Working Smarter

The Top 5 Arguments for Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

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I’m often asked how to make the case for work-life balance to management. How do you persuade decision-makers that supporting staff is an extremely smart
 thing to do?

The argument is not as tough as it seems, since
 there are many persuasive arguments to be made for the benefits of work-life balance and for solving challenges such as high absenteeism, poor engagement, and low productivity that fester when employees are on empty. Weak employee work-life survey scores are a common tip-off that it’s a good time to broach a work-life initiative.

The good news is that the research clearly shows that work-life balance programs increase productivity, engagement, and profits.

Avoiding the Burnout Treadmill

When times are tough, it’s human nature to go into survival mode. We don’t think about the future. We don’t take care of ourselves. The same thing happens at the organizational level, which can drive counterproductive habits that can trigger the burnout treadmill—just keep going until the paramedics arrive.

That’s not a very smart strategy when it comes to productivity or preserving the company’s number one asset, its human talent.

The Chief Productivity Tool

We all know we can’t do our best work when we’re fatigued or caught up in stress mode. In the knowledge economy, productivity doesn’t come from the fear-based decisions of survival mode. Stress undermines intellect and keeps us in a myopic state, unable to think beyond bunker mentality and simply reacting to events. Productivity is a function of a refreshed and energized brain, the chief productivity tool.

Work-life programs create healthier work practices, more space for responsibilities outside the office, and people who feel they are valued and supported. The research shows that means better performance and attitude.

So let’s zero in on the key arguments for work-life balance and the benefits organizations get from a smarter way to work. Here are my top 5 reasons why a sustainable work-life balance program should be more logical than a Vulcan:

  1. Work-Life Balance Increases Productivity

When brains are fatigued and hijacked by stress, they get less done. They disengage. Studies show fatigued brains look exactly like ones that are sound asleep. Minds that are focused, organized, and energized get more done in less time. A report by the Corporate Executive Board, which represents 80% of the Fortune 500 companies, found that employees who feel they have good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t.

Work-life policies increase effort by giving people the support to work in the most effective way—reducing stress, improving energy, increasing time management skills, improving morale and commitment, and making it easier to handle professional and personal responsibilities.

More job satisfaction leads to more engagement and better results. A Federal Reserve Bank study found that effective work-life balance increased productivity 10.6%. It doesn’t make much sense to leave a 10% increase in productivity on the table.

  1. Work-Life Policies Are the Most Cost-Effective Way to Boost Revenues


A natural extension of more productive work is more profitable work. You get more done working more effectively. You also save money with fewer bottlenecks and time sinks. Put them together, and you have a combination that adds value to any organization.

This is why organizations with robust work-life and 
the highest employee engagement produce triple the shareholder return, according to Hewitt Associates. With that kind of payoff, a work-life program is a small outlay compared to the dividends it generates per employee.

  1. Effective Work-Life Practices Are the Best 
Retention Tool

The Fortune 500-dominated Corporate Executive Board ranks work-life balance as the second most important workplace attribute—only behind compensation—in importance to employees. A number of surveys, including one from Accenture, say work-life balance even tops money and recognition.

A little effort in the direction of something so critical
 to staff goes a long way to creating loyal, committed people. At firms with the lowest engagement, 40% want to leave. At high-engagement firms, only 10% are thinking of leaving, reports Towers Watson. Deloitte estimates it saved more than $100 million with an ambitious work-life program that prevented a flock of millennial workers from leaving.

How much easier is it to keep your best people who know how to get the job done than having to find replacements and take the time to get them up to speed? And cheaper, too. Replacing workers is expensive, from 16% of salary for lower income workers up to 215% of salary for executives.

  1. Work-Life Programs Build Engagement

Does your management want people who are auditioning for the next zombie film or who are fully engaged?
 The Conference Board reports that the most engaged workers are 28% more productive. What difference could that make for your company’s bottom line, almost a third more productivity per employee?

There’s a lot of talk about engagement, but it can’t 
truly happen without an effective work-life program.
 The key dimensions of engagement—dedication,
 vigor, and absorption (that’s full attention, or optimal performance)—all come from better work-life strategies, adjusting task practices and motivation in a way that fuels initiative and recognition and gives people a sense they have a stake in every task they do. A sustainable work-life program builds the mental drive and physical energy that are the foundation of engagement.

