Is It Time to Go? A Look at the Psychological Contract

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We’ve all grappled with the decision to leave an organization. By any measure, this is a difficult impasse to consider — often involving an agonizing “push” and “pull” of emotions. One day we might feel momentarily energized to “stick with it” for the long haul, only to have core issues re-surface in an amplified form. Should we continue to hope for things to improve or cut our losses and begin the process of moving on? Previously we’ve discussed avoiding career regret and why we shouldn’t give up too quickly. However, there are some situations where we need to realize that enough — is well — enough.

One factor which is often a silent contributor to this decision, is the status of the psychological contract that exists between ourselves and our employer. Often, the inevitability of leaving, may have actually been cast long before the final decision to pull up roots has been made, as the very core of the employer-employee relationship has already been significantly damaged. The damage occurs when we have been let down in some way, or perceive that a promise has not been fulfilled. As such, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain committed, and we begin to lose focus and quietly disengage. In this regard, our physical departure only represents a ceremonial farewell. Truth be told, any further investment in the employment relationship has already been halted.

The psychological contract that exists between employer and employee, plays a vital role throughout our work lives. Described in this research, this contract is “an individual’s belief regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between that focal person and another party”. The health of this contract can affect the development of key workplace attitudes and behaviors (job satisfaction, trust, intention to turnover, etc.) While both parties contribute to the”give” and “take” of the dynamic — the contract is re-calibrated over the course of an employee’s tenure. Ultimately, when either party perceives a problem with balance, a breakdown can occur.

Let me offer an illustration. Recently I had a conversation with a highly competent marketing executive. Unfortunately, many obstacles had emerged in his current role, among these, the lack of a well-suited path for career growth and development. Over a period of time, he began to experience doubt that his employer had his best interests at heart. On the face of things he professed that he would remain committed — rock steady that he would continue to do his best to fulfill his role and make things work. But, in reality I observed that his psychological resources were waning as he was subtly disengaging. On a basic level, I believe he perceived that the psychological contract with his employer had been breached. (He did depart a short time later.)

Overall, the on-going viability of this contract is critical to our work lives. When problems arise, the strength and tenor of contract can become stressed. Ultimately, it is often difficult to acknowledge that the contract has been irreparably broken and admit that it may be time to explore new horizons.

What might be holding us back:

  • Attribution of failure. We may delay a departure because on some level we feel personally responsible for the current state. In our minds, the failure of the relationship equals a personal failure — which is often not the case. So, we remain to seek resolution.
  • Others seem happy. In some situations, the organization is just not the right environment for the specific employee, with a specific career need. Keep in mind that although opportunities might exist within your current organization, these opportunities may not be right for you.
  • Separation anxiety. Often we develop strong bonds with our colleagues, making a departure even that much more traumatic. We stay for them — when we should really be leaving for ourselves.
  • The “one more try” vice. If you have already done your best to bring core issues to the forefront without satisfactory resolution, it is difficult to find the energy to continue. You’ve likely done your part. Offer yourself permission to move on.

Often we have disengaged long before our physical departure from an organization or role. Have you ever experienced this? Tell us your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

The Gift of Focus

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I’ve been stuck on the word “focus” for the past couple of weeks. Focus — or rather the lack of it — appears to be a growing problem in our work lives. At work, our attention has become infinitely divided; calls, e-mails, meetings, devices. We all need become acutely aware of the need for focus or I fear the quality of our work will slowly diminish.

The reasons to allow time for focus are many. However the core justification really rests deep within our brains.

While we possess the ability to switch between tasks — but we simply do not have the ability to attend to all of them effectively. (Research at Stanford has shown that heavy multitaskers have trouble mastering even the simplest of tasks.) So, I’d like to pose the question: How are you doing focus-wise? Are you taking control of the issue?

Here are a few practical suggestions to help you bring more focus into your work life. It all starts with one small step.

Strategies to consider:

  • Tame those e-mails. Seriously, e-mails are going to be the death of us — as they insidiously  rob us of focus each and every day. (Do you feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole?) Forward thinking organizations are beginning to ban e-mails during designated time periods or specific days, to allow employees the opportunity to focus on their work. First rule to tame this problem (courtesy of LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Wiener) — if you want fewer e-mails, send less of them!
  • Segment meetings. Many meetings lack direction and become the antithesis of focus. One method to solve this, is to use a targeted agenda to thoughtfully segment the time spent in the meeting. For example, if you plan to meet for 60 minutes, segment time to allow for no more than 2-3 topics. Devote 20 minutes to each — enough time to review information, discuss and gain some closure. Identify a “time-keeper” to keep things on track and record topics to be addressed later.
  • Control your calendar. Only you can take the steps to make your spent time count. Review your schedule for the past week and ask yourself the following question: What you can eliminate to make room to focus on the tasks that matter? Then offer that gift to yourself.
  • Look around you. If your work environment doesn’t allow time (or a bona fide quiet space), to really focus — start making waves, While offices are designed for efficiency, open floor plans can become an enemy of focus (How about a few well placed walls?) Discuss options with your manager to provide an appropriate space to collect your thoughts.
  • Set a routine that works for you. Be sure set the right scenario to allow for focus. Consider elements such as the time of day that you seem sharpest, and the physical elements most conducive for you to think deeply (Personally, I require music). Aim for a 30-minutes of focus each day, to start. Of course, remember to build in breaks — as this allows your thoughts to coalesce.

