Thursday, March 26, 2009

Expert Advice on How to Deal With Current Mind-Blowing Stress


Some days I think there should be another word for stress besides "stress." I mean, does one simple word really describe what millions of people are experiencing these days?

We've been complaining for years that we have too much stress at work. Studies have shown that we get headaches, stomach pains, back problems and may even make ourselves more susceptible to things like cancer because of the pressure we feel in our lives.

But nothing could have prepared us for what we feel now.

That's why when I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Judith Orloff, I jumped at the chance. As a psychiatrist, I figured she would have all the answers when it came to dealing with how to handle the stress we're feeling today.

And here's what I found out: She's got a lot of suggestions but ultimately, if we want some calm in our lives, we're going to have to put some effort into it. Sure, a doctor can prescribe therapy or even pills to help the anxiety, depression, fear and stress, but it's really up to an individual to find that stress-free zone we all wish a snap of the fingers could give us.

I caught Orloff while she was on a tour for her new book, "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life."

“For a lot of people who have things in their past like an insecure childhood, all the old patterns are being triggered by this crisis,” Orloff says. “People are really worried about what might happen.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) annual Stress in America survey, almost half of American workers say they’re stressed about their ability to provide for their families' basic needs, and eight out of 10 say the economy is a major stressor.

Orloff says that even though she is being deluged by new patients seeking help because of the current economic conditions, she says there are a number of ways for people to help themselves, and someone should look at this crisis as a chance to be grateful for “what is working in your life.”

Orloff says that those who want strategies to handle the stress being felt today should:

· Focus on the moment. “What’s killing people is focusing on what may or may not happen. Do what you can in the moment. If you lose a job, pick up the classified ads and start looking. Give yourself lots of affirmation. But stop thinking of the ‘what if’ and focus on the ‘now.’”
· Battle back the fear. It’s OK to admit you have insecurities or are afraid. Be specific about what scares you. By identifying your fears, then you can be better prepared to handle a situation that upsets you. Then, think about times you showed courage, even if it was simply getting out of bed when you felt bad. Let the courage infuse you, and not the fear. “It’s time for people to be heroes in their own lives,” Orloff says. “Believe in yourself and move forward.”
· Hang around positive people. Orloff says “emotional vampires” can suck the spirit out you with their negative and demoralizing talk. It’s better to engage people who are upbeat and who have positive things to say. Focus on how good you feel when you’re with good friends and a loving family and do things that relax you and make you feel better such as yoga, meditation, taking a walk or relaxing in a warm bath. Avoid things that add to your tension such as violent news stories, arguments or too much caffeine.
· Keep rejection in perspective. Job hunting can be stressful, especially if you’re rejected for a position. “Remember that you’re not being personally rejected. In these cases, it’s more important than ever that you have people around you who are your cheerleaders, who support you.”
· Attract hope. Even if you haven’t lost your job, chances are you know someone who has. When you start feeling depressed, connect with words, songs or art that have hopeful messages. Call a friend who has a hopeful outlook on life. Orloff says that hope is contagious – exposing yourself to hopeful situations will help lift your mood.

Finally, as dismal as the situation is for many people, Orloff says that she believes that our current crisis is really an “opportunity.”

“People are going to learn that no matter what is happening, they’re going to be OK,” she says. “I think many people will come out of this situation more empowered because of how they dealt with their problems.”

What are some ways you handle the added stress of the current economic crisis?



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Monday, January 26, 2009

It's Time for Managers to Get Weird


I feel for managers these days, I really do. Or, at least I feel for the good managers. The evil troll managers I don't really think about too much, because they're going to get theirs one day no matter what I think about them.

But the good managers -- those men and women who are trying to hold it together when it feels like the entire workplace is a huge Titanic without Leonardo DiCaprio to at least provide a distraction from the looming iceberg -- I feel for what they're going through.