  1. Work-Life Programs Cut Medical Costs 
and Absenteeism

One of the clearest signals that a work-life program is needed is the level of tension and stress in the office. A highly charged, stressful environment is super-costly for organizations. Highly stressed employees see their doctors 26% more than low-stress individuals and specialists 27% more. U. C. Irvine researcher Peter Schnall calculates the cost of stress-related issues to business each year at $407 billion, from absenteeism to medical bills and recruiting and training.

Some 50% of employees cite stress as the reason they quit their jobs. Can your company afford that kind of brain drain? On top of that, stress drives absenteeism and medical expenses. High-stress employees rack up 46% higher health costs (Health Advancement Research Organization).

The numbers are compelling, but beyond the digits, there are a host of other reasons why stress undermines productivity and relationships. It destroys attention, undermines the ability to make good decisions, drives conflict, and keeps workplaces in a toxic state of crisis mentality and time urgency.

Work-life initiatives should be second nature for anyone who wants to optimize performance and revenues—from better time management to wellness to creating a great recruiting tool. The top five arguments spell it out: Increased productivity, revenue, retention, and engagement, and less stress, burnout, and fewer medical costs.

If you would just like to explore a work-life program for your organization, I would be happy to help you make the case. You can reach out here:

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Tags: work-life balance training, business arguments for work-life balance, starting a work-life balance program

6 Ways to Value Employees, Spark Engagement

Posted by Joe Robinson

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IT'S THE METRIC at the heart of every company: valuation. Corporations and startups alike battle the competitive marketplace every day to increase the estimate of their brand or service’s monetary value. There are legions of financial experts, management teams, investors, entrepreneurs, pundits, and small business owners assessing financial worth, but there’s another valuation that doesn’t attract much attention: that of the human resources behind those companies and their prices.

On the balance sheet, in fact, employees are viewed as liabilities, as an external element to the operations, part of accounts payable or wages payable. Clearly, there would be no company but for all the people who make it fly, which makes them very valuable—indeed, invaluable to any organization. Studies show the more we can communicate employee value, the more the monetary yardstick will grow.

FROM PAYCHECK TO PARTNER

This is because the most important key to employee engagement is a sense of being valued by the company. Call it the Worth Ethic. When employees feel valued, their motivation changes, from collecting a paycheck to partner in the mission. That makes them want to go the extra mile and expend the definition of engagement, discretionary effort.

The shift from external motivation (paycheck) to internal goals (service, excellence, challenge) means that effort no longer has to be whipped up from the outside; it’s self-generated, the only way you can have engagement, anywaty, which has to be come from within.

Researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester have documented that the usual external reward system motivates effort only when there’s a reward. When you run out of pay raises and promotions, there’s nothing left to incentivize, since external rewards motivate only the need for more external rewards, whose effects are ephemeral. You get a quick bump in happiness, and then it’s gone,

The real motivator is internal motivation, which satisfies core psychological needs, such as autonomy and competence. Those are the ultimate arbiters of self-value. They gratify self-mastery needs that are self-generating and self-propelling.

How do we unleash this self-propulsion engine? Consistent and a new kind of communication, development programs, and words and especially deeds that show employees they are appreciated and an important part of the organization. Let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways to increase employee's sense of feeling valued and the job satisfaction that follows.

SIX KEYS TO EMPLOYEE VALUATION

1. Offer development programs. The first step for clients I work with is a work-life balance program, one that shows staff you care and want to help them grow. When people are given tools to work smarter, manage stress, and feel like they are taking care of their personal responsibilities too, they feel valued. Learning and progress gratify their core needs and increase the value of their skill-set.

More effective, confident, less stressed minds change attitudes. And company value. In one study of large companies (Arthur) work-life balance initiatives were shown to increase shareholder value by some $60 million per company. No doubt, that is because more discretionary effort leads to increased productivity. A Federal Reserve study found that work-life balance policies boosted productivity 10.6%, while a report on telework saw a gain in productivity of 30% (Pitt-Catsouphes, Marchetta).

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Development programs are a signal that you want to solve bottlenecks and create more effective work practices. Turning down the pressure and increasing skill-sets makes the team feel you are looking out for them. Beyond that, employee training is one of the key levers of employee engagement. When employees are given opportunities to learn and better their craft, they reciprocate with more commitment and performance.

