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May 4, 2020 / Blog / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / Mariposa Articles / Stress / Work-Life Integration

UPDATED: Creating and Sustaining Workplace Culture (for Now and the Next Normal)

by Sue Bethanis, CEO/Founder of Mariposa,

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

Culture is the cohesiveness that shapes a company. I like to describe culture as the “ways things are around here” and see it as imperative to your company’s success — just like strategy, structure, and operations.

Understandably, in the past month, conscious attention to culture might have fallen by the wayside as your company had to abruptly move from an office work environment to WFH (work from home). You’ve probably been mired in contingency plans and focused on getting situated. If you’re a parent, homeschooling has taken much of your time and energy, and you’re probably still overwhelmed by it (and it’s really okay). Many of you are mastering videoconferencing and finding your team’s productivity sweet spot. Some of you are relishing being at home because less distractions equates to higher quality output. And we have heard that for all of you, it’s been tough to create the “water cooler” on Zoom (or Teams or Slack or Hang-outs), and certainly the “way things are around here” is markedly different now. There is no “here” because there is no office; collaboration is more challenging, cultural artifacts (like snacks to share, those comfy chairs by the window, elevator signage, even the cool color schemes) have faded away; and heightened stress and anxiety from isolation, uncertainty, and/or fear has come into full view.

In this essay, I want to address how you can put more attention on culture now and for the future (the “next” normal); it’s a future that is going to look very different from before Covid-19. If you can put solid practices in place now, and at the same time, design for the future, your team/organization will be better set up for success; you will also be able to cope with stress better and create loyalty and inspiration that will have a lasting effect. Creating consistent cultural rituals, for example, will be the things that people will remember you for. They’ll remember that you checked in with them every week just to be sure they were doing okay. Or that you spent extra time to work out a problem with them regarding a customer. Or that you showed genuine sensitivity when a team member ’s loved one got sick.

Let’s look at three areas of culture: 1) consistent communication practices, 2) morale boosters, and 3) design. These practices are associated with three important and far-reaching cultural values: productivity, engagement, and innovation.

Consistent communication practices (to be productive)

Much of what I am going to suggest here are practices we are hearing from our clients. We have a nose-to-the-ground knowledge because Mariposa has 12 coaches who collectively work with approximately 110 leaders, and we have many HR partners. We have a pretty good handle on how tech leaders are coping with Covid-19, and I want to share what we consider the best practices.

Messaging: Clear constant messaging is vital from the top of your company. I can’t emphasize this enough. Make your messaging a newsletter or a personal email and make it weekly. Directs and employees want transparency, and they want to hear from you as often as possible. Further, if you’re not the head of your company, demonstrate clear leadership with your own team, and email/phone/Slack/Zoom to ask the CEO to be consistent and transparent.

Communication Channels/Tools: Review all the ways people can effectively communicate now and get clear about how and when teams will use each method. For example:

  • How will they communicate real time? Phone, vidcon, etc.
  • How will they communicate asynchronously? Email, chat, text, etc.
  • How will they think visually together?
  • How will they share content?
  • How will results, recognition, progress be posted/shared?

Meetings: Make all meeting types clear and whatever you were doing before Covid-19, double it; this will demonstrate the value you are putting on communication and connecting. This uptick in communications is not intended to be micro-management; you will need to trust team members and use the time to support and align on expectations and intended outcomes. For example:

  • Have a 15-minute daily video huddle at 9am, and end with one at 5pm. Use it as a way to get clear on goals for the day and any important updates.
  • If you used to have 30 minute bi-weekly 1-1s with each of your directs, make them weekly. Ask each time, “how are you doing?” Or “how are you holding up?”
  • For team meetings, take the time to let everyone check-in and establish clear agendas, actions, and document any actions taken away. For these check-in’s you might try one question each time and hold people to a minute:
    • What’s been hard to navigate lately?
    • What’s been a silver lining in WFH?
    • What’s an achievement you can share?
    • What have you learned about yourself in the last week or two?
  • Use a consistent virtual collaboration tool, to keep meetings fresh and ideas plentiful. We like Stormboard.
  • You can’t do “walk arounds” anymore, but you can do “call arounds” while you’re taking a walk in your neighborhood. We are hearing that team members are already growing tired of formal video meetings all day. So, pick up the phone and call instead, and suggest that you both walk and talk (or talk and walk). Also consider this practice for skip level meetings. Walk&Talks are the one practice that leaders and employees covet the most and the one they hope to continue, for sure.
  • Simulate the “water cooler” by using a Slack channel or Zoom for one hour a day. As the leader, you’re there, and encourage others to stop by and gather around. (And some very collaborative, smallish teams are keeping a Slack or Zoom channel open from 9-5).

