Category Archives: Health & Wellness

Information Overload: Too Much Information Becomes Noise

[Note: This post was updated January 2021 for freshness & clarity.]

In “Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions,” an article for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), Joseph Ruff says that we are bombarded with so much data that we’re on information overload. Simply put, information overload is when our ability to process information has passed its limit, and further attempts to process information or make accurate decisions from the surplus of information leads to information overload.

Ruff argues that information overload interferes with our ability to learn and engage in creative problem-solving. For instance, venture capitalists with too much information cannot make accurate adjustments to their evaluation process, and because of this their learning is impeded.

“Once capacity is surpassed, additional information becomes noise and results in a decrease in information processing and decision quality…[H]aving too much information is the same as not having enough” (Ruff, 2002, p. 4).

There’s even a name for it, Information Fatigue Syndrome.* Its symptoms include:

    • Poor concentration due to the overloading of short-term memory
    • Polyphasic behavior or multi-tasking often resulting in diminished rather than increased productivity
    • Hurry sickness, which is the belief that one must constantly rush to keep pace with time
    • Pervasive hostility resulting in a chronic state of irritability near anger or even rage
    • Habituation or over stimulation which causes the brain to shut down and enter a trance-like state
    • “Plugged in” compulsion is the strong need to check email, voice mail and the Internet in order to stay “in touch”
    • Traditional stress including lowered immune response, endocrine imbalance, depression and the experience of “burn out”

Ruff offers a list of strategies to manage information overload. He divides the solutions into proactive and reactive strategies. Proactive strategies are attempts at preventing information overload. Reactive strategies, on the other hand, are implemented after information overload has occurred. Below is Ruff’s list (verbatim) [to see a more detailed list click on the link to his PDF* in the reference section or click HERE]:

Proactive

    • Devise a pulse-taking system to form a constantly changing up-to-date mental model of the organization and key stakeholders
    • Create a personal system for storing and retrieving information (i.e. notebook, planner, system for filing and organizing email)
    • Do not overwhelm yourself with a waste-not want-not mentality; throw it away or delete it
    • Time management training
    • Business writing training
    • Software and technology training
    • Information literacy training
      • Traditional and digital communication skills
      • Thinking and decision making skills
      • Creativity, innovation and risk taking
      • Computer literacy
      • Subject matter literacy
      • Learning how to learn
      • Electronic resources
    • Chunking and mnemonics training
    • Perception’s role in information overload training

Reactive

    • Filtering – focusing attention only on the most useful and essential information while purposefully ignoring other sources
    • Multitasking – performing two or more job functions at the same time [See my post Multitasking Doesn’t Work]
    • Queuing – performing initial steps to tasks that will be completed at a latter time
    • Escaping – eliminating disturbances by psychologically or physically limiting disruptions from outside world (i.e. not answering phone, closing door)
    • Prioritizing – determining and approaching most important tasks first
    • Delegating – determining which tasks can be given to other workers
    • Refusing – determining which tasks can be left undone
    • Limiting – not being seduced by thinking that more information is better
    • Satisficing – seeking “good enough” solutions; not perfection
    • Altering – changing perception of a task by performing it in a different way or place (i.e. view documents on paper instead of a computer screen; move to a lounge or coffee shop)
    • Shifting – changing perception of situation by accepting it as just part of the job

Author’s Note [January 2021]: I’m adding additional notes below to include several terms related to “Information Overload” as well as expand on the origin of the term, “Information Fatigue Syndrome.”

These terms include: “Information Fatigue Syndrome”, “Data Smog”, and “Information Anxiety”.

    • “Information Fatigue Syndrome” – from Dr. David Lewis (1996)
    • “Data Smog” – from David Shenk (1997)
    • “Information Anxiety” – from Richard Saul Wurman (1989)

In 1989, Richard Saul Wurman’s book, Information Anxiety, described this phenomenon of information overload.

* In 1996, Dr. David Lewis (a British psychologist), authored the report Dying for Information, in which he coined the term “information fatigue syndrome” to describe the effect of information overload. Information Fatigue Syndrome leads to an over-bombardment of information to the brain which can result in “paralysis of analysis” and poor decision-making.

In 1997, David Shenk in his book, Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, used the term “data smog” and information glut to describe information overload.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor & Consultant

References

NPR. (1996, October 15). Info Glut. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1045194

Reuters Business Information. (1996). Dying for Information: An investigation into the effects of information overload in the UK and Worldwide. Reuters.

Reuters. (1997). The Reuters Guide to Good Information Strategy: Abridged version for the Reuters Web site. Retrieved from http://jmab.planetaclix.pt/GesInf/Aula5/The_Reuters_Guide_to_Good_Information_Strategy.pdf

Ruff, J. (2002). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions.pdf [*PDF now hosted on WorkplacePsychology.Net for convenience.]

