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Category: Employee Behavior (Page 1 of 15)

Don’t Get to Confortable

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” By Steve Lohr, of  The New York Times”

First there were individual offices. Then cubicles and open floor plans. Now, there is a “palette of places.”

New office designs are coming to a workplace near you, with layouts meant to cater to the variety of tasks required of modern white-collar workers. Put another way, it means people don’t sit in just one place.

It’s partly a backlash against the one-size-fits-all mind-set, not to mention the corporate penny-pinching, embodied in the move toward pure open floor plans that packed more workers into less and less space. That idea was supposed to drive collaboration, but many experts agree it often went too far, with row upon row of desks and workbench-style seating more likely to generate ennui than efficiency.

“When used as a generic answer for work space design, it’s terrible,” said David Lathrop, a researcher at Steelcase, a big office furniture maker.

The new model is largely open, but not entirely. Under the revised thinking, breaking down walls to bring people together is good, but so are “team spaces” and standing tables, comfortable couches and movable walls

Privacy is also good, particularly for tasks that require intense concentration, the thinking goes. That doesn’t mean a return to the glory days of private offices, but it does mean workers have more space and more places to seek solitude than in the neo-Dickensian workbench settings. The new designs often include “isolation rooms,” soundproof phone booths, and even lounges where technology is forbidden.

And it’s meant to be tweaked as needs change. “This continues to be iterated,” said Frank Cuevas, who is working on a major redesign at IBM — and whose use of the word “iterated” hints at the kind of start-up mentality the changes are intended to evoke.

“It’s not something we’re going stop and say, ‘This is it,’” he said.

The corporations setting the new standard are not young Silicon Valley companies known for free food, slides and foosball tables at work — or for carefree spending, as at Apple, whose new corporate mothership cost a reported $5 billion. Nor are the designs one-of-a-kind projects that veer toward eccentricity. Salesforce’s new skyscraper campus in San Francisco, for example, has areas on every floor for meditation, partly inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Instead, the companies behind the emerging new norm in workplace design are a lineup of more staid companies across a range of industries, and they may spend heavily but also systematically. They include Microsoft, IBM and General Electric. Certain workspace innovations may surface first at Google or Facebook, but the older stalwarts are combining and refining them for mainstream businesses.

“These workplace ideas are beginning to be adopted across all industries,” said Arlyn Vogelmann, a principal at Gensler, an architecture and design firm whose clients include Facebook and G.E.

The new designs are not about looks. They are an attempt to adapt to the spread of internet-era digital technology — and its hurry-up ways — into every industry. Space drives behavior, experts say, and the goal of the new designs is to hasten the pace of sharing ideas, making decisions and creating new products. They are also meant to appeal to millennial recruits, many of whom are more comfortable working in a Starbucks than in a traditional office.


The main atrium of Redwest B, an older Microsoft building at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., that has yet to be remodeled. CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times

The main atrium of a remodeled Microsoft building in Redmond. The company began experimenting with open designs in 2010. CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times

The new model eschews the common dogmas of work life: Everybody gets an office, or everyone gets a cubicle, or everybody gets a seat on a workbench. A diversity of spaces, experts say, is more productive, and the new concept is called “activity-based workplace design,” tailoring spaces for the kind of work done.

“Office geography matters, and it can be a key managerial lever to increase communication and the cross-fertilization of ideas,” said Christopher Liu, an assistant professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

One of the most aggressive makeovers is happening at Microsoft, a change forced by business necessity. The company faces a new wave of technology, as the market has shifted to software delivered and constantly updated as a service over the internet cloud, as opposed to being loaded onto individual computers, with the code often stored on compact discs and sold as a product every few years. To compete, Microsoft has had to adopt a faster pace.

“You have to collaborate more,” said Michael Ford, Microsoft’s general manager of global real estate. “We absolutely have to change.”

