Tag Archives: career dissatisfaction

Millennials Leave Jobs When Values Conflict With The Workplace Culture

February 28, 2017

Now this is encouraging: New research finds that millennials are prone to leave their jobs when they experience a values gap between themselves and the workplace culture – particularly around sustainability issues.

The fact that many people of all ages are conflicted by negative workplace experiences is well-documented by the many – and repeated – surveys and polls. They report great dissatisfaction and dislike with their management and leadership culture, overall. But most tend to suffer emotionally and physically; frozen in place, perhaps from fear of losing what they already have, or insecurity about change per se.

But millennials appear to have a different mentality altogether. A summary of this new study from the University of Missouri reports that a major reason millennials tend to job hop – which is well known about them — is that they feel a disconnect between their personal values and the workplace culture. As one of the researchers, Rachel LoMonaco-Benzing explained, “Not only did we find a gap, but we also found that workers were much more likely to leave a job if they felt their values were not reflected in the workplace.”

But most interesting in its implications for the future of business is the study’s findings that the workers’ greatest frustration occurred when their company claimed a commitment to environmental sustainability but didn’t follow through in, for example:

  • Materials selection, including the use of recycled materials
  • Proper management of pollutants, including chemicals and dyes
  • Working conditions in textile factories
  • Product packaging, distribution and marketing to consumers

Co-author Jung Ha-Brookshire, added “They have been raised with a sense of pro-social, pro-environment values, and they are looking to be engaged. If they find that a company doesn’t honor these values and contributions, many either will try to change the culture or find employment elsewhere.”’

In the summary of their findings, the researchers encourage companies to understand that the new generation of workers have high ethical and social expectations. Being transparent with potential employees about corporate culture can head-off some frustration, they said. In addition, giving employees the opportunity to shape cultural decisions through membership on committees and outreach efforts will help to increase morale.

I think this is another sign to the industry that ‘business as usual’ is not going to work if you want to attract and retain these valuable workers,” Ha-Brookshire said.

The research study was described in the University’s news release and was published in the journal Sustainability.

Credit: People HRO

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High-Stress Job? Beware: An Early Death Is More Likely

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-44-18-amNovember 15, 2016

A new study from Indiana University has found that people who are in high-stress jobs, and who typically have little control over their work — its flow, time-frame and impact – are more likely to die younger or have poorer health. compared with people who have more power and decision- making autonomy.

According to this news release from the Kelley School of Business, previous academic research has found that having greater control over your job can help you manage work-related stress. But it’s never suggested that it was a matter of life and death — until now.

The study, published in Personnel Psychology, used a longitudinal sample of 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period. The researchers found that for individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared to low job demands. For those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death compared to low job demands.

According to lead author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, “We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death. These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”

And, he added, “When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you…might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”

Credit: Interrete

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Bad Jobs Hurt Your Mental Health By The Time You’re 40

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 3.40.39 PMSeptember 13, 2016

No surprise, here: Yet another study has demonstrated that unengaging, insufficiently meaningful work — and the overall work culture — has negative impact upon mental health. And, it’s apparent by the time you’re 40.

This new research found that debilitating work experiences in your 20s and 30s have an accumulated negative impact on your mental health by the time you’re into your 40s. And that continues on, needless to say. The research found that people who were unhappy with their work early in their careers became more depressed, worried, and had more trouble sleeping.

Of course, many previous studies have shown that the majority of people are unhappy with their work – even hate it. For example, a 2014 survey by the Conference Board. But oddly — despite all the research and clinical evidence that debilitating work and unhealthy management impacts your mental health in increasingly harmful ways over time – those mental health consequences continue to be overlooked or ignored.

This new study was conducted by Ohio State researchers. It investigated the long-term health effects of job satisfaction, or lack of it, earlier in people’s careers. It analyzed data from longitudinal surveys of nearly 6500 American workers, in which people rated their level of satisfaction with their work.

According to the findings, described in this report from Ohio State, all participants reported a number of health issues after they reached the age of 40. Specifically, those people who expressed the lowest job satisfaction over the years reported much higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry; as well as scoring lower on traditional mental health measures.

Moreover, those who initially reported high job satisfaction, but then had a downward trend, were more likely than the consistently satisfied group to report trouble sleeping, excessive worry, and symptoms of psychiatric conditions And among those who had low job satisfaction, their mental health was more affected than their physical health.

As one of the researchers, Hui Zheng, pointed out, however, “The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems. Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.” Zheng added that a person does not have to be at the end of their career to see the health impacts of job satisfaction on mental health: the study participants were examined while in their 40s. Overall, “We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said lead author Jonathan Dirlam.

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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Music While You Work Increases Teamwork

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 11.51.39 AMAugust 30, 2016

So turn up the volume! A new study finds that playing music while people are working actually increases cooperation and teamwork. A series of experiments conducted by Cornell University found that music has an impact on the cooperative attitudes among workers.

According to a summary of the research, the question arose from the observation that “From casual acoustic melodies at the coffee shop to throbbing electronic beats at teen clothing outlets, music is used to mold customer experience and behavior.” The researchers wondered what impact it might have on employees? So they conducted two studies to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

The researchers, Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink and William Schulzer, published their findings in the Journal of Organizational Behaviordescribed in this summary from Cornell:

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played – researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves – team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played – in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands – participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music. Continue reading

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Is Your Coworker Struggling With Depression?

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.53.04 AMMay 3, 2016

Here’s an informative article by Martha C. White, from Money. It quotes me a few times, especially about my emphasis on how the management and workplace culture can create emotional conflict for people, independent of what they be bringing to the workplace from their personal lives, outside of work.

The article follows:

The recent sad news that a young Apple employee was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the company’s headquarters raises an important, if troubling, question: Would you know what to do if you suspected a coworker might be dangerously depressed?

Of course, if there is the threat of violence to themselves or others, calling 911 or contacting company security is the way to go—you shouldn’t put yourself in danger. But before a troubled person reaches that breaking point, mental health experts say they often tip their hand, indicating in ways that seem clear in hindsight that they were wrestling with depression.

The Warning Signs

Many of us see our coworkers more hours in a week than we see our own family members, which means we are in a unique position to detect a shift in a colleague’s mental state.

“It’s always a difficult issue, yet most coworkers can tell if something seems wrong or off in a colleague’s demeanor,” said Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C.

While saying things like they want to die, feel completely alone, or have nobody who cares about them are obvious indications of a troubled mental state, most people who struggle with depression in the workplace express their distress more subtly than that, noted Edward Yost, a human resources executive with the Society for Human Resource Management. More general feelings of being helpless or trapped, especially if expressed frequently, are more likely to be the kind of comments a coworker might express to another, he said.

Two hallmarks of depression that go hand in hand are isolation and withdrawal, said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute. The isolation may be self-imposed or may be a result of being shut out of workplace cliques.

People who are depressed may withdraw from others and distance themselves from social interaction, Namie said, and because many people with depression are good at masking their feelings of self-negativity, a colleague may brush off a sudden disappearance from team lunches or department happy hours by blaming an increased workload or other job-related obligations.

For a conscientious coworker, those claims should be carefully considered, because there are two possibilities here, neither of which is great news from a mental health perspective. The first is that he or she is using work as an excuse to pull away from others. The second is that the person actually is overloaded with work all the time.

“Many become depressed and demoralized not just by personal issues outside of work, but by the management culture at work,” LaBier said. Whether the reason is a conflict with the boss or other management, no opportunity for advancement, or a sense of stagnation, “Feelings of being stuck and trapped result—which will cause emotional problems,” he said. Continue reading

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Are You ‘Checked-Out’ On the Job? Here’s Why

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.49.30 PMFebruary 16, 2016

You may have heard about the Spanish man who was found to have not reported for work for six years, and no one noticed — although he continued to be paid. When finally discovered, he claimed that when he did go to work, he had nothing to do.

That may be an extreme example, but many people today are turned-off by their jobs in less visible ways. They become pretty disengaged from work – either mentally checking out, or in actual behavior if they can – like faking doing work, or skipping out to go to a movie. Surveys find disengagement as high as 70% of American workers. It’s no surprise that nearly every day a new survey pops up about how much people dislike their jobs and their management. The reasons typically include severe, unrelenting stress from too many demands and too few resources or rewards, such as cited in a poll of 7000 people. Both stress and just tuning out are often rooted in debilitating, undermining management behavior and workplace culture. For example, a survey of 2,000 workers found that 47 percent said their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded, and 24 percent thought their bosses were poor communicators, lacking empathy.

Three Sources of Boredom and Disengagement

But I find three additional, often overlooked reasons why employees tune out or disconnect from their work, and become bored or depressed on the job:

Too Much Mismatch – This occurs when you start to realize that “I just don’t belong here.” An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch Continue reading

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How Can You Deal With An Abusive Boss?

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 10.26.57 AMOctober 20, 2015

I’ve written previously about abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management in general, and I’m revisiting it a bit here, because of a new study that highlights the difficulty people have when dealing with this kine of management environment. And not just employees: sometimes researchers themselves have a naive understanding of the problem.

That is, some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings – which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Rather, the other set of findings is what got my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change. Continue reading

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Women Leaders Have Greater Workplace Stress

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.27.22 AMMay 26, 2015

This isn’t surprising, for two reasons: One is that men are socially conditioned to internalize stress. They deny it consciously while expressing it via physical illness and/or psychiatric symptoms that they don’t recognize; or, they seek relief through alcohol, drugs or other kinds of escapism. The other reason is that women are conditioned more towards experiencing and expressing emotional experience, in general. So their stressful workplace experiences — which are often related to men’s denigration of their leadership roles — tend to be more visible.

