5 talent trends to watch in 2020

Although 2020 is a new year, talent may still seem very comparable. Certain talent trends may rise to the surface regarding their importance. Read this article to learn about the five talent trends to watch for in 2020.


2020 may herald a new year (and decade), but today's talent trends will likely seem familiar.

Employer branding, diversity and inclusion, empowering managers and developing employees all remain priorities for talent pros. For example, HR Dive identified "talent acquisition panic" as one of the driving forces of 2019 — and while recruiting won't necessarily remain in a panic state, most experts agree that it will be a strategic focus for all company leaders in 2020.

But experts also said that certain trends may rise in importance in the new year, and five, in particular, will likely stand out.

Talent management will move from reactive to proactive
The workforce now encompasses a large swath of employees, independent contractors and even robots, requiring a new approach, Michael Stephan, Deloitte's US human capital leader, told HR Dive in an interview. "It's going to change the way HR business partners approach … workforce planning," he said. "Not just how many heads you need, but 'where is the best place to access this particular talent?'"

That means employers will need to move from reacting to talent needs to anticipating them, Mark Brandau, principal analyst at Forrester, told HR Dive. "Most organizations look at it from a reactive perspective and not enough time is done on planning," he said.

Expect more proactive talent strategies that encompass tech's undeniable impact on work. Kristen Ruttgaizer, director of human resources at Igloo Software, agreed that employers will have to put more effort into initiatives that draw candidates in over time, such as solid employee experience.

Diversity and inclusion efforts provide a good example of what this shift may look like, as a successful D&I initiative requires that an employer address "the entire employee life cycle," according to Randstad US's report on 2020 trends. Talent is no longer about simple efficiencies; it's now a driving force for C-suite decision-making, Stephan explained.

Contingent hiring will be more integrated
While employers may no longer be in panic mode about talent acquisition, the rise of contingent worker hiring has complicated recruiting by introducing a new variable: When you need more help, do you hire an employee or bring on a contractor?

Employers are "trying to figure out the workforce ecosystem or strategy that cuts across the different sources," Stephan said. "They realize how important figuring out that ecosystem is to that future strategy. They're in rapid investment mode."

In other words, recruiters are starting to press third-party vendors to provide offerings that would allow them to see both employee and contractor availability from the same place, Brandau said. "Why aren't they in the same place and with a nod toward skills?" he said.

Some of this transition also may include adopting development structures that create "gig-like" models within an employed workforce, WorldAtWork's CEO Scott Cawood said in his Top 7 Workplace Predictions emailed to HR Dive, giving workers opportunities to work on a project-by-project basis and understand how their career will develop in the long-term.

'Super jobs' will become more prevalent
Employee learning and talent management are more intertwined now than ever; learning was the No. 1 trend in one of Deloitte's 2019 human capital trend reports. But that push is driven in part by the looming talent shortage and heightening competition. As employers adopt tools that can do some of the work that talent would previously be hired to do —​ think robots in Amazon warehouses —​ they're also inadvertently creating "super jobs" that require skill sets that cross multiple domains, Stephan said.

"A package organizer now has to be an expert in robotic tech," he said. Someone who is managing fellow organizers may now have to combine those key leadership skills with minor capabilities in robotics. To make up that gap, employers began to lean heavily on employee development —​ but how does a company balance necessary development time without disrupting the work?

"People need to be able to do their job and have access to knowledge when doing their job," Stephan said. A global manufacturing company that works on elevators once had a 3,000 page manual, he explained. Now, employees can use an iPad to search for ways to resolve issues on the fly, educating the worker while keeping them productive.

"They're having to adapt to a really fast changing market," Brandau said.

It's not all tech-driven. The rise of super jobs also has forced employers to redefine leadership development and what it means to be a leader in an organization that requires each worker to have a broad swath of skills, Brandau added.

'Agility' will give way to 'adaptability'
Last year, "agility" was the buzzword of choice. But employers and experts have made a semantics shift toward "adaptability" as employers consider how to best prepare for the future of work.

"When you think of agility, you think of being able to bend an arm in a certain way," Brandau said. "But adaptability is an intelligence of...which way do I need to bend and why?"

The concept is not wholly different from agility, which requires an employer to be ready for the rapid changes descending upon the business world, but it does require an employer to more seriously consider how its people work and behave. "Adaptable is about living and breathing around networks," Stephan said.

A company's culture may need to adopt a philosophy about "failing fast and learning fast," he continued. After all, a workplace can't be "adaptable" if its people aren't ready — though Brandau predicts this will continue to be a hurdle for employers to overcome.

"You have to have a workforce that is ready to adapt to change. We hate change," he said. "Adaptive workforces thrive in change. How do you do this in real ways?"

Employers will have to use data to dive local —​ whether they're ready or not
To find talent faster, some employers have invested in data and "workforce sensing" to get a more accurate assessment of the local talent market. The pressure to do so —​ and quickly —​ has only risen in recent years as employers grapple with talent gaps. That data can inform the type of tech an employer needs or even a new location strategy, Stephan said. And that doesn't even account for HR's use of internal data to gauge employee experience.

Unfortunately, HR teams aren't exactly prepared for this deep dive, even if the branding around it has been centered on employee experience, Brandau said. "HR and these areas have not typically been very good at dealing with data," he added. "How are managers going to deal with an intelligent suite? They aren't ready for it."

Employers that want to improve their workforce sensing capabilities will need to invest serious time into understanding external data sources. Where are the "pockets of workforce capabilities"? "Our clients really aren't there yet," Stephan said. But this talent market might just push them there.