I know they're losing sleep. They're worried about their job, sure, but they're worried about dozens or even hundreds of others. The good managers know their people really well. They know who has health problems and can't afford to lose insurance coverage. They know who is struggling to pay a mortgage with a kid in college and they know who is a single parent with no help.

So, they go into work every day trying to stay calm and rational and upbeat. They're trying to keep frightened and disillusioned employees on track, trying everything to keep employees feeling creative and productive.

That's why it's time managers got a little weird.

Let me explain. I once interviewed a restaurant manager who needed to make sure employees were cleaning the place thoroughly, but knew that constant nagging would not help. In fact, it would probably just make workers annoyed and angry, or perhaps apathetic. Not a good thing when a health inspector was on the way.

So instead he devised a system where he stuck small colored stickers in various places around the eatery. Employees who cleaned well would soon find these stickers. And, by turning these stickers over to management, they gained a prize — and the restaurant gained quality work and a top-notch health inspection.

While such a practice sounds simple, many managers wouldn't even think of such a different approach to work. They simply keeping nagging employees — and losing morale and motivation in the process.

But if managers these days want to keep their best workers -- and that is another huge worry -- they've got to quit caring what someone else will think of their methods and just focus on getting people to do what they do best.

In other words, give the employees a reason to get out of bed in the morning and not worry about what may be around the corner. Someone else might think your methods are a bit weird, but hey, you're just being a good manager.

So here are some ideas given by other managers as a way to make a job more interesting and fun for a worker, while gaining higher productivity and quality work:

* Let them play.
Everyone knows that employees play solitaire on the computer, or some other kind of game. In fact, studies show that a little “down” time is good for recharging the batteries. So, why not devise internal company games that get employees to solve crosswords or anagrams or puzzles that have to do with company products or history? That way, employees are being educated while having fun.

* Put mentors in reverse:
It’s not only the older employees who have something to teach younger employees. Many younger workers can help older employees master some technology dilemmas through interactive sessions where information is shared in a relaxed way.

* Use training theater.
I learned that one manager feared that some of his younger male employees were being a little too forward with female customers, so instead of lecturing them, the manager had several male managers dress as women (heels, lipstick, dresses) and role-play with other male employees. It soon became apparent after the laughter died down that some behavior was not appropriate, and it brought the message home without pointing fingers.

* Take a road trip.
Take employees to visit a competitor and find out what the other business “does right.” Or, visit businesses known for their customer service, even if it’s not your particular industry. Many retailers are known for top service — ask employees what they noticed about how employees in these stores behaved.

*Put out the welcome mat:
Every month have one department hold an “open house” for others in the company. Handouts should be given telling what the department does, as well as a tour and narrative that gives information about how the department functions, who works there, etc. (It’s always a good idea to offer a little food and beverage — one company found a cotton candy machine to be a big hit.)

What are some other ways managers can help ease the stress and engage employees?



Lijit Search

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is Your Definition of Success Making You Miserable?


Is your definition of success a fatal mistake?

For some, success is defined in terms of the dollar amount on a paycheck. For others, it's the title on their business card. Others may define success in terms of the accolades and awards they have won.

But the problem with how people define success these days is that when they're forced to change it, they can't. Look at the businessmen who have committed suicide because they have lost fortunes. Consider the workers who are fired and then go back to work, armed with a gun.

Extreme cases, sure. Not everyone considers killing themselves or others when their livelihood is threatened. But it does point out that maybe we need to revisit our own definition of success.

Start by completing this definition: "Success to me is...."

After you complete this sentence, then review it and determine if you're on the path to achieving that success. If you were to lose your job or money tomorrow, would your definition of success still be valid? Or, would you consider yourself a failure?

I remember a job where I worked long, stressful hours and often labored for a boss who had mood swings like a freaking roller coaster. It made for a tense situation, to say the least. One day I was talking to a co-worker and the exhaustion was overwhelming. I felt so dissatisfied, frustrated and even angry. Then it hit me: If I died that day, I didn't want the only thing on my tombstone to be "Always met her deadlines."

