See the funny side

Happy Diverse Office Workers Team Laughing Together At Group Mee

This week I’m turning my attention to humour and how it generates the positive emotions that can support us through the chaos of the current global pandemic.

In the midst of stress, uncertainty and overwhelm it’s essential for our wellbeing that we focus on the positive. According to Shawn Achor:

“Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative or neutral.”

He calls this the happiness advantage.

Increasing our happiness improves our intelligence, creativity and energy levels. And since our external circumstances only account for 10 per cent of our happiness levels; to become happier we must consciously retrain our brains to scan the world for the positive. Achor suggests we can do this in just 21 days with a range of approaches such as keeping a gratitude journal, exercising and mediating.

One of the quickest ways to generate a positive state is to ask a question that focuses on the positive. And one of the simplest to ask – according to Robyn Stratton-Berkessel – is:

What’s the best thing that happened to you today?

Her TEDx talk demonstrates how focusing on this question elicits a range of positive emotions.

Having fun at work has its advantages. It builds trust, diffuses tension and helps people be more efficient. It can also fuel innovation since both humour and creativity are about making non-obvious connections.

According to Paul Osincup humour can even make us better leaders, although I recommend that women treat this one with caution. It’s been shown to be easier for men to navigate the tricky balance between gravitas and approachability (but that’s a topic for another blog). Even if you’re not currently a leader 75% of your job success can be predicted by your levels of happiness and positivity according to Achor.

Laugh a little

Seeing the funny side of a situation – and being able to laugh about it – is a strategy that’s helped me navigate various stressful circumstances thrown at me by life. And one of my favourite talks on the subject of managing stress with humour is this TEDx talk by Loretta Laroche.

According to researchers laughter is good for us both physiologically and psychologically. It relaxes our bodies and makes us breathe more deeply. According to Sohpie Scott it’s also an essential bonding mechanism that helps us connect with others. Apparently we’re thirty times more likely to laugh in company than when we are on our own.

Women have always instinctively known this. Our natural response to stress is to ‘tend and befriend’. That means we cope by reaching out to others (often our female friends) to talk through our challenges. Very often we find ourselves laughing at the situation as a result.

In these challenging times it can be hard to maintain our sense of humour. When we lose it we risk also losing our power; and feeling like victims rather than creators. If you’re struggling why not join Ida Abdalkhani in a session of Laughter Yoga. For, as she says: we deserve to laugh.

 

 

Essential skills: Negotiation

Business Success Concept With Partner, Partnership Giving Fist B

Being a proficient negotiator has always been a prerequisite for living a balanced life; and in the current challenging climate negotiation skills have become even more important. The precarious work-life juggle many families had been maintaining has all but collapsed as the rug of support is pulled out from under them. Parents are currently working out how to navigate work while looking after children without the help of grandparents – who may themselves need extra help. I suspect there’s a lot of negotiation going on at present so this week I’m sharing some tips for success.

Have a clear picture of what it is you want to agree

Many of us have suddenly been thrust into an unprecedented and complex situation. We need a creative approach to resolving it. In my book I recommend Solutions Focus (a tool from the positive psychology stable) as the means to identifying your desired destination. Take some time to consider what a balanced future would look like for you and your family.

Allow yourself to daydream about the best possible solution within the current constraints you face. Ignore the logical left brain and trust that your creative right brain will show you a solution. Aim to paint a detailed picture of what it looks like to live that solution. The clearer you are on where you’re trying to get to, the easier it will be to share that vision with others; and to identify the steps you need to take to get there.

Aim for a win-win outcome

It’s always easier to negotiate when you know what’s in it for the other party and work with them to achieve a win-win outcome. If you’re living in a dual parent household it’s likely your partner will also be feeling challenged to find the right balance. There’s plenty of evidence that younger fathers in particular are keen to get more fully involved in family life; so now’s the time to renegotiate what that might look like.

I realise many businesses are struggling, but this is also an apt moment to remind  employers we all have a life outside of work; and we need their help to maintain the juggle. Specifically you may want to ask for clarity on the outputs expected of you at this time; and when your employer needs you to deliver these.

Negotiation is a journey, not a battle

In my work I suggest to clients that they view negotiation as an ongoing conversation, rather than an argument to be resolved on the basis of a single exchange. We’ve all found that things which seem logical in theory don’t always work in practice. As you agree adjustments to working and living arrangements you will learn what works and what doesn’t. And then you’ll need to negotiate further adjustments. In the long run you’ll be more effective; but in the short run there will be a lot of course-correcting going on.