A recent conference on women’s leadership, reported in Financial Times by Charles Wallace, describes several examples of the ways in which women leaders face workplace stress in organizations today. He writes, “An increasing amount of attention is being paid to the troubling fact that women in the workplace, especially in management or leadership roles, report being stressed out more often than men,” and “… despite recent strides in equality in the office, women experience a lot more stress than men.”

One reason, frequently cited, is what I referred to above. For example, Errica Moustaki, executive coach at Careers in Depth, a London executive development firm, explained that  “women may express stress in psychological or behavioral ways, while men bottle up feelings and have more heart attacks and strokes.” And, that many women executives “experience stressful work situations because of a constant sense of having their confidence undermined by men. Women have to continuously prove themselves in the workplace.”

Despite strides towards more inclusiveness and integration of women into leadership roles, the context of the organization’s culture, especially as it’s shaped by men’s view of women in these roles, is key. It continues to generate stress for women as they rise up in senior level positions.

For the full Financial Times report on the conference and some of its other presentations, click here.
Credit: Highwaymail

 

 

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The Fake Workaholic

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.23.35 AMMay 12, 2015

This recent article by New York Times writer Neil Irwin caught my attention: He describes a study of the workaholic culture within one large consulting company. The study, from Boston University, found that “Some of the people ostensibly turning in those 80- or 90-hour workweeks, particularly men, may just be faking it.” The findings were based on just that one company, but it does raise the possibility that workers in other companies that promote — or require — a workaholic culture may also be publicly pretending to embrace the long hours regimen.

But to me, these findings raise, implicitly, a deeper problem: Our career and organizational cultures require men and women to adapt and embrace a view of “success” defined by steady, singular pursuit of position, power and financial reward — via workaholic behavior. That, despite substantial evidence that the latter leads to diminished productivity, innovation and employee commitment; despite the pervasive stress among employees, which underlie a wide range of illness — emotional and physical; and despite — no surprise — surveys that show tremendous employee dislike, dissatisfaction and conflict with the culture and management of their organizations. Irwin alludes to an aspect of this at the end of his article, writing, “Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.”

Interestingly, the study found that people who were “passing” as workaholics “…received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.” Moreover, “…women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods.”

Those additional findings highlight the deeper, pervasive theme I raised above: Our cultural norm that equates a successful adult life with embracing a workaholic and psychologically unhealthy workplace culture has ongoing destructive impact –to individuals, but also to the long-term viability of organizations in this fast-evolving era of rapid change and the rise of younger generations and their view of work, life, and what they are seeking in both realms.

For Irwin’s full article, click here.

Credit: Peter Arkle

 

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Must You Feel Trapped By Regrets About The Past?

Screen shot 2015-03-26 at 10.41.12 AMMarch 17, 2015

John, a 57 year-old man, consulted me for a mixture of “personal and career stagnation,” as he put it. His thoughts soon turned to a decision he made in his 20s, when he reluctantly entered a career path and profession that his father urged him to follow. He said he now saw that his need for parental approval back then was part of a larger pattern that also led him into a marriage with the “wrong” partner. “I feel so much regret, about how foolish I was not to listen to my own heart – if I even knew what it was back then.”

Throughout the decades I’ve heard many men and women express similar laments about turning points in their lives – significant experiences or choices they made, which they look back upon with deep regret and feelings of entrapment. They tell me the sadness they feel about the direction they took; what they turned away from, especially when they see the consequences over time that they feel entrapped by.

However, it’s possible to experience your regrets in life differently. Those regrets have likely taught you something about yourself and changed you. But you may not realize it. And, you may not have acted upon what’s changed within you, as you go forward in your life today.

To explain, lets first take a look at two examples of people’s regrets and how they can paralyze one’s present life: The woman who dropped out of graduate school when she was offered an entry-level editorial job with a newspaper. She was attracted by the seeming security of the position, and she said she had doubts about her journalistic skills, anyway. She remained with the paper for many years, while feeling increasingly stagnated. Ultimately, she was let go during a retrenchment. Now, at midlife, in a tight job market and an unforgiving life situation for people like her, she tells me, “If only I had stayed in grad school, how different my life would have been. But now…” She says she feels trapped and depressed about her life.
Continue reading

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Abusive Leadership Continues to Harm Employees and Organizations

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November 11, 2014

As if this needed more confirmation, there’s increasing evidence that an unhealthy management culture harms efforts to create a well-functioning team. For example, a new study from Michigan State University finds that abusive managers create tremendous conflict for work teams and damage productivity, not to mention morale and commitment.

I’ve often written about the need to understand unhealthy leadership within the larger context of a company’s management culture — not just as an issue of individual leaders’ personalities or pathologies. For example, I’ve described how unhealthy management and an unhealthy leadership culture are intertwined; and ways that subordinates can deal with them.

This new study, conducted in China and the United States, suggests the toxic effect of nonphysical abuse by a supervisor is much broader than believed. Lead investigator Crystal Farh said supervisors who belittle and ridicule workers not only negatively affect those workers’ attitudes and behaviors, but also cause team members to act in a similar hostile manner toward one another. “That’s the most disturbing finding,” Farh said, “because it’s not just about individual victims now, it’s about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not.”

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the study pointed out that companies have tended to focus on abused employees and efforts restore self-esteem. That matches my own observations, and underscores the need to address how and why abusive and otherwise unhealthy leaders and leadership cultures arise and thrive to begin with.

The study looked at nonphysical abuse such as verbal mistreatment and demeaning emails. Employees who directly experienced such abuse felt devalued and contributed less to the team. At the same time, the entire team “descended into conflicts,” Farh said, which also reduced worker contributions. “Teams characterized by relationship conflict,” Farh said, “are hostile toward other members, mistreat them, speak to them rudely and experience negative emotions toward them.”

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Less Stress Among Managers With Positive Employee Relationships

Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 10.52.07 AM

September 10, 2014

Many studies in recent years show the connections between positive, collaborative relationships at work; a positive, supportive management culture; and higher levels of creative, productive work. I think the findings of this recent study from Norway of 3000 managers, conducted by researchers at BI Norwegian Business School, add to this knowledge, and are relevant both to managers and those being managed here in the U.S.

The study examined stress among mangers, and found, In essence, that managers who enjoy a good relationship with their employees suffer less dangerous stress at work. “The best thing a manager can do to prevent work stress is to develop good relationships with the employees at work,” concluded lead researcher Astrid M. Richardsen in a summary of the findings.

The research found that more than six out of ten Norwegian managers (61.8 per cent) indicate that they often or all the time experience time pressure or a heavy workload. Fewer than five per cent say they rarely or never have time pressure at work. Most relevant to U.S. organizations is the finding that managers experience significantly less stress when they feel they have a good relationship to their employees, and the employees show a positive conduct and confidence in their managers. That is, according to the research summary, when the employees are happy with what the manager does, understand his or her challenges and participate actively in solving the problems, the manager will have less stress. This will probably be because the manager trusts the employees more and delegates more tasks to them. Hence the work pressure will decrease, Richardsen believes.

Although differences exist between managers and workers in Norway and the U.S. culture regarding work-life stress and organizational pressures, one commonality is the Norwegian finding that managers who feel they have control of their work situation and great freedom to make decisions experience less work pressure and emotional strain. They also suffer considerably less role stress than managers who do not have such control. Most U.S. managers would resonate with that, as well as the finding that Continue reading

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So Much Work, And No Time for Vacation? Here’s Why!

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMAugust 12, 2014

Do you work increasingly long hours, maybe even pride yourself on taking little, if any, vacation time? If so, you’re in pretty good company. Some recent surveys confirm – again — that U.S. workers tend to take relatively little vacation time, and they work increasingly longer hours. With more heightened awareness of the damaging effects of work-life “imbalance,” physically and emotionally, one wonders, what maintains this unhealthy way of life for so many?

It’s easy to cite the fact that U.S. companies provide very little paid vacation time as a matter of policy compared with other industrialized nations. We’re the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays, says John Schmitt, co-author of a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that, even after 10 years of employment, about 65 percent of workers have less than 2.5 weeks of paid vacation.

But the lack of vacation time provided by employers is both a cause and effect: It reflects something about our social values to begin with. For example, how we define success and personal worth can include taking little time away from work. And that, in turn, is reinforced by company policies. But beneath the surface, psychologically, is often a sense of being trapped in a way of life that one can’t break free from. Or, as one person told me, “I don’t like who I’ve become.”

According to one survey, the median vacation time is 12 days. And 40 percent take a week or less. Yet, the impact of overwork is well-known: Higher levels of stress, which can create both physical illness and emotional conflicts. It fuels marital and family conflicts. In fact, a Gallup survey found that nearly 70 percent who take no vacations at all report that they struggle to balance work and life. And, while another survey found that about 50 percent claim to be satisfied with their work-life balance, 81 percent also said that work-life balance would be a critical factor in deciding whether to accept a new position. Ironically, overwork and little time off leads to less productivity and less effective decision-making, as well as diminished focus and clarity. That’s become worse in today’s world, as recent research shows the cost of being online and available 24/7, thanks to digital technology.

As the saying goes, no one on their deathbed says they wished they had spent more time at the office. So, what propels people to diminish time away from work — even short breaks to recharge and reboot their energy and life balance? We need to look at some of the social and psychological motives that give rise to this paradoxical picture. Here are some that Continue reading

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New Poll Reveals The Continuing Toll of Workplace Stress

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMA version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

It’s déjà vu time once again: A new poll of nearly 7000 people by the job-search site Monster found high levels of unrelenting stress among workers, which mirror findings form other, periodic surveys. There are many reasons for work-related stress, but I’m struck by the continued lack of focus on the management and workplace culture of too many organizations marked by a debilitating, emotionally damaging environment.

