Clear Communication the Easy Way!

April 18th, 2014

Looking for some easy ways to save time and build a happier workplace?  Changes in communication can have dramatically positive results!  Clear communication doesn’t necessarily happen on its own, but it can be as simple as creating some new habits and then you’re off and running as a communication champion.  Today, we’re specifically looking at some common email pitfalls.

First, do you read your messages?  The answer seems obvious, but the question is not necessarily so simple.  The days never seem to have enough hours, so it can be very easy to scan emails quickly.  Unfortunately, you can miss some key details and actually spend more time fixing an error than you would have spent reading the initial email thoroughly.

For example, convinced I already knew what the instructions were for a new required form, I did a quick scan of the email before incorporating the document into my daily routine.  Unfortunately, my speed reading missed important words, so I was actually doing the exact opposite of what the email instructed!  Not only did I feel pretty sheepish when I had to apologize, but I also had to follow up with everyone I gave that form to so they could correct my error.  All this could have been avoided if I had just read the instructions rather than doing a quick scan.

Admittedly, some individuals have not quite mastered the art of writing detailed but brief email messages.  So yes, there will be times where you have to wade through a very dense email to find the key messages and points.  And even in those cases, the time savings will still be greater if you force yourself to stay focused with the email.  If nothing else, these emails can serve as your inspiration to ensure that you always write pithy messages!

This, of course, segues nicely into some thoughts on the art of crafting emails.  There are typically two extreme ends of this spectrum:  the 1-word email and the 500-word message.  In some cases, the 1-word email is actually sufficient.  But what about instances where the composer of the email has asked multiple questions?  In this case, the one-word answer is confusing and incomplete.  That individual is then forced to write back (or call) to follow up for clarification.  Or he/she could take option B and move forward without the answers, operating instead on assumptions.  But in any case, both individuals involved end up spending unnecessary time on damage control.

And if you’re the culprit of the 500-word email, focus on the real key points/questions.  In some cases, the long email is necessary.  And when you realize the lengthy nature of your email, maybe it would actually be easier to just pick up the phone and hash things out quickly that way?

But if you absolutely must communicate this long message via email, it’s key to break down your thoughts/questions with bullet points, keeping each item separate and easy to read.  While it’s the reader’s job to treat your words with respect and read the whole document, it’s helpful if you can perform your due diligence by making the long document as accessible as possible to your readers.

So in the end, it seems that we have some responsibility both as readers and as writers!  While it may seem daunting at first, it’s nothing that a little self-reflection and intention can’t tackle.  So don’t wait!  Start saving time today by using fabulous email etiquette every day!

Surviving Unemployment & Getting Back Into the Workforce

March 20th, 2014

In a recovering but still tough job market, we regularly hear from folks who have found themselves recently unemployed and in search of work.  Our hearts really go out to these applicants during what is usually a very stressful experience!  The first step is to take a breath.  There’s hope for a new beginning and there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of getting right back into the workforce.  Here are some thoughts to help you get started!

Resume
The place to start is with your resume.  How long has it been since your last update?  Dust off this document and craft it into the resume of a star candidate.  Take some time to reflect on your recent experience and what this might qualify you for on the job market.  The answers you come up with will help you to know which jobs to apply to, and that segues nicely into the next step!

Applying to Jobs
With resume updates and self-reflection crossed off the checklist, now it’s time to search the job listings and submit your brilliantly crafted resume.  This part can be tricky, but a few easy tips can really simplify what otherwise could become a daunting process.

One way to really stay on track is to focus your efforts on the jobs that are a strong match for your experience and skills.  Applying to jobs outside of your expertise can be challenging for a couple different reasons.   First, it doesn’t maximize your chance of getting call backs on jobs, which can be really discouraging!  During this process, we definitely want your morale to stay strong!

The second challenge is that applying to jobs that may not be a match probably means that you are applying to a higher volume of jobs.  The downside here is that you spend time on quantity over quality, which could mean that you aren’t able to create strong applications for the jobs that are the best match for you.   Creating a strong application is definitely key in landing the interview for the job of your dreams!