Ugh, I remember thinking. I wanted my life to account for more than that. It wasn't until months later that I started making some real changes in my life, changes that I know made me much better able to balance my life and devote time and effort to more than my job.

Right now, times are tough and some of us are beginning to panic. But I think it's a golden opportunity to really think about what is important in your life, and weed out the things that don't really matter.

You are the one who must define what success is to you. One thing I know for sure: You are more than a job title, you are worth more than a number on a paycheck and you are more than an award to hang on your wall. Is the destination you have in mind worth the road you must travel? Only you can answer that.

So, how do you define success?



Lijit Search

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Monday, December 8, 2008

The Perils of a Counteroffer


You're trying not to grin like an idiot, but the truth is, you're feeling pretty full of yourself. In this rotten, stinky, abysmal economy -- you've been offered a job when you aren't even unemployed!

OK, so now comes the time to decide: Do you accept the new job or try and get a counteroffer from your current employer? The truth is, your current job feels safe, and you're not 100 percent sure the new employer can offer you the same job security.

But still. It is more money and a better title, and it is really flattering to be wooed by a new company.

Well, maybe there's a compromise, you think. All you have to do is tell the boss that you've been offered a new job at a better salary and title, and see if he'll counter.

Hope you like snake pits, because once you've made that decision, you've just jumped into a big one.

“Most of the time, accepting a counteroffer is short-term fix for both the employer and employee,” says DeLynn Senna. “More than 90 percent of those who accept a counteroffer end up leaving the job less than a year after they accept it – either because the company lets them go or they leave on their own.”

Senna is executive director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International in Pleasanton, Calif., and I recently interviewed her for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column.

Senna says that while your boss may indeed offer you more money or better title to hang onto you, the truth is, he or she may only be doing this to buy time.

“An employer wants to minimize disruptions or lost productivity in this economy, so they make a counteroffer to keep the person,” Senna says. “But the trust has already been broken with the manager and the employee’s colleagues.”

Oh, yeah, your co-workers who may resent you nabbing more for yourself when they're likely to get a frozen turkey as a holiday bonus this year.

“These colleagues are going to know that you’re now making more money, and there is now a lack of rapport,” Senna says.

And as for your manager? Well, that chill in the air may have nothing to do with the office thermostat turned down to save energy.

"It’s always in the back of a manager’s mind that the employee has been disloyal" by even talking to another employer, Senna says.

“When it comes time for a promotion, the manager may give it to someone else, because he or she may be considered a more ‘loyal’ worker,” she says.

Ouch.

So, what to do when times are tough and you don't want to play this touchy situation the wrong way?

Senna says that you should first begin by thinking about why you thought about leaving your employer in the first place. Accepting a counteroffer, she says, may not fix the reason you were considering the exit in the first place.

“Getting a pay raise doesn’t change the fact that maybe you’re not getting a chance to work on certain projects or can’t get along with the boss. Those problems still exist,” she says.

That’s why Senna says it’s critical that anyone considering a counteroffer from an employer should think about:

• Trying to make it work. “Make sure you do everything possible to improve your current situation before you think about leaving. Try and get the raise on your own, address the poor communication with your manager, try and get those good project assignments, etc. If you can change the one thing that makes you want to leave, then try and work it out.” While a new job offer may be exciting, consider that in this economy, it’s difficult to know who is financially solvent and who is not. You may be jumping ship to a company in trouble. Further, you will be leaving “goodwill that has built up” in your current job, Senna says. “It’s much more risky to leave.”

• Standing firm. If you do your research and believe that the job offer is worth taking, then tell your employer and don’t waffle when a counteroffer is made. Senna suggests saying something like: “I appreciate it, but I’ve made a commitment. I’ll do what I can to tie up loose ends here before I leave.” Senna adds that employers may try change your mind while you’re still on the job, but you must be polite but firm about declining a counteroffer.

