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April 2, 2020 / Articles We Like / Blog / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Four Tips to Navigate Working from Home

by Anne Loehr, Executive Coach, anne@mariposaleadership.com

I talk for a living, whether it’s through keynotes, employee trainings, executive coaching, human capital consulting, writing articles or just a chat with a client. I’m lucky enough to have clients from a variety of industries and sectors, giving me a wide view of how organizations are handling similar situations. This week alone I had the honor to chat with people from large consulting firms, start-ups, Federal government, tech firms, mid-size companies, biopharma organizations, large school systems, manufacturing firms, real estate industry leaders, and HR professionals. I learned a lot of best practices for navigating the Covid-19 work from home (WFH) situation and I’d like to share those with you here.

Schedule daily white space

Someone said to me, “It’s just telework. It’s not a big deal.” Wrong. It’s not just telework and it is a big deal. Why? Because the old paradigm of telework was that you worked from home 1-2 days/week, usually while others in your home were at work and/or school. Now everyone is working and learning under one roof, which adds complexity to the situation. I have it fairly easy; our high school daughter can self-manage her day. However, I have one client who has 3 children under the age of 5 at home while both he and his wife are trying to work. Ouch! That’s a tough situation!

So what are organizations doing to manage this? One best practice is to create intentional white space and schedule set times for team calls. One firm only holds calls from 8:30 am – noon and then 2 – 5 pm, local time. This allows people to have a midday break to attend to their own personal needs or the needs of those who live with them.

Learn together

It’s easy to disengage on employee development right now. I’ve heard “Training and development is a non-essential, so we’re cutting the live employee training we had planned”. I get it; financial stability and cash flow is vital right now. However, don’t forget about your teams who want to feel a sense of normalcy. So instead of offering a live employee development training, conduct a 60-minute virtual ‘lunch and learn’ on living through change or a 45-minute webinar about stress management instead. It’s easy to do and shows the teams that you are still there for them.

Lempathy

It’s easy to lose focus when WFH, so set clear focus on short term goals and how the goals align with the organizational mission. Create a 2-minute podcast or video to remind your team what you’re working on and use shared docs to create accountability.

It’s also easy to tilt toward excessive empathy, such as “It’s OK that Biva didn’t achieve his tasks today. He has 4 kids at home.” Giving a pass every once in a while shows flexibility; excessive empathy breeds missed deadlines. So use ‘both/and’ instead; in other words, try “Wow! Having four kids at home while working is hard. How can you achieve the biggest deadline today and have the kids home? What’s the first step? Second step?” Bottom line: show you care AND that goals still need to be completed. One of my coaching clients calls this “lempathy”: leading with empathy. It works for him; see if it works for you.

Focus on self-care

Stress manifests in different ways, for different reasons. In general, there are three pillars of health: physical, mental and emotional. Take a self-assessment and ask yourself how you’re doing on:

Physical: Maintaining the nutrition, sleep and exercise that your body needs
Mental: Focusing on the task at hand
Emotional: Self-regulating your emotions appropriately with those around you

Whatever you do to manage your WFH situation, remember to keep it fun! People want to feel connected; they are looking for the water cooler experience, where they can just have a fun chat for a few minutes with each other. So set this up with virtual coffee chats, happy hours, walks, exercise classes and even hobby times (knitting anyone?). One company in Boston creates daily entertainment videos for the employee’s children to watch while the parent is working. Another organization spreads smiles via Skype. What will work for you?

I’d love to hear how you are navigating your work from home in these stressful times. What is working for you and what is not? Let’s share experiences. Send me an email or contact us on Twitter.

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March 21, 2020 / Blog / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Leading in the New Normal

How are you surviving in this strangest-of-times? We are listening deeply to what our clients are experiencing. Here is what we are hearing:

  • Getting set up: How do we logistically move to a primarily virtual work environment for the foreseeable future? There is a recognition that this is NOT a three-week thing, it’s most likely at least a three-month thing.
  • Protecting our families: How do we keep ourselves and our families safe? How do we work it out together to be in the same household (to be productive and not get on each other’s nerves)?
  • Relieving anxiety: How do we keep calm in the face of such uncertainty? What can we control in the face of complete overwhelm? How do we deal with isolation—it’s already setting in—including how to show compassion for our teammates and for someone who may be sick?
  • Redesign: How do we start to reprioritize, reengineer, reorganize, rethink, and/or re-message our products, services, business models, marketing needs, talent needs? In other words, how do we redesign anything big or small, to get ahead of the curve? There is a sense we should redesign now.
We have some resources to support you. Click here to learn more about morale boosters and redesign strategies.
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March 21st, 2020|Categories: Blog, Stress / Work-Life Integration|
March 12, 2020 / Blog / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Swimming in This Sea of Uncertainty…

by Therese Tong, Executive Coach, therese@mariposaleadership.com

I injured my foot a couple of weeks ago so no running probably for the next 6 – 8 weeks. For those who know me well, you know how that puts me in “just” a little bit of a funk. I am feeling restless and then I’m picking a fight for no rhyme or reason with my hubby…but of course, right? Given the much lower dose of endorphins and we are all swimming in this sea of uncertainty… “I don’t want it…I don’t like it…”

