I Didn’t Take That Vacation: Here’s What Happened

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I didn’t have the opportunity to take a vacation this year. For some reason, the stars never aligned to make it happen. A few things contributed to the situation. I have a new role (along with my other commitments), and we are also renovating an older home. As you might expect, our resources have been diverted to goals such as staircases and a functional HVAC system. Then we just couldn’t agree on when and where to go. “Re-charging” just was not in the cards.

The outcome of my neglect feels very real. A little like pulling an all-nighter — with no desire to sit for the exam.

This is not a “good thing” — as Martha would say.

The research has shown that many of us fail to take time off, even when we have earned vacation days to do so. For some odd reason, we don’t like to admit that time off is necessary — or we fear we’ll look weak — or uncommitted to our work. This lack of attention to rest is costly in so many ways. I can only say, that if I’m representative of what it is like to not have a break, no one should skimp.

Sustaining “us” — is in part our own responsibility. We shouldn’t need to be reminded that we are important.

Here’s what has happened:

  • I’m observing signs of burn-out. Yes, I lack my usual level of enthusiasm for the tasks I normally love. I’ve coached myself to care, as the “Joy Factor” has taken a dip. That’s a sad commentary.
  • I’m losing my sense of humor, especially where work is concerned. I don’t laugh nearly enough — and laughing is vastly under-rated. We need these moments to off-set stress.
  • I’m a bit of a pain in the a##. I’m sure it has to do with the above. No further explanation needed. Sorry for the language.
  • Inspiration is waning. I require new sources of stimulation to stay at the top of my game. A change of scenery always does great things for me. We really shouldn’t expect to be at our best, after completing a year-long mental marathon.
  • I’m starting to fantasize about a new line of work. Now, this is simply ridiculous. However, I can easily see why many of us take these feelings as a sign that our roles are the problem. It’s not.

Here is what I’m doing:

  • I’m exploring my local environment. I’m unchaining myself from my desk and getting out there (cell phone muted). I’m stopping by the Farmer’s Market, and checking out the museums and gardens. Inspiration is really all around us.
  • I’m aiming to meet more people face-to-face.  I’m completely inspired by the career journeys of others. I’m making a point to visit college campuses this fall, to talk to students about their future work lives. (let me know if you’d like me to visit yours.)
  • I’m taking a series of shorter weekend trips. Nothing works like the real deal. Michigan is beautiful in the fall and I’m determined to see it.
  • I’m telling founders, managers and leaders to take their vacations (and to let everyone know). Nothing cements a needed change more completely, than a strong message that time off is a respected practice.

What are your strategies to take a break when vacations are impossible to schedule? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Employing a Life Strategy

 

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At times, we’ve all lost our way  — and finding our way back to the right path is imperative. This process can prove both confusing and painful. Often, we believe that the root problem lies externally; the wrong boss, team or organization. But, are we overlooking the obvious? In fact, looking inward might just be the best place to begin. Truth be told, we put enough obstacles in our own career paths to last more than a lifetime. When it comes down to it — we are usually right there in the mix, adding to the fog.

What if you could find that vital guidance, that mantra of direction, to actually get out of your own way once and for all? Well, developing a life strategy may be the needed prescription. It’s not fluff — it’s just plain smart.

We assume we’ll traverse through our careers (and our lives for that matter) without taking a single moment of pause to formulate a plan. (An organization wouldn’t think of moving forward without first considering a clear-cut path.) Strategy, can allow us to focus on our goals. Because at the inflection points that challenge us, we often forget to stop, breathe and look in all directions.

A great read to find that needed path is Allison Rimm’s, The Joy Of Strategy. (Her concept of the “Joy Meter” is a stunner, and that alone is worth the read. Apply the meter to your work life — and you will never view work or career, in quite the same way.)

A few things The Joy of Strategy would also like us to consider:

  • Listening more. Not to everyone else — to yourself. Stop shopping for the advice that would allow you to support what you already know you need from your work life. Trust that inner voice. What have you left behind? As Rimm describes so aptly, “Don’t die with your song still inside of you.”
  • Taking another look at purpose. We can easily confuse being busy with purpose — and defining a “clear intention” can help to filter out the “noise” surrounding our most important career decisions. When I began blogging two years ago, a colleague was less than enthused with my career pivot. This caused me real stress. But, when all was said and done — the path fulfilled my purpose to help others gain fulfillment in the workplace.
  • Visualize, visualize, visualize. Where do you really want to be? What would you be doing? What do you really want to accomplish? One solid strategy for change, is to thoroughly consider the “future state”. Go there — dream a little — it will help you master your future.
  • Defining what you really need. Be brutally honest. If you could move forward to build your best career life, what materials would you collect to ensure your success? A trusted mentor? More opportunities to lead a team? Sharper communication skills? Take the time to define these.
  • Time and Emotion.  We spend our time — but what do those moments really offer us? As Rimm explains, “We should all derive some measure of joy from our work.” I couldn’t agree more. That indeed, is a winning strategy.

