Category Archives: work/life balance

The Slow Death of the Desk Job

A new study, titled Death of the Desk Job based on a survey of 1,700 North American full-time employees in order to understand how the traditional workday is changing based on employee preferences — finds 70 percent would leave their job for one that offers more workday flexibility, including the ability to work remotely more often.

The study also found 55 percent of employees have more flexible work hours than they did two or three years ago. In addition, 75 percent of employees said they’re able to keep more family, social and personal commitments because they can remotely access work anytime they need.

Technology has made it easier than ever for employees to stay connected to the workplace anytime, anywhere and, as a result, employees increasingly enjoy more flexibility over their schedules, says David MacDonald, president and CEO at Softchoice, which commissioned the survey.

“We found most people really value the freedom to customize their workday – to be able to run an errand, schedule an appointment, or pick up their kids from school, and catch up on work when it suits them. Organizations that enable that kind of flexibility have become highly desirable places to work.”

Additional highlights from the study include:

•Employees don’t think their desk, or even their office, is where they do their best work: 62 percent of employees believe they’re more productive working outside the office.

•The 9-to-5 workday is passé: 61 percent of employees prefer working the equivalent of an eight hour workday broken up over a longer day, rather than in a single 9-to-5 block.

•Out of Office Alert! Has technology made us too accessible? 57 percent of employees work remotely on personal or sick days, and 44 percent of employees worked on their last vacation.

•Most organizations are enabling a mobile workforce, but not governing one: 59 percent of employees receive a device from their employer for work in and out the office, however, just 24 percent of organizations have set clear policies and expectations around appropriate work activities after business hours.

“Though many organizations enable remote work by issuing corporate devices, technology alone isn’t enough to fulfill evolving employee needs,” MacDonald says. “Not everyone has the same definition of work/life balance, so it’s up to the employer to set clear expectations around acceptable work activities beyond business hours.”

Given the scope of this survey and prior research on this topic, it’s clear that today’s (and, most likely, tomorrow’s) employees are looking for more novel ways to be productive workers while not actually at work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Employers should take note and help them find those new ways to work.  It’s a win-win.

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Telecommuting By Way of the Middle Lane

There’s no denying that telecommuting is now a well-entrenched strategy at many companies, both large and small. But despite its widespread acceptance, many organizations continue to struggle to get it right.

ThinkstockPhotos-80700729No surprise, then, that there’s been more than a few studies on the subject over the years, including one just published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research and resulting article—titled “How Effective Is Telecommuting? Assessing the Status of Our Scientific Findings”—suggests that, like many things in life, telecommuting works best when it’s practiced to a “moderate degree.”

In their article, the researchers—Tammy D. Allen of the University of South Florida, Timothy D. Golden of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Kristen M. Shockley of City University of New York—note that telecommuting is rarely an “all-or-nothing work practice” and “the frequency with which work is done away from the central office is likely to make a difference .”

For example, the research finds that job satisfaction is highest among those who telecommute a moderate amount, compared to those who telecommute either a small amount or more extensively.

What’s more, the researchers write, “individuals who spent more time telecommuting exhibited lower job performance as a result of professional isolation than did those who spent little time telecommuting.”

They also report that autonomy plays a significant role in the success or failure of an initiative.

Workers who have more autonomy and more control over telework and when they complete their tasks, they say, seem to benefit more from telecommuting arrangements than those who don’t.

In a commentary accompanying the report, Families and Work Institute Vice President of Research Kenneth Matos and President and Co-Founder Ellen Galinsky note that the research “provides a powerful blueprint for practitioners to maximize the positive impacts of telecommuting while minimizing its drawbacks and understanding the nuances of what makes their telecommuting programs succeed or fail.”

I suppose a key word here is “nuances.”

As this latest research makes clear, employers would be well served to remember that the “devil is in the details” when it comes to crafting an effective telecommuting program.

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A Great Present for (Some) Employees

Sir Richard Branson (photo by Chatham House)

Sir Richard Branson (photo by Chatham House)

The U.K.’s Sir Richard Branson is quite a generous guy. For example, employees at the management and licensing division of his Virgin Group company are entitled to an unlimited number of vacation days each year (I should note that unlimited-leave policies such as this are not without controversy).

Now, the blonde-maned Englishman has introduced an expansive leave policy for new parents at his 140-employee management offices in London and Geneva, Switzerland: 12 months of paid leave, for both parents, for the birth or adoption of a child. What’s more, the company may expand this policy to its office in the U.S. — the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid leave for new parents.