One finding is especially striking, in this respect: Asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace?” 66%, answered “nothing.”

The new poll was summarized by Kathryn Dill in Forbes. She quotes Monster’s Mary Ellen Slayter, who says that “People feel stressed out because there’s that continuing pressure to do more with less. Workers feel pressure to get more accomplished. People know they’re not happy, but they’re not clear on whether or not it would be better somewhere else.” However, nearly 50% report having changed jobs to escape the stress. In her Forbes article, Dill cites a separate survey of more than 900 workers that found an employee’s relationship with their boss as the most common cause of workplace stress, followed closely by workload, work-life balance, and relationships with coworkers. She adds:

Nearly half of employees surveyed report having missed time at work due to work-related stress, and an even greater number, 61%, say that workplace stress has caused them actual physical illness, with insomnia, depression, and family issues cited as results. Seven percent of employees report having been hospitalized as the result of work-related stress.

In another summary of the poll, Constantine von Hoffman writes in CBS Money Watch that

It’s not only workers who are affected. Nearly 85 percent said it had an impact on their personal lives, with 21 percent saying it had caused problems in their family or in other relationships. More than a third said they dealt with it by eating, according to the study, while a quarter resorted to drinking after work. By contrast, many workers also sought to defuse tension through exercise or by stepping away from work and taking a day off.

Nevertheless, there’s the fact that when asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace? 13% noted additional time off and 11% cited the opportunity to work from home. But — the majority, 66% — answered “nothing.”

In her Forbes article, Dill cites Slayter’s observation that people who find themselves regularly overwhelmed to a level that’s unbearable might want to contemplate a job–or career–switch, to something that makes better use of their talents or involves fewer tasks that cause distress. “Make sure that overall your career is a good fit,” says Slater. “If you find yourself thinking that every day is stressful, if everyday is unpleasant, if it feels like that chronically, its time to sit down and ask yourself, ‘Is this the right fit?

I think that’s good advice, per se. But easier said than done. Moreover, the sources of work-related stress are pervasive, across many companies. Failure to build more positive management cultures in our organizations will lead to yet more surveys that will cite similar findings.

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How The Younger Generations Can Leap Into The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 11.10.37 AMHere are some insightful perspectives — and suggestions — for the younger generations, from management strategist Umair Haque. Writing in his Harvard Business School Blog, Haque addresses the dilemma facing young people today:

Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset. Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century. For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.

After citing four conditions that young people face — a broken global economy; overwhelming debts; difficulty getting a job or career track; and the jobs available are not very good — Haque says welcome to “Generation F” — i.e. you’re getting screwed. He points out that

We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.

But he then presents some positive directions that young people can take to deal productively and proactively with the reality they live in. They’re worth heeding. In his full article, “The Great Leap Generation F Needs to Make,” he writes: Continue reading

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“Your Money Or Your Life!”

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMIn one of Jack Benny’s classic comedy skits, a robber confronts him, demanding, “Your money or your life!” Benny — in character as a notorious tightwad — pauses for a long moment. The robber shouts his demand one more, with urgency. Finally, Benny says slowly, “I’m thinking it over!”

Many people today are caught up in a real life version of this dilemma. They acknowledge the stress, the physical and psychological perils of our prevailing view of success. The Third Metric movement is raising awareness of this, and surveys continue to document it. But, while most would prefer a more balanced, integrated life, they also feel reluctant or frightened to alter their endless pursuit of money and related measures of success. One of the reasons many keep “thinking it over” is visible in a lament coursing through the lives of many successful careerists: That “I don’t like the person I’ve become,” as one corporate executive expressed it to me.

George is an example. A highly successful executive in his mid 50s, he’s had a solid educational background, a steady career rise, and a functioning though not especially energized marriage, and two children. As he worked with me to deal with chronic anxiety and general malaise in his “always on” life, he awakened to having always “followed the program” in his life. That is, performing well, shaping his values, personality and goals along a path that was laid down and expected by his parents.

George was drawn to public service and journalism when younger, but that wasn’t part of the “program.” He craved Continue reading

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Take This Job And…Shove It?/Love It?

Screen shot 2013-11-12 at 11.34.24 AM It may be hard to say, when you see this contradiction: A new survey finds that 90 percent of older workers, and nearly 40 percent of younger workers say they’re satisfied with their work. But many other surveys report high levels of dissatisfaction, stress, unsupportive management and disengagement from work altogether — across age groups.

How to make sense of such divergent findings? Actually, they all make sense when you look at the surveys more closely, in the context of the career and management environments of many organizations. People of different ages, attitudes and desires deal with their workplace environments in different ways, both subtle and overt.

First, the new survey, reported by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: It found that “9 in 10 workers who are age 50 or older say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their job.” Specifically, 65 percent said they were “very satisfied,” while the remaining 26 percent were just “satisfied.”

The survey did find that nearly 40 percent of younger workers reported dissatisfaction with their jobs. But on the face of it, the findings suggest that the older you get, you become more “satisfied” with your work. Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey, observed that “Older workers generally have already climbed the career ladder, increased their salaries and reached positions where they have greater security, so more satisfaction makes sense.”

These findings may appear puzzling in the face of many other surveys that report high levels of stress, hostile, unsupportive management, and other negative, debilitating experiences that many workers deal with.

My take is that the AP-NORC Center survey unintentionally masked several underlying phenomena. The result was the high level of reported “satisfaction” among all older workers. Some examples: Continue reading

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Are Companies In Tune With Their Own Workers?

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 5.18.03 PMIt’s clear that we’re in the midst of massive transformations in the business world and the workplace. These transformations are underway, for example, in a rising sense of responsibility to society; recognition of the workplace culture’s contribution to debilitating stress and life imbalance; the impact of the younger generations upon collaboration, innovation, and career goals; and the increasing fluidity and constant external change that impacts all organizations.

Within such flux and change, it can be difficult to assess whether the company you’re working for, or considering joining, is sufficiently in tune with the future. Is it the right mesh between, on the one hand, your own well-being, evolving career goals and personal values; and, on the other, how well the company is positioned to engage and adapt to the business and cultural shifts that will determine it’s future success?

An important question. Especially so, when nearly every week new surveys appear showing how debilitating and disconnected many leadership and management cultures are, in relation to their employees and future business scenarios.

For example, a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. workers for Root Inc., a strategy execution consulting company, examined what workers would like to see change in their companies. “Many surveys tell us there’s something wrong – we know that American workers are unhappy or not engaged, and leaders know they need make adjustments to keep the very best talent,” said Rich Berens, president of Root. “With this research, we wanted to uncover the specifics of where employees really would like to see things be different and how management can take that data and make organizational changes for the better.”

Some of their findings include: Continue reading

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Having Power Diminishes Your Empathy For Others

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 10.51.47 AMSeveral research studies have shown that increasing power in an organization (or in any kind of relationship) tends to diminish capacity for empathy, compassion, and seeing another person’s perspective. This is especially damaging to effective leadership of people subordinate to those in power. Studies have shown that increased power diminishes activity of your “mirror neurons,” which provide the sense of connection with another person’s experience, and fuels empathy. Here’s the latest study that sheds more light on what happens. It shows the need for helping leaders develop and strengthen their capacity to connect with others’ reality and experience, which helps counter the tendency towards self-absorption in one’s own perspective, when one is in a higher-power status.

From the study, summarized in Digital Journal:

Researchers have some new insights into how power diminishes a person’s capacity for empathy. According to scientists, a sense of power shuts down a part of the brain that helps us connect with others. For their study that builds on past information about how the brain operates, the researchers found that even the smallest bit of power – for instance from a job promotion or more money – can shut down our ability to empathize with others. Continue reading
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Why the Workplace Is So Destructive to So Many People

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 10.17.20 AMAs Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” We’re seeing yet another survey (they appear with increasing frequency) showing how negatively men and women feel about their workplaces; how damaging the workplace is to mental and physical health, and therefore to the economy. Recently some new high-profile initiatives raise hope about the possibility of meaningful change. But it’s crucial that both hone in the key source of the destructive impact careers and the workplace have upon so many people today: The leadership and management culture of companies, and the practices that result. Ironically, those are often at odds with the personal values and perspectives of the very people who occupy leadership roles, but are hamstrung by constraints from the very top — even when they’re part of it.

Jim, a senior VP, feels unsure about his future role in the organization as it undergoes major transition. His boss provides no information, saying, “just don’t worry about it.” Jim’s also in a bind about Continue reading

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Redefining Success In Our Post-Careerist Culture

Screen shot 2013-05-13 at 10.11.16 AMNearly every week a new survey appears showing how stressed out workers are today. The damage is visible in its negative impact upon mental health, increased risk of disease and death, lower worker productivity and a range of other harmful consequences. One recent survey found that 83 percent of all workers report stress. That includes people of all ages, baby boomers to Millennials. The sources cited include too much work, insufficient pay, not enough time for rest or sleep, too little leisure time, co-worker conflicts and general work-life imbalance.

But most of those sources have a deeper origin that the surveys and research don’t tap into. Major changes in our society and world have created a “new normal” of continuous turmoil and disruption. This new environment is pushing both organizations and workers to redefine success beyond the long-prevailing rewards of money, power and position; and towards criteria less focused on self-interest but more adaptive to living and working within what is now a “post-careerist” culture. Much current stress reflects the strain of this growing transition. It’s inevitable and necessary.

