Category Archives: employee stress

Poll: Mindfulness Training Really Works

OK, full disclosure here. A company that provides online mindfulness programs for employers, insurers, wellness companies 166198718 -- meditation2and employee-assistance programs recently announced results of a survey showing mindfulness training improves sleep quality and workplace productivity, and reduces worker stress.

So consider the source, of course. But much like other vendor polls we occasionally report on, this one seems worth sharing. The provider — eMindful, headquartered in Vero Beach, Fla. — analyzed data from 1,200 employees across multiple countries and found a 29-percent reduction in perceived stress among companies offering mindfulness training.

Also, before taking the courses, employees at the responding companies reported losing an estimated 117 minutes of productive time per week. After taking them, that number was reduced to 70 minutes.

Again and mind you, this is one provider’s claim of success, but it does add to the collective wisdom growing rapidly out there that a commitment to workforce-wide mindfulness reaps benefits worth noting, and considering. (This post by me earlier this year features one company’s discoveries along these lines, along with a link to a column by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, underscoring the value of workplace mindfulness and the importance of a commitment to it coming from the top and being ingrained into the culture.)

Ruth Q. Wolever, eMindful’s chief scientific officer and associate professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says scientific studies on mindfulness “have burgeoned recently, with demonstrated benefits ranging from decreased stress and anxiety to increased immune-system functioning and pain tolerance.”

“The costs of stress for employers include not only absenteeism and losses in productivity,” she says, “but also include medical costs related to unhealthy behavior patterns [such as alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, smoking and sedentary lifestyles as well as] stressful lifestyles that create and/or exacerbate chronic illness [including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke].”

Harnett, in her column, corroborates Wolever’s benefits and adds a few more:

“When all is said and done, mind-body programs seem to be at least as effective as lifestyle-management programs and bring benefits such as decreased stress and sleep challenges, and improved cardiac responses to stressful situations.

“Researchers such as RAND Corp.’s Soeren Mattke indicate lifestyle-management programs do not decrease healthcare costs to nearly the same levels as disease-management programs. However, Mattke related on the CoHealth radio show I co-host that employees with chronic health conditions achieve even better results when they participate in both disease- and lifestyle-management initiatives.

“Finally, as Mattke said and I agree, there are other reasons to offer lifestyle-management programs, including mind-body therapies, to your worksite. Mind-body curriculums will most likely please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

Can Abusive Bosses Be Stopped?

In recent years, a lot of oxygen and ink has been used up trying to find a successful way to deal with the damage done by abusive supervisors.

Will giving boorish bosses a taste of their own medicine help them see the error of their ways, or just exacerbate an already tense situation? Is combating bad behavior with kindness the way to go, or does taking that tack only lead to compassionate co-workers being seen as easy marks?

Well, a study that’s set to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that neither strategy is all that effective, and we might need to start looking for a new approach altogether.

Over a six-month period, a team that included researchers from the University of Notre Dame surveyed 244 employees from several organizations about their bosses’ behavior as well as their own.

Not surprisingly, the authors found that simply trying to avoid a superior who engages in offensive behavior—or, conversely, attempting to fight aggression with aggression—did little to discourage an obnoxious supervisor from acting obnoxiously.

Another result, however, seems to “clash with common sense,” Charlice Hurst, assistant professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and co-author of the study, recently told the Washington Post.

The investigators undertook this research with the hypothesis that showing ill-mannered managers empathy and generosity could help curtail their unruly behavior in the future.

But, the survey found abusive bosses “didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful,” according to Hurst.

In the paper, Hurst and colleagues suggest that a churlish manager may simply look at a subordinate’s extra effort—an unsolicited offer to help share the supervisor’s workload, for example—as part of the employee’s job, and thus feels no obligation to treat him or her any differently.

So, offering a helping hand is met with apathy. The passive-aggressive route leads nowhere. Responding in kind only stokes the hostile manager’s fire. What’s an employee (and an employer) to do?

This paper hasn’t exactly answered that question, but Hurst does give some advice on how not to handle such a scenario.

“I think companies have to create cultures where abusive supervisors are not acceptable, and they have to implement policies for employees to report being bullied,” she told the Post. “For individuals, you’re only going to make your situation worse if you try to retaliate or try to withdraw or hunker down.”

Naturally. Companies should already be working hard to create and maintain such an environment, and should be encouraging employees to step forward when they’ve been subjected to poor treatment at the hands of a supervisor. And, while this research may not provide a definitive solution to the problem, it certainly offers more evidence of the type of havoc that a belligerent boss can wreak on your organization.

New Hires Face Higher Expectations

If you’re new to an organization, you’d better be prepared to hit the ground running — especially if you’re a college grad. That’s certainly the way it’s been for Ham Serunjogi, who tells Fast Company he was “shocked” at how much was expected of him during his first few days at work.

