MANAGING TEAM STRESS BASICS
The impact of stress in the workplace is well known, and in an increasingly complex market and society pressure to varying degrees is experienced across all levels of an organisation, no matter the occupation, purpose, or marketplace. The consequences of high workplace stress include poor morale, reduced performance, resistance to change and increased conflict. Longitudinal research has identified two factors, in particular, that contribute to a higher risk of experiencing workplace stress – complexity of role and responsibilities, and time pressure to achieve and perform. It is the obligation of all employers, and by default all managers as agents of their employer, to take reasonable steps to reduce workplace stress and manage it as effectively as possible. This does not mean stress must be removed (not that it's possible to do that anyway) but that reasonable steps must be made. Managing stress is, at the end of the day, a partnership between the employer and the employee and both have responsibilities. Health and safety legislation highlights, among other things, the personal responsibility of a manager to actively demonstrate their efforts to manage the occupational health of those they are responsible for on premise, to be pro-active, and to take responsibility for team and broader workplace culture. In practice this means that individual managers can be held accountable and raises significant implications for occupational health practice and responsibility. There are a number of simple and effective points to consider when looking at a program that improves managers’ stress reduction capability, and in turn reduce employer liability and promote employee performance, well-being and overall team adaptability. 1. Create a supportive culture Workplace cultures that deny stress is a problem tend to result in extreme reactions when stress does occur. A supportive culture exists when people feel they can talk about stress openly and without impact on their reputation and credibility, and where asking for help is seen as a sign of wisdom not weakness. A supportive culture is a vehicle for discussion and ideas, identification of opportunity, creative thinking and is a sign of resilience. 2. Appreciate people’s differences Everyone is different — whether by personality, background, skills, or outlook. One person’s stress is another person’s welcomed challenge. Ensure the right people are selected for the stressors most likely to be encountered on the job, that each individual is aware of their own warning signs and trigger points, and measures are put in place to enable effective reflection, discussion, and self-management. 3. Develop recognition and awareness of personal responsibility When under stress people react in both different and similar ways. There are various behavioural signs, physical symptoms, and emotional reactions that may indicate unusually high stress levels. It’s also a matter of people understanding what is within their control and what they take responsibility for, and outside of that possibly need help with. Get to know each person’s personality, temperament, preferential style and key experiences and what their individual signs. Encourage and provide systems and mechanisms that allow people to self-manage effectively while balancing performance responsibilities. In other words, instead of reinforcing the responsibilities we all have to manage ourselves proactively companies need to have policies and practices in place that demonstrates support for this. 4. Resolve issues as they arise Try not to let things fester. Focus on early identification and early action. Value the time it takes to discuss, analyse and manage issues. If we don’t those issues will hang around and re-surface later with greater history than we may be able to manage effectively. An earlier awkward conversation is much better than a critical hostile one much later. 5. Build the team Good workplace relationships are a very important buffer to serious stress occurring. Team building that increases knowledge of interpersonal differences, conflict resolution and problem solving skills, appreciation and recognition of individual talents, and the flow of information across team members can be very effective to counter stress. Good consistent communication, sharing, and development of reduced defensiveness (i.e. it’s not about me it’s about the work we are all involved in and I am part of) that is inclusive and involves all team members as best as possible helps a team set, monitor, discuss, and maintain their own standards and expectations alongside some humour. 6. Heighten opportunities for personal control over ones work There is a large body of research showing that control over how a heavy workload is managed is one of the most effective ways to manage stress at work. Strategies may include flexible work hours, working from home, clarifying priorities, use of innovation, and improved devolution of decision making. This doesn’t mean the same as reducing workload, but clarifying what’s negotiable and non-negotiable, and where the areas of most effective personal practice and performance may lie on a day to day and week to week basis. 7. Remember everyone Include part-timers, volunteers, and remote workers in all initiatives alongside full time employees whenever possible in communications and gatherings. If it’s not possible to include everyone then ensure people are not forgotten and included and listened to in other ways. 8. Plan for contingencies If the worst case happens what will you do? Get ideas from the team, or at least key members of the team where possible critical incidents may apply that affect outcomes. Options should be available in a workplace stress policy, and include employee assistance, peer support, medical advice, and stress management interventions.