Networks
Never forget the importance of personal and professional networks!  While traditional job-search methods are still valid, there are lots of folks out there who are finding out about jobs through word of mouth.  Stay in touch with your contacts and keep an open mind.  You never know what can happen!

Finalthoughts
It’s a competitive market out there, so it may take a little bit longer to find work now than it did several years ago.  But with that said, there are definitely signs that things are improving!  The search is far from hopeless, so stay positive and keep up all the great work with applications and resume submissions and you’ll find your way right back into the workforce.

Paying it Forward (With Returns)

March 6th, 2014

Recently, around Christmastime, my Facebook feed was filled with posts from friends who were at Dunkin Donuts and had their order paid for them by the person in front of them in the drive thru line.  They then, in turn, paid for the person behind them.  This seemed to catch on and become a frequent occurrence over the holidays.

What would prompt someone to start such a movement?  What triggered the first person to decide to make a difference in the day of a complete stranger?  Perhaps it was just holiday spirit or maybe someone was just feeling extra generous one day.  Whatever the reason, that person was on to something.  Not only were they creating a happier day for the person to whom this gestured was paid forward, they were creating greater mental health and happiness in themselves and all the subsequent givers.

We all know that giving to others makes us feel good.  We find gratification in helping others in small and large ways.  While our motives may be altruistic, we are also benefiting from the transaction as well.

Giving to others helps us direct our attention outwardly.  Rather than focusing on ourselves, often critically, we shift our attention to the needs of others, turning down the volume on negative thoughts.  The connection between our thoughts and emotions is strong.  What we think about has a direct effect on how we feel about our lives and ourselves.  Our emotions then translate into actions.  By focusing our energies outwardly, we are creating a cycle of positive thoughts, emotions, and actions.

When we focus on others, we become recipients of their gratitude.  Even if we don’t receive such gratitude directly, we may see the consequences of our actions.  As the recipient of appreciation, this adds to our positive self-talk and promotes a healthier view of ourselves and our personal value.  Subsequently we will think and behave in more positive and healthier ways.

Of course there are many ways to give to others.  We can formally volunteer at a local charity or community organization.  We can donate to a food or clothing drive.  We can donate monetarily to any establishment.  We can also do the simple things like our Dunkin Donuts giver has done.  By giving in any of these ways we are reconnecting ourselves with our human family.  We are reestablishing connections through simple acts of kindness and generosity.  The feeling of social connection is powerful as well.  Feeling connected to our fellow humans and our individual communities helps combat powerful negative emotions related to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.  We are helping our brain reestablish neural connections in the areas of our brain affecting our mood.  The more we use these connections, the stronger they become.

Companies, too, can benefit by participating in community activities together.  Individual workers will benefit emotionally and mentally while the company benefits from an overall morale boost and community visibility and connection.  Johnson & Hill Staffing participates regularly in charity events benefiting community and national organizations.  Participation is always voluntary, but it is a great way to give busy employees an opportunity to give to others utilizing company resources and connections.

So, the next time we are overwhelmed with life or perhaps not feeling our best or need a morale boost for our employees, why not make a small effort to pay a little forward…and get a priceless return?

Fun at Work!

December 20th, 2013

All work and no play…well you know the implications.  It almost seems like an oxymoron, but “fun at work” can easily become part of a workplace’s culture and take the “dullness” out of a long work day.  We spend most of our waking hours during the week in our work environment; shouldn’t it be as enjoyable as possible?  Not only does having fun in the workplace promote cohesiveness and boost morale amongst employees, there are employer benefits too.  A happy, relaxed workforce equals a productive workforce.  What can be done to bring a lighter atmosphere into your workplace?

Making fun a part of the culture at your place of business begins with the environment.  What do your employees value most? Many employees appreciate things such as a flexible schedule or flexible lunch times.  If possible, allowing employees to work partly from home can also help ease the emotional and financial stress of employees with young children.  Employees with pets may need a longer lunch break to run home and take the dog for a walk.  There are many ways to cater to each employee’s individual needs.

