Category Archives: workplace stress

Some Demographic ‘Sticking Points’ to Conquer

121199603-- age demographicsCame across this interesting take on just how frustrated workers — all workers — are today. Haydn Shaw, a speaker and generational expert, has a new book out, Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. In it, he itemizes the 12 different sources of tension troubling the different demographics trying to work together for the betterment and success of their organizations. As his release says:

Frustrations have never measured higher in the workplace. Some blame the recession and the fact that there are now more hours to work and less pay. The cost of living and healthcare is rising, but not salaries. Others see how generational conflicts are lowering productivity in organizations as misunderstandings, lack of teamwork and communication pull teams apart, leaving team members at a loss for resolving issues across the generations. Those same generational tensions show up at home as well.

These tensions are caused by four different generations working side by side in the workplace for more than a decade: the Traditionalists (born before 1945), the baby boomers (born 1945–1965), Gen X (born 1965–1980), and the millennials (born 1980–2000). Time has not solved the issues created by multiple generations in the workplace; it has only magnified them.

His release didn’t go into much detail on just what those tensions are, so I called him to at least get the full rundown. Here are those 12 “Sticking Points” that cause conflict between the four generations: communication, decision-making, dress code, feedback, fun at work, knowledge transfer, loyalty, meetings, policies, respect, training and work ethic.

Some are fairly intuitive — dress codes, for instance. All you have to do is imagine someone in pumps and someone in flip flops walking into the same meeting. And, pondering communication, we’ve heard plenty about social media driving more of a wedge between the generations than bringing them together. And respect might conjure up the different age groups’ views on schedules and start times.

But rather than conjecture, I asked Shaw to expound himself on the top four — in his mind — that come up most often and what employers can do about them. Here’s what he had to say:

On work ethic — The farm and the factory shaped the expectations of Traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-1964) that the workday started early in the morning and you put in your time. My father-in-law used to say, ‘Give a full day’s work for a fair day’s pay.’ But as work moves from a job with set work hours to service and knowledge-driven projects  that can be performed 24/7, the definition of work ethic must move with it. Create clear work standards and then measure your employees by what they produce, not by the hours they work.

On communication — For those of us who have spent most of our careers communicating through memos or e-mail, mobile technology and access to Facebook is a nice bonus, but not essential. We have trouble understanding how big it is for millennials. Cisco did a study in 2011 of 2,200 college students and young professionals worldwide to see what they wanted from their employers. They found that 56 percent of college students globally would turn down a job offer from an organization that banned access to social media (or they would ignore the policy). If your organization is going to succeed with millennials, you’re going to have to get familiar with the tools that they can’t live without. And then get clear as to when to put them down and make eye contact.

On respect — Millennials are redefining respect and causing teams to get stuck around the questions, ‘How long do you have to pay your dues before you can say what you think or put new ideas on the table?’ ‘How long before you don’t have to do the junk jobs that no one wants to do?’ Employers need to get their people talking about the different ways each generation answers these questions so people will quit assuming everyone defines respect the same way. Then they will quit taking personally what another generation doesn’t mean personally. That breakthrough idea allows us to leverage generational know-how rather than complain about the differences.

On loyalty — Getting unstuck around loyalty has two parts. First, we need to quit stereotyping and name-calling. To do that, we have to help the generations get a clear definition of loyalty that fits current economic and work realities. If we don’t, older generations will always think younger generations have a moral defect because they’re not as loyal as the older generations, and the younger generations will think the older generations don’t understand the new economy. Second, we must shift our energy away from criticizing other generations’ definitions of loyalty and toward discovering ways to make our organizations better so all generations want to stay longer.

“When we understand why another generation thinks the way they do,” he says, “we are much more likely to appreciate the differences and speak their language.”

Granted, much of what he says underscores points others have made and stories we have published, but I like the way he says it.

Coincidentally, this byline that just went live yesterday on our website, HREOnline, offers another — maybe even more probing — look into what goes wrong when managers simply can’t connect with employees around what’s important to each side. The title kind of says it all: “Dear HR: Why I am Leaving.”


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.”

A New Kind of Difficult Boss

Businessman has stress and sreams into mobile phoneJust when you think you’ve come across every kind of challenging employee …

In a new book, British psychologist, journalist, best-selling author and broadcaster Oliver James has identified three types of dysfunctional personalities commonly found in white-collar work environments: the psychopath, the Machiavellian and the narcissist. These personality types, he writes, often seem to possess an innate knack for climbing the corporate ladder, and many organizations seem to actually reward their ruthless behavior.

Here’s the even scarier part. In Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks, James introduces a fourth dysfunctional type or “triadic person” that combines the traits of these three personality types to form some type of self-involved, psychopathic, scheming super-beast ready to run roughshod over the workplace.

James describes how these “triadics” have a “dangerous, yet effective mix of a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, deviousness and self-regard” that can propel them to the top of organizations. He offers up fictitious examples such as Sopranos skipper Tony Soprano and Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider, antagonist and symbol of unfettered greed in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. He also provides some real-life, albeit anonymous illustrations of calculating, cunning or just plain cruel behavior displayed by those in leadership positions. For instance, he writes of an advertising and film executive who once introduced a female colleague by saying, “The last time I saw Suzy she was stark naked,” and referred to a respected academic as having “little capacity for original thought,” but “a great talent for acquiring and taking credit for others’ ideas.”

James also recalls partners from what he describes as an “elite” law firm, who possessed social skills “akin to someone with Asperger’s syndrome, so unaware were they of the thoughts and feelings of others.”

Or, consider the investment banker who got his position by fooling an interview panel into believing he was an expert on a product he knew nothing about, and further duped his new boss into thinking he came from an exceedingly wealthy background.

Finally, and not surprisingly, James predicts this new breed of superslime in our midst will cause colossal headaches for their employees, and offers a word of caution for the companies employing them.

“This dark triad of characteristics is very likely to be present in that person in your office who causes you so much trouble … ” he writes.

The likelihood of your daily working life being sacrificed by a person who is some mixture of psychopathic, Machiavellian and narcissistic is high. If you do not develop the skills to deal with them, they will eat you for breakfast.”

Treating Workplace Stress in a Global Marketplace

Came across an interesting perspective on treating workplace stress globally. Funny how invisible those obvious things you failed to contemplate before are until they’re brought to your attention.

In this recently published book, Work Stress and Coping in the Era of Globalization (here’s the release about it), three co-authors — James C. Segovis, Rabi S. Bhagat and Terry A. Nelson — raise the point that treating stress in today’s globalized marketplace has become a subject of increasing importance, particularly in the way it demands a more “holistic” approach, one less influenced by Western culture.

In the individualistic culture of the United States and other Western countries, “we see stress as ‘your fault, you should be stronger … you should cope better,’ ” Segovis says. According to him, westerners tend to treat symptoms of stress with exercises, relaxation techniques or medication rather than seeking an organizational int5ervention that deals with the actual causes of stress.

However, he says, 75 percent of the world’s labor force is collectivistic, and in such societies, stress is experienced and managed differently: One’s family, religion and spirituality play far more significant roles and one’s identity and resources for coping with stress depend on one’s community.

Western-style stress management, he says, has mixed results in such cultures, which means the ones crafting such programs — often HR professionals — need to be designing them differently. (The book purportedly offers research and suggestions for doing this.)

So … the need for cultural sensitization in today’s global-business spread now encompasses stress and how it’s treated and managed — in addition to language and religion and all the other aspects of cultural differences we’ve heard about and covered.

But of course. Why didn’t I think of that?