2. Meet with employees one-on-one more often. Everyone is busy, but making time to connect with staff is essential. People who are the least engaged say their managers have no time to meet with them. Among engaged employees, 87% know their managers well. Drop by and find out what’s going on with your employees. What are the pressing issues? How’s life outside the job? What are they excited about in their life?

3. Recognize skill and competence. Saying thank you more often is great, but it’s even more effective when you recognize the skills of the person that were brought to bear on the task. As we have learned, competence is a core need in everyone. We have to feel effective, and when we do, we feel great.

When you want to give someone props for something, tell them you really like the way they did that project. That goes to the mastery drive and encourages more of it. You can vary your delivery methods for this message by using handwritten thank-you notes from time to time, targeted to their competence and effectiveness. The personal touch has even more salience in a tech world.

4. Speak a different language. When you look at the science of engagement and intrinsic motivation, it’s easy to see why only 32% of the workforce is engaged, according to Gallup. Most managers are too busy to speak to employees and when they do, they use the wrong style of language to evoke engagement—controlling language, using pressure and threats.

That is the opposite of the autonomy need and makes people feel forced and controlled. To unleash engagement, the language has to be more informational, promoting choice, offering rationales for tasks, and providing positive feedback.

5. Solicit participation, ideas, and solutions. The overarching need of humans on this planet is participation. We are not here to be spectators. We are here to be a part of things.

Lack of involvement in the organization drives boredom, learned helplessness, and a withdrawal to presenteeism, in which someone is physically present but mentally AWOL. Encourage employee ideas, feedback and solutions. Companies who invest in employee involvement had a return on investment of 19% in a study by USC’s Edward Lawler.

6. Use active listening and constructive responding. No one is going to feel valuable if you’re talking to them while gazing obsessively at your phone. Leave your devices behind or turn off the sound on them before you meet with your colleague or staffer.

Use active listening techniques, such as making sure you are facing the person, making eye contact, and listening intently, to let them know you are focused on them and what they have to say. When it comes to responding, avoid the active destructive mode of pointing out the negative or passive constructive mode of responding in generalities.

Opt for constructive responding by asking questions and offering authentic, enthusiastic support. Yes, there are times to point out negative issues, but that can be done while reinforcing the overall positive trajectory and what can help that going forward.

Expressions of value have to be consistent and convicing, so let them know more than once a year that you like the job they are doing and why. A little acknowledgement goes a long way to increasing the valuation that's most important to all who can affect the bottom line. And that's priceless.

Tags: work-life balance training, employee engagement, communicating with employees, intrinsic motivation at work, development programs and job satisfaction

How to Get Employees to Buy In to Change Because They Want To

Posted by Joe Robinson

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For all its myopia, homo sapiens has stuck around for millennia because of its ability to survive all sorts of environments, climates, skullduggery, and duress. We have a talent for adapting and bending to new circumstances, matched only by how we resist the new world initially.

We can go from hating kale to almost liking it, because it’s good for us. We can be convinced that a haircut that shaves one side of the head is not the unfortunate result of brain surgery, but is stylish.

REFLEX RESISTANCE

We are the adaptable species that doesn’t like to change but will— given an appropriate amount of reasoning or adoption of the new thing by others. In fact, as much as most of us like to hang on to the old way, our real nature is change. We’re changing from our toes to the tips of our hair every day we are alive. The world and people around us are changing. The work we do changes, and we have to adapt, or get left behind.

Teams and divisions get consolidated, shrunk, merged, purged. People who have been doing things one way now have to do them another. The reflex is to resist the new way. What is it that unsettles your team about change? Are there ways to get sign-on to new policies and systems without an insurrection? How do minds come to accept a shift away from what's always been done?

The surprising key for anyone involved in change management is that we are all of distinctly two minds. The defensive equipment in the brain wants things to stay the same. There’s less chance of something calamitous happening that way. On the other hand, our brain neurons want two things more than anything else for long-term fulfillment: novelty and challenge, both of which have to do with stepping into the unknown and unpredictable.

It’s a battle the defensive brain usually wins, at the cost of growth and moving forward invidually and employee engagement and employee morale at the organization level. To get people to sign on to change, we have to appeal to the higher realms of the brain that want to learn, take initiative, and make progress. That’s something we can do when we get them involved in the process and understanding the rationale behind the changes.