Serunjogi, a graduate of Grinnell College, started work as an intern at an environmental technology firm in 2013. In his first meeting with the executive director, he was asked whether he’d taken a database class in college. When Serunjogi replied in the affirmative, he recounts, he was told that he would now be overseeing the design and implementation of a new communication database for the organization.

“That was the first time I was ever brought into a project I had little or no knowledge about, and was expected to deliver results,” he said.

This past summer, Serunjogi began an internship at Facebook, where he encountered similar expectations. “Facebook is a very fast-moving culture,” he tells Fast Company. “There’s an expectation that you come in and you learn how to catch up with everyone else, otherwise you’re slowing down the entire organization.”

Technology companies are far from the only ones with such a mindset these days. HRE‘s Talent Management Columnist, Wharton prof Peter Cappelli, has written extensively about the trend in Corporate America to do away with the extensive training programs companies once provided to help new employees develop and acquire skills. Now, he writes, firms expect employees to come “ready made” with the necessary skills via school, college and internships — and if they have trouble finding such people, then it’s evidence of a “talent shortage.”

Yet more evidence of these higher expectations comes via a recent Harris Poll, which finds 27 percent of the 319 executives surveyed said they form an opinion of entry-level employees in less than two weeks and 78 percent decide in less than three months whether or not that person will succeed at the company.

Considering that everyone is now expected to be “an A player” right out of the box, job candidates need to prepare accordingly by interviewing their potential employers as much as they’re interviewing them, Decisions Toolbox chief recruitment officer Nicole Cox tells Fast Company.

Use that time to clarify what will be expected of them, she says. And, “after they’re hired, ask if they’re meeting those expectations.”

One would also hope that employers do their part to clarify expectations — and give new hires the time and support necessary for proving their capability.

The Steep Price of Sleep Deprivation

The conversation around nap rooms in the workplace isn’t exactly a new one.

(For example, you can see just a few of HRE’s contributions to the long-running discussion here, here and, most recently, here.)

The consensus seems to be that nooks around the office where employees can retreat for some (probably much-needed) shuteye will likely remain a dream for many workers. But the effect that sleep deprivation has on the workforce—and on the countless employees who seem to perpetually run on too little rest—is very real.

The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor examined this impact in a recent piece.

For instance, McGregor cited Harvard data demonstrating that, for the average worker, insomnia results in the loss of more than 11 days of productivity each year, equaling $2,280. Add that up across the United States, and the figure comes to $63.2 billion.

Researchers have also found “clear links between poor sleep and reduced quality of life on the job,” wrote McGregor, noting studies that have revealed links between insomniac supervisors and abusive behavior as well as correlations between lack of sleep and medical conditions such as dementia and diabetes.

Employers are noticing these connections as well, and some have taken steps to aid employees in sleeping more and sleeping better, and in turn becoming physically healthier, mentally sharper, and, of course, more productive.

Vendors are helping as well. As McGregor points out, Ceridian has begun to include sleep coaches as part of the wellness packages it offers clients, while sleep diagnostic and treatment company SleepMed has introduced a nationwide health and wellness product that screens employees for sleep disorders and provides access to therapies.

Big Health’s Sleepio at Work program is the latest addition to this market space. Big Health launched the digital sleep improvement program last week, not quite one year after releasing its Sleepio app, which imports sleep data from fitness tracking devices to give users an overview of their sleep profiles, and provides a personalized program of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. The digital provider of personalized behavioral medicine includes organizations such as LinkedIn and Henry Ford Health System on its client roster, and has helped lead employee workshops on sleep at Google, according to the Post.

Ultimately, however, it’s going to take more than technology and workshops to change the “sleep is for losers” mentality that remains prevalent in many organizations, according to Russell Sanna, a former executive director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.

This mind-set must go, and employers should be helping to see it out the door, he says.

“’Some companies don’t want to be known as sleep-friendly,” Sanna told the Post. “They want to be known as lean and mean.”

Thus far, the conversation about sleep deprivation has been “dominated by sleep scientists and self-help gurus,” he continued. “It needs desperately to have people in the organizational change, workplace advocacy and legal [fields] to help reframe the agenda.”

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

When you leave your office at the end of the day, do you mentally leave your work behind?

Probably not.

According to a new CareerBuilder survey, the eight-hour workday may soon become history. More than 1,000 full-time workers nationwide in industries that tend to have more traditional work hours, such as information technology, financial services, sales and professional and business services, participated in the online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from May 14 to June 3 to discuss their habits and attitudes toward the traditional nine-to-five work day.

More than half – 63 percent – of workers in these industries believe the established nine-to-five routine is outdated and many also have trouble leaving the office mentally. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) check work emails during personal activities with family and friends and 38 percent work beyond office hours. However, most participants – 62 percent – do so out of choice, not pressure or obligation.