For decades, the company, based outside Seattle, housed its software engineers in secluded offices, thinking that the privacy helped employees focus while writing computer code. But in 2010, Microsoft started testing open designs with a quarter of a floor, and then expanded. Since 2014, it has opened 10 renovated buildings without offices, including four this year.

Microsoft, Mr. Ford said, has taken a test-and-learn approach. It learned, for example, that its early designs were too open plan, with 16 to 24 engineers in team-based spaces. Engineers found those spaces noisy and distracting, and concentration suffered. Too much openness can cause workers to “do a turtle,” researchers say, and retrench and communicate less — colleagues who retreat into their headphones all day, for example

Today, there are more private spaces, and the team areas hold only eight to 12 engineers. “That’s the sweet spot for Microsoft,” Mr. Ford said.

The company thinks it is working. Microsoft’s Azure cloud software business has surged in the last few years, as has the company’s stock price. Mr. Ford said about 20 percent of the workplaces have been redone on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Wash., and the surrounding area. Within five years, he said, he expects the renovated share to reach 80 percent.

Offices, he said, will not disappear entirely, but they will be reserved mainly for people who regularly have confidential conversations, like lawyers and top executives.

Companies renovating their work spaces often tap into a growing body of research on building design and worker well-being and productivity. Research at the University of Oregon concluded that exposure to sunlight and outdoor views correlated to about 6 percent fewer sick days than those without. Research done by Craig Knight, a British organizational psychologist, concluded that “empowered offices” — in which workers can choose their conditions — can increase productivity on cognitive tasks by 25 percent or more.

And at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, scientists found that well-ventilated offices can significantly improve a person’s ability to perform challenging tasks like developing strategy or responding to a crisis.

But companies can also save money, by using a little less space than conventional offices do.

DWorker space is now about 150 square feet per person, down from 225 square feet in 2010, estimates Tim Venable, senior vice president for research at CoreNet Global, a commercial real estate association. But the hybrid design saves less than entirely open designs, which usually have workbench settings and in which the amount of space can drop to as low as 60 square feet per worker.

“There can be huge value to people coming together, but the real reason a lot of corporations have gone to bench seating is money falling to the bottom line,” said Mr. Lathrop of Steelcase.

Another space saver has been getting people to work from home, a trend for years in corporate America. But that trend is reversing, as companies recognize that offices can be creative clusters.

IBM, for example, recently called 5,000 of its at-home employees back to offices, though one in five workers in North America still work from home full time, the company said.

Since 2014, IBM has spent $380 million renovating its work spaces in the United States, which now bear all the hallmarks of the new hybrid design — open spaces, whiteboard walls, no offices, sit-or-stand desks, huddle rooms and phone rooms.

IBM, said Mr. Cuevas, vice president of real estate strategy and operations, offers employees up to 10 different space configurations. In January, the company also remade its headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., with senior executives departing wood-paneled offices for smaller, side-by-side glass ones without doors.


Long hallways with offices are typical of the design in Redwest B, an older Microsoft office building.CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times

A small white board work station in the hallway in a remodeled Microsoft building.CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times

While G.E. executives wait for the company’s new headquarters to be built in Boston, they are working in temporary offices nearby, designed according to the new principles. The contrast with the cavernous offices and silent hallways of the old headquarters in suburban Connecticut could scarcely be more striking — open spaces, sit-or-stand desks, and no parking spaces. (Workers are urged to take public transportation.)

Face-to-face conversations have replaced endless email chains, so decisions are made faster, said Ann Klee, vice president for the Boston development and operations. Still, openness has its limits. Sometimes, she concedes, you do have to ask colleagues to use their “indoor voices.” More quiet rooms are being added to the new headquarters design.

The Boston Consulting Group has also adopted the new design, with two goals in mind: prompt people to come to the office rather than avoid it, and encourage more “casual collisions” that might spur workers to trade ideas and build relationships.

