Category Archives: Occupational Health Psychology

Book Review-The Advantage

I was excited when I received Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” on my doorstep. I eagerly opened the box, removed the book, and began reading. Truth be told, I initially struggled because I am accustomed to theories and research-based books and had to fight off that mentality because Lencioni’s “The Advantage” isn’t based on research, and wasn’t meant to be. As he explains, “Because I’m not a quantitative researcher, the conclusions I draw here are not based on reams of statistics or finely crunched data, but rather on my observations as a consultant over the past twenty years” (Lencioni, 2012, p. xvii). I appreciated his upfront honesty.

Lencioni said that most organizations have plenty of talent, intelligence, and expertise to be successful. What’s more, he contends that almost every organization has access to the best ideas and practices about technology, strategy, and many other topics because information is everywhere and easy to locate. However, what many organizations lack is organizational health.

Organizational health is about integrity—whole, consistent, and complete. An organization is healthy “when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 5).

Healthy organizations have the following qualities:

  • Minimal Politics
  • Minimal Confusion
  • High Morale
  • High Productivity
  • Low Turnover

What “The Advantage” is, is a call to action and a blueprint about how to go from an unhealthy to healthy organization. It’s simple and practical, and it won me over. The real-world examples and true client stories were particularly compelling because they reinforced the concepts and brought them to life.

Lencioni offered his “Organizational Health Model” which consisted of four disciplines: (1) Build a Cohesive Leadership Team; (2) Create Clarity; (3) Over-Communicate Clarity; and (4) Reinforce Clarity.

In addition to the emphasis on creating and maintaining a cohesive team, Lencioni contends that there are six critical questions that a leadership team must rally around and clearly answer. They include:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

“Most organizations are unhealthy precisely because they aren’t doing the basic things, which require discipline, persistence, and follow-through more than sophistication or intelligence” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 148).

By eliminating politics and confusion from an organization’s culture and environment, a healthy organization will almost always find a way to thrive and succeed because, without politics and confusion, it will tap into and use every ounce of “knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to [it]” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 11).

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the pastor of a medium-size church, or the president of a small volunteer group, Lencioni’s “The Advantage” is your road map to both the ins and outs of what healthy organizations do and the costly mistakes that unhealthy organizations make.

Reference

Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Disclosure: Although I received Lencioni’s “The Advantage” as a complimentary gift, my review and recommendation were given as if I had purchased it.

Overreliance on Computer May Leave You Ill-Suited for High-Trust Jobs

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

Many of us have seen, heard, or read about the computer geek who is so consumed about interacting with his computer that he forgets how to interact with other people in a real-world situation. Well, there’s actually research to confirm this! But what is really surprising is not just anecdotal but goes far beyond it. It is estimated that 20% of all digital natives* satisfy the clinical criteria for pathological Internet use (Mullen, 2011).

*Digital natives: collectively include the youngest of the 50 million members of Generation X (i.e., Americans born between 1964 and 1980), the members of Generation Y (or “millennials,” born between 1981 and 2000), and those born since 2001.

Citing research studies supporting the notion that developing minds are highly susceptible to external influences and that “certain digital activity (e.g., electronic gaming) can suppress and temporarily turn off the frontal lobe in young brains, the region responsible for cognitive and sensory integration and decision making” (p. 2014), Mullen maintains that “long-term excessive electronic exposure can have severe consequences to the development of nonverbal communication skills, empathy, and interpersonal relations” (p. 2014).

The short of it is this: The neural pathways required to sharpen and polish the interpersonal skills, empathic capacities, and effective personal intuitions are frequently “left unstimulated and underdeveloped in digital natives” (Mullen, 2011, p. 2015).

Much of our human communication in a face-to-face (FtF) setting is nonverbal. Think about the facial expressions, hand gestures, and other nonverbal cues we send out and receive from others while we’re talking. It is not surprising, then, to learn that those who spend a prolonged period of time interacting with other human beings through computer-mediated communication (CMC) miss out on the more subtle nuances of human interactions.

So what, you might ask? Consider this, digital natives who depend too much on computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tend to miss nonverbal cues indicating deception and insincerity. The ramifications, for the digital natives who are employees and for their employers, are that “many who have been raised in the Internet Age may be ill suited for high-trust professions involving the establishment of FtF relationships.”

As Mullen states: Those who have an overreliance on computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tend to miss out on much of the “real” message, have difficulty sorting out the “felt” from the “false” facial expressions. In essence, they have “no opportunity to pick up on nonverbal cues indicating deception, discomfort, doubt, or insincerity on the part of their interlocutor” (Mullen, 2011, p. 2023).

