Monthly Archives: September 2016

Ways to Encourage Employee Work Balance

Employees want to balance work with the rest of the activities they wish to pursue in life. Work balance is especially important to your millennial employees who are used to cramming their days with diverse activities and hours of electronic communication.

Employers are not responsible for providing work balance for their employees, but they can assist the employees to seek and maintain their own work balance.

Optimistically, the decisions, policies, values, and expectations in your workplace support employees in their work-life balance choices.

In the best case scenario, these employer choices help you to recruit and retain the superior employees you seek. Here are ten factors that you control that encourage or discourage employee work-life balance.

  • Offer a flexible work schedule. A flexible schedule does not mean that employees can come and go at will, which is a possibility that concerns employers. A flexible schedule policy spells out what the employer means by flexible hours.

    In many workplaces, flexible starting and ending times are easy to implement. More sophisticated flexible schedules such as a four-day work week or telecommuting require more planning, but flexible work schedules are a cornerstone for work balance.

    My favorite example involves a New York City online publishing company that allows employees to telecommute two days a week. With employees living in Brooklyn, New Jersey, and all over the other boroughs, this company policy saves employees hundreds of hours of commuting time and expense. It also enables them to have additional time for all of life’s needs.

  • Offer paid time off (PTO) in lieu of traditional paid sick leave, paid personal days, and paid vacation. A paid time off (PTO) approach treats employees like adults who are capable of making decisions about how, when, and why to use the paid time off supplied by the employer.

    In a PTO system, neither employers nor employees need to worry about accounting for how the time off was spent. This eliminates confusion and the need for additional policies such as defining what constitutes a sick day. Yes, I realize that there are downsides to PTO, but not in terms of work balance.

  • Allow only limited carry over of paid time off (PTO) into anther calendar year. If the goal of paid time off is to encourage employees to do just that – take time off – paying employees for the time is counterproductive. Even if employees want to donate the value of their paid time off to a charity or a coworker who has used his or her time up for valid reasons, these actions do not encourage the work balance and rejuvenation employees need.
  • Managers and senior managers need to model the work balance they’d like to encourage for their employees. When a manager uses PTO to take a vacation yet responds to email as if she is in the office, this sends a powerful message to employees about whether they need to do email while on vacation. The actions of senior leaders are heard and observed by employees. When a senior manager calls in for unimportant meetings while out-of-the-office, employees get the message. It affects their personal choices for work and life balance.​
  • With employees electronically connected to the workplace 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the office or out, work and life balance is a challenge. Set up the expectation, in your workplace, that when an employee leaves for vacation, it is okay to send an email that says he is on vacation with limited access to email. Honor the employee’s PTO by not contacting him unless it is truly an emergency.​
  • Allow employees to take unpaid leave as needed for life cycle needs. Employees have serious, life-changing events, emergency family needs, and desires to explore life and career opportunities. While the 12 weeks required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and employer leave policies that existed prior to FMLA, cover many events, they’re not always sufficient. I have known employers to allow employees to take an unpaid leave of absence for activities and events such as:
    –the premature birth of a baby who is hospitalized for an extended time period,
    –nursing a parent with a serious illness in another state,
    –settling a relative’s estate in another state,
    –extending maternity leave for an additional 4-8 weeks,
    –exploring moving to a new location with a spouse without burning the bridge to current employment,
    –attending grad school full time to complete classes that were only available during the day, and
    –attending online grad school in another state for the four required two-week onsite sessions a year.​
  • Sponsor employee and family events and activities monthly to encourage team building, friendships among employees, and inclusion of families in work events. At the same time, schedule some of the events for adults only. Provide babysitting at the event or elsewhere, if it will encourage employee attendance.