Simplify

Albert Einstein reportedly said: everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler (although he didn’t exactly use those words!). It’s a great dictum to live by. The simpler the arrangements, the more likely we are to uphold them. Things may change in the future – let go of the need to know all the outcomes in advance. Focus on the present and on making small adjustments as you go.

Many of us are currently facing the challenge of navigating to get our needs met while also meeting the needs of those around us. As we’re forced to re-think the way we live and work we also have an unprecedented opportunity to rebalance our lives.

Working from home

Text Sign Showing Home Sweet Home. Conceptual Photo In House Fin

One optimistic notion emerging from the current global pandemic crisis is that employer attitudes to homeworking will shift permanently as a result. I’m tempted to share this optimism but years of experience suggest that once the panic is over it’s more likely that many employers will breathe a sigh of relief; then order everyone back to the office claiming that while homeworking was great in addressing the emergency it’s not feasible as a permanent arrangement.

In order to convince employers otherwise it’s essential we demonstrate how successful working from home has been. So here are my tips for ensuring homeworking is a success for you; and provides your employer with the confidence to allow the arrangement to continue once the current panic is over.

  1. Ensure you and your team are very clear on what outputs are expected and in what timescales.
  2. Don’t get too hung up on exactly when the work is being carried out; but do ensure you have agreed deadlines – especially where the work of one team member depends on the outputs of another.
  3. Make sure everyone understands and is capable of using the technology. In the office it’s easy to ask a co-worker how to do something, less so when working remotely. If some of your team are less experienced consider buddying them up with another team member that has more technical expertise.
  4. Agee touch points during the day and week when you will make contact – either with individuals or as a team. And agree some core times when people can be contacted. This will overcome the frustration of not being able to reach someone; and the lack of trust that can arise. Remember that even in the office people can be away from their desks.
  5. If you move meetings online aim to keep them short. Attention spans are more likely to be reduced when just sitting and listening; and you cannot always tell if someone is engaged or distracted and multi-tasking.
  6. If you’re chairing the meeting; or indeed even catching up with individual members of staff by phone work to improve your listening skills. You may hear concern or hesitation in someone’s voice even if you cannot see their face.
  7. Remember to take regular breaks. Without office based interruptions work can become intensified.
  8. Look after your physical health. Hours spent crouched over a laptop in the kitchen or dining room can lead to musculoskeletal problems. Check your employer’s Health &Safety guidelines, stretch occasionally and walk around.
  9. Establish and protect your boundaries. It’s easy when working from home to get distracted. It’s also easy for others to assume you’re free to be interrupted. Make sure people know when you’re working and when they can interact with you.
  10. If you’re interested in upgrading your remote working skills check out the e-worklife site. Hosted by Coventry University it provides evidence based information and support.

Above all stay safe and remain mindful of more vulnerable members of your community. Enforced home working was not the way I saw us #rebalancing in 2020 but it does provide us with an opportunity to reconsider the way we live and work.

Opening up real career choices for women

IWD hashtag

What’s the thing that’s had the biggest impact on your career so far?

It’s a question I was asked on Friday. With International Women’s Day fast approaching I had the privilege of sharing a platform with two amazing speakers as we shared our insights into how we can all empower women’s progress at work.

Unsurprisingly my focus was on how too many working women currently hold themselves back, settle or leave the corporate world. When they become mothers the struggle to find work-life balance can become overwhelming. One of the spinning plates needs to be dropped and it’s highly likely it’s going to be the career one. Research evidence is increasingly showing women holding back from promotion; compromising by accepting any job that offers reduced hours, regardless of whether it plays to their talents or not; or being seduced into thinking that mumpreneur is a better career choice.

I talked about how employers remain ambivalent in their attitude to working mothers. While many have flexible working policies which ostensibly support better balance there’s very little follow through. In the UK uptake of flexible working has stalled for the past ten years as corporate cultures continue to force a choice between career progression or balance. Research has shown that grateful mothers granted the concession of flexible hours are now undertaking a ‘triple shift’ of work followed by childcare and rounded off with more work once the children are in bed. The mothers end up exhausted; yet only half of employers care enough to have a formal work-life balance policy.

