Monthly Archives: July 2014

Taming the Change Dragon

Cartoon of a dragon illustration the role of change in well-being

Let’s review. The main cost of enhancing your well-being is dealing with the changes that come with it. To many people, change is scary and causes chaos, like a dragon. However, just like Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III in Cressida Cowell’s book How to Train Your Dragon (2003), you can tame the mythical fire-breath dragon of change that stalks workers everywhere.

Problems Associated with Change
One way is to be aware of common problems that arise with change. Before you begin working on specific well-being issues, make sure that you have clearly identified what you want to change; why you want to change it? When, where and how you will make the change? Write it down. Use the five basic elements of news reporting – what, why, where, when, and how. Be your own reporter and keep a well-being journal. 

Second, remember that you are human. Be prepared to deal with negative thoughts and feelings as they arise. They are evidence of your natural resistance to change, even when it is for the better.

Third, be patient. We live in a culture where “instant gratification is not fast enough.” Your well-being is not a quick fix; it is a continuous process that takes time and perseverance. Things may not always go smoothly, and you will be disappointed occasionally. My friend Ernest is a social worker, and he is fond of saying, “There is no such thing as a bad experience if you learn from it. Be patient and learn from your mistakes. 

Fourth, learn to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Often, you must make decisions with only partial information, and this is where your work experience is useful. When an issue comes up, do not make a snap decision. Emotions drive these decisions. Instead, take a few moments to recall similar experiences. Take a look at what did and did not work. Use those experiences to ask yourself or other questions to help resolve the uncertainty. Remember, one of the benefits of positive well-being is cognitive flexibility. So, use these change situations to exercise your problem-solving abilities. 

Finally, use self-control in the heat of conflict. As you have seen, change situations are emotional, even when it is only one person changing. Be prepared for possible negative reactions as you work on your well-being. It is important to maintain good working relationships by avoiding emotional explosions or anger. 

Life is Change
Change is part of life and almost always frustrating. In fact, Heraclitus of Ephesus, an ancient Greek philosopher (535 – 475 BC) talked about change. He said, “No man steps in the same river twice.” As the water flows downstream, the river changes and the modern workplace is a lot like a river. It is constantly changing. You have the choice of going with the flow, being battered upon the “rock and shoals of change” in the river; or accepting  change and use it to your advantage.

Organizational changes give you the opportunity to practice the well-being skills you are developing. For example, rather than resisting change and complaining about it, accept it as a fact of life. Ask questions and find ways to use your strengths and skills in the change process or look for opportunities to develop new skills. 

A Final Thought
“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” ~ Robert C. Gallager

When faced with change, how we think about it determines whether it balloons into a dragon that devours us or evolves into an ally that ensures success. The choice is yours.

Ponder This…

  • What are some other costs that may be related you your well-being activities?
  • How do you think you co-workers will respond to the changes you are making?
  • What can you do to help them?

Next: What are the side effects of well-being on the job?

What is the cost of improving my well-being at work?

Abstract image of laser lights of black background representing the chaos of change and well-being

Long ago, map makers drew dragons or wrote, “there be dragons here” on maps to warn sailors that they would be entering unknown territory. Some sailors took this literally and turned back while others saw it as an opportunity, a door to an unexplored territory. Similarly, you have a mental map of your world complete with dragons, one of the largest of which is change. The change dragon is the greatest cost item on your voyage to well-being.   

Personal Changes
Although the changes you make to improve your well-being are personal, they are also public. Eventually, people around you will notice you are changing, and it will affect their relationships with you. You will be coping with your own resistance and others’ resistance to your changes because, essentially, you will be re-defining your relationships with them. American abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher described how our work relationships change: “Our days are a kaleidoscope. Every instant a change takes place. New harmonies, new contrasts, new combinations of every sort. The most familiar people stand each moment in some new relation to each other, to their work, to surrounding objects.”  

When you intentionally work on your well-being, you have control because you are choosing what and how to change. You get to listen to and observe others in a calm, non-judgmental way as they become aware of the changes you are making. Even small positive changes bring fear and resistance because you must let go of your traditional comfortable ways of doing things to discover new and better ways.  

We are not talking about large, earth-shattering changes; just small transitions. Improving well-being happens in steps and sometimes we are uncertain or inpatient when the changes seem to take longer than we expected. James E. Faust, wrote: “If you take each challenge one step at a time, with faith in every footstep, your strength and understanding will increase. You cannot foresee all the turns and twists ahead. My counsel to you is to follow the advice of Jesus, “Be not afraid, only believe.’ ” (Mark 5:36) 

Ponder This… 
How will you co-workers react when they realize that you are changing? How can you support them during the change process to support your own changes? 

Next: Taming the Change Dragon

What is my employer’s role in my well-being at work?

Bare feet running through grass

Under various labor laws, employers have a “duty of care” – that is the legal term. This means that employers must take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their workers. This includes, among other things, a safe work environment, proper supervision, proper training and fair treatment.

Employers recognize that productivity; customer service and profitability are the results of employee performance. Many organizations offer programs and benefits designed to support employee well-being, such as employee assistance programs that offer free counseling to employees and their family members; flexible work schedules to promote work/life balance; and wellness programs.

Realistically, organizations can only do so much to support employee well-being. Most of the time and resources must, of necessity, be focused on productivity and profitability.  Without these, companies downsize, send work overseas, or go out of business, and you lose your job. However, there are some things you, as an individual, can do to help your employer support your well-being?

