Thanks to the popularity of WorkplacePsychology.Net, I receive a fair amount of questions from reporters and the public about workplace behaviors, specifically, in dealing with difficult people or situations at work. Everyone wants to know what’s the best way to manage, deal with, or overcome challenging/difficult behaviors.
I am continually fascinated by the topic of workplace behaviors, and in particular, covert aggression. As a matter of fact, I was so interested that I devoted my PhD dissertation to the subject of indirect/covert aggression in the workplace.
The impetus for launching the DISC Assessment arose out of a desire to introduce people to an assessment that they can get excited about and, more importantly and practically, be able to use insights and apply actionable recommendations from the assessment report to make real changes in their behaviors in order to improve their work life.
The DISC Assessment and DISC Report can play an essential role in your professional and personal development. By understanding the DISC model of behavioral styles and applying the practical suggestions from the DISC Report [here’s a sample report], you will be equipping yourself with the necessary tools to quickly scan a situation, consider your behavior options (adaptability), select a behavior style to best fit the situation, and positively determine the outcome.
About the DISC Assessment
The DISC Assessment is a behavioral profile or assessment. It measures our observable behavior and emotion; how we prefer to act and communicate (or behavioral style). The DISC Assessment does not measure or tell you your personality type. Instead, it shows how your personality responds to the environment (in how we like to act and communicate [or behavioral style]).
The three objectives of the DISC Assessment are:
Determine/recognize and value your own DISC behavioral style.
Determine/recognize and value the DISC behavioral style of others.
Become proficient in adapting your behaviors to create better performance.
Simple + Practical = Increase Adoption & Usage
If you look at workplace assessments through the lens of change management you can begin to understand the challenge of increasing employees’ adoption and usage of a new way of doing things (e.g., implementing or applying what they’ve just learned about themselves from a personality or behavior assessment back to their workplace and in their interactions with each other). When we view it through the perspective of individual change, we can appreciate why when an assessment is too long and the assessment report is too technical, not user-friendly, difficult to understand, and hard to remember, employees will not be able to apply the takeaways.
An assessment report is useless if you put it away on the shelf because you had a hard time understanding what you just took (the assessment) and/or what the suggestions or recommendations were (in the report). Indeed, you want an assessment that is brief and a report that’s easy to digest and apply. You deserve practical insights to better understand yourself and others, and to be able to apply simple, actionable suggestions to improve your ability to interact and work with others.
Simple Assessment & Prescriptive Report with Practical Takeaways
I am happy to say that the DISC Assessment + DISC Report + DISC Debrief Guide I’m offering on DiscAssessmentCoach.Net satisfy the many criteria that I demand of a solid assessment: affordable, short, simple, easy-to-remember, immediate & practical applications of actionable recommendations (e.g., understanding of self, others, and the situation, and adapting to others in a manner that will reduce tension and increase trust and collaboration in all types of relationships).
“Understanding style similarities and differences will be the first step in resolving and preventing conflict. By meeting the person’s behavioral needs, you will be able to diffuse many problems before they even happen.”
–The Universal Language DISC
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Consultant & DISC Assessment Coach
I received an email asking if I would write about Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) from an Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology perspective.
Interestingly, much of the research on ROWE has been coming from the field of sociology. Two sociologists from University of Minnesota’s Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly (Kelly is now at the MIT Sloan School of Management), were the original researchers invited in 2006 to observe and study ROWE as it was being implemented at Best Buy (Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, 2015).
Background of ROWE
Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) was pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson while they were employed at Best Buy. The seeds of ROWE began in 2001 when a leader at Best Buy corporate headquarters needed help to make Best Buy a top choice among talented people who were seeking jobs. A survey was conducted asking employees what they wanted most from work. Overwhelmingly, the answer was: trust me with my time, trust me to do my job, and I’ll deliver results, and be a happier employee too (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). In a pilot program (called Alternative Work Program) that gave employees a choice from a set of flexible schedules, Ressler observed that “if you gave people even a little control over their time they immediately began to see the benefits both at work and at home.” Employees who were in the pilot program were happier and more productive and they didn’t want it to end (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). Thompson joined in 2003 and what was learned during the pilot program began to grow and change. The program was refined and eventually came to be known as Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).
Overview of ROWE
In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. “Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 155).
The idea behind ROWE is that when employees have control over their lives and they are able to work when and where they feel most productive and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more incentivized to produce.
Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote in their book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, that ROWE is based on a simple idea:
“In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. . .In a ROWE, you can literally do whatever you want whenever you want as long as your work gets done. You have complete control over your life as long as your work gets done” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 3). You can go grocery shopping, take a nap, or go to the movies and never have to ask for permission or tell your boss where you’re going. As long as work gets done and you get results, then it’s your life (Ressler & Thompson, 2008).
