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Are you Practising Safe Stress?

How stressed are you? How stressed are your employees? Are you using this stress well – or is your business on the brink of disaster?

Richard Hawkey

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A new company has entered your market at the same time as a flood of cheaper, foreign-made, alternatives have hit the shelves. Existing clients are down-scaling their repeat orders, blaming the ubiquitous “financial crisis”, the Greeks and head-office budget cuts. You spent 2011 pulling the cost-cut lever and your margin is now in lonely single figures.

This is a nightmarish situation that many organisations find themselves in. Thank goodness you aren’t one of them, and don’t have to try and meet 2012 targets with 58% of your employees verging on exhaustion and suffering from debilitating sleep disorders, or having to worry about when the 37% who are experiencing unexplained chest pains will be off ill for extended periods, invoke your disability insurance or worse, drop dead. At least 49% of your staff aren’t demotivated and thank goodness you don’t have to try and tackle this bear with 51% of employees so disengaged they are merely ‘living for Fridays ‘. Or do you?

The reality

These figures were taken from surveys conducted between September 2011 and January 2012 across a variety of South African companies. The survey was compiled by several doctors and is aimed at raising awareness of some common physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional symptoms of excess negative stress. The results have been startling; some more notable ones include:

  • 25% of employees surveyed report significant difficulties in being able to concentrate;
  • almost 27% feel a debilitating loss of meaning in their lives;
  • 21% struggle to control their anger and/or other emotional outbursts such as crying;
  • 26% complain of chronic abdominal upsets, a similar number have noticed a marked increase in the number of colds and coughs they are getting, and
  • 31% hobble through the day with generalised, unexplained aches and pains.

Is this the profile of a team you want to take into battle? Are you really sure you and your team aren’t just suffering in silence?

So why should you bother to read this column or pay any attention to what I have to say? I am nobody famous and don’t hold a medical degree. And therein lie my credentials – I am Mr White collar Average, trying to stay on this crazy urban treadmill without falling off; perhaps a bit like you?

A little over a year ago I did fall off that treadmill; literally burning out and slipping into a severe clinical depression – something I arrogantly and ignorantly didn’t think happened to people like me. I took this very personally, and in my search for answers I discovered that the effects of excess negative stress are so severe and impacting so many people that it is now being widely referred to as the ‘Black Death of the 21st Century’.

Perhaps that is somewhat melodramatic, but what isn’t overstated is the empirical evidence that proves the drop in productivity, creativity and morale, coupled with the increased operational and reputational risk and higher absenteeism, presenteeism  and staff turnover that go along with high levels of negative stress.

Those are hard, bottom-line issues that warrant proper and dutiful executive attention. In many organisations the consequences of stress are given about as much sincere attention as a supermodel’s handwriting.

By giving hard facts and simple, practical advice based on my own experience as well as the input of many medical professionals, I am trying to change this; empowering individuals to build personal resilience which organisations experience as improved productivity, creativity and morale.

Over the course of the next seven columns I will expand on the concept of ‘whole life balance’ as a powerful framework for combating excess negative stress and building personal (and hence organisational) resilience. The columns will build upon one another, providing practical tools, tips and techniques – leaving you with a personalised stress management plan which I urge you to share with your teams.

In the next online column we will assist you identify how stress is manifesting itself within you, as well as provide a practical tool for identifying key stressors in your life. Self-awareness is crucial before we can move on to explaining various strategies for dealing with those stressors and providing comprehensive and holistic advice on how to build your resilience.

I look forward to your comments and insights as we side-step the potholes down Burn-out Boulevard together.

Stress busting tip #1: Breathe deeply and slowly

Most of us pant like a dog when we breathe, inhaling shallowly and making our shoulders rise and fall. Taking deep, slow breaths simply allows more oxygen to enter our bodies, lowers our heart rate and helps us think more clearly. Put a hand on your tummy and concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply, counting to three in your head while your diaphragm/tummy expands. Hold that breath for the count of three.

