Friday, August 28, 2015


by Stephen Duncan

Hard work pays off. Everyone knows this to be true. There is, however, a difference between working hard and simply overworking. In the workplace, the ability to work long hours and being on-call 24/7 are generally traits that are applauded, but studies have shown that overwork is not always beneficial to the employees themselves or the company at large, and can in fact be harmful in the long run. Here’s why: 

1. Overworking can lead to a number of health problems

Impaired sleep and memory, diabetes, headaches, stomach tenseness, and depression have all been linked to overworking. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health also discovered a link between overworking and alcoholism, noting that employees who work long hours are 12% more likely to partake in “risky alcohol use.” Related studies have shown that humans possess finite capacities for extended, uninterrupted concentration, and have concluded that short breaks are essential for long hour work sessions.

2. Overworking can make employees worse at their jobs

In addition to the health risks, overworking can also diminish one’s energy and senses, which can in turn lead to increased difficulty in essential job traits such as judgment and communication. These fatigue-induced problems could surface in a number of different forms: employees who are overworked could be more likely to lash out when they are upset, they could struggle more with making important decisions, they could have more trouble identifying and handling problems, or they could simply have a more negative outlook in the workplace altogether. It has also been statistically proven that a mere 1-3% of the population can get away with sleeping only five or six hours a night without suffering from any performance-related consequences.

3. Overworking can make employees lose sight of their goals

Along with possessing a dulled-down skill set, studies have shown that overworking can cause employees to become more distracted, and as a result, lose sight of what they are ultimately working toward in the first place. Interestingly, these studies have been linked to Facebook usage patterns. A study conducted by the social media management company Vitrue indicated that the highest Facebook usage occurs in the day during the middle of the afternoon (around 3:00 PM), in the peak hours of fatigue for most people.

4. Overworking doesn’t actually result in more output
New research done by John Pencavel of Stanford University has shown that employees who put in 70+ hours of work a week do not actually produce more output than those who work 50 hours a week. Additionally, Erin Reid of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found that managers could not even differentiate employees who worked 80 hours a week from employees who simply said they did but actually worked less. 

The evidence is clear—overworking is overrated, and is not helpful in the workplace. Sure, working overtime once in a while can be beneficial, but when it becomes a habit, it produces disadvantageous effects. So how does one combat overwork when there’s so much work to be done? Every bit of research has suggested the same treatment:  small breaks throughout the day. A simple 15-minute break during work hours has been proven to reactivate one’s mind and energy, increasing one’s decision-making and communication skills, and putting their goals into perspective once again. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Keeping It Real

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."  ---  Mark Twain 

Most business leaders are trend setters; they don't follow the crowd and blend with the masses.  They typically set their own course and blaze paths for others to use.

But, unfortunately, some begin to lean toward what the latest fad might be and see if doing things the way others do them might work. When it comes to leading team members, these flavors-of-the-month tactics usually backfire.

Here are three popular strategies that can damage your work force along with alternatives for success and ways to keep your leadership style real:

1.) Caving Into The Union Mentality-  This happens when you read too many articles and watch too many nightly news programs about how employees are jumping ship to other companies that are "sensitive" toward the employee.  First, those companies rarely succeed and most of the stories you hear are based on garbage information.  Second, if you treat your team members with respect, pay them fairly (and not what the government says you should pay them!), you won't have to worry about employees leaving.  Don't bend to the small voices petitioning for mandatory sick time and more money for less work.  Set your standards and stay the course.

2.) Hiring Illusionists To Help Build Teamwork - I am all for hiring a consultant to provide quality training for team members.  Some areas of work performance need tweaking from time to time and companies can benefit from using an outside agent with special talents to fill the need.  However, some of those agents provide hours and even days of feel-good exercises and talks.  These are akin to eating a big bowl of ice cream-- feels good, tastes great, but you will forget about in the morning.  I've never met an employee who gave better customer service after walking over hot coals.

3.) Parking Spaces -  Giving an employee-of-the-month award has its merits if you are managing a McDonald's, but isn't usually much of a reward or an incentive to others for most other businesses in the long run.  To keep it real, offer an education for the outstanding employee so they can grow and manage even more.  Most employee rewards are based on the thought that employees love trinkets and Starbucks coupons.  These are good, fun things to have, but they are just like that big bowl of ice cream, good for the short term, but soon forgotten.

Instead, offer long-lasting rewards that keep the employee interested.  If the employee is in sales, send them on a trip to see a well-known sales professional offering a seminar.  Another great reward and incentive is to provide a course outside of work that helps with the employee's hobby, or a gym membership, or a baby-sitting service to give the employee and spouse a few nights alone.  You can get real creative with these, but the point is to provide a memorable, long-lasting reward.

Make it a point to not follow the crowd, especially when it comes to leading your team.  Keep it real and your employees will reward you with dedication and loyalty.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Leading With Integrity

"The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office."  --- Dwight D. Eisenhower recently posted the top key issues in need of improvement. The number two top choice was, "Lack of management integrity."  Out of all the problem issues the surveyed employees could have chosen, including poor pay scale, poor working conditions, lack of advancement opportunities, the number two issue was a visible sign of management lacking integrity.