Benefits of ROWE
The benefits of ROWE include (Correll, Kelly, O’Connor, & Williams, 2014):
Increased employees’ control over their work schedule and improved work–life fit
Reduced work-family conflict and negative work-family spillover
Positive effect on employees’ sleep duration, energy levels, self-reported health, and exercise
Increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment
Things That Do Not Change under ROWE
There are some things under ROWE that do not change (Kelly & Moen, 2009):
Positive and negative home-to-work spillover
Overall assessment of health
Psychosocial job demands scale
Job control scale (decision authority, skill discretion)
Job involvement scale
Satisfaction with coworkers
Satisfaction with manager
Work engagement scale
ROWE is Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) to the Extreme
ROWE is a type of flexible work arrangement. Flexible work arrangements refer to choices about the time (i.e, when; flextime or scheduling flexibility) and/or location (i.e., where; telecommuting or flexplace) that work is conducted (WorldatWork, 2005; Allen, 2013).
Ressler and Thompson (2008) point out that in a flexible work arrangement: permission is needed, there are limited options, is management controlled, requires policies/guidelines, the focus is on “time off,” and there’s high demand but low control. In a ROWE, you do not need permission, options are unlimited, it’s employee controlled, requires accountability/clear goals, the focus is on “results,” and there’s high demand but also high control.
“[N]o matter how flexible a nontraditional schedule is it’s still a schedule. Flexible schedule is an oxymoron. Which is why in a ROWE there are no schedules” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 69).
“If you get results, then anything else you do with your time is completely up to you. What work looks like in terms of where it takes place and during what hours is no longer important. You work when and how you work best. You are in complete control” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 67).
The Promise of ROWE
Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote, “in a ROWE you don’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork” (p. 198). You don’t have to do all-nighters or be the first in the office and the last one to leave because you are rewarded solely on delivering results. “Once you’ve delivered those results, you stop working and do something else. It’s nice” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198).
The Fanfare and Fizzle
In 2013, in a complete reversal from its initial enthusiastic endorsement of ROWE, Best Buy terminated the program (Wong, 2013). Under a new CEO, Best Buy cited the urgency to turn around its struggling consumer electronics retail business as the reason for ending its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program (Lee, 2013). As the company’s spokesperson explained (Lee, 2013): “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”
But Best Buy was not the only organization to try out and then later abandon ROWE. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also tried ROWE and soon discontinued the program. A 2011 evaluation of the ROWE pilot revealed that managers were uncertain as to how to evaluate their employees based on their work results. And employees also struggled because they did not understand if they were meeting their expected results (Glazer, 2013).
The Risks and Obstacles of ROWE
Ressler and Thompson argue that ROWE is appropriate in all workplaces but there are situations where it isn’t recommended or appropriate, such as customer service departments, or when employees are new or inexperienced and require more support, or when you’re not certain that team members will complete their tasks at the level of quality and by the deadlines agreed upon (MindTools.com, 2016). As a matter of fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements (Kelly & Moen, 2014) admit that some workers, like those in retail and service positions, must still do their work “at work.”
Despite the promise made by Ressler and Thompson that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198), there is research on telecommuting that dispute this claim.
In a previous post on the pitfalls of telecommuting, I wrote that those who telecommute (work from home or another remote location) will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less (Noonan & Glass, 2012). In fact, researchers have found that “telecommuters worked between 5 and 7 total hours more per week than nontelecommuters” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 40).
Kelly and Moen (2007) offered this thought when they first began studying ROWE: “Organizational needs—getting the work done—are still emphasized in the ROWE setting, and it is an open question whether increased control is actually beneficial when work demands are very high” (p. 497).
Michelle Conlin (2006) wrote, at the end of her Bloomberg article on ROWE, that, “Some at the company [Best Buy] complain that productivity is up only because many Best Buyers are now working longer hours.”
While a majority of employees say flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, help them to achieve a better work/life balance (Wright, 2014), evidence suggests that it’s not as rosy as one might think. For example, teleworkers reported more time-based family interference with work (FIW) than did non-teleworkers. Indeed, the ability to telecommute or work from home “may enable negative work and nonwork spillover rather than avert it” (Allen, 2013, pp. 706-707).
“The most telling problem with telecommuting as a worklife solution is its strong relationship to long work hours and the “work devotion schema.”” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).
“Since telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers, and supervisors, telecommuting can potentially increase the penetration of work tasks into home time. Bolstering this interpretation, the 2008 Pew Networked Workers survey reports that the majority of wired workers report telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that workers use technology, especially email, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).
Moen, Kelly, and Lam (2013) tested “A key question [regarding] whether ROWE actually reduced employees’ time strain, in terms of reducing their work-time demands and/or increasing their time control” (p. 159). The researchers found that “exposure to ROWE increased time control (time adequacy, schedule control) but did not change time demands (work hours, psychological time demands)” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 166).
“ROWE flexibility initiative did not reduce psychological time demands, probably because ROWE-type interventions do not diminish the amount, intensity, or expectations of time investments in work” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 167).
Takeaway: A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) sounds great — as a concept. However, the challenges of implementing and the realities involved in working in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) can reveal major limitations as to its appropriateness for every workplace. In fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements concede that some workers, such as those in retail and service positions, will still need to continue doing their work “at work.” What’s more, contrary to the claim that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork,” some employees working in a ROWE reported that they actually work longer hours.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant
Allen, T. D. (2013). The Work–Family Role Interface: A Synthesis of the Research from Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In N. W. Schmitt & S. Highhouse (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 12 Industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed) (pp. 698-718). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Moen, P., Kelly, E. L., & Lam, J. (2013). Healthy work revisited: Do changes in time strain predict well-being? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), 157-172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0031804
Paltering is “an active form of deception that involves the use of truthful statements to convey a mistaken impression” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).