    Bowling, picnics, outdoor movies and bonfires, game centers, ice skating, sports events like a baseball or football game, a hay ride, and interaction with a company favorite charity’s event are all appropriate for families. (On a side note, the relationships that employees build encourage them to stay with your company and in your region.)​

  • Expect employees to work hard, work long hours, and weekends, but not all of the time. It’s okay to expect employees to work long, hard hours during the push for a timely product release, for example, or at a trade show. But, employees can’t sustain an extraordinary level of energy and long overtime hours as a constant work expectation. Employees will check out, burn out, and / or leave if long hours and extraordinary effort are the norm. Don’t confuse commitment, engagement, and dedication with 60-70 hour weeks.​
  • Allow some cross-over of life needs into the workplace and vice versa. Shopping online at a sale while at work is often mitigated by the employee responding to emails at 10 p.m. You don’t want to encourage your employees to talk with their children while at work. Nor do you want to encourage employees to use online time during the work day for personal reasons.

    But you need to recognize that for many, especially professional employees, the line between work time and life time is no longer distinct. Would you prefer that the employee take a half day off to do his holiday shopping or spend twenty minutes making a quick purchase online? Or, do you want a mom has to leave early most days to make sure her children got home from school?

    Do you really want to monitor whether an employee is posting a joke on Facebook or avidly recruiting potential staff for your open position? You can trust adult employees to make good choices. Deal with the individuals who don’t – individually.​

  • Offer the opportunity for employees to job share or work part-time. Employers tend to believe that every job is a full-time job, but not all jobs need a full time employee. Consider the talent that would be available to your organization if you hired employees for part time hours.

    With the appropriate two people, job sharing can also work effectively for employees who you want to retain while they start families or home school, for example.

Creative employers and employees will think of more ways that employers can support employees in their quest for work-life balance. Start with these ten ideas to take a giant stride to support your employees in their efforts to fully participate in all aspects of work and life.


Originally published on The Balance by Susan M. Heathfield.

5 Ways to Create a Positive Work Environment

To get the most out of your employees, you have to create a positive work environment for the entire team. When people feel encouraged, accepted and happy, they become more motivated and perform better. Isn’t that a nice formula?

Yes, it takes time out of your day, but the process of creating a joyous workplace brings a sense of purpose to your work and results in dedicated performances. Plus, managers are responsible for nurturing their team, not just producing great project outcomes no matter the cost. All aboard?

Here are five tips to create a positive environment for your team:

1. Engage in meaningful (in-person) dialog

When you make the effort to connect with your team members in person—individually and as a group—you’re establishing a position of caring that motivates individuals in all sorts of crazy-good ways. It’s easy to send short messages in emails, and then rely on these small exchanges for most of your communication. Or, you can focus on what needs to get done next and forget to take a breath, look around, and get to know your employees. Don’t fall into this rut. Instead, ask your team members about their immediate goals and project interests as well as their career objectives.

Also, remember: We’re all human, and most humans respond well to the real thing—in-person communication that says “you matter.”

2. Show your appreciation

One of the biggest complaints from employees is that they don’t feel appreciated. The second someone gives us a “nice job” or “you made a difference on this project,” we feel like we matter in a way that  gives our work a sense of purpose. If you’re not so inclined to give out verbal gold stars, an easy place to start is with a simple “thank you.”

work environment

The next step is to give meaningful appreciation. Thread the high-fives and “nice jobs” with a more detailed picture behind your acknowledgment. This way, your employees can understand what they’re doing well, and do more of it. Also, detailed praise shows you’re paying attention and not throwing around empty phrases. When people feel like they’re doing good work, they want to rise to the occasion even more.

3. Listen to everyone’s ideas

Your entire team has great ideas. They’re in the trenches all day, bringing their own experience and perspectives to the part of the project they’re focused on. For example, if there’s a way to make spreadsheets more efficient or cold-calls more productive, the team members know how. It’s tempting to stick with protocol because you know that works well. But these days the world moves so fast nobody can afford to stay with a status quo for too long. So instead, make it a policy to listen to new ideas (you could structure appropriate time periods for this, too), and this will tell everyone they’re a valuable part of the team. Give the good ideas a try; you never know what might happen—other than the team becomes more invested in their work and the project outcome, for starters.