THE RATIONALE FOR CHANGE

The research of Ed Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester shows that when you give someone a reason for doing something, they’re more inclined to do it willingly. Even if they don’t want to do it, if you give them a rationale for why they should, they internalize the task, which increases its importance and, as a result, the willingness to do it. It’s like the kale. People buy into the health argument, and suddenly, it’s less like chewing alfalfa and more digestible.

Letting people know why they have to do things is essential to digesting change. This is because the higher brain equipment that seeks challenge and growth wants us to satisfy key psychological needs, such as autonomy and competence, that require we be more than mannequins. Commands and control may get acquiescence but not agreement, and that fuels disengagement, the opposite of what both manager and employee want.

We are all designed to be engaged, to make choices and be involved in things that affect our world, job, life. When we feel self-responsible and a participant in the change, that activates the core needs that make us feel true to our aspirations and goals. We feel part of the change, instead of part of the order-taking.

Since we have the equipment built-in for change with our latent desire for novelty and challenge, all we have to do is appeal to it by seeking out the input and assessment of those who are going to experience changes. The more transparent about the change we can be, the better. Have everyone make suggestions about how to implement the changes. Get them to help chart the path forward.

This creates the perception of choice, and with that, resistance turns into shared redesign. Use the opportunity to ask for thoughts on other changes that could help the work process move smoother. They can win new process improvements, and you get people feeling a part of the team enough to help move the change forward.

I’ve found that work-life-balance trainings are a great way to introduce process upgrades and fixes that make everyone feel they are, not only a part of the initiative, but also being listened to and valued during the process of change. Our work-life balance trainings, for instance, help people embrace change, because they see the concrete benefits that come from them, making work and life less difficult. This paves the way for the larger change issue or reinvention. Doing them in tandem builds trust.

CHALLENGE DRIVES SATISFACTION

The language of change is critical. The phrasing should be informational, not controlling. Instead of relaying an edict and that you “have to” do this, lay out the scenario and ask the team for their suggestions. How can the new situation move us all forward? How do we implement it?

Progress is one of the key levers for employee satisfaction, so people want to move in that direction. They just need to feel they play a part in making it happen. That’s the autonomy piece.

The fear of change, is, of course, about security, ego, doing new things that you might not have done before, exposing a learning curve. Try to move the issue from the personal to a group participation project. Have everyone contribute something to the process, so everyone is learning and a part of charting the new course.

Research shows that development programs are one of the big levers for employee engagement, no doubt because of the novelty and challenge mandate of our brain neurons. Satisfaction, brain scientists say, is a byproduct, not of doing what’s easy, but of doing things that make us stretch. We can’t satisfy our need for competence by doing what’s easy.

Since it comes with challenge, change, then, can be a key route to job satisfaction—when people know why they’re doing it and that through their active participation they are the change they are making.

If changes are affecting engagement for your team, click the button below for details on our work-life balance training or employee engagement programs, which can turn attitudes and engagement around and open the door to change.

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Tags: work-life balance training, employee engagement, change management, employee morale, managing change, participation and morale

How to Do a Work-Life Balance Survey (20 Questions)

Posted by Joe Robinson

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I speak to engineers a lot, and they can tell you, even the strongest materials pull apart, subjected to the right amount of force and load. The same thing can happen to any organization when people and teams get overextended, easy to do in an unbounded world of 24/7 technology.

When we do more than we can do well, it’s a lose-lose for company and individual. The blowback comes in the form of costly dysfunctions—plummeting performance, turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism (there in body, but not in mind), and burnout, which creates the opposite physical and mental states needed for employee engagement.

UNDER THE SURFACE

As burnout scholar Christina Maslach reported in her research, the main dimensions of burnout—exhaustion and cynicism—are the antithesis of engagement’s main characteristics: energy and dedication. For someone in a state of chronic fatigue or overwhelm, there is no capacity or intention to go the extra mile and voluntarily put forth the discretionary effort that defines engagement, which make people 28% more productive (Corporate Executive Board). 

The toll on individuals is harder to see, but it’s there—poor morale, guilt, overwhelm, and frustration that they can’t take care of their responsibilities at work or at home. Feeling effective, or competent, is a core psychological need, and if we chronically feel ineffective, that undercuts motivation and drives a belief that things are out of control, which in turn fuels overwhelm and discontent.