That is, many men and women, along with the leadership of companies they work for, are already redefining success. The emerging criteria include Continue reading

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More Stress — For More Workers

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 3.25.26 PMIt seems like every other day there’s a new survey or research study that shows – again – how stressed-out American workers are, at all levels of career; both men and women. This latest report, by Harris Interactive for Everest College, finds that about 83% of workers report feeling stressed by their jobs. It’s a number that keeps rising, and the usual sources are multiple: pay, too much to handle with too few resources; troublesome co-workers, and work-life balance issues. These are valid sources of stress, but I think these periodic surveys fail to tap into more pervasive, underlying sources of stress and conflict at work: boredom; lack of mesh between the person’s skills and the role; an unhealthy, unsupportive management culture; outright abusive, arrogant and narcissistic bosses, and so forth. I’ve written about some of these issues in previous posts, and plan to address some new versions of these underlying sources of conflict and stress in some future essays.

The current survey was summarized in a Forbes article, by Susan Adams. She writes:

Some 83% of American workers say they feel stressed out by their jobs, up from 73% a year ago, according to a new study by Harris Interactive for Everest College. The No. 1 reason workers feel stressed, according to the survey: low pay. This is the third year of the survey and the third year that less- than-adequate paychecks were the top stressor for workers. The study was conducted by phone among 1,000 adults between Feb. 21 and March 3.

While pay was the biggest source of stress last year, Continue reading

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Daily Stress Affects Long-Term Mental Health

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMOnce again, we find more evidence that daily stress has a long-term negative impact on mental health. Any research that highlights this fact is helpful, but it also draws attention to the role our social conditioning plays in generating the stress that debilitates mental health. And that’s not addressed as much as it should be. I’m referring to the ways we learn to behave in our public and private roles – in relationships, in our careers — that define “success,” and what you learn to do to achieve it, in ways that steadily create emotional conflicts. Without addressing those issues, which include over-emphasis on manipulation, self-centeredness, domination-submission struggles, to name a few — it’s difficult to describe what can support the “emotional balance,” the researchers cite as crucial for avoiding long-term emotional problems.

The latest research about this, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues. Here’s what they reported:

Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health. The research suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road. The study examined this question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later tribulations? Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later. Continue reading

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Work Better By Working “Less”

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 10.22.35 AMEvidence continues to mount that the workaholic expectations and demands of many companies are counterproductive. Both observation and research studies show that creativity and productivity increase when the work culture provides time out, so to speak — including periods for naps and vacations. Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project, discusses this in a recent New York Times article, and points out that “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

He writes:

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings? More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less…

“More, bigger, faster.” This, the ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, is grounded in a mythical and misguided assumption — that our resources are infinite. Time is the resource on which we’ve relied to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some semblance of a life outside work.

 Click here  for the full article.

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The Fallen Generals…And Our Own Private Truths

Reading about General Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell and General Allen’s voluminous correspondence with Jill Kelley – and their ignominious fall from grace – brings to mind the Egyptian myth, Osiris. He was killed and dismembered, and each of the 14 pieces of his body was buried in a different place. His wife Isis found all the parts and put them back together. Then Osiris came back to life, and they conceived a child together.

Later, I’ll explain what this myth can teach us about this latest “sex and power” scandal, which signifies more than just different views about affairs and adultery among high-profile people. One the one hand, some contend that adultery among military personnel is a personal matter, as foreign policy and military analyst Thomas Ricks said in a recent interview. In fact, Ricks argues in The Gamble that the significant issue for the military is the failure and decline of leadership. But others are morally offended by what they see as personal character flaws behind the sex scandal, and that such behavior indicates poor judgment on the part of leaders, as well.

But step back: I think this scandal is just a more extreme, titillating version of deceptions and lies that many people maintain in their public behavior, at the expense of private truths. For some, the chasm between public lies and private truths is driven by Continue reading

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Why Your Work Will Continue To Drive You Crazy

Still Crazy After All These Years

The title of that old Paul Simon song could easily describe what many people feel about life in their careers and organizations today. Studies and surveys regularly show that the workplace is damaging to many people, physically and mentally. But these reports focus on the effect rather than the cause; the surface symptoms rather than the roots of the problems men and women grapple with in their careers. The latter are found in a negative, undermining management culture and narrow, careerist values.

To explain, a few decades ago I wrote in Modern Madness about the findings of my project on how careers impact people, emotionally — especially successful careers among younger men and women rising in their companies (the yuppies of the time — remember them?). I described a troika of experiences: compromises between their personal values and the behavior required for upward movement and greater success; debilitating trade-offs between their beliefs or attitudes and the behavior necessary for continued career advancement; and — not surprisingly — anger, often severe and usually suppressed, but sometimes exploding in rage.

Back then, in the late 1980s, I found that the major source of such personal conflicts was a negative, stifling management culture. It included the personality — and sometimes the outright pathology — of bosses who created conditions that generated anxiety, depression, suspicion and other dysfunctional behavior; as well as physical illness. And this was among otherwise not-very-troubled people. I called them the “Working Wounded.”

Their conflicts were also intensified by a view of success and achievement Continue reading

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Overconfidence May Lead You To Incompetence

Some new research gives a new twist to the “Peter Principle” – the idea that people often rise up in their career to their level of incompetence. This study found that being overconfident can increase one’s social status, including greater power to sway others and subsequently achieve higher levels of success. However, the downside is that the overconfident person may convince themselves that they are more skilled and capable than they really are. That is, they can delude themselves and others; and be promoted beyond their actual level of competence. The research was conducted at Berkeley’s Hass School of Business, and summarized by Medical News Today in the following report: Continue reading

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Business Leadership Programs Ignore the Key Ingredients of Success

Leadership development and executive coaching programs have become pretty widespread in companies and organizations today, and with good reason: Positive, effective leadership is essential for success within today’s turbulent work environment. Moreover, growing your leadership skills is also necessary for successful career development in today’s workplace, where nothing is guaranteed.

But there’s a problem with these programs: Many fail to help with three crucial areas: building personal growth through self-awareness and self-examination; learning the leadership actions that increase company success in the midst of a changing workforce and fluid environment; and then, learning to align the two.

The absence of programs that really help in these areas gets reflected in periodic surveys finding that people at all levels are unhappy and dissatisfied with their work and careers. They struggle with the emotional impact of negative, unhealthy leadership that appears stuck in a 20th century mindset of top down, command-and-control.

Executive development programs typically take you through questionnaires, various exercises and “tools” to build skills and resolving roadblocks or conflicts. Many of them provide important and useful help for strengthening leaders’ knowledge and capacity for greater effectiveness in their roles. Some are provided by large consulting organizations like Right Management; others by university executive education programs, such as Harvard’s or Wharton’s. Efforts have been made to evaluate the effectiveness and scope of coaching programs, as well.

But many of them miss, on the one hand, building the necessary self-awareness of your “drivers” as a leader or manager. That is, your emotional makeup, your values and attitudes; your personality traits, and your unresolved conflicts. You’re a total person, not just a set of skills performing a role.

On the other hand, the programs often fail to incorporate current knowledge about the changing workforce, as well as the link between sustainable, socially responsible practices and long-term business or mission success. Yet bringing these two key ingredients together is the vehicle for both a thriving career and organization. Let’s look at both:

Self-Awareness and Self-Examination
Personal growth and career growth go hand-in-hand, and are the foundation for successful leadership in today’s organizations. Most successful and satisfied executives, whether at the top or on their way up, practice some form of self-awareness and self-examination. They learn to align their personal values and life goals with the kinds of leadership practices that will promote growth and development at all levels.

Becoming self-aware and orienting yourself to self-examination involves your entire mentality – that mixture of your emotions, your mental perspectives and attitudes, your values and beliefs. It includes, for example: Continue reading

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A New Survey Finds A Majority Of Workers Are Dissatisfied With Their Jobs

Periodically, another survey finds that many, if not the majority of people — at all levels of their work and career — are unhappy, dissatisfied or experience emotional conflicts and stress. The latest was conducted by Right Management. In my view, what’s consistently overlooked is the role that a negative, unhealthy, non-transparent management culture and leadership has upon people. The best companies are aware of that; some are making efforts to build more positive, learning-oriented, open cultures. These are of hope, especially among the younger leaders who are more in tune with these issues.

The survey was reported by Forbes, in an article by Susan Adams. She writes:

RightManagement, a subsidiary of the giant staffing firm ManpowerGroup, just released a new snapshot survey that underlines the dissatisfaction among American workers. At a time of high unemployment, lackluster job growth and major uncertainty in world financial markets, many employees feel stuck in their jobs, unable to consider a career move even if theyre unhappy.

Right Management ran the online survey between April 16 and May 15, and culled responses from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada. Only 19% said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were somewhat satisfied. But the rest, nearly two-thirds of respondents, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they were somewhat satisfied and 44% said they were unsatisfied. Saffing firms and consultants release employee engagement and loyalty surveys periodically. The news on this front has not been good for some time. In November, Ireportedon a more in-depth study, a Mercer survey of 30,000 workers worldwide, which showed that between 28% and 56% of employees in 17 spots around the globe wanted to leave their jobs. In the U.S., 32% said they wanted to find new work. Thats about half of the 65% of respondents to the Right Management survey, who said they were either somewhat or totally unsatisfied.

Whats the message to employers? A lot of unhappy workers are staying put. But if employers want an upbeat, engaged workforce, they need to find ways to help employees feel challenged and rewarded by work. A couple of suggestions: offer more training and education. Also it pays to try to find a path up the ladder for current employees, and to help them know its available to them.