How have you built your own life strategy? Tell us a little about that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

Joy at Work: How about a little “Arbejdsglæde”?

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In response to a post about positivity in the workplace, a very kind reader (Casper P.) let me know that in his language, a very unique word existed. The word was “Arbejdsglæde” — translated into English this means “happiness at work” or “work joy”. Here is his comment:

Scandinavian countries have a single word for “Happiness at work” — Arbejdsglæde. This site posted a great video on why we need more of it: http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com

If only we could only bring more Arbejdsglæde into our work lives on a daily basis. Arbejdsglæde is the positive feeling that develops when you simply love what you do. It stokes motivation and serves as an reliable source of energy. In turn, the work brings a keen sense of satisfaction. Of course, this is something we should all readily seek — and a bit of joy may be exactly what we need to affect the troubling lack of engagement in the workplace today. More joy at work? As a psychologist, that is something that I can certainly live with.

Here is an example of Arbejdsglæde in action — the moment the rover Curiosity lands on Mars. (More great videos at http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com)


Ultimately, joy and work should co-exist — but we have been resistant to offer ourselves permission to seek this out. In her HBR post Joy at Work: It’s Your Right, Allison Rimm describes how she has utilized a joy meter in her coaching practice. When clients would enter for a session, they would rate the level of joy (vs. hassle) they were currently feeling from their work. The underlying premise? We all should derive some measure of joy from our work.

We might encourage joy at work through the expression of gratitude, developing hope and encouraging camaraderie. But we can also grow joy, by aligning our work with our strengths — and learning to express what we really need to derive satisfaction from our work.

So, let’s bring a more joy to our workplaces — ourselves, our clients  and our colleagues.

It’s a good thing.

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

About Your Career: My Advice to the Class of 2013

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(This post was previously published in LinkedIn’s “Class of 2013: The Commencement  Speeches You Wish You Heard”.)

I’ve heard (and offered) my share of career advice over the years — and at this point in your lives, you are likely hearing more than your minimum daily requirement. I understand. Nearly everyone wants to offer a reflective opinion concerning how you should go forward, and leave your mark on the world. I realize that all of the chatter might feel a bit overwhelming — especially with all that is ahead of you — but rest assured, the advice is certainly well intentioned. However, one key point to remember as you leave this chapter behind, is to temper its application with the sound of your own voice. Listen openly to all the advice that is offered, as it it given with love and concern. However, be sure not to lose yourself within that conversation.

Much of the advice that I personally received about work and career, was really quite good. Some… well…not nearly as good (and memorable for very different reasons). I won’t offer the unabridged volume to you today — and I’ll keep the message brief. But, I would like to share some of the most memorable snippets with you. So, here is the best (and the worst of it) — offered to you, with an accompanying “hindsight is 20/20” review.

“Find something you love to do. If you can eventually get someone to pay you for it, you’ve got it made.” I’ll have to say, this was the best of the lot. Looking back, I never would have have guessed that my dad (a family physician), had been privy to the “secret sauce” of work life happiness — but he did have the power of experience behind him. When he offered me this advice, employee engagement per se, was yet to be discussed. But his words resonated with me and I thought about his comment often. His words guided me at many a crossroad. My dad loved what he did everyday — and this was apparent. He worked long hours, took countless late night phone calls and never missed an opportunity to say hello to a patient outside of the office. When he passed away, I heard countless heartwarming stories from his patients explaining how he had touched their lives in a deep and meaningful way. It was amazing. I wish that kind of career for all of you — so search with great urgency for a role that you will love.

“Don’t stray from your core area of strength.” Wrong. Don’t sell yourself short. Learn as much as you possibly can, about as many core areas of an organization as possible — this will help you to transform into a seasoned contributor. As I entered the world of work, I’d spent years studying work behavior and the elements of organizations. But, what I desperately needed to see, first hand, was how all of the pieces coalesced in real time. When posed with a unique opportunity to write proposals for the broader organization, many let me know they thought it was misguided to leave my role in research. But, for some odd reason I didn’t listen. I’ve never regretted that choice, as I learned more about the business than I ever imagined. Building flexibility, while developing new strengths is always a good path. So even if those opportunities don’t present themselves, search for them. Create them. Ultimately, a career is a mufti-faceted quest, where unexpected twists and turns should be welcome – so don’t hesitate to travel “off-road” and explore once in a while.