Shenk, D. (1997). Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. HarperCollins.

Shenk, D. (1997). Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. Retrieved from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/shenk-data.html

Waddington, P. (1996). Dying for Information? An Investigation into Information Overload in the UK and Worldwide. Retrieved from http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/papers/bl/blri078/content/repor~13.htm

Wurman, R. S. (1989). Information Anxiety. Doubleday.

Humans, True Grit, and Teaching Resilience

In an HBR article titled “Building resilience,” Dr. Martin Seligman (2011) talks about building resilience after failing. Failure is a common trauma we all face in life. But each of our responses is different. While some seem to bounce back shortly after, others seem to spiral more and more into depression and despair, paralyzing them to even think about the future.

Seligman contends that resilience can be measured and taught. In fact, the U.S. Army is putting Seligman’s ideas into practice through its Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program. In essence, CSF’s goal is to prepare soldiers psychologically for stress and trauma just like boot camp prepares them physically for battle. A key part of CSF is something called “master resilience training” (MRT) where drill sergeants learn to embrace resilience and then pass it on, by building mental toughness, signature strengths, and strong relationships.

Challenging Seligman’s idea, Stix’s article (“The neuroscience of true grit”) in Scientific American (2011) offers what I consider a much more balanced perspective to resilience and the human capacity to recover. Beyond the hype about teaching resilience, the article points out that people do, in fact, recover from disasters and they do so more often than many people realize. While each person’s way towards recovery is different, coping ugly as a researcher in the article says, it serves to help him/her adapt to the crisis.

George A. Bonanno of Teachers College at Columbia University has devoted his career as a psychologist to documenting the varieties of resilient experience, focusing on our reactions to the death of a loved one and to what happens in the face of war, terror and disease. In every instance, he has found, most people adapt surprisingly well to whatever the world presents; life returns to a measure of normalcy in a matter of months.

And it’s Bonanno who raises concern about Seligman and the military’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program and its lack of evidence for its effectiveness. More importantly than whether it works or not, I agree with Bonanno that there’s a potential for a much greater danger – whether more harm than good might result from interfering with people’s ability to naturally bounce back.

If most people are resilient, as they seem to be in all the studies we’ve done, what happens to those people if you give them stress-inoculation training? -Dr. George A. Bonanno

What’s more, even those in the military aren’t jumping on Seligman’s resilience training. “William P. Nash, a physician formerly charged with overseeing stress-monitoring programs for the U.S. Marines, says there is little evidence for prophylactic resilience training” (Stix, 2011, p. 33).

Take-Away Message

  • Humans have an amazing capacity to recover and bounce back from disasters and traumas, even without assistance or, in the case of resilience training, interference.
  • It is critical to always consider whether more harm than good might result from interfering (this includes interventions to teach resilience) with people’s natural ability to bounce back from trauma.

References

Seligman, M. (2011, April). Building resilience. Harvard Business Review, April, 100-106. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience/ar/1

Stix, G. (2011, March). The neuroscience of true grit: When tragedy strikes, most of us ultimately rebound surprisingly well. Where does such resilience come from? Scientific American, 304(3), 29-33.

A Bad Job Is Worse Than No Job

Researchers at the Australian National University wanted to know whether the benefits of having a job depended on its psychosocial quality (levels of control, demands and complexity, job insecurity, and unfair pay), and whether poor quality jobs were associated with better mental health than unemployment.

They found that poor-quality jobs — those with high demands, low control over decision making, high job insecurity and an effort-reward imbalance — had more adverse effects on mental health than joblessness (Butterworth, Leach, Strazdins, Olesen, Rodgers, & Broom, 2011).

Analyzing seven years’ worth of information from 7,155 people, the researchers concluded:

“We found that those respondents who were unemployed had significantly poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.”

Take-Away Message:

  • The mental health of people in the least-satisfying jobs declined the most over time — and the worse the job, the more it affected workers’ well-being.
  • The impact on mental health of a badly paid, poorly supported, or short term job can be as harmful as no job at all.
  • The quality of your job predicts the quality of your mental health.

References

BMJ-British Medical Journal (2011, March 14). Impact of a bad job on mental health as harmful as no job at all. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110314184714.htm

Butterworth, P., Leach, L.S., Strazdins, L., Olesen, S.C., Rodgers, B., & Broom, D.H. (2011). The psychosocial quality of work determines whether employment has benefits for mental health: results from a longitudinal national household panel survey. Occupational & Environmental Medicine. Advance online publication. doi:10.1136/oem.2010.059030

Time – Study: Having a Bad Job Is Worse than No Job For Mental Health. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/15/study-having-a-bad-job-is-worse-than-no-job-for-mental-health/

Why Sleep Is Important-Impact on Health and Safety

Healthy People 2020 is a website established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It offers a nice outline of why the subject of sleep health is not just a personal health issue, but also a public health and safety concern. According to the site, poor sleep health is quite common with 25 percent of U.S. adults not getting enough sleep for 15 out of 30 days.

