Their work is never done: Tips for helping your employees reduce stress

In the U.S., white-collar employees work 50 hours or more each week.  That doesn’t include the hours people hang around the office so their boss can’t see when they are checking e-mail or social media.

Additionally, American workers don’t take as much vacation time as some other countries.  Surprisingly, one quarter of American workers are employed at companies that don’t offer vacation time.  Those that do offer vacations provide an average of 10 to 14 days a year, but many employees don’t use it all or they take work with them.  As a result, it feels like work is never done.

Employees return from vacation more productive and happier.  And companies that measure performance, rather than counting long hours of face time, say they see the benefits of vacation time.

Surveys of manager and CEOs and compensation studies, show that employers reward employees who come in early, eat lunch at their desk, stay late and have no life outside of the office.  The same survey also indicates that American workers are burned out, disengaged and getting sick from so much work.

In addition, modern workers are interrupted seven times every hour and are distracted up to 2.1 hours a day.  And four of 10 people working at large companies are experiencing a major corporate restructuring and, therefore, facing uncertainly about the future.  This may be why more than 40 percent of adults say they lie awake at night plagued by stressful events of the day.

What can your organization do to help workers feel less stress?

The best approach to reducing job stress is asking managers to lead by example.  Managers should encourage and lead employees in stress-relief activities, such as walking, healthy eating and laughing.

Conduct employee satisfaction surveys on a regular basis.  Find out exactly what is stressing your employees.

Many ideas never bubble up because of a silo approach to work and corporate hierarchies.  Some fixes are simple:  flexibility, considering alternate work hours and creating a culture that rewards efficiency.  Others have to do with helping workers handle stress.  Companies have to be willing to deal with the source of the stress workplace culture, rigid work hours or the expectation of long hours in the office.

Tips employees can embrace to eliminate or reduce stress

  • Act rather than react – Identify the aspects of a situation you can control and aspects you can’t.  Typically, you are in control of your actions and responses, but not in control of outside forces or someone else’s tone.
  • Take a deep breath – If you feel overwhelmed or are coming from a tense meeting and need to clear your head, a few minutes of deep breathing will restore balance.
  • Eliminate interruptions – Most of us are bombarded during the day.  Emails, phone calls, pop in’s, instant messages and sudden, urgent deadlines which make today’s workers more distracted than ever.  While you may not have control over the interrupters, you can control your response.  Respond in one of three ways:  Accept the interruption, cut it off, or diagnosis its importance and make a plan.  Many interruptions are recurring and can be anticipated.  You can also train those around you by answering email during certain windows, setting up office hours to talk in person or closing the door when you need to focus.
  • Schedule your day for energy and focus – Schedule breaks throughout the day to walk, stretch at your desk or do a breathing exercise.  Try to work in pulses – 90 minute periods of focused work without the distractions of e-mail or telephone – and be mindful about what your priorities are.
  • Eat right and sleep well – Eating badly will stress your system and when you’re not sleeping well, you’re not rejuvenating.  Eat a low-sugar, high-protein diet.  If you have trouble falling asleep, or you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, try a simple breathing technique:  Cover your right nostril and breathe through your left for three to five minutes.
  • Positive thinking – This has been shown to increase a person’s life span, lower rates of depression, improve coping skills during hardship and even provide greater resistance to the common cold.

Sources:   SHRM.org and Forbes

 

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Debbie Strahle, Partnership Manager

Consider its purpose before using an employee severance agreement

The use of severance agreements has increased over the past several years, particularly with the recent economic downturn.

In some cases of involuntary separation, employers choose to enter into severance agreements with employees to avoid potential litigation.  The idea behind the severance agreement is that an employee receives something of value to them which they would not otherwise be entitled to (usually additional compensation or benefits). In return, the employee makes a written agreement not to sue his/her employer.

