Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Set goals, not resolutions
Stress for Success
December 26, 2006

Are you considering New Year’s resolutions? If you’re historically unsuccessful at this annual tradition consider setting goals, even small ones that become part of a bigger picture of where you want to be in the next few years.

“Start with the end in mind”, said Steven Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”. When you see how immediate effort can begin the movement toward a larger and more important destination it creates energy and motivation to accomplish your present goal.

So figure out where you want to be in the next three - five years and then create New Year’s goals to nudge you in that direction. If you don’t know where you want to be, answer the two magic questions repeatedly over several weeks, “What do I want more of?” and “What do I want less of?” in my personal and professional life. Whatever repetitively appears on successive lists paints a picture of your desired destination around which you form your smaller New Year’s goals.

For instance, with semi-retirement approaching in the next few years, I’d like to spend additional time on more economical vacations and seeking more adventure.

To have more economical vacations my New Year’s goal is to contact cruise ships (which I’ve considered doing for ten years) to exchange workshops for free passage for my husband and me.

To satisfy my life-long need for adventure (which has become my husband’s, too), we’re considering numerous volunteer efforts. One is with Encore, an organization that connects returned Peace Corps volunteers with international projects requiring our kind of talents. These commitments last three weeks to three months; perfect for us.

Don’t assume you have to accomplish your objective in one big step. My goal with Encore is to simply contact them and explore the possibilities. If interested, I’d then learn more about them and research safety and practical concerns regarding working overseas again.

By keeping our end in mind, spending semi-retirement time seeking adventure and travel, even if working with Encore and the cruise ships don’t pan out, there are other possibilities. In other words, we don’t have to give up on our end, we’d just have to come up with new ways, new goals, to get there.

Once you’ve defined your New Year’s goal and steps to achieve it, keep it visually in mind by making a colorful, visually appealing flyer of your action plan. Post it around your house, office and/or car to keep you focused on what you need to do daily to accomplish it. And reward yourself for each successful step you take.

In addition to your specific New Year’s goal, there are stress reduction goals, also beneficial for your longer-term destination:
• Strengthen relationships with family/friends
• Self-care through regular exercise and healthier eating
• Life balance
• Spiritual growth
• Effective goal setting and attainment

Making progress in these areas limits the damage stress does to you physically and emotionally so you arrive at your destination in better shape to enjoy it more.

These will be the topics for the next weeks. Happy New Year!

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, December 19, 2006

Holidays can bring on blues
Learn about the common stressors and how to cope
Stress for Success
December 19, 2006
According to Madison Avenue, Christmas is always 100% happy, loving and generous. Your holidays can be very stressful if your reality falls short of this ideal.

Even if you measure up well, it’s a time of frenetic cleaning, decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, going to and hosting parties, all leading to exhaustion.

A key to coping is to know that we’re all more vulnerable to stress right now and to keep the increased activity, overindulgences, and unrealistic expectations from overwhelming you.

The most common holiday stressors include:
• Relationships: historically tumultuous ones can be particularly toxic, especially if you’re with your family of origin where reverting back to childhood roles triggers each other’s hot buttons.
– If you’ve lost a loved-one the holidays probably leave you very lonely and depressed.
• Finances: money stress can occur any time but takes on new dimensions if you overspend on gifts, travel, etc.
• Exhaustion: the vicious cycle of stress causing fatigue, leaving you less likely to exercise and meditate, increasing stress. Overindulgence of food and liquor can push you overboard.

Here are some holiday stress coping tips:
• Treat yourself kindly: accept your imperfections. Do something you find special. Focus on the importance of Christmas vs. buying stuff. Appreciate the efforts you make to create a positive experience for your loved ones.
• Put your mind into neutral: commit to not letting other’s irritating behaviors upset you. Avoid difficult people, if possible. Save any confrontations for the New Year. If someone else gets easily upset, give him a break; he’s probably over-stressed, too. An excellent holiday mantra is, "This too shall pass."
– Instead of picturing everything things going wrong, picture them going well. Prepare yourself mentally to positively handle what could go wrong and appreciate the positive.
• Be realistic: let go of Hallmark expectations that everything must be perfect. If there's a spot on your tablecloth, put something over it vs. fuss about it. Virtually no one cares. And if someone does, don’t invite her next year.
• Stick to your budget: decide how much you can afford and stick to it. To avoid over-spending leave your credit cards at home and take only the cash you've budgeted. You can’t buy love or friendship. Explain to your kids if you can’t afford something they want. Knowing there are limits is good for them.
• Set appropriate limits: prioritize invitations, requests and responsibilities; commit only to what’s realistically achievable.
• Plan ahead: include your family in making a list of and dividing additional responsibilities. Decide who will do what. (If you do it all yourself you’ll teach them to do nothing.)
• Self-care: over-eat and -drink on Christmas if you must, but not for the next two weeks. Take daily 15-minute breaks to refresh each day. Get plenty of exercise and drink lots of water to keep up your energy.
• Be grateful: help those who are less fortunate; catch your loved ones doing something right; as you prepare everything remember your love for those for whom you’re doing it.

If you still have the holiday blues talk to someone you trust. Keep up your normal routine and know that this too shall pass.

Merry Christmas!

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, December 12, 2006

When enthusiasm’s at a low it’s in employers’ best interest to help
Stress for Success
December 12, 2006

Not all stress is bad. So how can a manager tell when employees have too much?