Neuroscientists and researchers argue that empathy (our ability to understand someone else’s point of view) is crucial to our moral reasoning, ethical sensitivity, social influence, and development of healthy interpersonal relationships. Our sense of empathy is developed through our accumulated face-to-face (FtF) interactions from the time we’re born through young adulthood. However, those who depend too much on computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tend to miss out on much of the “real” message and have difficulty sorting out the “felt” from the “false” facial expressions. In essence, when computer use is excessive and FtF interaction decreases, these individuals have “no opportunity to pick up on nonverbal cues indicating deception, discomfort, doubt, or insincerity on the part of their interlocutor” (Mullen, 2011, p. 2023).

“Today’s young digital natives may be ill-suited for jobs in high-trust fields such as diplomacy and sales, because prolonged exposure to computers is reconfiguring their neural networks and possibly diminishing their empathy and social skills, says John K. Mullen of Gonzaga University. With 55% of person-to-person communication being nonverbal (tone of voice, inflection), overreliance on computer-based interactions may hamper an individual’s ability to judge intent and influence others, Mullen suggests” (HBR Daily Stat).

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

Reference

Mullen, J. K. (2011). The impact of computer use on employee performance in high-trust professions: Re-examining selection criteria in the Internet age. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(8), 2009-2043.

A Positive Mindset and Happy Attitude Help You Succeed at Work

happiness is” by Melissa Deakin

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage” (2010) Shawn Achor asserts that happy employees can actually help improve an organization’s bottom line. Achor says we often think that if we work hard and become successful, then we’ll be happy. But, he argues (convincingly I might add) that the formula is backward. Instead of success first and happiness second, it should be happiness first, and then success.

In a related Harvard Business Review article, Achor (2012) cites a meta-analysis of 225 research studies that found happy employees have about 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity! As he says in his book, “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy” (Achor, 2010, p. 21).

The best part is that we can all adopt a more positive way of thinking and a happier attitude. The human brain is amazing because it possesses something scientists call neuroplasticity, a big word meaning that our brains are malleable—capable of changing and adapting throughout our lifetime.

One great tip Achor offers in his book is a technique called “The Tetris Effect,” a way to train the mind to concentrate on the positives instead of the negatives in our daily life. He recommends this:

Write down THREE good things in your job and life that happened today (do this each day). This forces your mind to look back on your day for positives, potentials, and possibilities. These three things can be simple, small things—things that made you smile or laugh, things that brought a sense of accomplishment or hope, etc. It doesn’t have to be anything deep or profound, only specific.

While this exercise might seem silly, Achor (2010) cited a research study that found people who “wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups” (p. 101). That’s incredible!

The lesson is this: The better we become at scanning our world for good things to jot down, the more good things we’ll see, by habit. To help you stick to this exercise, pick the same time each day to do this.

References

Achor, S. (2012). Positive intelligence: Three ways individuals can cultivate their own sense of well-being and set themselves up to succeed. Harvard Business Review, 90(1/2), 100-102.

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

Distracted Doctoring is a Workplace Safety Issue

Surgery” by Army Medicine

I came across a fascinating article (Richtel, 2011) posted on the New York Times. The article talked about doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who are distracted by texting, surfing the web, doing online shopping, and/or using social networks (e.g., Facebook).

The NY Times article said that the unintended consequence of depending on computers and smartphones to access patient data, drug information, and patient care resources is that doctors and nurses are now fixated on these devices and not their patients, even during critical care (such as during an operation).

Examples include a neurosurgeon who, instead of focusing on the surgery, was making a personal phone call or a nurse who was checking airfares during surgery. Forget distracted driving, let’s talk about distracted doctoring!

Results from an October 2010 online survey posted on a perfusion* listserv and forum revealed that use of a cell phone during the performance of cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) was reported by 55.6% of perfusionists, and sending text messages while performing CPB was acknowledged by 49.2% (Smith, Darling, & Searles, 2011).

*In basic terms, cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) refers to using a heart-lung machine to take over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery and maintain blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.

Ironically, while many perfusionists believed that cell phone use raises significant safety issues when operating the heart-lung machine, the majority of them have used a cell phone while performing this activity.

According to the Institute of Medicine,

  • Between 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die as a result of medical errors every year.
  • Medication-related mistakes for people who are hospitalized cost about $2 billion annually.
  • Medical mistakes/errors kill more Americans per year than breast cancer, AIDS, or motor vehicle accidents.

The NY Times article summed this up well:

“Doctors and medical professionals have always faced interruptions from beepers and phones, and multitasking is simply a fact of life for many medical jobs. What has changed, doctors say, especially younger ones, is that they face increasing pressure to interact with their devices.”

Just as in distracted driving, one might ask the rhetorical question:

“What is so important that it just can’t wait until after you’re finished?” Or “What’s so important that you can’t hold off until after performing the operation?”