Incorporating wellness is also a great way to improve the overall environment.  Having healthy snack options can help employees feel good about their food choices during the day and help them maintain good energy levels.  Johnson & Hill provides healthy snacks such as dried edamame, almonds, raisins, fresh fruit, and fruit and nut bars in our break room so there is always a quick healthy option when we need an energy boost.

Regular activities inside and outside the company help everyone to develop their relationships beyond the regular work dynamic.  For activities not during regular working hours, including partners and children can help employees from feeling work takes them away from their family time.  Johnson & Hill recently sponsored the “Hot Chocolate Run” in Northampton.  The company paid the registration for employees and their family members so that we could participate in the run or walk on Sunday but have our families with us.  These types of charity events outside the office are a great way to get employees involved in the community.

Many things can be done within the office as well.  Why not invite an expert or trained individual to come into the office and teach everyone something?  This could be anything from sign language, to making sushi, to becoming CPR certified – fun and valuable skills.

Food! Everyone loves something that revolves around food!  Johnson & Hill has regular office potlucks where we each bring in a dish according to a theme.  This is a fun and easy way to enjoy our time at work.  Other ideas could include having a “salad bar” or “fajita bar” where everyone brings in one ingredient to make a complete lunch where everyone can customize their plate.

Next month, we plan on beginning a pedometer contest between willing participants within the office.  Each month there will be a winner or winners for the most steps taken.  It will get more of us bypassing the elevator for the stairs I am sure!  The contest aspect makes it fun and motivating, but it’s also promoting healthy behaviors.

Having fun at work really makes for a more enjoyable day.  Work is a big part of our existence, so making it something that supports our wellness, mental and emotional priorities, not to mention our professional priorities, just makes good sense.

Perfectionism and Why It’s Just Plain Bad for You

December 5th, 2013

Perfection.  We’ve all heard the word before but what does it really mean?  While it’s nice to want one’s work to be top-notch, that’s not quite the same thing as “perfectionism.”  Perfectionists don’t want to get the job done at 100%; they are fearful of not nailing it at least 110%.  Anything less would be akin to failure, which terrifies them and drives them to keep their nose to the grindstone (McKeown, Greg, Today, Just be Average, Harvard Business Review, 10/30/2013).

The classic perfectionist revises ad-nauseam.  They tear down and revise what they just created only to rebuild it all over again.  The cycle repeats itself.  Stuck in the nitty-gritty details, the perfectionist is unable to prioritize because it becomes impossible to accurately see how these details fit into the big picture.  Meanwhile, the drive for perfection keeps them from being able to move on to other projects/tasks.  Deadlines become increasingly difficult to meet.

Effects on Health and Wellness
Naturally, a process that challenges productivity and ability to meet deadlines can be detrimental in the workplace.  However, the effects extend into one’s personal life as well.  When in a place of fear, our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is activated.  The fight or flight state certainly has a practical purpose in life, but living in a constant state of an activated sympathetic nervous system can become problematic.  “Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction” (Harvard Mental Health Letter, March 2011, Understanding the Stress Response).

Put very simply, excessive and/or perpetual stress can make you sick.  In addition, the workaholic tendency that often accompanies perfectionism keeps the individual from spending enough time with family/social circles and participating in stress-relieving hobbies and activities.

Stop being an overachiever?
Of course, avoiding perfectionism isn’t a call to laziness!  Good effort and hard work are still important.  It’s more about letting go of fear and allowing oneself to be a strong employee instead of fixating on a standard that’s impossible to reach—sort of like trying to count to infinity.