How do you build focus into your day? Share your strategies here.

Additional reading:

Tame the E-mail Beast, Entrepreneur.com
Make Time for the Work That Matters, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, Harvard Business Review
Control Your Workday, Gina Trapani, Geek to Live

How Not to Manage an Introvert

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Do you supervise individuals who would describe themselves as an introvert? If the answer is yes — you may want to take a moment to examine how you manage them. In many cases, we hold misconceptions about introversion which can lead to ill-fated supervisory decisions. I’d like to help.

While many people confuse being introverted with shyness, introversion is in fact, about how an individual handles stimulation and processes information. Those on the introverted end of the introversion/extroversion continuum, require a different set of workplace conditions to excel — and we need to become sensitive to their needs. Small changes in management and workplace elements, can transact into a more comfortable environment, which is conducive to success.

A few things to re-think:

  • Putting them on the spot. It would be misguided to expect an opinion from an introvert at the “drop of the hat”. One hallmark of introversion is the need to sit with one’s thoughts and process information  — often away from the “madding crowd”. If  you offer an introvert a period of time to process, you’ll likely take full advantage of their skills and talent.
  • Publicly recognizing them. Stop yourself. Really. Many introverts would rather jump off a cliff than have attention shifted in their direction without notice. If they are about to to receive an award or accolade, let them know what you are planning ahead of time. They’ll appreciate the gesture and have time to prepare.
  • Teaming. It’s not that introverts are against teaming —  they would just rather contribute on their own terms. This means time to ruminate over issues on the table and providing bit of a lull before they will jump into the conversation. To an introvert, teaming can become a bit of a workplace nightmare – in direct opposition to how they would normally approach their work.  So, be sure to offer opportunities for introverts to start the idea generation process before team meetings are held and allow points in the conversation where they can jump in. (Try pausing 8-second before jumping to the next topic.)
  • The power of a quiet space. You don’t have to necessarily be an introvert to appreciate a calm environment in which to process information. Incorporating spaces within your office design that allow for quiet and privacy, is always wise. (Read more about that here.) But, someone leaning toward the introverted side of the continuum, will be forever grateful.
  • They have nothing to communicate. By nature introverts can be less likely to share their thoughts — which makes it even more important that you check in with them regularly. Send them an e-mail, asking how their projects are progressing. They can reflect and respond on their own terms.
  • Introverts cannot lead. Truth be told, you are dead wrong here. Recent research has shown that those on the introverted side of the continuum are more open to a differences in opinion than their extroverted colleagues. As a result, they are more likely to make more informed decisions. In fact, it has been shown their hesitancy to monopolize the conversation, can actually make them powerful team members. Sounds like leadership material to me.

Are you an introvert? What workplace conditions help you excel?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and formerly at US News & World Report.

Music = Inspiration

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From time to time, we all experience some form of “writers block”. In the broadest sense, the words (and work) stop flowing, as we find ourselves faced with a “wall” which impedes our progress. We may simply be working too hard, or have lingered too long attempting to solve a specific problem.

Of course, changing gears can lead to a breakthrough (read more about the Eureka Phenonmena here.) Listening to a great piece of music, can affect this gridlock — setting our minds in motion, in an entirely different direction.

Here are six pieces of music that might take you away from the pressure, toward a more productive, fluid space. I happen to find these selections helpful. But, I would love to know what you queue up on Youtube or your IPod when energy is running low?

Share them with us here.  A little inspiration can never hurt.

Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve:

 

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What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong:

 

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Clocks by Coldplay:

 

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The Best is Yet to Come by Frank Sinatra:

 

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Nessun Dorma by The 3 Tenors:

 

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Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap:

 

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

Finding Career Chutzpah: Why We Don’t Ask for What We Need in the Workplace

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It is difficult to ask for what we need (and deserve) career-wise. This is a common experience. You can almost feel the tension building as we muster the courage to speak up and give that “inner career voice” a viable platform. We are fearful. We hesitate. We obsess. We role-play the potential outcomes in our minds. However, to progress in today’s world of work, mastering this is an absolute necessity. Whether seeking recognition for a job well done, a much-needed raise, or a simple “tweet” to support our work — asking for what we need is simply a challenge we must overcome.

So, what are we to do about this very common problem? Rather than examining the “hows” of asking  for what we need — it is best to examine the “whys” of our hesitation.