Three things have helped me:

  • Loving Kindness Meditation
  • Self-Care & Support  
  • Assessment & Moods

Loving Kindness Meditation

With the growing murmur of uncertainty somewhat getting louder, I realize I need to return to gratitude for what is and to start remembering that I need a little bit more kindness [for me]…plus to sit with breath in and breath out seems impossible — my mind is bouncing off the wall! Is it only me? At times like this, I take a few breaths, a couple more and settle into my body; repeating:

“May I be safe and free from danger…may I be healthy in body, mind, spirit…may I be at peace…”

Find out more and to continue the practice expanding from “I” to “we” to “all beings” as you feel ready.

Self-Care and Support    

For our immune system to be healthy, all the usual sleep, movement, sunshine, diet are required and with COVID-19 declared a pandemic — we need nourishing conversation, relationships and support. We don’t get to go this alone — I/you/we care about others and he/she/they care about us, too! So, even with “social distancing”; reach out to a trusted friend, colleague…and be kind to you, your partner, kids, neighbor…take time to pet your dog — it will all help.

Assessment & Mood

This is a framework I share with clients and this time, it has helped me to acknowledge that even though typically I have a mood of gratitude, laugh easily and wholeheartedly and am upbeat; at this time, this is not the mood I have and my emotions seem to be on a roller-coaster all of her own doing – easily irritated by the slightest inconvenience, feeling both angry and sad that in the US – a developed country, we are ill-prepared and the most vulnerable are usually hit hardest.

In naming the space I am in, am now more aware — I can step back, not be caught in it, see and reassess/reframe the story and therefore what is possible and choose again. In this case, I decided to write this up, gave my hubby a hug, apologized and have reached out to my peeps for a walk and coffee.

There is much more agency in having some awareness, seeing more clearly – knowing that you have emotions and a mood rather than being had by your emotions/mood.

So, wiggle your toes, take a few deeper breaths – what do you choose? Go for a walk, sip your favorite drink, complete your email to your team, anticipate business implications…call a friend, hug your child …

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September 30, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “Here’s What Mindfulness Is (and Isn’t) Good For”

According to the media, the benefits of mindfulness have recently exploded into an ubiquitous cure-all for fixing our problems. As it happens, most of the research around mindfulness is not grounded in rigorous scientific evidence.

In his recent Harvard Business Review article “Here’s What Mindfulness Is (and Isn’t) Good For,” Daniel Goleman found that less than 1 percent of the studies he researched met rigorous scientific standards. So, while you can’t believe everything you hear about mindfulness, he is quick to point out that there is solid research that shows us what meditation can really do.

What do you think about Daniel Goleman’s four key benefits of mindfulness?

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August 31, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “Current Events Stressing You Out? Do This for a Saner, More Focused Workday”

Keeping up with the current events this past week – natural disasters, nuclear missile threats, protests and riots – is enough to put anyone on edge and induce low work performance and burnout. Whether it’s political turmoil or a reorganization at your company, employees who are concerned about their future are likely to be distracted and unproductive.

In his recent Fast Company article, “Current Events Stressing You Out? Do This For A Saner, More Focused Workday,” Art Markman shares some practical tips to help us keep calm, and stay focused and productive during uncertain times.

What do you think of his recommendations?

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July 28, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “How to Deal with a Boss Who Stresses You Out”

We’ve all had issues with a toxic boss at one point or another, but consistently dealing with a bad leader can make going to work each morning a stressful task.

In his recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Deal with a Boss Who Stresses You Out,” Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic shares some practical coping strategies for managing your boss’s dark side. Ultimately, even Dr. Chamorro agrees that the only sure way to stay on the good side of a volatile boss is by being an indispensable and valuable resource.

What do you think of his recommendations?

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April 11, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “Balancing Parenting and Work Stress: A Guide”

Being a working parent is tough. The stress of trying to achieve a balance between career and children can really take a toll on your personal and professional life. If you could ask hundreds of high-performing working parents for advice, what do you think they would say?

In her recent Harvard Business Review article, “Balancing Parenting and Work Stress: A Guide,” author Daisy Wademan Dowling gathered this advice to address some of the biggest working-parent problems. In her article, Wademan Dowling has come up with a list of specific actions that she believes “will work for you, your people, and your organization.”

What do you think of Daisy’s advice?

