I Didn’t Take That Vacation: Here’s What Happened

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I didn’t have the opportunity to take a vacation this year.

For some reason, the stars never aligned to help that happen. A few things contributed to the situation. I have a new role (along with my other commitments), and we are also renovating an older home. As you might expect, our resources have been diverted to goals such as staircases and a functional HVAC system. Then, in a last ditch effort,  we just couldn’t agree on when and where to go.

“Re-charging” just was not in the cards.

The outcome of my neglect feels quite real. A little like pulling an all-nighter — with absolutely no desire to sit for the exam.

This is not a “good thing” — as Martha would say.

The research has shown that many of us fail to take time off, even when we have earned the vacation days to do so. For some odd reason, we don’t like to admit that time off is necessary — or we fear we’ll look weak — or uncommitted to our work. This lack of attention to rest is costly in so many ways. I can only say, that if I’m representative of what it is like to not have a break, no one should skimp.

Sustaining “us” — is in part our own responsibility. We shouldn’t need to be reminded that we are important.

Here’s what has happened:

  • I’m observing signs of burn-out. Yes, I lack my usual level of enthusiasm for the tasks I normally love. I’ve coached myself to care, as the “Joy Factor” has taken a dip. That’s a sad commentary.
  • I’m losing my sense of humor, especially where work is concerned. I don’t laugh nearly enough — and laughing is vastly under-rated. We need these moments to off-set stress.
  • I’m a bit of a pain in the a##. I’m sure it has to do with the above. No further explanation needed. Sorry for the language.
  • Inspiration is waning. I require new sources of stimulation to stay at the top of my game. A change of scenery always does great things for me. We really shouldn’t expect to be at our best, after completing a year-long mental marathon.
  • I’m starting to fantasize about a new line of work. Now, this is simply ridiculous. However, I can easily see why many of us take these feelings as a sign that our roles are the problem. It’s not.

Here is what I’m doing:

  • I’m exploring my local environment. I’m unchaining myself from my desk and getting out there (cell phone muted). I’m stopping by the Farmer’s Market, and checking out the museums and gardens. Inspiration is really all around us.
  • I’m aiming to meet more people face-to-face.  I’m completely inspired by the career journeys of others. I’m making a point to visit college campuses this fall, to talk to students about their future work lives. (let me know if you’d like me to visit yours.)
  • I’m taking a series of shorter weekend trips. Nothing works like the real deal. Michigan is beautiful in the fall and I’m determined to see it.
  • I’m telling founders, managers and leaders to take their vacations (and to let everyone know). Nothing cements a needed change more completely, than a strong message that time off is a respected practice.

What are your strategies to take a break when vacations are impossible to schedule? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Employing a Life Strategy

raj-eiamworakul-1031067-unsplashAt times, we’ve all lost our way  — and finding our way back to the right path is imperative. This process can prove both confusing and painful. Often, we believe that the root problem lies externally; the wrong boss, team or organization. But, are we overlooking the obvious? In fact, looking inward might just be the best place to begin. Truth be told, we put enough obstacles in our own career paths to last more than a lifetime. When it comes down to it — we are usually right there in the mix, adding to the fog.

What if you could find that vital guidance, that mantra of direction, to actually get out of your own way once and for all? Well, developing a life strategy may be the needed prescription. It’s not fluff — it’s just plain smart.

We assume we’ll traverse through our careers (and our lives for that matter) without taking a single moment of pause to formulate a plan. (An organization wouldn’t think of moving forward without first considering a clear-cut path.) Strategy, can allow us to focus on our goals. Because at the inflection points that challenge us, we often forget to stop, breathe and look in all directions.

A great read to find that needed path is Allison Rimm’s, The Joy Of Strategy. (Her concept of the “Joy Meter” is a stunner, and that alone is worth the read. Apply the meter to your work life — and you will never view work or career, in quite the same way.)