A few things to address:

  • Lowered confidence. We have all experienced setbacks at work. However, because of these experiences we can develop a bit of a “blind spot” concerning our true value. As such, we become guarded and often hesitate to take any kind of risk. In the end, we don’t speak up and miss out on opportunities to collaborate, plum projects and an enhanced future.
  • We don’t want to brag. This is really tough one. Most of us are brought up not to “toot our own horn”. However, to secure that needed “leg up” — we need to be sure that others are noticing our work. As a result, a little well-placed PR is a necessity. In today’s fast paced workplace, playing the “shrinking violet” is likely a losing strategy. We need to get over that.
  • We don’t like to ask. If you describe yourself as fiercely competitive — you may not like to depend on anyone to help secure your future. You may even think this would cause you to appear needy or less competent. If this is your vantage point, remember that no man (or woman) is an island. It actually takes many people to build a meaningful career.  So open yourself up to reach out.
  • We’re in the dark. In some cases, we are simply unsure of our actual career worth. Why? Because we do not seek accurate feedback. Asking your boss, clients or colleagues, “How did you feel about the work I completed?” is a fair and reasonable question. So ask away. We need to know where we actually stand to feel we are in any position of power — and gathering the facts is really the only way.
  • We’ve made unreasonable comparisons. Sometimes we feel unworthy because we are drawing unhealthy comparisons in relation to the careers of others (and judging ourselves quite harshly). We feel we don’t measure up and don’t have any claim to valuable outcomes. Why not offer yourself a break?
  • We are afraid of the word “No”. The prospect of being rejected is never a pleasant — and hearing a negative response is a possibility. However, remember that we have the ability to recover. So, why not process the “no”, peel back the first layer of emotions and ask “why not”.

This is not a dynamic that resolves overnight. If you desire progress, simply start small and work your way forward. Asking for what you want or deserve might be difficult the first time around — but the process will get easier.

Just remember this: If you ask —  you just may get. (A little chutzpah doesn’t hurt.)

Have you been faced with this dilemma? What happened?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

Getting Over the Hump of “Hump Day”

 

Hump DayWednesdays — the grumpy “middle child” of the work week.  If only Wednesday could magically turn into a Friday, or dare I say, transform into Saturday.

While you might have breezed through Monday and Tuesday, somehow Wednesday just seems to be the day that “snags”. It can pull us down. It drags. You may find you struggle through meetings and “zone out” while others are speaking. Somehow the energy of the weekend has dissipated and you’re right in the thick of it all.

I’ve actually held a grudge against Wednesdays for years — and I don’t think that I am alone. It’s really a bit unfair. So, it’s time to change our tune.

Wednesday’s do not  have to be the day that we just need to “get through”. In this vein, here are a few strategies that might help make Wednesdays your favorite day of the work week:

  • Do what you love. Build in a stretch of time for something you enjoy work-wise. For example, a project or content area that really interests you. Even if the time increment is modest (say 20 minutes), you’ll feel more energized.
  • Get out of the building. Anoint Wednesdays as the day you make plans to leave the office (and yes, your computer) for lunch. Invite someone new to join you each week — someone who might have an interesting role or personality.
  • Contact someone you like. Do you have a favorite colleague or business contact? Allow yourself time to reach out to them on a Wednesday — a great way to boost both perspective and mood.
  • Laugh a little. Start out Wednesdays with a bit of workplace humor. Read a few New Yorker cartoons or listen to a clip from your favorite workplace inspired comedy movie.
  • Change things up. Make Wednesdays, a day of change. Disallow an annoying workplace behavior that probably isn’t doing you any favors — or revise the “status quo”. For example, go the entire day without contradicting someone or refrain from sending e-mails that could replaced by a walk down the hall. You get the idea.
  • Be nice. I mean — really nice. Make Wednesdays the day that you thank as many people as possible for adding something positive to your work life. Bring your “stars” a coffee drink or a danish, and vow to stop taking people for granted.
  • Build on a success. Review the events of last week and tease out a success. Write down 2 or 3 actions that would build on that progress — and keep the forward momentum going. Now follow through.

How do you get through “Hump Day”? Share your strategies.

Image: Geico

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

The Untold Resume Story

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Last week, I attended a client meeting discussing the merits of candidates for a key position. At one point, the conversation turned to a current freelance contributor with whom they had developed a long relationship . The conversation went something like this:

Company Executive A: “What about bringing in Erin on this one? Her work is beautiful.”

Company Executive B: “We should think about the required progress on this project — we need to keep things moving along quickly.”

Company Executive C: “I’d like to see Erin here, but I worry about her ability to handle the schedule when the pressure heats up.”

Hmmmm. That information was certainly never mentioned before — and it certainly was not on her resume. This individual had completed multiple projects with the company quite successfully. Her work was described as “inspired” and she usually hit budget targets. However, it appeared that a portion of her “invisible” or “unwritten” resume was affecting her chances with the current opportunity.

This brings us to an interesting inflection point. We all have an alternative or unwritten resume —  which effectively captures what is not included in the more formal version. (See a great discussion of the topic in this classic HBR post.) This unwritten version, might include aspects of our work life including attitude, performance under pressure and our overall ability to collaborate.

We all have a side to our career story that we may be overlooking — and its elements may have a significant impact on our future. We all need to ascertain the complete story. The sooner the better.

So what do you think might be included in your “invisible resume”?

Time to think about that.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.