Frustrated Woman

An American Psychiatric Association survey said 58% of Americans claim that work was a significant stressor in their life. A ComPsych study said employees listed “workload” as the number one reason for stress in the workplace. Some additional reasons were “people issues,” “work-life balance” and “personal issues” that find their way into the workplace.

What can employers do to help ease the stress in their employees’ lives? And more than that, why should they care? As long as the work is getting done, does employee stress affect the workplace?

The answer is yes! Yes, of course, stress can affect the workplace in a negative way. And yes, YES, employers should care. A high stress workplace can lead to issues between employees, poor morale, poor performance, and overall unhappy employees. None of those things are good for your business.

So, what can you do to help ease the stress? Here are a few ways to help:

  • Show employees you appreciate them. Tell them when they do something good, and make them feel like their contribution counts in the larger scheme of things. But be mindful of those employees who may not prefer a public appreciation. Ask employees how they prefer to be recognized, this will do even more to show you appreciate them and care about them.
  • Allow employees flexibility if and when you can. The less they have to worry about who is going to pick up Little Timmy from daycare, the more they can focus on the job in front of them. If a job can be done remotely, allow employees to do that once in a while to avoid a frustrating commute, or just to not have to get ready in the morning; less rush, less stress.
  • Listen. When employees have a problem, or even just a question, pay attention to what they are saying and show them that they are important.
  • Provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Access to services like an EAP can have a huge impact on an employee’s stress level, and it shows you care about the wellbeing of your employees.
  • Encourage wellness beyond health insurance. Offer employee’s healthy snacks in the office, encourage employees to take active breaks like short walks, or offer to partially reimburse gym memberships. All of these things can help to reduce stress and put employees in a better mood.

Employers may not be able to remove workplace stress from their employees’ lives, but there are certainly ways to make work less stressful. By making the workplace more engaging for the employee and offering options to help reduce stress, you can have a positive impact on your employees’ lives.

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Raccoon argument II

I’ve been taught to ask extra questions to get to the core of workplace issues. Sometimes I forget.

Last year, we were providing a two-day supervisor development session for a Cascade member, and the participants got focused on what is a common theme. We were reviewing the biggest challenges for the supervisory team and everybody’s list included “Problems with Communication”. With everything from a head nod to a fist pump, the team conveyed their frustration with communication in their workplace.

But, after all this agreement that a problem existed, a deeper dive revealed a more complex picture. When asked to specifically describe the communication issue that was bothersome, each supervisor had a different story to tell. For some it was connecting with certain employees on the priorities for their department, for others it was inconsistent messages from management. A few talked about how one department or shift failed to let the others know what problems or successes they were having. Another theme was how meeting content was lost from week to week. Then someone brought up emails (cue dramatic music- dom–dom-DOM) and the misunderstandings that they had experienced through email-only communication.

Turns out the “communication issue” was a bunch of things, each affecting the success of the team.

It’s tough sometimes to know exactly what irony is, but it seemed perhaps ironic that under the issue of Communication, we were having trouble communicating what the communication issue was.

Does your workplace have a catch-all word for a problem that turns out to have several layers? It only takes two to miscommunicate. Add departments, shifts, language and culture. Multiply by 10 or 20. Ah, “communication issues”. It may be that these are universal and your challenges may just be a question of degree. In working with our member teams we have found some practical techniques to improve communication in all kinds of workplaces.

Here’s a few suggestions on how to identify, separate, and effectively address some of these important communication issues:

  • One-on-one communication. Teach listening and positive communication skills to all employees. These can be fun and invigorating sessions. Turns out these are skills we can use outside the workplace as well.
  • Effective Meetings. Build in an accepted and positive meeting structure that includes a format for action items, ownership and time frames. Teach accountability best practices. There are a few simple steps that can greatly improve the follow up from team meetings.
  • Cross-department communication. Update your list of stakeholders at least quarterly and assign responsibility for each group to carry the message across shift and between departments. Create a liaison role so someone can monitor improvement and challenges.
  • Strategy and vision. Over-communicate business initiatives and specific elements of strategy. Patrick Lencioni gives a useful overview of how to effectively communicate expected results. Hows and whys seem to make a difference.
  • Business Communication. Teach email etiquette and other workplace best practices for improving connection and understanding.

Lastly, look for employees and supervisors who have a natural strength in getting the message across and encourage them to get involved. Great communicators love to be part of the reconnection strategy.

And when you hear “Communication is a problem around here”, dive a little deeper to find out what it is that your employees are experiencing that could improve. It is then that you can properly action plan each issue.

We love to hear your stories around communication challenges or successes. Please let us know what is working for you.

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Portland OR

The last year had its share of dark times, but periods of volatility, poor returns, economic downturns, and geopolitical chaos are inevitable and, in the end, create the opportunities that allow fundamental strategies to work. Just like water doesn’t instantly vaporize, but instead needs to first boil and churn to transform into rising steam, transitions in capital markets are painfully chaotic in the short term. But this “phase transition,” to borrow a term from physics, is ultimately necessary to move us to a new state. When we do transition to an environment where fundamentals and valuations matter and the distortions we’ve experienced during this market cycle fade to the background, it will be an exciting and rewarding time to be a globally diversified investor again.