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Feeling Obligated To Stay In Your Job? You’ll Become Emotionally Troubled

A new study published in the journal Human Relations finds that people who stay in their jobs because they feel obligated towards their employers, or don’t perceive alternatives outside their organization, are more likely to experience emotional conflict. And those who have higher self-esteem are especially affected when they perceive a lack of alternatives. These findings highlight, in my view, the ongoing problem of unhealthy leadership and management culture. A summary of the study was published in Medical News Today, and I’ve reposted it here:

Love it or leave it – if only it were that simple. According to new research from Concordia University, the Universite de Montreal and HEC Montreal, staying in an organization out of a sense of obligation or for lack of alternatives can lead to emotional exhaustion, a chronic state of physical and mental depletion resulting from continuousstressand excessive job demands.

Published in the journal Human Relations, the study found that people who stay in their organizations because they feel an obligation towards their employer are more likely to experience burnout. The same applies when employees stay because they don’t perceive employment alternatives outside their organization.

“Our study examined whether some forms of commitment to an organization could have detrimental effects, such as emotional exhaustion and, eventually, turnover,” says co-author Alexandra Panaccio, an assistant professor in the Department of Management at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.

“When employees stay with their organization because they feel that they have no other options, explains Panaccio, “they are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion. This feeling, in turn, may lead them to leave the organization. The implication is that employers should Continue reading

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Why Today’s Workplace Creates Emotional Conflicts

One of the most poorly understoodthough frequently experiencedrealities of work andcareertoday is that success often takes an enormous toll on people’s emotions and overall lives. It sounds ironic, I know, but it’s true. And to the extent it’s noticed at all, the downside of success is usually assumed to be understandablestressor work-life balance problems of modern lives.

But that misses the larger problem: Career success often generates a range of emotional conflicts that affect the person, job performance and ultimately the company’s success. Conflicts range from questioning the value and worth of the toll you pay along the path to success to more troubling problems. For example, feeling constrained by long hours, work that often lacks meaning, vigilance about political conflicts that can suck you in, and frustration withmanagementpractices. More serious emotional problems include anxiety, depression and chronic physical ailments. All of the above can be triggered by successful career advancement.

Though the problem is underrecognized, it’s widespread. Periodically anew surveyappears, documenting depression in the workplace and dissatisfaction with leadership. Other research confirms that demoralization rises when work isn’t very engaging; or when opportunities for continued growth and expanding competencies are too limited or blocked. It’s time we recognize the negative psychological impact that the management culture and the “requirements” for success can have on people and the organizations they work for. They exist at great cost to both.

When I investigated and wrote about career-related conflicts this a few decades ago I found Continue reading

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The End Of Mental Health — And Why That’s Good

The idea of mental healthas we know ithas reached a dead end. It doesn’t describe much of anything relevant to people’s lives today. If you Google “mental health,” most of what comes up describes mentalillness, not mentalhealth. Both practitioners and researchers focus more onunderstandingand treating emotional disturbance, than on describing what health is or how to build it.

That’s good, actually, because it opens the door to a needed, broad re-thinking of what psychological health looks like in today’s worldin your emotions, thoughts, attitudes, values and behavior. In this post I explain what’s brought us to this dead-end, and I sketch some features of psychological health that reflect new challenges and realities of today’s tumultuous world.

First, let’s look at why we’re at this dead-end. The aims of treatment for emotional conflictswhether via medications,psychotherapyor a combination of the twohave been, in essence, goodmanagement, coping and adaptation. That is, management of emotional conflicts that create dysfunction and symptoms like depression and anxiety. Coping withstressor sustained conflict in your work, relationships and other parts of your life. And good adaptation or adjustment to the norms, values and conventional behavior of the society or group you’re part of. Thosegoalsare useful, per se, but there are three problems with them. One is that Continue reading
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Does Your Midlife Feel Like Just “A Long Slide Home?”

That’s how a man in his 50s described his life to me not long ago: “It’s my long slide home.” He was feeling morose, anticipating the long holiday period from Thanksgiving through the New Year and what he knew it would arouse in him. I often see the “holiday blues” strike people during this time of multiple holidays (Hanukkah and Christmas; as well asAshurah,Bodhi Day, andKwanzaa). The tendency to reflect and take stock of one’s life often triggers sadness, regret, or depression — especially during midlife.

For example, this time of year can intensify feelings of losses you’ve experienced as well as fears about change, in general. In aprevious postI described how you can become frozen into a mindset and perspective that your life is fixed and will spiral downward from your middle years onward. Such a mentality restricts your vision. You can’t see that it’s possible — and necessary — to continue evolving your life, while reframing your emotional attitudes about the life changes that will continue to occur. I’ve always liked a line from one of Norman Mailer’snovels, “It is a law of life… that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Many of 78 million baby boomers, now in the thick of midlife, are vulnerable to feeling demoralized about their lives. For some Continue reading

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Does Your Work Interfere With Your Life?

I often hear people tell me that they feel their work is getting in the way of their life. And they’re only partly joking. In fact, several recent research studies find that the workplace is pretty unpleasant for many people. Large numbers of men and women are severely stressed or depressed at work, often to the point of being unable to function and becoming sick, emotionally or physically. The numbers are at the highest levels, ever. Conventional explanations point to career uncertainties in today’s economy, or heavy workloads. Those are obvious contributors, but I think such explanations miss a deeper, more systemic problem that’s pervasive throughout the workplace culture of most organizations today.

In brief, it’s that management practices, the workplace relationships that result from them, and the overall business model is stuck within a 20th century mindset and worldview. And that’s dysfunctional in today’s world of chaos, interdependency, and transparency. Today, collaboration and openness are essential for generating and sustaining success, both in work and in life outside of work. The new world environment includes clear shifts in what people look for and want from their careers; and from the organizations to which they’ll commit their creative energies. These new realities are pushing companies to transform how they do business and how they treat people working within them. The push is towards supporting new learning, creative innovation, and long-term vision that promotes sustainability as well as contributes to greater well-being via the product or service.

What Happens At Work

With those emerging shifts in mind, some of the new findings shed light point to what may help support these transformations in people’s life at work and within business leadership. Consider a new survey from the consulting firm rogenSI. It reports that about 25% of the global workforce is depressed. The primary source is Continue reading

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How To Deal With Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management With “Engaged Indifference”

Inmy previous postI described how abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management harm both employees and business success, and I explained that such behavior in the workplace is increasingly dysfunctional intoday’s highly interconnected, interdependent economic and social environment. This follow-up piece offers some suggestions for dealing with such situations when you find yourself within them.

Many people struggle to find ways to better cope when subjected to unhealthy, abusive management. Often that means learningstress management techniques. They can be helpful, especially when you don’t think any alternatives exist. But ultimately, they aren’t enough. However, reframing how you envision your situation to begin with can open the door to proactive, positive actions in the situation you feel trapped in.

Cathy’s example contains some ways you can do that. She was at mid-level in her company and had a record of steady promotion. At one point, senior leadership in her area changed abruptly, and she was now reporting to a newly appointed boss. “I’m here to shake things up,” he told everyone when he took over. “Everyone’s job is on the line.”

Cathy’s assessment of her new boss was that he didn’t really know her area of expertise, nor was he very interested in learning about it. Nevertheless, he freely criticized her work. Moreover, he kept sitting on a promotion that she had been in line for.

It wasn’t just her: Her boss stirred up much resentment among others because of his arrogant, controlling, dismissive style. When Cathy researched something he had requested and presented it to him, he exploded, Continue reading

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Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management Take An Enormous Toll

“I’ll tell you what thereal problem is,” Ralph told me with a confident smile. “I’m a high-level performer. But most everyone around me – my peers, direct reports, uppermanagement – they’re incompetents, jerks, or total idiots. Take your pick.”

“This company values incompetence,” he continued. “That’s the real problem. That shows you how screwed-up it is. But they’re telling me thatI’m the problem! ThatI need help? It’s the people upstairs that need it!” He shook his head in dismay.

Sound familiar? People like Ralph are all too common in companies today. He illustrates just one type of abusive boss, often part of an overall unhealthy management culture that takes an enormous toll on both workers and business success.

In this post I describe some examples of that toll in today’sworkplace culture and point towards some ways to deal with them — ways that require something different from the usual coping andstressmanagement strategies.

You might guess, correctly, that Ralph was oblivious to the fact that his description of others was how his co-workers and subordinates described him. One of his colleagues had e-mailed him after their last encounter, saying “If you ever set foot in my office again, I’ll throw your ass right out the window.” Ralph dismissed that with a wave of his hand, saying, “That’s typical – he’s threatened by me because he knows I’m leagues beyond him. Always have been.”

Ralph is a senior executive and, in fact, a high-level performer in his company. But his abusive management and poor relationships were generating a growing chorus of complaints. To its credit, his company wanted to salvage rather than fire him, and offered him anexecutive coaching program. But Ralph saw this aspunishment.

Of course there are psychological roots to behavior like Ralph’s. But that doesn’t matter much to the people who have to deal with the consequences on a daily basis. Continue reading

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Why People Are Caught Between Public Lies And Private Truths

The latest “sex and power” scandals flashing across the media in the last few weeks underscore just how commonplace, even repetitive, they’ve become. Some are new, like the sexual assault charges against former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revelation that he had fathered a child with a former member of the household staff. Some are recycling, like John Edwards’ indictment or Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations, which revivememories about hislying about an affair while impeaching President Clinton for lying about an affair.

The list goes on, the latest being the Anthony Weiner’s “rolling disclosure” episode. TheWashington Post recently compiled may of the scandals into anice summary –for those who are interested in keeping track.

But I think this steady stream of sex-related scandals is just the most titillating and graphic part of something more widespread and troublesome in the lives of many men and women today: the gap between people’spublic lies andprivate truths.