SOURCE: Moody, K. (08 January 2020) "5 talent trends to watch in 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/5-talent-trends-to-watch-in-2020/570026/


The Post-Holiday Funk Is Real

Getting out of the post-holiday funk is a difficult task in itself. After a holiday season filled with parties, breaks, food and time off, it can be hard to snap back into work mode. Here are a few things you can do to get out of that holiday funk:


Somewhere around the third week in December work in many offices starts to slow down. There are holiday parties. Customers and clients may be harder to reach. Energy and motivation wanes. And many of us sign off from work completely to spend the holidays with friends and family.

And then January arrives, and it’s time to get back in the swing of things. But, after being out for a week or two, it can be hard to snap back into work mode. If you’re feeling sluggish and unmotivated, you’re not alone. There are several reasons for this kind of the post-holiday funk — and, fortunately, there are things you can do to get out of it as well.

Focus forward
It’s common around New Year’s Day to look back at the past year. Research on construal-level theory suggests that the more distant you are from anything in time, space, or socially, the more abstractly you think about it. Getting out of the office and looking at the whole year leads you to think about your contribution and not just the tasks you did. This is natural and healthy. After all, your contribution in the last year was not the 16,471 emails you sent, but rather the relationships you solidified, the projects you oversaw, and the collaborations you continued as a result of those emails.

But while you’re likely to be proud of some things you accomplished, you may also be thinking about some of your failures. These are often the source of many people’s New Year’s resolutions.

Of course, noticing last year’s failures can be disheartening. And around the new year, you may end up in a cycle of thoughts about what you could have done differently in the past. This kind of rumination can actually heighten feelings of depression and anxiety, which sap your motivation.

When you get back to work, it’s important to start looking forward to the new year rather than back on the past one. Treat the goals you want to accomplish as new challenges and a source of energy not a penance for things you didn’t get done last year. Focusing on the future — and seeing new opportunities to succeed — can help you to generate the energy to get started.

Get specific
Your reflections on the past year might also lead you to commit to making changes. This is a good thing but not if your commitments are abstract, like “be more productive,” “get a new job,” or “become a better leader.”

In fact, these abstract goals can be paralyzing. They’re simply too big to make meaningful progress toward. Instead, turn your goal into specific actions that when added up lead to the desired outcome. This kind of specific plan is called an implementation intention. It requires that you break the general goal down into tasks that can be put on your calendar.

This specificity has two benefits.

First, it requires you to think through what actually has to be done to achieve the goal. You may discover that you don’t know all the steps or that some of the steps are ones that involve skills you need to learn. In that case, you might want to find a mentor or coach who can help you.

Second, being specific forces you to grapple with your densely packed schedule. One reason why people often fail to achieve important goals is that they cannot find the time to perform the tasks that would lead to success. When you try to add new actions to your agenda, you are forced to figure out what can be moved, delayed, or delegated in order to put you on the road to following through on your commitment.

Make the right social comparisons
A third possible source of post-holiday funk is social comparison.

Humans don’t evaluate things on an absolute scale. Instead, we assess our success relative to some standard. Often, we do that through the process of social comparison, in which we compare ourselves to someone else.

There are two kinds of social comparisons. Upward social comparisons involve comparing yourself to someone better off than you are along a particular dimension. For example, you might see a high-school friend who just got a promotion, or a college friend who just bought a car that you dream of owning some day. These comparisons tend to make you feel bad about yourself, because they highlight what other people have that you don’t, whether it’s money, social standing, or particular relationships. Downward social comparisons are comparisons to someone worse off than you. These comparisons generally make you feel good about yourself and your situation.

Unfortunately, both kinds of comparison can sap your motivation. Upward social comparisons can frustrate you, knowing that other people you know are more successful, happier, or wealthier than you are. Because of the way people curate their social media, if you just look at where people are taking vacations or what they post about their jobs, it’s easy to believe that most people are doing better than you are, which may lead you to feel like giving up.

When you make downward social comparisons, you feel better about what you have and what you have accomplished, but you aren’t motivated to continue pushing forward. Instead, it makes you satisfied with where you are and, often, complacent. The energy you need to motivate yourself comes from being dissatisfied with something about the present, along with developing a plan to get what you want.

You can’t stop yourself from making social comparisons, but you can explicitly manage those comparisons to motivate you. For example, you can find a close rival — someone who is doing slightly better than you are along some dimension, but whose performance is close enough to your own that you can see how you could take some actions to reach their level.

You can also make social comparisons to your past self. Take a look at your trajectory. Recognize that even if you haven’t achieved all of your goals, you have improved over time. Use that recognition of your own growth to spur you to keep working to reach new heights.

No one wants to start the year off in a rut. And yet many of us begin January too focused on the past and feeling bad about what we have yet to accomplish. With some small changes in your perspective, though, you can hit the ground running in the new year.

SOURCE: Markman, A. (03 January 2020) "The Post-Holiday Funk Is Real" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-post-holiday-funk-is-real?ab=hero-subleft-3


Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?

Different seasons can bring in long hours, extensive work, and multiple deadlines that require a lot of attention. Are you pushing yourself too hard? It is important to know the difference between a temporary work crunch and an everyday "norm". Read this blog post for a few key signs of pushing too hard at work.


We all have intense periods at work where multiple deadlines converge, an important deal is closing, or a busy season lasts for a few months. During these times, we may work more intensely or longer hours, but we know that the situation is temporary, and we are able to keep work in perspective. Conversely, approximately 10% of Americans are considered workaholics, defined as having a “stable tendency to compulsively and excessively work.” Whether you are in the midst of a temporary work crunch, or if working all the time is your version of “normal,” there are some key signs that you are pushing yourself too hard. These include:

You aren’t taking time off.  Consistently putting off vacations (including working over major holidays), regularly working all weekend, or dismissing the idea of an occasional day off is a sign that you are burning the candle from both ends. While only 23% of Americans take their full vacation time allotted, studies of elite athletes show that rest periods are precisely what helps them to perform at full throttle when needed, and the same is true for the rest of us. While extended vacations are helpful, smaller breaks, such as taking the weekend to recharge, carving out personal time in the evening, or having an occasional day off can also be an important part of having sufficient downtime to restore your energy and counter the drain of being “always on.”