10 TIPS FOR BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT
Ten key tips for improving our ability to manage the time we have available more effectively, reproduced from a paper delivered to the 16th Annual Payroll Conference held in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 27 March 2013. 1) Understand what you’re good at and not good at. What we’re good at we tend to enjoy more and be more efficient and productive at. Give a priority to doing what you’re good at and find others to do what you’re not good at and not so efficient at doing. 2) The stuff you don’t want to do but you have to do get on to it first and as part of a routine. Maybe 8am-9am is your old email clearing time, or maybe you hate doing the dishes so either a) get a dishwasher (some of us call them ‘children’; it’s not easy to get them to do stuff I know but that’s part of parenting – you get to have revenge when they have children) or b) get on to them fairly soon after you’ve eaten. Whatever it may be remember that delaying the time we take to do the mundane just places that time demand somewhere else and creates a sense of non-achievement (because it’s stuff still waiting to be done). How often have we woken up in the morning and walked into the kitchen to find last night’s unwashed dishes on the bench and groaned. We end up using the same time we would have used last night to wash them, but in a tighter and more stressful time frame because we have to go to work. 3) Make a meeting with yourself – regularly. This is your time, maybe to catch up on things, maybe to make some phone calls you need to, maybe to go for a walk or run, maybe to think and reflect, maybe to plan and prepare. Whatever the reason, we don’t like to break a meeting we have made with others so why shouldn’t we use the same sense of respect on ourselves. 4) Let go of trying to find more time. Time is like money. Yes there’s a level below which its availability significantly crimps our basic enjoyment of life but in general it’s not how much you have it’s what you do with it. Identify what’s important to you – family, work, health, relationships, interests and hobbies, or whatever. At the start of each day plan to do at least one thing that contributes to each and prioritise it. Maybe it’s a kiss, maybe a thank you, maybe a smile, maybe some time with others, maybe a phone call or text, maybe some new learning. Whatever it is it means that at least part of each day is you working on making your day great rather than someone else’s. 5) When stuff starts to build up learn to use the Four D’s. Do, delegate, delay, or drop. Enough said. Not everything is critical or needs you involvement in it even if you want to be. 6) Get a diary. Whether you’re a list person or not, organised or disorganised, old or young, old school (paper diary) or electronic (phone app or computer program) don’t rely on memory alone. Memory may give a sense of freedom and a diary may create a sense of impending obligations but the former is one of blissful ignorance while the later ensures we stay on top of what we need to do, with who, when, where, and why. 7) If you have a diary make sure you use it effectively. A diary replaces your short-term memory but like baking a cake it’s only as nice as the ingredients you put in it. What’s more the ingredients need to go in to the cake in the right order. The most important stuff (not what others think is important but that is important to you because it gives you energy or will save you time later on) goes in the cake [and is prioritised in the diary] first. 8) Don’t obsess so much about stuff you didn’t get around to today. When we’re up late at night doing stuff it usually means one of three things: a) we messed around a bit and chose to spend some of our time earlier less effectively than we could have, b) we chose a delayed consequence, or c) we were working on what was important for someone else at the expense of ourselves. 9) Respect what you miss doing and prioritise doing more of it in the future. We let things go we used to enjoy and the consequence is we add to load without any commensurate increase in our performance. Any organism can only take so much load before it squeezes itself dry (figuratively speaking). Often we tell ourselves we keep taking on board more responsibility and tasks because we’ll let others down who have expectations of us. In reality what we’ve done is develop a habit of putting others first. This is noble and admirable but too much of this means we run on empty and before we know it resent all that we have on our plate. We choose what we have on our plate; no one else does. 10) Only ever plan to use no more than 80% of the time you have. The other 20% isn’t wasted. It’s there for Murphy’s Law to arrive in a blaze of trumpets. It’s there for the meetings that go over time, and the telephone calls that take ages, and the emails that take longer than anticipated to write. It’s the elastic in your day.
