The One Conversation That Can Instantly Improve Your Career

Originally published by Lindsey Pollak 27 June 2017

Do you generally prefer emailing, texting or talking on the phone? Do you love it when people write their whole message in the email subject line or does it make you cringe? How do you feel about voicemail? Emoticons? Infographics?

What these types of questions reveal is commonly known as your “communication style,” that is, your preferences about how people ideally should communicate with you. And understanding other people’s communication styles is essential to building successful working relationships with them. But, oddly enough, it’s a topic we rarely discuss.

This is a mistake.

Understanding the communication style of your colleagues, clients and — most importantly, your boss — has a lot bigger effect on your short- and long-term career success than you might think.

There are so many choices for communication —  and so many ways it can go wrong

Communication is a lot like today’s professional dress code: The options have exploded, and there are fewer rules than ever. That means that what’s appropriate depends on your particular workplace, industry norms and the specific person you’re interacting with.

Back in the day, we had just a few choices for communicating — write a letter, send a memo, walk over or pick up the phone. Now in addition to those stalwarts, we have email and texting, plus upstarts like bitmojis and Slack. (You don’t “Slack” at work yet?  You might soon; as a recent article in New York magazine said, “Slack…is likely either as integral to your workday as email or you have never heard of it before.”)

These endless options are a major reason that communication has become so complicated. There is literally no way to guarantee what method another person might prefer.

Not sure how your boss (or any VIP) likes to communicate? Ask!

I recommend becoming the world’s leading expert on how the people important to your career prefer to communicate. This is especially true of your direct boss: There is no better use of your time than knowing his or her preferences.

Sure, you could study her communication for clues to what she likes, but it’s easier and more effective just to ask directly. As Henrik Edberg recently wrote for The Positivity Blog, “Ask instead of guessing. …. This will help you to minimize unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, negativity and [wasted] time and energy.”

Cover everything, once and for all, in a style conversation

How exactly do you ask how your boss and other VIPs like to communicate? I recommend the “style conversation” approach. I give 100% of the credit for this concept to Michael Watkins, who wrote about it in his classic book The First 90 Days. He recommends having this conversation at the beginning of any new work relationship.

Depending on your needs and company culture, here are some topics you might want to cover in a style conversation with your boss, an important client or any VIP you come across in your career:

  • What form of communication do you prefer for routine matters? (e.g., face-to-face, phone, email, etc.)
  • What about emergencies? (My assistant, for example, texts me only if there’s an urgent message, like a cancellation or client issue. That means that when I power up my phone after a speech, I don’t have to check my email right away because I know from my texts if anything is urgent.)
  • Can I respond quickly from my phone or do you expect longer, grammatically correct messages?
  • Do you generally prefer a summary or all the background? (I have a client who sends two versions of some emails; one is a summary she calls “TL; DR. The “too long, didn’t read” variant hits the high points for a quick scan, then underneath she adds in the background for those who want more detail.)
  • How often should I communicate routine information or updates? (e.g., as it happens or one weekly summary)
  • What kinds of decisions should I consult you on and which can I initiate myself? For example, can I schedule meetings for you?
  • What is your preference for being copied on emails? Someone shooting for inbox zero might want fewer emails coming in; other managers want to read all the emails, or at least all client communication. Some people don’t read anything on which they are cc-ed.

Don’t make people guess about your preferences

By the same token, if you’re the boss, you will be a much better leader if you tell other people how to communicate with you. Some creative examples I’ve heard lately:

  • One executive with crazy busy mornings prefers status updates sent in the afternoons so they don’t clutter her email box or get lost.
  • One client likes to answer emails on Sunday afternoon, but makes clear to his team that he doesn’t expect a response that day so they don’t feel pressured to interrupt their weekend.
  • A millennial manger I just met schedules one hour of open-door morning office hours on his daily calendar. It provides accessibility to his direct reports, but also saves his day from being interrupted by constant requests.
  • A former boss of mine would become annoyed if someone used a cryptic subject line in an email (making it harder for her to scan messages on her phone), so she shares her preference for descriptive subject lines with new employees right off the bat.

