WORK LIFE BALANCE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION

iStock_000058043210_Small-806x300Every organization wants ?A? players on its team.? Further, a company?s ability to get maximum performance from the minimum amount of staff is always a great challenge.? In the war for talent in the 1990?s, many companies embraced a variety of work-life balance initiatives to recruit and keep top employees.? While foosball tables, gyms, and onsite daycares may not be in vogue anymore, employers are still facing a new generation of workers with different views and expectations about work and life balance.?? The lines between work life and personal life are not as clear as they used to be.?

During these lean times, it would be easy for management to take the position ?my employees should just be thankful they have a job.??? While that may be the reality, it is also shortsighted.? Decisions made now will impact the long-term performance of your company, especially as we companies continue to?pull out of the previous?recession.? Studies consistently show that most companies only tap a small percentage of the true potential of their employees.? For years, forward thinking organizations having been experimenting with how to harness the potential of their teams through work-life balance initiatives.? For those innovative organizations, this often results in being named to ?Best Places to Work? lists.? Interestingly, studies have shown that public companies named to these type lists have outperformed the overall market.

One example of a Mississippi firm employing these type initiatives is Grantham Poole, a sixty five employee public accounting firm based in Jackson.?? The norm for years in the world of accounting has been for employees to slave away long hours during the long spring tax season which usually runs from the beginning of January through April 15th.? Recognizing that this can have a detrimental impact on both employees and their families, the firm tried a bold initiative last year to limit everyone to 45 hour work weeks and only 4 pre-specified work Saturdays during tax season.?? According to one of the founding partners, Jim Poole, ?we wanted to pro-actively improve the quality of life for our employees which has resulted in a more balanced and happier workforce.?? Poole acknowledged that the shift has not been easy and has taken a lot of commitment from the firm to try and create workflow that is more evenly distributed throughout the year.? Poole further noted that ?we have been pleased with the results and believe that it is helping us attract and keep talented workers.?

As more jobs are based on intellectual know-how and service standards, creating win-win partnerships with employees will be critical.? Many pioneering companies in the work-life arena found that even though they were putting in good programs it still was not creating the intended results.? The problem is that work-life balance programs are not ?one size fits all.?? It really involves a dual commitment from employees and employers.? I believe that successful companies should be creative and innovative in their work-life structure and in return expect employees to contribute maximum effort to achieving the company goals.? On a practical note, a best practice that is evolving is to make training courses relevant to both life and work.? Research indicates that strategies for time management, planning, etc. that can be taught from a whole life perspective significantly increase adoption and execution in the workplace.

For employers, these type work-life changes may mean breaking with years of habit.? As Grantham Poole demonstrated in tackling the longstanding tradition of working brutal hours during tax season, positive change can be made with winning results.? As your company is looking for that competitive edge, perhaps it is time to honestly think about the output of your team and the opportunities to improve performance and attitude with some bold work-life initiatives.

Companies that do will be best poised for the continued challenges of 21st century employment.

HOW TO GROW YOUR WILLPOWER

At the 2009 U.S. Open, Serena Williams lashed out at a lineswoman in a profanity laced tirade that not only cost her the match, but also $82,500 in fines. Serena, a former No.1 ranked tennis player in the world and holder of 27 grand slam titles, had a lapse in self-control.? Our ability to self-regulate has tremendous impact on our lives.? The lack of self-control by many politicians and celebrities has led to public displays of the disastrous results (e.g. Rep. Anthony Wiener, Gov. Mark Sanford, Charlie Sheen, etc.).? A study published in 2010, tracked one thousand children from birth to age thirty two and found that the greatest predictor of ?success? in life was the trait of self-control.? Interestingly, in a study with over one million survey responses, participants were asked to list their personal strengths, and self-control was dead last. We seem to know our own limitations when it comes to our willpower. ??Unfortunately, the challenge of self-control has led to alarming rates for crime, divorce and sexually transmitted diseases in our modern times.? In fact, social psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister in his 1994 book ?Losing Control? argued that, ?Self-regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time.?