References

Institute of Medicine. The Chasm in Quality: Select Indicators from Recent Reports Retrieved from http://mem.iom.edu/?id=14991

Richtel, M. (December, 2011). As Doctors Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/as-doctors-use-more-devices-potential-for-distraction-grows.html

Smith, T., Darling, E., & Searles, B. (2011). 2010 Survey on cell phone use while performing cardiopulmonary bypass. Perfusion, 26(5), 375-380. doi:10.1177/0267659111409969

Virtual Workplaces and Telework

Railay Beach Office” by EvanLovely

I saw an article on Time magazine’s website today called, “The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday?” (Schawbel, 2011). The article maintained that companies need to embrace workplace-flexibility programs. The author of the article stated that “between new technology and global workplace dynamics, companies are implementing flexible work arrangements for everyone.” The article also quoted a flexibility-strategy leader who said: “This notion of an eight-hour day is rapidly disappearing, simply because we work so virtually and globally.”

While this all sounds great, several important caveats were left out of the article. In this post, I’ll delve into the many terms that cover virtual work. I’ll also discuss trends (there’s an interesting change for 2010). Finally, I’ll talk about some important things to consider for both the employees who telework or who might consider telework, as well as for the organizations that currently have telework or might be considering it in the near future.

TERMINOLOGIES

According to WorldatWork (2009), there are several different, but related terms to describe virtual work. These include:

Telecommute: To either periodically or regularly perform work for one’s employer from home or another remote location.

Telework: To perform all of one’s work either from home or another remote location, either for an employer or through self-employment.

Employee Telecommuter: A regular employee (full or part time) who works at home or another remote location at least one day per month during normal business hours.

Contract Telecommuter: An individual who works on a contract basis for an employer or is self-employed, and who works at home or at a remote location at least one day per month during normal business hours.

Employed Telecommuters: Individuals (either employees or contractors) working at home or remotely at least one day per month during normal business hours; the sum of “employee telecommuters” and “contract telecommuters.”

STATISTICS AND TRENDS

According to WorldatWork’s Telework Trendlines (2009):

  1. More Americans, and a higher percentage of Americans, telecommuted in 2008.
  2. Occasional telecommuting is on the rise.
  3. The most common locations for remote work are home, car and a customer’s place of business.
  4. Today’s telecommuters are most often 40-year-old male college graduates.

The number of Americans who telecommute or work remotely at least once per month increased between 2006 and 2008. In 2006, approximately 8 percent of Americans telecommuted at least one day per month; in 2008, that number increased to just over 11 percent. In the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, as many as one in 10 workers are part-time telecommuters. In the Greater Washington Area, more than 450,000 employees telecommuted at least one day a week in 2007, 42.5 percent more than in 2004, according to a survey by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The percentage of employees who telework surged to 19 percent from 13 percent during that time period (Kotkin, 2008). In the five years from 2003 to 2008, the total number of teleworkers rose 43% to 33.7 million Americans, most just part-time (WorldatWork, 2009).

WHY IS TELECOMMUTING INCREASING?

This trend toward more telecommuting is due to a combination of factors, including:

  • The increase in number of high-speed and wireless Internet access making it less costly and more productive to work remotely
  • Improvements in virtual workspace technologies (Vickers, 2007)
  • Rising fuel and commuting costs
  • The trend by employers to embrace work-life balance concepts (WorldatWork, 2009)
  • Government policies influencing the trend. In 2000, the U.S. Congress ordered federal agencies to allow employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance” (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford).

TELECOMMUTING DECLINED IN 2010

It is quite interesting to note that, according to WorldatWork (2011), telework in 2010 declined.

“For the first time since WorldatWork began studying the telework phenomenon in 2003, the number of teleworkers has dropped. The total number of people who worked from home or remotely for an entire day at least once a month in 2010 was 26.2 million, down from 33.7 million in 2008.”

The Telework 2011 Special Report (WorldatWork, 2011) stated that the decline is likely due a combination of factors: fewer Americans in the workforce over all due to high unemployment, higher anxiety surrounding job security, and lack of awareness of telework options.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

Six crucial aspects of the next level of development for teleworking are:

(1) Overcoming the teleworking stigma of no face-to-face time. A Futurestep poll of 1,320 global executives in 71 countries found that 61% of senior managers think telecommuters are not as likely as conventional office workers to be promoted, despite the fact that over three-quarters also think teleworkers are equally productive as (42%) or more productive than (36%) their office-dwelling colleagues (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford). Managers might recognize that teleworkers are productive, but they are still accustomed toward face-to-face interactions. Therefore adapting to the world of telework requires both managerial and organizational adjustments.

(2) Employment screening and training of teleworkers (Vickers, 2007).

(3) Equipping management with the teleworking mindset and management skill sets to properly and effectively lead virtual teams and teleworkers (Vickers, 2007; Cagle, 2008).