Leave your personal life at the door”. This was undoubtedly the worst (and the most perplexing) advice offered. When this was generously shared (from a very senior staffer, as a newly minted manager) I was absolutely speechless. All I could think of that moment was “How do I possibly accomplish that?”, and “How does anyone, for that matter?” As it turns out this advice wasn’t really a viable goal after all. We essentially bring “all that is us” to our work each day – for better or worse – as our lives outside of the office shape who we are as potential contributors. It would be nearly impossible to perform a dissection, and remove our home or personal life from our office life (or vice versa, for that matter). The irony of this, is how many of us now complete our work from our home offices. Funny how that turned out – as personal lives routinely intersect (and meld) with work life today. Going forward, encourage evolution in your work life, to make work, work for you.

In closing, I’d like to say that I envy the place where you find yourself today. I see a career as an exciting series of doors, leading to the chapters of your future. Open those doors with hope and respect — for yourself — and those that you will certainly meet along your journey.

Good luck to you – I wish you a happy and fulfilling career.

(What is the best or the worst, advice that you’ve received? I’d love to hear it.)

The “Fab 5” of Your Work Life

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You are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. – Jim Rohn

I’ve heard Jim Rohn’s incredibly insightful quote on a number of occasions.

Every time I hear it I pause — as the message is simply that powerful. Those we surround ourselves with could easily be viewed as a critical life choice, as we absorb the moods, problems and the passions of those around us.

Instinctively, we might first apply this concept to our personal lives — quickly completing a review of our inner circle of friends and family. But really we should also applying this mantra to our work lives. The same standard holds there. Those we surround ourselves with can affect our work lives tremendously, for the better or for the worse.

I began to apply the “Fab 5” to specific work goals. (For example, finding the right guide to become a better speaker). However, this seemed far too limiting.

These 5 individuals should have robust relevance to all aspects of our work lives — a group of key people to serve as a  “catalyst”, encouraging both exploration and excellence.

As such, the lineup should afford a broader application of the principle.

Here are my recommendations for the “Fab 5”:

  • A mentor. An individual with whom you feel entirely comfortable. They should have a working knowledge of your “dream” career direction or path. Trust is paramount and being candid is required.
  • A sponsor. This individual knows how to help you position yourself to facilitate needed career progress. They’ll help you consider options such as a “stretch assignment” or a strategically placed team role. They are masters at “career marketing” and will push your career boundaries.
  • A collaborator. We all need a “co-conspirator” who allows you to free-associate and helps you explore ideas. They are likely to be quite creative and open, and not overly critical.
  • A devils’ advocate. This role should be filled by someone who can “cut to the chase” and expose any weaknesses in your career logic. They help you to reveal obstacles and keep things “real.”
  • An entrepreneur. Somehow you just can’t replicate the mindset of an entrepreneur. They are the whole package. Quick. Creative. Above all, gutsy. They won’t let you sit on the sidelines of your work life for very long.

Don’t limit your “Fab 5” to those you can physically spend time with — connecting online works as well. Look to channels such as LinkedIn or Twitter as potential sources to fill these roles. (Those we connect with virtually can still have the power to change our perspective and drive us forward).

Would you benefit from a “Fab 5” in your work life? Who would you include?

This post was originally published at Talent Zoo

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Why negative information is so darn powerful

Unhapy employeeHave you ever heard of the “criticism sandwich”? This communication strategy purports that if you present negative information in the midst of positive information, it will cushion the impact of the “less than stellar” bits. Well – think again. Our brains seem to be hard-wired to pay much closer to attention to negative information – likely a product of evolution and the “survival of the fittest”. When we hear negative information, it carries more impact and seems to stick with us longer.

In my latest post on LinkedIn, How to hear what you don’t want to hear, I explore methods to cope with negative information, opinion or feedback. Managing the stress that comes with the territory is key. But take heart – you are not alone.