For entrepreneurs and business leaders, the ability to exercise self-control is extremely important.

In today?s business environment, we have constant distractions competing for our focus and energy.? We have the vast array of information of the internet readily available ? just tempting us to explore.? We can watch our favorite movies and television shows any time on portable devices we carry around with us.? Even going to the grocery store presents us with a dizzying array of choices as local groceries have now grown into megastores.? Author and performance coach Tony Schwartz noted, ?Self-control is the ability to say no, in the face of temptation, and to take sustained action, despite the difficulty of a given challenge.?? I have the good fortune to interview leaders on a regular basis. One of the common themes I hear is that it is critical for leaders to separate ?the great from the good? by learning to say no.? By saying ?no? to very good things, we are able to ?yes? to the truly great opportunities. Leaders have to make difficult decisions and lead by example.? Nobody wants to follow people who routinely exhibit poor self-control.

Schwartz also emphasized, ?Over the years, we?ve learned that nearly everything people tend to believe about self-control is wrong. Most of us assume the only way to resist our impulses, or persevere under pressure, is to grit our teeth, furrow our brows, steel our nerves, and tough it out. Precisely the opposite is true.?? In his recently published book entitled ?Willpower,? Baumeister shares the results of over two decades of rigorous scientific study on this topic which I believe will reframe how think about self-control.? Baumeister and his co-author John Tierney share that ?willpower is a form of energy in the brain. It?s like a muscle that can be strengthened with use, but that it also gets fatigued.?

What the authors found was that our energy is the key to our self-control.? We all have a pool of energy to complete our physical and mental tasks each day.? Each time we exercise self-control in an important or even trivial matter, we draw down on this available energy.? The energy source in our bodies is glucose, the simple sugar produced in our body from the foods we eat.? Researchers found that there was a direct correlation between glucose levels and self-control.? In fact, they found that, ?As the body uses glucose during self-control, it starts to crave sweet things to eat . . .?? I know when I skip a meal that I become ravenous and my own willpower to eat healthy tends to go out the door ? just give me a piece of pizza!

As we learn more about how our brains and bodies work, we can put this information to use in our daily lives. By learning to improve our willpower, we can create a huge competitive advantage in work and life.? To have more self-regulated lives, we have to learn how to manage our energy.? Below are some of the core concepts from this emerging of field of research that we can start to apply today.

Maximize Your Energy

Based on the research, we could draw the wrong conclusion that we need to have Snickers? bars with us all the time to fuel our glucose so we can exhibit better self-control.? This is obviously not the way to go. However, the key is to maintain healthy glucose levels throughout the day.? Nutritionists would tell us to accomplish that by eating more frequently throughout the day (5-6 times a day).? My own research on this topic has convinced me to be a ?grazer? throughout the day and avoid large meals.? This research also validates the advice your mother gave you to ?eat a healthy breakfast!?? Starting your work day without having a good breakfast puts you at a competitive disadvantage from the beginning of the day.? We also know that we should eat low-glycemic foods which provide sustainable sources of energy throughout the day.? When our bodies crave the afternoon snack, we need to refuel with good sources of glucose and not the cookie or Coke.? ?In addition, the research is clear that regular exercise and sleep all help us maintain the right levels of energy.? The average American only gets six hours of sleep, but performance expert Dr. Anders Ericcson has shown peak performers sleep eight or more hours a night on average. ?The bottom line is that we can be intentional about improving our willpower by better managing our energy levels.

