Fight Boredom at Work

slacking at workJuly is chock full of fun celebrations that belong in this sunny, outdoor month:  National Picnic Month, National Hot Dog Month and National Ice Cream Month.

It’s also Anti-Boredom Month, created as a media spoof by Alan Caruba’s now defunct Boring Institute.  So it feels like the right time to talk about boredom at work.

Ever felt bored at work?  Most of us have.  Boredom doesn’t mean fatigue, although they can be related.  When you’re bored, you either have nothing to do, or you may face tedious and burdensome assignments that you’d like to avoid.

Instead of yawning, complaining and checking your computer clock for the fiftieth time, get back into action with these ideas:

Build up energy.  Be sure to eat right and get adequate sleep.  During work, get up hourly to stretch and take a brief walk.  Go for a walk at lunch time.  Try meditating at your desk for a few minutes (don’t forget to set your phone alarm first).

Make your work area inviting.

  • Add personal touches like photos and a small lamp to counter that fluorescent glare.
  • Change your desktop picture often.
  • Add music, using earbuds to avoid annoying your coworkers.
  • Play with seasonal decorations.  They can be as simple as flowers from your yard and a few shells in summer.
  • Add plants to bring in a little of the out-of-doors.
  • If the room temperature isn’t right, bring in a small desk fan or portable heater.
  • Be sure all modifications fit company/facility guidelines.

On the other hand, if your cubicle is overstuffed with personal items and knickknacks, take time to declutter for a fresh start.

happy employee attitudePep up your meetings.  Try something new, like a walking meeting, or using a room with no chairs.  This will foster a quicker meeting and you’ll stick to the agenda.  Always start promptly – don’t wait for latecomers – and end on time.  Be sure that every participant has a chance to contribute.

Tackle a tedious task.  Have a list of “nice to do” jobs that you never seem to get to?  Replace boredom with productivity.  Take care of filing accumulated material, and purge existing files.  Create or update a procedures manual.  Scrutinize your organization’s internal websites and Intranet for any overlooked issues or revisions.  Review new hire orientation material for any needed updates.

Enhance Responsibilities and Skills

Assess your job responsibilities and skill set and compare them to a new project’s requirements.  Come up with a volunteer “stretch assignment” to further the project and, at the same time, give you an interesting and challenging task.  Or trade assignments with a coworker to benefit both.

Volunteer assignments can also be cross-functional.  Partner with a resource in Finance or Legal to explore those aspects of the project.

Break the boredom mold by choosing a new skill to learn.  Investigate in-house and external training opportunities.  Use break time to participate in podcasts.  Learn new software, or work to improve your writing.

Still bored at times?  Relax; it’s impossible to completely eliminate it.  A little boredom is necessary to foster daydreaming and creativity.  You’ll come up with all sorts of new ideas, ensuring you won’t be bored for very long.

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Consider Creating a Bullying in the Workplace Policy

Workplace BullyingBullying is a timely topic.  There has been much media coverage of children who are bullied and incidents at schools.  Unfortunately, this type of behavior is all too common in the workplace as well.

Bullying is repeated inappropriate behavior that undermines an employee’s right to dignity at work.  The bullying behavior can be aimed at a group or an individual.  Basically, it appears in three forms:  verbal, physical or cyber, which includes internet or phone activities like social networking sites, texts and email.

Bullies seek to intimidate others.  Their weapons also include gossip intended to damage someone’s reputation, obscene language and social isolation and exclusion.

Examples of Bullying

Bullying includes, but is not limited to, the following behaviors:

  • Slander, ridicule, name calling and jokes about the person
  • Physical interaction such as kicking, pushing, tripping, poking, assault or threat of assault, as well as damage to property or work area
  • Social or physical exclusion in work activities
  • Obscene language or gestures
  • Public humiliation
  • Ignoring or interrupting
  • Rumors and gossiping
  • Interfering with work, such as withholding information, imposing impossible deadlines and assigning menial tasks

Effects of Bullying

This inappropriate behavior affects both the target and the organization.


Those experiencing bullying can have stress-related illnesses and loss of confidence.  They will withdraw at work and elsewhere.  Their work performance can suffer, and they may show increased absenteeism.

The effects of bullying will spread to the organization, manifesting in reduced productivity, decreased morale and company loyalty, lack of trust and teamwork among coworkers, increased absenteeism, and higher health care and Workers Compensation costs.  Clearly, the presence of workplace bullying has far-reaching consequences for an employer.

Legal Considerations

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), workplace bullying incidents are not generally covered by anti-discrimination laws unless the target is a member of a protected class.

There are as yet no Federal anti-bullying laws.  However, on the state level, legislation called The Healthy Workplace Bill contains workplace anti-bullying laws.  First introduced in California, this grassroots effort has been presented (but not yet enacted) in 23 state legislatures.  You can check the status of The Healthy Workplace Bill in your state here.

