Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

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Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

Workplace Trends for 2017

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As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Overcoming First-Day Jitters at a New Job

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workers will hold at least four jobs before they reach the age of 40. In addition, the youngest workers – the millennials – will likely hold 12 to 15 jobs in their entire lifetime, according to Forrester Research.

That’s a lot of first days on the job.

Looking at my own career path, I can honestly say this is true. By the time I turned 40, I was on my 12th job. That’s counting temp and freelance gigs.

With so many jobs – short-term, long-term and in between – I had a lot of first days, and a lot of first-day jitters. It never gets easier as you get older. There is always a certain level of excitement, anticipation, and yes, anxiety, when starting a new gig.

Some anxiety is normal. It’s okay to feel nervous about meeting new people, entering a new work environment and facing new challenges without, hopefully, falling flat on your face. But if those anxious feelings are so overwhelming to the point where you can’t perform, let alone step inside the door to your new office, then it may be time for an attitude adjustment, or at least, better preparation for your first day.

Below are a few tips for overcoming the first-day jitters based on my own experience in the workforce. Each person is different, of course, so some of these practices may work for some people and not for others. Find the right balance that works best for you.

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Many studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep is needed to feel refreshed and mentally alert. You may be able to get by on five or six; other people require more than eight. But ahead of a busy first day, going to bed a little earlier than you usually do and getting more sleep may be a smart way to start your new gig.

2. Eat a healthful breakfast. Another smart way to start your day is by eating a healthy breakfast, including some protein, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Avoid heavy carbs like pancakes which can make you sleepy. Instead, choose healthy options like fruit and yogurt or eggs and toast.

3. Dress for success. No matter where your new gig is located – even if the gig is a telecommute job from home – dress for the occasion, especially on your first day. Avoid overly casual clothes, like sweatshirts and jeans. Save the casual wear for another time. You want to make a good impression, so dress the part. It might also put you in a more professional state of mind.

4. Allow plenty of time to get to your workplace. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being late on the first day of your new job. If commuting, check and double check train and bus schedules. If you ride a bike to work, get it tuned up beforehand so you won’t have accidents or breakdowns on the way to work. Ditto with your vehicle. Check traffic conditions and find alternate routes if the one you planned to take is blocked for some reason.

5. Go with the flow. Your employer or client will likely have an agenda that first day. So relax and let them take the lead.

6. Be an active observer. One of the benefits of being a new kid on the block is that you can remain detached and somewhat anonymous. By being an active observer in the office, you can learn a lot about a company. Pay attention to the office environment. For example, note how workers behave, not just toward you but also toward each other and toward their bosses. Are they friendly and treat each other with respect? Or do they gossip about co-workers and badmouth their bosses?

7. Smile and be friendly. Offer a firm handshake when you are introduced to other people on your team.

8. Listen, and ask questions. On that first day, you will likely receive tons of information about the company, the project and the team members. If you are confused about something, be sure to ask questions so there are no misunderstandings. Don’t start off on the wrong foot because you misunderstood an instruction.

Don’t let your nerves get in the way of a successful start at a new job or client project. Plan ahead and arm yourself with a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast and a confident, get-it-done attitude, and you are sure to start your new gig on the right footing.

Business Lessons from the World Series Champions Chicago Cubs

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It’s been nearly a week since the Chicago Cubs clinched the World Series championship, ending 108 years of futility on the baseball field and finally putting to rest any further talk of goats and curses. While still in the throes of celebrating their victory, it’s also helpful to look at their rise to the top of the baseball world. What can we all learn from the Cubs’ championship run? How can we apply these lessons to our businesses and our work life? Here are a few of my observations.

* If things aren’t working out, start over. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That means cutting the dead wood, so to speak, letting go of the pieces that no longer work, fixing what can be fixed, and rebuilding the business from the ground up.

In the case of the Cubs, that process started at the top rather than the bottom of the organization.  A change in ownership in 2009 brought the Ricketts family on board, followed by the hiring of Theo Epstein and Jeb Hoyer to manage the team’s operations and begin the rebuilding process with the players.  With each new trade and draft pick, the Cubs slowly created a team that was built to win for the long term.

* You may need to go through a few lean years before seeing results. Like any other business, you have to take a few risks and make some tough decisions that may not be popular with your clients. For several years, the Cubs did not have a good team on the field. In 2011, they lost 100 games and fans were doubtful of the changes the Cubs leadership was making. But Epstein and Company stayed the course, knowing they had a game plan they were putting into place, and they repeatedly asked fans for patience. The fact is, whether you run a baseball team or a small boutique business, success does not happen overnight.

* Develop a long-term strategy for success. Create a strong vision of your business. Write down your business goals, and figure out how to achieve them. Develop a detailed plan and make adjustments along the way as needed. The Cubs had a clear vision for the team and knew what it would take to achieve it. Without that detailed plan, owners would have lost faith, and the fans would have too.

* Acquire the best players that can help you achieve your goals. Make sure those team players complement one another in terms of temperament and talent. When they like and respect one another, it’s much easier for them to work together toward a common goal. That likability and respect was on display during the Cubs’ World Series play, both on and off the field.