Path back to wellness
What can one do to help curb perfectionism?  Well, the real first step is self-awareness (for more information on this concept, see our blog post Wellness Awareness).  When you catch yourself on revision #10 or when you realize that you’re going to miss the deadline because you can’t “get things just right,” stop and take a breath.  Step back and really put this into perspective with the big picture.  Is it more effective for you to spin your wheels on this and drop the ball on others tasks, or should you give it your best and then move on?  The funny thing is that you doing a job that’s “good enough” is probably you getting it done 100%.  So in stepping back and taking the pressure off, you maintain a place of balance and wellness while also doing great work and completing all your tasks—and all within the timeframe of deadlines!

Staffing Services: The Next Generation of your Career Search

October 25th, 2013

Just graduated from college and new to the workforce?  Well, the world is your oyster!  But which oyster do you pick and where do you start?  With nearly limitless options, it can be tough to actually make a choice on your next step.  A professional staffing service could be the perfect stepping stone into the workforce and can prove to be an unexpected, great resource!  Let’s take a look at some reasons a staffing service could be a great tool to use in your search for that shiny new job.

Not ready to commit to a permanent position
There are many individuals who fall into this category.  For example, what if your plan is to attend graduate school in a year?  In that case, you really cannot commit to a permanent job, but maybe you need to earn an income in the meantime and would like to build your resume with business experience.

While most employers may be hesitant to consider an applicant who plans to leave for grad school in ten months, staffing services actually seek out individuals who are available on a temporary basis!  In the world of temporary or contract work, ten months can mean lots of opportunities.  With assignment lengths ranging from 1 day to 1 year, you could have a chance at a challenging, rewarding position—or several such positions—that will add value to your resume!

You’re not sure which career path is right for you
Have any idea of what you’d like to do for the rest of your life?  If not, that’s ok!  You can join the ranks of people of all ages who are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up!  Working with a staffing service gives you access to a variety of opportunities and industries.  You may be able to explore positions in medical, legal, academic, non-profit, or corporate all through the same service!  It can be a great way to get out there and start finding what you’re passionate about while also building your resume and earning an income!

For some individuals, the career path ends up being a straightforward, linear direction where one step leads clearly to the next.  However, this concept is becoming more uncommon.  Many individuals stumble upon the career of a lifetime through a position that started as a temporary assignment filling in for someone on medical leave.  Others have discovered a rewarding, exciting career that they never would have found on their own because many employers go through staffing services instead of posting their open jobs.

The conventional job-search method is frustrating
Tired of submitting your resume to the black hole, hoping that you have the right keywords to make it through whatever computer program scans the resumes?  This commonly used application process almost entirely removes the people element.  Working with a staffing service brings that crucial element back to your job search, provided you choose the right one!  With a staffing service, you get to meet with an expert who can advocate for you, giving life to your resume.

“Creating” Wellness

October 17th, 2013

Remember playing?  Just playing for playing’s sake? If it’s difficult to remember such a care-free time, observe a child. Play is a child’s work. Children play just for the sake of playing, not winning, not meeting goals or deadlines, just to play. Their lack of self-consciousness and their low-stress lives allow them to create freely in their world. Legos, paint, play dough, all utilized without rules to express their varied musings. Children are naturally creative and filled with self-expression. What lessons there are to be learned in the carefree expressions of a child!

Creativity is an important component to our overall wellness. It provides an outlet for stress, brings satisfaction, and even helps us physically. When we are engaged in a creative endeavor, doing something we love, we can get lost in the activity. We don’t think about the end product or how much time we have; we lose ourselves in the moment and the process of creating. What a pleasurable experience! These kinds of moments have a positive impact on our mental and physical well-being. We feel more alive, more in touch with ourselves, and filled with purpose. We grow in these moments and feel full of vitality.

We all have a need to be artistic in one form or another. For those of us with very left brained jobs, our right brain may be crying out “Hello! Remember me?” For those of us with very creative jobs, at times we may find the creative ink well has gone dry and are looking for ways to get our creative juices flowing again.

 

Self-expression is unique to each person. Some write poetry or stories; others bake beautiful pieces of edible artwork, some paint or take photos. Whatever it is we enjoy doing, it requires allowing moments of inspiration to overtake any other demands we place on ourselves. We can help these moments thrive and stay in touch with our creative mind in different ways.

