Working Smarter

How Employee Training Drives Productivity

Posted by Joe Robinson

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We all learn the skills of our trade, but few of us ever learn how to work in the most productive way with those talents, based on what the research actually says. Most of the time the way we work isn’t based on anything at all, other than reacting to others and devices all day. That fuels a lot of bad habits, since reacting before we think drives the stress response, overwhelm, and short-circuiting minds crazy.

There is a way to get out of retaliatory mode and put the thinking in charge, employee training. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it that makes for effective performance. Development programs can extract minds from triage mode with the best solutions from the science.

OUTSIDE INTERVENTION

This is the mission of the training programs I do, from work-life balance to employee engagement and stress management. Skip the torment and go straight to working smarter. The right self-management practices are the difference between a sustainably performing team and one that is imploding. It takes outside intervention to put bad habits to rest and create good ones whose benefits can last a lifetime.

The research shows that employee training can pay big dividends. Stress management training programs have been found to increase performance 21% and cut absenteeism 24% (Munz, Kohler, Greenberg), while teams who acquire work-life balance skills work 21% harder than those without them (Corporate Executive Board). Productivity jumped 17% for companies who had employee training programs (Bartel).

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Beyond the powerful stats, there’s also something else that happens in employee trainings. When organizations set aside time to stop, reflect, imagine, and troubleshoot, communication is facilitated that otherwise wouldn’t happen, and it leads directly to a more engaged team, higher morale and participation.

Everyone is busy, maxed to the tips of their hair. It leaves no time to flag the practices that aren’t working, share ideas, plan ahead, seek advice, and make the tweaks that keep people engaged and off the burnout track. Everyone races downriver in their separate barrels headed for a long drop over the falls. Open up the conversation in the training setting, though, and the conversations and insights come forward.

SELF-INFLICTED DEADLINES

A manager from a global firm in one of my productivity programs shared with his team that he was surprised at how often his staff will set themselves up for heartburn by promising overly ambitious turnaround times. His comment surfaced an issue that was driving overload and burnout at this firm (as well as at most I work with): overpromising without regard to the realities of time and physiological capacity.

The debate that followed was animated, as the group discussed how this reflex habit drove frenzy, crisis mentality, and poor work-life balance. Then we moved to zero in on criteria that could be used to estimate turnaround time more accurately. Lack of detail on assignments was a problem. We developed a form that could flesh out the particulars and approximate time estimates for key tasks, cutting down on excess messaging in the process.

As is the human wont, everyone thinks they are the only person on the planet who is experiencing a given problem. When the subject gets an airing, there is relief and recognition, and plenty of others wrestling with the issue. Better yet, there are individuals who have suggestions and sometimes solutions for the challenge. Trainings bring out the best in teamwork.

UNLEASHING INVOLVEMENT

Participation is the key to employee engagement, and development programs unleash involvement that makes everyone feel they are part of the solution. At a training for a federal government agency, one woman shared how she had gotten the IT department to help her turn off visual notifications on her computer monitor. Without the constant flood of notifications, she was getting more done and focusing better.

At a follow-up training for a tech firm, a supervisor detailed how she was using the stress management processes she had learned in our earlier meeting to get to the bottom of each stress incident. What was the false story? The most likely? Where was the emergency? There wasn’t any. She turned the danger signal off, giving colleagues a point-by-point description of how they could do the same.

Whether the challenge is meetings, carving out family time, or how to navigate customer expectations on service, a good employee training not only provides learning opportunities from the trainer but also crowdsources the successes of colleagues and brainstorms workarounds. Out of the process come tighter teams, a roadmap to smarter norms, and an inspired crew armed with ways to manage demands, instead of the other way around.

Work-life balance, stress management, and productivity management are all proactive affairs. They don’t happen on their own. The default button of reflex will keep teams and organizations behind the eight-ball of retaliatory mode. Employee training programs have to be initiated to bring the tools and forum to change the status quo, to spark employees’ own built-in need for improvement and challenge.