No one wants to admit it when demands go beyond coping ability, so the problems stay under cover. They usually only surface in anonymous employee surveys, on questions asking employees about their work-life balance. My clients often come to me for work-life balance training after discovering on an internal survey that it’s a glaring issue.

CANARY IN THE COAL MINE

Less-than-stellar work-life balance scores are the canary in the coal mine, the signal that something harmful is in the air. If it’s not taken care of, it has the potential to turn the enthused and dedicated into the frustrated and disengaged. That can lead to lost productivity, resentment, cynicism, increased medical costs, and even the loss of top talent.

Giving employees a comprehensive work-life balance survey can surface issues that are critical to employee performance, satisfaction, and retention. People who feel they have good work-life balance are 21% more productive, studies show (Corporate Executive Board).

A work-life balance survey should be done anonymously to insure candid responses. I have my client's employees take the survey before we do our  work-life balance training program, and then I follow-up with another survey after the program to measure progress.

To help you get started, I have provided a list of 20 survey questions that you can use to take the work-life temperature of your team or organization. The first three items are listed here.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE SURVEY 

  1. I feel I have good work-life balance.
  2. I have more work than I can do well.
  3. I feel valued by the organization.

For the complete survey of 20 questions, click the button below for our 22-page "How to Do a Work-Life Balance Survey E-Book."  The survey fleshes out, not just the state of work-life balance, but also its supporting issues, from poor time management, to information overload, to engagement and stress.

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For each survey statement, respondees can answer: Not True at All, Rarely True, Somewhat True, Occasionally True, True, Often True, and Very True. Assign points for answers on a 7-point scale: 1 for Not True at All, 2 for Rarely True, 3 for Somewhat True, 4 for Occasionally True, 5 for True, 6 for Often True, 7 for Strongly True. Tally up average point totals per statement to find the hot-button issues. 

A good work-life balance survey can open the door to conversation and solving bottlenecks that get in the way of performance and people’s lives. In my experience, the vast majority of employees want to work hard and go the extra mile—if they feel they have a chance to participate in the process and feel valued. When they are introduced to a battery of tools in my employee trainings to manage work and life better, there is real enthusiasm that can kick-start engagement.

At one of my clients, a work-life initiative at IBM energized one department so much that people from other departments wanted to know what they were doing so they could get in on the act.

THE ROAD TO PROCESS IMPROVEMENT

The survey, though, is just the initial step. It needs to be followed up by course of action, or skepticism sets in and credibility is lost. A work-life balance training or development program takes the initiative to the next step, providing a road map forward.

Our work-life balance programs give your team a chance to zero in on concrete process improvements through discussion, interactive exercises, and evidence-based tools that help people work more effectively and carve out a better work-life.

Work-life balance isn’t pie in the sky. It’s a practical system of adjustments to how we work—from time management, to interruption management, to prioritization, stress management, understanding the most potent motivation, enabling engagement, and refueling and recovery strategies— that create a more sustainable approach on the job, more peceived control over events, and a more gratified life outside work hours.

The work-life balance survey can get it all started, by demonstrating the unspoken needs necessary for employees to be able to navigate the work-life divide in the digital era.

If you have interest in a work-life balance training for your team, just click the button below. Let's start exploring a more productive road to success.

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Tags: work-life balance program, work-life balance training, work-life balance employee survey

The Cure for Zombie Phone Staring and Email Checking: Impulse Control

Posted by Joe Robinson

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There’s a reason it’s hard to stop checking your email and why everyone around you is staring at screens like zombies. The more you check email, the more you have to check it. 

It turns out that constant interruptions erode impulse control. We lose the ability to regulate our impulsivity, which is to say, we lose self-discipline, essential to getting things done and warding off addictive behavior—which includes technology. Your devices have been shown to be as addicting as any substance.

People who have gone off the rails of digital interruption and distraction are more inclined to interrupt you, suffer from a bad case of crisis mentality, call you to see if you got the email they sent two minutes ago, and have difficulty focusing on tasks to completion or concentrating, the latter leading to a condition known as Attention Deficit Trait. The lack of control also drives stress and aggravation.

THE ENGINE OF SELF-CONTROL

It all makes a crazy-busy world even crazier. What every office could use is the return of something that used to be a crucial element of functioning adults: willpower. Willpower is the engine of self-control, the ability to manage thoughts, emotions and harmful habits and override momentary desires. Not much gets done without it.