Sleep has two main functions. First, sleep conserves our energy so when we wake up we’re ready for the day. Second, sleep restores. While we’re awake, neurotransmitters in the brain are expended and is reduced. Sleep replenishes the supply of neurotransmitters (Donatelle, 2009).

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America survey found 65 percent of Americans experienced sleep problems. In that survey,

  • 40% of respondents were impatient with others at work.
  • 27% frequently found it hard to concentrate.
  • 20% had lower productivity than they expected.
  • 29% have fallen asleep or became very sleepy while they were at work because of sleepiness or because they have a sleep problem.
  • 12% were late to work in the past month due to sleepiness or a sleep problem.
  • 4% left work early or 2% did not go to work because they were too sleepy or because of a sleep problem.

There’s a syndrome called sleep inertia which is the cognitive impairment, disorientation, and groggy feeling we experience when we first awake from sleep. Sleep inertia can negatively impact the brain’s ability to think clearly and our ability to function effectively in performing tasks right after we wake up (Donatelle, 2009). Just think about the challenge it takes to brush your teeth when you wake up after only four or five hours of sleep.

The stages of sleep include: wakefulness, drowsiness, light sleep, and deeper sleep. It is in the deeper sleep phase where rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. REM sleep is absolutely essential. In fact, missing REM sleep is responsible for our feeling groggy and sleep deprived (Donatelle, 2009).

Lack of sleep or difficulty in easily falling asleep, frequent arousals during sleep, or early morning awakening (all describing insomnia—a common complaint among 20 to 40 percent of Americans) can also be caused by work stressors.

“Sleeping six to eight hours is considered optimal. Sleeping less than six hours, often driven by pressure to work more, or the inability to accommodate to the odd hours of shift work, has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity” (Allen, 2010).

In the video “Why Sleep Matters”, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler (Director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School) says doctors in training often work “marathon shifts” of 30 consecutive hours twice a week throughout the three to seven years these doctors are in residency. When Dr. Czeisler and his colleagues surveyed 2,700 medical school interns across the U.S., they found that 1 out of 5 reported making a fatigue-related mistake that injured a patient, and 1 out of 20 interns reported making a fatigue-related mistake that resulted in the death of a patient.

Beyond the dangers inside the hospital, when the interns drive home after working these marathon shifts, their risk of getting into a motor vehicle crash goes up 168 percent! One out of five motor vehicle accidents is related to drivers who are too tired to drive. Sadly, every hour someone is killed in a drowsy, driving-related crash.

Take-Away Message

Sleep and Health

  • Studies have found that insufficient sleep increases a person’s risk of developing serious medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Lack of adequate sleep over time has been associated with a shortened lifespan.

Sleep and Mood

  • Sleep and mood are closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being.
  • Chronic insomnia may increase the risk of developing a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression.

Sleep and Memory

  • Only 11 percent of American college students sleep well, and 40 percent of students feel well rested only two days per week.
  • Inadequate sleep appears to affect the brain’s ability to consolidate both factual information and procedural memories about how to do various physical tasks.
  • The most critical period of sleep for memory consolidation is in the hours immediately following a lesson.

Sleep and Judgment and Safety

  • Drowsy driving causes 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
  • Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, beyond the legal limit to drive.
  • Like alcohol, sleep deprivation also affects judgment, making it harder to assess how impaired you are when you’re tired.

Making Changes at Work

  • Insufficient sleep has an impact on every part of our lives, including at work.
  • Many employees report difficulty concentrating at work or feeling that their productivity is not optimal.
  • Individuals can take personal steps and employers can make accommodations to help workers get the sleep they need.

How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Donatelle, 2009, Table 2.3, p. 44)

  1. Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.
  2. Evaluate your sleep environment. Is there something keeping you awake? If it’s noise, wear earplugs or use a white-noise item such as running a fan. If it’s light, try room-darkening shades.
  3. Exercise regularly. It’s hard to feel drowsy if you have been sedentary all day. Don’t exercise right before bedtime, because activity speeds up your metabolism and makes it harder to go to sleep.
  4. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can linger in your body for up to 12 hours and cause insomnia. Although alcohol may make you drowsy at first, it interferes with the normal sleep–wake cycle.
  5. Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking large amounts of liquid before bed.
  6. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. If you’re unable to get to sleep in 30 minutes, get up and do something else. Read, play solitaire, or try other relaxing activities; return to bed when you feel drowsy.
  7. Nap only in the afternoon. This is when our circadian rhythms tend to make us sleepy. Don’t let naps interfere with your normal sleep schedule.
  8. Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual that puts you in the mood to sleep. Take a warm shower, relax in a comfortable chair, don your favorite robe. Doing this consistently will cue your mind and body that it’s time to wind down.