You deprioritize personal relationships. When we focus exclusively on work for extended periods, it often comes at the expense of our personal relationships. During 2018, 76% of US workers said that workplace stress affected their personal relationships, with workaholics being twice as likely to get divorced. Not taking time to connect with friends and family can also be detrimental to our health. Research shows that strong social relationships are positively correlated to lifespan and that a lack of social relationships has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. If you are not taking time outside of work to connect socially with others and have become increasingly isolated, such that social invitations have dried up because others assume you are not available, chances are you are too focused on work.

You’re unable to be fully present outside of work. Another sign you are pushing yourself too hard is that when you do leave the office and take time to be with the people you care about, you are not able to mentally turn work off and be present with them. In 2017, 66% of Americans reported working while on vacation. Jeff, a former client of mine who is a senior partner at his law firm, has never gone on vacation without his laptop. In addition, after making a point to spend time on the weekends to connect with his daughter, he confessed to constantly thinking about work and admitted that he couldn’t help but compulsively check email on his phone every few minutes. While it’s normal to think about work periodically, it becomes a problem when we’re not able to manage our urge to give into work-related distractions, slowly eroding our most important relationships. In his book, Indistractable, author Nir Eyal points out that these distractions make the people we care about “residual beneficiaries” of our attention, meaning they get what is left over, which typically not very much.

You’re neglecting personal care. This is not the occasional skipping a shower when working from home in your sweatpants. Failing to get sufficient sleep, missing meals or existing on a diet of coffee and energy bars, or abandoning exercise or personal hygiene for extended periods are all indications that you are in an unhealthy pattern of behavior. In particular, when we sacrifice sleep for work, we are effectively working against ourselves, as sleep deprivation is shown to impair higher-level cognitive functions including judgment, critical thinking, decision making, and organization. Likewise, skipping exercise puts us at a further disadvantage. Exercise has been shown to lower stress, improve mood and energy levels, and enhance cognitive function, such as memory, concentration, learning, mental stamina, and creativity. As a former investment banker who worked 80- to 100-hour weeks during more intense periods, taking breaks to exercise, eat, and even nap in one of the sleeping rooms provided onsite was critical to maintaining my health, stamina, and productivity.

You see your value as a person completely defined by work. Failure to see a broader perspective, both in terms of how you see your value as a person as well as how you see the importance of work relative to the rest of your life, can be a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. This myopia is usually driven by deeply held limiting beliefs that create a contracted worldview. Elisa, the head of engineering at a tech company, pushed herself and her team incredibly hard. Her behavior was driven by a belief that “My value is what I produce.” To broaden her perspective, she asked others she respected about what they valued about her, as well as how they valued themselves. She was able to see not only that people valued her for other things like being a good friend, parent, or thought partner, but also that they defined their own value more broadly than their work. Sometimes, it takes a big life event, like the birth of a child or the death of a colleague or loved one, to shake someone out of this restricted perspective. Another way to broaden your perspective in the absence of these events is to have interests outside of work, which can be a good reminder that work isn’t everything.

While we all need to shift into high gear from time to time, keeping work in perspective with the rest of our lives, and taking care of ourselves and our relationships are key to achieving long-term success, both personally and professionally.

SOURCE: Zucker, R. (03 January 2020) "Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/01/are-you-pushing-yourself-too-hard-at-work


Managing the Social Butterfly in Your Office

Enjoying the work environment is important, but too much play and not enough work can cause conflict, distraction, and dissatisfaction. Research from the platform Udemy discovered that most employees like to work without distractions from their peers. Read this blog to learn how to manage the social butterfly in your workplace.


Although they might pretend to enjoy playing foosball, catching up on TV shows, and socializing in the office, most employees would prefer to just do their work without distractions, and keep their private lives private, according to new research from online learning platform Udemy. And it’s not just the “older” folks at the office. Udemy’s findings show that this wish is consistent among baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z alike.

So why aren’t more offices heads down and focused on work, if that’s what most of us want? The research shows that the more social minority tends to set the overall tone in the workplace. This difference in work style can cause interpersonal conflict, employee distraction, and dissatisfaction. While that might not sound like a big deal, unhappy, actively disengaged workers cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion per year.

Why we have trouble setting boundaries
Business leaders today are struggling to set boundaries for “appropriate” workplace behavior. Behavior that has traditionally been viewed as unprofessional — such as hugging, sharing deeply personal information, and using profanity — has become much more common.

Part of the problem is that managers often wrongly assume employees “just know” how to interact with each other at work. They don’t. This is partially due to changing employment trends, such as a decrease in entry-level positions, and fewer teens working summer jobs, which has resulted in less familiarity with workplace norms. Also, that old scapegoat, social media — and business messaging apps that mimic social media — may contribute to a perception that more informal communication styles are also OK at work. (Just do an internet search for “Slack etiquette”; the abundance of articles about how to communicate professionally indicate that this is a common challenge.)

Another factor contributing to why we have trouble with boundaries is a lack of self-awareness; that is, understanding how we come across to others. In fact, research shows that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10-15% actually are. When we’re not self-aware, we don’t realize that what we do, such as hanging around someone’s cubicle to chat, or using profanity, bothers or distracts others.

