Tag Archives: Stress

How to Work Remotely During COVID-19 and Maintain Your Emotional Health

I have been asked about tips and strategies to help individuals be effective in working remotely during this COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Here are my thoughts.

Tips for Effectively Working Remotely:

1. Technology & Tools: Make sure you have the technology, equipments, and softwares to continue to be productive and get your work done. Practice and become comfortable with the various tools that your team and/or company requires you to use. For instance, for videoconferencing, be sure to know how to use the applications that your team uses (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, etc.). Also, even if you are familiar with the app, learn to use it and understand its limitations. Many videoconferencing tools are good to use for video through your laptop or computer’s built-in camera. However, the audio can, and is often spotty. So many times, it is best to “dial in” to the video call, and also call in on your cell phone for the audio portion.

Another thing to consider are the restrictions placed on you by your company’s IT department when you use your work laptop to work remotely. Some companies will require you to use a secure two-factor authentication process by going through an app, such as Duo Mobile, to log into your work laptop. Depending on how reliable the app and service is, this process can be quite cumbersome.

When doing video calls, preparation can go a long way in making your calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues (Chen, 2020). You will want to check your webcam, microphone, and internet speed. Also, be aware of what is in the background behind you (pets, kids, personal or identifiable items, etc.) and, as much as possible, minimize distractions and be sure that you can pay attention.

Equally important is to remember that when a video call will not work (newsflash: not everyone is comfortable using or being on a video call), try something else — like calling them on the phone.

*For Leaders:* If you are a leader leading a team, don’t forget that the virtual tools and technology serve to help you connect with your team. They aren’t meant to replace you in communicating and connecting with your team members.

I love this message from Patrick Lencioni reminding leaders to be exceedingly human:

“Demonstrate your concern for the very real fears and anxieties that your people are experiencing, not only professionally and economically, but socially and personally. Even though you don’t have definitive answers to all of their questions, don’t let that keep you from listening to them and empathizing with their fears.” -Patrick Lencioni

Here’s a great reminder that remote teams need real communication:

“You are a human manager learning to communicate with other humans aided by the power of technology. These efforts should allow you to think about the value of the human experience as supported by the best version of technology we can leverage for the goal. The power really is in your human hands; the technology just helps it virtually travel around the world” (Bisbee & Wisniewski, 2020).

2. Workspace: You need to set up a work office environment. Setting up a workspace will mentally prepare you and can be a good way to help separate your work & home space.

3. Rituals, Structure, and Breaks: You will want to develop rituals and be consistent about how you will start and end your day, as well as give yourself time to eat lunch and take short breaks throughout the day. You’ll also need to create a system or devise a method so that both you and those around you understand and know your work schedule.

4. Watercooler Conversations: When you are physically at the office, you can and do run into colleagues in the break room and are able to catch up with them or even solve or work through a challenge just by engaging in an unplanned watercooler conversation. When you work remotely, this is not possible so be sure to design a way to engage with your coworkers and/or your boss. Some teams use an instant messaging app like Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Slack to stay connected.

5. Chunk Your Time: Block times throughout the day that will work with your schedule, while trying to balance working at “home”. For instance, being at home and especially currently with many of the school children also in the home, you might not be able to follow a strict 8-5 schedule as you would normally follow in your office. In that case, break that up or chunk it into smaller chunks of time. For example, you might schedule 6am – 8am; 10am – 12pm; 2pm – 4pm; and 7pm – 9pm or 8am – 11am; 1pm – 3pm; 6pm – 9pm.

6. Be Prepared to Work More or Longer Hours: Make no mistake, working from home requires MORE (not LESS) of your time. As a matter of fact, people who telecommute, especially those who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Tips for Maintaining Your Emotional Health & Mental Sanity:

1. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has created a unique scenario because it is the reason why this forced social experiment of remote work is suddenly on everyone’s mind. Indeed, many companies are suddenly requiring their employees to work from home to help contain the spread of the virus. It is important to understand and acknowledge some of the things you may experience as a result of this disruption to your regular routines (i.e., if you typically come into the office to work), such as fear and anxiety; depression and boredom; and anger, frustration or irritability.

2. To better handle and cope with this situation, try the following:

  • limit the amount of news you consume; get news from reliable sources
  • set up and follow a daily routine
  • stay connected to your coworkers, friends, and family
  • adopt a strong internal locus of control; realize there are things within your control & things outside of your control
  • take breaks and make time to unwind
  • practice gratitude and try to look for the positives
  • try meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation exercises
  • get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise

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

References

American Psychological Association. Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe. https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing

American Psychological Association. (2020, March 16). Seven crucial research findings that can help people deal with COVID-19. https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/covid-19-research-findings

Bisbee, B., & Wisniewski, K. (2020, March 18). Remote Teams Need Real Communication. Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/insights/remote-teams-need-real-communication

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Manage Anxiety & Stress. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Taking Care of Your Emotional Health. https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp

Chen, B. (2020, March 25). The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings. NYTimes.com. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/technology/personaltech/online-video-meetings-etiquette-virus.html

Neeley, T. (2020, March 15). 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/15-questions-about-remote-work-answered

Nguyen, S. (2015, August 22). The Pitfalls Of Telecommuting. https://workplacepsychology.net/2015/08/22/the-pitfalls-of-telecommuting/

Overcoming Obstacles: Attitude and Approach Are Answers to Pains and Problems

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
―William Shakespear

In his book, The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday (2014) shares the wisdom of Stoicism* (a Greek philosophy) and ancient Stoics to help readers “accomplish the very specific and increasingly urgent goal we all share: overcoming obstacles. Mental obstacles. Physical obstacles. Emotional obstacles. Perceived obstacles” (Holiday, 2014, p. 5).

*Stoicism is “about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and redirecting them for our own good. It is about keeping in mind what is and what is not under our control, focusing our efforts on the former and not wasting them on the latter. It is about practicing virtue and excellence and navigating the world to the best of our abilities, while being mindful of the moral dimension of all our actions” (Pigliucci, 2017, p. 2-3).

“The Stoics realized that we have considerable flexibility in how we frame the situations we experience. They discovered, more precisely, that by thinking of setbacks as tests of our character, we can dramatically alter our emotional response to them. We can, in particular, develop our ability to stay clam, even in the face of very significant setbacks, and this in turn can have a dramatic impact on our quality of life” (Irvine, 2019, p. 17).

Holiday’s book teaches us: “How to turn the many negative situations we encounter in our lives into positive ones—or at least to snatch whatever benefit we can from them. To steal good fortune from misfortune” (2014, p. 5).

“We’re dissatisfied with our jobs, our relationships, our place in the world. We’re trying to get somewhere, but something stands in the way. So we do nothing. We blame our bosses, the economy, our politicians, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. When really only one thing is at fault: our attitude and approach” (Holiday, 2014, p. 2).

But not everyone is stuck like this. Some people are able to turn their obstacles and trials into triumphs. What’s more, many of these individuals faced unimaginable challenges and frustrations and despite those obstacles, or perhaps thanks to those obstacles, they overcame and succeeded. Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. They are able to take what should have held them back and used it to move forward (Holiday, 2014).

“Like oxygen to a fire, obstacles became fuel for the blaze that was their ambition. Nothing could stop them, they were (and continue to be) impossible to discourage or contain. Every impediment only served to make the inferno within them burn with greater ferocity” (Holiday, 2014, p. 4).

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try (Holiday, 2014, p. 18):

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in a situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

“This is how you see the opportunity within the obstacle. It does not happen on its own. It is a process—one that results from self-discipline and logic” (Holiday, 2014, p. 18).