These little quirks are exactly the reason that a style conversation can benefit everyone. If you truly want to be heard, you have to communicate the way someone wants and expects it. And, when you are in the more senior role, you can ease your employees’ jobs by expressing your own preferences.

 

The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback at Work

Originally published by Lindsey Pollak 24 February 2017

Do you wonder if you’re giving your employees feedback that can help them excel at their jobs — and feel more included? Chances are, we could all improve at giving feedback at work. In fact, one survey found that 64 percent of employees wanted their supervisor to check in with them at least every two weeks.

This desire for frequent, steady feedback has even been tied to the demise of the annual review. Who wants to look in the rearview mirror at what they did months ago when they could be improving today?

The articles below address the reality that not everyone appreciates feedback (ahem: criticism!) but there are ways you can make feedback at work more palatable — whether you’re on the giving or receiving end.

Share Positive Feedback in a Group to Extend its Power

“It’s probably not breaking news to most people that “one-on-one” was overwhelmingly considered the most effective way to give feedback. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best. It’s important to match the right kind of feedback to the situation. For example, if an employee does an exemplary job on a big project, it may be more effective to give them feedback publicly, in front of their peers. … A few encouraging words of recognition for a job well done in front of peers can go a long way toward ensuring your employees feel their work is valued, which helps keep them engaged.” — Read more at Refresh Leadership.

Forget The Positive/Negative/Positive Structure: Here’s Why

“It’s easier for our brains to process and remember specifics than to handle conceptual ideas. Research has found that we remember concrete words like ‘chair’ better than abstract words like ‘comfort.’ As a result, if we hear a generic positive statement (‘It’s great! You’re great!’) followed by a list of specific things we should change, our brains will quickly discount that quick splash of praise and focus entirely on the negatives.” — Read more at Fast Company.

Receiving Negative Feedback at Work? Take Ownership

“If your boss remarks that you’ve regularly missed deadlines and have disrupted the workflow of others as a result, that’s something you need to own up to. And you need to make efforts to turn it around. … You might say, ‘Thank you for pointing this out. I’m aware that I’ve been behind schedule turning some things in, and I know it’s something I need to work on. Starting ASAP, I’m going to take a look at my calendar and to-do list and find a way to prioritize needs so that I don’t miss another deadline. And, if for some reason, I find I’m going to be late with something, I’ll communicate that as early as possible.’” — Read more at The Muse.

Sort out the Helpful Feedback So You Can Act On It

“If others criticize your ideas or performance, focus on the more relevant comments to narrow the criticism down. This will make it easier to address, and the conversation moves from what you did wrong to what you can do right.” — Read more at Fortune.

Even As a Supervisor, Sometimes You’re On the Receiving End

“For managers who want to avoid these pitfalls and foster a speaking up culture, the research suggests several takeaways. One important one is to actively embrace constructive conflict. Rather than waiting for employees to speak up – thus risking their own professional reputations – start a debate. A structured debate can force multiple perspectives out into the open. Another is to regulate your emotions. Whenever you feel threatened by something an employee says, think about whether you want to escalate a potential conflict further before you react. Don’t shy away from stating — in a direct and constructive way – your own point of view. But don’t let negative emotions come pouring out.” — Read more at Harvard Business Review.

SOURCE: THE ART OF GIVING AND RECEIVING FEEDBACK AT WORK

The Importance of Saying ‘No’ at Work

Originally published by Lindsey Pollak 13 January 2017

Nope, this post isn’t about my “word of the year.” (If you haven’t read about the word I chose for 2017, get the scoop here!) Instead, it’s about another word I believe everyone should employ to be more productive – and quite likely more sane. That’s the word “no.”

You could barely turn on the radio this spring without hearing Meghan Trainor espouse the beauty of the word “no.” Her anthem might have been all about girl power, but this single word remains powerful for any situation, including your work life.

Of course there are times that “no” is not the judicious thing to say for career advancement: Part of the puzzle is knowing when to say “no” and when not to. The articles below have helpful tips for when and how to employ the power of no.