We tend to think of lies (i.e., to mislead or deceive others) as misstating facts or actively using false statements (lying by commission) or leaving out important details (lying by omission), but there is a third, very common, type of deception called paltering. Paltering is actively making truthful statements to create a misleading or mistaken impression (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).
“Though the underlying motivation to deceive a target may be the same, paltering is distinct from both lying by commission and lying by omission. Unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active use of statements, and unlike lying by commission, paltering involves the use of truthful statements. Like lying by omission, paltering can involve failing to disclose relevant information, but unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active disclosure of true but misleading information: paltering enables would-be deceivers to actively influence a target’s beliefs” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).
Palterers See Their Action as More Ethical Than Targets Do
What’s interesting is that palterers and those who observe individuals paltering view paltering as more ethical than the targets do. In other words, while people who palter and observers of paltering consider it more ethical than flat out lying, the recipients of that paltering don’t feel the same way. In fact, targets consider paltering to be ethically equivalent to making false statements.
“[A]lthough those who palter believe paltering to be more ethical than lying by commission, once deceptions is exposed targets judge the ethicality of the two forms of deception very similarly” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).
“When detected paltering may harm reputations and trust just as much as does lying by commission” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).
The Brain Adapts To Dishonesty
No matter how we deceive others (lying by commission, lying by omission, or paltering), the more we lie, the more we become desensitized to being dishonest (i.e. the less we feel bad about lying) and our small lies snowball into big ones.
A recent study in Nature Neuroscience discovered that our brain actually adapts to being dishonest, and that habitual lying can desensitize our brains from “feeling bad,” and may even encourage us to tell bigger lies in the future.
“Despite being small at the outset, engagement in dishonest acts may trigger a process that leads to larger acts of dishonesty further down the line” (Garrett, Lazzaro, Ariely, & Sharot, 2016).
The researchers pointed out that repeatedly being dishonest is not enough for dishonesty escalation. “[T]he simple act of repeated dishonesty is not enough for escalation to take place: a self-interest motive must also be present” (Garrett, Lazzaro, Ariely, & Sharot, 2016).
“When we lie for personal gain, our amygdala produces a negative feeling that limits the extent to which we are prepared to lie,” explains senior author Dr. Tali Sharot (UCL Experimental Psychology). “However, this response fades as we continue to lie, and the more it falls the bigger our lies become. This may lead to a ‘slippery slope’ where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies” (University College London, 2016).
Takeaway: Paltering (actively making truthful statements to create a misleading or mistaken impression) can damage and harm your reputation and trust just as much as lying by commission (misstating facts). The more you engage in being dishonest, the more your brain adapts to dishonesty — putting you on a slippery slope where small lies lead to bigger and bigger lies.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant
Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S. C., Ariely, D., & Sharot, T. (2016). The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience, 19, 1727–1732.
Rogers, T., Zeckhauser, R., Gino, F., Norton, M. I., Schweitzer, M. E. (2016). Artful Paltering: The Risks and Rewards of Using Truthful Statements to Mislead Others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000081
I was contacted by a journalist with The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, for my thoughts about why having too little to do at work is bad for your mental health. I am reposting my responses below.
Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated, at work similar to being overworked?
Answer: If we assume that having too little to do or being under-stimulated at work falls under the umbrella of boredom (Mann, 2007) and that there’s a relationship between boredom at work and employee mental well-being (Warr, 2005), and that mental health is comprised of many dimensions (two of which are subjective well-being and positive self-regard), then being bored at work (not enough to do or not stimulated) and being overworked are similar, albeit they occupy different points on the spectrum. With regard to being overworked, researchers have found that changes in job demands predict future burnout (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Van Rhenen, 2009).
Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated at work, bad for your mental health? If so, why does this cause stress/poor mental health?
Answer: Related to my previous answer, being bored (having too little to do or being under-stimulated and when associated with poor mental well-being & poor positive self-regard) and being overworked can both be bad for a person’s mental health.
When we talk about an employee’s subjective well-being, it’s important to distinguish between “context-free” well-being and “domain-specific” well-being (Warr, 2005). A person’s well-being with respect to his or her job is a job-related “domain-specific” well-being (i.e., limited to the workplace & job). It’s also possible and we do see this happen, where it’s family-related “domain-specific” well-being. That is, situations in an employee’s family life/environment have a negative impact on his/her subjective well-being and the employee carries this into the workplace.
We can see how just these two streams in the “domain-specific” well-being can be challenging to separate within a person’s mental state of mind. Put it simply, we can take work stress home, but the reverse is also true, we can just as easily take home stress with us to work.