A few things The Joy of Strategy would also like us to consider:

  • Listening more. Not to everyone else — to yourself. Stop shopping for the advice that would allow you to support what you already know you need from your work life. Trust that inner voice. What have you left behind? As Rimm describes so aptly, “Don’t die with your song still inside of you.”
  • Taking another look at purpose. We can easily confuse being busy with purpose — and defining a “clear intention” can help to filter out the “noise” surrounding our most important career decisions. When I began blogging two years ago, a colleague was less than enthused with my career pivot. This caused me real stress. But, when all was said and done — the path fulfilled my purpose to help others gain fulfillment in the workplace.
  • Visualize, visualize, visualize. Where do you really want to be? What would you be doing? What do you really want to accomplish? One solid strategy for change, is to thoroughly consider the “future state”. Go there — dream a little — it will help you master your future.
  • Defining what you really need. Be brutally honest. If you could move forward to build your best career life, what materials would you collect to ensure your success? A trusted mentor? More opportunities to lead a team? Sharper communication skills? Take the time to define these.
  • Time and Emotion.  We spend our time — but what do those moments really offer us? As Rimm explains, “We should all derive some measure of joy from our work.” I couldn’t agree more. That indeed, is a winning strategy.

How have you built your own life strategy? Tell us a little about that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

Joy at Work: How about a little “Arbejdsglæde”?

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

In response to a post about positivity in the workplace, a very kind reader (Casper P.) let me know that in his language, a very unique word existed. The word was “Arbejdsglæde” — translated into English this means “happiness at work” or “work joy”. Here is his comment:

Scandinavian countries have a single word for “Happiness at work” — Arbejdsglæde. This site posted a great video on why we need more of it: http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com

If only we could only bring more Arbejdsglæde into our work lives on a daily basis. Arbejdsglæde is the positive feeling that develops when you simply love what you do. It stokes motivation and serves as an reliable source of energy. In turn, the work brings a keen sense of satisfaction. Of course, this is something we should all readily seek — and a bit of joy may be exactly what we need to affect the troubling lack of engagement in the workplace today. More joy at work? As a psychologist, that is something that I can certainly live with.

Here is an example of Arbejdsglæde in action — the moment the rover Curiosity lands on Mars. (More great videos at http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com)


Ultimately, joy and work should co-exist — but we have been resistant to offer ourselves permission to seek this out. In her HBR post Joy at Work: It’s Your Right, Allison Rimm describes how she has utilized a joy meter in her coaching practice. When clients would enter for a session, they would rate the level of joy (vs. hassle) they were currently feeling from their work. The underlying premise? We all should derive some measure of joy from our work.

We might encourage joy at work through the expression of gratitude, developing hope and encouraging camaraderie. But we can also grow joy, by aligning our work with our strengths — and learning to express what we really need to derive satisfaction from our work.

So, let’s bring a more joy to our workplaces — ourselves, our clients  and our colleagues.

It’s a good thing.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

The “Fab 5” of Your Work Life

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

You are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. – Jim Rohn

I’ve heard Jim Rohn’s incredibly insightful quote on a number of occasions.

Every time I hear it I pause — as the message is simply that powerful. Those we surround ourselves with could easily be viewed as a critical life choice, as we absorb the moods, problems and the passions of those around us.

Instinctively, we might first apply this concept to our personal lives — quickly completing a review of our inner circle of friends and family. But really we should also applying this mantra to our work lives. The same standard holds there. Those we surround ourselves with can affect our work lives tremendously, for the better or for the worse.

I began to apply the “Fab 5” to specific work goals. (For example, finding the right guide to become a better speaker). However, this seemed far too limiting.

These 5 individuals should have robust relevance to all aspects of our work lives — a group of key people to serve as a  “catalyst”, encouraging both exploration and excellence.

As such, the lineup should afford a broader application of the principle.

Here are my recommendations for the “Fab 5”:

  • A mentor. An individual with whom you feel entirely comfortable. They should have a working knowledge of your “dream” career direction or path. Trust is paramount and being candid is required.
  • A sponsor. This individual knows how to help you position yourself to facilitate needed career progress. They’ll help you consider options such as a “stretch assignment” or a strategically placed team role. They are masters at “career marketing” and will push your career boundaries.
  • A collaborator. We all need a “co-conspirator” who allows you to free-associate and helps you explore ideas. They are likely to be quite creative and open, and not overly critical.
  • A devils’ advocate. This role should be filled by someone who can “cut to the chase” and expose any weaknesses in your career logic. They help you to reveal obstacles and keep things “real.”
  • An entrepreneur. Somehow you just can’t replicate the mindset of an entrepreneur. They are the whole package. Quick. Creative. Above all, gutsy. They won’t let you sit on the sidelines of your work life for very long.