Despite this confluence of factors, many managers aren’t proactive about putting guidelines in place to set expectations of how employees should interact in a professional way. When there’s no clearly communicated norm about what constitutes “professional behavior” in the workplace — even if those norms are culturally or company specific —  it’s difficult to call out if someone has crossed it.

Best practices for managing behavior and minimizing distractions
Defining which social behaviors are “too social” or distracting at work is not an exact science, and the right balance will be different in every workplace. However, in general, the Udemy survey found two distinct groups — across generations — with opinions around which behaviors were appropriate for the workplace. “Social butterfly” personalities were more likely to rate social behaviors, such as hugging, casual communication style, and gossiping more appropriate for work. “Worker bee” personalities, on the other hand, rated these same behaviors as less appropriate.

So how can a manager help the social and less social (at least at the office) work better together? Here are five best practices managers can implement to support change and open communication about expectations for interaction — and fewer distractions — at work.

Emphasize positive intent when giving feedback. When feedback is about something personal, like work style, rather than specific to task and performance outcomes, it can cause feelings of social rejection. Because most of us shy away from causing emotional distress in others, giving this sort of feedback is hard. A lens of “positive intent” can help you more positively frame feedback, for example to an employee who is extremely chatty, if you assume they are just behaving in a way that is natural for them, feels “right” to them, and is not intentionally trying to bother others. You might say something like: “I would like to give you some feedback about your communication style at work. You stop by my desk several times a day to talk to me about non-work topics, and it’s hard for me to stay focused on my work when you do that. To be clear, I feel confident that you’re not trying to bother me intentionally, and that you want to be friendly and inclusive. Did I get that right?”

Own the awkward.  One way to initiate a discussion with employees about behavior that causes distraction or distress is to simply admit feeling uncomfortable: “This feels uncomfortable, but I wanted to talk about something that’s been on my mind and may not be on your radar.” Since you’re about to make the other person feel vulnerable, it can be effective to be a bit vulnerable yourself; for example: “It might sound silly to say ‘don’t hug me,’ but hugging my colleagues makes me uncomfortable — and affects my ability to maintain professional boundaries.”

Be specific. It’s important to articulate specifically and neutrally what the other person is doing that is affecting you or another member of the team. “You’re being too friendly at work” is an interpretation of behavior, not a behavior itself. Instead, try the more neutral: “I notice that on Mondays, you come into my office to tell me about your weekend without asking if I have a few minutes to chat. I’m usually trying to catch up on time-sensitive emails at that time. Would you be willing to ask if I have a few minutes free? I’d like to be able to give you my full attention — or let you know when I can give it to you.”

Encourage your employees to give each other feedback. The most effective way to change behavior is through feedback. However, most of us aren’t naturally great at giving or receiving it, so managers should practice and encourage a culture of regular feedback. Peer-to-peer feedback can be particularly impactful; research shows it can boost employee performance by as much as 14%. Furthermore, it’s a manager’s job to encourage employees to speak up to one another instead of complaining behind closed doors. And, managers should make an effort to recognize and reward those who give feedback well and consistently, as well as those who take the feedback without defensiveness.

Offer training. As mentioned above, more employees are coming on the job with little awareness about workplace norms around professional behavior. In addition, Gallup reports that only about 20% of managers have even basic people management skills. Fortunately, this soft skills gap can be filled with training in areas such as conflict management, effective communication, and emotional intelligence. To put training in place, incorporate specific trainings as part of new hire onboarding, and offer training courses as part of the performance evaluation outcomes for improvement.

Differences in work style can result in unwelcome distractions in the office. However, by supporting a culture of regular feedback, having brave, candid conversations, and providing training, the workplace can be more comfortable for everyone.

SOURCE: Riegel, D. (17 December 2019) "Managing the Social Butterfly in Your Office" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/12/managing-the-social-butterfly-in-your-office


How to prevent employees from taking advantage of unlimited PTO

Attracting and retaining is becoming more difficult. Because of this companies are now offering competitive benefits to bring that talent to their company. Companies have added unlimited paid time off, along with work from home policies to their benefits offering. Read this blog post to learn how to prevent employees from taking advantage of new benefits being put in place.


In the quest to attract and retain top talent, more companies are offering competitive benefits including unlimited paid time off and generous work from home policies. But what if you have workers who abuse the policy?

To prevent workers from taking advantage, it’s critical that companies set proper guidelines, says Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO and founder of Squarefoot, a commercial real estate company, which offers its staff unlimited personal time off. At his company, people were utilizing the policy from “all ends of the spectrum,” which led him to reassess how they monitored and encouraged time off.

“The war for talent is so strong right now, and when an employee is looking to make a decision, you don’t want to disqualify yourself because you don’t offer this benefit,” he says. “But people don’t use the amount of vacation days intended. You get some people who underutilize and over utilize. The bad spoils the good, and that's not the intent of unlimited policy.”

Unlimited paid time off is becoming a more popular benefit, especially in the tech space. According to Indeed, 65% of companies mentioned “unlimited PTO” in their job postings, and companies like General Electric and Kronos offer the benefit to employees.

While the standard time off has typically been two to four weeks, 55% of employees do not use all of their paid time off, according to the U.S. Travel Association. To level the playing field among his employees, Wasserstrum says he established guidelines that made unlimited PTO flexible, but still within reason.

“There are top performers who work a lot, and you don't want them to burn out. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who take advantage of policy,” he says. “We frame it as flexible and not unlimited. The intent is for everyone to use it as time away from the office — it helps you refresh — so we encourage you to take anywhere from two to four weeks.”

Paid time off has a multitude of benefits, including increased employee morale and a better sense of work-life balance. And today’s workforce is in desperate need of time away from the office. According to Deloitte, 77% of employees say they have experienced burnout, and 70% say their employer does not do enough to prevent or mitigate work stress.