4. Trust your team members

This is a harder rule to practice for some more than others. So try to default to the assumption that your team is made up of adult, responsibility-taking, competent workers that don’t need to be treated like children. (In the end, people act the way they’re treated.) In action terms, this means that when you delegate, really let go and let the individual own the task you gave them. You can also communicate trust by asking team members to make decisions for their part of the project, like:

  • Suggesting when and if meetings should happen
  • Anticipating road blocks and communicate those to the group
  • Assuming that your team wants the best for the project. And if you sense the beginnings of some negative juju kicking up, invite  discussions about office policy; see what the majority thinks.
5. Be spontaneous and have a little fun

good work environment

Everyone wants to have fun at work—even though everyone defines “fun” a little differently. Still, if you can keep the previous four tips in action, then fun—or a sense of enjoyment and being able to be yourself at work—becomes a more natural part of everyone’s job. Fun happens when  people feel well-connected with a team where there’s mutual respect, open communication, acceptance of who people are and everyone’s collaborating and working toward the same goal. When teams are working well together, it makes it easier to be spontaneous and have some fun – whether it’s a last-minute Football Friday party after a project launch, or a brief pause in the afternoon to tell stories and have a few laughs over topics that have nothing to do about work.

Sometimes we all need a break from the seriousness of business.

And remember—whether you’re a team leader or team member, everyone plays a role in contributing to your work environment.

The best project managers know how to motivate, inspire and nurture a work environment that brings out the best in individuals and the team. To up your skills, download our eBook, “5 Practical Habits of Today’s Project Manager.”


Originally published on The Liquid Planner by Tatyana Sussex

Three Ways to Get the Most out of Your Five-Day Work Week

Successful individuals know that it is essential to grasp every ounce of productivity out of the work week. Many of us struggle with how to manage our daily to-do’s, while forging ahead to grow as business professionals and individuals. Following these three essential principles will allow you to get the most out of your five-day work week:

1. Adopt a Gun-to-Gun Mentality

Many people are developing what I call the Short Calendar Attitude, which serves as a drain to productivity and mental toughness. The Short Calendar Attitude refers to allowing yourself to think on Monday, “Well, today is Monday, and the weekend was too short, and I am not ready for it to be over. I am tired and not really feeling it today. I think I will give myself permission to take it easy today.” Then comes the Friday mentality: “TGIF, I am so excited this is Friday. It has been a long week, and I am ready for the weekend. I can’t work hard today because I am too excited for the fun and relaxation that will be had in the upcoming days, I should probably just pack it in early.

Unfortunately the Short Calendar Attitude is contagious. It starts with short Mondays and Fridays and bleeds into the same approach with holidays and vacations. I had a client admit to me that he was so excited for an upcoming vacation that he was mentally checked out two full days before even boarding the plane. To make things even worse, he had so much fun on the trip that it took him three days once he got home to get back up to speed.

Learn to replace the Short Calendar Attitude with the Gun-to-Gun Mentality.Highly successful individuals enlist the Gun-to-Gun Mentality by thinking, “Well, it’s Monday, and the weekend was short and sweet. Although I may not be feeling it today, I am going to attack the day from the absolute first minute of the day all the way to the last. I know if I put in my best fight today, it will be difficult, but certainly will be worth it.” Then comes the Friday mentality of the successful: “TGIF, I’m glad this is Friday. It has been a long but good week, and I am going to finish strong from the first minute of the day all the way to the last. I know doing so will make the upcoming weekend that much more enjoyable.”  The highly successful take the same approach with holidays and vacations– hit it hard all the way to the final gun, and start getting after it the first minute back.  

Try replacing your Short Calendar Attitude with that of a Gun-to-Gun Mentality. You may be surprised by how your behaviors will start to respond to what you tell your mind. You will be able to produce more throughout the entire week, rather than taking valuable time to rev up at the beginning and wind down at the end.

2. Eat the “Big Frogs” First Each Day

The most important tasks each day are also typically the tasks we fear, dread, and avoid most. On a daily basis, rally your energy and courage to tackle those daily goals that have the greatest influence on your performance and therefore success. Brian Tracy, a best-selling personal development author, calls the most important and most challenging tasks we need to complete daily our “big frog” tasks. Most people choose to focus first on the unimportant tasks (the little frogs) and save the big frogs for last.