NARCISSISM AT WORK: WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
[This article was originally written in June 2016 as a predictive exercise] Of late considerable media attention has been given to a certain un-named (non-NZ) politician and some strong consistent characteristics, particularly around communication and response to criticism, that have been demonstrated by said individual. The terms in the media I have heard used to describe this person include that they are a bully and Narcissistic, and on the surface it is true there are some (at times alarming) similarities with what a psychologist might consider were narcissistic characteristics. Such characteristics are not the exclusive realm of politics, far from it. They exist across the world of work, and most often manifest in a minority of those holding positions of power and influence. It is not power and influence that creates such qualities, it is that individuals with certain traits are often attracted to roles of power and influence, or feel deserving of them. After all, if you really believe you're fantastic you're going to want a position that allows you to show that! However, we also need to be careful of what I commonly see happening - diagnosis by media and public acclamation. We may see a glimpse of someone on television or through an interview on line, or judge someone by reputation and not personal knowledge. As repeated or emotional as they may be, those sources present only a portion of the facts, filtered through the lens of someone else. Narcissism is a classic example of that - a powerful collection of traits that becomes confused with other factors in an effort to explain and make sense of what we are seeing. So let's start with clearing up a few myths about Narcissism, by defining what it is in a broad sense, and then translating those qualities into what you could expect to see if you were dealing with someone who was genuinely Narcissistic at work (or anywhere else for that matter). In broad terms Narcissism is a stable personality characteristic dominated by unusually high levels of self-love, self-regard, conceit, and egotism. It is way beyond self-confidence, not merely someone with who is aggressive, or someone who seeks attention or believes they are particularly talented or special in what they provide. There is a level of belief by someone Narcissistic that, without them, little can and will be achieved of any value - that they are irreplaceable. They seek admiration not just for what they have accomplished but for who they are, because the two are intertwined aspects of their personality. The focus of someone genuinely Narcissistic is on what can be achieved for them, how an endeavour makes them look in the eyes of others (those in positions of 'power' or 'influence'), and what is in their interests (if that aligns with the interests of others then that is fine but not a major consideration). Basically, it's all about them. They are the most intelligent, talented, original, creative and successful person in the room. Someone who is Narcissistic will believe that but they won't tell you it - because they already expect you to know. Hence the offense taken and dismissal of someone's intelligence of worth when that self-belief is not respected People who are Narcissistic can lead very successful lives, have families, have friends, study, have a career and engage with society quite effectively. On the positive side they are confident, often charismatic (because of that confidence), have determination, are pragmatic, are goal-oriented, and have big ideas (often grandiose). They see nothing as being beyond them if they put their mind and will to it. Unfortunately, like any true pathology Narcissistic individuals have what I refer to as fatal flaws. These are flaws that, over time, leave a litany of destruction behind them as they pursue their goals and are 'fatal' not in the sense they are life threatening, but that they are beyond alteration or change with tremendous negative impact on many around them. Eventually, workplace Narcissists are discovered (or maybe uncovered or finally recognised) but not without considerable pain along the way. The following are the most common fatal flaws we can expect to see in the workplace by someone genuinely Narcissistic. 1) Narcissists don't have true friends, they have people who agree with them. And they are very loyal to those who agree with them....as long as they are useful. Friendship is based on mutual admiration, not acceptance of faults. Narcissists have no real faults in their own eyes - mistakes are due to the action of others, incorrect information given, or misinterpretation of the message. 2) Narcissists will learn not through personal recognition of a lack of knowledge, skill or character, but through realising they need to develop a new way to achieve what they want. In this they can be quite pragmatic and will adapt for those they see as their equal or superior and not for someone they see as inferior, which is most people. They see very few as their superior or equal. 3) Narcissists do not listen to others unless they are useful or in a position of influence. Respect for others as a basic principle is lacking and they often treat those below them differently from those they view as peers. They respect what others can do for them that aligns with their goals and perspective. 4) Narcissists struggle to apologise in a manner most would see as sincere. Apologies are provided rarely, grudgingly, and often with a caveat that reduces the seriousness of the incident they are apologising for or avoids taking complete responsibility for an error made (e.g. someone let them down). 5) Narcissists don't get angry they get even. Strong offense is taken against those they believe have done them wrong or harmed them, particularly in regards to their status, influence or authority. They hold grudges and see most criticism as personal. 6) Narcissists tend to employ those who agree with them, follow them, or who will not cross them. They value personal loyalty, will generally surround themselves with that loyalty when possible, and will reward personal loyalty as a consequence but often in an inconsistent way. 7) Narcissists are convinced of their version of 'the truth', irrespective of the facts or objective evidence displayed before them. Contrary evidence is dismissed as irrelevant, incomplete, or based on sources lacking credibility in their eyes. The narrative developed as a result reinforces a worldview that has the Narcissist at the centre. Those seven fatal flaws are probably enough for any workplace to be mindful of.