Before You Begin…
Before you begin working on your well-being, make sure you have mastered the basics of your job and that you know what is expected of you. Managers are more likely to treat you with respect and support your well-being activities if they know they can count on you. So, pay attention of the basics – what we human resources nerds call organizational citizenship behavior:

Master the basics of your job: Make sure you know the tasks for which you are responsible. Read your job description. If you don’t have a written description, or if it is not current, ask your manager to clarify your responsibilities.

Clarify expectations. If you are uncertain about what your manager or customer expects from you, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Some companies include a blanket statement at the end of every job description: “Performs other duties as apparent or assigned.”

Be honest. Honesty is easy. You don’t have to remember who you blamed or what excuse you used when you tell the truth. It is much less stressful, saves time and is easier to say, “I made a mistake” or “I screwed up.” You don’t have to worry about hiding the truth because it always comes out in the end.

Share information. Information is power and in some organizations, people withhold important information  exert power over others. Don’t hoard information – share it! Ask: What other information do my co-workers and manager need about this situation?

Ask for feedback. Don’t wait for your performance review to find out how you can improve your job performance. Ask your manager.

Keep your word. If you make a promise, keep it, even if it is an implied promise, such as “Let me think about it, and I will get back to you.” Be sure you get follow-up with the person in a timely manner 24 – 48 hours, rather than three or four weeks. Acknowledge and apologize when you break a promise and then fix the situation.

Be inclusive. Do not form social groups that exclude others. Invite a person you don’t know well or with whom you have a disagreement to share a cup of coffee or take a break together. It helps build community, and it is harder to hold a grudge when you know someone and what “makes them tick.”

Keep an open mind. Do not make assumptions. Keep an open mind and give others the benefit of the doubt. Remember, assumptions are the mother of screw-ups.

Manage your emotions. Do not respond to situations based on your emotions.

  • Take a few deep breaths, stop and evaluate the situation.
  • If you are angry, stop and take a few deep breaths.
  • If you are worried, write it down.
  • Look for what is positive in the situation.
  • Relieve the tension by thinking about how your favorite superhero, fictional character or a person you respect would handle the situation.

Ponder This…
List three things you can do to improve your “corporate citizenship behavior” thus strengthening your relationship with your manager.

Next: What is in it for me (WIIFM)?

Well-being: What is in it for me?

 

Image of Rodin's sculpture The Thinker

When it comes to well-being at work, we know what is in it for employers. Organizations care about employee well-being because it affects productivity and profitability. In fact, there is extensive research on well-being and business success. Researchers Harter, Schmidt and Keyes (2002) report that employees with higher levels of well-being are more cooperative and more helpful to their co-workers. They make better use of their time, and have fewer absences than those who report lower levels of well-being.(1)

What is in it for you and me as employees? Why should we care about well-being and how will it benefit us? In August 2013, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network published a paper on the benefits of “subjective well-being.” Using surveys, interviews, and experiments, researchers were able to quantify well-being. For their paper, The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-being, DeNeve, Diener, Tay and Zuereb, reviewed 162 studies on well-being and summarized the findings. They found that well-being offers both short and long-term benefits in work productivity, satisfaction and income; personal, family and social behavior; health and longevity. (2)

What is in it for me?
Workers with positive levels of well-being benefit in many ways. They:

  • Tend to receive superior performance evaluations from their managers, which mean they receive larger merit pay increases than other employees.
  • Are more likely to receive interesting, challenging assignments because they are more reliable, curious, creative and motivated.
  • Experience high levels of cognitive flexibility. This allows them to see “all sides of an issue,” and they make better decisions.
  • Spend less time dwelling on the negatives and can remain objective in stressful situations.
  • Are more likely to help their co-workers, get along with others and work well as part of a team, reducing conflict and increasing creative problem solving.
  • Share the credit and take responsibility for mistakes.
  • Thank others for their help, which means they are more likely to receive help when they need it.
  • Have positive working relationships that lead to higher self-esteem and a positive reputation, which positively influences family and social relationships.

Physical Benefits of Well-being
People with positive well-being are more likely to:

  • Use a seat belt when driving and less likely to get in traffic accidents.
  • Have improved cardiovascular, immune and endocrine systems, which reduces the likelihood of heart attacks, stroke and viral infections.

In addition, a strong link exists between well-being and healthy eating, exercise, weight, smoking and alcohol consumption. Finally, according to Edward Diener, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, there is a positive relationship between well-being and successfully reproduction. Well-being is affects the frequency of sexual intercourse and fertility. (3)

Ponder this…
Make a list of benefits you would like to experience as a result of improving  your well-being at work.  

Next: What is the Cost of Well-being at Work

References

  1. Hunter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., and Keyes, C.L. (2002) “Well-being in the Workplace and Its Relationship to Business Outcomes, A Review of the Gallup Studies. In C.L. Keyes and J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: The Positive Person and the Good Life (pp 205-224), Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association
  2. DeNeuve, J.E., Diener, E., Tay, L. Zuereb, C. (2013), “The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-being, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network
  3. Diener, E., Oishi, S., and Suh, E. (2012) Positive Emotion Offset was Essential to Human Evolutionary Success. Paper submitted for publication, University of Illinois