Repeat five or six times. This can be done during especially harrowing meetings, prior to sales calls, taxi dodging on the M! or in bed at the end of the day.


Richard Hawkey is an anti-stress evangelist, author, speaker and productivity consultant. Having suffered from a stress-related breakdown himself, he has since combined this general management and leadership experience with the profound lessons he learnt from mismanaging stress and subsequently burning out. He is the author of Life Less Lived and the founder of equilibriumsolutions – which has developed the first online stress management tool aimed at both employees an employers. Richard can be contacted at richard@equilibriumsolutions.co.za

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Self Development

20 Quotes On Coping With Change From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Change is up to you.

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elon-musk

Change is a hard concept to grasp – and can be even harder to cope with it. Whether you’re switching careers, leaving a company or ending a relationship, change comes in all sizes – big and small. And while some change can be exciting, other times it can be difficult.

Having your own approach to change, whether it’s in how you view it or how you handle it, is important in moving forward and being successful.

To learn how others do it, here are 20 quotes about change from today’s most successful leaders and entrepreneurs.

1. Elon Musk

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.” – Elon Musk 

2. Oprah Winfrey

“You don’t have to hold yourself hostage to who you used to be.” – Oprah Winfrey

Related: 5 Mindset Changes You Must Make When Going From Employee To Entrepreneur

3. Barack Obama

barack-obama

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” – Barack Obama

4. Larry Page

“If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.” – Larry Page

5. Steve Jobs

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs 

6. Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

7. Steve Case

“Revolutions happen in evolutionary ways.” – Steve Case

Related: Osteostrong: An Exploding Global Movement Of Positive Change

8. Coco Chanel

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” – Coco Chanel

9. Warren Buffett

“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” – Warren Buffett

10. Steven Spielberg

steven-spielberg

“All of us, every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.” – Steven Spielberg

11. Mark Zuckerberg

“Entrepreneurship is about creating change, not just companies.” – Mark Zuckerberg

12. Richard Branson

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over.” – Richard Branson

13. Joan Rivers

“Life is very tough. If you don’t laugh, it’s tough.” – Joan Rivers

Related: 3 Reasons You Should Embrace Change

14. Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

“In order to build strength, you have to usually come from a lot of weakness.” – Lady Gaga

15. Thomas Jefferson

“Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” – Thomas Jefferson

16. Thomas Edison

“Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” – Thomas Edison

17. Sheryl Sandberg

“I learned that, in the face of a void or in the face of any challenge, you can choose joy and meaning.” – Sheryl Sandberg

18. Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

Related: Managing Resistance To Change: An Essential Management And Leadership Skill

19. Martha Stewart

“The more you adapt, the more interesting you are.” – Martha Stewart

20. Albert Einstein

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Self Development

You’re Probably Biased At Work. Here’s How To Stop It

New research looked at hard data to find solutions.

Nina Zipkin

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Everyone suffers from bias, despite their best intentions. And that bias can manifest itself in ways we don’t always intend – including how opportunities are and aren’t doled out in the workplace.

Recently, a trio of researchers used sensors to see if they could distinguish any differences in day-to-day behavior between male and female employees. Their goal was to eliminate the type of bias that can occur in self-reported polls about behaviour.

To study this, the researchers looked at a company where women made up just under 40 percent of entry-level employees and 20 percent of employees at the second-highest level of seniority. For four months, 500 male and female employees at this company wore badges with sensors in them that recorded their movement, speech patterns and proximity to one another.

Related: 12 Reasons Entrepreneurs With Type-A Personalities Are Unstoppable

The researchers then monitored who the subjects communicated with and who led conversations. Though the data was anonymous, the research team collected information about a given person’s gender, role and how long they had worked for the company.

Although they approached the investigation with the hypotheses that perhaps the female employees had less access to mentors or did not advocate for themselves with management as much as their male counterparts, the researchers found that this was not the case.

“We found almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women had the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership and they allocated their time similarly to men in the same role,” the researchers wrote in a summary of their findings in Harvard Business Review.