Make Your To Do List

Baumeister and Tierney also found that one the keys to improving our willpower is have a good ?to do? list.? However, this does not mean creating pages of things that we need to get done.? Instead, they noted, ?an executive?s daily to-do list for Monday often contains more work than could be done the entire week.? We tend to have too many goals and to-do?s which diffuses our focus and energy.? Baumeister and Tierney shared a best practice for team members to weekly share up to three goals that they plan to focus on for the following week and to create a weekly accountability loop on those goals.? It is also important to pre-plan your reward for achieving your goal. ?I enjoy the great feeling of scratching an item off my to-do list. It is a simple act but brings me joy!

Clean Your Room

Research has also found that having a messy workspace leads to less self-control.? Unfortunately, those stacks of paper piled up on our desks actually are hurting our ability to exhibit willpower and achieve our goals. By ordering our workspace, we create positive momentum and don?t deplete our willpower resources. ?In fact, a clean workspace is an integral part of the Japanese 5S system of workplace organization used by many companies.

Conclusion

One of the interesting findings from research on willpower is that people with more self-control are more altruistic.? They give more to charity, volunteer more, and are more likely to be concerned about others in society.? ?It is also encouraging to me to learn that I am not a slave to my weaknesses, but that I can actually learn to have better willpower to accomplish positive things in my life.? Through implementing some of the findings described in this article and others from this emerging field of research, we have the ability to improve not only our own lives, but also those around us.? For entrepreneurs and business leaders, reclaiming this character trait of willpower and learning how to grow it could be the most important element of future success.

THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT

?How is it going today??

?Fine.?

?How are the kids??

?Good.?

?How is work??

?Busy.?

How many times a day do we repeat these normal social interactions where we all affirm that everything is just fine in our lives.? While these are normal pleasantries that we all participate in, they do mask the reality that for most us ? it is not Ok.? Whether it is aging parents, wayward teens, or our own health, marital, or economic problems, the reality is that we are all working through our own difficulties. I have learned that outward appearances do not always give the whole picture. Often just beneath the surface of success and togetherness are lives that are falling apart.

However, this stark reality creates opportunity for each of us. We all have the ability to reach out and offer a precious gift ? the gift of encouragement.

I lost my father just as I entered my adult years.? While there are so many things I continue to miss about him, one in particular stands out.? He had a tremendous gift of encouragement.? It was if he had a special sense of when someone was hurting and in need.

Growing up, I could not understand why he would seem to linger and talk to strangers in a checkout line or out at dinner. Over time, I realized that in those moments he was sowing a seed.? He was offering what we all have to offer ? a word of encouragement.? While he had his flaws like all of us do, I have particular admiration for how he recognized and used this powerful gift.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul describes various spiritual gifts that, by God?s grace, are given in the Body of Christ. One of the gifts he references is the gift of encouragement (Romans 12:8). God knows that we are a hurting people, and yet he gives us the ability to lift each other up.? Paul emphasized this point in his letter to the believers in Ephesus when he wrote ?do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.?? (Ephesians 4:29).

Recently, after a particularly difficult day, I was about to close down my computer when I received an email from a friend who just stopped to share a word of encouragement. There was no agenda or insincere flattery ? simply a note to encourage me in my journey of life. Truly, it made my day. I was inspired to stop and think how often I take time to offer a sincere word of encouragement. Am I truly listening to hear what is going in the lives of others?? Am I pre-occupied with my needs versus being in tuned with the needs of others?? Do I have good intentions to encourage others but never really take the time to act?

As we approach Valentines Day this Sunday, may we recognize the true year round gift of encouragement that we all have the ability to give. May we have a sense of when someone needs a special word of encouragement and freely share. As ambassadors of Christ in the marketplace, may we be known for sincerely sharing this gift in a hurting world. ?Happy Valentines Day!

CREATING AN ENGAGED WORKFORCE

One of the key habits of entrepreneurially minded physicians is developing an engaged workforce. The Gallup Organization has done extensive research on the engagement level of employees in organizations and the overall impact on company results.? According to Gallup?s research, engaged employees are more productive, profitable, customer-focused, safer, and less likely to leave.? In the average organization, 30% of the employees are engaged, 50% are disengaged, and 20% are actively disengaged.? In comparison, in world-class organizations, 63% of employees are engaged, 29% are disengaged, and 8% are actively disengaged.