“Think about it: Why do you have to threaten to leave before being heard? That’s a real red flag right there,” she says.

• Keeping your word. “You’re running a real risk of damaging your professional reputation is you renege on your agreement with a new employer to accept a counteroffer from your current employer,” Senna says. “Remember: Your reputation is the most important asset you have.”

In this economy, is it foolhardy to accept a counteroffer? Are there ways to make it work?





Lijit Search

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Four Ways Your Job Can Save You Time and Money



After opening my recent investment report, I decided that the thing should come equipped with a defibrillator and a tank of oxygen. That way I'd at least not hit the ground unprepared when I read how the *&%$ stock market has hit my portfolio.

I know I'm not alone. I know that everyone is looking for ways to tighten a belt, to trim costs. That's why I think we've got to be a bit creative to make our jobs pay off even more. I mean, the paycheck is nice, but for most of us it isn't going to grow a whole lot this year. It's time we all looked at ways that our workplace can add even more value.

First, think about your company's diversity. Everyone in your workplace is unique, with different talents and abilities. They each have something of value to offer, and so do you. The key is finding how you can help one another to not only save money, but time.

Second, be creative. Now is not the time to maintain the status quo, such as not communicating with other departments or making assumptions about other people. We're all in this together and the more ideas, the better.

Think about how to take care of a need in your life without spending more money, and how someone in your workplace can help you. Here are some ideas:

1. Sharing skills. There are a lot of younger workers who would love a good home-cooked meal, while a lot of older workers would love some computer instructions or a babysitter. So, an older worker provides a meal or two for the younger worker, in exchange for some teaching or babysitting time.

2. Sharing needs. Many workers are doing more home maintenance jobs themselves to save money. These tasks (painting, landscaping, putting up a fence) go much faster with more hands. Workers can band together and get these jobs done for one another. In the end, everyone gets work done with no labor costs. During the warmer months, you can offer to help tend a garden in return for some of the produce, or offer to plant a garden on a worker's available property and give them some of the produce.

3. Shopping savings. I often shop at Sam's Club because I have a family, but I know my single friends or empty nesters don't get as much value because truthfully, they can't begin to eat 12 avocados. But I can offer to sell them a portion of what I buy, or give it to them in exchange for something they have to offer -- like changing the oil in my car or housesitting for a weekend.

4. Saving time. Probably one of the greatest gifts to offer one another these days is time. Form a "lunch bunch" and take turns bringing in lunch, or even supper to take home. Form a group to take turns picking up dry cleaning from a nearby service and delivering it to individual cubicles. Offer to bake the cupcakes for a co-worker's upcoming event in exchange for her giving you a ride to work for a week.

There are endless possibilities for workers banding together to fill needs and help one another during these difficult times. Just remember to make it an equitable exchange -- participants should agree to the terms before committing and no one should be compelled to participate.

What are some other ways that workers could help one another?

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Is Any Job Beneath You?


I think there's probably nothing more demoralizing than looking for work and being unable to find a job.

Because let's be honest: Despite all the pep talks you give yourself, it's miserable to send out resumes and not hear anything back, or land an interview and then never get an offer. You try to stay upbeat, but day after day of not finding work is tough. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or living on vodka.

Still, there may be one thing that makes you feel worse than not getting a job -- getting an offer that is beneath you. Wait. Let me amend that: There's nothing worse than getting a job you believe is beneath you.

Why? Because the minute you believe a job is not good enough for you, the minute you sell yourself against the idea that a job won't make good use of your time and talents, then you've set yourself up to be miserable. More miserable, in fact, than not getting a job at all.

The people who feel this way need to spend about an hour with Paul Facella, and they'll soon change their minds about how demoralizing it is to accept a "lesser" job.

Facella is a top management guru who used to be an executive at McDonald's after rising through the ranks from his position at age 16 manning the grill. He's got a new book, Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald's" and I spent some time talking to him about how tough it is to find a job these days. He says that in this economy, you gotta do what you gotta do.