The problem is that if the big frogs are at the bottom of your to-do list, you will have a psychological tendency to find ways to procrastinate so that you won’t have to face them. Saving the big frogs for last means that you will need the greatest courage and energy at the end of the day when you are most tired from spending countless hours completing tasks that may be urgent, but not that important. By eating the big frogs first, you create energy and momentum through your early accomplishment of something that has true impact.

3. Recharge the Battery

Take the time on the evenings and weekends to rest and come into the next day or week rejuvenated and ready to tackle success. Look at yourself like a battery. When you have a hard day, you become exhausted. When you have three or four hard days in a row, you become more exhausted. When you have three or four hard weeks in a row, you become even more exhausted. Rather than allowing all of these hard days to mentally compound on themselves and drain your productivity and mental clarity, think of yourself as a battery in the sense that you really only need one good night’s sleep to be fully charged. We have trained ourselves into thinking that we become exhausted by series’ of hard days, but getting one good night’s sleep truly does allow us to start fresh.

The key is that we may not need to change our behavior, but we need to change the way we think about being exhausted. You may discover that you can actually do more than you previously thought. Commit to taking one day of rest for every seven-day cycle. Also commit to getting one good night’s sleep at least every other day to recharge your battery. You will find yourself more productive and less mentally exhausted, especially for those 5 days during the work-week. If you have a week or two when it is simply not possible to rest, don’t beat yourself up. Simply, try to find an extra day during another week to make up the time to recharge. Google is one of the most successful companies in the world, and it prides itself on the employees balancing their work with family and rest time.  They actually teach their employees how to rest. The company understands that this emphasis improves happiness and productivity, and undoubtedly, the bottom line.

By committing to a Gun-to-Gun Mentality, eating the “Big Frogs” first, and taking the time to recharge the battery, you will squeeze more productivity and clarity out of the work-week. These small shifts in behavior and mentality will have a measurable impact on your business, life, and success.


By Jason Selk of Forbes

7 Characteristics That Separate A Boss From A Leader

While a leader can be a boss, not every boss is a leader. Although leaders and bosses have nearly identical definitions, in effect, they are different in today’s competitive world.

Just the term “leader” evokes more positivity than that of “boss.” However, when people dream of getting to higher positions in life, business or politics, they dream more about being bosses than leaders.

A possible explanation for this is that being a leader requires much more responsibility in a job than being a boss, seeing as being the boss doesn’t necessarily require going above and beyond to impress a superior.

While a boss is mostly concerned with outcomes, a leader feels responsible for the process of that outcome and the people who see it out. Check out some major points that distinguish a leader from a boss:

1. Leaders lead rather than rule.

Throughout history, the best chiefs headed their troops in fights or campaigns or whatever. The troops were not afraid because their leader was right there with them. Leaders are there to lead the team forward and to move together.

2. Leaders listen and speak rather than command.

Bosses tend to give orders; they need their employees to listen and to obey. However, leaders always listen to the opinions of their colleagues and regard them as important.

Leaders are always ready for advising, discussion and any feedback an employee has to offer. This reciprocity makes any individual employee feel stronger and gives him or her confidence to follow the leader.

3. Leaders motivate rather than terrify.

While working on projects, people have their ups and downs. Through this roller coaster, bosses are more likely to intimidate into action while leaders will motivate to action.

One of the best things about leaders is that they offer empathy and prepare a group for the tasks at hand. This is very important, seeing as whenever colleagues are not prepared for certain duties, leaders are there to support, teach and back them up. Leaders know that each employee is on the team for a reason and they have faith in every concerted effort.

4. Leaders teach and learn rather than expect and ignore.

A true leader is the person who has self-esteem, but who is not arrogant nor embarrassed to learn from those with lower titles. They know that it is never late to learn more.

This explains the tendency of leaders to always pay attention to their colleagues, knowing there is always more to  learn from them. Moreover, leaders are not only takers, but givers, as well. A good leader is not greedy for sharing knowledge and experience with someone else; instead, the leader teaches and nurtures new professionals.