(4) Teleworker’s own initiative, responsibilities, and accountability (Cagle, 2008). Interestingly though, Cagle discovered that, “a number of studies, including one performed by Sun in 2007 showed that one of the older stereotypes of teleworkers as people who would tend to do a little work then skip to some other activity, watch TV or surf the web actually proved to be something of a myth – for the most part most teleworkers actually tend to put in longer days working than they would in the office.”

(5) Safeguarding business, customer, and personal information and ensuring a high level of protection from theft or loss – from computer viruses to stolen laptops (Cagle, 2008).

(6) The last factor to consider is legal regulation. For example, where does a teleworker work? The answer will have implications for states with income taxes (Cagle, 2008).

Suggestion: With regards to organizational climate and culture, it behooves organizations to create both a climate (perception/feeling/affect) as well as culture (what’s written down/effective/values) to clearly outline support for and understanding of face-to-face and teleworkers (Landy & Conte, 2007).

Note: Information for this post was adapted from an assignment I completed for a class.

References

Cagel, K. (2008). Is Telework the New Face of the Agile Workforce? O’Reilly. Retrieved from http://news.oreilly.com/2008/08/is-telework-the-face-of-the-ag.html.

Kotkin, J. (2008). Skipping the Drive: Energy Costs May Fuel the Growing Telecommuting Trend. The Washington Independent. Retrieved from http://washingtonindependent.com/100/skipping-the-drive.

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

Schawbel, D. (December, 2011). The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday? Time Moneyland. Retrieved from http://moneyland.time.com/2011/12/21/the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-9-to-5-workday/

Vickers, M. (2007). Adapting to Teleworker Trends. American Management Association’s Moving Ahead Newsletter, 2(10). Retrieved from http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Adapting-to-Teleworker-Trends.aspx

WorldatWork (2009). Telework Trendlines 2009. Retrieved from http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/news/Trendlines_2009.pdf

WorldatWork (2011). Telework 2011: A WorldatWork Special Report. Retrieved from http://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=53034

Using Reappraisal to Handle an Angry Face


Thinking” by Hans Kristian Aas

An interesting study by a team of researchers (Jens Blechert, Gal Sheppes, Carolina Di Tella, Hants Williams, and James J. Gross at Stanford University) has found that when you tell yourself (i.e. reappraise) that someone is mean to you is simply having a bad day, you may be able to fend off bad feelings.

Reappraisal isn’t anything new. It goes by the name of reframing and is used by cognitive-behavioral psychologists to help clients reframe a distressing problem using a more positive perspective, making it a more a manageable one.

Professor Gross discussed this idea of reappraisal in the book “Developing Your Conflict Competence” by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan. In it, he talked to one of the authors about using cognitive reappraisal by challenging the way you initially interpret things you see. “Cognitive reappraisal involves using alternative interpretations of the meanings about situations” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010, p. 50).

Runde and Flanagan (2010) said: “Reappraisal (also known as reframing) involves a cognitive process through which the facts underlying a conflict are reexamined for nonthreatening, alternative explanations” (p. 49). Incredibly, brain imaging seems to support this and indicate that, with practice in reappraising/reframing your thinking, your negative feelings will be reduced while more positive feelings will surface (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002).

Ask yourself the following:

  • “Is it the only way of seeing the situation?”
  • “Are there rational, nonthreatening ways of understanding the matter?”

In the study by Blechert and colleagues, participants were shown a series of angry faces and the reactions of the participants were assessed. When participants were told that the angry faces had a bad day, but that it had nothing to do with the participants personally, the participants were able to fend off bad feelings the next time they saw that same angry face. However, when the participants were told to only feel the emotions brought on by seeing an angry face, they remained upset by that face when it was shown to them again.

Bottom line: Blechert says, “If you’re trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting” and not be negatively affected by your boss’ bad mood.

References

Association for Psychological Science. (November, 2011). Press Release. The Brain Acts Fast To Reappraise Angry Faces. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/the-brain-acts-fast-to-reappraise-angry-faces.html

Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2002). Rethinking feelings: An fMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215-1229. doi:10.1162/089892902760807212

Runde & Flanagan, (2010). Developing your conflict competence: A hands-on guide for leaders, managers, facilitators, and teams. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weisul, K. (November 2011). How to handle an angry boss. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57329138/how-to-handle-an-angry-boss/

Steve Jobs Resigns – The Failure to Disengage and Price of Workaholism


Illustration: Tsevis Visual Design and Deanna Lowe at Fortune magazine. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsevis/2313082920/in/set-72157594536252686

Steve Jobs, the charismatic and visionary founder of Apple Computers has resigned (August 24, 2011). Not to worry, he’s now assumed the Chairman of the Board role at Apple.

Last year, I wrote a post titled “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders” in which I talked about Steve Jobs and the virtues and vices that characterize a charismatic leader. Well, the day has come when he’s handing over his CEO duties. As Jobs wrote in a letter to the Apple board of directors and Apple community, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. I hereby resign as CEO of Apple.”