NETWORKING FOR INTROVERTS
‘Networking’. It’s a word that can send shivers, or at least moderate apprehension, down the spines of some people. The very word for some conjures images of ‘working a room’, engaging in small talk with strangers, clinking wine glasses, attending social functions, doing deals and, for some, spending time in a space well outside ones comfort zone. Nevertheless networking is an important function of any venture, be it business or social. Knowing people, knowing what is going on in the market or a circle of interest, being able to pick up the phone and make contact with someone, and simply selling ideas and products through the people we know is a vital skill. It’s not one that comes easy to some, despite the fact it is important and can also be, personally, very rewarding. Many people will acknowledge that the networking event they were dreading often turns out to better than they expected. All it takes is one contact and one enjoyable conversation to make the time spent worthwhile. Extroverts usually find networking engagements less confronting. Energised as they are by conversation, more talkative by nature, and more comfortable in crowds of people they seem, to their introverted colleagues at least, at ease. They’re not. Some are, true, but many aren’t. They just hide it better and have better natural skills at finding comfort in that networking space. So, in sympathy for my introvert networking colleagues, here are a few tips to help the introvert network more effectively and comfortably. 1) Find the ‘bubble’. Learn to be more comfortable than you currently are being ‘on your own’ in a room. This is difficult, I know, but a very important skill to work on. Don’t fast walk to the corner of a gathering where you don’t know anyone - saunter slowly. This allows to have time to listen to conversations, catch snippets of information, possibly see someone who know and segue over to them, and slows down your heart and respiratory rate. You’re also less likely to say ‘Excuse me’ as you pass by people, finding those natural gaps that open up in a crowd more easily. It’s OK standing on your own, watching and listening. There will be others doing the same. Head over to them and say hello. A few will like being on their own, but most will feel like you and be grateful that someone said hello. At the end of the day the true introvert is more comfortable with the one-on-one conversation anyway. 2) Piggyback. Attend evens with a presentation of some type. This gives you a reason to go and removes the pressure of having to talk in the ‘networking space’ beforehand. The presentation topic, presenter, or venue gives an easy opening for conversation with others, and gives you a reason for being there – learning. We network by ‘piggybacking’ off the learning experience we are there for. 3) Avoid solo flights. Simple - bring along a mate, a colleague, your partner. Fly as a team and engage together with others. 4) Remember that conversation isn’t about talking, it’s about listening. The art of networking isn’t about how many business cards you can get or give, it’s about making an impact on others and ensuring they are comfortable around you. Ask good questions, listen and follow up on what’s important to the others you are engaging with. People enjoy talking about what’s important to them as long as they feel safe to do so and people are interested. Get interested in others. They’ll carry the conversation and you’ll learn a lot. In general, they’ll also want to learn about you too and that’s a great chance to exchange business or contact cards and catch up afterwards to further the contact that’s been made. 5) Bring business cards – let them do some talking. How often have we forgotten business cards? In informal business cultures this isn’t such a big deal but in formal business cultures this is seen as unprofessional, as though you’re not prepared or aren’t serious. Keep half a dozen in your wallet. If someone gives you their card it’s an unwritten invitation, at least in Australasia for you to give them yours. Spend some time looking at it and reading the details, front and back. Don’t just put it in your pocket. It represents someone just as yours represents you. Respect it. There may also be details on it that can further the conversation. 6) Be clear on your goal. What are you attending the networking event for? Is it to meet people, learn, gain contacts, be there because your company has to have someone there, attend a presentation or training event? Whatever the reason it’s important you know what your goal is so that, no matter what happens, you know what you need to do to achieve it and whether you have or not. Time is valuable, don’t waste it. 7) Practice the soft introduction. Put simply I distinguish the soft introduction as one which doesn’t set any expectation of the other person. An example of a hard introduction (I use the term ‘hard’ figuratively to denote something which might require an extension into a discomfort zone for some) might be, ‘Hi, what company do you work for and what services do you offer?’ Not an unreasonable question but one that for some gets straight to business and implies an expectation of ‘correctness of response’ or else ones credibility is negatively impacted. An example of a soft introduction might be, for example, ‘Hi, I’m Jonathan. What did you think of ....?’ accompanied by a smile and some direct eye context. No expectation, just a friendly welcome. In most cases you’ll at least get the person’s name, some body language indicators showing relief that someone started the conversation, a handshake and smile back, and a chance to talk further. 8) Introduce your neighbours. This is very powerful, especially when you attend an event with others. If you know people who are with you introduce them to others in the group you are part of who don’t know them and, if appropriate, some context. For example, ‘This is Sam, he works at such and such’, ‘This is Anna, we came together and work for the same company,’ or ‘This is Brian, he’s down from Auckland [see Brisbane, Edinburgh, New York] for a few days on business and has come along to see how we do things down here.’ It’s a great way to include others into a conversation, take pressure of yourself, and be seen as someone who is inclusive. Remember, the whole point of networking is to make a positive impact and gain name recognition or further opportunity for contact in some way. There are various ways we can do that and the above ideas are very useful tips for the introverted networker.
LEADERSHIP IN A CRISIS
Leadership must be one of the most mis-used words in the world of work. A great concept we often try to simplify is a more complicated issue than that answered by a mere paragraph or list of ‘approved’ qualities. The simple fact is that the question “What is a good leader?” is the wrong one to ask. The right question is “What leadership qualities are required for the mix of situations, responsibilities and personalities I have in my team?” Leadership is, as we know from practical experience, fluid. Consistent traits in one situation do not always yield results in another, even though those traits are admirable and worthwhile in and of themselves. Applying what is needed at the time is the hallmark of not just a good leader but an excellent one. An excellent leader instinctively knows when to shift tack and adapt a different posture or strategy to suit the environment and challenges they are faced with. None more so is this tested than when experiencing a crisis. That out of the ordinary, unusual, unpredictable, often emotional, always unplanned for contingency to which leadership makes such an impact but can sometimes be lacking. Crises are a true test of ‘leadership’ for by their very nature we have not encountered such a situation before or they test us beyond ordinary resources and expectations, and therefore we set foot onto a path untravelled and without a template or limited past experience to follow. Assuming, of course, that past experience is one we have taken some lessons from. A perusal of international crisis leadership research has identified variations on five common themes that make a significant difference to the impact we have, as leaders, on helping our team navigate through very rough waters. They each are as much about the choices we make around our own coping, as they are about assisting the coping of others and effecting positive change in outcomes, priorities, and decision-making. In no particular order they are:Courage to be calm. When all around is chaos it’s important that others see you as an island of sensibility, rationality, patience, and consideration. Panic is contagious so be the antidote and no matter how tense you may feel, on the outside present a calmness that in turn gives others confidence.Integrity. Do you articulate what you value and behave consistently to those values? The adage of integrity is, ‘What are we teaching by what we are doing?’ Are we seen to walk the talk or just spout it? Set standards, promote them, stick to them, demonstrate we are someone who can be trusted, who is honest and open. These are qualities that can be hard to find when we are under the utmost pressure and temptation to become self-focussed.Decision-making. Effective, relevant, considered and timely. A good leader has the ability to navigate through a mound of information, filter it down to its basics and remain focused on the priorities at hand. Procrastination and panic are the common responses to crises – dare to be different and chart a different and independent course. A leader during a crisis understands rapidly what they already know and the importance of clarity, understands what they need to know and the importance of confidence, understands the impact of time and the necessity of required actions, and isn’t afraid to be bold.A higher purpose. With the old order now in question who leads, defines, motivates and supports a new vision? Be it for our team or the company. Be it just to get us through today or this week. This is not about a ra ra cheer but re-evaluating what is important and what unifies us toward common goals that inspire and are relevant to all team members. In what way do we now ‘make a difference’?Presence: Are you seen? Do you listen and take on board, genuinely, what people have to say and ask? Are you visible. Do you show you care by being around? A quiet word of encouragement, thanks and acknowledgement during times of adversity reinforces that people are not forgotten, are valued, and are appreciated – especially in times where they are called on to work in ways that are uncomfortable, stressful and ignore their own considerations for the benefit of customers and clients.