Take Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind person to ever graduate from college. Can you imagine losing one of your senses, let alone two? Many people know about Keller’s successes and accolades, but not many are familiar with the struggles she had to overcome to get there. For instance, Keller was such a temperamental, wild, and unruly deaf-blind child that even family and close friends didn’t think she could be taught. It took Helen’s mother, Kate Keller, and her unrelenting quest for a teacher (one who would be willing to travel to rural Tuscumbia, Alabama to teach Helen), and a teacher (Anne Sullivan), who was both qualified and willing to travel to Alabama. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, the young Keller thrived ― learning how to fingerspell, read Braille, and write. Helen Keller eventually graduated from Radcliffe College. Keller could read English, German, French, Greek, and Latin in Braille! She also learned to speak (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

“Keller hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. Sullivan finally gained control by moving with the girl into a small cottage on the Kellers’ property. Through patience and firm consistency, she finally won the child’s heart and trust, a necessary step before Keller’s education could proceed” (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

What’s perhaps more remarkable is that Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) herself experienced much more extreme hardships growing up. When Sullivan was about five years old, she contracted trachoma, an eye disease caused by bacteria. Trachoma causes repeated, painful infections, making the eyes red and swollen. Over time the recurring irritation and scarring of the cornea causes severe vision loss. Sullivan dealt with the effects of trachoma throughout her life. After her mother died (Anne was eight years old), her father struggled to raise the family and soon abandoned his children. Anne and her younger brother Jimmie were sent to Tewksbury Almshouse, a home for the poor. Sadly and very tragically, the conditions there were so deplorable that three months after they arrived, Jimmie Sullivan died. Early in her stay at Tewksbury, Anne realized that her best chance at a better life was to get an education at a school for blind children. This became her central focus. She heard about a commission coming to investigate the conditions at Tewksbury, and on the day of their visit, she followed them around waiting for her time to speak up. As the tour was wrapping up, Anne approached one of the inspectors and told him she wanted to go to school. That moment changed her life. On October 7, 1880, Anne Sullivan entered the Perkins School for the Blind (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

And even after she got into the school, many of the other girls (most from wealthy families) made fun of her because, at the age of 14, she was unable to read or write her name. And she had never owned a nightgown or hairbrush. “Anne Sullivan’s recollections of her early years at Perkins were mainly of feeling humiliated about her own shortcomings. Her anger and shame fueled a determination to excel in her studies” (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

“Not everyone looks at obstacles—often the same ones you and I face—and sees reason to despair. In fact, they see the
opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way” (Holiday, 2014, p. 178).

Anne Sullivan’s life experiences, like so many of the great history changers and makers before and after her, were “tested in the crucible of adversity and forged in the furnace of trial” (Holiday, 2014, p. 178).

“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.” ―Anne Sullivan

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ―Helen Keller

Takeaway: “You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. . . . [T]his reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming—or possibly thriving because of—them” (Holiday, 2014, p. 16).

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

References

Holiday, R. (2019). The Daily Stoic. What Is Stoicism? A Definition & 9 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started. https://dailystoic.com/what-is-stoicism-a-definition-3-stoic-exercises-to-get-you-started/

Holiday, R. (2014). The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Portfolio.

Irvine, W. B. (2019). The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Anne Sullivan. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. [Also from https://www.perkins.org/history/people/anne-sullivan]

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Helen Keller. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. [Also from https://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller]

Pigliucci, M. (2017). How To Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. Basic Books.

People with Secure High Self-Esteem Don’t Need or Seek External Validation

The older I get, the more reflective and observant I become. It might be because I’m older and a bit wiser, but I think it’s more about me learning important life lessons, appreciating and valuing what I have, not looking around comparing myself to others, or seeking other people’s approval or validation, and most of all being the best version of me.

Individuals who are self-assured and have secure high self-esteem aren’t bothered when others criticize their appearance, attack or make fun of their work, or try to humiliate them. Why?

If you are a Secure High Self-Esteem person, you:

  1. Know and stand firm in the belief that you do not want, need, or seek approval or validation from others;
  2. Recognize that the attacks unleashed on you or directed at you often have nothing (or very little) to do with your message, project, product, service, or who you are as a human being; and
  3. Always respect and accept yourself. You understand and appreciate your strengths, but you also acknowledge your weaknesses.

I see so many people who constantly struggle because they either see themselves as victims of life, that life is a dogfight with only a winner and a loser, or they try desperately to seek approval or validation from other people. I can relate because I once saw myself as a victim (woe-is-me mentality) and, before I finally found my voice and myself, I also sought approval and validation from others around me. I truly believe the best gift you can give yourself is self-validation.

“Something remarkable happens when you truly stop seeking other people’s approval, you automatically gain it, and find that others will then seek your approval.” -Steve Aitchison

Secure self-esteem comes from inside you. It is associated with high self-determination, knowing who you really are, and behaving independently (Vonk, 2006). What’s more, researchers have also found that even with “high” self-esteem, there’s an important distinction between someone with a stable high self-esteem vs. someone whose high self-esteem is unstable and contingent (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008).

Secure high self-esteem involves “favorable feelings of self-worth that arise naturally from successfully dealing with life challenges, being authentic and expressing one’s true self in everyday life, and having relationships in which one is valued for whom one is and not for what one achieves” (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008, p. 479).

People with secure high self-esteem are happy with themselves and like who they are, warts and all. Their sense of self-worth is stable and they’re able to accept their weaknesses. They “do not feel a need to be superior to others; for these individuals, high self-esteem is a given and does not need to be validated on an everyday basis” (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008, p. 479).

Stephen Covey, in his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2004), talked about the Abundance Mentality vs. the Scarcity Mentality.

Abundance Mentality is the belief that there’s plenty out there for everyone. Scarcity Mentality is the thinking that there’s only so much and that there’s not enough for everyone. Those with a scarcity mindset believe “if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else” (Covey, 2004, p. 219).

Those with a Scarcity Mentality will hoard or even steal recognition and credit, and power or profit. They’re unhappy for or jealous about the success or happiness of others around them.

“It’s almost as if something is being taken from them when someone else receives special recognition or windfall gain or has remarkable success or achievement” (Covey, 2004, p. 219).

It’s very sad because, instead of seeing their lives as being filled with abundance, they see themselves as lacking.

Covey (2004) said this is because the sense of self-worth for those with a scarcity mindset “comes from being compared, and someone else’s success, to some degree, means their failure” (p. 219).

“People with a Scarcity Mentality harbor secret hopes that others might suffer misfortune — not terrible misfortune, but acceptable misfortune that would keep them ‘in their place.’ They’re always comparing, always competing. They give their energies to possessing things or other people in order to increase their sense of worth” (Covey, 2004, p. 219-220).

The author of The EQ Difference (2005) uses “The Famine Voice” in place of a Scarcity Mindset, and “The Abundance Voice” rather than a Abundance Mindset.

I especially like how The Abundance Voice is described (Lynn, 2005): “[T]he abundance voice proclaims that, indeed, life’s riches are plentiful. She believes that somehow there will always be enough, and she refuses to be ruled by thoughts of scarcity. She can convince you that a crumb of bread, when served with a smile, is indeed a feast” (p. 67).

Takeaway: Secure High Self-Esteem people (1) Know and stand firm in the belief that they don’t need or seek approval or validation from others; (2) Recognize that attack(s) directed at them usually have nothing to do with their project, product, service, or who they are as a human being; (3) Always accept and respect themselves. They understand and appreciate their strengths, while also acknowledging their weaknesses; and (4) Have an Abundance Mindset. They believe there is plenty of riches to go around and that life isn’t a competition, with a winner or loser. They are simply content running their own race.