Many have written and, no doubt, will write about Apple, what will come of Apple and Mac products, and the financial implications of Steve Jobs — a charismatic and visionary leader — leaving as CEO. The Harvard Business Review even posted “Why Apple Doesn’t Need Steve Jobs.” Just so you know, I disagree with the article (as outlined in “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders“). These quotes below from that post sum up what, I believe, we can expect to see in a post-Jobs-as-CEO Apple:

No American CEO is more intimately identified with his company’s success. Jobs is deeply involved in every facet of Apple development and design, and he’s justly admired for his instinct for the human-factor engineering of Apple products. (Hiltzik, Jan 2009)

What remains to be seen is whether a post-Jobs Apple will retain the corporate traits that made the company successful with its iconic leader at the helm. (Knowledge@Wharton)

Ultimately, some leaders are so irreplaceable that no amount of succession planning will ensure a seamless power transition. ‘In some sense, with the charismatic person, it’s difficult to prepare a successor, because they are bigger than life,’ says John Larrere, general manager at the management consultant Hay Group. (Ante & McGregor, 2009)

Ok, now let’s shift gear a bit because in this post, I want talk about the health, well-being, and the price we pay for not heeding the warning signs of being a workaholic.

Some pundits were surprised that Steve Jobs resigned, but others weren’t. I wasn’t. After a successful surgery to remove a tumor in his pancreas in 2004, he went back to work within a few months. But Jobs’ health has been declining and he looks gaunt. If we analyze this whole scenario from a workplace psychology and occupational health psychology perspective, it’s not difficult to see that Jobs’ relentless drive (whether at work or when he’s at home) and his self-sacrifices (mentioned as a virtue in my “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders” post) have taken an exacting toll on his health and well-being.

In 2009, Jobs took another six-month medical leave and it was later revealed that he had received a liver transplant. Things “appeared” normal as he once again returned to work. But, in January 2011, Steve Jobs announced, yet again, that he was taking a medical leave. Fast forward to August 24, 2011 and the world found out, he was not coming back in his role as CEO.

In his email to Apple employees back in January 2011, Jobs wrote, “At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company…I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can.”

Notice the conflicting priorities – “focus on my health” and yet “I will continue as CEO and be involved…and hope to be back as soon as I can.”

There’s an interesting story on the NPR blog called “A Story About Steve Jobs And Attention To Detail” by Eyder Peralta about Steve Jobs’ attention to (I would say obsession with) detail. It’s a story that Vic Gundotra, the guy behind Google+, posted about Steve Jobs calling him in January 2008 on a Sunday. While Vic’s memory of Jobs calling him on a Sunday unhappy that the second “O” in the Google icon on the iPhone didn’t “have the right yellow gradient” was one of admiration, my interpretation is one of concern. Remember that this is only four years after his pancreatic cancer scare.

There are 3 common characteristics of workaholics (Schaufeli, Taris, & Rhenen, 2008):

  1. Workaholics spend a lot of time on work activities. They are excessively hard workers.
  2. Workaholics have a hard time disengaging from work and when they do, they continue and often think about work even when they are not working. This suggests a preoccupation and obsession with their work.
  3. Workaholics work beyond what’s reasonably expected from them to meet either the organizational or economic requirements. That is, workaholics often work excessively even if they don’t need the money.

Schaufeli, Taris, and Rhenen (2008) explained that workaholics work and push themselves extremely hard, not because of financial rewards, career drives, or even organizational culture. Instead, workaholics work hard because of an inner compulsion, need, or drive.

Shimazu, Schaufeli, and Taris (2010) discovered that workaholism is both directly and indirectly associated with poor health. The researchers found that while workaholics might contribute more to organizational performance than others, “the costs for the workaholic people themselves (in terms of ill-health) are high” (p. 158).

When a workaholic, like a Steve Jobs, is constantly obsessing about work and doesn’t know how or even want to disengage (see my post about failure to disengage) while he’s away from work (e.g., Jobs should have been resting on that Sunday as I am sure his doctors would have told him to do), the end result is that something has to give. In this case, it was his health.

I am a Mac user. I’ve been one for 9 years. I love my Mac and Apple products. I wish Steve Jobs all the best, particularly good health. But if I were him, I would not only resign as CEO, I would also not take on another role, even as a Board member. The health warning signs his body has been trying to tell him should be taken very seriously.

As I wrote back in 2009, approaching work with a 24/7 mindset “is a double-edged sword that in the end [can and does] threaten employee health and well-being” (Sonnentag et al., 2008, p. 273.)

It doesn’t take a doctor to see that Steve Jobs’ workaholic mentality is costing him his health. What a truly sad price to pay when we can’t or won’t disengage from our work.

