces, we’re required “to work faster and better, to do more with less, to change continuously, and to invent new ways of working” (Holden, 2005, p. 28). Our work is dominated by long hours, a permanent state of busyness, goals and to-do lists, attitudes and incivility, and no downtime. In the hyperactive workplace, we’re always “doing” but never getting enough “done” (Holden, 2005, p.29).

“We are ‘doing’ all through the day, ‘doing’ in our free time, and ‘doing’ ourselves out of a life…We’re ‘doing’ to the point of exhaustion [and] literally ‘doing’ ourselves to death-killing ourselves for our careers, [and] in the name of success” (Holden, 2005, p.29).

In a 2008 Quality of Working Life survey among managers in the UK and Australia, over half of managers felt that the hours they work negatively affected their health (53.4% in the UK, 55.6% in Australia); around 45% thought that the hours they worked had a negative impact on their productivity and over half thought that the hours they worked had a negative impact on their social lives and their relationships with their spouse or partner. However, despite this awareness, over 90% of managers in both countries insist on working over their contract hours.

Across the Atlantic, the Conference Board (2007) found, in a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, that less than half of all Americans say they’re satisfied with their jobs, down from 61% in 1987.

Sound bite: “In the hyperactive world of work, we end up overworked and overspent, and our lives are over before we know it. If we are not careful, we get so lost in our constant activity that we fail to recognize what the real work of our lives is about” (Holden, 2005, p. 34).

References

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

The Conference Board (2007). U.S Job Satisfaction Declines, The Conference Board Reports. Press Release/News Feb. 23, 2007. Retrieved December 6, 2009 from http://www.conference-board.org/utilities/pressDetail.cfm?press_ID=3075

Worrall, L., Lindorff, M. & Cooper, C. (2008). Quality of working life 2008: A survey of organisational health and employee well-being. Comparisons of the perceptions of UK managers and managers in Victoria, Australia. Chartered Management Institute, UK.

Manic Society

Today, I’ll be doing part I – Manic Society – of a 2-part series on Dr. Robert Holden’s book, “Success Intelligence: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World’s Leading Coaching Program on Authentic Success.” Dr. Holden talks about our Manic Society, our Busy Generation, and our Hyperactive Workplace, where people work without vision and joy.

Manic Society

The word “manic” comes from “mania” meaning a state of frenzy. In the U.S., we’re taught to believe the idea that everyone can be richer and happier if we would just go faster and work harder. We live and work in a constant state of mania, of frenzy madness. But for what? We speed through time spent with others that we never truly connect with them (Holden, 2005). We work like mad only to come back to houses wall-off by ten-foot high fences and our children already in bed. In the end, this manic lifestyle and our manic workplaces take their toll on our health, our relationships, and ultimately our happiness.

“The National Institute for Occupational safety and Health estimates that 40% of the U.S. workforce is affected by stress, making it the top cause of worker disability…Around the globe, stress-related illnesses are a major financial drain on organizations, $200 billion per year for treatment alone” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 72).

The Manic Society sells the myth that everyone can be an “instant winner” and an “overnight success” if we would just go faster and work harder. But our nonstop busyness can easily cloud our vision. We’re living faster and working faster, but what for? “Without vision, we can so easily confuse speed with progress, adrenaline with purpose, and urgency with importance” (Holden, 2005, p. 9).

“’We all pay for our mad rush, our blind push, our hurried lives,’ wrote Jonathon Lazear, author of Meditations for Men Who Do Too Much…Vision must always lead the pace, otherwise we are simply fast-forwarding to nowhere in particular” (Holden, 2005, p. 10).

If we don’t get off the Manic Society bus every once in a while, we will lose our sanity while letting life go by. In the process of chasing the “dream”, whatever it may be, we’ll miss out on actually living and experiencing it.

Sound bite: “If we never stop, we end up skimming the surface of life; our time disappears and we miss the richness, depth, and texture of each occasion” (Holden, 2005, p.13).

References

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Positive Emotions Are Good for Business

In today’s tough economy, when resources and rewards are few, creating and maintaining positive emotions in the workplace (e.g. making workers feel valued and engaged) can be a valuable investment that an organization can make.

Shapiro (2009) maintains that this emotional investment improves relationships in the workplace and encourages satisfying, long-lasting agreements. When companies fail to foster these types of relationships, negative communications and conflicts arise.

Shapiro noted in his work with organization and government leaders that there are FIVE predictable core concerns:

  1. Appreciation: recognition of value
  2. Affiliation: emotional connection others
  3. Autonomy: freedom to feel, think, or decide
  4. Status: standing compared to others
  5. Role: job label & related activities

He said that once these concerns are appropriately and proactively addressed, companies “can steer a potentially negative conversation to a positive place” (Shapiro, 2009, p. 30).

Sound Bite: By promoting and modeling emotional well-being in your organization, you’ll get more value out of the good times and do a better job of overcoming the bad.

Reference

Shapiro, D. (2009). Why repressing emotions is bad for business. Harvard Business Review, 87(11), 30.