Your optimal stress level is the amount that makes you feel motivated to tackle the day's challenges. As a manager, when you notice an employee losing enthusiasm, stress may be the culprit.

Too much stress causes everything from physical illness and increased health care costs to resistance to change and high turnover, negatively affecting your bottom line. Too little stress can be just as damaging.

Everybody has it. Stress doesn't happen to only those who are weaker. According to 2006 surveys from ComPsyche and the Anxiety Disorder Association of America (ADAA), employees cite their top work stressors:
• Deadlines, 55%
• Management, 50%
• Workload, 46%
• People issues, 28%
• Juggling work/personal lives, 20%
• Lack of job security, 6%

The ADAA’s 2006 Stress and Anxiety Disorders Survey found the most common ways employees react to stress:
• Caffeine, 31%
• Exercise, 25%
• OTC medications, 23%
• Alcohol, 20%
• Smoking, 27%
• Eat (46% of women, 27% of men)
• Talk to family/friends (44%, 21%)
• Sex (19% for men, 10% for women)
• Illegal drugs (12% for men, 2% for women)

Fewer than 40% of employees whose stress interferes with their work have spoken to their employer about it mainly because they fear:
• It would be perceived as lack of interest or unwillingness to do something
• Being labeled “weak”
• It would affect promotion opportunities
• Being laughed at or not taken seriously
Of those who did mention their stress, 40% were offered some type of help, usually a mental health referral or a stress management class. Both of these can be helpful but only to those who speak up.

Since an estimated 40% of turnover is due to stress it’s in your best interest to determine what your employees perceive to be their main stressors before jumping in with a plan. Employee surveys, exit interviews and having them write about what bothers them the most at work (probably mostly about situations over which they have little or no control) can help you more accurately identify their major stressors.

Once identified, then put the requisite amount of energy into the goal of preventing or decreasing future stress. Your options range from an occasional brownbag lunch series (but don’t expect much benefit) to individualized plans to help them relax, improve their diet, coping, etc.

Also, educate yourself on what your competitors are doing to help their employees. Some provide concierge services to reduce employee stress while others pay for on-site yoga classes.

One of the most important things to do for all employees, over-stressed or not, is to give them more control over their biggest work frustrations. For example, an employee who’s very distracted by a coworker’s habits (including cracking gum and talking to himself) requested and received the right to work in a different part of the building when necessary.

Next week I’ll share other ideas that organizations are finding successful in reducing workplace 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.
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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Workplace stress can hurt an organization’s bottom line
Stress for Success
December 5, 2006

As an employer, whatever decreases staff turnover would positively affect your bottom line, right? Well, consider this:
• 40% of all job turnover is due to stress!

This is huge, especially when you consider the looming employee shortage due to millions of Baby Boomers retiring and so many fewer Gen Xers to take their place.

Companies that weigh the consequences of not addressing worker well-being compared to the payoff of doing so are included in Robert Levering’s book, “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.” They have more than twice the earnings per share and more than twice the rate of stock appreciation as the average Standard & Poor’s 500 company.

To help you reduce employee turnover, here is general information about workplace stress. To reduce your specific problems you’ll need to get accurate information from your employees.

Stress leads to an increase in accidents as well as to illness and disease, therefore higher health care costs. When stressed your attention narrows, you become preoccupied, which leads to more injuries.
• Jonathan Torres, M.D., of Workmed Occupational Health Services, ME: workers with high stress are 30% more likely to have accidents than those with low stress. Sixty to 80% of on-the-job accidents are attributed to stress!
• Harvard Business Review reported on average, stress-related accident claims are two times more costly than nonstressed related ones.
• A study of 3,020 aircraft employees: those who “hardly ever” enjoy their jobs were 2½ times more likely to report back injury.

Stress also creates “tunnel vision”, which can cause errors of judgment decreasing creativity and the ability to cope with change. When stressed, humans revert back to familiar behaviors, not something that allows us to adapt in today’s environment of never-ending organizational change.

Other workplace problems created by or at least exacerbated by stress include:
• Interpersonal conflict: the St. Paul Insurance report found the main causes of burnout were interpersonal demands from working with teams and supervisors.
• Violence accounts for 17% of all deaths in the workplace according to a Northwestern National Life study.
• Customer service problems: stressed-out and tired employees don’t treat your customers well enough.
- A Harvard Business Review study by Reichheld & Sasser found a 5% reduction in customer defection translates into a 30% - 85% increase in corporate profitability.
• Loss of intellectual capital: to thrive organizations must be perceptive, agile and responsive to market and customer needs. Stressed-out employees don’t focus on excellence and innovation.
- Jack Quirk of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maine: “Organization’s ability to make process improvements nearly always stops due to resistance. With overwhelming workloads … and going so fast, (employees) don’t have time to make the process better. It creates a terrible cycle of trying to work harder … because the volume you have to put out is increasing, but you aren’t doing anything to make the process more effective and efficient.”
- High-stress jobs with low control cause employees thought processes to become more rigid, simplistic and superficial, not a great mindset for innovation.
- Dr. Martin Seligman’s (University of Pennsylvania) research on “learned helplessness” has shown that the more helpless a person feels, the less likely she is to come up with effective coping responses.

For a happier, healthier workforce:
• How can you identify and relieve your employees’ main stressors?
• What can you do to give them more control, therefore less stress, over their day-to-day activities?
• How can you help your employees enjoy their jobs more?

Your answers – and more importantly your actions – that reduce their stress will improve your bottom line.

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.