Its old Midtown Manhattan office was a traditional space with offices housing one, two or four people each. “Lots of doors, lots of pillars, nowhere to really hang out, and people had lunch delivered to their desks,” said Ross Love, a senior partner in New York.

The new space, in the Hudson Yards development on the Far West Side of Manhattan, is a hybrid open design. Since the firm moved in last November, most consultants have been coming into the office substantially more often than they did to the old building.

To measure informal interactions, Boston Consulting hired a start-up in the emerging field of workplace analytics, Humanyze, a spinoff from the MIT Media Lab. It monitored workers’ physical movements, meetings and patterns of communication.

Two tests were conducted of about 100 employees, before and after the move. In the new space, workers spent an additional four to five hours a week in short, unplanned interactions. And they spent less time in formal meetings.

In surveys, the company’s workers say they are getting more done, faster in the new space. But the payoff, Mr. Love concedes, is difficult to measure so far.

“It’s like increasing the clock speed of a computer,” he said. “If you rev things up, you ought to be able to do more.”

When You’re Bored

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“By Jen Dziura, Dailyworth contributor”

There’s nothing more soul-sucking than being chronically bored at your job.

After all, this is 40-plus hours of your week! That’s like watching three back-to-back full-season marathons of Netflix shows you hate — all while sitting in a desk chair and being unable to drink wine.

So what do you do?

There are little things you can do to help you cope. But it’s important not to favor them over moving up or moving on. Here are six proactive solutions when you’re bored at work. 

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American Dress Casually

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“By DEIRDRE CLEMENTE, The Atlantic contributor”

Americans began the 20th century in bustles and bowler hats and ended it in velour sweatsuits and flannel shirts—the most radical shift in dress standards in human history. At the center of this sartorial revolution was business casual, a genre of dress that broke the last bastion of formality—office attire—to redefine the American wardrobe.

Born in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s, business casual consists of khaki pants, sensible shoes, and button-down collared shirts. By the time it was mainstream, in the 1990s, it flummoxed HR managers and employees alike. “Welcome to the confusing world of business casual,” declared a fashion writer for the Chicago Tribune in 1995. With time and some coaching, people caught on. Today, though, the term “business casual” is nearly obsolete for describing the clothing of a workforce that includes many who work from home in yoga pants, put on a clean T-shirt for a Skype meeting, and don’t always go into the office.

The life and impending death of business casual demonstrates broader shifts in American culture and business: Life is less formal; the concept of “going to the office” has fundamentally changed; American companies are now more results-oriented than process-oriented. The way this particular style of fashion originated and faded demonstrates that cultural change results from a tangle of seemingly disparate and ever-evolving sources: technology, consumerism, labor, geography, demographics. Better yet, cultural change can start almost anywhere and by almost anyone—scruffy computer programmers included.

What came before business casual? Basically, people wore suits. The norm was starched collars, overcoats, hats, and more hats. Americans dressed up for work, and they also dressed up for restaurants, for travel, for the movies. But as those other venues began to “casualize” by the 1950s, the office (and church) retained a formal dress code, by comparison. Well into the 1970s, companies gave employees manuals to outline official dress policies, but everything depended on the management’s need or desire to enforce them. Little by little, often-ignored infractions eroded the sanctity of any top-down policy: hose-free legs when the weather permitted, a tweed blazer for a day with no client meetings, loafers instead of dress shoes. Cultural change occurs most quickly when it is led by the people, for the people.

And in Silicon Valley in the mid-1980s, the people weren’t interested in adhering to old norms. Businesses there put an emphasis on streamlining management decisions and shortening the lag time between planning and implementation. Tech firms were insular, self-regulated, and male-dominated—a fertile combination for discarding norms and celebrating rule-breaking. Restrictive clothing worn for appearances’ sake was inefficient, and Silicon Valley was all about efficiency. Sport coat? Put it on the back of the chair. Places such as Atari, Apple, and Sun Microsystems embraced the 80-hour workweek, and their clothes proved it. The cover of 1983’s humorous The Official Silicon Valley Guy Handbook showed the world what geek chic looked like: “an unkempt corduroy jacket,” “drab 100% cotton shirt,” and “econo-brand athletic sneakers.”