References

Ante, S.E., & McGregor, J. (January 2009). Apple Succession Plan: Nobody’s Business? BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090115_863327.htm

Apple. (August 2011). Letter from Steve Jobs. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/08/24Letter-from-Steve-Jobs.html

Apple. (August 2011). Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO of Apple. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/08/24Steve-Jobs-Resigns-as-CEO-of-Apple.html

Cheng, J. (August 2011). Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO “effective immediately.” Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/08/steve-jobs-has-resigned-as-apple-ceo-effective-immediately.ars

Gundotra, V. (April 2011). Icon Ambulance. Retrieved from https://plus.google.com/107117483540235115863/posts/gcSStkKxXTw

Hiltzik, M. (Jan 2009). Apple’s condition linked to Steve Jobs’ health. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/05/business/fi-hiltzik5

Knowledge@Wharton. Job-less: Steve Jobs’s Succession Plan Should Be a Top Priority for Apple. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2134

Peralta, E. (August 2011). A Story About Steve Jobs And Attention To Detail. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/25/139947282/a-shade-of-yellow-steve-jobs-and-attention-to-detail

Schaufeli, W. B., Taris, T. W., & Van Rhenen, W. (2008). Workaholism, burnout, and work engagement: three of a kind or three different kinds of employee well-being. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57(2), 173-203. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2007.00285.x

Shimazu, A., Schaufeli, W. B., & Taris, T. W. (2010). How does workaholism affect worker health and performance? The mediating role of coping. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 17(2), 154-160, doi:10.1007/s12529-010-9077-x

Sonnentag S., Mojza, E.J., Binnewies, C., & Scholl, A. (2008). Being engaged at work and detached at home: A week-level study on work engagement, psychological detachment, and affect. Work & Stress, 22(3), 257-276.

The Three Burnout Subtypes

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion (overwhelming exhaustion), cynicism (cynicism and detachment), and inefficacy (a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment) (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009).

More broadly, Maslach and Leiter (2005) said burnout includes losing three things:

  1. Burnout is lost energy.
  2. Burnout is lost enthusiasm.
  3. Burnout is lost confidence.

We typically think of a “burnt-out” employee as someone who has been on the job for a long period of time. A worker who experiences burnout is someone who is exhausted emotionally. This individual exhibits low motivation and lack of energy for the job (Spector, 2008). However, there are, in fact, more than one type of burnout.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a scale measuring burnout, divides it into three components:

  • Emotional exhaustion is feeling tired and fatigued at work (it can result in absence from work).
  • Depersonalization is developing a callous/uncaring feeling, even hostility, toward others (either clients or colleagues).
  • Reduced personal accomplishment is feeling you (the employee) are not accomplishing anything worthwhile at work. This can lead to a lack of motivation and poor performance.

The Burnout Clinical Subtype Questionnaire (BCSQ-36), another scale, also divides burnout into three subtypes:

  • The “frenetic” type describes involved and ambitious subjects who sacrifice their health and personal lives for their jobs.
  • The “underchallenged” type describes indifferent and bored workers who fail to find personal development in their jobs.
  • The “worn-out” type describes neglectful subjects who feel they have little control over results and whose efforts go unacknowledged.

In a study of 409 employees at a university in Spain, Montero-Marín and colleagues (2011) discovered that those who work more than 40 hours a week faced the greatest risk for “frenetic” burnout. They found that administration and service personnel encountered the greatest risk of “underchallenged” burnout compared to teaching and research staff. Finally, the researchers found that employees with more than sixteen years of service in the organization faced the greatest risk of “worn-out” burnout versus those with less than four years of service.

Take-Away: The “frenetic” profile is associated with the number of hours per week dedicated to work. The “underchallenged” profile is related with the type of occupation and the “worn-out” profile is associated with the cumulative effect over time of the characteristics of an organization.

Suggestions: There are two, rather obvious, ways to reduce burnout. One is to take a vacation (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), even though a few weeks after returning to work, feelings of burnout often return. The second way to reduce burnout is to have supervisors offer emotional support to workers through positive feedback and discussions about the positive aspects of the job (Kahn, Schneider, Jenkins-Henkelman, & Moyle, 2006).

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

References

Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 936–945. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.936

Kahn, J. H., Schneider, K. T., Jenkins-Henkelman, T. M., & Moyle, L. L. (2006). Emotional social support and job burnout among high-school teachers: Is it all due to dispositional affectivity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 793–807. doi:10.1002/job.397

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

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford: Oxford Univerrsity Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Montero-Marín, J., García-Campayo, J., Fajó-Pascual, M., Carrasco, J. M., Gascón, S., Gili, M., & Mayoral-Cleries, F. (2011). Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: The cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study. BMC Psychiatry, 11:49. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-49

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

Workplace Accidents Are Deadlier After Lunch

Researchers at the University of Burgos (in Spain) have discovered that, at least in the construction field, workplace accidents are more severe and more likely to be fatal between 1pm and 5pm.