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

References

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press.

Kernis, M. H., Lakey, C. E., & Heppner, W. L. (2008). Secure Versus Fragile High Self-Esteem as a Predictorof Verbal Defensiveness: Converging Findings AcrossThree Different Markers. Journal of Personality, 76(3), 477-512.

Lynn, A. B. (2005). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. AMACOM.

Vonk, R. (2006). Improving Self-Esteem. In M. H. Kernis (Ed.), Self-Esteem Issues and Answers: A Sourcebook of Current Perspectives (pp. 178-186). Psychology Press.

Pygmalion Effect – A Leader’s Attitude and Expectation Set the Tone

In the book, Extreme Ownership, Leif Babin (a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who was a SEAL instructor overseeing the Junior Officer Training Course in the Naval Special Warfare Training Center) shared a story about the performances of two boat crews during Hell Week. Boat Crew II (which dominated and had a strong leader) and Boat Crew VI (which came in last in almost every race and had an indifferent and inexperienced leader). A SEAL senior chief officer (one of the SEAL instructors) suggested that they swap out the boat crew leaders from the best and worst crews and see what happens. The turnaround was stunning: “Boat Crew VI, the same team in the same circumstances only under new leadership, went from the worst boat crew in the class to the best” (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 48-49).

As Babin wrote (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 49): “How is it possible that switching a single individual—only the leader—had completely turned around the performance of an entire group? The answer: leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance—or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.”

This is a classic example of the Pygmalion Effect. 

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (VandenBos, 2007) defines Pygmalion effect as: “a consequence or reaction in which the expectations of a leader or superior engender behavior from followers or subordinates that is consistent with these expectations: a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, raising manager expectations of the performance of subordinate employees has been found to enhance the performance of those employees” (p. 868).

“The idea here is that if an employee feels that a manager has confidence in him, his self-esteem will increase, as will his performance” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 330). Indeed, leaders often get the performance they expect from their employees.

In a classic Harvard Business Review article (originally published in 1969, reprinted in 1988), Livingston wrote (1988, p. 122): 

  • What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.
  • A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.
  • Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.
  • Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.

“[S]uperior managers have greater confidence than other managers in their own ability to develop the talents of their subordinates” (Livingston, 1988, p. 126). Superior managers don’t give up on themselves and they definitely do not give up easily on their subordinates (Livingston, 1988).

“Managers not only shape the expectations and productivity of subordinates but also influence their attitudes toward their jobs and themselves. If managers are unskilled, they leave scars on the careers of young people, cut deeply into their self-esteem, and distort their image of themselves as human beings. But if they are skillful and have high expectations, subordinates’ self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop, and their productivity will be high” (Livingston, 1988, p. 130).

Takeaway: Leadership is, singularly, the most crucial factor in a team’s performance. What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them significantly determine their performance and career progress. Superior managers create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill. The best managers have confidence in themselves and in their ability to develop the talents of their subordinates.

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

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Wadsworth.

Livingston, J. S. (1969/1988). Pygmalion in management. Harvard Business Review, 66(5), 121-130.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.

Layoffs (Usually) Don’t Work and Why They Harm More Than Help

“Layoffs are mostly bad for companies, harmful for the economy, and devastating for employees.” -Newsweek (2010)

In December 2017, I (along with many of my colleagues) got laid off by the parent company that had acquired our smaller company in 2014.

I think what struck many of us was that this larger company was (and still is) very wealthy and extremely profitable (constantly emphasizing this point in their town hall meetings) and they repeatedly reassured us that our jobs would be safe and that we were now part of this much better, larger, wealthier, more powerful enterprise.

Thus, when they began implementing mass layoffs, and eventually laying off almost everyone in the company, it came as quite a shock.

Although I am very fortunate to have landed an incredible new role, at an amazing company nine months later, some of my former colleagues are still looking.

Having gone through this layoff experience, I want to share this article in hopes of bringing attention to the harmful effects of layoffs to not only the employees who are let go, but also the companies that implemented the layoffs.

Downsizing Defined

Downsizing is the planned elimination of jobs or positions (Cascio, 2016).

“Whether we call it ‘rightsizing,’ ‘downsizing,’ ‘layoffs,’ or ‘reductions in force,’ there’s no denying that U.S. corporations have been reducing the size of their workforces at alarming rates since the late 1980s” (Levy, 2017, p. 384).

The Consequences of Losing Your Job

This passage from Aamodt’s Industrial/Organizational textbook is a powerful reminder of the dramatic and devastating effect of losing one’s job:

“From a health perspective, victims of downsizing report increases in headaches, stomach upsets, sleeping problems, cholesterol levels, physical illness, hospitalization rates, heart trouble, hypertension, ulcers, vision problems, and shortness of breath. Emotionally, victims report high levels of stress, increased drug and alcohol abuse, more marital problems, and feelings of depression, unhappiness, anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction with life. Socially, victims are reluctant to share their feelings with friends, avoid family and friends due to feelings of embarrassment and shame, and avoid social situations and entertainment requiring money” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 540).

Coping with job loss or the danger of losing one’s job is a major source of stress (Riggio, 2013). Landy & Conte (2013) explained that because a worker may continue to have strong affective, continuance, or normative commitments to the organization, a job loss can be devastating. “[R]esearch has consistently found job loss to be among the 10 most stressful events in a person’s life” (Levy, 2017, p. 383).

Mental, Physical, & Psychological Costs of Job Loss

The effects of job loss include (Landy & Conte, 2013, citing Warr):

  • Poor psychological health
  • Depression, insomnia, irritability, lack of confidence, inability to concentrate, and general anxiety

The reasons for these effects on one’s psyche are (Landy & Conte, 2013, citing Warr):

  • loss of job reduces income and daily variety
  • loss of job suspends the typical goal setting guiding day-to-day activities
  • loss of job results in fewer decisions to be made because there’s little to decide about
  • decisions that are made tend to be trivial (when to get up, when to look for work, etc.)
  • because of loss of job, new skills are not developed and current skills begin to atrophy
  • as a result of loss of job, social relations are radically changed

Emotional and Financial Cost of Job Loss

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

EMOTIONALLY

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

FINANCIALLY

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

The Psychological Effects of Unemployment

“[U]nemployment is psychologically devastating based upon a loss of discretionary control. . . The act of choosing is severely restricted by unemployment. Attempting to solve problems with limited resources frequently means that the quality of the solution is poorer, which can engender a sense of failure and lowered self-esteem. Thus the loss of financial resources limits choices, thereby enhancing feelings of limited control over one’s life. In turn, lowered psychological health follows from this condition” (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 373).

Hidden Costs of Downsizing

Many organizations believe that cutting costs via downsizing/workforce reduction (eliminating or combining related or redundant positions in order to improve cost & efficiency) is a viable option.

“Corporate downsizing has become a conventional response by contemporary organizations that find themselves burdened with economic inefficiencies. For most organizations the single biggest expense is the salaries and benefits paid to their employees. By eliminating jobs, they reduce payroll costs. By eliminating many jobs (4,000 – 10,000 jobs in some very large companies), they can save vast sums of money. But then comes the problem of getting all the work accomplished by the people who remain. Consequences of restructuring the organization may include greater use of computerization or automation of work, less oversight by supervisory/managerial personnel, greater use of overtime among hourly paid workers, and longer workweeks among salaried employees. . . Although downsizing has forced organizations to operate with greater efficiency, some organizations are discovering they cannot reclaim the productive output they had achieved with a larger workforce. In short, the loss of jobs did not strengthen their economic position but instead weakened it.” (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 271).