One very important note we need to remember is this: an employee’s job may influence his/her well-being, the employee’s well-being may impact how he/she perceives the job, or characteristics of the employee can determine well-being or perception of the job (Warr, 2005). Also critical to mental health are feelings that we have about ourselves as a person. In addition to subjective well-being is the concept of positive self-regard. We can think of positive self-regard in terms of a person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth (Warr, 2005).
Question: What is the optimum level of work for good mental health?
Answer: There is no magic formula for what level of work would contribute to good mental health. As I have shared, the reason is because the factors that lead to good or poor mental health are many and they can be difficult to separate from other related factors (Warr, 2005).
That said, there are still things that organizations can do to help their employees stay engaged in their jobs.
In his book The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman (2014) shared that one key lesson to getting employees engaged in their work is to offer “opportunities for them to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness on a daily basis.” He explained that employee autonomy is when workers have a sense of choice. Companies can promote employee autonomy by explaining the reason/logic when tasks are presented, by giving employees the flexibility about how and when a task is done, and by giving employees options on where they can do their work (e.g., telecommuting).
Takeaway: If we tie our discussion about boredom at work (i.e., having too little to do or being under-stimulated) as well as being overworked to mean being generally dissatisfied with a job, then there’s a strong connection between job dissatisfaction and mental health. Research suggests that an employee’s level of job satisfaction is an important factor influencing his or her health (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005). In analyzing nearly 500 studies involving over 250,000 employees, researchers have found a very “strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health,” and that “dissatisfaction at work can be hazardous to an employee’s mental health and well-being” (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005, p. 108).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant
Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(2), 105-112. doi:10.1136/oem.2002.006734
Friedman, R. (2014). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. New York: Perigee.
Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. doi:10.1002/job.595
Warr, P. (2005). Work, well-being and mental health. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 547-574). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” – James Thurber
In Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.), in the 19 Career Stallers and Stoppers section is the entry for “Blocked Personal Learner,” Lombardo and Eichinger discussed people who resist learning new behaviors.
Whether in my personal or professional life, when I observe myself and others around me, one of the biggest personal and professional missteps I witness is being a blocked learner. More than blocking learning, I think of it as repelling learning — like repelling it as if it were a mosquito or bug.
My own life lesson has taught me that when you think you know it all, that’s when you know the least. Ironically, the more formal education I receive, the more humble I’ve become. Truth be told, I was not always humble, just ask my wife. My Ph.D. does not (nor should it) signify that I know everything about everything, or everything about many things, or even everything about a few things. Indeed, my Ph.D. really just means that (1) I know a lot about a very specific and small area and (2) I can write fairly well and make an argument for an idea, at least well enough for three other Ph.D. professors to approve my dissertation.
“The funny thing is: The more I know, the more I know how much I really don’t know.” —Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
I once knew a young Asian physician, fresh out of medical school, who was so proud–and made sure others knew–that he was now a medical doctor that I swore he should have had “M.D.” (for medical doctor) tattooed on his forehead!
On professional networking sites, like LinkedIn, I now observe, much to my dismay, individuals going out of their way to put others down and/or intentionally trying to harm other people’s professional reputations. It’s shocking and very sad how “ugly” some people with (and sometimes even those without) advanced degrees treat others! It’s also not surprising that the individuals being targetted are quite successful in their fields.
Lombardo and Eichinger (2006) wrote that three problems for blocked learners are: (1) they are closed (unwilling) to learning new skills and methods, (2) they do not seek input from others (why would they since they think they know everything already), and (3) they are not insightful about themselves.
Two remedies Lombardo and Eichinger recommended for blocked learners:
1. Watch other people’s reaction to you. Observe the reactions of other people to the things you’re doing and saying. It’s easier to do this in the real, physical world than when you’re online. For instance, if others on professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are upset, irked by, or tired of the offenders’ relentless criticisms and put-downs, they may simply ignore or tune the offenders out or unfollow them. Thus, the offenders will never know that their behaviors turned others off.
2. Signal that you’re open to and interested in what other people have to say. Here, the blocked learners are so closed off from learning that they really don’t care how they are perceived by others. In fact, communication really becomes one-way for them. That is, the offenders use professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn) as an educational pulpit, where they view themselves as the expert, know-it-all “professors,” and their role is to teach/educate others. And, they go out of their way to point out flaws, mistakes, bogus, and/or unconvincing stories and writings of other professionals (at least according to their own views and biases). For these offenders, their way to improving yourself and the workplace is the only correct path and they are angry, even offended, that other professionals (in other fields) dare to talk about or share different ways to improving yourself and your workplace.
It’s sad to see how much time these offenders waste tracking other people’s conversations on professional networking sites and then spending time to try to jump in and discredit them. As a father to a toddler and someone lucky enough to have a full-time job, I pose this rhetorical question, “Who has time to do that?” I mean really? In my free time, I like to spend time with my wife and daughter and go the park and play on the swings. I don’t have time nor do I want to spend time trying to find people to discredit. That must be so time-consuming, wasteful, and tiresome!
I often share with my wife and friends that if we’re busy living our own lives and doing our best, we will not have time to worry about what other people are doing! 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.