Don’t limit your “Fab 5” to those you can physically spend time with — connecting online works as well. Look to channels such as LinkedIn or Twitter as potential sources to fill these roles. (Those we connect with virtually can still have the power to change our perspective and drive us forward).

Would you benefit from a “Fab 5” in your work life? Who would you include?

This post was originally published at Talent Zoo

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Why negative information is so darn powerful

Unhapy employeeHave you ever heard of the “criticism sandwich”? This communication strategy purports that if you present negative information in the midst of positive information, it will cushion the impact of the “less than stellar” bits. Well – think again. Our brains seem to be hard-wired to pay much closer to attention to negative information – likely a product of evolution and the “survival of the fittest”. When we hear negative information, it carries more impact and seems to stick with us longer.

In my latest post on LinkedIn, How to hear what you don’t want to hear, I explore methods to cope with negative information, opinion or feedback. Managing the stress that comes with the territory is key. But take heart – you are not alone.

Do you have a strategy to cope with negative information that works for you? Please share it with us – we’ll all be grateful.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

Sunday Notes: Taking responsibility to make work a better place

MP900399109We all share responsibility to forge a better workplace. As managers. As employees. As organizations. Even as customers of those organizations. How should we come together to mold a better workplace? This goal might boil down to our personal work life basics.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Become more transparent. Honesty is a basic – and its value holds in all facets of the workplace. In a nutshell, tell the truth. If you are a recruiter, let the candidate know everything you know about a role, both good and bad. If you are giving a performance review, tell the whole story. (Don’t skim over the weaknesses that will hold someone back in the future). If you are a customer, don’t walk away upset. Diplomatically express your problem – it is worth mustering the courage to do so.
  • Sharpen your listening skills.  Make it a point to lessen the signal noise, and really listen to your employees and your customers. Separate yourself from the potential stress you feel this may bring – or worse yet, the fear of the change that may follow. Progress starts with an open mind – and an open mind develops when you truly hear the concerns of others.
  • Become hopeful. Remaining optimistic, and maintaining energy levels when things are challenging is a difficult task – but one that is worthwhile. Make every attempt not to give up on an employee, co-worker, a project or yourself. If there is an issue – trouble-shoot and attempt to devise a plan to impact the situation. Not the solution? Step back, reflect and formulate another route. Develop the frame of mind that one more try may hold the ultimate key.

Some related reading to support your quest:

What are the personal methods you utilize to improve the workplace? Ideas welcome.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

Monday, Monday: Why Doing What You Love Can Make Tomorrow Better

Monday Blues

Do you spend Sundays ruminating about how you’d like to avoid Mondays? According to Gallup, that transition won’t be nearly as traumatic if you report feeling engaged with your work. We are all recognizing the power of employee engagement in organizations today – and it seems this construct is likely related to a host of other relevant variables, including your mood.

Gallup measured the progression of specific emotions during the course of  our work week – with survey participants reporting their attitudes on a variety of topics including feelings of happiness, anger and stress. Not surprisingly, those who identified as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” reported more negative responses, which subtly evolved during the course of a work week.  The data held some fascinating findings.

Some examples:

  • Happiness. There is an obvious difference in experiences of reported “happiness” – where those with lower levels of engagement, were less likely to report it. (For some reason this discrepancy peaked on Tuesdays for those identified as “actively disengaged”.)
  • Smiling and laughing. You guessed it! Those that reported feeling engaged at work, also reported smiling and laughing more. Just over 65% of “actively disengaged” respondents reported smiling and laughing “a lot” (on Tuesday), as compared to 90.7% of those reporting themselves as “engaged”.
  • Stress. Although all respondents were more likely to report higher levels of stress on Monday, as compared to Sunday, those reporting lower levels of engagement seem to be more susceptible. (Reported stress dipped a bit on Fridays, for all respondents.)
  • Anger. Those who reported feeling disengaged, were more likely to report feelings of anger. On Tuesdays, for example, more than one-quarter of those defined as “actively disengaged” reported experiences of anger the previous day, in comparison to 9.2% of those identified as “engaged”.