“[D]ownsizing has negative impacts on employee morale and health, workgroup creativity and communication, and workforce quality” (Heneman & Judge, 2005, pp. 703-704).

Some hidden costs of downsizing include (Snell & Bohlander, 2013, p. 17):

  • Severance and rehiring costs
  • Accrued vacation and sick day payouts
  • Pension and benefit payouts
  • Potential lawsuits from aggrieved workers
  • The loss of institutional memory and trust in management
  • A lack of staffers when the economy rebounds
  • Survivors who are risk averse, paranoid, and focused on corporate politics

Costs of Layoffs to Companies

Layoffs are more costly than many organizations realize (Cascio & Boudreau, 2011). In tracking the performance of organizations that downsized versus those that did not downsize, Cascio (2009) discovered that, “As a group, the downsizers never outperform the nondownsizers. Companies that simply reduce headcounts, without making other changes, rarely achieve the long-term success they desire” (p. 1).

In fact, direct costs of laying off highly paid tech employees in Europe, Japan, and the U.S., were about $100,000 per layoff (Cascio, 2009, p. 12).

Companies lay off employees expecting that they would reap the economic benefits as a result of cutting costs (of not having to pay employee salaries & benefits). However, “many of the anticipated benefits of employment downsizing do not materialize” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

While it’s true that, with downsizing, companies have a smaller payroll, Cascio contends (2009) that downsized organizations might also lose business (from a reduced salesforce), develop fewer new products (because they are less research & development staff), and experienced reduced productivity (when high-performing employees leave due to lost of or low morale).

“[L]arge layoffs tend to result in a substantial decline in employee morale and commitment and a significant increase in stress. And for the bottom line, research indicates that companies with very deep layoffs underperform the market by as much as eight percent over the ensuing three years” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

When Downsizing is The Answer

Cascio notes that downsizing “can be an appropriate tool in some cases” (2009, p. 2) and that it makes sense when it’s “part of a broader workforce strategy designed to align closely with the overall strategy of the business” (2009, p. 2).

“For example, a new business strategy that pursues different products or services and new types of customers may motivate firms to lay off employees with obsolete skill sets and hire new employees with the skills to implement the revised business strategy. In this case and some others, downsizing does make sense” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

Alternatives to Downsizing

When senior leaders in the organization believe the downturn in business is permanent, instead of downsizing, Cascio (2009) suggests retraining employees to develop new lines of business. If the leaders believe the downturn in business is temporary, there are many options to cut costs (see the graphic, “Alternatives to Employment Downsizing for Temporary Downturns”). For example, popular cost-saving strategies include: Freezing or reducing hiring; Cutting travel and entertainment; Reducing pay or raises; Scaling back employee events; Conducting targeted layoffs, and so on (Cascio, 2009).

Takeaway: As professor Paul M. Muchinsky wrote (2006, p. 374), “Work provides a sense of meaning and purpose to life, and the removal of that purpose lowers the quality of life.” Downsizing is not a cost-cutting cure-all and it does not guarantee that short-term savings will surpass long-term costs. Downsizing is sometimes necessary, but it is important that organizational leaders understand and consider the short- and long-term costs, as well as the many alternatives to downsizing that are available (Cascio, 2009).

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

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cascio, W. F. (2009). Employment Downsizing and Its Alternatives: Strategies for Long-Term Success. Alexandria, VA: SHRM Foundation.

Cascio, W. F. (2016). Managing Human Resources: Productivity, quality of Work Life, Profits (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Cascio, W. F., & Boudreau, J. (2011). Investing in People: Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Heneman, H. G., III, & Judge, T. A. (2005). Staffing organizations (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2013). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Luo, M. & Thee-Brenan, M. (2009, December 14). Poll reveals trauma of joblessness in U.S. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/us/15poll.html

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

Newsweek. (2010, February 4). The Case Against Layoffs: They Often Backfire. http://www.newsweek.com/case-against-layoffs-they-often-backfire-75039

Riggio, R. E. (2013). Introduction to industrial/organizational psychology (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Snell, S., & Bohlander, G. (2013). Managing Human Resources (16th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

I received an email asking if I would write about Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) from an Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology perspective.

Interestingly, much of the research on ROWE has been coming from the field of sociology. Two sociologists from University of Minnesota’s Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly (Kelly is now at the MIT Sloan School of Management), were the original researchers invited in 2006 to observe and study ROWE as it was being implemented at Best Buy (Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, 2015).

Background of ROWE

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) was pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson while they were employed at Best Buy. The seeds of ROWE began in 2001 when a leader at Best Buy corporate headquarters needed help to make Best Buy a top choice among talented people who were seeking jobs. A survey was conducted asking employees what they wanted most from work. Overwhelmingly, the answer was: trust me with my time, trust me to do my job, and I’ll deliver results, and be a happier employee too (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). In a pilot program (called Alternative Work Program) that gave employees a choice from a set of flexible schedules, Ressler observed that “if you gave people even a little control over their time they immediately began to see the benefits both at work and at home.” Employees who were in the pilot program were happier and more productive and they didn’t want it to end (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). Thompson joined in 2003 and what was learned during the pilot program began to grow and change. The program was refined and eventually came to be known as Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

Overview of ROWE

In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. “Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 155).

The idea behind ROWE is that when employees have control over their lives and they are able to work when and where they feel most productive and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more incentivized to produce.

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote in their book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, that ROWE is based on a simple idea:

“In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. . .In a ROWE, you can literally do whatever you want whenever you want as long as your work gets done. You have complete control over your life as long as your work gets done” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 3). You can go grocery shopping, take a nap, or go to the movies and never have to ask for permission or tell your boss where you’re going. As long as work gets done and you get results, then it’s your life (Ressler & Thompson, 2008).

Benefits of ROWE

The benefits of ROWE include (Correll, Kelly, O’Connor, & Williams, 2014):

  • Increased employees’ control over their work schedule and improved work–life fit
  • Reduced work-family conflict and negative work-family spillover
  • Positive effect on employees’ sleep duration, energy levels, self-reported health, and exercise
  • Reduced turnover
  • Increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment

Things That Do Not Change under ROWE

There are some things under ROWE that do not change (Kelly & Moen, 2009):

  • Positive and negative home-to-work spillover
  • Family-to-work conflict
  • Overall assessment of health
  • Well-being scale
  • Psychosocial job demands scale
  • Job control scale (decision authority, skill discretion)
  • Job involvement scale
  • Satisfaction with coworkers
  • Satisfaction with manager
  • Work engagement scale
  • Psychological distress
  • Emotional exhaustion

ROWE is Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) to the Extreme

ROWE is a type of flexible work arrangement. Flexible work arrangements refer to choices about the time (i.e, when; flextime or scheduling flexibility) and/or location (i.e., where; telecommuting or flexplace) that work is conducted (WorldatWork, 2005; Allen, 2013).

Ressler and Thompson (2008) point out that in a flexible work arrangement: permission is needed, there are limited options, is management controlled, requires policies/guidelines, the focus is on “time off,” and there’s high demand but low control. In a ROWE, you do not need permission, options are unlimited, it’s employee controlled, requires accountability/clear goals, the focus is on “results,” and there’s high demand but also high control.

“[N]o matter how flexible a nontraditional schedule is it’s still a schedule. Flexible schedule is an oxymoron. Which is why in a ROWE there are no schedules” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 69).