That means you put your ego aside, and take whatever job you can get. Oh, yeah -- and check the attitude at the door.

"Look at it as an opportunity with a big ‘o’”, he says.

Facella notes that anytime you take a job that knocks you down the ranks, you should look at it as a chance correct sloppy habits and improve others. In fact, it's sort of like an on-the-job business school as you "can see how management operates and what works – and what doesn’t. It will help you get ready for your next job by observing both the good and the bad.”

At the same time, Facella notes that any job where you have direct contact with the public will hone your skills faster than any formal training and probably give you a great deal of satisfaction at the same time. "Nothing teaches you quicker than getting feedback and recognition from the public," he says. "And, people in lower level jobs are often very social and close-knit. They have a lot of fun together."

Facella also advocates taking a lesser job because chances are very good you'll quickly move up the ranks, and be better for taking that path.

"There's a certain power you have as a manager when you know the job. When you talk to employees, and they know that you understand what they do every day, then the trust and leadership factor for you as a manager goes way up," he says.

Facella also notes that those who work in the trenches together often form lasting bonds that can pay off big dividends in the future. He says many of those he worked with at McDonald's now are top executives at other companies.

"You learn a lot about collaboration and cooperation when you depend on one another. Teamwork becomes very important, and you learn to create opportunities for yourself," he says. "You make a decision to be the best at whatever you're doing."

Do you think there are advantages to accepting a job at a lower level or pay?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

When Was the Last Time You Made a Career Deposit?

When I was a child, my mother often talked about living through the Depression. As the oldest child, she was sent to live with relatives when her family could no longer afford to feed all three children. Even though her time away from the family only lasted about a year, it greatly affected her life.

She hated antiques. She thought of them as old, and old stuff meant poverty. She wasn't a tightwad, but neither did she spend money she didn't have. She carefully monitored the family finances every month, and was meticulous in balancing the checkbook and making sure that something went into savings every month.

She never forgot the lessons of such a difficult period in her life, even though she was only about 6-years-old.

I've been thinking of her stories about what she learned from the Depression as I've watched -- along with everyone else -- the devastation many people are experiencing because of this economic mess. And what I see makes me realize that when we have gotten past this difficult time, we will not only have learned economic lessons that will govern the rest of lives, but career ones as well.

How many of us have kicked ourselves for not being better networkers so that when the layoffs came, we didn't have many places to turn for help? How many of us have regretted that we didn't promote our skills and abilities better so that when bonuses were scarce, we didn't garner one for ourselves? How many of us regretted not attending those seminars or training sessions or take advantage of tuition reimbursement from our employers that might have helped our chances of landing a better position during these tough times?

Of course, hindsite is 20/20. But I do think that when we pull out of these difficult times, we need to learn important financial lessons just like those who survived the Depression did. We need to learn those financial lessons -- and those career ones as well.

Specifically, it's time we all stopped living just for the next promotion or title and started putting something in our career "savings account." For example, career investments should include:

* Going back to the early days of your career and re-establishing contacts. You might be surprised that the guy who washed dishes at your first job now owns his own company, or that the girl who was an intern with you now is a top executive. Check out online sources to track people down and start investing in these contacts.

* Fix your burned bridges. Sometimes in the heat of the moment we say or do things that we regret. Now is the time to start making overtures to those who may think you'd run them over with your car given half a chance. Your reputation is the most important commodity you have -- you don't want anyone thinking less of you because you never know who they're influencing.

* Get a second opinion. Have someone you respect in your industry review your current resume. Even if you're not currently looking for a job, get some ideas on where they think "holes" exist, and what you can begin to do to patch them.

* Help someone. Every day, try and do something on the job that helps another person, whether it's pitching in with a project, making a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn or writing an article for an industry newletter. It's a way of saving a little bit all the time in your career "bank."

What are some other lessons we can learn during these difficult times?

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