Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Avoid boredom on the job to lower your stress
Stress for Success
August 22, 2006

How does this sound: most days at work there’s nothing much to do so you surf the Internet, read a book, or take a nap?

To the overworked and harried this may sound like the ideal job. Think again. According to research boredom with too little to do is one of the biggest contributors to work-related stress. Regardless of your job, boredom can be more stressful and damaging than overwork.

Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization, which measured employee engagement, said, "We know that 55% of all US employees are not engaged at work. They’re basically in a holding pattern. They feel like their capabilities aren't being tapped into and utilized and therefore, they really don't have a psychological connection to the organization."

Additionally, if your work has little or no meaning, burnout is just around the corner.

According to a survey by Sirota Consulting LLC, based in Purchase, New York, of more than 800,000 employees at 61 organizations worldwide, those with "too little work" gave an overall job satisfaction rating of 49 out of 100, while those with "too much work" had a rating of 57.

"Those who are saying their workload is heavier rather than lighter are more positive," said Jeffrey Saltzman, chief executive of Sirota. "When you say you have too much work to do other things are happening in your head: ‘I'm valued by the organization. They're giving me responsibility.’ That's better than being in the other place where you say I'm not valued in this place."

Bored employees are detached and have "checked out" from their work. Employers suffer as well when the boredom spreads and makes the entire organization feel dull and demoralized, undermining its creativity and competitiveness.

To minimize your own boredom:
• Look around to see who needs help and ask if you can provide it. Pay special attention to helping out in some way that would broaden your own skills and make you more valuable to your organization and more marketable should you decide to leave.
• Identify ongoing and repetitive problems either within the organization or with your customers and seek out creative solutions. Ask many questions about them. “What do we need more of and less of in relation to the problem?” are great questions to start with. Curious people get bored less often and asking lots of questions is an important key as to why.
• Then sell your ideas to management in a way that points out the benefit to them. Will your idea lighten your boss’ load? Will it solve a nagging problem giving her visibility? In other words, how will your idea make your boss look good?
• Ask yourself, “What changes are affecting my organization and our customers?” Areas of change represent fertile ground for unmet needs just waiting for someone to spot and satisfy.

If you're an employer with bored employees the last thing to do is give them busy work, which would make matters worse. Instead:
• Ask your employees why they’re bored and what would make their work more interesting.
• Hire curious people in the first place.
• Enlist the employee’s ideas in solving some nagging problems; identify the changes around you for possibilities.
• Encourage bored employees to let their own curiosity guide them in finding something that needs attention and to make a recommendation for handling it.

Your stress goes up in direct proportion to your boredom. So, the next time at work when you’re feeling stretched entirely too thin say, “Thank you” to your boss for lowering your stress.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Make changing easier by using stage-appropriate strategies
Stress for Success
August 8, 2006

Since making changes is so difficult, we need all the help we can get. Increasing your awareness of the change process and the stages you must go through is an important first step.

Last week I wrote about the six stages of change that everyone goes through to successfully change anything, according to the authors of "Changing for Good", Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente.
• Precontemplation: you don't think you have a problem
• Contemplation: you know you have a problem and feel weighed down by it.
• Preparation: you've thought a lot about your problem and you're getting ready to act soon.
• Action: you put your change plan into action.
• Maintenance: continued vigilance and plans for dealing with the pitfalls are needed.
• Termination: your temptation no longer exists, your fight is over.

If you’re attempting to make a change in your life determine which stage you’re in by answering these questions:
• I solved my problem more than six months ago. (If so, you’re in the Maintenance stage.)
• I've taken action on my problem within the past six months. (If yes to this and no to the first question, you’re in the Action stage.)
• I'm intending to take action in the next month. (You’re in the Preparation stage if you answered yes to this and the next question and no to the others.)
• I'm intending to take action in the next six months. (If yes, you’re a Contemplator.)

If you answered no to all statements, you're in the Precontemplation stage.