MANAGING GENERATION Y
Despite the fact that Generation Y has been in the workforce for the past decade or so I still get asked how to communicate with, manage and understand todays ‘youth’. What is clear is that, for many of us, there can sometimes be challenges relating to those a generation or two different from our own. I get asked, just as often, by todays under 30’s how to understand the perspective of a boss who is fifteen years or more their senior. The truth is that there are greater differences in the workplace than generational ones, but that nevertheless generational differences are very real, and have a real impact on whether we understand, respect, and get on with those we work with. In brief terms todays Generation Y’s (Gen Y’s) are those born between 1981 and around the mid-late 1990’s. There are varied opinions on when the cut off points are exactly and, like star signs (but with more scientific basis), some of us on the cusp have characteristics across two generational boundaries. The Gen Y birth cohort, as a result of social and technological change, parental influences and the like, have developed some very distinct characteristics. Here are the TOP FIVE TIPS for creating a more engaged Gen Y employee.1) Get over yourself: A Gen Y wants a boss who is their peer. They look for collaboration, joint decision-making, and a chance to have their say. Their boss shouldn’t be remote and sit behind a closed door all day. They want access, a chance to learn, and opportunities for the boss to share their knowledge and wisdom – providing they have Gen Y’s respect. Let go of traditional views of autocratic leadership (if you have that habit) if you have a Gen Y team. The buck may stop with you and Gen Y’s understand that, but along the way they expect to have a voice.2) Become a mentor or find one: Coming from an education system that has encouraged self-directed learning and a clear pathway to success (ie. receiving a grade or score that denotes success or absence of failure) most Gen Y’s respond to a senior individual who they believe can guide them, support them, and give some time to assist their careers. Mentors are sounding boards, provide an opportunity to reflect on decisions made and decisions pending, and are valuable for Gen Y’s in being able to guide them through challenges at work, in their careers, and in their lives. So what if it means we start to customise our attention to the needs of an employee? It just means we get the best out of them, they stay longer and are more understanding of the business and what it’s all about.3) Include them: Almost everyone likes to have a say, and Gen Y’s are no exception. They seek to be asked, involved, and sought out for their opinion. They have ideas and want to share them. They have knowledge that can be valuable. There is a strong desire among many Gen Y’s to have their views listened to. This isn’t the same as an expectation they will be agreed with. Far from a burden on an organisation this is an excellent opportunity to identify new ideas not hamstrung by old thinking, and discuss with younger employees the why’s and why not’s of decisions made. What better way to educate, show value for input, and encourage a continual desire to be curious and think?4) Give feedback: A myth about Gen Y’s is that they want to be praised and thanked all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, younger employees appreciate acknowledgement and recognition for contribution and effort made, as we all do. But, what they are seeking is confirmation that they are on the right track. This is not a sign of general lack of confidence. Rather, it is a sign they value their time and a) do not want to waste it, and b) gain satisfaction by adding value and doing what is meaningful for the business.5) Embrace the ‘Why?’: Why is it that as we age we become less curious? Gen Y’s ask “Why?” more than any other generation, and will probably continue to as they age as well. After all, they’ve been educated to be curious, ask questions and challenge assumptions throughout the information age, and rewarded for doing so. Unfortunately many older employees and managers interpret someone asking “Why?” as a challenge to authority or an established method, process or way of thinking about something. The thing is, there’s another way of looking at the question “Why?” And that is that Gen Y’s just want to know. They are curious to know why something is done a certain way – and that’s it! It’s not a challenge, it’s just a question. And an invitation to educate and maybe learn something ourselves along the way as we try and explain or scrutinize an approach we are simply used to:)