“If you get results, then anything else you do with your time is completely up to you. What work looks like in terms of where it takes place and during what hours is no longer important. You work when and how you work best. You are in complete control” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 67).

The Promise of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote, “in a ROWE you don’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork” (p. 198). You don’t have to do all-nighters or be the first in the office and the last one to leave because you are rewarded solely on delivering results. “Once you’ve delivered those results, you stop working and do something else. It’s nice” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198).

The Fanfare and Fizzle

In 2013, in a complete reversal from its initial enthusiastic endorsement of ROWE, Best Buy terminated the program (Wong, 2013). Under a new CEO, Best Buy cited the urgency to turn around its struggling consumer electronics retail business as the reason for ending its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program (Lee, 2013). As the company’s spokesperson explained (Lee, 2013): “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”

But Best Buy was not the only organization to try out and then later abandon ROWE. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also tried ROWE and soon discontinued the program. A 2011 evaluation of the ROWE pilot revealed that managers were uncertain as to how to evaluate their employees based on their work results. And employees also struggled because they did not understand if they were meeting their expected results (Glazer, 2013).

The Risks and Obstacles of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson argue that ROWE is appropriate in all workplaces but there are situations where it isn’t recommended or appropriate, such as customer service departments, or when employees are new or inexperienced and require more support, or when you’re not certain that team members will complete their tasks at the level of quality and by the deadlines agreed upon (MindTools.com, 2016). As a matter of fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements (Kelly & Moen, 2014) admit that some workers, like those in retail and service positions, must still do their work “at work.”

Despite the promise made by Ressler and Thompson that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198), there is research on telecommuting that dispute this claim.

In a previous post on the pitfalls of telecommuting, I wrote that those who telecommute (work from home or another remote location) will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less (Noonan & Glass, 2012). In fact, researchers have found that “telecommuters worked between 5 and 7 total hours more per week than nontelecommuters” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 40).

Kelly and Moen (2007) offered this thought when they first began studying ROWE: “Organizational needs—getting the work done—are still emphasized in the ROWE setting, and it is an open question whether increased control is actually beneficial when work demands are very high” (p. 497).

Michelle Conlin (2006) wrote, at the end of her Bloomberg article on ROWE, that, “Some at the company [Best Buy] complain that productivity is up only because many Best Buyers are now working longer hours.”

While a majority of employees say flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, help them to achieve a better work/life balance (Wright, 2014), evidence suggests that it’s not as rosy as one might think. For example, teleworkers reported more time-based family interference with work (FIW) than did non-teleworkers. Indeed, the ability to telecommute or work from home “may enable negative work and nonwork spillover rather than avert it” (Allen, 2013, pp. 706-707).

“The most telling problem with telecommuting as a worklife solution is its strong relationship to long work hours and the “work devotion schema.”” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

“Since telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers, and supervisors, telecommuting can potentially increase the penetration of work tasks into home time. Bolstering this interpretation, the 2008 Pew Networked Workers survey reports that the majority of wired workers report telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that workers use technology, especially email, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

Moen, Kelly, and Lam (2013) tested “A key question [regarding] whether ROWE actually reduced employees’ time strain, in terms of reducing their work-time demands and/or increasing their time control” (p. 159). The researchers found that “exposure to ROWE increased time control (time adequacy, schedule control) but did not change time demands (work hours, psychological time demands)” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 166).

“ROWE flexibility initiative did not reduce psychological time demands, probably because ROWE-type interventions do not diminish the amount, intensity, or expectations of time investments in work” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 167).

Takeaway: A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) sounds great — as a concept. However, the challenges of implementing and the realities involved in working in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) can reveal major limitations as to its appropriateness for every workplace. In fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements concede that some workers, such as those in retail and service positions, will still need to continue doing their work “at work.” What’s more, contrary to the claim that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork,” some employees working in a ROWE reported that they actually work longer hours.

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

References

Allen, T. D. (2013). The Work–Family Role Interface: A Synthesis of the Research from Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In N. W. Schmitt & S. Highhouse (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 12 Industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed) (pp. 698-718). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Conlin, M. (2006, December 10). Smashing The Clock. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2006-12-10/smashing-the-clock

Correll, S. J., Kelly, E. L., O’Connor, L. T., & Williams, J. C. (2014). Redesigning, Redefining Work. Work and Occupations, 41(1), 3-17.

Flexible Work and Well-Being Center. (2015). University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.flexiblework.umn.edu/publications.shtml

Glazer, S. (2013, July 19). Telecommuting. CQ Researcher, 23(26), 621-644. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/

Hollon, J. (2013, March 6). Goodbye ROWE: Best Buy Ends Flex Work Program It Was Famous For. Retrieved from https://www.eremedia.com/tlnt/goodbye-rowe-best-buy-ends-flex-work-program-it-was-famous-for/

Joly, H. (2013, March 17). Best Buy CEO on leadership: A comment I made was misconstrued. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/best-buy-ceo-on-leadership-a-comment-i-made-was-misconstrued/198546011/

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2007). Rethinking the ClockWork of Work: Why Schedule Control May Pay Off at Work and at Home. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9(4), 487-506.

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2009). Brief Summary of the Flexible Work & Well-Being Study. PDF posted on WorkplacePsychology.Net

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2014, January 23). Building Flexibility Into The Way We Work. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erin-l-kelly/building-flexibility-into_b_4241132.html

Lee, T. (2013, December 13). Best Buy ends flexible work program for its corporate employees. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/no-13-best-buy-ends-flexible-work-program-for-its-corporate-employees/195156871/

MindTools. (2016). Managing in a Results-Only Work Environment. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/managing-results-only-environment.htm

Moen, P., & Kelly, E. L. (2007). Flexible Work and Well-Being Study: Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.flexiblework.umn.edu/publications_docs/FWWB_Fall07.pdf

Moen, P., Kelly, E. L., & Lam, J. (2013). Healthy work revisited: Do changes in time strain predict well-being? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), 157-172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0031804

Nguyen, S. (2015, August 22). The Pitfalls of Telecommuting. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2015/08/22/the-pitfalls-of-telecommuting/

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

Ressler, C., & Thompson, J. (2008). Why work sucks and how to fix it. New York: Penguin Group.

WorldatWork. (2005). Flexible Work Schedules: A Survey of Members of WorldatWork and AWLP. Retrieved from https://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=17161

Wong, V. (2013, March 7). How Best Buy Has Changed Its Tune on Flexible Work. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-03-07/how-best-buy-has-changed-its-tune-on-flexible-work

Wright, A. D. (2014, June 13). 10% Would Take Less Pay to Telecommute, Study Says. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/less-pay-to-telework.aspx

Job Dissatisfaction and Mental Health

Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly

I was contacted by a journalist with The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, for my thoughts about why having too little to do at work is bad for your mental health. I am reposting my responses below.

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated, at work similar to being overworked?

Answer: If we assume that having too little to do or being under-stimulated at work falls under the umbrella of boredom (Mann, 2007) and that there’s a relationship between boredom at work and employee mental well-being (Warr, 2005), and that mental health is comprised of many dimensions (two of which are subjective well-being and positive self-regard), then being bored at work (not enough to do or not stimulated) and being overworked are similar, albeit they occupy different points on the spectrum. With regard to being overworked, researchers have found that changes in job demands predict future burnout (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Van Rhenen, 2009).

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated at work, bad for your mental health? If so, why does this cause stress/poor mental health?

Answer: Related to my previous answer, being bored (having too little to do or being under-stimulated and when associated with poor mental well-being & poor positive self-regard) and being overworked can both be bad for a person’s mental health.