Scheduling: I just outlined a lot of meetings; at the same time, it’s important you don’t over rotate on meetings. Choose a few and do them well and consistently. Get input from your team(s) and identify scheduling norms that will work for most everyone. (These will likely change as you transition through different phases over the coming months.) The very best tip we have heard from clients is one from a VP of a 200-person service organization: Two weeks into their now eight-week WFH policy, he highly encouraged (instituted) a 9-12, 2-5 meeting schedule. He did this to give time for parents to be with and teach their kids, have lunch with family, and to emphasize self-care and mental health. This schedule has contributed to great success. Their overall productivity is up, and they are now planning on a WFH approach for the foreseeable future. It has completely changed their thinking and orientation. Put simply, this has changed their culture.

Morale Boosters (to engage)

Morale is a critical component of culture. It is the outlook, attitude, satisfaction and confidence that team members feel working together and working for your company. For many, work is a not just work; it’s social, too. A lot of people — especially single employees — depend on work colleagues. We have heard Shelter-in-Place has been especially isolating for them. Further, getting creative about coping with the isolation is already hitting some roadblocks.

Here are some ideas that our clients have done, and the Mariposa team has generated in a brainstorming session. These morale boosters serve as ongoing cultural rituals that can hopefully carry on once you are “back-to-the-office.”

  • For fun:
    • Virtual happy and coffee hours have been done a lot. Ask a team member to continue to RIF on it to keep it fresh. Change up the drinks, change up the theme.
    • There’s HouseParty – a fun app where a team can get together to enjoy a drink and a game. Give it a try.
    • If you haven’t already, try a best mask contest.
    • Online gaming together.
    • How about sending an inspirational quote every week?
  • For learning:
    • Send each other articles/blogs/videos that are helpful to culture, leadership, teaming, etc., that you circulate once a week. Ask a team member to curate them in one place. Leading effective remote meetings is a hot topic right now!
    • Teach other skills: nutrition, cooking, knitting
    • Use a Slack channel for various things: Share self-care routines, parenting tips, movie tips, etc.
    • Lead a class: Pilates, yoga, weight training. Share your trainer with teammates.
  • For giving and supporting each other:
    • One of our clients — a sales director for a small tech firm — uses UberEats gift cards to get time on their customers’ calendars. Surprise your directs, peers, or customers with lunch or dinner delivery or a gift card they can use for a local restaurant. This supports local small businesses, too.
    • Encourage your team to take walks with each other in their neighborhoods, walking at least 6 feet apart.
    • Use a virtual collaboration tool/white board to post wins, thank you’s, etc.
    • Take time in a regular meeting to allow people to give shout-outs, thank-you’s.
    • Create a chat thread all about recognition.
    • Whatever was working before, amp it up in the digital world.

Design (to understand & innovate)

Cultural rituals like consistent communication practices and morale boosters will go a long way to engage and support your employees during WFH. It’s important to keep the pulse on what’s working and not working. There are various ways to do this, and using a design thinking approach will help you determine what of your company/team cultural values and rituals are most important to keep, and what to shift now and in the “next” normal. Putting together a design team (culture committee) is the first step to innovation.

Culture chair and committee Ask someone to be the Culture Head (guru, czar, chair), who facilitates the culture committee. This committee will be in charge of understanding, developing and sustaining culture values and rituals. The primary role of this group is to be the holder of the secret sauce. Here are some questions the committee can begin with:

  • What makes your company or team special?
  • What are your most sacred values and principles?
  • What is it about the way things were around here (pre Covid-19) that we want to keep?
  • How do we change in our cultural rituals — communication practices and morale boosters — as the work environment shifts?
  • What do we want to add now and more?
  • How do we keep engagement fresh and fun?

And most importantly, how do you get ongoing feedback, distill it, and continuously feed it back to the sponsor, boss, etc., so adjustments can be made. Using a design thinking (Empathy, Brainstorming, Prototyping, Test) approach will be helpful here. Cultural values and rituals cannot and should not be decided in the back room. It requires many voices and iteration. Experimentation is a healthy way of looking at what’s ahead of us. There will be “rolling blackouts” type situations where WFH and/or WFO (work from office) will be more predominant at various times. This means getting clear NOW on what’s most important in your team/company’s collaboration and communication practices, for example, will make it easier as you navigate the scenarios that come next.