Thus, in attempting to discredit other professionals who, in the offenders’ eyes, should not be in the business of writing about or sharing personal and professional improvement tips, they (the offenders) end up discrediting themselves and revealing, for all the world to see, their bitterness and resentment of someone else’s success.
As I wrote in an earlier post titled, “Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves”: 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.
Takeaway: Don’t waste your life and your precious time trying to discredit others. Your way to improving yourself and the workplace is not the only path. Be humble and open to learning from others. Focus on being your absolute best at work and at home. When you are busy living your own life and doing your best, you will not have time or energy to worry about what other people are doing.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant
Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2006). Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.
A writer asked for my thoughts about why it is necessary to fight work stress and how to do it. Here’s my response:
Why We Must Combat Work Stress
There are many work-related problems that crop up as a result of work stress. These are similar to stress experienced outside of the workplace (i.e., involving physical, psychological, or behavioral reactions). Employees complain about and/or experience sleep disorders, inability to concentrate or focus, feeling exhausted or burned out, feeling irritable, engaging in arguments or conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, or withdrawing and isolating from others. As mentioned in the “Mental Health at Work” series, if work/job stress is prolonged, frequent, or intense, individuals are at higher risk for psychological problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks, or even PTSD. Collectively, these problems, if left unchecked, contribute to larger organizational issues, such as increased absenteeism, medical/disability cost, high turnover, reduced productivity, etc. Indeed, work stress is a serious and growing problem that harms employees and organizations (Quillian-Wolever & Wolever, 2003).
How to Combat Work Stress
It is easier to make a case for why we need to combat work stress than it is to go about combating work stress. Simply stated, it’s hard to manage stress effectively.
For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a resource titled, “Coping With Stress at Work” that suggests 7 steps to managing stress in general (e.g., track your stressors, develop health responses, etc.).
However, what that particular resource and many other resources about combating/managing stress fail to point out is that managing work stress is multifaceted and involves individually-targeted as well as organizationally-targeted interventions. Many resources only touch on the individual’s initiative to manage his/her own stress. That is, it’s about how individuals can take steps to manage their own stress in the workplace.
There are different views about what contributes to work stress. Some say it has to do with worker characteristics (or qualities relating to the worker), while others say it has to do with the working conditions (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005).
What we need to do is think about interventions for work stress in terms of levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary [Leka & Houdmont, 2010]). The primary intervention targets the source of the work stress (i.e, the design, management, and organization of work). When we talk about how workers can better respond to and manage stress, that’s the secondary intervention. Secondary prevention intervention (often called stress management) is about changing the ways that individuals respond to risks or job stressors (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005). Finally, there’s the tertiary intervention that provides remedial support for problems that have already manifested (Randall & Nielsen, 2010).
For an excellent reference on the three levels of interventions (primary, secondary, and tertiary) see the article, “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3).” And for a comprehensive understanding, check out all three booklets in the Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (cited in the links below).
But I don’t want to complicate things too much by talking about the different levels of interventions, so I’ll leave you with some tips for how to fight/manage stress at the individual level (targeting the secondary intervention level).
9 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS [secondary intervention level]
(taken directly from Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series – Booklet 1).
Learn to identify the signs your body is giving you (increased heart rate, clammy hands, difficulties in concentrating, etc.) as this will help you do what is necessary to reduce stress.
Learn to identify what increases your stress; by acting on the causes of stress, you can better control it.
Learn to delegate – don’t shoulder all responsibilities on your own.
Establish a list of priorities as this will help you to better manage your time.
Suggest changes at work, talk about irritating situations with your colleagues and supervisor, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
Develop a good support network and recognize that help is sometimes necessary to get through hard times.
Participate in leisure activities. Apart from helping you relax, such activities will help “recharge your batteries.”
Exercise. In addition to the obvious health benefits, exercise will help you sleep better.
Reduce your consumption of stimulating foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, sugar or alcohol.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant
Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series. “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3)”. Retrieved from http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/documents/doc115-395.pdf
Leka, S., & Houdmont, J. (2010). Occupational health psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
Quillian-Wolever, R., & Wolever, M. (2003). Stress management at work. In L. E. Tetrick & J. C. Quick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 355-375). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Randall, R., & Nielsen, K. (2010). Interventions to Promote Well-Being at Work. In D. Leka & J. Houdmont (Eds.), Occupational health psychology (pp. 88-123). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
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.
Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
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.
“Rather than enhancing true flexibility in when and where employees work, the capacity to work from home mostly extends the workday and encroaches into what was formerly home and family time” (Glass & Noonan, 2016, p. 217).
“It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours,” Noonan says. “When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”
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.
“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).
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work (2014) (by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton) is a short book. Although it’s listed on Amazon at 272 pages, the book is actually about 240-ish pages, of which only 135 pages is for actual reading. The rest of the book, the second half, is composed of a toolkit called “Identity Reference Guide” which I don’t consider to be content to read, only to reference (which I believe there’s an important distinction).
What Motivates Me is very different from Gostick & Elton’s previous books [“The Carrot Principle” (2009), “The Orange Revolution” (2010), and “All In” (2012) — all published by Free Press].