“We are in the process of working hard on making this happen in the U.S. and hope to have an update in the coming months,” a Virgin spokesperson told ABC News.

Virgin Group’s paid paternity leave policy lets parents who’ve worked for the company at least four years to receive their full salary over 52 weeks of shared parental leave, regardless of gender. Employees with fewer than two years of service will receive 25 percent of their pay.

Generous, indeed — but then again, this benefit is available only to a small percentage of Virgin’s 50,000 or so employees (.2 percent, according to Bloomberg). Companies such as Google, Facebook, Bank of America and PricewaterhouseCoopers all offer from seven to 17 weeks of paid parental leave to their employees — far less than Virgin Group, but to a much greater share of their employee population.

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Do Parental Policies Work for Working Moms?

working mother 3For employers, the idea behind adopting family-friendly policies is pretty straightforward: to help workers with children juggle the demands of home and work.

And, while such policies might often be successful in that regard, there may also be some unintended consequences for the employees who take advantage of them—particularly mothers.

The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller analyzed some of those consequences this week, in a piece that looked at the effect such policies have had on working women in the United States as well as other countries. And the research she cites on the subject doesn’t paint an especially positive picture.

For instance, Miller references a new unpublished study from Cornell University’s Mallika Thomas, who found that women in the United States are 5 percent more likely to remain employed, but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before the Family and Medical Leave Act became law in 1993.

Thomas, who will soon take a position as an assistant professor of economics at Cornell, attributed these numbers partly to companies’ reluctance to invest in female employees who may wind up leaving.

“The problem,” Thomas told the Times, “ends up being that all women, even those who do not anticipate having children or cutting back in hours, may be penalized.”

The issue extends well beyond the U.S. too, as Miller points out.

For example, the most recent version of a child-care law in Chile—which became effective in 2009—was intended to increase the percentage of women who work in the country, which is below 50 percent.

Maria F. Prada, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, authored a study analyzing the effects of the law. While she says it may ease female employees’ transition back into work and aid children’s development, it has also led to declines in women’s starting salaries in the range of 9 percent to 20 percent.

“That was thought to be a provision to help them participate in the labor force and achieve more work/family balance, and it’s doing the opposite,” according to Prada, whose study was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There’s more.

Miller notes a law passed in Spain in 1999, designed to give workers with children under the age of seven the right to ask for reduced hours “without fear of being laid off,” she says, adding that those who have taken advantage of the law “were nearly all women.”

A study led by Daniel Fernandez-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid, found that, in the decade since the law’s passage, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age, compared to men. In addition, employers were 37 percent less likely to promote women and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to the study, which also saw the probability of women of childbearing age being unemployed increase by 20 percent.

As Miller acknowledges, there’s no simple solution to these problems. There are, however, lessons to be learned from both here and abroad in terms of alleviating some of the unpleasant byproducts of parental-leave policies.

For example, employers in three U.S. states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—that offer paid family leave finance it through employee payroll taxes. Or, consider Sweden and Quebec, where both men and women are encouraged to take time off when a new baby arrives.

Indeed, looking at parental-leave policies as being truly gender neutral would be a big step in the right direction, Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, told the Times.

“It has to become something that humans do,” said Glynn, “as opposed to something that women do.”

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Looking to the Future for Total Rewards

It’s been 15 years since the American Compensation Association changed its name to WorldatWork, reflecting the group’s decision to increase its footprint beyond the world of compensation and embrace a broader total-rewards approach.

ThinkstockPhotos-175679126This year, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based HR association celebrates its 60th anniversary. And with that milestone comes a revamped total-rewards model.

Announced during the opening session of this week’s WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2015 Conference and Exposition in Minneapolis, the new model now includes the verb “engage” (which joins attract, motivate and retain in describing total rewards’ contribution to the organization) and the addition of “talent development” as a sixth element of the total-rewards strategy.

WorldatWork’s previous model, introduced in 2006, featured the following five elements: compensation, benefits, work/life, performance and recognition, and development and career opportunities.

Anne Ruddy, president and CEO of WorldatWork, noted that the time was right for the association to re-examine its total-rewards model and make it more relevant to the kinds of issues members are facing today.

Models aside, it would seem many of those attending this year’s conference have their sights set on the future. On Monday afternoon, I attended a packed session presented by Steven Gross, a senior partner at Mercer, entitled “Total Rewards 2020: What to Expect in the Next Five Years Based Upon a Lifetime of Experience.”