Do you have a strategy to cope with negative information that works for you? Please share it with us – we’ll all be grateful.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

Sunday Notes: Taking responsibility to make work a better place

MP900399109We all share responsibility to forge a better workplace. As managers. As employees. As organizations. Even as customers of those organizations. How should we come together to mold a better workplace? This goal might boil down to our personal work life basics.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Become more transparent. Honesty is a basic – and its value holds in all facets of the workplace. In a nutshell, tell the truth. If you are a recruiter, let the candidate know everything you know about a role, both good and bad. If you are giving a performance review, tell the whole story. (Don’t skim over the weaknesses that will hold someone back in the future). If you are a customer, don’t walk away upset. Diplomatically express your problem – it is worth mustering the courage to do so.
  • Sharpen your listening skills.  Make it a point to lessen the signal noise, and really listen to your employees and your customers. Separate yourself from the potential stress you feel this may bring – or worse yet, the fear of the change that may follow. Progress starts with an open mind – and an open mind develops when you truly hear the concerns of others.
  • Become hopeful. Remaining optimistic, and maintaining energy levels when things are challenging is a difficult task – but one that is worthwhile. Make every attempt not to give up on an employee, co-worker, a project or yourself. If there is an issue – trouble-shoot and attempt to devise a plan to impact the situation. Not the solution? Step back, reflect and formulate another route. Develop the frame of mind that one more try may hold the ultimate key.

Some related reading to support your quest:

What are the personal methods you utilize to improve the workplace? Ideas welcome.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

Pay Homage to Failure

MB910216335Our failures do not have to define us. In fact, our mistakes can help propel us forward. Current research lets us know that how we “reframe” our view of failure, can impact the direction of its long-term effects. But, this requires that we take the time to pause and process failure – something that can be inherently uncomfortable.

In today’s LinkedIn post – Moving Through Failure – I discuss how to “dwell on failure”  in an effort to recover and grow. Please let me know how you cope with a failure.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Ugly Truth About Time Management


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Let’s talk turkey about time management.

It’s a sticky workplace problem to tackle, primarily because it requires being brutally honest with ourselves to get a real grip on the issue. Yes, we all go through periods when work feels “out of control”. However, there are strategies that might have prevented the lion’s share of that stress.

Where time management is concerned — it seems that we can turn out to be our own worst enemies.

Here are a few (not so pleasant) points to consider.

1. It’s Your Problem
The bottom line? No one else is going to value your time if you don’t. You have to teach others (and yourself) through words and actions, that your time is valuable. That may sound as if I’m characterizing all your of coworkers and clients as disrespectful. It’s not that. They simply have their own work lives to worry about and you need to worry about yours. If you feel someone is taking advantage — be honest and let them know you’ve spent as much time as you possibly can to help them. Point them in the right direction for more guidance. Be polite but firm. You’ll find that after you go through this once or twice, the process will become easier.

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2. You have to cut the Cord
Here’s the thing — a time-management problem is usually not a time issue – it is a task issue. Specifically, you are not sorting through your work life and deciding which tasks really matter. This is like keeping old shoes in your closet that you really don’t wear, but continue to take up valuable space. Sometimes you have to give useless tasks the old “heave-ho.” Do you compile a report that nobody utilizes? Attend a weekly meeting that isn’t beneficial or necessary? Write the eulogy and cut the cord. It’s up to you. Choose or lose.

3. Playing Favorites is a Must
You hate prioritizing. Of course you do! Everyone does. But the number one priority to respect is your own calendar. Just remember that multitasking doesn’t work. Focusing on a single task, without interruption is critical. If you need a release valve in your schedule for tasks that pop up, set up time each Friday (or any plan that works) to connect the dots and tie up loose ends that develop during the week. Tell people politely, “My schedule is tight at the moment, but I’ll have time to explore that on Friday.” During this designated “catch-up time” you can consider ad-hoc requests and communicate responses.

Timeimages4. You’re a Control Freak
I know this excuse: “I don’t like to delegate.” But if you are a manager (or aspire to be one), the fact is that if you don’t learn how to delegate confidently, you will have trouble moving forward. Why? Because you won’t have the time to become a real leader. Chances are, you don’t trust other people to do the job as you would do it. I know. I’ve heard that excuse as well. But a surefire way to build resentment is to show your staff that you don’t trust them. You have to give up a little control and “mine” some time for the bigger picture.

5. Excuses Won’t Work
If you have a scheduling snafu, remember to ‘fess up as soon as you realize there is a problem. Recently I waited for a scheduled appointment with a specialist. After an hour, a nurse came out to ask if anyone was waiting for Dr “X.” After identifying myself, she let me know it would be at least another hour to see the doctor and asked if I would like to reschedule. They explained that the reason for the delay was that there were late additions to the schedule…but apparently they were on the books before I walked in the door. They didn’t bother to call or text me and give me the option not to wait.

If you are running behind or forget a commitment, take ownership as soon as you realize there is a problem. You’ll have a better chance of salvaging the relationship.

Time is a valuable commodity.

Use it wisely — and you’ll fuel your career.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

This post was originally published at Talent Zoo.