“Workers want more flexibility in their schedules, and with improvements in technology that enable employees to check in at any time, from anywhere, it makes sense to allow employees to work outside the traditional nine-to-five schedule,” states Rosemary Haefner, CHRO at CareerBuilder. “. . . If done right, allowing employees more freedom and flexibility with their schedules can improve morale, boost productivity and increase retention rates.”

Gender may also influence work habits. For example, when compared to female workers, male employees are more likely to work outside of office hours (44 percent versus 32 percent); check or respond to work emails outside of work (59 percent versus 42 percent); and check on work activities when socializing with family and friends (30 percent versus 18 percent). However, women are more likely than men to go to bed thinking about work (23 percent versus 16 percent).

But these differences may be easily explained. Who typically prepares most of the meals in your home? Who does the dishes, the laundry, or dusts the furniture? If I’m allowed to guesstimate, more women complete these chores after work than men and don’t have as much time to spend on work activities. But to be fair, more men  probably take out the garbage.

The survey also broke down participant responses into three different age groups: 18- to 24-year-old workers, 45- to 54-year-old employees and those 55-years-old and above. In the first age group, 31 percent reported working outside of office hours compared to 50 percent of the second group and 38 percent of the latter group.

Seventy percent of older workers – ages 55 and above – stay connected to the office by choice compared to 56 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24. However, younger workers in this age group are more likely than their older peers to think about work before going to bed (31 percent versus 11 percent of those ages 55 and above) or wake up thinking about it (59 percent versus 31 percent).

So what do all these numbers mean? The line between people’s work and personal lives are more blurred than ever. If you want to attract and retain the very best talent, offering flexible work schedules, whenever and wherever possible, may be among your best recruiting tactics.

Making Workplace Meditation Work

Mindfulness appears to be alive and well in Fort Collins, Colo. Or at the Fort Collins Housing Authority anyway.

139980668-- meditationJust before the holidays, I came across this release about the FCHA completing a month-long mindfulness program for its staff.  Seems the organization’s top leaders took its annual wellness survey seriously when a common complaint came back suggesting improvements in work/life balance and health and general well-being were needed.

In the words of FCHA Chief Executive Officer Julie Brewen: “We are committed to implementing new programs for the health and well-being of our staff.”

In an industry that deals with tough issues such as poverty, homelessness and families in crisis, she says, the program was a step in the right direction. The program consisted of daily, hour-long sessions during work hours that blended presentations, group discussion and meditation practice.

The results? According to Brewen, lowered stress and depression, and an increase in work/life balance.

What’s even more impressive is what she shared with me just recently, that her organization’s commitment to this lives on, with additional mindfulness training planned for this year, and some added questionnaires and wellness-survey questions designed to keep a close eye on the workplace well-being meter.

“Many of the participants [intend] to continue [their] meditation and mindfulness exercises” into the rest of 2015, she says.

Of course, putting this kind of program together takes a huge and collective commitment to the idea and the practice. It needs to come from the top and be ingrained into the culture, as this column a year ago (to the month) by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, suggests.

Her column also suggests the concept could use some booster shots in the business community. “In my experience,” she writes, “most employers pay scant attention to stress and defer to employee-assistance programs as check-the-box solutions — despite poor utilization of this service.”

So what’s it going to take for the Fort Collins approach to become the approach of most? Perhaps when employers start acknowledging they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even as it relates to your brand and reputation. As Harnett writes:

” … mind-body curriculums will please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

Home (From Work) For the Holidays

empty cubeIt’s that time of year, when workloads lighten and the holidays are just ahead, and employees begin to cash in the blocks of paid days off they’ve been banking all year long.

At the risk of getting all Grinchy just eight days before Christmas, we invite you to take a look at SHRM’s new Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences Survey, which finds 75 percent of 1,280 HR professionals saying employee absences “carry hidden costs that can [affect] an organization’s productivity and revenue,” according to a SHRM statement.

That’s not all that surprising, and the survey was commissioned by Kronos Inc., which does provide workforce-management software and services, after all. So make of that figure what you will.

But one interesting finding from the survey, as this recent Washington Post article points out, is the difference in how United States-based HR professionals view the impact of unplanned work absences—defined in the survey as times when employees are sick, say they’re sick, or have to stay home to attend to personal matters—in comparison to those in other countries.

In the poll, 61 percent of U.S.-based respondents said unplanned absences increase stress for others in the workplace, while that number dipped to 54 percent and 51 percent in Australia and Europe, respectively. In addition, 48 percent of American respondents reported that unplanned absences hurt morale at the office, while just 36 percent and 31 percent said the same in Europe and Australia.