Five minutes before the session began, attendees were being turned away at the door because the room was already filled to capacity. (Fortunately, for those unable to attend, the session was scheduled to be repeated the following day.)

Gross, who is based in Mercer’s Philadelphia office, gave attendees a quick rundown of the external factors influencing total rewards today, a glimpse of what the future might look like five years from  now and what steps employers ought to take to prepare for that world.

As might be expected, Gross led off his presentation by acknowledging the crucial role changing workforce demographics is playing in shaping the future of total rewards.

“It’s not only about people living longer, but people working longer,” Gross said. “Think about the implications of one quarter of folks over age 65 and 15 percent of folks over age 70 in the workforce”—and the kinds of challenges these changes are going to present to employers.

Generational differences, he said, are also likely to have an impact, as employers face the formidable challenge of addressing “the different sensitivities” of traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials.

Other external factors Gross cited included income disparities, diversity, globalization and technology.

Gross predicted that, five years from now, companies will be much more focused on “core employees” who are viewed as being crucial to their organization’s success, will continue to put more weight on individual accountability, and will pay greater attention to personalizing rewards to reflect greater workplace diversity.

Going forward, he said, companies will also be much more focused on “best fit rather than just best practice.” (In other words, he explained, does your total-rewards strategy fit the culture of your organization?)

What’s more, he added, do-it-yourself benefits programs will be far more common five years from now, with self-service becoming an even greater fixture of tomorrow’s workplace. (Gross also joined the chorus of those predicting employers will increasingly be getting  out of the “healthcare business.”)

I suppose we’ll know in five years which of Gross’ predictions were on target—and which ones missed the mark.  But of this we can be fairly certain: Tomorrow’s total-rewards landscape isn’t likely to look anything like the one that exists today. As Gross reminded those attending his session, there are simply too many significant forces at work to ensure that that’s the case.

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Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

feet upIt’s a scene that’s been played out in countless movies and television shows, and, for better or worse, in real corporate offices everywhere.

A determined go-getter logs punishing hours—days, nights, weekends—on a tireless quest to earn that big promotion, missing wedding anniversaries, kids’ soccer games and other important personal stuff along the way.

In the movies, the ultra-ambitious workaholic eventually has some kind of epiphany, learns to slow down, stops doggedly pursuing the corner office, and starts spending more time actually living life.

In the real world, however, there’s a nagging perception that the “all work, all the time” approach is still the surest way to the top.

Some interesting new research, however, suggests that simply giving the appearance of a slavish dedication to your work may be enough to get there—especially if you’re a man.

That’s what Boston University’s Erin Reid found in a study of one global consulting firm’s American offices, the findings of which were recently published in Organization Science.

Reid, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at BU’s Questrom School of Business, interviewed more than 100 employees at said consultancy. She also had access to performance reviews as well as internal HR documents within the firm, which has “a strong culture around long hours and responding to clients promptly,” according to a New York Times piece highlighting some of Reid’s findings.

Her research found that those who embraced this culture tended to be top performers, while those who resisted it—insisting upon more flexible work schedules or less travel, for instance—were “punished in their performance reviews,” according to the Times.

Overall, Reid found that both men and women were likely to have trouble with “always on” expectations within the firm. It was how men coped with these demands “that differed strikingly,” Reid wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review summary of her findings.

For instance, women who struggled with work hours tended to take formal accommodations, reducing their work hours but also “revealing their inability to be true ideal workers,” wrote Reid, noting that these female employees “were consequently marginalized within the firm.”

Men, meanwhile, often found unobtrusive, discreet ways to alter the structure of their work—such as seeking mostly local clients or building alliances with other colleagues, for example—that allowed them to work more predictable schedules in the range of 50-to-60 hours per week.

“In doing so,” wrote Reid, “they were able to work far less than those who fully devoted themselves to work, and had greater control over when and where those hours were worked, yet were able to ‘pass’ as ideal workers, evading penalties for their noncompliance.”

Take Lloyd (not his real name), a senior manager at the firm. Lloyd was “deeply skeptical about the necessity of being an ideal worker, and was unwilling to fully comply” with steep expectations, according to Reid.

“He described to me how, by using local clients, telecommuting and controlling information about his whereabouts, he found ways to work and travel less without being found out,” wrote Reid, noting that “Lloyd” even went skiing during the day five times in the week prior to their interview.

“He clarified,” added Reid, “that these were work days, not vacation days.”