Your Market Downturn Toolkit

“Stay the course.” “Stick with your asset allocation plan.” “Focus on what you can control.” Those are worthwhile pieces of advice during market corrections like the one we’ve experienced recently. But they can ring a little platitudinous for some investors. How do they know if the course they’re on is the right course? What if they don’t know what their asset allocations are, let alone whether they’re reasonable? And which factors do they actually control, and how can they control them?

Knocking off the following investment jobs will keep you focused on the big picture and cope with market volatility in a concrete and productive way. Not only will it give you more confidence in your plan — or at least focus your attention on the steps you need to take in order to get it in better shape — but it will also serve to distract your attention from activities that aren’t helpful, like compulsively checking your portfolio balance or the S&P’s minute-by-minute fluctuations.

Job: Check Up on the Reasonableness of Your Stock/Bond Mix

As markets have trended up for the better part of the decade, it has been easy to let equity winners ride. The net effect of that inattention is that untended portfolios have become progressively more equity-heavy and volatile: A portfolio that was 60% stock/40% bond in 2009 is more than 80% stock today. Thus, a key job for investors attempting to see if their portfolios are too risky is to assess their asset allocations. People who are retired or getting closer to retirement can use their own portfolio spending amounts to dictate a sensible asset allocation framework.

Job: See If Your Plan Is on Track

Many investors naturally wonder if an investment downturn is going to be so severe that it derails their plans. Will retirement — which seemed so close just a few short weeks ago — need to wait? Are there any ways to make a save? The gold standard for getting a check on the viability of your plan is to sit down with a fee-only financial planner. There are also plenty of online tools available for DIYers aiming to get their arms around whether their retirement plans are on track. We recommend T. Rowe Price’s Retirement Income Calculator, but it’s worthwhile to sample a range of options. To keep your plan on track on an ongoing basis, an investment policy statement is invaluable. You can customize yours to suit your own needs, but at a minimum, your document should state your investment goals (date, amount, duration), ongoing contribution amounts, basic asset allocation framework, and what qualities you’re seeking in your investments.

Job: Check Up on Investment Quality

After you’ve assessed your portfolio’s asset allocation and viability, take a closer look at the quality of the investments you’ve chosen to populate your plan. Rather than being blinded by short-term gains (or losses), try to focus instead on the big picture. Do your holdings align with the qualities you’ve laid out in your investment policy statement (above)? Is your portfolio as streamlined as it can be, or can you identify redundancies?

Job: Check Up on Your Spending

Investors are often exhorted to focus on what they can control when the markets are uncertain and volatile. At the top of the “In Your Control” list should be your savings and spending rates: How much you are able to invest on an ongoing basis will be by far the biggest determinant of when and whether you reach your financial goals. A strong market and enlarged portfolio balances can stoke a “wealth effect,” making it more comfortable to spend than you otherwise would. If you haven’t done a budget recently, there is a host of online tools and apps for tracking your expenses on an ongoing basis.

Alternatively, you can create a budget the old-fashioned way, using an Excel spreadsheet or other budget worksheet.

Article contributed by Matisse Capital.
For more information contact Dan Sholian
503-210-3002 | Dan@matissecap.com

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Paper Boats

Over the years in our Train the Trainer sessions we have had some of the most remarkable and fun sample trainings. The full-day session is designed to help all trainers, from the novice to the seasoned, sharpen their skills and their content. It is also designed to create a safe environment to try new stuff and practice delivery of a 5-minute sample training.

So, we review adult learning theory, learning styles, the roles of the trainer, and ways to make training stick. When we get to preparing the sample training we, of course, emphasize “Make it Interesting, Make it Memorable.”

Here are a few of the things that participants have come up with, showing that we have some really creative and talented trainers out there.

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly — Right Way vs Wrong Way: This trainer brought in all the necessary ingredients for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, teaching the ways to mess it up along with how to properly make a PB&J. It was memorable because we were encouraged to make mistakes, had a real hands-on experience and, well, who doesn’t like PB&J?
  • How To Get Your Kids Out of the House On a Rainy Day: Essentially, this trainer taught us a simple process on how to fold newspaper into a paper boat. We all learned the skill, and it stuck because he built the “WHY” into the objective statement.
  • Planting a Pea: This trainer also built the “WHY” into an exercise where we all planted a pea in a small cup and set it up to grow. The well prepared instructor showed details about planting depth, nutrients and moisture that stuck with us because we all wanted our little pea to sprout.
  • Tie a Fishing Fly out of Pipe Cleaners: This guy was really stuck at first about what topic he was going to pick for his training. We discussed his personal passions and he jumped on the pipe cleaners, already on the table, as something he could use to demonstrate an important skill. We all tied a large “fly” out of pipe cleaners per his instructions. The fact that he really cared about demonstrating and practicing these fly-tying techniques really came across.

What is really interesting is that these talented and creative trainers often do not know that they are talented and creative. They simply needed a safe and supportive environment to hit their training stride.

If you would like to join our session on February 21, we still have room for a few who want to have some fun and hone their training skills.

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