I also talked about how previous generations of women had been at the forefront of pushing for workplace change. I shared a model that demonstrated how change started at grassroots level when large numbers of women entered workplaces in the last quarter of the 20th Century. They found themselves butting up against cultural expectations and working practices that failed to acknowledge their dual responsibilities as parents and workers. So they pressed for childcare support and the beginnings of flexible working arrangements to help with the juggle. Formal HR policies (and legislation) came later.

Those early workplace pioneers had few choices but to stay and change the system. As I write this on International Women’s Day I want to acknowledge and applaud their efforts which contributed so much to the progress women have made at work so far. They showed a determination we need to reclaim.

Facilitated by technology today’s working women seem to have many more options. In reality they have no more choices; although employers often ignore that reality.

It’s hardly a choice when a woman leaves her job because she’s been told all managerial roles must be worked full time and the resulting mental pressures are having a negative impact on her well being. It’s hardly a choice when a woman is forced to accept a more junior role as the prerequisite for working less than full time hours.

To open up real choice – I told my audience – we must take matters into our own hands and redesign our jobs. So that we can be both productive and live more balanced lives. It’s one way we can all be #EachforEqual and make things better for the generations that follow.

Returning to the question with which I began this blog: my response was that my career changed when I embraced my power. Given the way powerful women are pilloried on social media; and the fact that I rarely consider myself a powerful woman it felt uncomfortable to say. But the reality is we are all powerful beings; and we can all contribute to leaving the planet a better place than we found it. So this week, as we continue our rebalance journey I encourage you to embrace your power and see where it takes you.

Work-life balance, flexible working and men

Portrait of a Hispanic middle-aged business man smiling and look

My plan had been to finish off the topic of flexible working last week and turn my attention to other issues we need to consider as we #rebalance2020. Then I found myself thinking about International Women’s Day which is coming up next weekend. This year’s theme is #EachForEqual – a call to every one of us to strive for a gender equal world.

In the workplace flexible working is a key factor in achieving gender equality at all levels of seniority. And the relationship of men to flexible working is a complex one.

Many younger men are keen to embrace flexibility, both to suit their own life interests and to help them balance work and family when the time comes. Unsurprisingly those who do are finding themselves experiencing the same prejudices that women have. Namely: the unspoken assumption that wishing to work flexibly shows lack of career commitment; and is certainly not something that can be accommodated at senior levels. Men too are experiencing the challenges created by inflexible and outmoded corporate cultures.

There is however, another group of men that has the power to change these inflexible and outmoded practices. That’s the male managers who often find themselves faced with flexible working requests.

I’ve no wish to imply men deliberately get in the way. It’s simply that as hard-pressed managers who may have very little (if any) training in how to manage flexible workers the temptation is to refuse a request without discussion. If you’re faced with this potential scenario I’d like to offer some advice.

1 Start with the right question

That’s not “can I work flexibly” but “tell me about your experiences of flexible working”. Find out if your manager has ever worked flexibly himself; and whether he’s previously managed flexible arrangements. Follow up by asking who he knows within the organisation or in the industry that is a good manager of flexible workers, These questions will help you understand your manager’s concerns; and identify who might be able to lend you a supportive hand.

2 Think about what’s in it for him

I’m assuming you’ve figured out your business case; so how does that benefit him? Is it a simple case of he gets to keep you as an employee so his time is not tied up in recruiting a replacement? Or does it go further in that switching your hours will – for example – make you more productive or more available to a currently under-served segment of your customer base?

3 Create a compelling vision of a better future

Rather than focusing on allaying concerns raised as a result of your initial questions; use positive psychology to co-create a vivid picture of how the new arrangements might look when working well; and the benefits this will create.

Evidence suggests that in the workplace the majority of men ‘want to do the right thing’ but are not always clear on what it is. Rather than assume it would be pointless, I encourage you to start a conversation and see where it leads. You might not only re-balance your own life; but also find yourself contributing to establishing a more gender balanced corporate world.

Ten tips for negotiating a flexible schedule

Funny Baby Girl In Glasses Reading A Book In A Library

Throughout February I’ve been focusing on various aspects of flexible working since it’s a key tool for many in their search for better balance. One of the most complex aspects seems to be negotiating a flexible schedule that suits both you and your employer. In this post as the month closes I’m sharing ten tips for success.

