Have fun and relax, whether you want to or not

When you take time off for vacation, do you take your laptop or tablet? Do you check your emails and voicemail messages from your smart phone, read long-unopened mail, draft proposals or performance reviews, conduct research or write memos?  If you say “yes” to any of these, you’re in good company…but it’s also likely you’re not good company, and you aren’t getting the real “down time” you need to relax, reduce stress, and replenish yourself.

Behavioral health also is a key component of your overall wellness. Taking time off, learning to relax, reducing stress and effectively dealing with situations that cause panic, anxiety, or other emotional pressure are just as important as eating right and exercising regularly.            

As an employer it’s critical that you encourage your staff to find their own paths to relaxation and better health. That includes uninterrupted vacation time, sick days when they’re needed, “mental health breaks,” and generous wellness programs. The rewards for modeling and facilitating these behaviors include increased productivity, better service, enhanced teamwork, reduced errors and accidents, lower absenteeism, and long-term loyalty.

According to Elizabeth Scott, MS, writing in About.Com on the importance of vacations, many people don’t take vacations often enough, and almost half the readers polled at the About.Com site admitted they never take vacations. When we take our work on vacation with us, she says, we don’t allow ourselves to escape the work mindset vacations are intended to break. The values of vacations, she says, are numerous, including:

  • Stave off burnout, making workers more productive and creative
  • Keep us healthy by reducing stress over short- and longer-term periods
  • Promote overall wellbeing, including improved sleep, mood and a reduction in physical complaints
  • Strengthen bonds with partners and family members, which also reduces overall stress
  • Increased quality of work related to increased quality of life.

May is National Employee Health and Fitness Month, and it’s also National Mental Health Month. Now is a good time to create an environment that supports employee “downtime.” That might include break rooms and clearly respected lunch or dinner periods, picnic tables outdoors, or enough time for employees to walk or grab a quick workout. More proactive options can include friendly competitions and worker recognition for achieving wellness milestones, incentive programs, healthy food in vending machines or your lunchroom, and support for wellness-related classes. Concern for your employees’ wellness will pay you back in spades with a happier staff and more satisfied customers.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Managing anger and conflict in the workplace

Workplace violence and sexual harassment typically receive more media attention than anger and hostility, but these very human reactions often manifest themselves in less dramatic ways that can still have a significantly negative impact on a business. Insidious by nature, personal aggression or the failure to deal effectively with conflict at work can contribute toward an unhealthy work environment marked by poor communication, sagging morale, excessive employee absenteeism or turnover, and customer service problems.

Business owners and managers unable to control their own anger or frustration will likely find that the business suffers. Likewise, organizations that fail to recognize and deal effectively with workplace conflict or anger may end up with serious problems. Even if you believe your company features a positive work environment and staff that enjoys their jobs and relates to one another in a professional manner, conflict is certain to arise from time to time. One employee who lashes out inappropriately can cause a decline in a company’s general morale, can cause friction with colleagues, and may cause enough distraction that productivity declines or safety is compromised. And the impact on customer service, your organization’s lifeblood, can be dramatic.

Recognizing potential conflict

With so many factors that can contribute to workplace anger and frustration, how do you create the healthiest possible work environment?  It begins with awareness and sensitivity to employee behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, so you can address the causes for that anger and hopefully head off an incident before it occurs.

Here are behaviors that may signal a need for intervention:

  • Sarcastic, irritable, or moody behavior
  • Apathetic and/or inconsistent work performance
  • Prone to making direct or veiled threats
  • Aggressive and antisocial behavior
  • Overreaction to company policies or performance appraisals
  • Touchy relationships with other workers
  • Obsessive involvement and/or emotional attachment to the job
  • Bullying

While these are all important behaviors to recognize, bullying is one of the most common and a real threat to business health and productivity. Sometimes bullying takes place between employees, but it often is most evident in supervisor-worker relationships, in which one person wields greater power. Bullying is not just the problem of an individual, however, but must be seen as a problem of the organization and its culture as a whole. Bullying can take many forms, from persistent, low-key intimidation to devious efforts to make a colleague appear professionally incompetent.