The hours between 1pm and 5pm accounted for 18.2% of all accidents and 29.4% of fatalities.

This “lunch effect” was first observed by Pete Kines in Denmark, who found that the greatest number of falls by construction workers through roofs (in Sweden and Denmark) occurred before 1pm (in the morning between 7am and 12:59pm), except that the largest number of falls that resulted in death took place in the afternoon (between 1pm and 3:59pm). Kines (2002) did not find alcohol to play an important role, but rather fatigue, routine, and/or time constraints.

In the study by López and colleagues (2011), over 10 million accidents of construction workers were analyzed between 1990 and 2002. They found that the largest number of accidents (57.3%) occurred between 9am and 12:59pm. Interestingly, while only 18.2% of the accidents happened around lunchtime (between 1pm and 4:59pm), those accounted for 29.4% of deaths.

Other possible causes of workplace accidents include not taking naps (recall my post about the importance of sleep) and alcohol and drug consumption.

References

Kines, P. (2002). Construction workers’ falls through roofs: Fatal versus serious injuries. Journal of Safety Research, 33(2), 195–208. doi: 10.1016/S0022-4375(02)00019-1

López, M. A. C., Fontaneda, I., Alcántara, O. J. G., & Ritzel, D. O. (2011). The special severity of occupational accidents in the afternoon: “The lunch effect”. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 43(3), 1104-1116. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2010.12.019

Plataforma SINC (2011, June 30). Workplace accidents are worse after lunch, Spanish study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 30, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/06/110630073342.htm

Lack of Sleep Contributes to Unethical Conduct

A few months ago, I posted about the importance of sleep and its impact on our health and safety.

Extending the importance of sleep further into the workplace, a recent study suggests that lack of sleep or low quality of sleep is related to unethical behavior. Drawing from the Ego Depletion model (which says self-control requires purposeful effort that’s maintained by cognitive resources that are depleted), Barnes, Schaubroeck, Huth, & Ghumman (2011) hypothesized that lack of sleep is related to ego depletion. That is, sleep is positively related to self-control.

Barnes and colleagues had test participants record scores on a test in order to gain financial advantage. They found that those who cheated and over-reported their test scores had less sleep. Results revealed that people who cheated in an experiment averaged 22.39 minutes less sleep the night before compared to those who did not cheat.

“The effect of sleep duration on cheating was quite strong” (Barnes et al., 2011, p. 173).

The researchers were able to test and support the link between sleep and ego depletion, and extend the Ego Depletion model to include sleep as an important recovery mechanism.

Take-Away: Employees who stay up late working and miss sleep are more likely to distort/misrepresent/bend results and engage in other forms of cheating. As a manager, be sure to balance high expectations of your employees with an understanding that in order for workers to do their best, they need to replenish their physical and psychosocial health, which is the purpose of sleep.

Reference

Barnes, C. M., Schaubroeck, J., Huth, M., & Ghumman, S. (2011). Lack of sleep and unethical conduct. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115(2), 169-180. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.01.009

Whining Is Caused by Thinking Errors

The New Oxford American Dictionary (2005) defines whine as a verb that means: complain in a feeble or petulant way.

Whining is a powerless way to complain about something to which we do not believe we have the power to change.

In the world of counseling, therapists/counselors/psychologists often bring up an idea called locus of control. Locus of control is the belief we have about the location (source) of the causes of events in our lives. There are two types of locus of control – internal (within you) and external (outside of you) (Donatelle, 2011).

People with an internal locus of control are those who believe that their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and that they have control over those things they can change. Because individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they are in control over their circumstances, they tend to manage stress better. On the other hand, people with an external locus of control see their behaviors and their lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals often view their lives and circumstances as victims of life and bad luck.

Having an internal locus of control (believing you have power over your own actions) is tied to self-efficacy, which is the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011).

Generally, people who whine are those who tend to be preoccupied with cognitive distortions or thinking errors. Thinking errors are our tendencies to focus on insufficient or inappropriate information and then jump to conclusions or make predictions (Palmer & Szymanska, 2007). These patterns of thinking often are the causes of negative thinking and lead to the nasty habit known as whining.

Some common thinking errors include:

  • Mind-reading/Jumping to conclusions – jumping to a conclusion without the relevant information.
  • All-or-nothing thinking – evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes. For example, “I always lose.”
  • Blame – not taking responsibility and blaming someone else or something else for the problem.
  • Magnification – blowing things out of proportion.
  • Personalization – taking things personally.
  • Fortune-telling – thinking you know what the future holds.
  • Labeling – labeling or rating yourself. For example, “I’m a loser” or “I’m an idiot.”
  • Minimization – minimizing the part one plays in a situation. For example, “It must have been an easy test because I got a good grade.”
  • Low frustration tolerance or ‘I-can-stand-it-itis’ – lowering our ability to endure frustrating or stressful situations by telling ourselves, “I can’t stand it.”