Perhaps it’s just me or my way of reading or how I prefer a book to be laid out, but just as with StrengthsFinder 2.0, I found reading What Motivates Me choppy. It’s interesting to note that both were essentially self-published [StrengthsFinder 2.0 was published by Gallup Press which is owned by Gallup and for which Rath works; similarly, What Motivates Me is published by The Culture Works, the company co-founded by Gostick and Elton]. There is little flow to the storyline or effort to develop and maintain it. Instead, these types of “books” are more like “workbooks.”
The one part I did enjoy (but felt it was too short) was the chapter on job sculpting, which is making small changes in our nine-to-five jobs.
“In searching for a ‘dream job,’ many people feel they have to make a dramatic leap into the unknown. That’s usually not the case; in fact, we found the vast majority of people are able to sculpt their current roles so they can do more of what they love to do and a little less of what they find demotivating” (Gostick & Elton, 2014, p. 66).
Thus, if I were to look at it from that perspective then there’s potential value in reading the 135 pages (which includes some workbook exercises) and taking the “The Motivators Assessment” (done online and requires a unique passcode . . . just like StrengthsFinder 2.0), and then referencing and working through the “Identity Reference Guide” in the second half of the What Motivates Me book.
Summary: What Motivates Me is not a business book and those who mistake it for one may end up very disappointed. It is a career discovery / career development / life-work motivation book, with a layout very similar (almost identical) to Tom Rath’s “StrengthsFinder 2.0” (which had 30 pages of overview and introduction and the rest devoted to covering 34 themes and ideas for action). Those who are interested in discovering what motivates them and how they can leverage their core motivators to better align with their work or college students struggling to decide on a career may find What Motivates Me useful.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2010). All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results. New York: Free Press.
Gostick, A. & Elton, C. (2009). The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press.
Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2010). The Orange Revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization. New York: Free Press.
Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2014). What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work. Kamas, UT: The Culture Works Press.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York, NY: Gallup Press.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
About a month ago, my wife and I became parents for the very first time. We are so blessed to have a healthy baby girl. She is truly a miracle. I joke with my coworkers that my daughter has very strong lungs.
People say that when you become a parent, your perspective changes and, in fact, so does your whole world. They say that you’ll start to see things in terms of what is best for your child (or children). They’re so right.
My wife and I have made a promise to one another that we will teach our daughter to always respect others, to embrace life with open arms, and to live life to the fullest and not be afraid of following her heart.
One thing I have seen often and continue to see is how people live in fear. I’m not talking about fear of bodily harm or other serious fears. I am talking about the self-inflicted state of fear that holds us prisoners and in a state of limbo.
“If you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong decision. That’s all there is to it. There are few guarantees in life. One of them is that you will make lots of mistakes. The worst thing you can do is wimp out and spend your life in suspended animation, refusing to make a choice because it may not be a perfect one.” ~ Nicholas Lore (author of the book “The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success”)
I know of people who talk about owning their own business or moving abroad to live and work or publish an article or write a book. I believe there are many people like this in the world — I was one of these individuals.
When I look at my life and the decisions that I’ve made I realize that life has presented and continues to present me with many choices which I either took or ignored.
I had a choice to attend Baylor University or other colleges. I chose Baylor. During my sophomore year at Baylor, I wanted to become a professor after watching the movie, “Dead Poets Society.” Instead, I chose to remain with pre-med.
I had a choice to study and do well in my pre-med classes. I chose to be lazy and naturally did poorly. When I reached the end of my pre-med classes (almost completing the pre-med program and just months away from taking the MCAT, medical school entrance exam), I had a choice to keep on the same track of medicine or getting off that train. Despite the pain and anguish it caused me, I got off that train because it was the right choice.
I had a choice to attend law school or say no. I chose law school (but I chose out of fear and attended by default because I didn’t know what else to do with my life). I had a choice to study and do well in my law classes. I chose to be lazy and did poorly.
When life showed me all the signs and signals in the world that I was unhappy in my current path in life, I chose to ignore them all and chugged aimlessly along the train tracks of life.
After years of regrets, self-sabotage, and self-doubt, I finally began to listen to my heart and started to choose (even when I was scared) instead of having things chosen for me.
My life changed in December 1996 when I made the conscious decision to go back to school to get a graduate degree in psychology. But it wasn’t until December 2003 (after getting my graduate degree), when I made the conscious decision to apply for a job over 7,000 miles away on a tropical island, that my life truly changed.
In late January 2004, after a 20+ hour flight and traveling almost halfway around the world, I landed on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean . . . and for the next few years experienced some amazing adventures, did some pretty exciting things, and got to see and do something very different.
In 3½ years on Saipan I played beach volleyball with professional players, saw guys husk coconuts with their teeth, flew on airplanes not much bigger than a Hummer, learned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) from an MMA fighter, created my first website, trained over 800 teachers and professionals on Crisis Intervention and Classroom Management, was invited to offer testimony to the CNMI Legislators on Assisted Outpatient Treatment, helped research and edit the CNMI Assisted Outpatient Treatment Act, produced a “School Crisis Response Handbook,” and had my School Crisis Response Training presentation videotaped. Oh, I also met a wonderful woman who, despite my shortcomings, agreed to become my wife.