Engaged employees are those who have a positive attitude, take personal responsibility for their actions, are passionate and committed to the company?s goals, contribute discretionary effort, and are solution oriented.? These are the ?A? players on the team. Disengaged employees are those who ?punch the clock.?? They do just enough to keep their jobs and are resistant to change.? They don?t give the organization their discretionary effort and tend to react passively to problems.? Finally, disengaged employees are those who are poison pills in the organization.? They stir up trouble and recruit others to their cause s.? They blame other people for their problems and make excuses.? They erode a company?s bottom line and bring down the morale of an organization.

Physician leaders, like other organizational leaders, spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with actively disengaged employees.? They are the squeaky wheels on the staff.?? We often are forced to ignore our engaged employees as we clean up the messes of the disengaged and actively disengaged members of our staff.? Effective leaders know how to raise the bar and increase the level of engagement of their teams.? They know how to actively listen and learn what the root causes of the problems are.? They don?t ignore issues, but instead, deal with them head on.? Leaders can raise the level of engagement by sharing a compelling vision, coaching their team members, communicating clearly, raising expectations, and insisting on accountability.

In a medical setting, a poorly engaged team can lead to disastrous results.?? Patient care and safety is obviously first and foremost.? Disengaged and actively disengaged employees are apt to ?let balls drop? that can lead to safety issues for patients.?? This could include forgetting to follow up on medications or testing, or even mishandling paperwork or other instructions.? Beyond safety issues, disengaged and actively disengaged employees project their poor attitudes to patients.? The patients (customers) have plenty of options for healthcare services.? Rude treatment by staff can run off patients in a hurry.? For better or worse, these staff team members are the front line representatives.? The quality of the patient experience will largely be dictated by the treatment from the medical staff.? The net effect is that the level of engagement of a practice?s employees has a direct impact on the bottom line.

Interestingly, Gallup?s research found that engaged organizations have 2.6 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to other lower engagement organizations in the same industry.?? The engagement level of employees has a direct impact on key performance areas including absenteeism, turnover, safety, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Creating an engaged workforce is easier said than done.? First, sometimes we have to ?get people off the bus.?? This means we have to recognize and deal with actively disengaged people.? While some employees may be salvageable, sometimes the best thing to do is to let someone go.?? A disengaged employee is obviously not happy.? We don?t do them favors by keeping them in a miserable job.? For salvageable disengaged employees and the generally disengaged, we need to learn how to be better coaches.?? We do this by observing our employees better, questioning them to learn more about their motivations, truly listening to their responses, and giving candid feedback.? Finally, we have to rally them to action.? This means that we? establish clear expectations and standards, and I prefer to put these in writing.? It is critically important to have regular accountability meetings to track progress towards goals and expectations.

It is important to remember that employees do things for their own reasons, and not their leaders.? In the end, all motivation is self-motivation.? While we can yell, scream, and threaten someone into doing their job better, they are not going to become an engaged worker utilizing that management style. Engaged employees respond best to visionary and coaching leadership styles.? The dilemma for physicians is that they are extensively trained on their clinical skills, but not on the entrepreneurial skills of being a great leader.?? Learning to be a great leader can be accomplished by first embracing it as a real priority.? Books and podcasts can be used to grow these leadership skills.? Ultimately, it is a process that the physician must undertake in conjunction with his or her team.

Regardless of your practice setting, you will likely be working with people that either work directly for you or with you.? There is no reason to allow your practice to be an ?average? organization with almost 70% of your employees disengaged.? Just imagine the patient satisfaction and enhanced profitability that you could experience if you were able to reverse that and have at least 70% of your employees be engaged.? Creating an engaged workforce is a habit that you can start today in reshaping your practice and planning for tomorrow!

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