Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Summertime productivity tips

Admit it – how much time do you spend gazing out of your window when the sun is shining, thinking about all the things you could be doing rather than work?

When the weather is nice outside, there are a million and one things we could be doing – but how do we fit it all in? We’ve pulled together some tips on maximising your productivity during the summer months so you can enjoy time at work - and at play.

The early bird


Longer days mean we can get up a little bit earlier in the summer months and it’s still light. Imagine what you could achieve in just one more hour – especially if the rest of your household is still sleeping! The extra time can be spent planning the day ahead and what you want to achieve, as well as doing all the preparation work you need to ensure your day goes smoothly.

Don’t answer


This is quite a difficult one to achieve, but we think it could have a big impact on productivity – make yourself a promise that you will not answer your phone all day. This article outlines the thinking behind the action [link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/10/14/24-ways-to-be-uncommonly-productive-today/#55c483fa253e], it works on the premise that if the call is important, they’ll leave a message and you can pick up your messages when you have finished the task or activity you were doing when the phone rang. Breaking off from what you’re doing loses momentum and wastes time. Give it a try and see what you think.

Plan to be productive


Even if it’s the holidays, set some time aside on a Sunday evening to plan what you want to achieve during the week ahead. If you commit something to writing you are more likely to complete the task, while sticking to a schedule – even during the summer break – helps you keep on track and feel fulfilled. You can build in ‘down time’ too, as well as relaxation activities. If it’s on your weekly plan, you’ll do it, guaranteed!

Do not multitask


We love to multitask – it makes us feel invincible and as if we have everything under control. But think about it - do we ever spend any time thinking about what we’ve actually achieved while multi-tasking? It is an illusion that we will accomplish more if we multitask. How can we put the same focus and energy into several tasks, as we would to just one? This summer, address just one task at a time and vow to accomplish it to the highest possible standard.

Three simple tips


Productivity is sparked by times of relaxation and reflection. These three simple summertime tips will help you strike the balance between relaxation and productivity.

  1. Write things down, rather than keep them in your head – leave your brain clear for thinking and ideas.
  2. Open the windows and get some fresh air – go for a quick stroll if you can, but at the very least take a minute or five to take in the fresh air during every working day.
  3. Use waiting times – e.g. while in queues or waiting for public transport – for thinking or unwinding, rather than doing stuff, that includes responding to emails, text messages and surfing for information. 

Summer brings with it lots of distractions, but if we plan ahead and make minor modifications to our daily schedules we can remain productive.

For more practical advice to help ensure you deliver your best self at work during the summer months, read this article.



Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The differences between male and female leaders

A survey of American workers suggested that more than a third of all workers would prefer a male boss, over a female. Factors, such as the gender of their current manager and the age of those surveyed, play a part in the decision, but what are the differences between male and female leaders? Is there any foundation in our preference?

Another American study found that women tended to be rated higher in achieving results, getting work done, being transparent and clear, and building rapport with others. Men scored higher in strategic planning ability, persuasion, delegation, and being more reserved in expression.

The study highlights the areas in which male and female leaderships styles differ, which would explain why people may be drawn towards stating a preference. It also suggests that the natural leadership styles of men and women are complementary. It is by creating a balance of both types of leadership, through Board-level diversity, that organisations can bring about peak performance.

Culture matters


Unsurprisingly, these differing leadership styles are more suited to the different cultures. In traditionally ‘male’ environments, such as the armed forces, male leaders – or at least their leadership style – might be favoured. While environments which employ larger numbers of women, such as education and retail, appear to favour female managers/styles.

Gender stereotypes


These gender-biased leadership skills are historical and often reinforced by stereotypes. As this article shows even after all these years, humans are surprisingly good at assessing a person’s physical formidability in terms of strength and fighting skills – tending to prefer dominant leaders when threat is greater. If women are perceived as too assertive or direct, they are often criticised; not assertive enough, they are labeled as weak leaders. The same goes that male leaders can be regarded as being weak, once they have show their nurturing and empathic sides.

Interestingly, most of the skills identified as being necessary for being a great leader – honesty, delegation, communication, confidence and positivity – are common to both male and female leaders.

Breaking free from being a stereotypical leader


We can all do our bit to break away from being the stereotypical leader we are expected to be:

  • By being conscious of your own biases about gender roles, we can first change our own thinking and behaviour, as well as that of our team members.
  • By having an appreciation of our own leadership style. This means we can purposefully learn to adapt it to fit different situations. Sometimes leaders need to be direct and firm. At other times, empathy and compassion are most needed.

Being an effective leader is about what you do, rather than what you know. Most leadership skills are learned from others, so it stands to reason that the more women leaders we have, the more they will share their skills with their teams.