“We found that men and women had indistinguishable work patterns in the amount of time they spent online, in concentrated work, and in face-to-face conversation. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This held true for women at each level of seniority. Yet women weren’t advancing and men were.”

They concluded that differences in men and women’s behaviour aren’t what leads to gender inequality in the workplace – entrenched bias is the culprit.

So what can you do in your own company to make sure that bias doesn’t impact your hiring and promoting decisions? The researchers recommend instituting training programmes to reduce bias among management and people in the position to bring on new team members. You also might want to consider making a policy that, for all new open jobs, you interview and recruit people from a variety of backgrounds.

Related: Blend These 7 Personality Types When Building Your Executive Team

Also, look at the responsibilities your employees have outside the office. Think about ways to make it easier for both women and men to have flexible schedules, especially given that women often have social pressures to take on more family and household obligations.

Finally, determine where the pipeline to managerial and executive positions begins to trend more towards men. Collect data on exactly when these shifts happen in order to identify their specific causes (e.g. higher-ranking positions and their responsibilities require more late nights), then come up with pointed solutions (e.g. flexible morning schedules to accommodate childcare).

From there, measure the effectiveness any solution you implement. (“Since we implemented this policy, have those who have taken advantage of it advanced?”) This way, mitigating inequality is a science, not a guessing game.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com

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Self Development

Better Thinking For A Better World

How to think more critically and strategically in a world filled with complexity and rapid change.

Erik Kruger

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positive-thoughts

We take the act of thinking for granted. It is often seen as a skill one is born with and not one that should be cultivated over time.

As the world becomes more complex and more busy, strategic and critical thinking becomes more valuable. Strategic thinking points to the ability to decide how and when to deploy resources to achieve a certain end state.

Below are four areas of focus that will improve your strategic thinking:

1. Making Time For Reflection

Life is busy. Juggling work, friends and family, and the recurring notifications from your phone has become quite a feat. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to create space for reflection.

Related: One-Year Milestone: Smart Thinking That Will Ensure Your Start-Up Makes It Past The First Year

Time spent in solitude allows you to reflect and connect the dots. It temporarily takes you out of a world in which you must be reactive to survive and keep up.

My suggestion is to create a SOS (space of solitude) for at least 30 minutes every day. In this time, reflect on what has been working and what has not been working. Meditate on your goals for the future and plan for the actions that will help you get there.

2. Asking Better Questions

Many of us fall into the trap of sequential problem solving. This happens when leaders or organisations simply move from one challenge to the next and the only question they ask is “how do we overcome this challenge?”.

What about the questions like “how did we arrive here?” or “what assumptions are we making here?” or “what does better look like?”

I am not trying to give you a template of questions to ask. Merely prodding you to go beyond challenging the problem but to also challenge the thinking about the problem.

As we deepen our questions, we elevate our thinking.

Do not simply ask more questions. Ask better questions.

3. Seek More Input

Teams are great and often underutilized. How can you use your team’s knowledge, experience, and opinions in a more constructive way?

Well, how about allowing them sufficient time for reflection in solitude but also as a group. How about prompting them to look for the patterns in their environment? How about, as a leader, asking them questions that allow them to really stretch their cognitive abilities?

Even better, empower them to ask those questions themselves.

Related: Disruptive Thinking: A Winning Edge

4. Thinking rules

We often make the same mistakes over and over. Not because we have not learned the lesson but because the context changes. Or excitement gets the better of us.

During your reflection time (hopefully you have noticed the importance of this by now) you can reflect on your past decisions and figure out how you could have made better decision.

Once you have done this start jotting down a few personal rules that will help guide your decision making in the future. A personal guideline I established was that I will wait 24 hours before making any big purchase. Gadgets and golf gear often get the best of me. But simple rules like these help to guide my decision making and prevents me from making mistakes irrespective of context or emotional state.

What is next?

Starting today schedule a daily SOS. Yes, schedule it. Do not leave it to chance.

Think of it as training for your brain. A space where you get to think. Free of distraction and noise. You will be amazed at the clarity that comes from these sessions and how your productivity and effectiveness soars.

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