In an interview with the Post, SHRM Director of Survey Programs Evren Esen hypothesized that cultural norms in the U.S. may help explain these differing views of work absences—be they planned or unplanned. Indeed, as we’ve noted in the past, employees here in the States still aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time, and workers are sometimes hesitant to take advantage of the paid time off they do have available to them.

“There should not be a stigma for taking your vacation,” Esen told the paper, “but it’s evolved into that. And I think that’s [why] there may be a little bit of resentment or stress when others are out. ‘You’re taking vacation, or you’re sick, but I’m here and I have to deal with this.’ In other cultures, it’s more of an expectation that you take your time.”

Maybe it’s the eat, drink and be merry mindset that starts to take over around the holidays, but doesn’t it seem like maybe we should take a cue from these other cultures, and (finally) start taking a bit more time away from work?

More Perils of Shift Work Revealed

A new report in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finds shift work may not just have negative effects on workers’ sleep patterns or social life, but also on their cognitive abilities.

According to CNN, researchers from the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom and the University of Toulouse in France followed approximately 3,000 employed and retired workers in southern France — some of whom had never worked shifts, while others had worked them for years — over the course of a decade. They found that shift work was associated with impaired cognition, and the impairment was worse in those who had done it for longer.

The impact was particularly marked in those who had worked abnormal hours for more than 10 years — with a loss in intellectual abilities equivalent to the brain having aged 6.5 years, CNN reports.

The researchers say that shift work, “like chronic jet lag, is known to disrupt workers’ normal circadian rhythms and social life, and to be associated with increased health problems (eg, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, reproductive difficulties) and with acute effects on safety and productivity.”

There was one (very weak) bright spot in the findings, though:  Workers were able to regain their cognitive abilities after leaving shift work behind, but it took at least five years to do so.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Two different surveys showed up recently with some employment-related things to think about this Thanksgiving.

89319425-- thanksgivingThey’re not related … er, then again, maybe they are.

One, a new Thanksgiving survey from Chicago-based CareerBuilder, finds one in five workers (19 percent) plan to spend Thanksgiving this year with co-workers either in or outside the office. Most of them (14 percent) have to work the holiday.

Which brings us to the second poll from Menlo Park, Callif.-based OfficeTeam that finds 24 percent of workers are most thankful this holiday for — aside from salary — their friendly co-workers. (This was followed by a good benefits program, 20 percent; easy commute, 16 percent; challenging assignments, 15 percent, supportive manager, 11 percent; other, 9 percent; flexible hours, 3 percent; and don’t know/no answer, 1 percent. (Here is a report on the survey, and an infographic.)

So safe to say, if that many employees have to be working on our heaviest-travelled, family-focused national holiday, then at least it’s a consolation that they value the friendship and pleasantness of the employees alongside them in the same boat.

If you think about it, says Robert Hosking, executive direction of OfficeTeam, it makes a lot of sense that co-worker relationships are this important.

“Many full-time workers spend more than half of their waking hours at the office,” says Hosking, “so having friendly colleagues can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction.”

So what can HR leaders do with this information? I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to encourage behaviors and nurture environments that allow employees to do more of what OfficeTeam recommends they do to increase workplace happiness: socialize with co-workers, step away from the desk, explore flexible-scheduling options, take advantage of perks, and set goals and meet them.

Who knows, with enough focus on the above, maybe “friendly employers” will top next year’s gratitude list.

 

 

Just Another (Long) Day at the Office

long day 2In recent months, The Leader Board has touched on the issue of employees being unable to disconnect from work while on vacation. We’ve talked about how many United States workers aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time to begin with, and we’ve shared survey results showing a majority of American employees don’t use the vacation time they do have.

Now, here comes data that suggests U.S. workers are finding it harder and harder to even leave the office at all.

A recent survey from Milwaukee-based Right Management polled 325 employees, asking participants if workers in their organizations were working longer hours than five years ago. They said:

• Yes, a great deal (67 percent)

• Not really (23 percent)

• Yes, somewhat (10 percent)

So, a clear majority of the employees polled find themselves and their colleagues spending more time at the office.

And, according to Right, these workers are barely coming up for air while they’re there. Another Right survey saw 81 percent of 1,023 North American employees indicating they don’t typically take what they consider to be a proper lunch break at work. The grind doesn’t end after going home, either: A June 2013 poll from Right found more than one-third of 422 workers dealing with work-related emails outside of business hours.

Given the business climate of the past five years, these findings don’t come as a great shock. But they do help paint a picture of a frazzled workforce putting in more hours, dealing with more stress and perhaps becoming increasingly disgruntled as a result.

And that’s a picture that HR leaders—already battling to keep employee engagement levels high—probably don’t want to envision with a recovering economy (and job market) on the horizon.