References

Allen, J.E. (2010). 7 Ways to Work Yourself to Death: Research Reveals Several Surprising Ways Your Job Could Shorten Your Life. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/working-early-death/story?id=11781365

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Harvard Medical School — Division of Sleep Medicine.

Why Sleep Matters video. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/video/sleep07_matters

Sleep and Health. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health

Sleep and Judgment and Safety. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/judgment-safety

Sleep and Memory. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/memory

Sleep and Mood. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

Healthy People 2020. Retrieved from http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/default.aspx

National Sleep Foundation. 2008 Sleep, Performance and the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-america-polls/2008-sleep-performance-and-the-workplace

Warning: Employees Most Invested in Their Jobs Are Also The Most Stressed!

Here’s an interesting study that finds workers who are most invested in their jobs are also the ones most likely to be stressed. Dewa, Thompson, and Jacobs (2011) analyzed data from 2737 working adults in Alberta, Canada. They wanted to examine the relationship between job stress and work responsibilities and job characteristics.

The researchers discovered that roughly 18% of the workers in the study considered their job “highly stressful.” Male employees, who did not consider their job a career or who were highly satisfied with their jobs were significantly less likely to identify their jobs as “highly stressful.” The chance of an employee describing a job as “highly stressful” significantly increased as workers viewed their actions have an effect on those around them or when their jobs required additional or variable hours.

Conclusions: A number of factors are associated with experiencing high work stress including being more engaged with work. This has important implications for employers, particularly regarding where interventions may be targeted.

Take-Away Message

  • Chronic exposure to high work stress can transform into burnout, mental disorders and disability.
  • Workers with disrupted marriages and managers/professionals are more likely to identify their jobs as being associated with high stress.
  • The probability of describing a job as “highly stressful” significantly increases as workers perceive their actions have an effect on co-workers, the environment and their company as well as when their jobs require additional or variable hours.
  • Among those who perceive their jobs as highly stressful, there are significantly lower proportions of workers who are males, under 25 years, single/never married and who have not completed high school.

Reference

Dewa, C.S., Thompson, A.H., & Jacobs, P. (2011). Relationships between job stress and worker perceived responsibilities and job characteristics. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2(1), 37-46.

The True Financial Cost of Job Stress

It is estimated that job stress cost U.S. businesses between $150 billion (Spielberger, Vagg, & Wasala, 2003, citing Wright and Smye) and $300 billion annually (American Institute of Stress).

However, it is important to note that these estimates have been criticized as guesswork and speculation (Goldin, 2004).

In “Counting the Costs of Stress,” Goldin questioned the $300 billion cost cited in newspapers and the media (e.g. New York Times, Forbes Magazine, NPR). She argues that had the media properly investigated the original source or applied basic statistical principles that it would have discovered that there was no basis for this amount (Goldin, 2004). She goes on to clarify that the $300 billion price tag of stress includes accident, absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, direct medical, legal, and insurance costs, workers’ compensation as well as tort and Federal Employers’ Liability Act judgments. Similarly, in their book, Banishing Burnout (2005), Leiter & Maslach stated that job stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $300 billion in sick time, long-term disability, and excessive job turnover. However, there was no mention of how the authors arrived at the $300 billion.

Goldin explained that, according to Dr. Paul Rosch of the American Institute of Stress, the statistics of $300 billion are based on a 1979 book called, “Stress and the Manager” by Karl Albrecht. In the book, Albrecht speculated an absenteeism rate, a turnover rate, overstaffing cost for reduced productivity due to stress, and estimated a cost per absentee day per worker. From those guesses, Albrecht rationalized that the cost to U.S. businesses totaled $150 billion per year.

Most interestingly, Goldin wondered if the American Institute of Stress’ recent guesstimate of $300 billion was due to adjustments for inflation since it was never mentioned in Albrecht’s book. Finally, Goldin cautioned that we should be careful to separate causality from correlation. She asked, is stress the cause of the $300 billion price tag or is it just associated with other factors that are the true culprits? (Goldin, 2004).

What is the true financial cost of job stress? It seems there are no clear-cut answers to this question.

Note: For an interesting follow-up story, read my 2016 post, “Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

References

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

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

Leiter, M.P., & Maslach, C. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Spielberger, C., Vagg, P., & Wasala, C. (2003). Occupational stress: Job pressures and lack of support. In J.C. Quick & L.E. Tetrick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 185-200). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Eight Effective Stress Management Strategies

[NOTE: This post was updated December 2017]

In this post, I want to share eight useful stress management tips and strategies.