“Work-life balance looks very different now than it used to,” Wasserstrum says. “If I'm on vacation 20 years ago, you really can't get in touch with me. Now, everyone is 24/7 on, so you have to set the boundaries as an employer.”

In addition to more paid time off, more people are also reaping the benefits of remote work. According to a Gallup poll, 43% of the workforce works remotely some or all of the time, but employers like IBM, Aetna and Yahoo have pulled back on those policies and required workers to be on site instead, according to the Society of Human Resource Managers.

"[Managers] may have realized how blind and invisible remote workers are and they don't know what's going on at the remote location — what work that person is doing or what distractions they may have to deal with,” Judith Olson, a distance-work expert and professor at the University of California Irvine, told SHRM.

With more employees weighing the benefits of workplace policies, time off is still the top benefit employees look for. Metlife found 72% named unlimited paid time off as their most desired benefit, ahead of wellness plans and retirement programs.

While it may put companies at an advantage, PTO and other flexible work policies are just one part of the overall picture of a company’s workplace culture, Wasserstrum says.

“If you're winning people based on benefits, they're coming to you for the wrong reasons,” he says. “But every company looks and feels different from the inside and has a company culture that shouldn’t be one size fits all. This works for us and the work-life balance experience we want people to have.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (17 Decemeber 2019) "How to prevent employees from taking advantage of unlimited PTO" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-to-prevent-employees-from-taking-advantage-of-unlimited-pto


10 Quick Tips for Avoiding Distractions at Work

The number of notifications that the average employee gets interrupted by each day is between 50 and 60. With more than half of the interruptions being unimportant, these distractions are reducing the productivity rate of their work. Read this blog for tips on how to avoid distractions at work.


In a world of push notifications, email, instant messaging, and shrinking office space, we’re becoming increasingly distracted at work. The average employee is getting interrupted 50 to 60 times per day, and about 80% of these interruptions are unimportant. As a result, people are spending little time in what psychologists call “the flow state,” a space where people are up to five times more productive, according to research from McKinsey.

The constant distractions are not only leaving people less productive, but also more stressed than ever, with a lack of control over one’s work being cited as a major contributor to workplace stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. So, how do we avoid distractions in the office in order to take control of our days, do our best work, and improve our emotional well-being?

1. Practice Asynchronous Communication

When you get an email, it’s actually OK to think: “I’ll get to this when it suits me.”

Aside from the benefit of giving people more time for uninterrupted focus, asynchronous communication predisposes people to better decision-making by increasing the amount of time we have to respond to a request. When you’re on a phone call or video chat, you’re making real-time decisions, whereas if you’re communicating via email, you have more time to think about your response.

In order to practice this successfully, we must do away with the arbitrary “urgency” that still plagues workplaces the world over, almost a century after Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, quoting Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This “Eisenhower Principle” is said to be how the former president prioritized his own workload.

To optimize an asynchronous message and to avoid a lot of follow-up emails, include the following in your initial request:

  • Sufficient details
  • Clear action item(s)
  • A due date
  • A path of recourse if the recipient is unable to meet your requirements

2. Batch Check Everything

“Just quickly checking” anything, even for one-tenth of a second, can add up to a 40% productivity loss over the course of a day, and it can take us 23 minutes to get back into the zone after task switching.

Rather than sporadically checking things throughout the day, we should batch check email, instant messages, social media, and even text messages, at predetermined times.

If you struggle with self-control, tools like Gmail’s Inbox Pause plugin enable you to pause your inbox once you’ve checked it and only unpause it when you’re ready. Blocksite and the Freedom app also allow you to block access to specific websites and apps during specified intervals.

3. Do Not Disturb

If you’re reading this and thinking: “But I work in an open-plan office, and it’s impossible to avoid interruptions,” try using a signaling mechanism to let your team know that you’re in the zone (or trying to get there) and that they shouldn’t disturb you unless it’s legitimately urgent. This could be as simple as a pair of headphones.

4. Avoid Calendar Tetris

In today’s workplace, it’s a widely accepted norm that others can book time in your calendar, usually at the expense of your own priorities.

Basecamp CEO, Jason Fried, told me on an episode of the Future Squared podcast that at Basecamp, you can’t book time in someone’s calendar without first getting buy-in. This means that most meetings just don’t happen because the would-be meeting organizer usually opts for a phone call or an instant message instead.

Alternatively, consider blocking out meeting-free zones on your calendar, or using a meeting scheduling tool such as Calendly so that people book meetings with you only during scheduled windows, leaving the rest of the day free for focus, and ensuring that you avoid the email tennis matches that scheduling meetings often degenerates into.

5. Close the Loop on Meetings

Instead of risking follow-up interruptions and a meeting to discuss the previous meeting, ensure that you leave each meeting with actionable next steps, clearly assigned responsibilities, and due dates.

6. Stop Using “Reply All”

Reply All, used as a mechanism to share accountability, only adds unnecessary chatter to people’s inboxes and headspace. Take more ownership over your decisions and only email people who need to be informed.

7. Use Third Spaces

As Sue Shellenbarger wrote for The Wall Street Journal, “All of this social engineering (open-plan offices) has created endless distractions that draw employees’ eyes away from their own screens. Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity.”

If you’re struggling with open-plan offices, then try to incorporate more third-space work into your day for critical thinking; try to find a quiet space in the office, a serviced office, or negotiate some time to work from home.

8. Turn off Push Notifications

The average executive receives 46 push notifications per day. To avoid our Pavlovian impulses to respond on cue, simply turn off your push notifications. Find out how here.