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”
–Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company

References

Donatelle, R. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

McKean, E. (Ed.). (2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Palmer, S, & Szymanska, K. (2007). Cognitive behavioural coaching: An integrative approach. In S. Palmer and A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (pp. 86-117). London: Sage.

Information Overload-When Information Becomes Noise

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 new name for it, Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS). 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

Reference

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.]

Teaching Character Education as a Business Ethics Course

This post is actually from a comment I made to Debbe Kennedy’s Putting Our Differences to Work blog back in 2009. It seems worthwhile to repost it here.

I’ve always believed that many of the things we do as adults can and should be learned from children and the process by which we educate them. When we talk about honoring each other’s differences and watching our words and actions, I think that children are our best teachers. For instance, I contend that character education (teaching children how to be better, more honorable world citizens by treating one another with respect) is also a great way to teach adults and business leaders.

Imagine teaching character education as a business ethics course!

Here are six qualities/pillars of character that can be taught:

Trustworthiness
Be honest • Don’t deceive, cheat or steal • Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do • Have the courage to do the right thing • Build a good reputation • Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country

Respect
Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule • Be tolerant of differences • Use good manners, not bad language • Be considerate of the feelings of others • Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone • Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements

Responsibility
Do what you are supposed to do • Persevere: keep on trying! • Always do your best • Use self-control • Be self-disciplined • Think before you act — consider the consequences • Be accountable for your choices

Fairness
Play by the rules • Take turns and share • Be open-minded; listen to others • Don’t take advantage of others • Don’t blame others carelessly

Caring
Be kind • Be compassionate and show you care • Express gratitude • Forgive others • Help people in need

Citizenship
Do your share to make your school and community better • Cooperate • Get involved in community affairs • Stay informed; vote • Be a good neighbor • Obey laws and rules • Respect authority • Protect the environment

Taking any one of these, we can easily apply its lesson to our lives as adults and to our workplaces. For example, under “Respect”, we have “Be tolerant of differences • Use good manners, not bad language • Be considerate of the feelings of others” and under “Responsibility”, we learn to “Always do your best • Use self-control • Be self-disciplined • Think before you act — consider the consequences.”

Somewhere along the way towards adulthood, we have forgotten these valuable lessons about character taught to us (hopefully) as children. I think it’s important that we each reach deep within to learn again (or for the first time) these principles of humanity (compassion, decency, honor, respect, and citizenship).

Meeting and More Meetings


I have always been fascinated by why organizations and supervisors insist on continuing the maddening idea of having so many meetings. I have seen places where they seem to have a meeting just to talk about planning for the next meeting. I call it a “meeting about another meeting.” I have seen this “meeting-about-another-meeting” phenomenon in schools, churches, and private and non-profit businesses.

I came across a study by Luong and Rogelberg (2005) that supported what, I believe, many of us already know about too many meetings. The authors said work meetings are similar to interruptions and daily hassles. For one week, participants were to keep a daily diary account of their daily meetings and self-reports about the employee’s well-being. Not surprisingly, the authors found that more meetings were associated with increased feelings of fatigue and workload, confirming their initial hypothesis that meeting load has a negative effect on well-being, similar to the effects of interruptions and daily hassles.

To counteract the countless, and dare I say useless, meetings, I want to share what Charan (2006) suggests about holding effective meetings.

He says decisive meetings have four characteristics:

  1. Open—their outcomes are not predetermined. Questions such as “What are we missing?” communicate an honest search for and a willingness to hear alternative perspectives.
  2. Candid—encourage people to air the conflicts that undermine apparent consensus, a willingness to speak the unspeakable. Candor “prevents the kind of unnecessary rework and revisiting of decisions that saps productivity.”
  3. Informal—informal meetings encourage people to be honest, open, and less defensive. Meetings should not feel like they were scripted. When people are comfortable and able to react in an honest way, “spontaneity is energizing.”
  4. Marked by Closure—while informality helps loosen up the meeting, closure establishes discipline. “Closure means that at the end of the meeting, people know exactly what they are expected to do.” In my opinion, this is key because, as Charan explains, it assigns accountability and deadlines to people.

Take-Away Message

  • Holding too many meetings can lead to increased feelings of fatigue and workload.
  • Effective meetings have four characteristics: open, candid, informal, and marked by closure.
  • At the end of the meeting, people should know exactly what they are expected to do.

References

Charan, R. (2006). Conquering a Culture of Indecision. Harvard Business Review, 84(1), 108-117.

Luong, A., & Rogelberg, S. G. (2005). Meetings and more meetings: The relationship between meeting load and the daily well-being of employees. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9(1), 58-67. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.9.1.58

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.