* Hire a good, strong leader to motivate the team to perform their best. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon is a master of motivation. He respects his players, and encourages them to have fun, even if they’re on an extended losing streak. A good leader will always bring out the best in your team, so hire the most qualified person you can find.

* Have fun. You don’t want to create an environment of all work and no play. Have fun doing what you are doing, and share that joy with the people you work with. People who infuse humor and fun in their workplace are more productive and are better team players. And that bodes well for the success of your business.

* You need to work hard every day to improve your performance. There is an old saying, “Work comes before success only in the dictionary.” The Cubs have a lot of young players they have drafted over the years. With the assistance of coaches and several veteran players, the young Cubs are still developing their talents, and must continue to work hard each day to learn and grow as individually and as part of a team.

*Savor success and share it with others, especially your clients and your fans. The Cubs’ shared their achievement with their fans in one memorable parade and rally. Likewise, when you meet certain productivity goals, celebrate. Break open a bottle of champagne or treat your team to a pizza party. Recognize the important roles they play in your business success. Without them, your business would likely dry up.

No matter what type of work you do, or how you define success, whether you work for yourself or for an organization, there’s always something to be learned from seeing the success of other organizations. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the Cubs’ success is their own motto: Never give up.

 

How Creative People Can Survive in Non-Creative Jobs

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When you think of a creative person, what images comes to mind? An improvisational comedian? A ballet dancer, an artist or songwriter?  Do you ever stop to consider that maybe business owners and company CEOs have a creative spirit too? It’s not always obvious to the rest of us. But I believe they could not have reached their level of success without having some creative juice coursing through their veins. The rest of us don’t always get to see it.

I believe we are all born with creative gifts. It doesn’t matter if you are the company CEO, the sales manager or the guy in the mailroom. We all have a creative source within us that begs to be exercised. It is no wonder I see so many people leave the rat race to write a novel, pursue a singing career or become a curator at an art museum.

Working in a dull 9-to-5 job can sometimes stifle that creativity – but it doesn’t have to. I worked for 10 years as an administrative assistant, which required little, if any creativity. Between making travel arrangements for VIPs, organizing files, updating monthly spreadsheets and making sure the supply room was well stocked, there wasn’t a lot of room for more imaginative endeavors. But I was also blessed to work with managers who understood my need to indulge my creative talents, even if it was only to design a flyer or write a customer service letter.

If you believe the corporate world has robbed you of your creative edge, don’t lose hope. Your creative spirit is alive and well. It just needs an environment in which to thrive.

But don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Be proactive. Look around the office for opportunities to express your creativity. Here are a few ideas:

* Be a problem solver. Solving problems is a valuable skill in the workplace, often requiring thinking outside the box. To solve problems, you have to tap into that creative reservoir within yourself. Whether it’s coming up with a complex solution to a long-standing customer relations issue or developing a new product that can change the way people work, creativity is at the heart of these innovations. And innovation is what drives businesses to grow and prosper.

* Learn new software programs. Teach yourself to do desktop publishing using Adobe InDesign or create Power Point presentations. As you gain more experience doing design work, you can add samples to your portfolio and become a valuable go-to design resource for your friends and colleagues, who may not have the design skills you just acquired.

* Plan events and parties. In a small office especially, you may have to wear many hats. Event planning may be one of them. Maybe you are assigned the task of planning a co-worker’s work anniversary celebration, a meeting of the board of directors, or the annual Christmas party for the office staff. Surprise parties are even better, because they challenge you to come up with creative ways to keep the party a secret. And decorating the office party room naturally lends itself to creative expression.

If meeting planning is not in your job description and it’s something you want to break into, ask your boss or the person in charge of planning meetings if you can help. You not only show your creative side and your initiative.

* Display your artwork. Are you an artist, painter or photographer? Ask your boss or manager if they are willing to display your artwork in your office. At a nearby yoga studio I regularly attend, one of the instructors recently displayed her artwork around the studio. It was a great opportunity to showcase her talents and sell her work to studio clients.

* Display your writing skills. Writing skills are highly valued and often overlooked in the workplace. If you like to write and have a talent for telling amusing stories, there may be opportunities for writing that can be an outlet for your creative genius. Offer to write customer service letters for your boss or the sales department. Ask the marketing director if you can contribute to the company blog or write articles for their newsletter.

I once worked as a temp at a Japanese-owned property management company that managed multiple hotels around the world. One day, the president of the company, who spoke very little English, asked me to write a thank-you letter to a friend who had taken he and his wife out to dinner. I quickly drafted a letter – only three sentences – and showed it to the president. From his wide smile and enthusiastic nod of his head, I knew I had hit the mark. No matter what type of company you work at, good writing skills will always be valued by higher-ups.

* Get a side gig. It seems many workers are doing side gigs these days. For many, it helps them bring in more money. For others, the side gig does what the day job cannot do – feed the creative soul.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about other ways to add a creative edge to your non-creative job. Brainstorm with co-workers and your boss, and see what you come up with. That alone is a creative challenge.

You can’t always change the circumstances of your job (unless you change jobs), but you can change the way you think about your job. Sometimes, by simply accepting the fact that you work in an unimaginative office environment allows you to see opportunities for contributing your creative skills that you may not have noticed before. And that can make the day job all the more tolerable.