Apple employees on the company’s campus in 1988 (Computer History Museum)

Khaki pants and a button-down collar shirt, both Silicon Valley standards, became the baseline for dressing down, which made a certain amount of sense given that both garments were conceived in practicality. British soldiers in mid-19th-century India wore khaki for its durability, and because it blended in with the landscape. The fabric found popularity in World War I, but is most famously associated with the men deployed to the Pacific in World War II. Upon returning to the workforce, veterans did not want to give up their khakis. The button-down collar, meanwhile, came from the polo fields of England—one simply couldn’t bear having a collar flapping up in one’s face when attempting a “ride-off.” Brooks Brothers claims it brought the button-down to America in the early 1900s, and within 20 years, the soft collar eclipsed the hard version, which was removable (along with cuffs) for easy cleaning. Young women took to the shirt in the late 1940s, pairing it with Bermuda shorts.

Today, Silicon Valley has taken this spirit of sartorial pragmatism to its logical extreme. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are associated with signature outfits—a black, mock turtleneck for the former and a gray T-shirt and hoodie for the latter. Zuckerberg explained: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve [Facebook’s] community.” So, fashion and formality are frivolous? That’s the same logic that killed off the lavish ensembles of the French court and made way for the post-Revolution sack suit, a change that set a standard for menswear for nearly two centuries.

Both the creation and the adoption of business casual confirm what every teenager knows: Dress standards are a product of their environment. The same unspoken groupthink that kept East Coast employees in power suits with padded shoulders (a la 1988’s Working Girl) encouraged tech employees toward the basic elements of business casual, and even more informal garments, such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, athletic socks and, in some cases, jeans. In the 1960s, the sociologist Herbert Blumer termed this process “collective selection” and he argued that a given group sets the parameters for what is appropriate to wear (or not wear). Collective selection, Blumer wrote, happens when “people [are] thrown into areas of common interaction and, having similar runs of experience, develop common tastes.”

The fact that a California industry fueled the origin of a new office style is hardly coincidental. The state became the epicenter of casual dress in the 1930s, and laid claim to both a thriving garment sector and the cultural influence to define fashion trends for the country at large.

It was also not a coincidence that business casual arose from an industry that was in the 1980s dominated by men even more than it is now. The inherent tension between women’s appearances and a male-dominated workspace made casual dress for women loaded to begin with. Some scholars say that women wear heels to get men to respond to their requests for assistance or as a tool to compensate for their smaller physical stature. But do heels qualify as business casual? What about a sleeveless blouse? Walking shorts? “Sometimes” is a more confusing answer than “no.” By the early 2000s, journalists volunteered themselves to help women navigate these questions. Magazines, newspapers, and trade publications offered compare-and-contrast pictures, sidebars with helpful hints, and the always-useful lists of do’s and don’ts, including, “As a rule of thumb, if you can wear it to ‘The Club,’ you can’t wear it to work.” Many women still struggle with just how much of their body to expose in casual dress environments. A recent study found that 32 percent of supervisors named “too much skin” as one of their biggest problems with how their employees were dressing, right after “too casual,” at 47 percent.

The slow-but-steady adoption of business casual through the 1990s and early 2000s demonstrates the piecemeal way that cultural change actually develops. West Coast employers adopted business casual more quickly than East Coast employers. Industries that required long hours at computers and those that did not value formality as part of their public image grew more casual more quickly. Salaried office staff in the auto industry, for example, warmed quickly to the idea. An industry publication noted in 1995 that “business casual also has become a popular way for companies to reflect their changing workplace,” which as one engineer explained, emphasized “the best business practices as opposed to traditional practices.”