Feedback will be especially important when the transition to the “next” normal happens. Because the next normal will be unlike anything any of us have experienced here in the U.S. Other cultures have some experience with it from the SARS and MERS epidemic, and China is in the midst of coming back to offices now. See an example here.

Dealing with the experience of the “next” normal: The “way things are around here” is going to be very different when it is deemed okay from a public health standpoint to start going back to the office. From my research, the common theme among policy makers is that there is no rush: the curve and testing will determine when the economy should open up. #TestTraceIsolate will become standard in our lexicon, and we should brace ourselves for a pandemic summer that includes physical distancing that could last way beyond the summer months.

Here are some excellent resources to learn more about the public policy planning that emphasizes #TestTraceIsolate.

  • Three Harvard’s public health academics view here.
  • Former FDA head, Scott Gottlieb, and his team at AEI here.
  • Earlier this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom laid out the factors he and his team are using to decide on reopening. He explains reopening businesses will begin slowly when both the curve has not only flattened, but starts to go down, and when testing becomes more ubiquitous. Right now, tests are designated for health care workers and those who show obvious symptoms of Covid-19. Ubiquitous testing translates to approximately 10,000 a day for those who have mild symptoms and for those who might have been exposed to someone who has had Covid-19. This type of testing then is followed by careful tracing of others who have been exposed to those who are positive, and then isolating those who are positive (by quarantining). For more details, see press conference here, and summary here.

So what might the first phase after Shelter-in-Place look and feel like? Here is a glimpse into the “next” WFO environment.

  • Coming into the office is purely voluntary;
  • There will be required temperature checks to come into your building and your floor;
  • There will be only 2 people to 1 elevator ride, so you will be waiting in line for elevators;
  • There will be physical distancing in cubes and conference rooms (depending on the size of the conference room, that means 2-4 people in conference rooms with others on Zoom);
  • Odd floors are used one day; even the next (so there can be a rotation in deep cleaning);
  • Alternating when segments of your company/team come in: some come in on MW, others on TTh;
  • Touchless doors; touchless coffee makers (does Amazon carry those?);
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes at your desk and every conference room, and an expectation that you wipe your chair, table, and equipment down every time you transition;
  • Everyone wears face protection at all times;
  • You will be happy to go out to lunch with one colleague, grab a sandwich together, and then walk outside to a place where you can sit at least 6 feet apart (well, unless you are freezing your ass off in San Francisco’s July weather — in that case, you will go to a restaurant inside by yourself and sit at least 6 feet apart from the next table over and be greeted with a waiter with face protection).

Picture all of that for a minute. It has a very different feeling then pre Covid-19, doesn’t it? Safety — both physical and psychological — is paramount. So, in order for a culture committee not to become the culture police, it’s going to take some “experience” design to ensure your culture isn’t sterile, even though the work environment has to be. I have addressed with you previously in this paper about the importance of simulating the “water cooler” in the WFH work environment. Same holds true for the new WFO environment: how will you create the “water cooler” in the “next” normal? The culture head and committee should be in charge of this, and brainstorming and prototyping new ideas is key.

The “next” normal is really a hybrid: In addition to coming to grips with how the next office environment is going to be experienced, there is also the issue of having two work environments (WFO and WFH) — and two cultures — being managed at the same time. Preliminary data from our clients suggests that WFH might be preferable for some employees. Some reasons include higher productivity from WFH (more convenience, time, and less distractions) and less costs (as a VC colleague told me, one of his start-ups could save $10mil in real estate costs). Further, as this article points out and as I outlined above, there is actually a heightened awareness/attention on communication practices out of necessity. Finally, the prospect of office meetings with others — all wearing masks, 6 feet away — might just feel too off-putting for some people.

We all were literally thrown into WFH in the matter of days; and what if this experiment works? There are many levels that have to be considered here, and many logistics to coordinate. There are tremendous implications for real estate, as well as facilities, and IT. My suggestion is that before this becomes more than an informal nice to have — “gee, I would rather just go into the office 2-3 days instead of 5” — that cultural rituals are considered along with the usual operational and workplace issues. What are the communication practices that will work in this hybrid (WFO and WFH) environment, what are the points of engagement and morale that should be considered, and how do we get continuous feedback to ensure it’s working (through design work).

