Ready to redesign your job?

Female Designer Working At Desk In Office And Illustration Of Co

In the UK we’re just entered month three of pandemic lockdown; and until restrictions are lifted and kids return to school we’re gradually adjusting to our ‘temporary new normal’. Two months in we can reflect on opportunities and challenges brought about by changing circumstances. A key thing for many of us has been the recognition that working from home in current conditions means adapting our previous working practices. We’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t. Now’s the time to consider redesigning your job.

In her Alec Rodger Memorial Lecture two years ago Professor Eva Demerouti identified four quadrants of jobs. There are those with low job demands and low resources, which lead to apathy; while those with low demands and high resources result in boredom. Many of us, however, are currently in the third quadrant where we face high demands with low resources; and we’re at risk of burnout. We must move ourselves to quadrant four where high demands are supported by high resources. This is where engagement, satisfaction and wellbeing reside.

Resources are all the things that make us feel more supported and more capable of doing our work. Some – such as external childcare – are currently not open to us; but others are still available. It may have taken us some time to recognise what resources we lack in the new landscape. It could be training on how to navigate technology more efficiently, better feedback from our manager or more support from colleagues. When we focus on making these adjustments for ourselves the small steps add up. A common approach is job crafting.

The concept of job crafting was developed by Professors Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E Dutton. It focuses on the proactive, bottom up approach employees take to adjust their jobs; and it has three aspects. The first, task crafting, is about changing the scope, number and type of tasks that make up a job. The second, relational crafting, is about making improvements by altering the balance of interactions with stakeholders. And the third, cognitive crafting is about reframing how we see those tasks and relationships. Research suggests the best results occur when people use all three together.

You can use the job crafting framework to identify and access more resources; and to reduce the physical and mental demands of your job. The focus is on working smarter rather than harder. Consider the following questions:

  • What are the key tasks I should focus on right now? The ones that will move my job and my employer’s business forward? What are the tasks that take up lots of time with little or no reward? Can I drop these (even if just for now)?
  • Where do I become frustrated in my interactions with others? How might I improve these interactions? Are there people who can help me progress my work more effectively: and am I making best use of their skills and knowledge?
  • How do I currently think about my job? Am I angry and resentful, simply trying to hold on until things improve when I might quit and find more satisfying work? Or am I seeing this as a learning experience and a stepping stone on the path to a more fulfilling career?

According to professor Demerouti job crafting activities rise during periods of change as people embrace the need to adapt. For those not willing to redesign their jobs there’s a higher risk of burnout. This week, take some time to jot down the small adjustments you can make that will lead to you feeling more in control.

To #rebalance 2020 are you ready to redesign you job?

Just breathe

Mixed Race Woman Putting Hands Behind Head Resting Indoors

How’s your breathing?

It seems like a strange question; but what my yoga practice has taught me is that paying attention to my breathing has countless benefits.

Many of us have now spent several weeks hunched over devices in makeshift areas that were never intended to act as home offices. The chances are that our breathing is suffering as a result. And in the current circumstances it’s more than our posture that’s likely to have a negative impact on our breathing. One of my favourite breathing experts is Max Strom who talks about how emotions are stored in the lungs; and how we often breathe poorly in times of crisis. It’s possible you had already gotten into bad breathing habits before the chaos started. And right now who isn’t feeling stressed?

Breathing well has enormous benefits for our physical and emotional wellbeing as health expert Jo DiStefano explains in the first half of his TEDx talk. Good breathing that uses the diaphragm correctly benefits the internal organs, delivers more nutrition to cells and helps the body rid itself of toxins. Breathing poorly on the other hand is as bad for our body as a constant diet of fast food. The shallow breathing that’s a result of stress impacts our heartbeat and blood flow; and leads to hormonal imbalances.