  •  Physically challenge yourself. Try a new form of exercise.
  • Try something you have never done before, just for the sake of trying, not worrying about how well you will do or if you will finish.
  • Stimulate your senses. Try new foods. Savor their smells and complex flavors.
  • Let others artistic expression move you through music, artwork, or films. Most artists start off simulating another until they can find their own voice, their own reasons for creating.
  • Learn to make something – pies, knitted clothing, arts & crafts for the season, etc…
  • Try playing a musical instrument.
  • Take time to relax and meditate. Free your mind from the day’s worries. Allow insights to flow freely in your mind.
  • Play! Get down on all fours and be silly with your kids. Get a box of Legos and build something.  Play a game without keeping score.

For those of us with few creative outlets scheduled into our day, it takes time and energy to get back in touch with our imaginative side. Just as we schedule time for exercise or quiet meditation, scheduling time for inspired endeavors is just as important, not letting them be crowded out by a busy, goal-oriented mind. As in our youth, releasing our creative nature will provide us joy and purpose in our lives, helping us in expressing our emotions and in “creating” wellness.

 “I wish I had it back again

The urge to sip from every mountain stream

Where every season promises

A host of golden, open-ended dreams

And every morning’s joyful

With the prospect of days and nights to come

I love it most of all

The wisdom of the young”

 

Lyrics by The Saw Doctors “Wisdom of Youth”

 

Erin, Internal Wellness Guru

Finding Value and the Treasures that Unfold

September 27th, 2013

Most likely, we all know at least one person who is always cheerful, finds the good in everything, and is never involved in workplace drama.  And we wonder how this individual manages to perpetually maintain this glass-is-half-full mentality.

Well first, this actually isn’t as difficult as it seems!  The focus is much more about finding value in things as opposed to liking everyone and everything that one encounters in life.  The person mentioned above has likely stumbled upon the benefits of this concept, and here’s how it can help you!

Value in your coworkers

For the most part, we do all bring something unique to the table.  It could be great organizational skills, IT expertise, or a special gift of delivering bad news with tact and diplomacy.  Some of us are leaders at the executive level, and others perform data-entry at supersonic speeds.  While society tends to rank some jobs as being more important than others, every employee is important and every task must get done!  None of us is equipped with the skills to perform every single task, and even a job deemed “simple” requires a special skill or knack.

One particular challenge in this process is recognizing that there are some things that others can do better than we can. It seems a bit humbling at first, but this also means that you don’t have to be responsible for everything!  Plus, having a diverse group of people all utilizing their strengths is ultimately what makes a strong, effective team!  Finding value can truly help to reach the common ground that makes it possible to achieve goals.

A good leader recognizes the unique skills of each member of the team and is able to pair them with tasks in which they will have success.  This leads to happy and engaged employees and an overall positive team.

Value of your job

Finding value doesn’t end with an inventory of your coworkers’ skills and strengths.  It also applies to your job! No job is perfect– no matter what you do.  But every job does have its benefits.

Maybe your job is really close to home or allows telecommuting so you don’t have to spend so much time on the road or sitting in traffic.   Or maybe you’ve accumulated a lot of vacation time or have an employer who doesn’t mind if you zip out for medical appointments without having to use personal time.

Of course, there will always be at least a few aspects of our job that are not so great, but the point is that there are likely some good aspects of most situations.  And while noticing them might not make you suddenly 110% satisfied with that aspect of your life, it can at least help to take off some of the edge and bring you to a more positive place.

See-Saw: Finding your Work/Life Balance

September 20th, 2013

We all know that a see saw is only fun if both people on each end weigh about the same.  If one is much heavier than the other, the lighter person stays up in the air without being able to come down.  When there is a balance across the fulcrum, then each person can take turns going up, down, up, down, and eventually come to rest together.  The same is true for our work/life balance.  At various times, one area of our life “weighs” more than the others.  This is healthy as long as we consistently come back down to rest.  Even when our work or life demands are not in our control, there are ways to keep a balance to keep our stress levels low and protect our overall mental and physical health.