That is, many people live with contradictions between their inner lives (the truths about their desires, emotional experience,self-image and ideals) and what they do with those truths behind the scenes, hidden from view (their private selves), and the lives they conduct publically, in theircareer paths, their relationships with their families or others they deal with and the positions they espouse or advocate (their public selves).

Public lies that contradict private truths have been part of our culture for some time. But in my work with people over the last few decades, I’ve seen it grow more rapidly since 9/11 and the economic/political events of the last few years. As I reflected on the reasons for this gap, how it damages people and our society, Continue reading

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Why It’s Hard To Find Your “Life Purpose”

Every being is intended to be on earth for a certain purpose.”
— Sa’di, 12th Century Persian poet

I’m often asked, “Why can’t I find the purpose of my life?” Over the decades I’ve heard many men and women — whether they’re psychotherapy patients working to build healthier lives or business executive trying to create healthier leadership — say at some point that they don’t know what they’re really here, for, on this planet. They’re not necessarily religious or spiritually inclined, but they feel a longing for that “certain something” that defines and integrates their lives.

Many turn to the various books and programs purport to identify their life’s purpose, but most come away dissatisfied. No closer than they were before, they identify with Bono’s plaintive cry in the U2’s song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

And yet, many do find and live in harmony with their life’s purpose. Here are some of my observations about why many don’t, and how they differ from those who do.

First, I think everyone feels a pull towards some defining purpose to his or her life, no matter how much it may have become shrouded over along the way. In fact, you can say that all forms of life, all natural phenomena, have some purpose. There’s always movement or evolution towards some kind of outcome or fulfillment — whether it’s a tree that produces fruit or clouds that form to produce rain. But we humans become so enraptured by our daily activity, engagements, goals and so forth, that our awareness of our own unique life purpose is easily dimmed.

And there are consequences to not knowing or finding your purpose. I often see men�and women who’ve become successful in their work or relationships — their outer lives — and yet they feel hollow, empty, unfulfilled. They describe feeling “off-track” in some way, or incomplete, despite a conventionally successful life. Sometimes they wonder if they’ve been on the “wrong” path all along — chosen the wrong career, or the wrong life partner. Or that perhaps they Continue reading

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Why The Loss Of Your Job Could Be A Gain For Your Life

As the 52 year-old man entered my office one afternoon, he asked, plaintively, “How do you start over when you can’t start over?”

He had just been let go by his company; he was devastated and frightened about the future. Despite a successful corporate career, he had no prospects in sight, and his wife’s income wasn’t enough to support the family — especially with a daughter in college and a son headed there next year.

He’s one of a rising number of people who’ve been hit hard by the recession in two ways: a forced “career transition” (the euphemism for firing), which is always difficult, and the emotional consequences of job loss, which are more severe in today’s world of uncertainty and insecurity about what the future holds.

Nevertheless, I think the career-related and emotional impact of the economic implosion could prove to be the best thing that ever happened for some people’s lives.

To explain, let’s look at the man I described above. Like so many others who’ve sought my help over the years, he had defined his worth, his value to others, his whole identity, through his career. Now he felt thrown out to sea, alone, not knowing how to “start over when you can’t start over.” In the years prior to the economic meltdown, he could have expected to land another position within a reasonable period of time. He’d probably be dealing with a manageable degree of anxiety.

But that was yesterday. The current economic recession is taking a severe emotional toll on many people: Increasing anxiety and depression, family conflicts and stress-related physical ailments. Moreover, the practical and mental health consequences of job-loss and job-seeking can be especially severe for midlifers. In fact, many are considering the possibility that they may never work again.

So how can I say that this situation could be the best thing that ever happened to someone? It’s because I’ve found Continue reading

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Notes From Serbia: A Different Take On The Career Treadmill

The following is a guest post by Tijana Milosevic,a Belgrade-based freelance writer. Before returning to Serbia, Tijana received an MA degree from the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington DC and worked with various public diplomacy and international communications organizations in Washington. She currently lectures in media psychology and media research at Singidunum University for Media and Communications in Belgrade. Tijana was trained with the Radio Free Europe in Washington and BBC World in London. She is also the recipient of the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award and numerous Open Society Institute scholarships. tijana.milosevic@gmail.com


Coming from Serbia — a country of six million in Eastern Europe that once belonged to a larger, war-torn entity called socialist Yugoslavia — I wasnt fully aware of the notion of career anxiety when I came to Washington DC for my MA degree. Until one evening, that is, at the very onset of the school year. A colleague of mine who was just turning twenty-seven raised his glass and voiced his fear: Twenty-seven: no serious job and no stable career track.

I was twenty- three at the time and could not comprehend why anyone would be obliged to have a career track, let alone a stable one, especially at (what I saw as) the tender age of twenty seven. In fact, I had never entertained the concept the way my American friends were referring to it.

While many Americans move out of their homes when theyre 19 to hit college, the East- European model is quite different. Countries are smaller, and if theres any migration it is directed typically towards the capital, so young people continue to live with their families through college. Because of high unemployment rates and poor standard of living, they arent expected to become financially independent, and many depend on their parents well into their late twenties or even early thirties -without a sense of shame that such state of affairs entails in the US. These factors reduce the relevance of what Americans often describe as the treadmill feel- an almost compulsive desire for continuous promotions, financial gains, followed by a rise in social status, and an increasing social anxiety.

In societies that are similar to mine, the American model is looked down upon as harsh capitalistic, individualistic and above all alienated, as American parents are not perceived to provide enough financial and emotional support for their children. In fact my family and friends had observed that I shouldnt have chosen America, since I would probably feel better in Western Europe – where life is not as fast paced as in the US and capitalism still has a human face.

For example, Americans still work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world. On the other hand, in the US an increasing popularity of employment therapy suggests that a high-paying job still comes first, as job issues have a huge mental health component, and therapists emphasize the importance of toxic co-workers and the ramifications of massive layoffs.

Numerous writers have outlined the dangers of isolation and careerism in the American society. In her famous work Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt equates careerism with lack of thinking that led to Holocaust: what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide [] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.

In Serbia even young and busy corporate-minded career professionals do not have to mark their calendars to meet with close friends. One can always find the time for a spontaneous chat over coffee. Still, this laid back culture is now beginning to change with an increasing development of free market capitalism. I still remember how strange it felt when I first came to DC and had to schedule coffees and lunches with people weeks or even months in advance. I found it odd that people rarely picked up the cell phone (which, granted, could be merely my personal experience, although many Americans confirmed it!) and would often leave the time and date of the call in their voicemails, which implied the other person might not get back to them in a while. I also came to discover that what Americans often referred to as friends, people from my region would prefer to call acquaintances. The term friend cannot be reserved for someone you meet once in a couple of months and do not know well enough to open up to.

Those experiences bring to mind a memorable line from from Eat, Pray, Love, a biographical story recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts: You Americans know entertainment but you do not know how to enjoy yourselves, Roberts plays a successful thirty-something American who decides to embark on a soul-searching trip to Italy, India and Bally after realizing her job, husband and newly bought house are not what she really wanted from life. Perhaps thats a superficial take on what many would describe as an equally superficial Californian trend to do something spiritual, but the above quote shows theres something to the American career frenzy that remains unique to the United States. The opportunity cost for dolce far niente or the joy of doing nothing, runs high.

Reflecting on this, I ran into an interesting take on Eat Pray Love by a 23-year old blogger: We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable. I wonder if her comment has to do with the lack of experience or the possibility that the generation entering the work force will not have an adequate justification for its desire to escape the treadmill feel– amidst all the superficial takes on this complex topic.

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The 4.0 Career Is Coming: Are You Ready?

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Even in the midst of our economic disaster that’s hitting all but the wealthiest Americans, a transformation is continuing within people’s orientation to work. I call it the rise of the 4.0 career. ??This growing shift concerns how men and women think about and pursue their careers. It also defines the features of organizations that they want to work for and commit to. This shift that I describe below transcends its most visible form: Generation X’s and, especially, Generation Y’s attitudes and behavior in the workplace. Those are part of a broader shift whose origins are within men and women at the younger end of the baby boomer spectrum.

I first encountered this while interviewing yuppies (remember them?) in the 1980s for my book Modern Madness, about the emotional downside of career success. I often found that people would want to talk about a gnawing feeling of wanting something more “meaningful” from their work. They didn’t have quite the right language back then to express what that would look like other than feeling a gap between their personal values and the trade-offs they had to make to keep moving up in their careers and companies. The positive ideals of the 60s seemed to have trickled down into their yearnings, where they remained a kind of irritant.

Flashing forward 25 years, those people are now today’s midlife baby boomers. Their earlier irritation has bloomed into consciously expressed attitudes and behavior that have filtered down into the younger generations, where they’ve continued to evolve. Today, they’re reshaping how people think about and pursue their careers within today’s era of interconnection, constant networking and unpredictable change.

I’ll oversimplify for the sake of highlighting an evolution of people’s career orientations:

Career Versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0… And The Emerging 4.0

The 1.0 career describes Continue reading

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Three Essential Pillars Of Health and Resiliency In Today’s World

Upgrade To Career 4.0; Practice Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

In a previous post I wrote that a key pathway to psychological health and resiliency in today’s world is learning to “forget yourself.” This post describes ways to do that in three important realms of your life – your work, your personal relationships, and your life “footprint.”

In the earlier post I explained that “forgetting yourself” doesn’t mean neglecting your own legitimate needs or concerns. Rather, it means letting go of our human tendency to overly dwell on ourselves – our own concerns, needs, desires, slights, complaints about others, and so on. Psychological health and resiliency in today’s world grows when you can do that and put your energies in the service of something larger than yourself: problems, needs and challenges that lie beyond your own personal, narrow self-interest.