9. Use Airplane Mode

You can also use airplane mode to limit text message and phone call interruptions during certain times of day. If the idea of doing this gives you anxiety, you can always exempt specific numbers, such as those of loved ones or valued and important business associates. You can set “Do Not Disturb” mode on an iPhone to allow your designated “favorite” contacts to get through, while silencing other calls or messages.

10. Limit Layers of Approval

While harder to implement, becoming a “minimum viable bureaucracy” — stripping away unnecessary layers of approvals required to get trivial and not-so-consequential things done — means that there will be less paperwork to move around, which means fewer interruptions for people.

Awareness Is Key

Environmental changes aside, human beings evolved to conserve energy in order to stand a shot at surviving on the savannah. As such, we are predisposed to picking the lowest hanging fruit or doing the easiest thing first — think checking email instead of working on that presentation. Becoming more aware of our tendencies to pick the low hanging fruit, getting distracted by low-value activities, is step one towards changing our behaviors.

Organizations that build a culture around minimizing distractions will enjoy the compounding benefit of a focused workforce and will leave their people feeling less stressed and ultimately more fulfilled.

SOURCE: Glaveski, S. (18 December 2019) "10 Quick Tips for Avoiding Distractions at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/12/10-quick-tips-for-avoiding-distractions-at-work?ab=hero-subleft-2"


How to Motivate Your Team During Crunch Time

Keeping teams excited and enthusiastic during busy times of the year is a struggle that most HR departments and employers experience. Whether it's a nearing deadline or seasonal ends, it's important to make sure that teams stay motivated. Read this blog to learn how to keep motivation within teams.


There are times when work ramps up and you need all hands on deck. Ideally, you want people to jump into the work excited and enthusiastic rather than dreading what’s coming. So, what can you do to rally the troops when the team’s workload is particularly heavy? How do you talk about the project or time period so that people don’t feel daunted? And, how do you keep an eye on stress levels while still motivating people to get through the crunch?

What the Experts Say
Whether it’s a seasonal crunch time or a particularly demanding project with a tight deadline, it can be hard to keep people focused and motivated when they’re overloaded. The fact is, “most people already have a lot on their plate,” says Lisa Lai, a business advisor and coach. And so when you ask your team for more, “it can leave people feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.” On top of this, as the pace of work increases and our always-on technology serves as a tether to the office, intense periods are becoming more prevalent, says Ethan Bernstein, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard Business School. “There is a greater quantity of crunch times and more of the work that we get done happens during a crunch,” he says. This has critical implications for you, the boss. By “focusing your attention on your employees” and projecting a calm, confident presence, you can make these times easier for the people on your team, Bernstein says. Here’s how.

Project positive energy
For starters, says Lai, “check your own emotional energy as a manager.” If you’re feeling beleaguered, worried, anxious, or frustrated about a project “there’s no way you can show up in front of your team” and be a confident guiding force. To lead, you need to be “engaged, motivated” and “emotionally bought in.” Start by “reflecting on why the work matters.” Figure out “why this project is relevant and who benefits from it,” she says. Remember, too, that crunch times can be useful learning opportunities. Yes, critical, time-sensitive projects are often tense, but “you want peaks and valleys,” says Bernstein. “Peaks — when everyone is engaged and motivated at the same time — are good” for team morale and drive. But they should not be the status quo. “There is a value to intermittency,” he says. If your team is in a constant crunch, employees “are not operating at an [optimal] level of productivity and effectiveness.”

Express empathy
Once you’ve personally connected to the work and its purpose, “convey that message to your team,” says Lai. “Don’t just say, ‘Here are the deliverables. Here’s the deadline.’” Instead, “develop the story” around why the project has meaning and what the ultimate goal is. “Define what success looks like.” Be upfront with your team and acknowledge the “burden and sacrifices” involved, such as late nights and weekends at the office. Express empathy and be vulnerable, adds Lai. “Say: ‘This is going to be hard. I am feeling it, too.’” Convey solidarity in the spirit of, “we are in this together,” says Bernstein. “We have to grind this out as one team.” And try not to dwell on the negatives. Tell your reports that, “there are going to be parts of this that are going to be fun, too.” Maintaining team camaraderie is a priority. That way, “it doesn’t have to hurt so much.”

Think about milestones
Next, consider breaking up the work into manageable chunks so that the overall deliverable isn’t so intimidating. Lai recommends, “creating meaningful arcs” to the project based on the work that matters most. Setting short-term targets for each phase directs the team’s focus, creates accountability, and helps to bring them closer to the end goal. “Say: ‘We will take a breath after each one. We will evaluate and make sure we’re on the right track. If we need to change course, we will do that.’” Milestones ought to help the team feel good about the incremental progress it’s making, so make sure you’re instituting them for the right reasons. “Don’t have all these mini crunches for the purpose of micromanaging,” says Bernstein. It’s also important to consider how multiple deadlines may affect the pace of your team’s work. If you give a team a defined amount of time to do a task, research shows that the team will work at a different speed before and after the midpoint. “The rubber meets the road” the closer a deadline looms, Bernstein says.

Offer autonomy
Allow the team to structure their workdays in ways that maximize their productivity. Crunch times are not the time for politics around face time or HR rules about working from home to get in the way,” Lai says. Let your employees play a role in defining the team and how they work together. “If they have a voice, they are more likely to lean into the work,” she says. “You want people to participate and feel involved in the process.” While they should be in charge, do what you can to clear the way for them. For example, says Bernstein, it’s helpful to clear the decks so employees can concentrate on the task at hand. You have the power to “take away distractions” and “make the crunch time relieving in some respects,” he says.