When we talk about an employee’s subjective well-being, it’s important to distinguish between “context-free” well-being and “domain-specific” well-being (Warr, 2005). A person’s well-being with respect to his or her job is a job-related “domain-specific” well-being (i.e., limited to the workplace & job). It’s also possible and we do see this happen, where it’s family-related “domain-specific” well-being. That is, situations in an employee’s family life/environment have a negative impact on his/her subjective well-being and the employee carries this into the workplace.

We can see how just these two streams in the “domain-specific” well-being can be challenging to separate within a person’s mental state of mind. Put it simply, we can take work stress home, but the reverse is also true, we can just as easily take home stress with us to work.

One very important note we need to remember is this: an employee’s job may influence his/her well-being, the employee’s well-being may impact how he/she perceives the job, or characteristics of the employee can determine well-being or perception of the job (Warr, 2005). Also critical to mental health are feelings that we have about ourselves as a person. In addition to subjective well-being is the concept of positive self-regard. We can think of positive self-regard in terms of a person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth (Warr, 2005).

Question: What is the optimum level of work for good mental health?

Answer: There is no magic formula for what level of work would contribute to good mental health. As I have shared, the reason is because the factors that lead to good or poor mental health are many and they can be difficult to separate from other related factors (Warr, 2005).

That said, there are still things that organizations can do to help their employees stay engaged in their jobs.

In his book The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman (2014) shared that one key lesson to getting employees engaged in their work is to offer “opportunities for them to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness on a daily basis.” He explained that employee autonomy is when workers have a sense of choice. Companies can promote employee autonomy by explaining the reason/logic when tasks are presented, by giving employees the flexibility about how and when a task is done, and by giving employees options on where they can do their work (e.g., telecommuting).

Takeaway: If we tie our discussion about boredom at work (i.e., having too little to do or being under-stimulated) as well as being overworked to mean being generally dissatisfied with a job, then there’s a strong connection between job dissatisfaction and mental health. Research suggests that an employee’s level of job satisfaction is an important factor influencing his or her health (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005). In analyzing nearly 500 studies involving over 250,000 employees, researchers have found a very “strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health,” and that “dissatisfaction at work can be hazardous to an employee’s mental health and well-being” (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005, p. 108).

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

References

Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(2), 105-112. doi:10.1136/oem.2002.006734

Friedman, R. (2014). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. New York: Perigee.

Mann, S. (2007, February). Boredom at work. The Psychologist, 20, 90-93. Retrieved from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-2/boredom-work

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. doi:10.1002/job.595

Warr, P. (2005). Work, well-being and mental health. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 547-574). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Why It’s Necessary To Fight Work Stress And How To Do It

Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak
Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak

A writer asked for my thoughts about why it is necessary to fight work stress and how to do it. Here’s my response:

Why We Must Combat Work Stress

There are many work-related problems that crop up as a result of work stress. These are similar to stress experienced outside of the workplace (i.e., involving physical, psychological, or behavioral reactions). Employees complain about and/or experience sleep disorders, inability to concentrate or focus, feeling exhausted or burned out, feeling irritable, engaging in arguments or conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, or withdrawing and isolating from others. As mentioned in the “Mental Health at Work” series, if work/job stress is prolonged, frequent, or intense, individuals are at higher risk for psychological problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks, or even PTSD. Collectively, these problems, if left unchecked, contribute to larger organizational issues, such as increased absenteeism, medical/disability cost, high turnover, reduced productivity, etc. Indeed, work stress is a serious and growing problem that harms employees and organizations (Quillian-Wolever & Wolever, 2003).

How to Combat Work Stress

It is easier to make a case for why we need to combat work stress than it is to go about combating work stress. Simply stated, it’s hard to manage stress effectively.

For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a resource titled, “Coping With Stress at Work” that suggests 7 steps to managing stress in general (e.g., track your stressors, develop health responses, etc.).

However, what that particular resource and many other resources about combating/managing stress fail to point out is that managing work stress is multifaceted and involves individually-targeted as well as organizationally-targeted interventions. Many resources only touch on the individual’s initiative to manage his/her own stress. That is, it’s about how individuals can take steps to manage their own stress in the workplace.

There are different views about what contributes to work stress. Some say it has to do with worker characteristics (or qualities relating to the worker), while others say it has to do with the working conditions (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005).

What we need to do is think about interventions for work stress in terms of levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary [Leka & Houdmont, 2010]). The primary intervention targets the source of the work stress (i.e, the design, management, and organization of work). When we talk about how workers can better respond to and manage stress, that’s the secondary intervention. Secondary prevention intervention (often called stress management) is about changing the ways that individuals respond to risks or job stressors (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005). Finally, there’s the tertiary intervention that provides remedial support for problems that have already manifested (Randall & Nielsen, 2010).

For an excellent reference on the three levels of interventions (primary, secondary, and tertiary) see the article, “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3).” And for a comprehensive understanding, check out all three booklets in the Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (cited in the links below).

But I don’t want to complicate things too much by talking about the different levels of interventions, so I’ll leave you with some tips for how to fight/manage stress at the individual level (targeting the secondary intervention level).

9 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS [secondary intervention level]
(taken directly from Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series – Booklet 1).

  1. Learn to identify the signs your body is giving you (increased heart rate, clammy hands, difficulties in concentrating, etc.) as this will help you do what is necessary to reduce stress.
  2. Learn to identify what increases your stress; by acting on the causes of stress, you can better control it.
  3. Learn to delegate – don’t shoulder all responsibilities on your own.
  4. Establish a list of priorities as this will help you to better manage your time.
  5. Suggest changes at work, talk about irritating situations with your colleagues and supervisor, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
  6. Develop a good support network and recognize that help is sometimes necessary to get through hard times.
  7. Participate in leisure activities. Apart from helping you relax, such activities will help “recharge your batteries.”
  8. Exercise. In addition to the obvious health benefits, exercise will help you sleep better.
  9. Reduce your consumption of stimulating foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, sugar or alcohol.

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

References

American Psychological Association (APA). Coping With Stress at Work. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx

Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., Frone, M. R. (2005). Handbook of work stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (Booklet 1, 2, 3). http://www.cgsst.com/eng/publications-sante-psychologique-travail/trousse-la-sante-psychologique-au-travail.asp

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series. “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3)”. Retrieved from http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/documents/doc115-395.pdf

Leka, S., & Houdmont, J. (2010). Occupational health psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Quillian-Wolever, R., & Wolever, M. (2003). Stress management at work. In L. E. Tetrick & J. C. Quick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 355-375). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Randall, R., & Nielsen, K. (2010). Interventions to Promote Well-Being at Work. In D. Leka & J. Houdmont (Eds.), Occupational health psychology (pp. 88-123). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albrecht’s hypothetical organization in 1979:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I wrote back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Your Job Making You Depressed?

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

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

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rather than enhancing true flexibility in when and where employees work, the capacity to work from home mostly extends the workday and encroaches into what was formerly home and family time” (Glass & Noonan, 2016, p. 217).

“It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours,” Noonan says. “When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Glass, J. L., & Noonan, M. C. (2016). Telecommuting and Earnings Trajectories Among American Women and Men 1989–2008 [Abstract]. Social Forces, 95(1), 217–250. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sow034

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

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

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

Lewis, R. C. (2017, January 18). Telecommuting extends the work week, at little extra pay. Iowa Now. Retrieved from https://now.uiowa.edu/2017/01/telecommuting-extends-work-week-little-extra-pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locus of Control and The Zorro Circle

zorro

Photo Credit: Flickr

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor talks about how by first limiting our focus on small, manageable goals, we can then expand our sphere of power from there. Achor used the movie “The Mask of Zorro” (starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins) as an example and describes what he calls The Zorro Circle. For those who have not seen it, there is a scene where young Alejandro (Zorro) is taught how to master the sword and other skills by first training in a small circle. Only after mastering control of that small circle was he then allowed by his master Don Diego to try other larger feats (e.g., swinging from ropes and fighting against his own master in a sword fight).