In a world of instant gratification, delaying payoff isn’t a popular choice—not surprisingly, because self-regulation is hard. It’s hard for brain neurons to resist an easier path. Since early humans didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, the species developed a habit for going for the bird in the hand.

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The use of willpower also burns up resources. To stay on task, resist an impulsive action, or remain disciplined expends mental energy. That has to be replaced. Self-regulation expert Roy Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, has documented that after long hours of staying disciplined, the self-regulation equipment tends to flag at night.

Luckily, researchers say willpower is something we can all build like a muscle. We can improve our ability to hold off temptations at hand and persevere for a later reward. 

A 2000 Florida State University study found that mental resources are depleted by self-regulating processes such as resisting temptation, restraining aggression and coping with fear. The research suggested that self-control is a limited resource that must be resupplied regularly; each act of self-regulation makes it harder to perform another, because it eats up precious mental resources needed for discipline.

PERSEVERING IS BELIEVING

But more recent data indicates that willpower is not so limited after all. You have enough to meet any challenge—if you believe you do. It’s all about mindset. 

“We don’t say it’s unlimited. At some point you do need to replenish,” says Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor and a leading motivation researcher. But willpower, she says, “is a much larger resource than previously thought. You can get tired, but it doesn’t mean you’re out of gas.”

Dweck and her colleagues have found that people who believe their willpower is limited feel tapped out after a strenuous mental task, while those who believe they have abundant willpower are able to push on. “Those with an abundant view aren’t monitoring themselves. They’re just kind of carrying on,” she says.

And once you resist temptation, it’s easier to resist it in the future. You can build willpower over time, in other words, by using it—something you can do by deploying the right motivation and belief systems, priming persistence and sidelining the quick-fix ego.

EFFORTFUL CONTROL

Achievement takes effort, and effort requires command of a brain function known as “effortful control.” Part of the executive attention function system, a disciplined effortful control mechanism is essential to self-control and the ability to resist temptation. It regulates impulse control, which prevents you from checking email when you’re trying to complete a task. 

Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman notes that people who are simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and a temptation are more likely to yield to the temptation. Similarly, people who are “cognitively busy” are more likely to make selfish choices. (He points out that a few drinks have the same effect, as does a sleepless night—the self-control of “morning people” is impaired at night, and vice versa.)

Other researchers have found that self-regulation depletes energy in the brain in the form of blood glucose. Subjects given sugary drinks were able to replenish resources to take on hard tasks that demanded self-control. Yet as Dweck discovered, there is another energy source: one’s own belief system and the motivation that drives it. Priming yourself with a realistic expectation of a rough road and the belief that you are up to it can get you through.

When motivation is driven by intrinsic goals that align with one’s inner goals—learning, challenge or the thought of making a difference—one has more staying power. When motivation is external—money, fame, praise, status—it’s harder to stick with it. 

In one study, Dweck found that college students who were concerned about grades and self-validation (external performance goals) weren’t as interested in tackling difficult goals with the possibility of failure, showing “substantial decreases in intrinsic motivation” after a significant setback. On the other hand, students who were in it for the learning—who want to work harder to increase their understanding—persevered.  

Researchers have found that rehearsing in one’s head the reaction to setbacks can help subjects resist temptation and overcome anxiety. Instead of reacting with autopilot panic and stress when the going gets tough, you can teach the brain to have a different reaction.

People “who persist have the idea that they can improve their abilities,” Dweck says. It comes down to “recognizing that you have more willpower than you think and finding strategies to put that into practice.”

Tags: email overload, work-life balance training, crazy busy, information management programs, technology addiction, productivity, work life balance programs, stress management programs, work stress, managing stress

Best Stress Management and Life Tool: Non-Reaction

Posted by Joe Robinson

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If there are two words that sum up the central challenge of work and life, they are these: “Don’t panic!” That is because resisting the urge to react in a way that sets off the stress response and renders our brain’s decision-making faculties stupid goes against our design as emotional creatures.

We are programmed to react before we think. A couple hundred thousand years ago early humans couldn’t be relied on to think their way out of a jam—we didn’t have the higher brain organs yet, so we had to rely on primitive mechanisms that allowed the emotional part of our brain, the amygdala, part of the  limbic system, to call the shots any time we were threatened. The same is true today, even though we have vastly souped-up cognitive equipment. When demands overload coping capacity, the amygdala takes charge again—and rationality goes AWOL.