Be judicious with incentives
Rewards and incentives can be a key motivational tool. Lai suggests deploying them throughout the projected timeline, not just when it ends. “You need moments of celebration,” she says. “That’s how you create sustained engagement.” Think about ways to recognize your team’s hard work: a Friday afternoon off perhaps, or an all-office ice cream social. And yet, warns Bernstein, “extrinsic rewards have some downsides.” If, for instance, you tell your team that everyone gets the morning off after you reach a deadline, “you’re only incenting the completion of the work rather than the quality of it,” he says. Instead, he recommends “placing intrinsic rewards front and center.” Focus on how the project represents a “good developmental opportunity for team members,” and the reasons why “working closely together” will benefit the team in the long run.

Watch for red flags
You can often judge whether or not your direct report is anxious by the expression on their face or the way they talk. “You have an ability to read people, so use it,” says Bernstein. If you see that an employee is struggling, reach out. Don’t “keep plowing forward” at all costs, says Lai. “The biggest red flag is when people stop talking,” she says. “When your team goes quiet,” it’s an indication that employees “are feeling lost or overwhelmed.” Talk to your team. “Ask them: What’s going well and what is not going well? What do we need to pivot on? What roadblocks need to be removed?”

Be present and grateful
One final piece of advice: “be accessible,” says Bernstein. Lai concurs: “Even if you do all the other things right, if you disappear behind closed doors,” your leadership will be “an epic failure.” You need to be consistently available. Let your employees know you have their backs. “Walk the floor and talk to people. Ask: ‘Who needs help?’” Your colleagues “will value that you are present,” she adds. It goes without saying that you need to express gratitude for the sacrifices they’re making. Regularly say “thank you” and find small ways to show you appreciate what they’re putting in. And Lai adds: “it never hurts to bring donuts.”

Principles to Remember

Do

Check your own emotional energy. You can’t motivate your team if you’re not engaged and excited about the project.
Break up the work into manageable chunks so that the overall deliverable isn’t so intimidating. Milestones can focus the team.
Encourage your team members to structure their workdays in ways that maximize their productivity.

Don’t

Be dishonest or sugarcoat matters. Acknowledge to your team the burden and sacrifices involved.
Ignore obvious problems. If you see that an employee is struggling, reach out. Ask: What roadblocks need to be removed?
Disappear behind closed doors. You need to be accessible and visible to your team.
Case Study #1: Project enthusiasm and communicate why the work matters
Syed Irfan Ajmal, a digital marketing entrepreneur based in Pakistan, has had a lot of experience motivating teams during crunch times.

To “do it right,” he says, “you’ve got to know your team well. You have to know what excites them, what scares them, and what their deepest desires and biggest challenges are.”

In January 2013, Syed partnered with another entrepreneur — Yasir Hussain Sheikh — on a technology startup. The two of them assembled a small team of eight people to create and license a specialized spatial intelligence product.

The product, inspired by CNN’s “Magic Wall,” was to help TV hosts demonstrate the results of Pakistan’s elections using maps and data visualization on a multi-touch screen.

The pressure was intense — the elections were being held in May and so the team only had a few months to deliver. “We had an extremely short time period to work with,” says Syed. “If we failed to build and license the product by March 2013, all our work would have been futile.”

Syed and Yasir were worried about hitting the looming deadline, but they knew they needed to project positive energy to their team. Together, they reflected on what success would do for their startup and mean for Pakistan. They thought about their goals and their purpose. “What we were trying to accomplish had never been done in the country before,” recalls Syed.

When they communicated the significance of the product to their team, “everything changed for the better,” he says.

“My partner was very good at motivating the team by sharing his vision about what completing this project on time would mean for everyone,” he says. “Yasir’s passion was contagious, and did wonders for everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.”

Syed wasn’t bashful in laying out the sacrifices involved. “I didn’t use any scare tactics, but I told everyone that this project required us to work day and night,” he says. “I think the team appreciated my honesty.”

He and his business partner also tried to foster camaraderie and collaboration by dividing their small team into even smaller sub-teams, where each member’s skills complemented those of others. That way, each team member had a say in how the work would be accomplished. “Yasir and I were always available to provide instant and constructive feedback,” he says.

Ultimately, the team prevailed and was proud of their accomplishment. “We were successful and we witnessed our product being used on national TV.”

Case Study #2: Think about ways to be helpful to your team and say thank you
Carl Ryden, co-founder and CEO of PrecisionLender, an AI-powered software company for commercial banks, says that the most important thing to bear in mind when motivating staff during an intense period is that the “crunch has to be anomalous.”

“People can’t pedal as hard as they can all day, every day,” he says. “It has to be temporary. [Employees] need to trust that this isn’t the norm and that [they work] for an organization that respects work-life balance.”

Recently, his company — which is based in North Carolina, needed to launch the first release of its intelligent virtual assistant, Andi, within its application. “We had a deadline that we had to meet,” says Carl. As the deadline drew closer, it became clear that “there was still a lot of work that needed to get done and that many of our developers were going to have to work on the weekends to do it.”

Carl knew that the team was stressed — and he wanted to help in any way that he could. “I wanted to show solidarity but I also wanted to get out of their way and let them do their jobs,” he says.

Carl says that if he stayed at the office alongside his team, “it would have seemed like [he] was there in a supervisory role” in need of constant “status reports.” Instead, he decided to give his team autonomy. “I said, ‘I trust you to get this done. And I want to make sure you have everything you need. What can I take off your plates to let you focus your attention?”

“I didn’t want to make things worse.”

The team appreciated his vote of confidence. Once it was over — “the team got it done on time and it turned out to be a great success” — Carl made sure to express his gratitude. “I said thank you, individually and collectively, to the team,” he says. “I wanted to acknowledge their great work.”