Stress may be defined as “the experience of a perceived threat (real or imagined) to one’s well-being, resulting from a series of physiological responses and adaptations” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 62). There are two kinds of stress, eustress refers to stress associated with positive events, and distress refers to negative events. “Stress can be associated with most daily activities” (p. 62).

Strategies to manage stress include: assessing stressors, changing responses, and learning to cope. Find out what works best for you—it may be taking mental or physical action; downshifting; changing the way you think; managing your emotional responses; exercise, relax & eat right; yoga, qi gong, tai chi, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation; learning time management; managing your finances; or using alternative stress management techniques—will help you better cope with stress (Donatelle, 2009).

Six Ways To Relax Your Mind (WebMD; Donatelle, 2009; MayoClinic):

(1) Writing/Journaling – Write about things that are bothering you. Write for 10 to 15 minutes a day about stressful events and how they made you feel. This helps you identify sources of stress and finding ways to manage them (WebMD).

(2) Discussing Feelings – Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with friends, family, a counselor, or a member of the clergy about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress (WebMD).

(3) Doing Things You Enjoy – This can be hobbies, volunteer work, etc. Take time to engage in activities that you like (WebMD).

(4) Focusing on the Present – One thing we all struggle with (at one time or another) is the tendency to jump to conclusions or “fortune-telling” where we assume we know what the future holds or what “will” happen (Williams, Edgerton, & Palmer, 2010). Another tip for being more present-minded is meditation (MayoClinic). Check out a nice meditation exercise here.

(5) Cognitive Restructuring – The modification of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that contribute to stress. “To combat negative self-talk, we must first become aware of it, then stop it, and finally replace the negative thoughts with positive ones—a process referred to as cognitive restructuring” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 79).

(6) Downshifting – “Today’s lifestyles are hectic and pressure-packed, and stress often comes from trying to keep up [with others]” and trying to “have it all.” “Downshifting involves a fundamental alteration in values and honest introspection about what is important in life” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 78).

Two Ways To Relax Your Body (WebMD; Donatelle, 2009; MayoClinic):

(1) Exercise – Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress (WebMD; MayoClinic).

(2) Relaxation Techniques – Breathing exercises, meditation, muscle relaxation, yoga, qi gong, and tai chi can help relieve stress (Donatelle, 2009; MayoClinic; WebMD).

Stress has an enormous impact on the human body (See this Washington Post link). Stress affects the nervous system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, etc.). “Successful stress management involves mentally developing and practicing self-esteem skills, focusing on positive thinking about yourself, and examining self-talk to reduce irrational responses” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 79).

Finally, there’s a concept called psychological hardiness:

“Psychologically hardy people are characterized by control, commitment, and an embrace of challenge. People with a sense of control are able to accept responsibility for their behaviors and change those that they discover to be debilitating” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 75-76).

Hardiness is the “foundation of an individual’s ability to cope with stress and remain healthy” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 76).

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

References

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Mayo Clinic — Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

Mayo Clinic — Stress Relief
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-relief/hlv-20049495

Mayo Clinic — Video: Need to relax? Take a break for meditation
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/multimedia/meditation/vid-20084741

Washington Post: Stress and Your Body
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2007/01/22/GR2007012200620.html

WebMD: Stress Management – Ways to Relieve Stress
http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-relieving-stress

Williams, H., Edgerton, N., & Palmer, S. (2010). Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (pp.37-53). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

10 Most Visited Posts and 10 Posts You Might Have Missed

10 MOST VISITED POSTS

  1. People with a Situational Value System – “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”
  2. Leadership Lessons from the Titanic – “Madam, God himself could not sink this ship.”
  3. What Gets You Up in the Morning? – “What Keeps You Up at Night?”
  4. The 4 Character Strengths of a Leader – Humility, Forgiveness, Self-Control, and Kindness.
  5. How Face-to-face Conversations Help Us Deal with Technostress – The most profound and easiest solution on “unplugging” is to simply “talk.”
  6. Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance – When employees resist change they are protecting/defending something they value and which seems threatened by the attempt at change.
  7. The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders – 4 negative consequences of charismatic leaders.
  8. 5 Reasons Why Employees Stay – Pride, Compatibility, Compensation, Affiliation, and Meaning.
  9. How to Create an Inspiring Work Setting – Some great ways to foster an inspired work environment.
  10. Work Stresses, Bad Bosses, and Heart Attacks – 75% of the workforce say their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job.

10 POSTS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

  1. Elements of Corporate Cultures – Culture can be the company’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
  2. A 24/7 Mindset about Work is Bad for Your Health – Employees who are highly engaged need time off the job to unwind and distance themselves from their work.
  3. The Price of Workplace Incivility in the Navy – “Nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts.”
  4. Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life – “Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.”
  5. What Really Motivates Employees – The top motivation for workers is making progress.
  6. Are You A Chronic Kicker? – A “chronic kicker” is a person who’s constantly complaining about his or her job.
  7. Seven Ways to Avoid Becoming the Boss from Hell – Treating employees with respect and dignity tops the list.
  8. Leadership and Life Lessons from John Wooden – “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
  9. Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses – 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.
  10. Workplace Incivility Causes Mistakes and Even Kills – “Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance.”