Organisations are only ever successful thanks to the sum of all parts, rather than the achievements of individuals. All businesses flourish thanks to their diverse, gender balanced workforces, despite what leadership style we prefer – or display.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Encouraging male colleagues to reach out when they need extra support at work

It was back in the 1980s that The Cure sang about the fact that Boys Don’t Cry – men are conditioned from a young age not to display negative emotions. This can make it hard later in life for men to seek out the help and support they need, especially at work.

It’s a situation we’ve all been in – feeling the need to reach out for support, but not quite sure how to go about it, or how it will be viewed by colleagues, especially when we are well established in our careers and lots of other people look to us for support and guidance. However, the reluctance for male colleagues can be even more acute than for their female counterparts.

There are many reasons why this might be the case, not least the conditioning to bottle up emotions boys often face when they’re young. Male colleagues may be so out of tune with the emotional side of their make-up that they do not actually recognise that they need help. We, as colleagues, may notice changes in their behaviour and personality before they do.

The following signs are common in people who are struggling:

  • Becoming withdrawn – spending more time alone focused on their work
  • Losing interest in what’s going on around them
  • Not being as confident or outspoken as they have been previously
  • Missing deadlines or not being as productive as usual


What you can do

The mental health charity, MIND, feels here is some evidence that men are more likely to seek help if a friend or colleague encourages them to do so – especially if it’s a female partner or someone who offers advice in a professional capacity, e.g. occupational health. They theorise that the ‘interference’ of a third party helps to legitimise the issues they’re facing, which means male colleagues are more likely to then seek help.

So, the first thing we can do if we suspect a colleague may be struggling, is to let them know our concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone outright if there’s something wrong, start by showing an interest in them. Ask them for their opinions and build trust with them in the hope that they may open up to you voluntarily in the near future. At the very least, you’ll be paving the way for a more serious conversation about the support they may need later on.

Secondly, find out what support services are on offer within your organisation and share that information with your colleague. Sometimes, a well-placed flyer or telephone number could be enough to prompt your colleague into seeking the additional support they need. The thought that someone’s struggles are affecting their work – and that it has been noticed - could be enough for them to address whatever is bothering them.

For managers, or other people in a position of influence within your workplace, e.g. employee representatives, making suggestions to introduce practices that can help support the whole team not only helps the colleague you’re worried about, but also the rest of the workforce. These suggestions could include mindfulness practices, stress reduction and time management techniques; workplace counselling services; or occupational relaxation therapies, like massage and accupuncture.

If the above interventions don’t seem to help, it might be beneficial to speak to another colleague about your concerns. HR departments are trained to deal with matters that are impacting on people’s ability to do their job. You can ask to speak to someone in confidence and share your concerns.

For more information about stress reduction in the workplace, you can read our previous blog post Feel free to print it off and leave it around the office, if you think it will help others!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Ways to deal with difficult personalities

Our differences are what set us apart from each other – they add a vibrancy and a dynamic to the workplace that just would not be enjoyed, were we all the same. Diversity brings challenge and discussion that enables us to produce work that is thorough and rigorous.

However, this multiplicity may mean that there are one or two personalities within our work environment that we find difficult to work with. Rather than let this cause conflict, it’s better to have a plan – and be armed with the communication skills you need to deal with even the most trying of colleagues!

This article from Psychology today outlines ten top tips for dealing with difficult people in the workplace – it’s a great place to start in identifying what personality type you are dealing with. Here’s the list:

  1. Keep your cool 
  2. 'Fly like an eagle"
  3. Shift from being reactive to proactive 
  4. Pick your battles
  5. Separate the person from the issue 
  6. Put the spotlight on them 
  7. Use appropriate humour
  8. Change from following to leading 
  9. Confront bullies
  10. Set consequence 

It’s a good starting point, but when deciding which approach will work best for you, do bear in mind that there are two types of difficult conversation that you could find yourself facing. It helps to prepare an approach for each, beforehand!

Planned conversations

Knowing that you are going to encounter a difficult conversation can be daunting, but it does give you time to prepare. Make sure you have your facts straight beforehand – plan what you want to get across and how you are going to say it. Think carefully how you will respond to questions, accusations or challenges. 

Unplanned conversations

Being ‘cornered’ on the spur of the moment can automatically put us on the defensive, which means we deal with matters emotionally, rather than rationally. Try and reflect on how you react in such circumstances before they arise and put some steps in place that will prepare you, such as mindfulness techniques or a ‘holding’ response that will help you communication rationally if you’re ever put on the spot.