For the most part, those who had more interaction with the public, or clients, went by one set of standards; those who worked behind the scenes had another. Bankers and lawyers naturally had a slower go. In 1998, a banking exec told The New York Times that even though dress-down days “are a hot item” and “it’s been brought up time and time again,” his bank was “high-profile” and required workers to wear business attire. In 2000, what was then Chase Manhattan Bank took its Park Avenue office business casual, but only last year did JPMorgan (which by then had merged with Chase) change its dress code. Corporate image and employees’ desires helped define who went casual and when.

Another dimension of the way cultural change unfolds: There is always a point when “We don’t do that” slides into “Yeah, we do that.” “Casual Friday” became a palatable, kind-of-fun way to introduce new standards into the office. By 1996, nearly 75 percent of American businesses had a dress-down day—a figure up from 37 percent just four years earlier. Casual Fridays allowed both managers and employees to “collectively select” what constituted casual dress for their specific environment. Still, HR managers struggled to contain casual to just Friday or to provide guidance for an office that was proactively “going casual.” Business casual proved hard to define. In 2000, one uncertain office worker told researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “Now it’s what kind of slacks, what kind of shirt, what’s acceptable and what’s not. The ranges and limits are tested, and they are a lot more ambiguous.”

Still figuring out how to market the mix-and-match nature of the garments—quite different from selling a suit—retailers struggled to meet consumers’ needs. “I don’t think department stores are good at explaining the why of it,” a consulting firm executive told a reporter for Women’s Wear Daily’s eight-page insert in September 1995 called “Casual Evolution.” Rather than showing buyers “how to put the outfit together for the kind of business they are in,” department stores stood by outdated floor plans that separated pants from shirts and shoes. Companies such as The Gap or The Limited that were in charge of both their manufacturing and their retail provided shoppers with an achievable and versatile look.

Confusion among consumers died off in the early 2000s, but for managers, one question loomed: Does casual dress make workers less productive? A chorus of academics came up with an answer: not sure! Some managers argued it empowered workers to bring individuality to the workplace, which in turn inspired creative thinking. Other managers considered casual dress a distraction that too often devolved into sloppy habits.

Thirty years into business casual, many Americans live without dress belts or socks; some don’t even have an iron, and even more don’t use the one they do have. The infiltration of casual clothes into the American wardrobe is complete, but standards are ever changing. Driving the change today is a generation of Americans who are less beholden to rules like “no white shoes after Labor Day.” Consultants say that as workers, Millennials “tend to be uncomfortable in rigid corporate structures,” value “a flexible approach to work,” and seek “similar things in an employee brand as they do in a consumer brand.” Today’s young workers didn’t have to shake off the shackles of formality that plagued the previous generation; clothing for them is less about fitting in than standing out. Clothing has always been personal—after all, we wear it on our bodies—but everyday fashion is moving toward the idea that people can wear what they want, as long as it is authentically them. This principle will define what people wear to work in the coming decade.

There’s always a pushback as dress standards change. Many today might be tempted to watch an episode of Mad Men and think, “Why don’t people dress that nicely anymore?” But clothing standards are born of their time and place. What people wear is dynamic, but not capricious. So anyone who frowns upon the hoodie-wearing coworker one cubicle over would be well advised not to judge. If history is any indication, that’s what everyone will be coming to work in soon enough.

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5 Strategies Waking up

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“Article Courtesy of Business Financial Range

Many of us struggle with not only waking up but getting out of bed, which isn’t the most encouraging way to start the day. Fortunately, it’s possible to develop habits that will make waking up less of a struggle. Below are five tips to get you started.

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New Employee is Making My Old Employee Look Bad…Now What?

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“By J.T. O’donnell, of”

New Employee Is Making My Old Employee Bad, Now What?