Workplace Incivility Causes Mistakes and Even Kills

Research on workplace incivility (for example, emotional abuse or rudeness in the workplace) revealed that if someone is rude to you at work or if you witness rudeness you are more likely to make mistakes.

In The No Asshole Rule, Bob Sutton shared that nurses reported being demeaned at an alarmingly high rate. “A 1997 study of 130 U.S. nurses…found that 90% reported being victims of verbal abuse by physicians during the past year” (p. 21). A 2003 study of 461 nurses revealed that in the past month 91% had experienced verbal abuse, often from physicians (Sutton, 2007).

In a previous post entitled Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses, I shared Pearson and Porath (2009) findings that 1 in 5 people in their study 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. Workplace incivility (e.g., rudeness) can have a negative effect on the efficiency and productivity of the organization (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001).

“[W]hen people feel mistreated and dissatisfied with their jobs, they are unwilling to do extra work to help their organizations, to expend ‘discretionary effort.’” (Sutton, 2007, pp. 40-41).

“A hostile environment erodes cooperation and a sense of commitment to high-quality care…and that increases the risk of medical errors.” -Dr. Peter B. Angood, chief patient safety officer at the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).

So what?

Porath and Erez (2007) discovered that being the victim of rudeness can impair your cognitive skills. Tarkan (2008), writing in The New York Times, said that rude, bad behaviors on the part of physicians lead to “medical mistakes, preventable complications and even death.” Tarkan added that a “survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization, found that 40 percent of hospital staff members reported having been so intimidated by a doctor that they did not share their concerns about orders for medication that appeared to be incorrect. As a result, 7 percent said they contributed to a medication error.”

Pearson and Porath (2009) say that a negative by-product of a toxic, uncivil work environment is that employees no longer feel psychologically safe, and as a result are less likely to seek or accept feedback. “They will quit asking for help, talking about errors, and informing one another about potential or actual problems” (pp. 81-82).

In the tragic case of Air Florida Flight 90, analysis of the black-box recordings revealed that the copilot tried several times to warn the captain of possible dangers. Unfortunately, the warnings of the copilot were dismissed as unimportant by the captain. Seventy-two out of seventy-seven people onboard, along with the copilot and pilot, died (Pearson & Porath, 2009).

Sound Bite: “Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 155). What’s really alarming is that incivility can actually put lives at risk or even cause deaths.

References

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.

Porath, C., & Erez, A. (2007). Does rudeness really matter? The effects of rudeness on task performance and helpfulness. Academy of Management Journal, 50(5), 1181-1197.

Sutton, R.I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

Tarkan, L. (2008). Arrogant, Abusive and Disruptive — and a Doctor. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/health/02rage.html

Work Stresses, Bad Bosses, and Heart Attacks

“In 2007, nearly 80 million Americans—one out of every three adults—had some type of cardiovascular disease (CVD)…[In fact,] CVD has been the leading killer of U.S. adults in every year since 1900, with the exception of 1918, when a pandemic flu killed more people” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 347).

Robert Sutton in his new book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” located a Swedish study which tracked 3,122 men for 10 years. The study found that those with the best bosses suffered fewer heart attacks than those with bad bosses. Another researcher discovered that no matter what the occupation, roughly 75% of the workforce listed their immediate supervisor/boss as the most stressful part of their job (Sutton, 2010).

Landy & Conte (2010), citing studies by Fox, Dwyer, & Ganster; Cohen & Herbert; Krantz & McCeney) state that work environments that are stressful are linked to increases in cortisol (a stress hormone). Furthermore, long-term, elevated levels of stress hormones (like cortisol) lead to decreased functioning of the immune system and heart disease. Cortisol is released as our bodies adjust to chronic stress, and stays in the bloodstream longer because of slower metabolic responses. If the stress remains unresolved, cortisol can reduce the body’s ability to fight off diseases and illnesses (Donatelle, 2009).

“The largest epidemiological study to date, the INTERHEART Study with almost 30,000 participants in 52 countries, identified stress as one of the key modifiable risk factors for heart attack. Similarly, the National Health Interview Study, conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, has reported that stress accounts for approximately 30 percent of the attributable risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack)” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 65).

Bottom Line: 75% of the workforce say their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job (Sutton, 2010). Stress-filled jobs usually mean working for “bad bosses.” As statistics (on stress and heart attacks) indicate, and as Sutton (Aug. 2010) explains, “Lousy bosses can kill you—literally.”

References

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2010). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (3rd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best… and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.