Engagement is continuing to emerge as a key workplace challenge in the evolution of work  – and more focus on this area will certainly follow. What helps you feel engaged at work? Tell us your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

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The Evolution of Work: Mobile Communication

mr-spacely

I never knew exactly what George Jetson did for a living – but what I did know was that his boss, Mr. Spacely, could communicate with him from just about anywhere. This didn’t seem like such a good thing – at least how it was portrayed at that time. But I am slowly changing my view. In our world, the tools may be different, but the theme remains. Mobile communication was inevitable, and it is permeating our workplace. It is up to us to weigh in, manage the weaknesses and maximize its potential.Mr. Spacely may have abused his technological privileges, by brow beating his employee with counter-productive exchanges, but mobile doesn’t have to be a “dirty” word in the workplace. Many seem worried that the “human side” of work will suffer greatly, and that the quality of our work lives will plummet. I am not quite that concerned.

Finding Balance
With any innovation, there is an adjustment period while people struggle to integrate the product or process into everyday life. Integrating mobile effectively with work may be particularly challenging because of the possibility of intrusion – it is an obvious downside. Of course, we should be concerned about the inherent downfalls of a technologically jammed life.

There has been continued sentiment to “contain” the boundaries of work – in an effort to improve the overall “quality” of our lives. However, containing work may have never been a viable goal. (Although the parameters of those boundaries and the definition of “quality” will vary by the individual.) I can’t seem to confine my thoughts concerning work to my desk, and I’m not sure that I would want to. We are bound to think about our work and its challenges outside of the office – when we are commuting, eating dinner or watching a movie. That is not a bad thing – but how we utilize mobile to capture how we function as thinking people productively, is key. Simply because technology will allow our work lives to expand – does not necessarily dictate that it  becomes a 24/7 operation.

We have to manage technology – and not the other way around. It is an opportunity and not a sentence.

We are learning that to excel, organizational cultures must emphasize openness and collaboration, and if technology contributes to that cause, it’s a win-win situation. Helping employees become more effective through mobile should be a priority – but this is not a race – it is a process. Mobile could tax us further and contribute to our downfall, but there are situations where mobile just makes a lot of sense. It’s already in our pockets. So why not try.

A natural fit: Idea management & collaboration
Developers are challenged with the task of determining what really translates into mobile and what simply doesn’t work. Mobile doesn’t seem to be suited to duplicate a PC desktop – however, with certain workplace challenges the advantages are there. As explained by Benjamin Robbins, Principal at Palador, “If there is one aspect that a mobile device should greatly excel at over a PC, it is collaboration”. Robbins is really putting this notion to the test. He has made the committment to use only his mobile device, and the adaptations which he creates for an entire year. (Read about his journey here). The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Not only does he want to explore what can be done with a mobile device – but what can’t be done effectively, as well.

As he explained, there is a natural fit between mobile and functions of work such as brainstorming. With mobile this is an anytime proposition, so you don’t have to be at your desk to create. The idea that you can share notes and ideas with colleagues, across time zones and brick & mortar walls is key. Robbins explains that, “Discovering what aspects of mobile that can enhance virtual learning is key.” He goes on to explain that we could view mobile as a workplace classroom without boundaries. “There are endless possibilities for idea sharing and the visualization of those ideas with mobile.”

Picking up the communication slack
Some mobile communication tools are born out of a strong need in the workplace. LUA, for example, the brain child of Michael DeFranco and his team, has an organic feel both in its inception and implementation. A recent graduate of the TechStar start-up accelerator program, DeFranco explained to me that LUA developed because of a gap in the communications market. Designed for fast paced, field-driven environments, LUA provides communication capabilities to industries that in a former life, were primarily walkie – talkie driven. (How can we forget the communication nightmare of first responders to the 9/11 catastrophe?)

Other industries such as film production, sales organizations and construction, where quickly disseminating evolving information can also spell success or failure can utilize mobile to become more effective. With the ability to upload and distribute documents, initiate instant conference calls, and sync team communication between desktop computers and mobile devices – LUA fulfills a long list of field communication needs. Even freelancers can also be enabled to access the network temporarily – a must for quickly changing workforces.