Employee POV: I’ve been a loyal employee for 10+ years. I helped the company through some tough years. Recently, my boss hired a much younger employee to help with additional workload. The new guy is definitely more tech-savvy than me, works a lot of overtime, and is getting a lot of attention for how well he is producing. Meanwhile, I’m sensing a cold shoulder from my boss. He’s been more critical of my work and less chatty with me. Should I worry about losing my job? I can’t imagine they’d let me go, I’ve got a lot of company knowledge.

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7 Things Selfish People Do In The Workplace

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“By Nicolas Cole, of”

Selfishness in the workplace is like the black plague. It spreads. It is contagious. It rubs off on people and before you know it, the trait becomes ingrained in the company’s culture. And the worst part? People don’t even recognize it. Selfishness is disguised as confidence, bravado, “expertise” and drive.

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8 Reasons to Be Early to Work

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“By Hilary White, POPSUGAR Smart Living”

Arriving early to work might not always sound like the most appealing thing to do, mainly because it means getting up earlier. But there are some great reasons to get ahead of the game — especially if you practice some good morning habits. Check out ways that starting work before the rest of the crowd can make your day more efficient and enjoyable.

1. Your commute is easier.
If you drive, there is significantly less traffic early in the morning. If you use public transportation, you may actually be able to find a seat before rush hour begins!

2. Your morning coffee is fresher.
The later you come in to work, the more likely it is that the coffee has been brewed and sitting for awhile. Getting to work early means making coffee (people will love you!) and having the freshest first cup of the day.

3. The refrigerator is all yours.
Office fridges accumulate so much food so quickly that putting your lunch in sometimes feels like playing a game of Tetris. When you arrive early, you get first dibs on a nearly empty fridge, so you don’t have to stuff your food in some corner and find it squished and leaky when you go to eat it later.

4. You have time to plan your day out.
Even if you aren’t coming in and getting immediately down to work, arriving early means having the luxury of taking your time and making a plan for the day. When you have a solid to-do list, you work more efficiently.

5. There are limited distractions.
If you have a hard time getting work done from home, coming to work when the office is empty is a great way to buckle down, focus, and get a good chunk of work completed without anything to distract you.

6. You can score face time with the boss.
Most likely, your boss is one of the first people to arrive in the morning. If you’re already there, or if you arrive around the same time as they do, you’re able to have more one-on-one interactions with your employer than you may be able to when a larger group is involved. Who knows where getting in good with the boss can lead!

7. You get the inside information.
As people trickle in, you’re able to speak to everyone and cover all of your bases. Whether it’s just a quick hello or more in-depth conversation, you get to take part in it all.

8. You’re able to leave earlier.
One of the biggest perks of arriving early is that you will probably finish your tasks sooner and be able to head out before you would be able to otherwise. This means you can get that workout in before your dinner plans or drop off your dry cleaning before the store closes.

Limit Your Employees’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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“by Derek Irvine,”

When’s the last time you had a bad day at work?

A recent survey by the Danish firm Woohoo, Inc., asked just this question of employees worldwide. The survey defined a bad day at as:

A day where you feel lousy on the job. You’re unhappy at work and when you come home, you definitely don’t feel like having more of those days.”

Since a bad day is influenced by numerous factors both internal and external to the workplace, it’s not surprising that nearly all of us have had a bad day at work. In fact, only 8 percent claim to never or almost never have experienced such a thing. But out of those many factors that can influence our daily experience of work, which had the most impact?

What makes for a bad day at work?

Here are the top answers in response to the question, “The last time you had a bad day at work, which factors in the workplace made it bad?”
1.A lack of help and support from my boss (40 percent);
2.Negative co-workers (39 percent);
3.Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37 percent);
4.Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy (37 percent);
5.Busyness/high work load (36 percent).

I can’t say I’m surprised by any of these factors.
• Factors 1 and 5 are closely related. Bosses who don’t lead, guide and coach (or roll up their sleeves and dive in when the work gets overwhelming) don’t deserve the title.
•Factors 3 and 4 are also intertwined. Recognition, at its core, conveys the critical message, “I see you. The work you do matters and makes a difference to how we achieve our mission and strategy.”
•Factor 2 – co-worker negativity – is a miasma that permeates the atmosphere, bringing down the energy of everyone and making it difficult to pull together as a team.