Achor suggests that the first goal to regaining our internal locus of control (when we don’t feel in control) is to to become more self-aware. When you’re in a high stress situation or feel a high level of stress, identify how you’re feeling and put those feelings into words. Try writing down your feelings in a journal or share with a close friend or trusted colleague. “[V]erbalizing the stress and helplessness you are feeling is the first step toward regaining control” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

“Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of these negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills” (Achor, 2010, p. 136).

After you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, the next step is to identify which part of the situation that you do have control over and which ones you do not. The basic idea here is to see that there are things that are out of your hands that you simply have no control over; but also that there are things that you do have real control over and to focus your energy on those areas.

“By tackling one small challenge at a time—a narrow circle that slowly expands outward—we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

The lesson is this: If you focus on and master the small, manageable goals first (the small circle), you can then expand your sphere of power to larger goals. Tackle one small challenge at a time and clearly see and let go of things that you do not have control over and focus your energy and efforts on things over which you do have control.

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

Reference

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

Workplace Bullying: It’s Not Employee Dissatisfaction and Why It’s Different from Schoolyard Bullying

stop bullying

Photo Credit: Flickr

This post is in response to an article titled “Thou Shalt Not Bully” that was posted on HCOnline, Australia’s online magazine for senior human resource professionals and corporate decision-makers.

In the article, the author said:

“[D]espite the best intentions of the [anti-bullying] legislation [in Australia], employers are faced with the prospect of an avalanche of complaints based on perceptions. Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.”

The author then proceeded to offer a case to illustrate why a dissatisfied employee led to the incorrect labeling of a manager as a “bully.”

“When we met with the employee, one of the first things he said when explaining the situation was ‘bullying is a too strong a word.’ He (the employee) went on to recount a conflict scenario that involved differing views about a project recommendation he had made, and described feeling intimidated and threatened. His complaint referred to the situation as bullying. When we met with his manager, she was distressed and felt pressured by the allegation. She was confused as to why she had been accused. She felt she had supported the employee, who she perceived him as being ‘difficult’ and requiring her intervention. The experience demonstrates the dangers of bullying becoming a catchall term for interpersonal issues.”

First, labeling someone in the workplace as a bully can have significant consequences (for both the instigator and the victim) so it is prudent to exercise care and caution before initiating claims of bullying.

Second, it should not matter if an employee uses the word(s) “bully” or “bullying” or not. As the author acknowledged, the employee, when recounting what happened, indicated that he felt “intimidated and threatened.” In others words, he felt that he was not able to defend/protect himself. Put it another way, people in positions of power may not realize or care that their higher/greater power within the company can engender bullying behaviors.

Third, something that was not mentioned in the article but is critically important to point out is that there is an important difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying. While both forms involve victimizing another person and using power to do so, school bullies (sometimes cheered on by other students) do not have the support of teachers and school administrators. In contrast, workplace bullies, who often hold positions of authority, do have the support of peers, HR, and even upper management (Namie & Namie, 2009).

When targets (who participated in the 2003 Workplace Bullying Institute survey) were asked if they reported the bullying behaviors to others at work and what happened after that, here are the results (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93):

The results below summarize who knew about the bullying and what they did in terms of helping or hurting.

WBI 2003 survey

“It is clear that workplace “insiders”—co-workers, the bully’s boss, and HR—were destructive, not supportive” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93).

Namie and Namie (2009) said it well: “[T]he child Target must have the help and support of third-party adults to reverse the conflict. Bullied adults have the primary responsibility for righting the wrong themselves, for engineering a solution” (p. 15).

Fourth, I strongly disagree with the author that “The proliferation of anti-bullying awareness campaigns has led to workplace conflicts too readily being labeled as bullying” or that “Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.” These statements are a disservice to people who have been or are currently victims of workplace bullying. And, these types of statements continue to perpetuate the myth that victims of bullying are too soft, complain too much, or just don’t have the backbone to stand up. This, in my opinion, minimizes the seriousness of workplace bullying.

I do not agree that “anti-bullying awareness campaigns [have] led to workplace conflicts being labelled as bullying.” In fact, the two constructs (“workplace conflicts” and “workplace bullying”) sometimes get confused (as is the case in the author’s HCOnline article).

Conflicts – perceived differences between one person and another about interests, beliefs or values that matter to them (De Dreu, Van Dierendonck, & De Best-Waldhober, 2003).

Bullying – “situations where a worker or supervisor is systematically mistreated and victimized by fellow workers or supervisors through repeated negative acts like insulting remarks and ridicule, verbal abuse, offensive teasing, isolation, and social exclusion, or the constant degrading of one’s work and efforts” (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994, p. 381).

Results from the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey indicated that,

“37 percent of American workers have been bullied at work—13 percent said it was either happening now or had happened within a year of the polling, and 24 percent said they were not now being bullied but had been bullied in the past. Adding the 12 percent who witnessed bullying but never experienced it directly, nearly half (49 percent) of adult Americans are affected by it” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 4).

A follow-up 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey revealed,

“35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it.”

Thus, when we step back and examine these statistics on workplace bullying and the difference between the concept of conflict and bullying, as defined above, we can see that bullying is not just “employee dissatisfaction” as the author suggested.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

De Dreu, C. K. W., Van Dierendonck, D., & De Best-Waldhober, M. (2003). Conflict at work and individual well-being. In M. J. Schabracq, J. A. M. Winnubst, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The handbook of work and health psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 495-515). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Einarsen, S., Raknes, B. I., & Matthiesen, S. B. (1994). Bullying and harassment at work and their relationships to work environment quality: An exploratory study. European Work and Organizational Psychologist, 4(4), 381-401.

Namie, G., & Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: what you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Locus of Control: Stop Making Excuses and Start Taking Responsibility

Blame by Nelson Vargas

Photo Credit: Flickr

[NOTE: This post was updated August 2016]

In my former career as a mental health counselor, I encountered many clients who struggled with taking charge of their own lives. While their struggles might have differed, the idea behind helping them was almost always the same, and quite basic. We’re taught to guide clients from seeing themselves as being victims of life’s circumstances to being movers of those life events. In other words, help clients reach deep within to draw on their own inner strength and capacity to take charge.

There are two types of locus of control: internal (inside) and external (outside). Internal locus of control is the belief that you are “in charge of the events that occur in [your] life” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141), while external locus of control is the belief that “chance, fate, or outside forces determine life events” (p. 141).

Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and they have control over those things they can change. Having an internal locus of control is linked to self-efficacy, the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011). People with an external locus of control see their behaviors and lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals view themselves (i.e., their lives and circumstances) as victims of life and bad luck.

“People differ in whether they feel they control the consequences of their actions or are controlled by external factors. External control personality types believe that luck, fate, or powerful external forces control their destiny. Internal control personality types believe they control what happens to them” (Champoux, 2011, p. 113).

In leadership and management, this concept of locus of control is the same. Whether it’s coaching top executives, middle management, or rank and file employees, the idea is to get them to stop making excuses and/or blame other people, events, or things (i.e. external locus of control), and instead start taking responsibilities (i.e., internal locus of control) for them.