Make Sure it Aligns With Your Priorities

“Prioritization is critical in today’s 24/7 work environment. I keep a list of long-term and short-term priorities and if a task or project doesn’t fit in one of those buckets, 99% of the time I decline it. My best tip for saying no is to be straightforward and not dance around the subject. Explain that the task, project or activity doesn’t align with your current priorities and, if the situation changes, you will revisit the topic. Also, sometimes you can suggest an alternative solution.” — Read more at Forbes.

A “No” Now Is Better Than a “No” Later

“Instead of saying ‘yes’ now and disappointing the person later when you fail to fulfill the request, say ‘no’ now. Do not say ‘maybe or ‘probably.’ It comes across as unclear. Most people appreciate a solid ‘no’ more than a ‘maybe.’ It’s indecision that can drain energy from all parties involved.” — Read more at Entrepreneur.

Or, Soften The No, As Needed

“Release the guilt: ‘I really do appreciate the offer and I wish I could help.’ That opening does a lot to counter the ‘But….no’ that’s the answer at the end of the reply.” — Read more at Bizwomen.

Say No Confidently

“Don’t:

  • Use a harsh or hesitant tone, and don’t be overly polite either. Instead, strive for a steady and clear no.
  • Hold back the real reason you’re saying no. To limit frustration, give reasons with good weight up front.
  • Distort your message or act tentatively because you’re trying to keep your colleague happy. Be honest and make sure your no is understood.”

Read more at Harvard Business Review.

SOURCE: THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING ‘NO’ AT WORK

Wellness in the Workplace -Trends to Trust

Originally published by 4imprint.

How workplace wellness programs make you healthy, wealthy and wise

In many workplaces, new trends in employee health and wellness are starting to pop up that break from the old standbys. It’s not limited to just a few wellness initiatives that make a company look good. There is a smorgasbord of different programs and services that can benefit employees and their families in many different ways. Even common wellness programs are being revamped to make them more exciting and worthwhile.

In this Blue Paper, we will take a look at how employee health and wellness programs help organizations and show how you can implement the latest trends in your workplace.

Why wellness at work works

Wellness in the workplace has real, lasting benefits. According to the 2016 AFLAC® Workforce Report, employee satisfaction increases when a company has a wellness program. And when your employees are happy, you’re likely going to be really happy. Why? Fast Company reports that happiness leads to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy people were 10 percent less productive.

Work and play in athleisure apparel

The combination of “athletic” and “leisure” makes it easy for employees to go from work to workout and back again.

But it’s not just the companies saying these things. Employees agree.

  • Those who took part in company-sponsored wellness programs reported more job satisfaction (80 percent) than those who did not (58 percent).
  • Workers enjoy wellness programs. Of those workers who reported being happy with their benefits package, 76 percent took part in a workplace wellness program.
  • If a company didn’t offer a wellness program, job satisfaction dipped to 57 percent, and less than half of employees (46 percent) were happy with their benefits package.

Wellness programs give back what you put into them

Wellness programs are a big plus for employees. But what about the employer? We know that productivity goes up when people are feeling good about themselves and the company. But how else does a keen focus on wellness help?

For starters, employees are generally healthier. A study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans looked at the value on investment (VOI) of wellness efforts in different organizations. It discovered that wellness programs led to reduced healthcare costs at 56 percent of the companies surveyed. Thirty-one percent had lower disability and workers’ compensation claims. Plus, over half had reduced absenteeism. You start putting those numbers together and the benefits are obvious. Need proof? Almost 40 percent of employers said that improved financials and growth were tied to workplace wellness initiatives.

Here are more incredible facts about the VOI of wellness in the workplace:

  • 42 percent noticed increased productivity
  • 33 percent showed an improvement in recruitment
  • 21 percent said turnover dropped

One-fifth of employers mentioned decreased turnover—that means those really good employees you want to keep likely will stick around. Other facts from the 2016 AFLAC Workforce Report showed that 52 percent of employees who didn’t use wellness programs were likely to begin a new job search. But only 46 percent of wellness program users were ready to look elsewhere. Six percent may not sound like a lot, but that’s three employees out of every 50 who are more likely to stay than to leave. And what if those three employees are some of your best?