  • Plan to have fun.  Not all fun has to be spontaneous. Scheduling time with your spouse, your children, or your friends allows you to move other things around those events rather than letting fun time get crowded out by work demands.  It will also give you something to look forward to and ease your mental burden during stressful work hours.
  • Eliminate the clutter. This includes things, people, and activities.  Spending too much time with people who sap our energy or mindlessly wandering through social media sites should be limited. Focus on people and activities that add value to your life.
  • Be efficient. Can you save time by shopping online instead of hauling it to the store every weekend?  Can you perhaps hire someone to help with household chores?  Even if money is tight, how about sharing errands with a friend or family member?  “I’ll do your grocery shopping when I do mine and you mow my lawn when you mow yours.”
  • Move your muscles. Our bodies are made to move, and our bodies and mind work best when we do so. Exercise boosts our energy and helps us to focus on the tasks at hand, thus making our time more productive.  It can also give you time to yourself or be a great way to get the whole family active together.
  • Take a breath. Small changes in providing some relief to our stressful weeks can go a long way.  Maybe we stay late at work every night.  Pick one night per week where you will leave on time or maybe a bit early (if allowed to do so) and beat that 5:00 rush hour.  Or take fifteen minutes to do something relaxing for yourself:  paint your toenails, read a book, or take a nap.
  • Be present. When you are home with your family or friends, put that phone away.  Smartphones have made it easier to get work done remotely, perhaps checking in on emails during the weekend.  However, distracted work or distracted play time is not going to allow us to be the best worker/friend/wife/mother we can be.  If checking in to work is necessary, schedule an hour or so to do that, and let your family know they have your undivided attention the rest of the time.

Coming down from the top of the seesaw is possible if we are aware of the “weight” of different areas of our lives. Meeting our work obligations is important, but maintaining a balance is also important for optimal success in our various roles and for our overall wellbeing.

Zzzzzzzzz……

August 8th, 2013

Here at Johnson & Hill we truly care about the wellbeing of our associates and our community.  We started this series The Way to Wellness to contribute to a healthier society of which we are a part.  Today’s blog post is an effort to continue that discussion on specific areas of wellness to increase mindfulness and work towards change in areas of wellness we struggle with.

When life gets hectic, when we have just too much on our plate, when we try to do everything and more, it’s the first thing to go.  It’s the first thing we give up.  We extend our waking hours long after the sun goes down; we give up our sleep.  Perhaps it is because no one is holding us accountable for how much sleep we get.  Or perhaps it’s because many of the effects of lack of sleep are subtle or don’t appear in the short term.  Maybe life’s stressors keep us up at night and no matter how much we try, we just can’t fall asleep.  Though not always in our control (cue screaming infant), it’s important we make time for the right amount of sleep for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Sleep affects more than just our alertness.  Sleep is the time for our bodies to restore themselves.  Not getting enough sleep can affect our mood, our cognition, our metabolism, and blood pressure.  Heart disease, obesity, stroke, and cancer have all been linked to sleep deficiency.  Our body’s many systems rely on sleep to reduce inflammation and fight off illness.  Lack of sleep can increase our emotional response to life’s stressors, which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.

The more we have to do, the less we sleep.  But the effects of lack of sleep clearly decrease our quality of life and the quality of everything we have to get done, whether at work, connecting with family and friends, housework, or recreation.

A better night sleep, when things are in our control (cue snoring infant), takes a little planning.  If worries and stress keep you up at night, it can help to write them down.  Put them on paper and let your mind know they will still be there in the morning.   When it is time for sleep, our other habits can have a big impact.  Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.  Don’t read from electronic devices before bed.  Don’t eat or exercise right before bed.  Watch caffeine intake in the latter part of the day.  If we can’t always get more sleep because there are just not enough hours in the day, we can definitely work to increase the quality of the sleep we do manage to get – with very big incentive!

Erin Counter

Internal Wellness Guru