Creating and sustaining the culture you want in this hybrid environment starts with having an elevated role for a culture head, in order to put culture central to your company’s success. Here are some more specific suggestions:

I welcome your feedback, questions, and your ideas. Sharing helps everyone.

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

April 3, 2020 / Blog / Mariposa Articles / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Working Parents + Shelter-in-Place. Mission Impossible?

by Tawny Lees, COO and Executive Coach,

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

As I’ve been talking with clients this week, the reality of long-term school closures and shelter-in-place orders seems to be hitting working parents the hardest.

It can feel impossible for two-parent homes where both partners work from home — and gets even harder when one parent works outside of the home, for single parents, when kids have special needs, or if elder care is thrown into the mix.

Three main ideas here, curated from what I’m hearing, reading and experiencing myself as a working parent:

Set Expectations

Get radically real about short-term (now to 3 month) expectations of yourself:

As a professional. Anyone responsible for kids at home is just not going to be as productive and/or available as usual. It’s okay. This is an unprecedented situation in our lifetimes; you and your team need to figure out how to work through it together. Shift the mindset from “I/we can’t get this all done” to “here’s what I/we can get done.”

  • Assess your and your team’s current deliverables, initiatives and capabilities.
  • Reset short-term priorities and deadlines.
  • Re-assign/share the workload across the team.
  • Establish preferred times for meetings or availability for real-time interaction. (E.g. meetings only between 9-12 and 2-5.)

Proactively align on all the above with everyone who needs to know – cross-functional partners, customers, suppliers, boss, etc.

As a working parent. You will not be able to offer the same level of time, attention and expertise that your children would normally receive from teachers, caregivers, etc. during this time. It’s okay. Do your best, they will survive. Shift your mindset from “I’m being a bad parent” or “my kids are missing out on XYZ” to “we will get through this and learn previously unimagined lessons about life.”

Set Structure

Involve everyone and make a family work plan:

Figure out a schedule and division of labor that works. For all. You’d be surprised that even young kids can contribute to brainstorming ideas and making a plan. (Whip out some flip charts or post-it notes – they’ll love it!) And by involving them, they tend to be more enthusiastic about sticking with it. Things to consider:

  • Can you and your partner or older kids work in “shifts” to take care of younger kids?
  • Can you enlist or employ friends, family, babysitters, tutors to virtually engage your kids on a regular schedule that you could rely on? Via video they could talk, read, play games, sing, do dances, do schoolwork, etc.
  • What are the most engaging/reliable activities that kids can do with little to no supervision? (e.g. movies, online gaming, schoolwork.) Schedule those activities during important work time. They will be getting more screen time; get over it.
  • What work can you do while sitting near/with them? (e.g. status reports or emails at the kitchen table while they do schoolwork and ask an occasional question.)
  • As you prioritize your precious time, what is the best way for you to spend the free time you’ll have with the kids? Having fun? Relaxing? Getting outside? How do you want to “be” during that time?
  • What are your rules for the time when you need to be uninterrupted? (e.g. door is closed, don’t knock.) How can you reward them for sticking to the rules? (e.g. an enthusiastic high-five, cuddling and reading for 15 minutes, going outside to play.)

Make sure everyone in the family understands the schedule/plan and experiment! Try it for a week and then revisit – What worked? What didn’t? What to try next?


You’ll need energy to pull off this mission:

We all know the metaphors – “put your oxygen mask on first,” “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” etc. Well, they are true. Especially now.

  • You will need to get creative, and insistent, about making sure you are getting adequate sleep and time to relax and recharge.
  • Include a favorite activity in your plan, make a pact with someone, do what’s needed to make it happen.
  • Take time off from work, use the weekend as a weekend (it’s still there, even though days seem to be blurring together.)
  • Give yourself some perspective – look ahead 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 months and 10 years from now. How will you feel then, how will you look back on what is happening now.

You are not alone! We are all in this together. Would love to hear what’s working for you so we can help share information with others. Often, the first question our clients ask us in a session is: “What are your other clients doing about WFH?” Let’s spread the best practices.

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

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

Four Tips to Navigate Working from Home

by Anne Loehr, Executive Coach,

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.


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.

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.
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,

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 …

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.”


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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