THE REACTION REFLEX

It’s just one of the many reasons why every individual and organization has to know how to manage reactions, and by doing so manage stress in the process. It's an essential work-life balance tool. The reaction reflex sets off rash, hare-brained, panicked decisions, crisis mentality, vengeful behavior (fight), and, of course, flight in the form of people quitting their jobs. Forty percent of job turnover is due to stress. Along the way, the emotional reaction of stress drives insomnia, cardiovascular issues, depression, and a host of other costly conditions, not to mention the fact that it’s contagious—spreading stupidity around the office.

Ignoring the problem makes it worse, since stress thrives on being unchallenged as the false belief it is. Stress management training gives employees tools to contest stress and the faulty ancient brain mechanism that keeps us reacting emotionally. The reality is we have 21st century brains and a cerebral cortex to think through a setback and do something that completely flummoxes the caveman/woman brain that wants us to go nuts several times a day: not react.

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If we don’t react when pressure builds, and we consistently let off steam from that pressure cooker in the form of stress reduction practices and recreation, we are in charge, not an artifact from early homo sapiens. The art of nonreaction is the key to managing setbacks, expectations, and just about all the other flashpoints and struggles of life. It’s an amazing ability that can transform our lives from fear and loathing to the confidence that we can deal with whatever comes our way.

BLIND EMOTIONS

When something happens that overloads the coping equipment, the goal is to not react blindly to it and buy the emotions that are coming from a bogus life-and-death story in our caveman/woman brain. Instead, you actively don’t engage with the reaction. You know the situation is temporary. You’ll get through it.

Yes, you might have 200 emails, but you can handle it. You’re not going to die from them. Yes, you are caught in a major traffic jam, but freaking out and racing down the median in flight mode to escape the herd is not a smart decision.

I watched a huge collision that happened when two drivers panicked and listened to their ancient flight buttons. A compact car two vehicles up from me on a gridlocked avenue swerved into the median to escape the traffic and go in the opposite direction, where there was no traffic. At that same instant an SUV came barreling up the median, and—crunch—two cars totaled, with who knows how much physical damage to the drivers. All because they reacted before they thought.

Stress management training teaches participants how to override the ancient machinery that desperately wants us to go crazy when something happens that we don’t like. It shows how without the reaction there is no stress. It’s not the deadline or what somebody says that drives stress—it’s our reaction to those events that causes stress. It’s the thoughts that arise from the emotional reaction, the story we tell ourselves about the stress, that creates the stress. 

DON’T TAKE THE BAIT

How do we change such an ingrained behavior? Instead of letting a story fanned by irrational emotions run you, the trick is to shut down the storyteller. There is no story, just the frame you put on it. You are not going to die from the stress trigger, and you don't have to be manipulated by it. You can catch yourself as the emotions go off and bring back your 21st-century faculties.

This neutral approach allows you to not take the event personally, since the emotions of that default are a mega-driver of stress. The task is to simply observe the situation, the thoughts, and not engage with them. Let them slosh into your brain and slosh out again. You aren’t going to fall for it. 

Nonreaction is a superb weapon against ourselves, against all the ways that we set ourselves up for failure because our expectations aren’t met, or we aren’t perfect, or things don’t work out. The art of nonreaction prevents us from getting too high or too low. You cut off the pattern as soon as it starts. No, I’m staying neutral. I’m not taking the bait. You resist judgments about the event. You’re not going to get tangled up in its effect on your ego, a trigger of so many of these emotional wildfires. You aren’t taking sides.

It’s a great feeling to know you can’t get pushed around by yourself, that you are in charge of your own mind. It’s a state of being jaded to the manipulation that has happened so many times before. We are on to it, to ourselves, to the buttons others push.

You and the people in your organization or team can be on to this toxic saboteur too, leaving dramas, unmanaged demands, frenzy, conflict, and poor performance behind. Being able to control this reflex with nonreaction is one of the most useful things in the life arsenal, and the earlier we learn it, the quicker we can get it out of our own way.