When we’re breathing poorly there’s a risk the brain will respond by putting us into ‘fight or flight’ mode according to psychologist Belisa Vranich. And it seems most of us are breathing poorly; often as a result of changes that occur in our pre-teen years. At that point we begin sitting for long periods; which affects our posture and in turn our breath. Having studied the topic in depth Dr Vranich has developed and teaches her own breathing method. You’ll find a demonstration of some of her breathing exercises in the second part of her TEDx talk.

So: improving our breathing can have a massive impact on our wellbeing. A favourite breathing technique of mine is Heart Focussed breathing developed by the HeartMath Institute. It’s simple, quick and effective at moving us from negative to positive emotions. If you’re intrigued you’ll find a quick explanation by Dr Carla Stanton here.

We stumble across better breathing techniques in many ways. Perhaps we experience health problems (such as asthma) or learn them in preparation for childbirth. Or perhaps (like me) a yoga practice led you there. Even when we know better, it’s easy to overlook the importance of breathing well. But given the challenges we all currently face you owe it to yourself to take a short break from whatever device you’re using, sit comfortably and just breathe. Make good breathing a habit that will literally last you a lifetime.

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.

 

 

Making better decisions

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When our lives fall out of balance our decision making will suffer. Psychologists Irving Janis and Leon Mann developed a theory of decision making under stress which describes five patterns of coping behaviour dependent on the degree of decisional conflict and stress involved. It seems that both extremely low and extremely high stress levels lead to poor decision making while moderate levels of stress are more likely to result in carefully made decisions.

In Janis & Mann’s first scenario no decisional conflict is perceived and little or no stress experienced. The individual complacently chooses to continue with a current course of action while ignoring any information about potential risks or losses.

The second scenario arises where an individual reacts to a challenge or threat by precipitously switching to a new course of action without giving the matter much thought. Her strategy is the uncritical adoption of whichever new course of action she considers most relevant, or has been most strongly recommended to her.  Again, the belief that no risk is involved means there is no conflict regarding alternative choices and accordingly little or no stress.

The third scenario occurs when a person believes there are serious risks involved both in staying with a current course of action and in moving to a new one.  A state of decisional conflict arises, compounded by pessimism about finding a good solution to the dilemma. The individual then attempts to reduce this distressing emotional state by one of three strategies collectively labelled ‘defensive avoidance’:

  • Procrastination enables her to postpone the decision, turning her attention away from the conflict to other, less distressing matters.
  • Shifting responsibility to someone else (buckpassing) enables her to evade the dilemma and provides her with a handy scapegoat should the decision turn out poorly.
  • Inventing fanciful rationalisations in support of one of the alternative choices she wards off stress by selectively attending to only the good aspects of that alternative and by ignoring negative information about it.

In the fourth scenario the stress is further increased by the severity of risk inherent in competing courses of action. The decision maker believes a better solution might be found, but also that she has insufficient time to search for and evaluate that solution – compounding her distress. She adopts a strategy of ‘hypervigilance‘, impulsively seizing a hastily contrived solution which appears to offer immediate relief and overlooking the full implication of her choice. In its most extreme form, this state of hypervigilance looks like panic.

The fifth scenario – considered the optimum by Janis & Mann – is one of vigilance. The decision-maker is in a state of mental conflict since she recognises there are serious risks associated with the competing alternatives.  However, she is also able to confine the stress surrounding her decision-making to moderate levels, confident that she will find an adequate solution and believing she has adequate time to do so.

What can you do if you recognise the behaviour described in scenarios two to four either in yourself or in your work colleagues? Firstly, you need to realise that the very stresses which are causing faulty decision making are also likely to inhibit the recognition that someone is under extreme stress. Following a good stress management routine will help.

Secondly, recognise that time pressures increase the stress in decision-making.  However, it’s the perception of having too little, rather than the amount of time itself, which is important. Tell yourself that you have enough time; and if you genuinely feel this is not the case then ask those who are waiting for your decision(s) for an extension.

Finally, try not to be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect, and nobody can predict exactly how a complex decision will turn out. Recognise that even with a strategy of vigilance you may not always get it right. And keep in mind the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt who observed that “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything“.