A solution? Recognize great work

Considering these factors reflect the reasons why people take unnecessary sick days (“pull a sickie” or “take a mental health day” as discussed in a recent post), the ROI factor involved in reducing the number of “bad days” experienced by employees is not insignificant.

Simply by helping employees balance their workload and recognizing them when their efforts contribute to achieving the company strategy and vision, bosses convey their support and help employees see the positive and important impact they have on organization success.

Better yet, enable all employees to recognize and appreciate those they see doing great work. The act of recognition has as much positive impact on the giver as on the receiver and is a tremendous influence to overcome persistent negativity.

It would be unrealistic to think we could eliminate all bad days at work, but as responsible leaders we must acknowledge our role and responsibility in reducing the bad days experienced both by those we directly manage as well as those in our broader circle of influence.

Too many bad days hurts productivity

As the Woohoo study points out:

Of course it should always be allowed for a person to have the occasional bad day at work. No one can be happy every single day and we can’t create perfect workplaces where everyone is ridiculously happy every day. But when workplaces cause their employees to have many bad days at work, it lowers productivity and customer satisfaction and increases absenteeism and employee turnover. In short, it costs a ton of money.”
The survey report is quite interesting and I encourage you to read it in full.

When was the last time you had a bad day at work? What drove that experience? What can you do to help alleviate you own bad days or the bad days experienced by others?


Why Your Employees are Miserable During Vacation

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“by Pam Wickham,”

A strong team is the product of smart hiring, strategic training, simple respect and a ton of trust. Building a strong team is hard work, but the payoff is immeasurable. Here are a few techniques I’ve picked up in my efforts:

Hire as a team
A strong team requires the right people — not just good people, and not just qualified people — but the right people. I’m talking team players. When interviewing candidates, put them face-to-face with members of your staff — men and women, younger and older, junior and senior. For the candidate, it’s an early sign of how much teamwork matters at your organization. For your team, it reinforces their sense of ownership and sends the message that their thoughts matter.

Cross-train everyone
A strong team is packed with people who can step into each other’s roles when the need arises. Not only does cross-training make your team stronger and more agile, but it teaches empathy. Trying someone else’s job is the best way to learn how hard it really is. Most importantly, it eliminates the burden that comes with only one person being able to perform a certain task — a huge source of stress and a major morale killer that ruins vacations and drives people to come in on sick days.

Let them grow
A strong team never stops improving, and that starts with valuing your talent. Know what your people do well, and call on them to do it. Know what they need to improve, and help mentor them. Know where they want to go, and help them get there. Fight the urge to keep talented people in their positions. The more people you send off to bigger things, the more you’ll see good candidates knocking on your door.

Invest in them
A strong team delivers outstanding work, and outstanding work warrants recognition. Celebrate your team’s successes. Do it in small ways — a simple “thank you,” or coffee and donuts the day after a deadline. Do it big: Show their accomplishments to senior management, and give credit where it’s due. Above all, provide opportunities for promotion and career growth.

Set them free
A strong team deserves to break free and shine, and it’s up to the coach to give them the chance to do their best. Encourage employees to take on “stretch” assignments outside their normal responsibilities. Nominate lower-level employees to lead team projects. Good team members will find it rewarding to succeed at something new, and they’ll develop skills that will serve them — and the team — in the future.

In the end, it takes tremendous focus and a long-term commitment to create and nurture a strong team. By building an atmosphere of trust and respect, where employees are enabled to do their best and recognized for their hard work, you can create a foundation for success that provides real value for your organization.

Coping With the Narcissistic Boss

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“by Crystal Spraggins,”

Of all the offensive managerial types, the narcissist has got to be one of the worst.