Consider Implementing a Workplace Bullying Policy

Instead of waiting for your state to enact The Healthy Workplace Bill, you can act now and create a Workplace Bullying Policy.  This can be a standalone policy or part of a larger anti-harassment policy.


The policy should be widely communicated and include these components:

  • Definition of bullying with examples
  • To whom the policy applies and where
  • Zero tolerance statement on bullying in any form
  • Consequences of policy violations
  • Responsibilities of employees, supervisors, managers and Human Resources
  • Reporting procedures

Once in place, it’s a good idea to have training sessions for all employees on this new policy to ensure that they’ve received adequate notice.

No one wants to work in an environment where they are not welcomed and valued.  Being bullied takes its toll on the individual and the organization.  Act now to crack down on bullying in your workplace.

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Don’t Forget Single Working Dads

working dadWhen celebrating Father’s Day this month, don’t overlook those dads who must do double-duty – single working fathers.

There are 2.3 million families in the U.S. that are headed by a single father.  Fully 27% of working single parents are men, and it’s the fastest growing family group in the workplace.  Unfortunately, bosses and coworkers often don’t recognize that single fathers have the same issues as do single moms.

Perception vs. Reality

Traditionally, men have been viewed as able to give 100% in the workplace because the child care was taken care of by the mother or other partner at home.  However, this is not the case when the father is single.  Instead, he has to manage both work and family care on his own, just as do single mothers.

Single working fathers make the same career vs. family choices as single moms, such as carving out more time with their children, reducing travel obligations and working closer to home and schools.  Their issues are the same as those of single working mothers but often are not recognized or acknowledged by their employer.

dad with son

The reality is that bosses are often more lenient when women ask for family-related workplace concessions.  Working mothers can negotiate for flexible hours or other individualized schedule to allow for child care logistics.  Men don’t find it as easy to request special arrangements such as leaving work early to pick up a child at school, make a doctor’s appointment or participate in school activities.  These requests may be frowned upon more often than those of a female coworker because of the workplace’s view of stereotypical gender roles.

No Legal Protection

There are no Federal laws that protect single parents from workplace discrimination.  In fact, in most states it’s not illegal to deny employment to single parents.

Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) is discrimination against workers based on family caregiving responsibilities, such as for children or elders, spouse or significant other illness, or family member with a disability.  Some states have ruled FRD illegal, especially if it carries over to protected areas such as gender discrimination or retaliation for taking family leave.  An example of a woman with young children being passed over for promotion because of her family situation could be argued as gender discrimination; however, a single father would not be covered in this situation because he is not a member of the protected gender.

Support All Single Parents

Here are some ideas that can help you assist single working fathers and mothers:

  • Watch for situations where managers may be granting working parent requests for special schedules or time off unfairly.  Remember that working fathers, especially single ones, need accommodations just as much as working moms.
  • working fatherShare helpful resources such as and with your organization.
  • Make an EAP referral if a manager or supervisor feels that a single parent is becoming overwhelmed with his or her responsibilities, affecting work quality.  Keep in mind that the manager or supervisor may also be a candidate for an EAP referral, if he or she is unwilling to recognize the issue and support the worker as your organization would wish.

Whether shared or full custody, when a working father has responsibility for his children it’s a juggling act.  He’s keeping several balls in the air, including child care, work and home responsibilities.  Employers must recognize these pressures and the stress that comes with being a single parent, and try to accommodate work requests to make single parenting a little easier.

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Do Unlimited Vacation Policies Work?

vacationAn unlimited vacation policy sounds like a prescription for chaos and abuse.  But businesses are embracing this concept in growing numbers.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reports that only 1% of U.S. companies offer unlimited vacations.  But this number is growing.  Included are technology start-up companies which can be flexible with employee time-off, including, a job placement software company, and, a firm devoted to online note taking and archiving.

But they are not alone.  Larger organizations offer unlimited vacation day policies, include Netflix with 900 employees and Best Buy retail chain’s 4,000 corporate employees.  IBM’s policy has covered each of its 355,000 employees since 2003.

The Right Culture

This type of flexible policy fits technology organizations, and may not work for businesses such as hotel and restaurant, or manufacturing facilities where the work delivered depends on employee attendance.

The organization must have the “right culture” for this policy to succeed.  This includes an atmosphere of trust that emphasizes personal responsibility.  Employees must care about their work and the organization.