Garden-variety workplace wellness programs

What kinds of wellness initiatives do you have in your workplace? What are other companies doing?

Many wellness programs are pretty similar. Check these out and see if you’ve been with an organization that offered any of the following:

  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Flu shots
  • Health risk screenings
  • Fitness challenges
  • Disease management
  • Health coaching
  • Healthy food choices
  • Weight management
  • Employee assistance

Often, when an organization looks at the benefits of wellness in the workplace, they look to programs that have had at least some success everywhere. The problem is that if every company offers a similar program, how do you differentiate yourself to both attract and retain top talent?

Let’s get trendy—Employee wellness ideas that make you stand out from the crowd

There’s a simple solution: Ask what different employee wellness ideas you can champion. To help, we’ve compiled a guide to the latest trends in workplace wellness—ones that go beyond the ordinary.

Tracking fun and fitness

A few years ago, the top fitness-tracking tech was a pedometer that clipped onto your pants and, if you were lucky, gave a reasonable estimate of how many steps you took in a day. Those are long gone, replaced by fancy, state-of-the-art fitness trackers. Some are purely functional, but others are designed to look like fancy jewelry or a stylish watch.

Not only do these devices count the steps you’ve taken (and far more accurately than their pedometer predecessors), but they can also follow your sleep, nutrition habits, heart rate and more. Some have a built-in GPS that can track exactly where you’ve been, great for runners and cyclists who want to know just how far they’ve traveled.

What else do these gadgets have going for them? Peer pressure. Social networking is a powerful accountability tool, letting people share their results with each other, pushing themselves along the wellness path. What’s more motivating than the “I can do that, too” feeling that comes from a friend sharing their morning run?

Tracking employees’ wellness with these devices is a fast-growing trend in the workplace. In fact, according to CIO.com, Fitbit® offers group discounts on its trackers to encourage their use for workplace wellness. In some companies, employees track their fitness levels on trackers or web apps, report results, and earn rewards or prizes. The CIO.com article featured several employers who use fitness tracking in wellness programs and reported positive results such as:

  • Greater workplace engagement and morale
  • Shared workout tips and healthy recipes
  • Decreased absenteeism and increased productivity
  • Decreased medical expenses

There are drawbacks, however. CIO says that few—likely a minority of employees—will be willing to participate and share results. Also, if companies are expecting to buy fitness trackers, they face a high up-front cost.

New ways to beat stress

According to the 2015 American Psychological Association Stress in America survey, 60 percent of Americans say work causes stress. Yet, one in five says they don’t do anything to relieve or manage stress. Long periods of feeling stressed out causes people to overeat or eat unhealthy food, lose sleep and become irritable. This, of course, negatively affects productivity at work.

Many workplaces have noticed the trend and implemented ways to help reduce and manage stress:

Quiet time: Corporate Wellness Magazine® says more companies are creating space during the day for employees to quietly journal or even daydream. Companies that lead stress-management efforts also are offering on-site meditation instruction.

Knitting: With all the emphasis on new workplace wellness trends and finding different ways to do things, sometimes old is new again. Knitting—using decidedly low-tech needles and yarn—is becoming a beneficial component of corporate wellness programs.

Fifty-three percent of consumers aged 18-34 who took part in the Craft Yarn Council’s 2014 Tracking Study knit or crochet daily. And for good reason! Corporate Wellness Magazine says there are many health benefits to knitting. The repetitive motions calm the mind and body, which helps create a more relaxed mood. The math involved in knitting patterns (counting rows and stitches) helps keep the mind sharp and focused. Because the benefits are numerous and noticeable, many companies are adding knitting and crocheting activities to their wellness education programs.

Office gardens: Once in a while, you’ll find a little Zen garden on a coworker’s desk. “It’s for de-stressing,” they’ll say. But what if there was a different type of garden with more benefits?

