Winning and keeping the bright stars of today requires and understanding of the shift in values and changing expectations to today’s workforce. Some of the key elements in attracting and retaining your top talent are:
* Offering a flexible way to work that allows for personal and professional work/life balance. Time spent on the job in a year has increased by 163 hours in the last 20 years, which equates to about one month per year, while our leisure time has declined by about 30%. More and more entry-level professionals are willing to give up salary in exchange for less work hours to help balance their lives. Some research indicates that it is possible to cut turnover by 50% by introducing such programs as: eldercare programs, flextime, alternate work schedules, dependent care leave, counseling, childcare subsidies, commuter subsidies.
* Tie your organizational mission to a deeper meaning so workers can gain a deeper sense of cause and meaningful work. Many employees want to make a difference more than anything – it comes up near the top of many motivational surveys. Create a sense of community among workers by giving them time to be a part of something other than their job position.
* Allow for socializing, learning, volunteering, chairing teams, and setting up your environment to compel integration of all workers and allow for interaction and brainstorming. One high-tech engineering firm in Virginia hosts Technology Tuesdays with free lunch and learn sessions on the latest gadgets or techno stuff. They also offer cookies and milk on Wednesday afternoons so employees can take a break and gather around for a quick break. One financial services company allows workers a certain number of hours off per quarter to volunteer for their favorite community cause.
* Offer personal and professional development at all levels. Allow employees to choose the training they think would benefit them and the company most. Give access to training catalogs and let them choose or work it out with their budgets so they get to decide what to cut if something else is important enough to attend. When people feel valued, they stick around. That goes with customers, employees, and personal relationships. When we don’t feel valued, understood, and listened to – we walk.
Seek inspiring words from great speakers, mentors, trainers, celebrities, sports figures, business gurus, books, or other role models that you admire. Glean wisdom from them on how they acquired their spark, their position, their wealth, their notoriety, or their circumstance. Be a student of life and constantly be aware of the process of continuous improvement.
We are also role models for all those around us – we are part of their environment, so watch your words and actions which affect the energy of others. Who do you admire? What can you learn from them and how can you learn more? What things do you want in your life and who already has those things or is doing the things that you want to do? Find out how they did it to help you figure out your path. There is more than one way to success and by gaining different perspectives and then figuring out the unique way those perspectives fit your life, you are well on your way to becoming a quotable role model for others who will heed your words of wisdom.
I catch myself stating the phrase “You learn something new every day”. Instead of letting serendipity invigorate you by chance, take the reins and seek out adult education classes, recreation courses, meaningful conversations with inspiring people, fascinating books, or interesting Internet websites. Besides having fun and learning a new skill, you will meet the nicest people.
Discovery and knowledge keeps you young, interested, and interesting. Continuous improvement keeps you vibrant, vital, and tuned into the world as well as into yourself. Once your mind is stretched, it will never be the same. What have you learned today? It really is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Life long learning also implies that we learn our life lessons from the compilation of our experiences so we don’t waste our precious energy spinning our wheels and repeating life lessons over and over before we get it.
Once we recognize certain recurring themes in our lives as our life lessons, then we can spend our energy solving the issue and move on to other things instead of spending our energy on the same thing over and over again. Why not be a fast learner and save some of your emotional energy for new lessons down the road. What are the recurring circumstances in your life? What are the arguments, discussions, or power struggles that keep creeping up in your life? Are you learning from these so you can free up your energy to be put to better uses? Try seeking out some aha moments in the near future.
Sometimes our personal or professional lives spiral out of kilter, or the demands on us at work or at home are overwhelming, or there just isn’t a good fit for us anymore. At those times when the heat is turned up and we are moving at the speed of light just to keep up, or just get by without going crazy, here are some tips to understand burnout and how to deal with it.
We move through four basic stages of burnout:
- Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion (emotional takes up most of the space on the exhaustion scale)
- Shame and doubt about yourself, your decisions, or that you aren’t enough or a good fit
- Cynicism and callousness about your situation, sometimes anger or similar energy
- Failure, helplessness, and crises mode when we feel our situation is getting the best of us and we can’t concentrate, nor move forward like we used to
Once we recognize we are either rusting out or burning out, we need to take steps to rectify the situation before it cripples us. It starts by recognizing the stress you’re under, why it’s happening, and listening to your body if it starts to break down such as more accidents, more sickness or allergic reactions, more joint and muscle pain, and general lethargy or depression. Taking action while we still feel strong and capable of dealing with the situation will stop the burnout faster than if we wait until we are incapacitated by our mental, emotional, or physical state. Moving forward while we are still in a position of power to do so is much more likely to start the inertia than if we wait until we are in a weaker state where we may not have the courage, stamina, or resourceful thinking to gain momentum out of the burnout phase.