Developing an Unlimited Vacation Policy

Clearly, these types of paid time off arrangements are not “unlimited;” rather, they are extremely flexible.  When implementing this type of policy, consider the following:

  • An unlimited policy doesn’t mean “no policy” – craft one that clearly establishes parameters like eligibility, limits and procedures
  • Create a standalone vacation policy or incorporate it into a Paid Time Off policy which can include sick days and flexible work schedules
  • Limit the number of consecutive weeks (for example, three weeks maximum)
  • Require manager approval based on project status, and specify that managers can deny vacation requests if business demands
  • List any frozen zones (such as the month of December for retail organizations)
  • Quantify the amount of advance notice required

It’s important to build processes around the policy so that projects are covered and client relationships are maintained during absences.  Be sure to train all managers and supervisors on communicating the policy and implementing it in their work groups.

Also, check with legal counsel on the applicability of state law to both the policy and its transition.

The Positives

Each company that offers an unlimited vacation policy agrees that it’s a big administrative timesaver.  The time costs of completing timesheets for exempt employees and tracking vacation days are eliminated.

happy employee attitude

Most organizations with unlimited vacation policies report no policy abuse, and experience better productivity.  Some employees actually use fewer vacation days so as not to be viewed as a “slacker.”

Work gets done as employees are highly motivated.  Additionally, the trust factor leads to better relations between employee and employer.  Employees feel that they are treated as adults.  After all, since you hired them to be responsible about work, they should be responsible about paid time off too.

An unlimited vacation day policy can be a huge recruiting tool.  It’s also a low cost way to retain employees who may have recently experienced minimal pay increases and loss of bonuses.

Implementing this type of policy can help your employees regain work-life balance.  But it’s not right for every business.  An organization with a culture of openness, employee responsibility and accountability, and above all trust, will benefit from an unlimited vacation day policy.

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Traumatic Events Affect Children

sad kidOur nation has experienced many tragedies in recent months, including the Boston Marathon bombings and the disastrous fire and explosions in Waco, Texas.  Even if not personally affected, we as adults struggle with feelings of sadness, anger and fear.  Children experience these feelings too, but without the ability to put the events in perspective as an adult can.

Employees and students who are parents, or have younger siblings, must help the children deal with these feelings in the aftermath of a tragedy.  Here are some guidelines:

Take Care of Yourself First 

Regain your composure first, and then act to reassure your child.  The children will follow your lead.  Seek out help for yourself such as EAP services if necessary.

Control the Messages Your Child Receives

Your child will receive information from friends, teachers, TV and other media.  Your job will be to make sure they know the facts.

One of the first things to do is turn off the TV.  Children can’t discern that news videos are repeated over and over, and will imagine the events are continuing.  They will fear that the same thing will happen to them.  Limit your child’s exposure to TV, newspapers and other media.  Avoid discussing the situation with other adults when children are present.

parent comforts child

Have Honest Conversations and Address Their Concerns

In the wake of a tragedy, ask what the children have heard.  Then take the opportunity to discuss the situation calmly in age-appropriate terms.  Give minimal but honest information, and be sure to ask if the child has any questions.  No matter who may be to blame for the event, try not to allow prejudice influence your conversations.

Ask specifically what they are worried about, for example waiting for the school bus at the corner.  Explain how you and others ensure their safety and will do everything possible to keep them safe.

Don’t worry if the child is reluctant to share information or ask questions.  Allow for some processing time, and always be there for when they want to open up.

sad girlEmphasize the Positive

Always discuss how those who were hurt received the help they needed, through courageous police, firefighters, doctors and nurses.  Relate stories of bystanders helping those in need as they provided temporary clothing or shelter.

Stick to Your Routine

Children need routine in their lives to reassure them that all is well.  Keeping your normal schedule for school, homework, after-school activities, meals and bedtime will calm and reassure children.

Take Positive Action

Do something constructive with your child in the wake of a tragedy.  Donate pennies or the child’s allowance to a legitimate charity.  Volunteering services together can be a wonderful way to show empathy, both for those affected and for your feelings.  Be sure to ask your child for his or her ideas when planning activities.

Consider Counseling if No Improvement

father comforts son

Children may display normal stress reactions, such as nightmares, tantrums and being clingy.  These should work themselves out over time.  Be sure to take action and reach out for counseling if the symptoms last more than a few weeks.

Recognize When Employees and Students Need Help

Employees and students who are parents deal with these very same issues.  If you or a manager suspects that an employee is struggling with children who are dealing with traumatic events, be sure to make an EAP referral.  An EAP counselor will give guidance as specifically needed.

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Working Parents – Managing Workplace and Parenting Stress

business woman with childEvery morning you scurry around your home preparing your family for the day.  Walk the dog, pack lunches, zipper up the kids’ coats, grab backpacks and run out the door just in time to meet the school bus.  You’re halfway to the office, mentally preparing for your work day, when you realize that you’ve forgotten critical presentation notes at home.

Welcome to the stressful life of a typical working parent.  Being a parent is not easy and can be frustrating and stressful.  But working parents face a double whammy when job stresses intensify parental pressures.