While the premise of a severance agreement may sound like a viable option if you have an employee you are considering terminating, they are not right in every situation. There are legal considerations you should review before using such an agreement:

  • The employee must receive something in exchange for the release (typically, a sum of money) and that offering must be included in the release.  Keep in mind that if you normally offer a severance package to employees that do not sign a release, you must offer something additional to employees that do sign.
  • An employee cannot be forced to sign a severance agreement.  As an employer, all you can do is offer the agreement.  A court will not enforce the release if they find that the employee was coerced.
  • You must be clear about the rights the employee is waiving in the agreement.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has argued that, in some cases, a severance agreement unlawfully interferes with the employee’s ability to communicate with the EEOC regarding potential discrimination.
  • The age of the employee can impact the content and potential risk of using the severance agreement.  If the employee is age 40 or older, they receive special protections under the Older Workers’ Benefits Protection Act: This agreement must contain specific language regarding legal counsel and there is a mandatory allotment of time for the agreement to be signed and revoked by the employee.

BCN Services can assist you in determining whether or not a severance agreement should be used for your particular employee situation as well as drafting and execution of the agreement.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

 

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Alicia Jester, Manager Benefits and Payroll

Safe driving tips for employees, employers and others

The daily commute is a reality for many of us who must drive to-and-from the office. Whether it is a short trip of several minutes or a lengthy commute of many miles, getting there and back safely is an important part of our day. The winter months can be exceptionally challenging.

Losing control of a car is undoubtedly one of the most frightening experiences behind the wheel.  Unfortunately, it is a potential side effect when the temperatures turn cold and the roads get slick.

One of the most dangerous winter driving hazards is skidding, which, at high speeds, could result in a nasty crash.  To prevent an unnecessary skid, slip or accident, consider the following accident prevention techniques:

  • Slow down ahead of turns and curves, allowing you to prepare for potential icy spots.
  • When approaching a curve, apply power slightly to the gas and steer steadily.  Do not change direction abruptly and refrain from sudden braking.
  • Plan ahead for lane changes.
  • Check your rearview mirror and blind spot, and then use your signal to alert other motorists.
  • When changing lanes, move over in a long, gradual line with minimal steering changes.
  • Watch for ice patches, piles of wet leaves and shady areas which can be skidding hazards.
  • Anticipate stops by slowing gradually, well ahead of intersections.  These areas are generally more slick than other parts of the road because of starting and stopping traffic.
  • Drive at reduced speeds.
  • Slow your speed and increase the following distance to the vehicle in front of you.  This will allow for a larger buffer in case you lose control.
  • Avoid overpowering in deep snow.
  • Use light foot on the accelerator (rather than slamming on the gas to move forward).

If your car starts to skid, do not panic.  Steer in the direction that the vehicle is sliding until you feel the wheels regain traction.  Then slowly straighten your wheels and keep rolling.  If you need to brake before your tires regain traction, apply the brake carefully and don’t  lock your brakes.

As you know, using cell phones while driving is a source of distraction, and even more so during the winter months.  The National Safety Council estimates 28 percent of car crashes (or about 1.6 million per year) involve cellphone use at the time of the crash.  Drivers who use cellphones are four times as likely to be involved in a car crash.  Talking and texting on the phone when driving is dangerous and is compounded during winter.  Don’t take the chance.

Be safe on the road, whether driving for work or pleasure.

 

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Patrick Boeheim, Risk Manager

5 ways to help your employees beat the winter blues

Once the holiday season is over, you may notice a drop in company cheer that was felt just a few weeks earlier.  We start to feel the burden of several more, long, sometimes unbearable, months of winter looming ahead.  Personally, you struggle to keep up your own spirits.

How can you lift your staff’s spirits when you’ve got the winter blues yourself?  Here are a few ideas to help create some energy in your office/workplace, and to drive away some of the winter humdrums that are trying to settle in:

Sunlight!  Lack of this precious commodity during the winter is a major factor leading to the winter blues.  Most jobs have standard business hours which means your employees leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark. Try to make daylight more accessible to them.  Encourage group lunches where employees can get outside and bond on nice days or arrange more official luncheons out.  If the whole department can’t go together, mix it up from week to week.