Getting people away from their desks and bringing them together for fresh air, sunshine and friendly cooperation, office gardens are growing in popularity for companies of all sizes, says Corporate Wellness Magazine.

They’re low-cost, requiring little more than space, sun, dirt and seeds. Steve Bates, gardener and manager of online editorial content at the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM)®, says that gardening “hits a lot of themes. Companies pay tons of money for off-site team-building things, or bring in high-paid, high-powered consultants. They accomplish the same things with seeds and a strip of land.”

Of course, gardens are fantastic sources for fresh flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables. Employees can take them home and share them with their families or support their local food pantry by donating their crop.

Athleisure for all

Combining “athletic” and “leisure,” this clothing trend trades buttoned-up pantsuits for buttoned-down comfort, yet still keeps a stylish corporate edge.

Athleisure apparel is like the cool kid everybody wants to hang out with, and its popularity is growing. Randi Dukoff, Partner/CEO of The Corporate Wellness Consulting Group, says athleisure “is becoming bigger than a trend.” And with the right combination of layers, it’s becoming easier for people to go from work to workout and back again.

These clothes are a brilliant combination of function and form that can be worn almost anywhere. Big-name designers, such as Tory Burch and Rebecca Minkoff and Kate Hudson, are creating fashion-forward athletic wear that not only looks great, but feels great all day long. According to the HR Daily Advisor®, feeling great in athleisure clothing translates into less stress for employees. Many companies are rewriting their dress codes to include athleisure where it fits into their policies and culture.

Feeling good by doing good

Looking at all these fantastic employee wellness ideas, everything is centered around the employee. But why can’t wellness in the workplace go beyond the walls of the company? As it turns out, that’s exactly what many companies are doing.

According to WebMD®, people who volunteer have stronger hearts and immune systems, and have less pain. One study by UnitedHealth Group® shows that 76 percent of people who volunteered within the past 12 months say they feel healthier, and that 94 percent say volunteering improves their mood.

Lately, more companies are tying charitable giving to fitness goals. One example is Target® which, in 2015, gave $1 million to the charity of choice for the team that won a month-long fitness challenge. For smaller businesses, a company charity challenge could be as simple as earning points for walking during lunch breaks, with the winning team choosing who receives the donation. Or participants earn points toward an award every time they volunteer with a community organization. The possibilities are endless.

Beyond physical health

So people are getting their bodies in shape. Fantastic! But some progressive companies are also investing in their employees’ minds. The Society for Human Resource Management says that many wellness initiatives now emphasize social and community networking and financial planning, including investment recommendations and prepping for college and retirement.

The bottom line on wellness programs at work

How do you know if your workplace wellness programs are improving the lives of your employees?

There’s a simple, one-word answer, according to Phil Daniels, co-founder of Healthiest Employers®. And that’s data. “Employers are auditing and evaluating claims data, biometric results, and pharmacy usage to feed predictive modeling forecasts on a near real-time basis, instead of waiting for the year-end snapshot,” Daniels says. “This allows a much more flexible approach to adjust spending throughout the year for the greatest impact and ROI.”

For a purely dollar-based return on investment (ROI), the RAND Corporation says overall ROI on wellness spending is about $1.50 for every $1 spent. But actually measuring ROI is an inexact science. Mike Tinney, CEO of Fitness Interactive Experience, told CIO.com that you just might have to go with your gut. “You can measure health improvement through biometric screening,” Tinney says. “You can measure engagement and retention. You can count calories and steps. But a hard ROI is challenging, because your biggest expense relating to health is insurance, and many external factors influence the cost of insurance coverage. If you’re willing to buy into the notion that a healthier human being is more efficient, sick less often and happier, then investing in these programs for your employees (and yourself) makes a lot of sense.”

So go ahead and get excited about what wellness in the workplace can do for your organization. Do a little dance. Have a bowl of something tasty. And track it all digitally. Pretty soon, you may have an entire company full of healthier, more energized and extra-productive employees!

SOURCE: Wellness in the Workplace-Trends to Trust