Parenting Stress Affects Work Performance

All jobs have some degree of stress.  Being a parent comes with its own stressors.  Combine the two and you have a recipe for too much stress that can affect job performance.

Parents worry at work even when children are well cared for in school, day care and babysitting arrangements.  In addition to job issues, parents can be preoccupied with concerns such as:

  • business man child working father officeSeparation anxiety and guilt
  • Illness
  • Child care arrangements and transportation
  • Unexpected schedule changes such as school weather-related early dismissal
  • Communication disruptions
  • Babysitting plans for upcoming school holidays and vacations
  • Latchkey children for those old enough to be home alone

The pressure of these stressors can result in distractions and reduced productivity on the job.

Work Stresses Affect Parenting Wellness

You may leave work at the end of the day, but your brain doesn’t.  It’s difficult not to let job stress spill over into your family life.

Children pick up on their parent’s stress which can cause feelings of shame and guilt.  An inability to manage stress can affect all personal relationships.  Compounding workplace stress with typical personal stressors such as financial, marital difficulties, troubled child or illness can add to existing family tensions.

working parents busy balance lifeHow Your EAP Can Help

Workplace stress may cause an employee’s performance to suffer.  He or she may be unable to focus on tasks, and demonstrates poor time management.  Work relationships may deteriorate, particularly team situations.  Health issues may also be present.

If you’ve identified an employee whose work performance is suffering due to parental issues, counsel the manager or supervisor to make an EAP referral.  An EAP professional can:

  • Help identify workplace and parenting stressors
  • Suggest techniques to manage workplace stress
  • Work with the employee to develop a plan to handle family stress, including
    • Daily, short-term and long-term planning
    • Morning routines
    • Day time communications
    • End of day and returning home issues
    • Time management
    • Activities to connect family members

It’s probably impossible to eliminate all stress from our lives, but it should be feasible to manage it.  An EAP professional can assist employees in working through both workplace and parenting stress to help the employee better cope with both.

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April Celebrations

month of april, welcome aprilApril is here, and spring too, although it doesn’t feel like it yet here in the Northeast.  And, although each month has many daily, weekly and monthly observances, the celebrations really blossom during this April.

Of course, we all know that April 1st is April Fool’s Day.  Celebrated in many countries in addition to the U.S., it’s a day to play harmless jokes and pranks on unsuspecting friends and family.  The exact origins of this day are unknown.  The first English written record of tricks on this date is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in 1392.  A word of advice:  plan your jokes early in the day before your victim remembers the date.

April 15 is tax dayA more sobering day is April 15thIncome Tax Day, when Uncle Sam expects his full share of our hard-earned wages.  Why April 15th?  When the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, allowing income tax to be collected, was ratified on February 3, 1913, the first tax returns were due a year later, on March 1, 1914. Later that date shifted to March 15th and then to April 15th in 1955, allegedly to give the IRS more time for their workload.  This year, those affected by Massachusetts’s and Maine’s Patriot’s Day holidays, which also fall on April 15th, get an extra day to file Federal tax returns.

Emancipation Day is celebrated on April 22nd in Washington D.C.  In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, freeing more than 3,000 slaves in the D.C. area nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation.  Several other states also celebrate Emancipation Day holidays on different days.  Fittingly, Jackie Robinson Day, usually celebrated on April 15th, recognizes the April 11, 1947 landmark occasion of the first time that an African American played in a major league baseball game.

April 22 2013 earth dayOn March 21, 1970 (that year’s vernal equinox), the first Earth Day was celebrated in the U.S.  Events in thousands of universities, schools and communities brought more than 20 million Americans to “teach-ins” devoted to raising awareness of environmental issues.  This year, on April 22nd, show your appreciation for our planet by planting a tree, donating time to a local environmental effort, or teaching a child the importance of recycling.

Unusual April Observances

Some April celebrations are both absurd and obscure.  How many of these are familiar?

    • Walk Around Things Day on April 4th, quickly followed by
    • Jump Over Things Day on April 6th
    • Visit a zoo on Zoo Lover’s Day (April 8th)
    • Indulge in your favorite treats on National Eggs Benedict Day, April 16th, and National Pineapple Upside-Down Day, April 20th
    • Be sure to tell the truth on National Honesty Day, as this was our first president’s inauguration in 1789

You can find a comprehensive list of all that April has to offer here.

Month-Long Observances on Children’s Issues

smiling children happyTwo month-long observances center on serious child-related issues.  April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month since 1970.  It’s an opportunity to highlight this developmental disability to build awareness and education.

April is also National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  First established in 1983, the goal of this observance is to build awareness of child abuse conditions through information and updated national statistics of abuse and neglect.

Autism and situations of child abuse are serious issues that many of your students or employees face every day.  Keep in mind the value of an EAP referral to anyone who you believe may need help with these concerns.  An EAP professional is only a phone call away.

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