Surveys tell us that the most important factor in job satisfaction is a sense of progress. Employee trainings gratify that need by improving not just skills, but rapport and teamwork, which in turn satisfies another powerful need, the social animal’s need for connection with others. Let's get going!

If you would like more information on our employee training programs and how they could help your organization, please click the button below for details.

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Tags: employee training, employee training programs, employee training and productivity, employee training and stress, employee training and engagement

The Antidote to Job Stress and Overwhelm: Conscious Work

Posted by Joe Robinson

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No doubt, we are creatures of habit. We put on the same shoe first, sit in the same chair in class or meetings, and drive the same route to work so often we don’t remember passing any exit signs or landmarks. We just show up at the office, as if we had one of those Google cars that drives itself. This is because we are often on autopilot, unconscious to present awareness, letting muscle memory and the rote part of our brain run the show.

Habits make the world safe and familiar and remove potential threats from our day, but they also prevent us from thinking, planning, managing demands and stressors, growing, excelling, or even being gratified. It turns out that gratification comes from two things that habit rules out: novelty and challenge. That’s what we really want, says neuroscientist Gregory Berns, author of Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment.

The brain stops paying attention to things we do over and over, preferring to focus on new data. The result is that we operate on rote reflex most of the time, particularly in a tech-dominated workplace, in which we react to devices and others’ crisis mentality all day and chase our own tails. This plays right into the hands of stress and burnout, mistakes, overwhelm, anger, and a host of other unconscious and unhealthy behaviors. Attention is the chief productivity tool, and when we don’t have it because we are operating on rote mechanical momentum, the work takes longer and feels harder, studies show.

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RAT RACE OF HABIT

Some habits can be helpful—brushing teeth, practicing piano—but a lot of our habits at work aren’t. The thing about habits is that we continue to do them even when they don’t work for us. An MIT study trained rats to run a T-shaped maze. In the first test, they got rewarded with chocolate milk if they turned left at the T. With that incentive, the rats doggedly ran left, even after the researchers mixed their chocolate milk with a substance that caused light nausea. They lost their taste for the milk and stopped drinking it, but kept running to the left, even without a reward.

Human habits are just as reflexive, relentlessly pursuing courses that don’t get us anywhere—going ballistic when someone pushes our buttons, reacting immediately to a visual notification on your screen. The good news is that, unlike rodents, we can choose to turn off bad habits by activating the higher brain, the prefrontal cortex to overrule the reflex.

The MIT study discovered that when they turned off certain cells in the rats’ IL cortex, that the rodents stopped their habit of running to the left. They concluded that automatic behaviors dictated by the lower floors of the brain, mainly in the hippocampus region, can be bypassed by our higher command and control center, the cortex.

ACTING CONSCIOUSLY

In other words, we can opt out of habitual behavior that gets in our way and the way of our work by bringing back the thinking. Acting consciously is something essential for time management, information management, and stress management, or events run us, instead of the other way around, which drives stress. I did a 30-minute interview on this topic as part of an online conscious leadership summit that runs through May 25. You can catch my comments at Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line, presented by Allison Gaughan of Corporate Prana, at: http://www.boostyourcompanysbottomline.com.

Gaughan’s company provides meditation and yoga wellness services, techniques that help build attention and focus, which help make us more conscious. It’s when we’re not paying attention that the default behavior pops up in the form of stress, burnout, and overwhelm. All that stuff happens as a reflex reaction. We have to build in a step-back to catch ourselves.

We can do that by rehearsing rational reactions to common buttons that set us off, by building attention to counter reflex through techniques that train our brains to focus on a target, by cutting stress, which drives robotic, blind action, and by making adjustments to how we work that allow us to manage demands, instead of the other way around. Full attention is the definition of employee engagement as well as optimal experience, when we are at our best. It puts the driver, you, back at the wheel of the runaway, unconscious train.