Reid is careful to point out that the lessons learned from this unidentified firm can’t necessarily be applied to other organizations. And she acknowledges that men experience difficulties meeting job demands just like women do, noting that men also “face resistance and penalties” for expressing reservations about working more hours, being available on nights and weekends and so on.

What seems to vary, she says, “is that many men are able to stray while passing as fully devoted.”

Reid’s findings underscore yet another example of the disparities that still exist between how men and women are viewed in the workplace. But the notion of “passing” also highlights the flaws in how and why some organizations reward employees, she concludes.

“Passing is not a good strategy for the organization as a whole,” according to Reid. “Not only does it involve an element of deception between colleagues, bosses and subordinates, it also perpetuates the myth that those who are successful are also all wholly devoted to work.”


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Best and Worst States for Working Moms

To kick off Mother’s Day week (Wait, is my mom the only one who raised her kids believe the holiday was actually an entire week-long celebration?) WalletHub has just released its findings on the best and worst states for working moms.

They analyzed the attractiveness of each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to a working mother by examining three key dimensions: Child care, Employment opportunities and work/life balance. Data from 12 key metrics — such as median women’s salary, female unemployment rate and daycare-quality rankings — helped determine the list.

According to the rankings, Vermont took the top spot, followed by: Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Washington, North Dakota, Maine, Virginia and Ohio.

Meanwhile, Louisiana took the bottom spot in the rankings, preceded by: South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada, Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Other key stats include:

  • Day care quality is five times better in New York than in Idaho.
  • Child care costs (adjusted for the median woman’s salary) are two times higher in the District of Columbia than in Tennessee.
  • Pediatric services are 12 times more accessible in Vermont than in New Mexico.
  • The ratio of female to male executives is three times higher in Alabama than in Utah.
  • The percentage of single-mom families in poverty is two times higher in Mississippi than in Alaska.
  • The median women’s salary (adjusted for cost of living) is two times higher in Virginia than in Hawaii.
  • The female unemployment rate is four times higher in Nevada than in North Dakota.

In an a Q&A accompanying the findings, Zachary Schaefer, assistant professor of applied communication studies at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, says it’s actually getting both easier and more difficult for women to find the right work life balance because they are being put in a “double bind”:

As the number of organizations that offer “work-life” policies continues to increase, the expectations of women to be able to gracefully balance both spheres of their life will also increase. This is an unfair double bind where women are now supposed to be able to raise a family, head the household, and establish a successful career all because organizations now offer telework, more paid time off and flexible work schedules. Men are not faced with this.

So if you’re an HR professional working in an organization in one of the bottom-10 states for working moms, maybe it’s time to start thinking about what you and your organization can do to raise your state’s score.

After all, that’s an effort I’m fairly sure your own mother would be proud of.

To view the full WalletHub results, click here.

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Work/Life ‘Innovation’ in the Valley

As a session titled “Unlimited Time Off and the Leading Work/Life Benefits of Silicon Valley” reminded those attending this year’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, high-tech employers are innovating in areas well beyond technology.

ThinkstockPhotos-78521845Indeed, representatives from Adobe, Yahoo! and CA Technologies each detailed a wide range of work/life programs aimed at providing employees with greater flexibility and making their organizations more attractive places to work.

Lauren Vela, a senior director of member services at the Pacific Business Group on Health and the moderator of session, pointed out that bringing work/life balance to a high stressed, high-achieving population isn’t always an easy feat.

But that said, it’s clearly something companies such as Adobe, Yahoo! and CA Technologies take very seriously.

“In looking at our population,” explained Luz Garcia, senior Americas benefits specialist for San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems, “people were not taking time-off. They were adding huge balances to their PTO accounts,” something that wasn’t in the spirit of Abode’s time-off program.

“We wanted people to take the time-off for rest and relaxation,” she said.

In response, Garcia said, Adobe revisited its program and implemented an unlimited time-off program.

Adobe’s policy states 

“… exempt U.S. employees will be paid their regular base salary at all times while they are actively employed by Adobe (including while on Adobe holidays and during Company break periods); the only time they will not receive their base salary will be during periods when they are on a leave of absence or are taking Sick Time Off, at which time they will be subject to the compensation and benefits provisions of the applicable Adobe leave of absence policy or the Sick Time Off provision below.”

Adobe, Garcia said, also enhanced its sabbatical program in 2009 with a tiered approach— so that after five years of service employees were entitled to four fully paid weeks off; after four weeks, five fully paid weeks off; and after 15 years, six fully paid weeks off.