If you really listen, you’ll often hear people describe their lives or work as spinning out of control or they felt they had very little control over or were not in control of their lives. However, when things improve, you’ll hear them say that they’ve started feeling more in control or regaining control over their lives again. “When the locus of control shifts from the external to the internal frame, clients find more energy, motivation, and greater confidence to change” (Moore & Tschannen-Moran, 2010, p. 75).

In business and leadership, the benefit of having an internal locus of control is applicable to all individuals at all levels within an organization:

1. An internal locus of control is one of the key traits of an effective leader (Yukl, 2006).

“A leader with an internal locus of control is likely to be favored by group members. One reason is that an ‘internal’ person is perceived as more powerful than an ‘external’ person because he or she takes responsibility for events. The leader with an internal locus of control would emphasize that he or she can change unfavorable conditions” (Dubrin, 2010, p. 47).

2. An internal locus of control separates good from bad managers (Yukl, 2006).

“Effective managers . . . demonstrated a strong belief in self-efficacy and internal locus of control, as evidenced by behavior such as initiating action (rather than waiting for things to happen), taking steps to circumvent obstacles, seeking information from a variety of sources, and accepting responsibility for success or failure” (Yukl, 2006, pp. 185-186).

3. Employees’ locus of control affect leadership behavior in decision-making (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

“Internal-locus-of-control followers, who believed outcomes were a result of their own decisions, were much more satisfied with leaders who exhibited participative behaviors than they were with leaders who were directive. Conversely, external-locus-of-control followers were more satisfied with directive leader behaviors than they were with participative leader behaviors. Followers’ perceptions of their own skills and abilities to perform particular tasks can also affect the impact of certain leader behaviors. Followers who believe they are perfectly capable of performing a task are not as apt to be motivated by, or as willing to accept, a directive leader as they would a leader who exhibits participative behaviors” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, pp. 544-545).

“There is also evidence that internals are better able to handle complex information and problem solving, and that they are more achievement-oriented than externals (locus of control). In addition, people with a high internal locus of control are more likely than externals to try to influence others, and thus more likely to assume or seek leadership opportunities. People with a high external locus of control typically prefer to have structured, directed work situations. They are better able than internals to handle work that requires compliance and conformity, but they are generally not as effective in situations that require initiative, creativity, and independent action” (Daft, 2008, p. 103).

“Path–goal theory suggests that for subordinates with an internal locus of control participative leadership is most satisfying because it allows them to feel in charge of their work and to be an integral part of decision making. For subordinates with an external locus of control, path–goal theory suggests that directive leadership is best because it parallels subordinates’ feelings that outside forces control their circumstances” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141).

The Importance Of Locus Of Control

Meta-analyses (the synthesis of multiple studies into a single study by summarizing the practical significance of each research finding into one combined effect) of 357 research studies “showed that an internal locus of control was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and job performance” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 287) and “that people with an internal locus of control enjoyed better health, including higher self-reported mental well-being, fewer self-reported physical symptoms” (Colquitt et al., 2015, p. 287).

Takeaway Message: Having an internal locus of control can go a very long way in differentiating between effective and ineffective leaders, managers, and employees.

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

References

Champoux, J. E. (2011). Organizational behavior: Integrating individuals, groups, and organizations (4th ed). New York: Routledge.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Daft, R. L. (2008). The leadership experience (4th ed.). Mason: OH: Thomson/South-Western.

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

Dubrin, A. J. (2010). Leadership: Research findings, practice and skills (6th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western/Cengage Learning.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Moore, M. & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2010). Coaching psychology manual. Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

An Employee’s Uncivil Behavior Can Harm Other Employees and Customers

word of mouth

Photo Credit: Flickr

More than three years ago (12/13/09 to be precise), I wrote about people with a situational value system. That post in December 2009 was about my experience as a waiter and my story about a rude customer, the wife of a famous baseball player, who snapped her fingers in a demanding way to get my attention.

The situational value system post has become the most visited post on WorkplacePsychology.Net. Over the months, and now years, that followed, I have tried to come up with a follow-up or related post. It’s not easy to do a follow-up to something that has been so well received.

Based on the number of visits and people who have shared the post or clicked on the “like” button, it seems many people can relate to or have their own stories about knowing, experiencing, and/or witnessing someone with a situational value system (i.e., an individual who treats people differently based on that person’s status).

What I have wanted to do since that time was to further explore mistreatment and uncivil behaviors in the workplace. Because my original post in 2009 talked about the impact that one customer had on me (an employee), this post in 2013 will be about the negative effects of employee uncivil behaviors on customers, coworkers, or subordinates (if the employee is in a managerial role). There’s quite a bit of research in this area, although my guess is that by writing about it, it will not be anywhere near as popular.

Harm to Customers Who Directly Experienced It or Were Witnesses to It And the Negative Business Effects

Customers Who Directly Experienced Uncivil Behaviors

Hawkins and Mothersbaugh (2010) outlined three coping strategies customers use when confronted with bad customer service (p. 381):

  • Active coping: Thinking of ways to solve the problem, engaging in restraint to avoid rash behavior, and making the best of the situation.
  • Expressive support seeking: Venting emotions and seeking emotional and problem-focused assistance from others.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding the retailer mentally or physically or engaging in complete self-denial of the event.

The customer might work with the organization to try to resolve the situation (active coping). Other customers might decide to vent their frustrations to the company (expressive support seeking) or they might tell their friends or broadcast it online about their bad experience (negative word of mouth [WOM]). The last case, avoidance, is also damaging because a customer might choose to avoid an organization completely or continue to be a customer but makes an effort to avoid the company (either physically or mentally), in which case the result will be lost sales (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010).

“Many times, however, consumers do not complain to the company, but instead take actions such as switching brands or engaging in negative word of mouth (WOM)” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010, p. 636).

Customers Who Were Witnesses to Uncivil Behaviors

Porath, MacInnis, & Folkes (2010) found that when an employee mistreated or was uncivil (e.g., being rude or discourteous, ignoring or making derogatory remarks, passing blame for their own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, etc.) toward another employee, customers who witnessed it tended to “make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm, inferences that [went] well beyond the incivility incident” (p. 292). What researchers discovered was that “consumers [were] also negatively affected even when they [were] mere observers of incivility between employees” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 301).

Harm to Coworkers or Subordinates

Pearson & Porath (2009) discovered in their studies that 1 in 5 employees reported being 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. Ten percent said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.

A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility from a supervisor or coworker (e.g., being treated rudely or discourteously, having a coworker or boss ignore or make derogatory remarks, being blamed for a colleague’s mistakes, being belittled, having someone set them up to fail, being shut out of a team, etc.) during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).

Lim, Cortina, and Magley (2008) found that (1) “uncivil work experiences also appear to have a direct negative influence on mental health” (p. 104), (2) employees who experienced incivility were more likely to be dissatisfied with their boss and coworkers than with the the job itself, and (3) those personal experiences of workplace incivility can lead to them eventually quitting their jobs.

Take-Away:

An employee who engages in uncivil behavior (i.e., being rude, insensitive, or disrespectful) is harmful to: (1) other employees inside the organization, and (2) customers who are direct targets of such behaviors or who might simply be witnesses (from the outside) to uncivil behaviors between employees.

References

Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 64-80.

Hawkins, D. I., & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2010). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Lim, S., Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J. (2008). Personal and workgroup incivility: Impact on work and health outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1), 95-107. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.95

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., MacInnis, D., & Folkes, V. (2010). Witnessing incivility among employees: Effects on consumer anger and negative inferences about companies. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 292-303.