  1. Be very clear on your business case from the outset. Spend some time thinking about the tangible (i.e. costs and time) benefits and the less tangible ones (e.g. improved productivity when you’re living a more balanced life).
  2. Identify the flexible arrangement that’s most suitable for your needs and the type of job you have. If you need help to do this you can download my free workbook. Aim for some flexibility in your thinking rather than being rigid in your requirements from the outset (I recognise this can be difficult if external childcare arrangements are involved). This will give you some ‘wiggle room’ if your manager rejects your initial request as unworkable.
  3. But don’t fall into the trap of being too flexible in your efforts to show how grateful you are that your request has been granted. Without boundaries around your flexible working agreement you risk finding yourself always available for work while your new arrangement slowly erodes beneath you.
  4. Do some research before you start negotiating. In most organisations there’s plenty going on under the radar. Identifying allies who can support you in your quest for flexibility and role models who are pioneering change will make you confident you have a strong case.
  5. Focus on the positive. Your initial request may be met with a negative response. It’s easy to get defensive and the situation quickly spirals downwards. Instead ask positive questions that help you and your manager explore possibilities. What would balanced working look like? Not just for you but also for your entire team and your manager. What would need to happen for that to become a reality?
  6. Keep in mind that any negotiation is a series of small steps. Gradual change with minimal impact on the lives of those around you is easier to implement. Small steps stop you feeling overwhelmed; and mean you can make adjustments as you go along – so you’re always course correcting towards success.
  7. Recognise it’s down to you. The combination of your job role and your life circumstances makes your situation unique. So you’ll have to take charge, figure out what you need, connect with your power and find the confidence to go for it.
  8. Recognise you’re likely to be a pioneer – which may bring up challenges for you. If you’ve lined up those role models and champions; and if you’re clear on your business case you’ll find more confidence to step into this leadership role.
  9. Trust yourself. You’ve got this. You’re a better negotiator than you think you are. Relax, be more playfuland explore the options open to you. Finding balance is a journey not a destination.
  10. Good luck – you’re ready to go. And if you find you need further support from me check out my new VIP day coaching offer.

I trust you’ll find these steps a useful summary. I’ll be writing more on some of these topics in the coming months as we continue our journey to #rebalance 2020.

#AlwaysOn is NOT flexible working

Outdoor Electricity Switch Used To Turn On Or Turn Off The Outsi

The same technologies that have enabled people to combine work with caring responsibilities are increasingly blurring the boundaries between the two – with negative consequences for our health and well-being.

There was a time – although it’s hard to remember now – when we had a clear separation between work and other aspects of our lives. Towards the end of the last century things began to change as employers increasingly offered ‘flexible working’ schedules. Initially driven by family friendly policies, flexible working is still seen as the panacea for parents who want to combine work with family. As more and more mothers return from maternity leave the demand for flexible schedules continues to rise. At the same time many employers are re-branding their arrangements as agile – allowing work to be carried out any time, any where.

In reality many of us are feeling pushed to work all the time and everywhere. This is leading to the growth of an #AlwaysOn culture and the consequent negative impact on well-being. Mothers in particular are often so grateful for the ‘concession’ of being able to work flexibly they routinely blur their boundaries. It’s their way of showing commitment to career while trying to meet the high standards demanded of them as parents. The result – as Dr Christine Grant has found – is women exhausted by the triple shift of work then childcare followed by more work once children are asleep. A further risk – identified by Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek – is that blurred boundaries can lead to ‘job creep’ resulting in overwork. As we all know work expands to fill the hours we devote to it!

My point here is to remind you that #AlwaysOn working is not balanced working and should not be confused with well managed flexible working.

How do we make sure our flexible arrangement results in balanced working?

I’ve already written about boundaries earlier this year since boundary management is – in the words of Professor Ernst Kossek – an essential competency for personal and life effectiveness. As an aside, she maintains that effectively managing boundaries not only improves your work-life balance but can also help you be more effective as a leader who manages others.

While the way we set and manage boundaries comes down to personal preference, making a start by putting in some micro-boundaries is likely to improve most people’s work-life balance. Creating those micro-boundaries is down to you. Research has shown that less than half of UK workplaces offer employees any guidance on managing #AlwaysOn technology; and even fewer have a work-life balance policy.

Maintaining boundaries requires mindfulness and self-responsibility. It’s all too easy to fall prey to workplace cultural expectations that say we must always be available to colleagues. And, of course, there are our own expectations that we must be seen to be ‘flexible’ (i.e. always responsive) as our part of the employment bargain. Getting into this frame of mind risks compromising our health and well-being, as well as our relationships with the important people in our lives.

As we work to #rebalance in 2020, let’s drop the guilt and cultivate a belief that to be our best selves and do our best work we’re entitled to a balanced life.