Sutton, R.I. (August 2010). Why good bosses tune in to their people. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Why_good_bosses_tune_in_to_their_people_2656

Are You A Chronic Kicker?

In a previous post (“Busy Work and Fake Work“), I talked about a man named Dilbert, a real person with a fictional name. Dilbert never worked, but instead was always doing “busywork” and complaining to everyone around him about how busy he was.

In this follow-up post, I’ll talk about the chronic complainer or a “chronic kicker.”

A “chronic kicker” is a person who’s constantly complaining about his or her job (Spector, 2008). This person may look like a “Dilbert” (i.e. complains and is engaged in only busywork) or it can be someone who actually does “real” work but is constantly complaining while working.

The opposite of a “chronic kicker” is an individual who is “hardy.” In their classic I-O psychology text, Landy and Conte (2010) talk about individuals with a “hardy personality” as having THREE characteristics:

  1. They feel they are in control of their lives.
  2. They feel a sense of commitment to their family and their work goals and values.
  3. They see unexpected change as a challenge rather than as an obstacle (Landy & Conte, 2010, p. 470).

What’s more, people who are always whining and complaining about their work and life tend to be those who are more likely to be sick, have more physiological reactions to stress, and have lower general well-being compared to those who are more “hardy.” And the opposite is true – those who are “hardy” are less prone to being ill, have fewer physiological reactions to stress, and have higher levels of general well-being (Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982).

“[H]ardiness is an important characteristic associated with stress resistance and successful performance in demanding occupations” (Landy & Conte, 2010, p. 470).

References

Kobasa, S.C., Maddi, S.R., Kahn, S. (1982). Hardiness and health: A prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42(1), 168-177.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2010). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (3rd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Spector, P.E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Rule #23

Keep Two Lists: What Gets You Up in the Morning? What Keeps You Up at Night?

As I’m gearing up to teach my next college course, thinking about how to best help my students be successful, I picked up Alan Webber’s “Rules of Thumb” while sorting through stacks of papers in my room. Webber delivers yet another wonderful story, this time about what energizes you about work.

Webber, as you recall in an earlier post I wrote called Failure is Failing to Try, is the co-founder of Fast Company magazine. About 18 months into Fast Company’s young existence as a magazine, the topic of business was cool again. With the new economy featured prominently in the news, the explosion of the Internet and technology, and the emergence of innovation, Webber observes…

“All of a sudden America had a new attitude toward work: work didn’t have to be drudgery. The work you did could make a difference, make you rich, make a dent in the universe” (p. 111).

Webber noticed that people “were genuinely excited about the things going on in their workplaces” (p. 111). “Work” became the subject of many conversations. And it didn’t matter what line of work people were in or when or where, talks about work would come up.

For Webber, the question was more than just “what are you working on,” it should be, “What gave them a jolt of purpose in the morning? What was waiting for them at work that got them excited?”

It was in thinking about this that Webber refined his question to:

“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”

Fast Company took great pride in their interviews with thought leaders and innovative executives and noticed that when they read interviews with top executives in other business magazines, the interviews “almost always were puff pieces; the whole point seemed to be to give the executive a platform for broadcasting the company line” (Webber, 2009, p. 112).

Wanting to set itself apart, Fast Company instead began its interviews by asking executives:

“What Keeps You Up at Night?” (the counterquestion to “What Gets You Up in the Morning?”)

It was a way for Fast Company to stand apart from the rest of the pack, but more importantly it was a way to solicit authentic answers from these executives. This counterquestion “became a Fast Company signature question” (p. 112).

Webber wrote,

“Some people just have jobs. Others have something they really work at. Some people are just occupied. Others have something that preoccupies them” (p. 113).

As I’ve written in the “About this Site,” we spend 8 to 9 hours a day, 5 days a week working. When you add it up, we spend one-third of our day or half of our waking hours at work. If you work 40 hours a week for 47 weeks out of the year (taking 5 weeks off for various vacation, holiday and sick days), that would add up to 1,880 hours a year. And if you work from the age of 23 to 63 or 40 years, you will have spent 75,200 hours of your life working!

The idea is not to quit work, but to honestly answer the question:

“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”

Webber advises that if the answer to this question doesn’t jolt you out of bed in the morning and give you a sense of purpose and direction then the next question to ask yourself is:

“What are you going to do about it?”

“[W]hatever your answers are, you’re spending almost two thousand hours a year of your life doing it. That makes it worthwhile to come up with answers you can not only live with but also live for” (Webber, 2009, p. 115).

Reference

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

Job Insecurity and Employee Health

The New York Times ran an article (Luo, 2010) that talked about job loss and adverse impacts on health. What’s most intriguing were the health studies mentioned in the article linking layoffs to poor health and life expectancy. The article also mentioned a 2009 study finding persistent perceived job insecurity to be a strong predictor of poor health and even more damaging than actual job loss.