Life gives you choices. It’s up to each one of us to consciously choose (even when we are afraid). If we don’t, the choices may sometimes be chosen for us or years will go by and we’ll look back with regret because we had missed out on a great opportunity.
When I tell people that I left Texas to live on an island in the Pacific Ocean because I wanted adventure, excitement, and something different, I typically get three reactions: (1) People are amazed and praise me for taking action to follow my heart, (2) People are confused as to why I would ever want to leave where I was living (Dallas, Texas), and (3) People think that I went through some sort of mid-life crisis.
Taking that job in Saipan was, without a doubt, one of the BEST decisions in my life. For years, I talked and lamented about how I had always lived my life vicariously through others. I was a true dreamer but not a doer. I guess my heart simply got tired of my mind’s wanderlust and had a heart-mind talk. In the end, the heart won out and I could no longer ignore those yearnings.
It’s hard to describe how fulfilled I felt when I came to Saipan. Within the first week or so, I knew that I had made the right decision for my life. No one told me that I had made the right choice. No self-help or personal development book answered my deep longings. Rather, it was simply a feeling I felt in my heart. It just felt right.
While in Saipan, I met people who talked about wanting to start this or that, but for whatever reason never did. When I proposed my idea for a crisis management training course many of my colleagues dismissed it. I heard many reasons why it would not work. Good thing I love to prove people wrong. So when someone says something will not work and I think it will, I will do everything in my power to make it work (you can read more about how I did that in this article, “Less Talk, More Action—The PAR Technique.”).
“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ~ Steve Jobs
So I will teach my daughter, when she’s old enough to understand, to not be afraid. I want her to live her life and fall down and get dirty, and then get back up and try again. I want her to always try her best and give her all, no matter how scared she is or how afraid she might be of what others think or say. I want her to choose, instead of having things chosen for her. And most of all, I want my daughter to never be afraid to fall down or fail — because her daddy fell down and failed (and will fall down and fail again) and got back up.
Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses. ~George Washington Carver
Steve Nguyen, Ph.D., is an organizational consultant and trainer. He works with organizations to train and develop employees, and promote a healthy and productive work environment. You can find him at https://workplacepsychology.net/.
For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on YouTube (University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address – Admiral William H. McRaven), http://youtu.be/yaQZFhrW0fU.
This is an inspiring and powerful 20-minute commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.
Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is on point and offers some fantastic life and business lessons.
Below are excerpts from his amazing speech.
10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training
1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
“You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”
3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”
4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie*.”
*For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand.
The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy. There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill: You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.
5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”
6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.
7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”
8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
“At the darkest moment of the mission—is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”
9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan—Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”
10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
“In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”
“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often . . . [T]ake some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up.”
“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.”
“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.”
Here is a great 19-minute TED Talk by Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Below are excerpts from her speech.
“I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were.”
“When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts — a third to a half.”
“You need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.”
“Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”
“When it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays.”
“Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, because when they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.”
“Culturally we need a much better balance. We need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”
Three Calls for Action:
(1) “Stop the madness for constant group work . . . I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging casual, chatty cafe-style types of interactions — you know, the kind where people come together and serendipitously have an exchange of ideas . . . But we need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work.”
(2) “Go to the wilderness . . . I’m not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”
(3) “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase and why you put it there.”
Extroverts: Take things out of your suitcase “every chance you get and grace us with your energy and your joy.”
Introverts: “You probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside your own suitcase. And that’s okay. But occasionally . . . I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor talks about how by first limiting our focus on small, manageable goals, we can then expand our sphere of power from there. Achor used the movie “The Mask of Zorro” (starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins) as an example and describes what he calls The Zorro Circle. For those who have not seen it, there is a scene where young Alejandro (Zorro) is taught how to master the sword and other skills by first training in a small circle. Only after mastering control of that small circle was he then allowed by his master Don Diego to try other larger feats (e.g., swinging from ropes and fighting against his own master in a sword fight).
Achor suggests that the first goal to regaining our internallocus of control (when we don’t feel in control) is to to become more self-aware. When you’re in a high stress situation or feel a high level of stress, identify how you’re feeling and put those feelings into words. Try writing down your feelings in a journal or share with a close friend or trusted colleague. “[V]erbalizing the stress and helplessness you are feeling is the first step toward regaining control” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).
“Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of these negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills” (Achor, 2010, p. 136).
After you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, the next step is to identify which part of the situation that you do have control over and which ones you do not. The basic idea here is to see that there are things that are out of your hands that you simply have no control over; but also that there are things that you do have real control over and to focus your energy on those areas.
“By tackling one small challenge at a time—a narrow circle that slowly expands outward—we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).
The lesson is this: If you focus on and master the small, manageable goals first (the small circle), you can then expand your sphere of power to larger goals. Tackle one small challenge at a time and clearly see and let go of things that you do not have control over and focus your energy and efforts on things over which you do have control.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
The question is simple: If you were to win the lottery (also known as the lottery question), would you continue to work? The answer might surprise you because most people say yes. In fact, a survey of lottery winners showed that even those who won the lottery continued to work!