SOURCE: Knight, R. (18 December 2019) "How to Motivate Your Team During Crunch Time" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/12/how-to-motivate-your-team-during-crunch-time?ab=hero-subleft-3


Reality check: The learning pro's primer on AR, VR tech

Virtual reality (VR) has created an opportunity to live in a realistic moment while also in a safe and controlled environment. Employers are now using this tool to train employees in a fun and authentic way. Read this blog post to learn how and what virtual reality is doing for employees.


Virtual reality and related technologies are gaining momentum in the employee learning field. Trainers love these tools for their ability to create an authentic learning experience in a safe, controlled environment and employees say they're on board, too.

But what exactly are these technologies? What do they do and how can you make use of them in your workplace? For many, understanding the tech is the first step toward implementation.

Alphabet soup

All together, these tools fall under the umbrella of XR — extended reality — according to Jack Makhlouf, Talespin's VP of sales and licensing, enterprise learning.

Within XR is VR and AR, virtual reality and augmented reality. To add to the confusion, AR is sometimes called MR, or mixed reality, Makhlouf told HR Dive in an email. Essentially, VR is a simulated experience that transports the user to a virtual environment that can be similar to or completely different from a real-world scenario. AR is an interactive experience where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated information.

IRL application

VR and AR have many real-world applications, according to Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director, talent management at Willis Towers Watson. "VR and AR have gotten increasingly popular for training people on scenarios that don't occur often (e.g., a store manager being taught how to deal with an armed customer) and for training people on things that require significant practice (operating a complex piece of machinery)," he told HR Dive via email.

As a result, they're fast becoming a safety training must-have, especially for distributed workforces. These tools can be used to familiarize workers with a risky procedure or process before they attempt it in real life, Concept3D's CEO Gordon Boyes wrote to HR Dive. For location training, staff can learn safety procedures or the locations of exits, eyewash stations or fire extinguishers. "We use AR or mixed reality for remote locations," Boyes said, "and can overlay relevant data or information in its correct location without having someone needing to go to the remote site."

VR training scenarios also are particularly useful for practicing workplace conversations, Makhlouf noted. Workers can test run negotiations or customer interactions. "People generally don't get enough real-time practice engaging in difficult conversations so it takes much longer to build competency," he said; these tools can allow trainees to practice scenarios where soft skills are critical before being thrown into real-life situations.

Moreover, trainees are free to fail, get feedback, retry and improve with little judgment or consequence, Makhlouf said: "They are free to stretch their skills and gain a higher level of learning — that is the real power of this technology."

The ROI

While costly, Jesuthasan said, VR and AR have major benefits. For one, the speed of training on highly complex topics is unprecedented.

Additionally, the tech boosts knowledge retention because people are visual learners, Boyes said. "An employee's ability to learn and retain information is greatly enhanced with the addition of immersive media." The self-directed nature of the training can result in a cost savings, too, Boyes added.

XR training programs tend to be scalable as well, Makhlouf said, which can make it more cost-efficient. But ultimately, employees seem to like them, and that's perhaps the best return on investment an employer could hope for. After all, if you can't get employees to complete training, there's no ROI at all. "[W]e believe training should effective, cost-efficient, and measurable," Markhlouf said, "but most of all, fun.”

SOURCE: O'Donnell, R. (17 December 2019) "Reality check: The learning pro's primer on AR, VR tech" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/reality-check-the-learning-pros-primer-on-ar-vr-tech/568730/

 


4 End-of-Life Documents and Why You Need Them?

While the majority of people would prefer not to think about the end of life, it is important to discuss the need for and understanding of end-of-life planning documents. What are these documents and why do you need them? Read this blog post to learn more.


Most of us aren’t keen to think about the end of life–especially our own. But discussing the need for and understanding end-of-life planning documents is important for all of us. So, what are these documents and why do you need them? Here’s a summary:

1: Durable power of attorney. This appoints another person to transact business, legal and financial matters for you until you die.

Why do you need it? Let's say you are incapacitated by an accident or illness, it allows the person you’ve chosen to act for you—and quickly. That can help you avoid a lot of problems, including hard-to-get guardianship and conservatorship rights. (If you are unsure of what either of these two terms means, this article makes it clear.)

2: Appoint a health-care representative. As with the first document, this allows someone to act on your behalf to make health-care decisions if you’re unable. It allows them to review health records, authorize admission to or discharge you from a hospital and make decisions about life-sustaining medical procedures.

Why do you need it? You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be fulfilled as you intended, especially when it comes to life-sustaining medical procedures. It also helps avoid family arguments about who should have the final say.

3: Advance care directives or living will. This puts in writing the decisions you have made about your health care—instructions, if you will, for your doctor—so that your wishes are followed if you are unable to articulate them.

Why do you need it? It ensures, for example, that you receive the treatment you’ve decided on beforehand if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It helps make sure that the treatments you receive in a terminal or permanently unconscious situation are in keeping with your wishes and provides guidance to your health-care representative.

4: A will or revocable living trust. This puts in writing who will inherit your assets when you die, and in what manner. These two documents can help eliminate, avoid or postpone taxes that are payable when you die. An attorney can help you decide which of these documents is better for you.

Why do you need these? If you do not have a will or a revocable living trust, basically the government will be able to decide how and to whom your assets are distributed, and it may not be to those you intended.

These legal documents require the guidance of a qualified legal advisor to ensure they meet the requirements of your state of residency, and if you already have these but have moved to a new state, they should be reviewed to ensure they comply with the laws of your state.

SOURCE: Feldman, M. (10 December 2019) "4 End-of-Life Documents and Why You Need Them?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/4-end-of-life-documents-and-why-you-need-them/