Occupational Health Psychology Quiz

  1. Did you know that layoffs more than doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke among older workers compared to those who continued to work (Gallo, Teng, Falba, Kasl, Krumholz, & Bradley, 2006)?
  2. Did you know that a person who lost a job had an 83 percent greater chance of developing a stress-related health problem (e.g., diabetes, arthritis or psychiatric problems) (Strully, 2009)?
  3. Did you know that even people who lost their jobs but became reemployed still faced increased risk of developing new health conditions (Strully, 2009)?
  4. Did you know that insecurity about one’s job can also create health problems, and in some cases be even more damaging on health than actually losing a job (Burgard, Brand, & House, 2009)?

References

Burgard, S.A., Brand, J.E., & House, J.S. (2009). Perceived job insecurity and worker health in the United States. Social Science & Medicine, 69(5), 777-785. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.06.029

Gallo, W.T., Teng, H.M., Falba, T.A., Kasl, S.V., Krumholz, H.M., Bradley, E.H. (2006). The impact of late career job loss on myocardial infarction and stroke: a 10 year follow up using the health and retirement survey. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 63(10), 683-687. doi: 10.1136/oem.2006.026823

Luo, M. (2010, February 25). At closing plant, ordeal included heart attacks. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/us/25stress.html

Strully, K.W. (2009). Job loss and health in the U.S. labor market. Demography, 46(2), 221-246. doi: 10.1353/dem.0.0050

Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan Webber talks about one of the rules in his book: When things get tough.

Rule #1: When the going gets tough, the tough relax.

In crisis management, I teach people that fear is normal and natural. In fact, what matters most is our behaviors in these stressful, frightening situations that strongly determine the difference between a safe or disastrous outcome. If it weren’t for our ability to experience fear, we would not be able to survive for too long in this world. Just think about the number of times your own fears warned you of impending dangers (a car coming dangerously close to yours on the freeway, a stranger who seems a bit creepy, etc.). Most of us are familiar with the “fight-or-flight response,” which experts describe as a physiological arousal response in which the body prepares to fight or escape a real or perceived threat (Donatelle, 2009). Although this instinctual response is designed to help us, if overused, it can actually damage our bodies.

Simply stated, although it’s normal to be afraid, if you live a life based on fear, you will hurt yourself and those around you.

In Webber’s case, his fear was of failure, of being embarrassed, or appearing to ask a stupid question. The person he was scheduled to interview, Helmut Schmidt (a former German chancellor), was “notoriously difficult.” It was completely understandable that Webber was fearful of this guy “dismissing my questions as stupid” (Webber, 2009, p. 3).

However, rather than letting his fear get in the way, Webber decided to jot down some notes to himself on a yellow legal pad. On it he wrote: “Relax! Smile! This is a blessing, a treat, and an honor. It’s not a punishment to be endured.” After all, “[h]ow many people get to sit across from a world leader and ask him questions?”

Webber’s advice, applicable to business and life, is this:

“Anytime you approach a task with fear you are at least a double loser. First, you color the work with fear and increase the chances of failure…Second, you guarantee that you won’t enjoy the experience. Whether you succeed or fail, wouldn’t you like to remember the experience as one you enjoyed, not one you suffered through?” (Webber, 2009, p. 5)

“Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.” -Alan M. Webber

References

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

There Are Simple Answers

Ronald Reagan was known for his communication skills. In fact, his nickname was the “Great Communicator.” I came across part of the quote below in Weiss’ (2006) book and really like what former President Reagan said about simple answers.

“They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.” -Ronald Reagan

As a consultant and trainer with experience in education, mental health, crisis management, and training & development, I have encountered difficult and complex situations. But, no matter how confusing or overwhelming the problems may sometimes seem, I have always believed that the answers were not. NASA astronauts and brain surgeons have jobs that are complex. Most jobs, however, are not. You either do it or you don’t. You move ahead or stand still. You make a decision or don’t. And yet, people tend to add an unnecessary layer of complications to sometimes uncomplicated problems or issues.

From my experience, I think many of us already know what we need to do (at home and in the workplace). It is the FEAR that keeps us from following through with actions. For instance, I have talked to people who were unhappy about certain aspects of their lives. Some, for example, lament how unhappy they were to be where they’re at in life. They complained that they hate this or that, and yet as much as they complained they never actually did anything to change their circumstances.

In our microwave mentality, we sometimes want it and want it now. We turn to self-help or leadership books and read blogs (like this one) for answers. The bottom line is that the “answers” are sometimes quite simple. The toughest part is not figuring out the “answers,” but rather, mustering up the courage to act.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” -Confucius

Reference

Weiss, J. (2006). The quotable manager: Inspiration for business and life. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.