That may sound like a paradox, but it’s based on a new reality: Today’s world is changing more rapidly than you can imagine and is becoming immensely interdependent, interconnected, unpredictable and unstable. In this new environment you can’t create or sustain a positive, healthy life through the old ways of reactive resiliency, of coping and hoping to rebound.

That is, chronic unhappiness, dysfunction and overt emotional disturbance lie in store for those who remain too locked into thinking about themselves and who use old solutions to achieve success in relationships and at work. For example, trying to achieve power and domination over others, and thinking you can hold on to that. Fearing collaboration and avoiding mutuality with people who are different from yourself, or with whom you have differences. Looking for ways to cope with stress and restore equilibrium or “balance” in your life. And overall, being absorbed by your own conflicts, disappointments and the like. The latter are inevitable, and dwelling on them is a breeding ground for resentment, jealousy, and blame. That’s a dead-end. The consequences are visible in people who are unable to handle career downturn, who experience mounting relationship conflicts and who suffer from a range of psychological problems like depression, boredom, stress, anxiety and self-undermining behavior.

In contrast, positive resiliency in today’s environment is the byproduct when you aim towards common goals, purposes or missions larger than just your own narrow self-interests. That keeps you nimble, flexible, and adaptive to change and unpredictable events that are part of our new era. Then, you’re creating true balance, between your “outer” and “inner” life.

Here are three ways you can move through self-interest. Each describes a shift, or evolution from the older, reactive form of resilience to the new, proactive form:

Upgrade your career to the 4.0 version; Practice “Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

Yeah, I know — those descriptions sound odd. Continue reading

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Building An “Inside-Out” Life

1. Why “Work-Life” Balance Is A Myth

Meet Linda and Jim, who consulted me for psychotherapy. Linda is a lawyer with a large firm; Jim heads a major trade association. They told me theyre totally committed to their marriage and to being good parents. But they also said its pretty hectic juggling all their responsibilities at work and at home They have two children of their own plus a child from her former marriage. Dealing with the logistics of daily life, to say nothing of the emotional challenges, makes it hard just to come up for air, Linda said. Sound familiar?

Or listen to Bill, a 43-year-old who initially consulted me for help with some career challenges. Before long, he acknowledged that hes worried about the other side of life. Hes raising two teenage daughters and a younger son by himself one of the rising numbers of single fathers. Hes constantly worried about things like whether a late meeting might keep him at work. He tries to have some time for himself, but its hard enough just staying in good physical health, let alone being able to have more of a life, he said. Recently, he learned he has hypertension.

Its no surprise that these people, like many I see both in my psychotherapy practice and my workplace consulting, feel pummeled by stresses in their work and home lives. Most are aware, at least dimly, that this is unhealthy that stress damages the body, mind and spirit. Ten years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 70 percent of all illness, physical and mental, is linked to stress of some kind. And that number has probably increased over the last decade. Much of this stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home and trying to balance both. The problem seems nearly universal, whether in two-worker, single-parent or childless households.

I think these conflicts are so common because people have learned to frame the problem incorrectly to begin with. That is, theres no way to balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale what I call your outer life. On the other side of the scale is your personal, private life your inner life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life, try, instead, to balance your outer life and inner life.

The Other Balancing Act

Let me explain. On the outer side of the scale you have the complex logistics and daily stresses of life at both work and home the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, phone calls, to-do lists and responsibilities that fill your days. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world. Its where you use your energies to deal with tangible, often essential things. Paying your bills, building a career, dealing with people, raising kids, doing household chores, and so on. Your outer life is on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or your e-calender.

On the other side of the scale is your internal self. Its the realm of your private thoughts and values. Your emotions, fantasies, spiritual or religious practices. Your capacity to love, your secret desires, and your deeper sense of purpose. In short, it embodies who you are, on the inside. A successful inner life is defined by how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness , and your sense of clarity about your values and life purpose. It includes your level of mental repose: your capacity for calm, focused action and resiliency that you need in the face of your frenetic, multitasking outer life.

If the realm of the inner life sounds unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, this only emphasizes how much you like most peple have lost touch with your inner self. You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that theres little time to tend to your mind, spirit or body. Then, you identify your self mostly with who you are in that outer realm. And when theres little on the inner side of the scale, the outer part weighs you down. You are unbalanced, unhappy and often sick.

When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to stress, and thats related to a wide range of physical damage. Research shows that heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, a weakened immune system, skin disorders, asthma, migraine, musculoskeletal problems all are linked to stress.

More broadly, when your inner and outer lives become unbalanced, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. When operating in the outer world at work, for example, or in dealings with your spouse or partner you may struggle with unjustified feelings of insecurity and fear. You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you dont understand. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional default positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.

Even when youre successful in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. Without a developed inner life, you lose the capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with awareness, self-direction and judgment. Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best maybe a new win, a new lover, drugs or alcohol.

And that pulls you even more off-balance, possibly to the point of no return. The extreme examples are Continue reading

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Learning To “Forget Yourself”

“Becoming Sane…” Part IV

In Part III of becoming sane. I wrote that our prevailing model of psychological health needs revision for todays world for outward success in a changing world, and for internal well-being. I concluded by saying that a key to emotional resiliency and, more broadly, psychological health, in current times is learning to forget yourself.

So what does that mean? Not thinking about your own needs? Not looking out for yourself? Not quite. Im using the phrase forget yourself to highlight an important capacity for health, survival, and happiness in todays tumultuous, interconnected environment: the capacity to focus more on problems, needs, and solutions beyond just your own. That is, the person who is too absorbed in his or her own self, own conflicts, own disappointments, and the like is much less able to engage the larger dilemmas and issues in positive, solution-oriented ways. And that deficiency circles back to create dysfunction, damaged relationships, and career downturns.

Along the way Ill be writing more about specific ways you can learn to forget yourself in your work, your relationships and your role as a global citizen. Here are some guidelines that help lay the foundation.

Three Responsibilities:

Think about your responsibilities as a human being living in todays world, and on this planet. Specifically, consider the following three responsibilities. They can serve as helpful guidelines for moving through and beyond the tendency we all share — to focus too much on our own selves.

Responsibility for your own mind-body-spirit

Recognize that its your job, alone, to continue learning and developing your emotional, mental, creative and physical capacities. Enlarging these capacities helps provide the flexibility and adaptability you need to deal with changes, good or bad. Dont become like the character John Marcher in Henry James The Beast In The Jungle, who waited passively, believing that something significant was going to happenand ended up with a failed life.

Responsibility for those less able

Part of the new criteria for psychological health include this awareness: You grow through your efforts to help and support others, less able than yourself, to find and follow a healthy path in this world. Find someone who needs and would welcome your aid, whether your children or family member. But stretch further, to include a stranger or those within the extended world community who suffer from lack of clean water, from famine, disease or torture. Organizations and individuals who could use your help are a click away on the Internet.

Responsibility for the planet

Reflect on the fact that your actions at home or in your community can help maintain a healthy, sustainable planet for future inhabitants, including your own descendants. Or, they can further jeopardize the environment they will live in. Look at your own actions in your home, your community, and at work. Ask yourself, are you becoming a good ancestor?

Some Steps You Can Take:

Loosen the grip of self-interest

Use self-awareness to observe and contain your Continue reading

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Today’s Psychologically Healthy Adult — Neither Adult Nor Healthy

Becoming Sane….Part III

In previous posts on the theme of becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, unpredictable world, I described why conventional emotional resiliency doesnt work in the 21st Century; and what that means for building a psychologically healthy life in todays world.

In this post Ill explain why many of the conflicts men and women deal with today stem from this contradiction: The criteria for adult psychological health accepted by the mental health professions and the general public doesnt really describe an adult. Nor, for that matter, does it describe psychological health.

A contradiction, to be sure, so let me explain: As we entered the world of the 21st Century our definition of psychological health was largely defined by the absence of psychiatric symptoms. The problem is, thats like defining a happy person as someone whos not depressed. Moreover, sometimes what appears to be a psychiatric symptom reflects movement towards greater health and growth in a persons life situation.

But more significantly, our conventional view of psychological health is, in effect, a well-adapted, well-functioning child in relation to parents or parent figures. Or, a sibling who interacts appropriately in a social context with other siblings. Either way, it describes a person functioning within and adapted to a world shaped and run by parents, psychologically speaking.

That is, we pretty much equate healthy psychological functioning with effective management or resolution of child- or sibling-based conflicts. For example, resolving and managing such child-based conflicts as impulse control; narcissistic or grandiose attitudes; and traumas around attachment, from indifference, abandonment, abuse, or parenting that otherwise damages your adult capacity for intimacy or trusting relationships.

Healthy resolution of sibling-type conflicts includes learning effective ways to compete with other siblings at work or in intimate relationships; managing your fears of success or disapproval; containing passive-aggressive, manipulative or other self-undermining tendencies; and finding ways to perform effectively, especially in the workplace, towards people whose approval, acceptance and reward you need or crave.

Its no surprise, then, that many people feel and behave like children in a grown-up world. Examples permeate popular culture. A good one is the popular TV show, The Office. It often portrays the eruption of these sibling-type conflicts, as the workers act out their resentments or compete with one another to win the favor of office manager Michael, another grown-up child who is self-serving and clueless about his own competitive motives and insecurity.