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Tags: stress tips, work-life balance training, stress and self-talk, work overload, stress management training, stress management speaker, stress, stress management, job stress, work stress, managing stress

A New Productivity Model Based on Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

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The traditional measuring stick of productivity has been, let’s face it, a rather masochistic metric—whoever can work the longest or send emails at 2 in the morning. It’s also dead wrong. It’s based on a flawed notion that in the knowledge economy where brainpower rules that a fatigued brain is where it’s at for getting things done.

In fact, MRI scans of fatigued brains look exactly like ones that are sound asleep. The chief productivity tool is attention, and that goes AWOL after three hours of continuous time on task, studies show (Boksem, Meijman, Lorist). 

PREREQUISITE OF PERFORMANCE

Productivity comes from a very different place than burnout and fatigue, from the opposite place than we have been led to believe—from brains that are refreshed and energized. And where do those come from?

The data tells us from organizations that take work-life balance seriously. It turns out that work-life balance is much more than a check-off box on an employee survey. It’s the prerequisite for performance and engagement. It gives employees the tools and encouragement to work more effectively, to take care of their health, improve skills, and work in a way that makes them feel valued.

People who feel they have good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t, reports the Corporate Executive Board, which represents about 80% of the Fortune 500. Gallup found that engaged employees are 28% more productive than those who aren't engaged. But only 29% of workers are engaged. American businesses leave more then $300 billion on the table in lost productivity every year due to disengaged employees.

Naturally, every company wants employee engagement, which means that employees put forth discretionary effort beyond the call of duty. What makes an employee do more than what's necessary? Certainly not a fatigued brain. The key dimension of engaged employees is energy, vigor.

That can’t come from people who are burned out. You will never have engaged employees, if they are caught up in the Burnout Model of productivity. The main marker of burnout and chronic stress is exhaustion, the polar opposite of engagement. All energetic resources have been depleted—mentally, physically, emotionally.

THE EFFECTIVE MODEL

It’s time for a new performance model, one that’s actually based on what the science says works. Let’s trade exhaustion for the Effective Model. The goal is to eliminate the bottlenecks that drain attention and engagement through things like interruption and information management, make operations more effective and less aggravating with better time management, manage demands, refuel the brain, and allow employees the sense that they can take adequate care of responsibilities outside the office. 

In other words, make work-life balance an integral part of the operations and workflow of the team or organization. When the goal is working in a way that strengthens attention, well-being, trust, communication, wellness, and value, it doesn’t take a brain scientist to see that people are more inclined to give not just their all, but more than that, the discretionary effort of employee engagement.

Work-life balance sets the stage for engagement, making employees feel valued, competent, trusted, and that they are a part of the mission, participants, not just cogs. Companies with high participation levels have a 19% higher return on investment, a study by Edward Lawler found.

Every company should want their employees to have better work-life balance, since that leads to the energy, commitment, and involvement that creates engagement. Every company should want their employees to have better self-management and be more proactive. When they are, we can delegate more, more ideas come forward, better communication reduces conflict, and we eliminate stress levels that fuel turnover (40% of people who quit cite stress as the main factor in leaving) and bad decisions.

THE MILLENNIAL CHALLENGE

The Burnout Model leads to ill and drained employees who are there physically but mentally depleted—the condition known as presenteeism, which costs U.S. companies more than $150 billion per year. The Effective Model produces team members whose brains are energized and focused on going the extra mile. Which is the better choice?

As a new generation that prizes work-life balance starts to play a bigger role in the workplace, the timing has never been better to integrate a comprehensive work-life program in every organization. There is a tectonic shift in corporate culture under way led by millennials and their values, and the Effective Model of work-life balance can lead the way. It’s a no-brainer for millennials—for productivity, commitment, wellness, and satisfaction.

How do you get started? Start with our comprehensive employee Work-Life Balance training that brings the strategies of the latest science to help your team work smarter and live better. We also offer a follow-up program that sustains the new behaviors, builds in new protocols and norms, and identifies challenges and solutions. Aftwards, everyone wonders why they didn't do this years ago. Let common sense and work-life balance demonstrate that there's another road to success, instead of one that is best described by an old Monty Python routine, "Being Hit on the Head Lessons."

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Tags: work-life balance training, presenteeism, avoiding burnout, employee development programs, employee engagement, work life balance programs, work life balance, work-life balance and employee engagement, work-life balance and productivity, work-life balance and millennials, millennials

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