Garcia noted that the changes helped reinforce the fact that “we value people taking time-off to decompress.”

Adobe also has instituted summer breaks. “We always had a winter break, where we shut down the last week of December. But now, with the summer break, we shut down the week of July 4,” she said.

CA Technologies’ Vice President of Global Benefits Lisa Mars, meanwhile, shared CA’s efforts in onsite day-care.

CA, with facilities in Silicon Valley, launched its first onsite Children’s Center in 1992 at its corporate headquarters in New York, Mars said. Since then, it rolled out centers in all of its large offices. “These sites have programs for children from six weeks of age to six years [and] teachers who we train … who are very highly skilled,” she said.

“It’s emerged as a wonderful influence on our culture,” Mars told attendees. “We have a very family friendly culture.”

CA also regularly holds onsite events, such as a “spring fling” (one was being held as Mars was speaking), where all of the families with children in the center, as well as other employees with children, are able to participate. (The events includes ponies, a petting zoo, kites and games.)

“It just nice to see people step back from all of that stress,” Mars said.

Mars noted she’s been required to do a lot of CEO education over the years, as new CEOs have joined CA and want to know “why we’re spending money” on these programs. “I have to explain to them [that it’s not just about] dollars and sense,” she said. “We have to look at it as something you can’t really apply a dollar value to, but it still brings the organization value.

“We’ve done studies that show that the retention levels of people who bring children to our programs are really much higher than those who don’t,” she added.

At Yahoo!, meanwhile, the goal of its various work/life programs is to not only make the firm a great place to work, but also to draw in “the best of the best.”

One of the areas the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo! has focused on is extending paid leave of new mothers and fathers, explained Joe Gracy, director of global benefits for Yahoo! “If you had a baby, adopt a child, provide foster care placement, you get eight [fully paid] weeks off. Birth mothers get an additional eight weeks [fully paid] as a part of their disability leave.”

Management, Gracy said, also wanted to make the experience fun for those new parents by introducing new-child gift baskets that included a diaper bag, toys and more.

All of the initiatives are aimed at “making the employee feel valued and engaged,” Gracy said.

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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.”

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Bound for a Breakdown

burnoutEmployees who describe themselves as perfectionists who take work home with them and can’t bear the thought of being average sound like a manager’s dream, right?

Not necessarily, according to new research that finds employees with such workaholic tendencies may not always work out so well.

In its recent study of 1,385 individuals taking a “Type A Personality Test,” online psychological assessment provider PsychTests found 86 percent of respondents classifying themselves as workaholics saying they push themselves to accomplish their goals. Sixty-five percent of those in this group said they take work home with them, with 63 percent claiming they “hate the idea of being considered an average performer.”

That all sounds fine and good, but there’s a downside to an intensely driven personality that can manifest itself in some nasty ways.

For example, 73 percent of those who consider themselves workaholics said they have trouble unwinding at the end of the day. The same number reported getting angry with themselves when they “don’t finish everything they wanted to do.” (These folks aren’t exactly thrilled with co-workers they see as creating distractions, either, as 68 percent said they “can’t tolerate people who slow them down.”)

In addition, 60 percent said they tend to be overcompetitive and impatient with co-workers. Fifty-eight percent report feeling tense, 49 percent have trouble falling asleep and another 46 percent find their lives are too stressful.

These figures certainly aren’t the first indication that workers who regularly push themselves to extremes may be barreling toward a breakdown—and may end up taking some of their colleagues along for the ride. And, other studies offer evidence that this type of employee often reaches a point where his or her efforts simply become counterproductive.

Just last week, in fact, HRE Managing Editor Kristen B. Frasch reported on recent Stanford University research findings that suggest employees working more than 50 hours a week are essentially spinning their wheels soon after hitting the half-century mark.

In that piece, work/life experts urged employers and HR leaders to implement initiatives such as paid-time-off banks and flexible hours for all employees as a way to encourage better work/life balance among the workforce.

While making such options available is certainly a positive first step, PsychTests President Ilona Jerabek advised managers to be a bit more direct in dealing with hard-charging workers who may sometimes need saving from themselves.

“This kind of extreme, ‘Type A’ personality has a shelf life as an employee, as [such an employee] cannot keep up this kind of schedule and work dedication for a sustained period of time,” Jerabek recently told Bloomberg BNA.

“You need to give them permission to take it easy,” she said, “and explicitly tell them to take some time off.”

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