Category Archives: employee stress

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.

The Steep Cost of Long Hours

200212196-001By now you’ve surely heard the story of Moritz Erhardt.

On Aug. 15, the 21-year-old Bank of America intern was found dead in a shower cubicle at a student residential facility, after reportedly working for 72 straight hours at B of A Merrill Lynch’s investment banking division in London.

In the days since, many questions have been raised surrounding the work culture of the fast-paced financial sector, where employees—particularly junior-level associates—may feel compelled to keep punishing work schedules in hopes of securing their spot in a very competitive and profitable industry.

Bank of America is raising some questions of its own, recently announcing it had commissioned a “formal senior working group” to examine the organization’s working practices, with “a special focus on junior members of staff,” according to The Guardian.

Erhardt’s passing is certainly an extreme example, but the financial services realm is far from the only place where employees are working themselves ragged, sometimes to the point of putting their own physical and mental well-being at risk.

So, where’s the threshold? What’s the right amount of work? In a recent study, a Kansas State University researcher attempted to answer such questions. And, if her findings are any indication, the sweet spot may be in the 40-to-45 hours-per-week range.

Sarah Asebedo, a doctoral student at K-State, analyzed the association between “workaholism” and physical and mental health. Asebedo found that employees working more than 50 hours a week were more likely to experience diminished mental health—as measured by self-reported depression scores—and reduced physical well-being.

On the other hand, another study suggests spending less time at the office may not do all that much for employees.

Robert Rudolf, an assistant professor of economics at Korea University in Seoul, recently used data from an annual survey of 5,000 Korean households to analyze overall job and life satisfaction before and after changes in South Korean labor regulations reduced the workweek to five days and 40 hours a week. (Prior to 2004, employees in South Korea put in six-day, 44-hour weeks.)

According to the New York Times, Rudolf used a five-point scale—ranging from “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied”—to determine workers’ happiness with their jobs and home lives. He found a reduction in hours had no bearing on either job or life satisfaction for employees of both sexes.

So, it seems there is no magic number of hours that will keep your workforce at its happiest and healthiest. But, a degree of flexibility may be the best option employers can offer, says Rudolf.

“I am a big fan of flexible working solutions with flex-time, part-time options, etc.,” he told the Times. “In my opinion, higher personal freedom about their work flanked with well-designed performance targets will make workers both happier and more productive.”

Productivity Naps: The New Coffee Break?

productivity napGeorge Costanza would love working for Nationwide Planning Associates Inc.

There, the Seinfeld slacker supreme—who once hired a carpenter to craft a secret napping area under his desk in the New York Yankees front office—would actually be encouraged to catch a few winks during the workday.

Indeed, employees at the investment firm’s Paramus, N.J. headquarters can sign up for blocks of time—20 minutes, twice weekly—in a remodeled closet that now serves as the company’s “rejuvenation center,” complete with a recliner, fountain and bamboo rug.

The company designed the area for its 20 employees to use for taking quick naps, with the idea of helping them ultimately be more productive on the job. Just don’t call it a nap room.

“We call it the ‘rejuvenation center’ to put a more positive spin on it,” James Colleary, a compliance principal at Nationwide Planning, recently told NBC Today. “People associate napping with laziness.”

According to the NBC piece, Colleary urged company executives to create the sleeping space, and leadership has since seen happier and more productive employees.

Nationwide Planning could be on to something, according to Steven Feinsilver, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Sleep Medicine in New York. He told Today:

We all get sleepy in the mid-afternoon, and it looks like our body clocks are winding down a little bit then. If you need an extra two hours of sleep, getting a half-an-hour is good, and it helps.”

Arianna Huffington seems to be of the same mind. The Huffington Post president and editor-in-chief had two nap rooms installed in the news website’s office about two years ago. Companies such as Google and Proctor & Gamble, however, have done her one better, purchasing “EnergyPods,” chairs specifically designed for napping at work. The chairs, which resemble chaise lounges, can cost anywhere from $8,900 to $12,900.

That’s a hefty price tag for a place where employees spend 20 minutes recharging their batteries. But for workers and their employers, the payoff from quick snoozes may prove to be well worth it, says Mike Karalewich, Nationwide Planning Associates chief compliance officer.

The nap for me, personally speaking, really allows me to approach the second half of the day with a lot more force,” Karalewich told Today. “I firmly believe that napping breaks will become the new coffee break eventually.”