Be self-aware…


With a little bit of self-awareness and a willingness to develop your own communication skills, it is possible to be able to navigate interactions with difficult people. The following qualities are invaluable when communicating with others:

Assertiveness

We’re not talking about being bossy or bullish – assertiveness is about putting your point of view across clearly and with passion. Our assertiveness webpage gives you some tips on how to develop your own assertiveness.

Empathy

Empathy is a willingness to see things from another’s’ perspective, an appreciation of how you would feel were roles reversed. Read more about the habits of empathic people >

Negotiation

Aiming for a win-win outcome really helps when developing relationships at work. Creating an outcome where everyone can benefit is a powerful leadership tool. Read more >

Verbal / Non-Verbal Language

How you communicate with others is about so much more than the words you use – it’s about your non-verbal cues as well. This previous blog outlines some counselling skills that will help you connect with others.

Keep calm and carry on…

Difficult conversations and interactions with others can escalate quickly. Here are some tips to help you stay calm and in the moment >


Dealing with difficult people is not something that people relish, however with planning and preparation it needn’t detract from the job you have to do – or indeed impact on your working relationships.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

What to do if you’re not happy in your job – is it too late to change your path?

It's been calculated that many of us will spend around 10 years of our lives working. This is a long time to spend doing something that doesn’t make you happy or bring you some form of satisfaction.

Changing your career path when you’re younger is a relatively straight forward process – many options lie within your grasp if you can put the time and effort in. The older you get, the more likely it is that you have commitments that make changing direction more difficult. You’re also competing with people who are younger and often cheaper!

There are many reasons why employers might favour the younger generation. And while unemployment in the over 50s is rising, there is some hope for people looking to change direction through apprenticeships.

Changing your career path as you get older may be more challenging, but it is possible. We’ve got some tips to help you in your search for a more fulfilling work-life.

Be age appropriate


Sometimes age and experience can work in your favour. There are many roles where age may be on your side, so don’t get stuck into thinking that you can only look at roles that you have always done – instead, be open to consider positions and options that you may have discounted when you were younger. Examples include sales positions and customer service, where experience and self-confidence can really help to drive performance. Think about what your age might line up with in the eyes of other people, this may spark ideas that you had not previously considered.

Be clear about what you want to get away from


Many people claim that they don’t like where they work, but unless you take the time and trouble to detail exactly what it is you don’t like, chances are you could end up in the same situation again, months or years down the line.  If you’re currently working with figures but yearn to be outside more, for example. Or, perhaps you like working with figures but don’t like the culture of the organisation you work for. If you’re not honest with yourself about what you don’t like – how will you find something that you do?

Once you know what you want, it’s time to lay the foundations that will get you there


  • Step back and get a perspective – be realistic about your skills and your talents, be clear about what you have got to offer a new employer and remember that many of your skills will be transferable, so you needn’t be chained to the same industry or organisation type, if you don’t want to be. If it helps, get someone else to look at your CV and provide honest feedback – we are often far too self-critical.
  • Let go of old thinking and behaviours – a new job is a new start and a chance to present your very best version of yourself to your new employer. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got so you must be prepared to work on yourself too!
  • Say yes – don’t be afraid to take the first step towards your end vision. If someone offers you a chance or an opportunity – take it – even if you don’t think you’re qualified. They may see something in you that you haven’t, yet!
  • Explore and scope it out – do your research. Gather all the information you can about where you want to go and what you need to do to get there.
  • Outline a plan of action - some opportunities will take longer than others to realise, especially if you need to retrain. Set out specific steps and goals that will break down your journey and help keep you motivated as you take steps towards the changes you wish to make.

Allow yourself to grow


Recent research published in the International Coaching Psychology Review explored the subjective experiences of high functioning professionals who had experienced 'executive derailment' - a term given to describe ending a career due to organisational restructuring, overwhelming demands and workloads, or workplace bullying. The researchers concluded that a positive psychological and growth-oriented mindset could be helpful in enabling personal change following such an event.


Re-evaluating yourself and your skills and asking yourself honestly what skills you have, what you could do and what you would like to do can really help open your life up to fulfilling your dreams. If you need help and support identifying your goals and how to reach them, a psychological coach can help. 





Thursday, 4 May 2017

Procrastination – why do we do it? – and how to stop.

It’s easy to find things to do in this digital age – the temptation to spend hours on our phones and tablets is great and we could be easily distracted away from doing other things, especially those jobs / activities we’re not really looking forward to!

New research suggests we lose more than 55 days a year through procrastinating – that’s nearly two months, every year!

What type of procrastinator are you?


The article also describes the three main types of procrastinators: those who wait until the last minute for the adrenaline rush; the people who don’t like to make decisions and so put things off until someone else jumps in and saves them from having to; and the 'avoiders’ – who over analyse what other people think of them and are overly concerned with failure (or success). By doing nothing, their accomplishments (or lack of them) can be put down to lack of effort, rather than ability.