If you find yourself burning out, here are some steps to ward off the fire:
* Enlist the support of family, friends, and colleagues, especially if they have been in that situation before
* Practice the art of self-care – be adamant about creating time for yourself to clear your mind, be good to yourself, take care of your body, and replenish it with good food, exercise, rest, and things you love.
* Get very clear about what it is you’re about, what is your purpose, your ideal day, your vision for your ideal life. If you were brave, what would you do or change or create in your life that isn’t there now? What type of work or living situation would you want if you were being truly authentic to yourself?
* Take some time off to refocus your energies and remove yourself from the stressful situation to get a better perspective.
* Research similar fields or other jobs in your organization or industry if you like the work, but need something to best fit your skills, style, and personality.
* Become more self-aware of your work style, communication style, and personality style and seek a career that best uses your strengths. (I offer the Strength Deployment Inventory ® for those who want to learn more about their motivations behind their behaviors, and their communication and conflict management style.)
* Entertain the thought of retraining, going back to school, or starting your own business doing what you love. Test drive a new venture part time to see where your energy goes.
* Recognize that burnout carries a sense of loss of control or an abandonment of a goal you once had. Sometimes it turns into a sense of hopelessness if it goes on for too long. Avoid burnout by recognize the first signs of restlessness, stress, overwhelm, and agitation. Look at your situation and assess if it is a short-term project or a long-term situation before taking action and keeping cool instead of fuming and fanning the flames of burnout.
It seems that stressful times are the times when our self-care is lacking. It is precisely at these times when we need to be vigilant about eating right, getting enough rest, exercising, laughing, connecting, and making good choices to help us through the stress unscathed. When our resistance is low, we are no longer in the driver’s seat and we lack the energy to take charge. If we let ourselves run down by not guarding our personal energy, then we won’t have the energy to take care of others, our work, or ourselves. And so starts a downward spiral of negative energy that is ever harder to break.
Even when our minds won’t recognize that we need a break, our bodies will take over and put us flat on our backs for as long as it needs to heal itself and recharge. The lesson is to take care of yourself first, or else you won’t be able to take care of anybody or anything else.
We need to plan time for creative renewal on a regular basis and particularly during times of intense focus or stress. Good old rest and relaxation are still vitally important to the mental and physical well being of fighting soldiers. Being emotionally drained affects our performance as much as being physically exhausted. We can be very physically fit and get enough rest and still be emotionally exhausted. Taking time out to decompress is vitally important for our vitality.
Sleep and restful downtime increases your concentration and gives you the stamina you need to fight off sickness or other enemies. Adjust your bedtime rituals to allow for restful, uninterrupted sleep. Avoid exercising, caffeine, or lots of liquids just before bedtime and set a regular time schedule and habits to signal your body that it is time to slow down. Just ask any rotating shift worker how productive or alert they feel in-between rounds.
It’s not easy to conjure up enthusiasm for sex when you’re stressed out, but not having sex can actually lead to a higher anxiety level and it can become a stressor if it is unavailable or unsatisfactory. Building a healthy, intimate relationship with your partner can lead to other types of stress releases and emotional support as well as the physical release. Take the time to refresh and renew yourself regularly to avoid the perils and pitfalls of being overcome by stress.
Learning that we have taken a different heading on our course than we would have liked requires some regrouping and adjusting the helm. Assess the situation, eye your compass, and trim the sails for a new course to aim for the goal. It may take a little longer, but you will end up in the correct port instead of turning back. It is invigorating to know you successfully managed an about-face by regrouping your thoughts and resources.
Still your mind and take time to think about your next move. Sometimes your detour has taken you so far off course that it is difficult to find your way back, or move ahead on the same path you are on. By regrouping and gathering your thoughts and your data, you can better assess where you took a wrong turn and what you need to do to get back on course.
At times we are so over-busy with activity, that we mistake it for productivity or the right livelihood and we end up stressed out and burned out from hurry sickness or random busy work that doesn’t have meaning for us. It takes some quiet time and reflection with thoughtful attention to what is truly meaningful.
If what you are doing in your daily life doesn’t bring meaning and doesn’t bring you closer in alignment with your principles and values, then you need to regroup and move in a different direction. Gather your courage, gather your strength, gather your thoughts, and then gather your support network to help you get the regrouping started and make a new plan. Sometimes others can help us see our way better than we can see it ourselves.
A short time planning your course before you set sail saves a lot more time during the journey in the long run. Taking the time to settle down and regroup will save you from more stressful situations down the road.
An open mind is a good mind. Keep an open invitation to fresh ideas that can be enlightening, inspiring, and energizing. Blow out those cobwebs and entertain thinking that expands your creativity and your perspective. Be curious about life and learn a new or resourceful way of doing things. Continuously look for ways to view the world from another angle, or test-drive activities, foods, ideas, or philosophies that question the way you previously chose to look at the world.