For our purposes, the term “narcissist” does NOT refer to those with narcissistic personality disorder (although God knows you don’t want someone with this diagnosis in your workplace). Instead, we’ll be talking about your garden-variety but nonetheless dangerous self-serving and self-loving boss.

That’s enough bad news for one day. 

Hallmarks of the narcissistic boss

Narcissistic bosses believe the world would be a much better place if everyone were just like them.

Employees toiling under these self-centered tyrants quickly begin to feel stifled, demoralized, and unappreciated. And no wonder. Each of us is a unique human being with a distinctive personality, temperament, and worldview. It doesn’t feel good when someone attempts to suppress our wills by imposing theirs.

Also, narcissists tend to be sneaky little so-and-sos. They’ll pretend to be “nice” when it suits their purposes, but when it doesn’t watch out! Naturally, their employees receive the brunt of their malice.

What’s more, narcissistic bosses set people up for failure. Demands are communicated haphazardly and with a near total lack of transparency. Data without context is a specialty; narcissists are crazy tight-fisted with information. The poor soul responsible for pleasing an implacable narcissist often finds him- or herself in a damned if you do/damned if you don’t position.

It’s a puzzle. How can someone provide so much detail (these folks are micromanagers for sure) and still be so terrible at communicating what they want?

Yes, they’re “difficult,” too

But perhaps worst of all, narcissists have no sense of humor about themselves. Zilch. Zippo. Nil. As such, they are prickly, oversensitive to criticism, and dishonest (“Admit a mistake? Hell no. I’ll just pretend you misunderstood or blame someone else …”).

They are, in a word, “difficult” to work with. Not that they actually care to work with anyone. Narcissists are the ultimate non-team playing players.

In a nutshell, narcissistic bosses are:

  • Emotionally shallow;
  • Lacking in empathy;
  • Ridiculously self-absorbed;
  • Envious; and,
  • Untrustworthy.

But, narcissists have two things in their favor:

  1. They’re great at sucking up to those they deem important; and,
  2. They’re completely shameless and will do most anything to meet their dastardly goals. As a result, they’re talented at catching the rest of us off guard and unprepared to deal with someone whom we couldn’t fathom would do that.

Handling the narcissistic manager

First, accept that you must do something, because inaction is not a responsible option. Narcissists are toxic to teams, partly because they’re envious and will deliberately sabotage others’ success and partly because they annoy the heck out of people.

Second, if the narcissist is someone you hired, admit this wasn’t your best decision and move on. Pretending that nothing is wrong will only compound the problem.

Third, let your ethics be your guide. We often know the right thing to do but talk ourselves out of doing it to avoid inconvenience, embarrassment, shame, or some other perceived loss. Please don’t do that now. Whatever circle of influence your narcissistic employee has, he or she is probably using it for no good—or more to the point, no one else’s good.

Fourth, don’t be fooled. Narcissists care very little for you or your company goals, no matter what they say to the contrary.

Fifth, listen. If you have a narcissist in your workplace, you’ll know it, because he or she is forever ruffling somebody’s feathers. Interpersonal conflict and narcissists are like salt and pepper—where one is you can usually find the other. A real tale-tell sign? When you start to listen, you’ll begin to hear from people who typically don’t butt heads with anyone.

Sixth, hope for rehabilitation, but prepare for separation. The challenge of managing interpersonal conflict is that everyone has a point of view. So be doubly careful when disciplining a narcissist. Document everything. Provide reasonable chances. Exercise compassion but be firm. One bad apple shouldn’t be allowed to spoil your barrel.

You can do better

Don’t believe the hype of the brilliant, narcissist boss who drives his people to wild heights of success with his unwavering commitment to innovation and excellence (think Steve Jobs, or at least what people say about Steve Jobs.)

That’s crap. Most narcissistic bosses are average-performing little despots skilled at smoke and mirrors. If they won’t do better, I guarantee you can.

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