5. Leaders take part rather than stay aside.

While bosses choose to stay aside in the job, leaders take initiative. They watch over the progress of work, make adjustments where necessary and aid team members. They choose to be a part of the team rather than bossing the team around.

6. Leaders reprimand rather than scold or shout.

When necessary, a leader offers constructive criticism. However, a leader never scolds or shouts at any individual, especially in public. They do understand that they are dealing with people and no one has right to humiliate others. Rather, the leader talks to the person individually and without any spike in temper.

7. Leaders establish equal relationships.

Anyone who has ever worked on a team knows what it feels like when the manager chooses his favorites and non-favorites. It always causes stress and tension among team members which compromises productivity.

A good leader tries to treat everyone equally and to not allow personal preferences affect the team dynamic.

During your life, you will face two kinds of managers: leaders and bosses. It does not matter how high the position of these individuals; bossy people are more likely to fail while those who lead will succeed.

Maybe the things I mentioned above do not make any sense for you now, but eventually, you will experience the difference and garner a greater understanding of which manager you prefer for your own professional life.



14 Realistic Ways You Can Start Being More Mindful at Work (and Stop Feeling So Overwhelmed)

Ever have so much on your plate that you don’t even have a free moment to appreciate your progress? When it comes to having a to-do list full of heavy-hitter items, you’re probably not the only one who feels more erratic than accomplished. And if it starts getting to the point that every day is like that, then adding a little mindfulness to your schedule might be good for you.

Slowing down can feel counterintuitive at best, but in some ways, it’s the kind of recharging you need most to get even more done.

  1. Mindfulness doesn’t have to always come in the form of a 30-minute meditation sequence. In fact, focused breathing can do wonders for you in any situation.(Business Insider)
  2. Conscious concentration is a skill—and that means it’s a habit that you have to practice. Luckily, there are exercises you can do shift your mindset to ease anxiety.(Harvard Business Review)
  3. If you’re stressed and running on little time, the good news is that your breath can be a very grounding anchor to focus on. Try some under-10-minute breathing exercises to ease your mood immediately. (Greatist)
  4. And breathing isn’t the only exercise you can do to reset your spirits. Try observing, listening, and appreciating more intentionally, too. (Pocket Mindfulness)
  5. Just because you’re checked out for lunch time doesn’t mean that isn’t still a core time to be connected with your surroundings. Eating consciously will make sure you’re not scarfing down everything mindlessly—which in turn means you won’t be crashing later. (mindbodygreen)
  6. How often do you have conversations you can barely recall, because you were too busy thinking about that call you have to make later? Turns out, active listening can make all sides of a conversation feel better. (The Wall Street Journal)
  7. As David Allan notes, unless you’re an ER doctor or babysitter, whatever you have to do can wait 15 minutes while you do a mid-day meditation sequence. (CNN)
  8. Feel like you can’t “schedule in” mindfulness? Science says taking breaks actually keeps you more on track for things to go as planned. So, next time you’re itching for a short walk or coffee break, listen to the urge. (The New York Times)
  9. Overflowing inbox got you down? Try this clever email meditation exercise. (The Huffington Post)
  10. Here are some tips for practicing mindfulness all day long, with advice based specifically on who you’re around. (Fitness Magazine)
  11. Sometimes, achieving calm has everything to do with starting things off right each day. Tweak your morning routine so you’re prepared for whatever comes next.(Bustle)
  12. And likewise, you can’t perform at your best during your work hours when it’s clogging up your attention at all hours of the day. Make sure to unplug and set boundaries when you head home—for everyone’s sake. (Fast Company)
  13. According to Katherine Ellison, paying too much attention to your inbox forces you to put others’ needs before you own. Good news? You can practice better mindfulness and self-compassion by staying away. (Forbes)
  14. And, if staying out of your inbox takes an unrealistic amount of willpower, these are some clear steps for keeping your paws off for good—so you can really stay in the moment when you’re clocked in. (The Daily Muse)

Originally published in The Daily Muse by Caroline Liu.