Office banter which is not really designed to offend is recognizably different from the persistent downgrading or undermining of a person by another, particularly if the other is in a position of relative power within the hierarchy. These menacing tactics can be difficult to identify and bring to light. It is very important, therefore, to have an avenue through which people feel free and safe to air their concerns about coworkers, supervisors and subordinates.

The only way to address bullying is to confront the bully and encourage him or her to change. Bullying behavior generally does not take place in a vacuum; other employees are usually aware of the situation, and they should be consulted. Finally, employers seeking to eliminate bullying behavior need to make it clear that anyone who is the victim of bullying tactics will receive their full support.

Putting out fires before they spread

Another common cause of workplace anger and hostility is peer conflict. These conflicts are usually caused by differences in personality or perception, moodiness, insensitivity, impatience, or sensitive emotional states such as jealousy, annoyance, and embarrassment. When these rivalries evolve into skirmishes or outbursts, conflict may damage those involved as well as others in the vicinity. Since work relies heavily on the ability of people to interact in a cooperative and harmonious fashion, conflict between employees represents a serious breakdown of the effective and healthy working relationship.

Small-business owners who find themselves mediating a peer conflict should avoid taking sides, provide an objective viewpoint, keep the discussion from bogging down in tangents or name-calling, and help each worker to understand the perspective of the other. Finally, the employer’s overriding concern should be to explicitly restate his or her expectations of staff performance, including the ways in which staff members should behave toward one another.

Attempts to address inappropriate workplace behavior through negotiation and mediation are not always effective. In some instances, an employee’s conduct or performance must result in disciplinary action. But there are a number of steps that employers can take to address the issues of workplace anger and hostility before they erupt into full-blown crises:

  1. Explicitly state your absolute opposition to inappropriate behavior, in writing and through team meetings. This can be included in new-hire guidelines, and in “zero-tolerance” statements displayed in public areas. Such statements should also clearly delineate which types of comments and actions are regarded as offensive.
  2. Encourage an environment that values diversity.
  3. Recognize that incidents of workplace hostility tend to get worse over time if they are not addressed. The whole workforce will likely be watching, looking for some signal about whether management takes such transgressions seriously, or whether it implicitly gives the green light to further incidents.
  4. Learn to recognize the symptoms of workplace anger, and try to provide employees with constructive avenues to express frustrations and/or concerns.
  5. Monitor workplace culture to ensure that it does not provide fertile ground for unwanted behavior.
  6. Make sure you have all the facts before confronting an employee.
  7. Make sure that your own actions and deeds are a good model for your employees.

Half the battle as managers is to be tuned in or aware of situations as they are occurring. The other half of that battle requires knowing how to intervene effectively and quickly and to facilitate a fair resolution.

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To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

This Medicine Won’t Cost You a Penny. No Kidding!

As the holidays approached, I made my annual trip to New York City to see the sights and catch a show. With tickets to the symphony burning a hole in my pocket and show time rapidly approaching, I approached a policeman on the sidewalk and asked him, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice,” he retorted.

You likely saw that one coming — it’s an old joke — but it probably still made you smile or lightened the moment. Humor is healthy, and laughter infectious. When shared, it binds people together, relaxes us and increases happiness and intimacy. Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen our immune system, boost our energy, diminish pain, and protect us from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, humor is fun and readily available, and laughter is free and a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict.

Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring our minds and bodies back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens our burdens, inspires hope, connects us to others, and keeps us grounded, focused, and alert. Humor shifts perspective, allowing us to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help us avoid feeling overwhelmed at work, at home or wherever life takes us.

With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource. Laughter:

  • Relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, improving our resistance to disease.
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

  • Protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Makes us feel good. And the good feeling that we get when we laugh remains with us even after the laughter subsides.

All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times by allowing us to be more spontaneous and less defensive, judgmental and critical. It’s important to not take ourselves too seriously, and to remember that many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people.

Ultimately, humor helps us keep a positive, optimistic outlook throughout difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. More than just a respite from sadness, frustration, anger and pain, laughter helps us cope, and gives us the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. So laugh at yourself, laugh with others, and see the humor all around us. The ability to laugh, play, and have fun not only makes life more enjoyable, it also helps keep us healthy.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give Yourself the Gift of a Less Stressful Holiday Season

As much as we enjoy the holiday season, it also can be an extremely stressful time of the year for many people. Stressors include time constraints, traveling, cooking, overindulging, family reunions and spending too much money on gifts. In addition, loneliness can add to stress, as people without family or friends can become depressed due to lack of relationships and social interaction. And adding to this potent mix, financial challenges are amplified during this season. Being aware of these issues is important, and maintaining perspective and creating time for yourself to relax helps you control or reduce holiday stress and better equips you for the fast pace of the upcoming season.