Closed minds and closed eyes are no way to move through the world. Being entrenched in your own stance not only drains your energy, it drains the energy of those around you. You can open your mind and your life to new possibilities just by changing a few words in your vocabulary. Instead of saying “I don’t care” when your spouse or friend suggests an activity or an idea, try saying “I’m open to that”, or “Yes, I’m willing to try that”.
By using phrases of openness, you open yourself up to more possibilities. Avoiding the numbness and locked up feeling of “I don’t care”, helps us tap into our energy and our true intentions. When we get to the lowest levels of “I don’t care”, our soul dies. So open your mind, open your heart, and open your eyes to new adventures and ideas to avoid becoming numb and locked up to new possibilities.
So many motivational and inspirational books are out there, you are bound to stumble across one of the 100,000 books that are printed each year. Burying yourself in a book is a breath of fresh air and perhaps the mental escape you couldn’t physically take. Visit a mega-bookstore, a quaint old used book store, or library and get lost in the aisles and in time while you check out all the different perspectives and topics.
It is said that we don’t necessarily select a book, but a book selects us. So if you don’t have the time and inclination to visit an actual store, let your fingers do the shopping as you click your way through an online dealer and have your selections delivered straight to your door. Select reading over TV-watching and watch your energy increase along with your knowledge.
Some of the research suggests that the average American reads only one book per year, but watches over four hours of television per day. If you don’t want to be average, then do something above average and read more books to expand your horizons, your knowledge, and your interests.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, and it really hit home to me just how much I needed reading material when I first lived in the Colorado Rockies without television and only weekly visits to town and its libraries or bookstores. I then moved to Europe and was without television for another five years. This was in the years before the Internet, and being without access to TV or printed words in English made me very aware of how much I longed for something to read. I would make a list throughout year of the books I wanted to buy when I visited America, and then mail back boxes of them to myself to fill my time and my mind while I was back overseas.
You can become an expert in a chosen field by reading and researching that topic for just 15 minutes per day. Why not start out your day and end your day by reading a few inspirational pages to set positive thoughts in your subconscious before you start your day and before you go to sleep. What books have you read lately? A great book on increasing your personal energy is Vital Energy: The 7 Keys to Invigorate Body, Mind, & Soul by David Simon, MD.
How about giving books or gift cards to book stores as gifts. Giving the gift of knowledge to children or adults is all about enhancing and energizing their life. How about giving a book of blank paper so they (or you) could start your own printed word or write a journal of your hopes, dreams, or reflections. Surrounding yourself with printed words – whether your own or from others lifts your energy and your spirits.
It’s that old balance thing again. Get your priorities sorted out according to what is truly important: people first and then things, people first and then things. It is good for the soul to feed it what it wants, or it will always be hungry no matter what else you give it. Work with your personal energy cycles to be the most productive. For some, this means intermittently switching off between personal and professional tasks throughout the day and inserting personal energy breaks in-between stretches of intense concentration.
For others, it could mean working a night shift if they are night owls and sleeping during the day. For another group it might mean both spouses working part time so they can split the child care and still have time for work, family, and couple time. The advent of flex schedules and compressed workweeks are a great invention to help workers equalize their time by working four days and having three days off. It sure seems more equal than the old five on and two off.
It takes constant attention to how you are balancing your personal or family time with your professional or school time. Whatever your balancing act entails, it takes vigilance and attention to ensure you are in sync and in balance for optimum energy and peak performance.
When we are out of balance and have unequal amounts of time spread between the different areas in our lives, we feel overwhelmed, under great stress, out of focus, out of sorts, and irritated with others. We tend to lose our sense of humor and our sense of control over our time and our lives. When we feel out of control, we feel stress and fear and frazzled. Recognize the signals of being unbalanced and make a plan to equalize your life in the future.
Take note of what circumstances brought you to this unequal place and create steps to get yourself out of there. Sometimes we cannot attain the proper balance over one day; we need to take a look at the week, or even the month. Sometimes circumstances warrant that we need to plow through a project or moment in time with intense focus and only after that time can we opt for better balance. Plan some down time as your reward for getting through this period so you have time to recoup your energies.
Become aware of your natural biorhythms for optimal performance and equalize your time between personal and professional responsibilities. Balance keeps things in perspective and helps you do most things in moderation to keep your energy in check. It’s a constant, conscientious effort to keep all the areas of your life in balance. Awareness is the first step to creating boundaries for your time and energy.
Pre-set your boundaries and know your limits. When demands stretch you towards your ends, you know when to pull back to maintain your balance, your sanity and your energy. Let others know of your boundaries and when they have crossed the line in order to keep your stress levels and your energy in check. n a USA Today survey, 75% of CEOs and 88% of middle managers listed balancing work and family as a major concern. How’s your balance? What are you doing to create more balance in your life? Do you know the signs your body tells you when you are unbalanced?