That all sounds harmless enough and indeed suggests that procrastination comes down to our personality. However, there's a different train of thought which suggests procrastination could actually be as a result of an underlying issue or condition, such as hyperactivity, anxiety or a lack of self-confidence. Click here to read more about this.

If you find yourself predisposed to procrastination, the first thing to do is to make sure that it is not as a result of one of these underlying issues. If it is, don’t worry – you are not alone and help is at hand. There are lots of self-help resources freely available, as well as professional help should you need it.

If you’ve established that your procrastination habits are down to personality and habit however, we’ve got a couple of tips to help you get stuff done!

It only takes a minute


For many, the one minute rule is a simple - yet extremely successful - way to stop putting things off. The idea behind it is this: if the task before you can be completed in a minute – do it. If it can’t, then take that minute to schedule it for a later time.

When we say schedule, we mean write down when and where you will complete the task. If you do this, you’re far more likely to actually complete the task as we are predisposed to respond to deadlines – even self-imposed ones – more than we are to completing open ended tasks.

If your minute allows, share this schedule with someone else – a friend, a family member, a work colleague. This might mean emailing or texting someone your statement of intent (e.g. I will make sure that I get the list to you by Wednesday at 5pm…), as once you have informed someone else of your deadline, you are much more likely to complete the task within the timescales you’ve specified.

Do remember though, life is not all about getting stuff done. We are all allowed to take some ‘down time’ and if surfing on your tablet is how you choose to relax that’s a matter of personal choice. Difficulties only arise when we find ourselves procrastinating to the extent that we no longer have the desire to do anything else. That’s when it’s time to do something about it.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Workplace stress – How to manage your stress levels in a pressured job.

There’s no denying that people are feeling much more pressure in the workplace than ever have before. Headcount reductions mean that businesses often need to achieve more with fewer staff and this can increase the stress placed on workers.

A 2013 study in America  found that more than one-third of working Americans reported experiencing chronic work stress and more than double that number believed their employer provided inadequate support for employees to help them manage stress in the workplace. There is evidence to suggest that the figures would be similar in this country too.

This month is stress awareness month, so we’ve pulled together some tips, advice and guidance to help you manage your stress while in the workplace – or to manage your return to work after a period of stress-related illness.

When it comes to feeling stressed at work – try these three simple tips to help you regain control of your emotions, become more centered and think rationally, so that your stresses don’t get the better of you.

Don’t react – act!


When we’re under undue stress we start to make emotional decisions, rather than rational ones. If you feel that this could be an issue for you, make a conscious decision not to react to and be influenced by the stressors around you. Write things down so it’s easier to explore things rationally and definitely don’t make any rash decisions when backed into a corner. Buy some time, and move to step 2…

Breathe…


If you feel things are getting on top of you, don’t be afraid to take stock – and breathe! It takes only a minute or two of deep, mindful thinking to bring a clarity to your thoughts and a calmer response mechanism. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Switch off once in a while


There are so many different pulls on our time during the working day, that it takes a strong person not to feel overwhelmed. We never switch off – emails, mobile phones, multiple screens – they even follow us home. Make a conscious effort to have an hour at work each day when you are able to concentrate wholly on the tasks in hand, without the interruptions. Feeling like you’ve accomplished something during your working day is a great way of reducing stress.

Returning to work


Going back to a stressful work environment can be daunting for anyone – whether you’ve been off for a few weeks annual leave or a little longer, due to illness.

The health and safety executive are a great source of advice for people looking to return to work after a long period of absence and there is lots of support that employees can request to make their transition back to work as stress-free as possible. We’ve also pulled together some tips designed to help:

Set boundaries

The lines between work and home can easily get blurred. When you return to work it’s important that you are clear about the need to switch off. Make a deal with yourself not to check email in the evening – if that’s not as easy as it sounds, leave your phone in the car overnight or switch it off as soon as the working day is over.

Relax and recharge

Build time into each day that is just for you. Take up a new hobby, spend time doing something you enjoy, switch off completely. The more you have to look forward to outside of work, the less likely you are to spend time disecting what you’re going through at work and thus, the less stress you’ll feel under.

Share the load


Talking to people really does help you keep your workplace stresses in perspective. Very often stress is borne from a tendency to overthink scenarios and situations – we go over and over things in our minds only for them to start to feel insurmountable. By talking about what we’re experiencing and the challenges we’re facing – whether it’s to colleagues, management or even your friends and family – what we’re essentially doing is keeping things in perspective so that it’s easier for us to manage.