If you are interested in learning how to override autopilot and build attention and engagement for your team or organization, our productivity, work-life balance, and stress management programs do just that. Click the button below for more information:

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Tags: productivity training, crazy busy, avoiding burnout, employee training programs, corporate training, increase productivity, employee engagement, work life balance programs, stress management, job burnout, stress management programs, conscious work

Employee Training Drives Number One Motivator: Progress

Posted by Joe Robinson

Employee training programs build morale

Raise your hand if you like feeling stuck. Let’s hear it for going nowhere! What, no takers? I thought so. Humans don’t particularly like suspended animation. Boredom isn’t high on the to-do list. Instead, our brain neurons crave movement, learning, and growth.

One multiyear study measuring employee motivation found that the number one factor in driving effort was progress, tangible movement on a project, a sense that you’re making headway, even if incrementally, on your work. Harvard Business School's Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer analyzed daily reports from hundreds of workers and discovered that forward motion, such as getting closer to completion on projects and removal of obstacles, was the top component in motivating performance. Small wins yield a big payoff in morale and satisfaction.

THE MOTIVATOR OF COMPETENCE

The need to see progress also extends to skill-sets. One of the consistent top levers of employee engagement, for instance, is employee development—right up there with managers who have an open door policy and communicate expectations, according to data from the Corporate Leadership Council.  

People want to improve their skills, learn new ones, and when they do through mentoring or training programs, it feeds a core psychological need: competence. The need to feel effective is essential to self-worth and to satisfy what brain neurons want more than anything else for long-term fulfillment: novelty and challenge.

We are programmed to search out and explore new horizons, so much so that just the anticipation of something new sets off a chemical reward in our brains in the form of the chemical dopamine. We feel good when we increase knowledge and capabilities, which make us want to acquire more information and new experiences—evolution’s built-in incentive to improve ourselves, and our odds of survival. 

TRAINING PROGRAMS INCREASE ENGAGEMENT

Employee training programs provide one of the most concentrated doses of learning in the workplace, and play a key role in boosting engagement levels. A Corporate Leadership Council survey found that general skills training programs can increase the discretionary effort of engagement by 17.5%, more than 7% to 10% higher than on-the-job learning opportunities. How much of a difference could an additional 17% of effort make for your team or organization? What could that mean for productivity and project completion speed, since engaged employees bring with them more attention, focus, and dedication?

The Corporate Leadership Council reports that employee training programs send “a message of credible commitment to employees.” Development programs back up organizational goals for engagement or work-life balance with action, with tools and strategies that employees can use to make their workday more effective, less stressful, more manageable, and more successful. Employees reciprocate with their own demonstration of commitment, going beyond the call of duty in the effort department.

Progress in the workplace is usually seen as a metric of job titles and positions. I spoke with the CEO of a large tech firm, who has to get very creative to keep coming up with job titles that indicate movement upward for his millennial staff, who expect advancement every few months. Everyone wants to move up, but there are a limited number of rungs at the top. 

POWER OF INTERNAL YARDSTICKS

The possibilities for advancing skills, though, are limitless. Employee training programs can have a bigger impact on competence and self-esteem than job titles, because they are internal metrics, which research shows is more powerful than the external yardsticks.  They gratify those brain neurons that want challenge and align with the intrinsic need to feel effective.

Employee training programs are a very cost-effective way to provide the tools that make staff feel competent, supported, and engaged. You make big gains in skills and enthusiasm very quickly.  When was the last time your team had a training session? What kind of training could your team benefit from right now? Time management? Interruption management? Stress management? Productivity training? Email and information management? Reining in crazy-busy time urgency?

Our training programs provide tools to handle all of the above, to help employees help themselves through better self-management, and in the process provide the spark of progress for individuals, the team, and the whole company.

Something happens when people stop growing. They stop caring. Training programs let employees and managers know that the organization cares, by providing skills to to ease burdens, simplify processes, self-manage any challenge. Learning is its own reward, one that promotes the best engagement resource: our own competence and need for mastery.

If you would like more information on our training programs, please click the button below for more details on programs ranging from productivity, to work-life balance, employee engagement, stress management, and email management.

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Tags: work life balance programs, employee engagement, employee engagement programs, employee training, employee training programs, employee development programs, motivating employees, employee development, corporate training, employee trainers, training programs

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