Facilitating virtual team effectiveness
The potential of mobile to facilitate teaming is evident – and those who teach virtual teaming techniques see great potential. As explained by Illysa Izenberg, of Strategy and Training Partners, LLC, “Technology enhances team communication when the warmest and most connective and inclusive tools are utilized (such as video-conferencing, online whiteboards, and shared intranet sites).These tools focus on people communicating openly yet respectfully to discuss concerns, share documents and personal information on intranet “walls” to collaboratively resolve challenges.”

Creative platforms such as Jostle, which help teams communicate and excel, also seem to be a natural for an extension into mobile. Jostle which emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teaming in more traditional work environments, is in the process of adapting its capabilities to both iPads and smart phones. With strong visuals to help employees map out their work lives and learn about other team members, the platform helps to build engagement.

The emphasis remains on the people side of the equation, as helping people connect should remain a mobile goal. As explained by Brad Palmer, “Collaboration happens in real-time. With mobile, teamwork becomes much more dynamic and responsive, greatly enhancing the engaging experience of working alongside each other to get work done.” Moreover, Jostle allows the inclusion of employees that don’t have work email addresses or desk phone numbers with its mobile form, an advantage to many organizations.

As time goes on we will undoubtedly see more progress in the adaptation of mobile into daily work life. It will be interesting to see where it takes us in the next few years. At that time we’ll have to pause – and teach Mr. Spacely a few things.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. She teaches workplace effectiveness strategies to employees and businesses. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Yep. Your Physical Work Space Still Matters

Empty Office Chair and Desk

Once in a while I “run into” reality TV while channel surfing. There seems to be a series about every topic imaginable — from pitching a new product to remodeling your bathroom. To be expected, I am drawn to shows which include a coach that whips a home or business into shape. Most of these coaches are of the “no-nonsense” variety

I’m all for obliterating a bit of denial and the clutter that accompanies it. Sometimes moving through the “muck” it is the only way forward.

The psychology of your workspace

Work spaces are an interesting topic to consider. I find they often reflect problems brewing on a deeper level. I’ve seen all sorts of work spaces — messy environments, dark conference rooms and walls without a single picture or plaque. The environment always seems to speak to me about its resident:  I’m unsettled. I’m depressed. I’m not committed to being here. I want out.

Last week I happened upon a show called “The Amandas” (I am assuming a word play on the movie “Heathers”, although these girls are not nearly as scary). The real “Amanda” is a clutter and organizational maven of tremendous proportions. She’s tough, driven and really knows how to purge unwanted stuff and the attached emotional baggage. When her team is finished, the business or home is in perfect order and the benefits seems to go much further than the outward presentation. There is gratitude and relief, as the process of altering the physical space seems to allow the individuals to move forward and become more effective.

So, does your space say — “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?” — if so, some changes are in order.

Why it matters

As much as we’d like to think that skills are the only factor contributing to becoming successful and serving customers, the fact remains that where we work contributes to how we work.

Here are just a few reasons to pay attention to the physical space where you work:

  • You need to be effectiveas form follows function. If you don’t have a workspace that functions properly ,you will most likely become less productive. If you find yourself clearing off a space to work – or your team has to stand during morning briefings (because you have no area that allows all of you to sit and gather) you have a problem.
  • Your surroundings can be a source of inspiration. Living and working in a well designed space can help ideas flow. Qualities such as color, lighting, sound, office configuration and furniture all come into play. If your office is so dark it depresses you, that’s a problem. If you have a set up with closed cubicles and collaboration is key, that’s a problem as well. You get the idea.
  • You need to project a positive image for your customers. Your physical space is a reflection of how you see yourself, and your business. The style, form and function of your space, all contribute to your image. If you work in a creative industry (advertising, design, etc.) your workspace is even more important — as it is a reflection of what you can achieve for your customers.

It seems that becoming more effective, can possibly start on the surface and trickle down to the other aspects of your work life. When you really think about it – sometimes rearranging the furniture is much more than it seems.

More on the topic here:

Greatly Improve Your Physical Workspace with Small Changes, Lifehacker.
Physical Workspace Considerations, Steelcase.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach located in East Lansing, Michigan. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.