When weather permits, hold your morning “touch base” meetings outside.  Tell everyone to bundle up as you head outside to breathe in some fresh air before the workday begins.  Or have a mid-day stretch outside by taking 15 minutes to walk around the building and talk about what’s going on that day.  And on those few-and-far-between sunny days, get them outside to feel the sun on their faces, if even for 5 minutes.

Vacations!  Pass around the company calendar and ask staff to start thinking about vacations they will take during the year whether traveling to the Caribbean, to another continent, or staying at home listening to music.  Try to get your staff excited about better days (and better weather!) to come.  Everyone likes to dream about the days when the dark and snow don’t engulf their lives.  Get their minds, if not their bodies, into warmer environments!

Coffee!  It’s no secret that employees, whether in an office or manufacturing environment, love their coffee.  Also, coffee gets people motivated!  If you’ve still got that old coffee maker in the break room, buy your employees a Keurig machine (or a comparable one-cup maker) to get some excitement brewing. Host coffee swaps in the break room every week or two.  Those who don’t drink coffee can brew tea or make hot chocolate with a one-cup maker.

Clean your work area!  There’s a belief that employee performance improves when they keep their work area clean and organized.  Have a contest to see who can create the most improved work environment.  Then have employees vote for their favorite and give away a nominal prize to the winner.  Employees that are already neat and organized can team up with others to help them in their quest for the most-improved work station.

Make them aware of local classes!  Have a representative from a local community college visit to talk about class offerings.  Your employees may discover a new hobby, opt to start/finish a degree, or learn a new craft.  Instead of going home, getting into their pajamas and sinking further into the blues, motivate them to enroll in a class to keep them busy through the winter.

We all suffer through winter every year, and we all come out winners.  It’s the rough road in between that can get us down.  Hopefully some of these ideas will help you shake things up at your workplace.

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Frank Lewandowski, Partnership Manager

Resolve to improve productivity in 2015 with these 5 simple strategies

Now is the time of the year where every website, magazine or television show has their annual take on resolutions for the New Year.  BCN Services has compiled its own list from various sources around the web and what has worked for us, as well.

The key to successful resolutions is threefold: having a plan, reviewing the plan and making necessary adjustments to the plan throughout the year.  The suggestions listed below are simple and cost-effective things to implement and, hopefully, will have a positive impact on your business success in 2015.

  1. Plan out each day.  There is an ongoing debate in business coaching about whether it is better to plan your day the night before or first thing in the morning.  Either way, the important thing is to make a plan.  A great way to get started is to identify the top five things that will make the day a success and outline when and what needs to be accomplished.  Another key tip, is to be specific.  Research shows that the more specific you are with plans and goals the more often you will them.
  2. Get control of your email.  We hear complaints about managing email from clients all the time.  Everyone has increased access to email, texting, and data in general with the proliferation of smartphones, and tablets. Several studies have shown people who schedule email management time with beginning and end times are more productive and less stressed than those who reach for their email constantly or whenever they hear an email notification.  Another great tip: Code your emails based on urgency, action needed and/or if others needs to be involved.
  3. Meeting management.   Employees everywhere complain about too many meetings, nonproductive meetings and meetings that last too long.  Here are some tips to alleviate meeting madness:
    1. Always have an agenda and distribute it ahead of time.
    2. Set a specific time limit and stick to it.  Several Fortune 1000 companies have started limiting meetings to 15 minutes.
    3. A more radical idea that has become popular is to only have meetings where everyone stands to energize and shorten meetings.  Research has shown that this keeps employees focused and on point.
  4. Motivate employees.  A motivated workforce can move mountains and improve overall morale.  Employees are more motivated when they have clear goals, when collaboration is welcome and when they are not micromanaged.  Work with employees to set clear goals they understand and allow them to have a say in the goal, why it is important and plan for rewards or consequences goal if a goal is not achieved.
  5. Recharge.  Americans waste more vacation and paid time off than any other country.  Everyone, including owners, managers and employees need to time to recharge their batteries, sharpen the saw and reflect.  Encourage employees to take time and make sure that you do as well.

All of us at BCN Services wish you and your staff a safe and successful 2015!

 

 

Rick Dyer (200x193)

Rick Dyer, Vice President of Sales