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April 1, 2017 / Stress / Work-Life Integration / Wise Talk

WiseTalk Summary on Work Without Stress

­­­On March 24, Sue Bethanis hosted Dr. Derek Roger, founder of the Stress Research Unit at the University of York and director of the Training Consultancy Work Skills Center. His groundbreaking research at the University of York in England has made him one of the world’s leading experts on resilience and stress management. Derek is a British Psychological Society chartered psychologist and is a fellow of the international Stress Management Association. He’s authored more than 100 articles in the scientific press and is the co-author of this month’s leadership resource Work without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.

Favorite Quote: “Resilience is the ability to negotiate the rapids of life without becoming stressed.”

Insights:

According to Roger, “People say – oh a bit of stress is good for you. No, it’s not. No stress is ever good for you. What is very useful is pressure. And we make this distinction because it’s really important. Pressure is just a demand to perform. That’s all. Pressure will only become stress if you go on ruminating about it. That’s what rumination is. That’s when pressure is turned into stress.”  We are not genetically programmed to ruminate. It’s a habit we have developed and cultivated over time. According to Roger, there is a four step process to overcoming stress. 

Waking Up – We have a choice to not ruminate. Rumination is primarily a habit and it can be changed. It’s nurture, not nature. It’s not hardwired and you can change it. Roger says, “When the rumination bubbles up in the mind there is a point at which you can choose either to go on entertaining those what if only thoughts or not. And it is a choice that you make. Now the difficulty with that is that you do have to be awake to be able to make that choice.”

Roger believes that one of the problems with mindfulness is that people are using it as a means to an end. People want to be mindful so they can be happy.

As far as rumination is concerned you don’t need it in your life at all and it very plainly is a choice. Once you’ve “woken up” you can let go of the negative emotion and come back into the present.

Controlling Attention – Roger believes that when you ruminate, your attention gets caught in an unproductive loop, like a hamster on a wheel. You need to redirect yourself to areas in which you can take useful action.  An exercise that Roger uses with his executives is to draw a circle on a page, and write down all of the things you can control or influence inside it and all of things you cannot outside if it. Remind yourself that you can care about externalities — your work, your team, your family — without worrying about them.

Becoming Detached – Ruminators tend to catastrophize, but resilient leaders keep things in perspective for themselves and their teams. According to Roger, there are three techniques to try:

  • Contrasting: Comparing a past stress to the current one, i.e., a major illness versus a missed sale
  • Questioning: Asking yourself “How much will this matter in three years’ time?” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “How would I survive it?”
  • Reframing: Looking at your challenge from a new angle: “What’s an opportunity in this situation I haven’t yet seen?” or even “What’s funny about this situation?”

Letting Go – The final step is often the hardest. If it was easy to let it go, we would have done it already. Roger has three techniques that help:

  • The first is acceptance. Acknowledge that whether you like the situation or not, it is the way it is.
  • The second is learning the lesson. Your brain will review events until it feels you’ve gained something from them, so ask yourself, “What have I learned from this experience?”
  • The third is action. Sometimes the real solution is not to relax, but to do something about your situation. Ask yourself, “What action is required here?

Biological Responses to Pressure – Worrying is the same as rumination. You can use them interchangeably. Worrying interferes with our ability to processing information. There is an arousal process involving adrenaline and cortisol that is perfectly natural. These hormones are facilitating your awakening.  According to Roger, if you’re just sitting and dozing and suddenly there’s a noise behind you and you feel that slight shift in your body – that’s because of adrenaline. The adrenaline level has increased and that’s not a problem. It alerts you. it’s a readiness process. The problem is when it’s sustained.

There is a clear difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Much of the negative effects come from what’s called chronic stress. According to Roger, acute stress isn’t stressing at all, it is just pressure.

On Resilience – The thing about resilient people is that they don’t catastrophize. They don’t ruminate and they are able to keep a detached perspective. And what that means when they don’t catastrophize so they don’t catastrophize about what’s round the corner.

What we found most interesting:

Our lives are about demand because there is always something that needs to be done. That’s the simplest way to think about it. The pressure is constant but that isn’t a problem. Pressure is just a demand to perform. The difference is when you make the choice to hold onto the “negative stuff” and ruminate about it.

To learn more about Derek Roger, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

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February 5, 2017 / Stress / Work-Life Integration / Wise Talk

WiseTalk Summary on the Upside of Stress

On January 26, 2017, Sue Bethanis hosted clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson. Dr. Robertson is an expert at applying the latest psychological and neuroscience research to contemporary political, health, social, economic and business affairs in a very accessible manner. Professor Robertson discussed his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, a revelatory study of how and why we react to pressure in the way we do, with real practical benefits to how we live.

Favorite Quote:

“In order to control your anxiety you have to believe that you can.”