Maintaining healthy habits throughout the holidays is an important step for helping you feel in control and able to better cope with seasonal chaos. Do not allow the holiday season to become a free-for-all. When you overindulge in rich foods and drinks, you invite stress and guilt into your life. Enjoying a healthy snack before attending a holiday party prevents you from going overboard on unhealthy food and high-calorie drinks. In addition, continuing to get enough exercise and plenty of sleep helps to reduce stress and allows you to enjoy your holidays better.

Set your budget and stick to it. Prior to embarking on gift or food shopping, determine how much money you can afford to spend, and stick to this amount. Never attempt to buy happiness by overspending on gifts. Effective alternatives to spending too much money include donating to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name, starting a gift exchange and giving homemade gifts instead of store-bought gifts.

Learn to say “no.” Consistently saying “yes” at times when you should really be saying “no” can cause you to be overwhelmed and experience feelings of resentment. Your friends, family and colleagues will understand if you choose not to participate in each activity that they want to include you in. If you are unable to say no to your boss when he requests you to work overtime, eliminate another planned activity from your agenda, which will make up for lost time. Setting reasonable boundaries will help you manage your rest and health when you need it the most.

Set aside differences and practice tolerance. Getting together with family and friends can sometimes evoke feelings of stress and discord. Accepting friends and family members as they are promotes closeness and harmony, which allows you to set aside your grievances temporarily. In addition, be understanding if other people get distressed or upset when something goes wrong. Remember that they might also be feeling the same effects of stress and depression brought on by the holiday season.

Make time for yourself. You need to take a breather and create time solely for yourself. By spending 15 minutes alone, without any distractions, you allow yourself to become refreshed enough to handle the things you need to do. Taking walks, meditating, napping, exercising and listening to soothing music are examples of activities that can help clear your mind, restore your inner calm and reduce stress levels.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to manage the chaos and challenges that accompany the holiday season. Our personal wellness is the best gift of all.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Why Stress Hurts, and What You Can Do About It

Stress can boost your performance and get you through a crisis. But it can also lead to serious problems. If you’re overly stressed, you should be concerned about your well-being. The symptoms of stress overload include fatigue, headaches, lack of concentration, difficulty making decisions, increased or decreased eating, inability to control anger, and the increased use of alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, or drugs.

When our bodies stay stressed for too long, many possible health problems can develop or worsen such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Decreased immune defenses
  • Cancer
  • Stomach problems
  • Reduced brain functioning

May is National Mental Health Month. In addition to the physical and emotional ailments listed above, stress also can lead to serious mental health problems, like depression and anxiety disorders. Of course, you can’t necessarily remove the sources of stress. But you can figure out ways to cope better with whatever comes your way. And decades of research suggest which steps are most likely to work.

Tips for controlling your stress

Here are 10 tips to help you cope and reduce stress:  

1. Connect with Others. People who feel connected are happier and healthier — and may even live longer.

2. Stay Positive. People who regularly focus on the positives in their lives are less upset by painful memories.

3. Get Physically Active. Exercise can help relieve insomnia and reduce depression, is good for you, and improves self image and esteem.

4. Help Others. People who consistently help others experience less depression, greater calm, and fewer pains.

5. Get Enough Sleep. Not getting enough rest increases risks of weight gain, accidents, reduced memory, and heart problems.

6. Create Joy and Satisfaction. Positive emotions can boost your ability to bounce back from stress.

7. Eat Well. Eating healthy food and regular meals can increase your energy, lower the risk of developing certain diseases, and influence your mood.

8. Take Care of Your Spirit. People who have strong spiritual lives may be healthier and live longer. Spirituality seems to cut the stress that can contribute to disease.

9. Deal Better with Hard Times. People who can tackle problems or get support in a tough situation tend to feel less depressed.

10. Get Professional Help if You Need It. More than 80 percent of people who are treated for depression improve.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!