The General Population
Responses from 7,871 men and 7,549 women to the General Social Surveys conducted by the NORC for 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987-1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 were analyzed by Scott Highhouse and his colleagues (2010).
Each person answered the following question: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?”
Over a 26-year period, the researchers found that, while there has been a decline in people who said they would keep working, most of the people responded they would keep on working. 72.8% (1980 –1993) and 68.1% (1994 –2006) of people responded that they would continue working (Highhouse et al., 2010).
Highhouse and colleagues said the responses to the lottery question seems linked to economic conditions. That is, when the economy is doing well, people are more inclined to give up work. However, during tough economic times the idea of giving up work might be seen as final (i.e., permanent, irreversible).
My unscientific poll seems to confirm this. Three years ago (in 2010), I posted a poll here on WorkplacePsychology.Net which asked people, “If you had enough money so that you never had to work again, would you continue to work or would you stop working?”
After three years and more than 4000 votes, results indicate that the majority of people who participated in my survey (56.49%) said they would, in fact, continue working even if they had money to never have to worry about working again.
These numbers are lower than the 72.8% (for the period 1980 –1993) and even the 68.1% (1994 –2006) reported in the Highhouse study. Indeed, when I posted the poll in 2010, the U.S. was just emerging from a very long recession. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (2010), the U.S. recession lasted 18 months (from December 2007 to June 2009), making it the longest of any recession since World War II.
Since the posting of that survey, the U.S. economy has seen only tepid improvements. Thus, even during tough economic times, it was surprising to see that 56% of people who took the survey said they would continue working even if they had money to never have to worry about working again.
Returning to the Highhouse et al. study, researchers are not sure why there’s a decline (although there is indication that it is leveling off) in people saying they would work if they were to win the lottery. According to Highhouse et al. there are many possible explanations: (1) it might be a decline in work ethic, (2) it might be that participants now are more candid/open about their responses compared to 30 years ago, or (3) it might be a change in the way people view the role that work plays in contributing to a productive life (e.g., result of a literate and progressive population).
“One of the reasons for the decrease in affirmative responses to the lottery question is not that the work ethic itself has declined but that the attractiveness of life after work has increased in the United States” (Highhouse et al., 2010, p. 356).
The Lottery Winners
Ok, so what about people who have won the lottery? Would they be more likely to quit their jobs, instantly retire, and spend the rest of their lives relaxing and drinking margaritas on an island somewhere? Not exactly.
Arvey, Harpz, and Liao (2004) conducted a survey of lottery winners in which they asked these lottery winners whether they had kept on working even after winning. The researchers also asked the lottery winners how important work was in their life. The researchers predicted that lottery winners would keep on working depending on their level of work centrality and on the amount of their winnings.
Arvey et al. (2004) reviewed responses from 117 people (they removed those who had retired before winning the lottery or who had missing information), average lottery win was $3.63 million (1999 U.S. dollars), 37% women and 63% men, with an average age of 43 (at the time that person won the lottery), 17% were managers, 26% were professionals, 26% were in other white-collar jobs, and 31% were in blue-collar jobs.
“After controlling for a number of variables (i.e., age, gender, education, occupation, and job satisfaction), results indicated that work centrality and the amount won were significantly related to whether individuals continued to work and, as predicted, the interaction between the two was also significantly related to work continuance.”
Results revealed that the overwhelming majority (85.5%) indicated they continued working after winning the lottery, while 14.5% chose to quit working. Arvey et al. explained that “the percentages of different options do not add to 100% because several respondents indicated more than one option. However, respondents who chose the first option (i.e., stopped working altogether) did not check any of the other options” (p. 412).
“The results of this study confirmed the main hypothesis that lottery winners would be less likely to stop working if work was important or central in their lives relative to those who viewed work as less central in their lives. Lottery winners were also more likely to quit working as a function of the amount of their winnings. The greater the award, the more likely they were to stop working. . . It is clear that winning the lottery does not automatically result in individuals’ stopping work” (Arvey et al., 2004, p. 415).
Why do people continue to work when they do not have to work (for instance, winning the lottery)?
When we consider the amount of time we spend at work (8+ hours a day, 5 days a week or more), or even the time spent outside of work celebrating work successes, contemplating work responsibilities/duties, or stressing over issues in our workplaces, it is easy to understand the major role of work in our lives.
With regard to lottery winners who continue working, King (2011) wrote, “The behavior of the typical lottery winner tells us that work is more than a way to earn money. It is an opportunity to use our skills and abilities and to feel successful and effective. It also provides a context in which to have meaningful relationships with other people” (p. 455).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Arvey, R. D., Harpaz, I., & Liao, H. (2004). Work centrality and post-award work behavior of lottery winners. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 138(5), 404-420. doi:10.3200/JRLP.138.5.404-420
Highhouse, S., Zickar, M. J., & Yankelevich, M. (2010). Would you work if you won the lottery? Tracking changes in the American work ethic. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 349-357. doi:10.1037/a0018359
King, L. A. (2011). The science of psychology: An appreciative view (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.