Now that you know which the stage you’re in, the next step is to figure out which strategies to use. The authors discovered that successful completion of each stage was linked to the use of certain strategies. If you use an inappropriate strategy for a given stage you’ll be more unsuccessful in changing. (Some of these processes require professional help.)
• Consciousness Raising: increase knowledge about yourself and your problem through observation and research during the Precontemplation and Contemplation stages.
• Social Liberation: from the Precontemplation through Action stages pursue new alternatives in the external environment to help you change, for instance no- smoking areas, non-alcoholic beer or low-fat menus.
• Emotional Arousal: express your feelings about your problems and their solutions through psychodrama, grieving losses, and role-playing during the Contemplation and Preparation stages.
• Self-reevaluation: during the Contemplation and Preparation stages assess your feelings and thoughts about yourself with respect to your problem through values clarification, imagery, and challenging dysfunctional thoughts.
• Commitment: commit to act or believe in your ability to change through decision-making therapy for the Preparation, Action, and Maintenance stages.
• Reward: whether from yourself or from others get rewards for making your changes through contingency contracts (e.g., putting a designated amount of money into a shopping account for each pound you lose) and praise yourself for accomplishing even small steps during the Action and Maintenance stages.
• Countering: for the Action and Maintenance stages substitute alternatives for your problem behaviors such as relaxation, desensitization, assertiveness skills, and positive affirmations.
• Environmental Control: during the Action and Maintenance stages avoid stimuli that elicit your problem behaviors through restructuring your environment by removing alcohol or fattening foods from your home, and avoid high risk cues, such as going out with you the gang after work.
• Helping Relationships: enlist the help of those who care and create social support and self-help groups to successfully navigate the Action and Maintenance stages.

Change still won’t be easy, but knowing which stage you’re in and using the stage-appropriate strategies to speed up moving to the next level of change can increase your success rate for any change you want to make.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. Her mission is to inspire you to live a conscious life of personal responsibility in relations with yourself and with others. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It helps to know which stage you’re in when making changes
Stress for Success
August 1, 2006

Do you or well-meaning friends and family pressure you to quit smoking, get more exercise, spend less money or to otherwise make changes that would make your life better? So why don’t you just snap your fingers and make it happen? Oh that we could!

Making changes is usually an arduous process. The path to a stated goal isn’t direct but rather is generally one step forward followed by one or two steps backward, three steps forward with one step back, etc.

Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, authors of "Changing for Good", have discovered that no matter the change you want to make you must go through certain stages. Whether you make the change on your own or with a support group or a therapist, everyone goes through the same ones. Additionally they discovered that you cannot skip any of these six stages:
• Precontemplation: you don't think you have a problem, like the alcoholic with two DWIs who continues to think she's in control of her drinking. Denial is common in this stage. As a precontemplator you lack information about your problem so you have no intention of changing anything. In fact, if anyone needs to change it's the people around you. The only way precontemplators change is from great pressure from others. Once that lessens, however, they quickly return to their old ways.
• Contemplation: in this stage you’re beginning to feel the pain. You know you have a problem and feel weighed down and stressed by it. You struggle to understand your problem and its causes and to explore possible solutions. You know what your goal is but you're not ready to begin. It’s not uncommon to spend several years in this stage. If you habitually substitute thinking for action you’ll become a chronic contemplator. However, when you start focusing more on the solution than the problem, and thinking more about the future than the past, you’re beginning to push yourself into the next stage.
• Preparation: this is the stage before you take action. You've put a lot of thought into your problem and you're getting ready to act soon. You may have a detailed plan of action of how to make your change. It helps to tell others (public commitment) about your goal and your plans to give you added motivation.
• Action: you put your plan into action, which requires a lot of energy from you. It’s easy to fail in this stage, especially if your acceptance of yourself is very low. When self-acceptance is too low you become overly anxious to change, which can be self-defeating.
• Maintenance: now that you've taken action and you’ve accomplished your goal your problem is solved! Hooray! But you know it too often doesn’t work this way. Continued vigilance and plans for dealing with the pitfalls will increase your success.
• Termination: this is the point where your temptation no longer exists and your fight is over. As you can imagine, many problems never reach this stage.

Figuring out which stage you’re in helps you to move through them a bit more smoothly. If you try to make a change that you're not ready for you’ll probably fail. On the other hand, if you spend too much time working on something that you've already perfected, such as creating your action plan, you may delay action indefinitely.

What stage are you in for one of your desired and challenging changes?

Additionally, for each stage there are certain strategies that will help you move through them more efficiently. By using the stage-appropriate approaches you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of successful change. That’s the topic for next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. Her mission is to inspire people to live conscious lives of personal responsibility in relations with themselves and with others. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.