Unconscious child-type conflicts are often visible within intimate relationships and family life, as well. They provide a steady stream of material for novels and movies. You can see, for example, fears of abandonment in a man who demands constant attention and assurance that hes loved; or low-self worth in a woman whos unconsciously attracted to partners who dominate or manipulate her.Of course its critical that you learn to become aware of and manage effectively whatever emotional damage you bring from your early experiences into adulthood. We all have some. Thats a good starting point for adult psychological health, but its not sufficient. A well-adapted member of a community of other children and siblings within a psychological world of parents is not the same thing as a healthy adult. Especially not within todays interconnected, non-linear world.

So without a picture of what a healthy adult would feel, think and do in the current environment, youre left with questions but few answers. For example:

  • How can you maintain the mental focus to keep your career skills sharp and stay on a successful path at work when you suddenly acquire a new boss who wants to take things in a new direction? Or if your company is acquired by another, or goes out of business?
  • How can you best respond, mentally, if you have a new baby and a drop in family income at the same time that globalization sidetracks your career?
  • How can you handle the pressure to work longer or do more business travel when your spouse faces the same demands?
  • Whats the healthiest way to keep your relationship alive with fresh energy or avoid the temptation of an affair?
  • And how do you deal emotionally with the threat of terrorism always lurking in the background of your mind while enjoying life at the same time?

We now live within a world where the only constant is change, and where a new requirement is being able to compete and collaborate with everyone from everywhere about almost everything.

Doing that with self-awareness and knowledge of how to grow and develop all facets of your being thats the new path to adult psychological health. But you need to know where to find the path.

Learning From The Business World?

Actually, I think we can learn a lot about whats needed for psychological health from changes occurring in the business world. Continue reading

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Welcome To The New “Real America”

In two recent New York Times columns, both Frank Rich and Charles M. Blow dug beneath the current surge of anger and right-wing extremism and came up with some penetrating insights about the sources of the outrage; insights that are also the tip of an iceberg: Both of their analyses reflect a broad, sweeping evolution within the mentality of men and women that’s been taking place beneath our feet for the last several years. Ill describe some of those broader changes below, but first lets look at what Rich and Blow describe.

Rich points out that the tsunami of anger today is illogical, in the sense that the health care legislation is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare. He also reminds us that the new anger and extremism predated the health care debate:

The first signs were the shrieks of traitor and off with his head at Palin rallies as Obamas election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since from Gov. Rick Perrys kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to You lie! piercing the presidents address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

Hes pointing out that major changes are occurring in the demographics of our country. These changes and others, concerning what people look for in relationships and in their careers — are beginning to have major impact on us psychologically, including our psychological health. For some, they generate tremendous fear that can give rise to hatred and aggression; a desire to take back our country.

Rich points out that:

Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans havent had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Then, in a similar analysis, Charles M. Blow writes in his column:

Its an extension of a now-familiar theme: some version of take our country back. The problem is that the country romanticized by the far right hasnt existed for some time, and its ability to deny that fact grows more dim every day. President Obama and what he represents has jolted extremists into the present and forced them to confront the future. And it scares them.

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bills most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. Its enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

Blow cites a recent Quinnipiac University poll that found Tea Party members to be just as anachronistic to the direction of the countrys demographics as the Republican Party. For instance, they were disproportionately white, evangelical Christian and less educated … than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack. Blow points out that this is at the very time

when the country is becoming more diverse (some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be nonwhite), less doctrinally dogmatic, and college enrollment is through the roof. The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.

Well said. Mounting demographic and psychological research are confirming and extending what Rich and Blow describe. In fact, several strands of change have been underway and coalescing into a changing psychology of people their emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values regarding work and relationships, and behavior towards people in need or who suffer loss. These are shifts within a wide range of thought, feelings and actions. Here are some of them: Continue reading

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Your “Life Footprint” And The 4.0 Career

In a previous post I wrote about the rise of the 4.0 career, and how it contrasts with earlier orientations to work. In brief, the 4.0 version is an emerging shift towards a broader vision of career success. It includes the desire for new learning, growth and personal meaning from work increasingly visible themes over the last few decades, and what Ive called the 3.0 career orientation.

Whats different about the emerging 4.0 career is that its an expansion beyond looking for greater meaning and sense of purpose through ones work. It also includes a desire for impact on something larger than oneself, beyond ones personal benefit. Its becoming visible in the pull men and women report towards wanting to contribute to the common good - whether its through the value and usefulness of a product or service.

The 4.0 career is part of the emerging new business model focused on creating sustainable enterprises. Its part of whats known as the new triple bottom line — financial, social and environmental measures of success.

In this and in future posts lll describe some 4.0 career themes and how men and women illustrate them. This is important because the transformations now underway in global societies, which became more dramatically apparent following the economic nosedive in September 2008, have tremendous implications for career survival and success. The unstable, unpredictable new world upon us makes the 4.0 career orientation the path towards both outward success and personal well-being in the years ahead.

As a step towards finding the 4.0 career path, consider this little historical nugget: Continue reading

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Three Kinds Of Boredom At Work

Boredom at work can as stressful and damaging as overwork perhaps more so. Sometimes it creates embarrassing situations, as it did for Joel, a mid-level executive. He felt so bored that he sneaked out of his office one afternoon to take in a movie.

When it was over, guess whom he ran into coming out of the same theater? His boss.

“We know that 55 percent of all U.S. employees are not engaged at work. They are basically in a holding pattern. They feel like their capabilities aren’t being tapped into and utilized and therefore, they really don’t have a psychological connection to the organization,” said Curt W. Coffman, global practice leader at the Gallup Organization, as reported in the Washington Post. And Jean Martin-Weinstein, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council, a division of the Corporate Executive Board Co., cited findings from a survey of 50,000 workers around the world who were asked questions such as: “Do you love your job? Do you love your team? Are you excited by the work you do every day?” Thirteen percent came out saying no, no, and very much no. They are disaffected, because they are basically completely checked out from the work they do,” Martin-Weinstein said.

Employees who are better utilized are more fulfilled. They work more productively. For example, Continue reading

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Dealing With Career And Management Conflicts In Nonprofit Organizations

  • A social justice advocacy organization is stung by accusations from some of its staff that the leadership doesn’t “walk the walk” when it comes to racial and sex bias. Complaints also include that the organization’s mission has become too diffuse. Anger and resentment build.
  • Apublic interest research organization discovers that shared staff commitment to consumer protection doesnt preclude staff relationship conflicts or complaints about management practices. We all believe in what were doing,” the Director tells me, so we shouldn’t be having these kinds of problems.”
  • A social service organization is faced with apparent emotional disturbance of a senior staff member. Increasing amounts of management time are spent trying to deal with the person’s declining performance, absenteeism, and behavior toward coworkers. The Executive Director is unsure how to deal with the problem, and asks me “How do we balance compassion with the needs of our agency, in situations like these?”

Sound familiar? I have observed many nonprofit organizations trying to carry out their public interest or social service missions effectively but within a workplace and cultural environment that gives rise to problems like these. Such problems reflect an increasingly common, interwoven mixture of personal and organizational conflicts. Many are similar to those I find in for-profit companies. But the unique circumstances of nonprofit groups makes knowing what helps – and what doesnt – critical to maintaining their internal and external success.

Continue reading

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Comfortably Numb at Midlife?

Unless youve been living in a cave, youre probably aware that the 78 million baby boomers have entered midlife. As a psychotherapist and business psychologist and member of this new midlife generation myself Ive worked a great deal with midlifers seeking help for emotional conflicts, career dilemmas and life transition issues.

Ive heard many expressions of midlife distress, but few as poignant as this one: A 47 yearold married mother of three told me of a dream in which she’s on one of those moving sidewalks, but can’t get off. On either side scenes pass by it’s herself, living different lives, with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her. She wakes up, screaming.

How to best understand its meaning? One problem is that much of the research and clinical understanding about midlife is contradictory. Some, like a MacArthur Foundation study, suggest that theres no such thing as a midlife crisis today; that most people sail through it smoothly. Others, like two recent studies, suggest that midlife is a time of universal depression;
sometimes severe.

For example, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found a 20 percent rise in midlife suicide among 45 to 54 yearolds from 19992004 a rise that exceeded all other age groups in the U.S.

Another study reported an increase in depression during one’s 40s to early 50s, after which happiness rises again. Researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College studied 2 million people from 80 nations and found this pattern to be consistent across gender, socioeconomic levels and among developed and developing countries alike.

Some experts think the rise of midlife suicide may reflect the decrease of hormone replacement therapy among women, the stress of modern life or increased drug usage among midlifers. But theyre groping in the dark. Such experiences can lead to many outcomes, depending on how the person handles them, not necessarily suicide.

Regarding the rise of happiness after midlife depression, some speculate that people may feel happier after their 40s because they’ve learned to count their blessings, or resign themselves to life goals they know theyll never achieve.

Based on my own work over the last few decades, I find these explanations unconvincing. The data only underscore the need for a new understanding of midlife; a new framework through which people could learn to deal more effectively with the positive and negative changes they encounter. Heres mine:

What Is MidlifeAnyway?

First, I think the term “midlife” is a misnomer. Psychologically, its really the portal into full adulthood, the time when you face the challenges of evolving into a fully adult human. Successfully crossing that portal involves addressing some core questions: “What am I living for?” “What’s the purpose of my life?”

These questions are the source of most adult emotional conflicts, because facing them often arouses tremendous fear, denial or escapism. After all, were highly conditioned to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are. We learn to turn away from looking down the road, where we see Death patiently awaiting us all, as that 47 yearold woman did in her nightmare. The economic downturn that began in September 2008 has added to the fears about what may lie ahead.

Moreover, midlife actually kicks in around 35. Thats when most people start Continue reading

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