Robertson says in order to gain control of your emotional state, thinking patterns and behavior there is a fundamental prerequisite that must exist before you can exercise that control – you need to believe that it is possible.

Insights:

Stress plays a huge part in leaders’ lives and can be both a hindrance and motivator. When your perception of a demanding situation exceeds your ability to cope with that demand – you feel anxious. Anxiety is the activation of the autonomic nervous system which prepares us for fight or flight. This is meant to prepare us to deal with short term danger or opportunity and also gives us the ability to focus.

Too much stress can be debilitating. A moderate amount is extremely good for the mind. Robertson explains that stress causes the brain to secrete a chemical called noradrenaline. “The brain doesn’t perform at its best with too little or too much of this chemical. There’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner.”

Anxious responses are habits that we learn. To overcome a habit you need to engage in repetition in order to reshape and gradually replace your old habit with a new habit. Most of us are impatient and easily get demoralized or discouraged. Often, taking a medication reduces your belief in your own ability to control these habits and sabotage the hard work you need to do in order to change an emotional habit. People have a desire for a fast fix.

Robertson says that here is evidence that young adults that have little to no adversity in their lives end up becoming more emotionally vulnerable than those with moderate levels of adversity. “Paradoxically, there is a sweet spot of stress that people need to experience in their lives for them to achieve emotional resilience when they are adults. The overprotection of young people and having a slightly coddle existence means that they are going to be more emotionally vulnerable in the real world of work and all the stresses that go with it.” They experience symptoms of arousal because they have never really experience failure or threat.

Unlike animals that live in the moment, humans can torture themselves with past memories and anticipation of future ones. We can expand this indefinitely and make ourselves anxious long beyond the period of acute stress and make it become chronic.

According to Robertson, there are distinct techniques we can learn in order to reframe our approach to stress. “We can change the chemistry of the brain just as much as any antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug can, but we have to learn the habits to do that,” he says. Genes cannot be changed by environment or experience but the functioning of genes can. “We have the ability to shape our mental destiny.”

  • Breathe. Take five long, low breaths in and out. Temporarily apply a routine that you have practiced and anticipated in advance can change the chemistry of your brain and help you build confidence.
  • Set goals. Setting goals for ourselves also helps to change the chemistry of our brain. He says, “It could be as seemingly small as getting out of the house and walking 200 yards down the street — something that challenges you to a degree and gives you a feeling of accomplishment to have completed.” The good feeling you get when you achieve a goal increases the dopamine in our brain and part of the reward network. Increased dopamine is a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. This is where behavior is very important. If you are feeling anxious setting small goals for yourself can stretch you. Achieving these goals will allow your brain to create this natural anti-anxiety compound.
  • Squeeze your hand. According to Robertson, “One way to give the left frontal part of your brain a boost is to squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds, release it for 15.”
  • Visualize it.  Say the words “I feel excited.” Our mind only knows what emotion we are having by context. So, we can trick our mind to be excited instead of anger or upset. “Practice an imagined situation so when you actually come to that, you won’t have to try to remember how to handle it”, says Robertson. It will become a habit.
  • Posture. You can also change your posture out of the defensive, aggressive, or defeated posture into a calm and erect posture. Robertson believes that people who adopt a power pose actually feel more in charge or confident. Posture affects our psychological state and the functioning of our brain.

What we found most interesting:

“One of the greatest motivations that humans have is to feel in control,” says Robertson. Feeling out of control is hugely anxiety provoking and particularly so for some people more than others. If we can predict what is going to happen even if what is going to happen is no good you can engage in this amazing capacity of the human brain to plan and prepare. “Most people can adjust to most situations. The change is not comfortable, but you can get there.” The trouble with uncertainty is you can’t engage in mental preparation and planning. This creates a sense of being out of control. Being out of control is an extreme example of helplessness where you don’t believe there is anything you can do to change the outcome, and that leads to passivity. According to Dr. Robertson, “If I can predict something that is going to happen in my mind I can enact certain scenarios and anticipate certain outcomes (hopefully success). Once you stop taking positive actions it pushes your brain into a flight response. Once it is in that mode it is difficult for it to activate the reward and anticipation mode.”

To learn more about Dr. Robertson and his thoughts on shaping your brain’s response to pressure, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

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January 30, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress”

We often find ourselves in situations that can be quite stressful and as a result, we develop a range of coping techniques to deal with these situations. But it’s important to remember that why we stress is not the problem; it’s our response to stimuli in the environment that matters.

In a recent study with Plasticity Labs, Michelle Gielan, a UPenn positive psychology researcher, concludes that 91% of us can deal with stress better. Her recent HBR article, “You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress,” highlights three dimensions that can train your brain to positively respond to stress.

Let me know your thoughts.

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