Most of us believe we do lead with integrity and that it should show to our team members at all times.  The issue isn't really if we are showing our integrity to our employees on a regular basis, but if we really feel the need to show it.  In other words, do we put on a show of integrity or does it flow naturally from our inner being?

To simplify the matter of working with integrity, here are three key points you can use to ensure you will always work with integrity without even trying:

1.) Adopt a Set of Values-  Country singer Aaron Tippin once sang, You've Got To Stand For Something, (Or You'll Fall For Anything).  It's true.  If you are not following a set of core values that guide your business practices, you'll catch the next wave of whatever someone else comes up with.  It could be the hottest trend in business, but if you jump from trend to trend, your employees see you as lacking substance, values, and integrity.   Adopt your own core principles and stick to them.  Some of the best, time-tested ones still produce success in business.  These include honesty in all transactions, treating employees fairly, treating customers fairly, never cutting corners, and stand by your word.

2.) Share Your Values - As you know, one great way to learn something is to teach it to others.  By sharing your core values with those in your business, you are sharpening your value senses and building your integrity muscle.  This exercise serves a dual purpose: it reinforces your values, anchoring them to your inner being while spreading the message that the business will be run with integrity at every level.

3.) Stay Away from Junk -  Years ago I read an article by professional triathlete Scott Tinley about focused training.  One of things I remembered most about the piece was Tinley advising to stay away from television and people with bad attitudes.  The same holds true for sticking to your core values and working with integrity.  The weirdness of the world and the scams in business can often make the man or woman of integrity feel like they are Lone Rangers in the world all alone.  That's okay.  Keep the pace you are running and don't sway to the left or the right.  Surround yourself with people with like-minded principles or form or join a group of people who choose to do business the right way.  This accountability will serve you well in leading with integrity.  You will no longer have to show or prove it to your employees-- the evidence will be clear!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Kissin Don't Last, But Cookin Do!

"Research indicates that employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company."  --- Zig Ziglar

Some business leaders learn that if they can give a few tokens of appreciation or whatever the gift card, bonus, and vacation of the month is they read recently, they will have loyal, dedicated employees.  This management philosophy is not only untrue, but it is detrimental to the health of your organization.

Just like in long term relationships, the kissing is fun, but it doesn't make for a meaningful, longterm courtship.  For the employee/employer relationship to last, it must have three key ingredients that are as easy as ABC: 

1.) A: Approve the Work-  Of course your employees want money, they have bills to pay too.  But studies have shown that is not the greatest motivating factor.  Your employees want approval for the work they are doing.  They want to know that what they have put their time, energy, talents, knowledge, and skill into is doing some good for somebody or something.  The best thing you can do for them is to provide them feedback on their performance on a regular basis and not just as an annual review.  This feedback serves two purposes: It allows you to make any course corrections on the employee's performance and it lets the employee know that they are appreciated, whether it was for a corrective interview or a pat on the back, both serve the employee well and both provide encouragement. 

2.) B: Be Open - Business leaders that keep secrets from employees are recognized by the staff as untrustworthy.  It is not that you have to open your checkbook and show them all accounts, but you should share, on a regular basis, new developments, new projects, new bids, and anything that affects the outcome or direction of the business. Keep in mind that when they came on board, they were hoping to make a difference in the company (if you hired otherwise, revisit that hire and find out if they are someone you want to keep), so if they are kept in the dark, you are hurting your business.  Start a town hall meeting, meeting of the minds, or whatever you want to call it to inform everyone of your plans and where the company is going.  You'd be surprised how loyal and dedicated they will become to your mission when they know that you trust them enough to be open about the business.

3.) C: Cook, Don't Kiss -  Kissing is the easy part of a relationship.  You just purse your lips, move close, and... well it is easy.  But cooking takes time.  If you love the one you are with, you want to cook a great meal that makes them smile after every bite.  Business leaders can learn to cook for their team members by learning about the team.  Taking the time to study the history of the employee, their aspirations, their ambitions with the company, their likes, dislikes, dreams, and passions.  Of course it is a lot of work, but there is a lot of working in courting where you have to learn the same things about that person.  It takes some energy, but it is worth it.  

The kissing is just fluff-- plaque, extra day off, gift card--- all good things, but they are just kisses.  The cooking is reaching deep and finding what makes that person excited and giving him or her those new tasks to learn, or time for classes, mentoring them, teaching them to sell, and so forth.

Begin to cook more and kiss less today.  Print this page and post as a reminder of what you will be implementing this week. Teach them to your management team.  If they don't know how, start your own "cooking" school.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Voice: Lessons for Business Leaders

" Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they're making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that's the difference."  --- Lou Holtz
Viewed by millions since its debut in April, 2011, The Voice provides opportunities for contestants to show their talents to be judged by successful music artists.  These judges have their backs turned to the contestants and buzz in if they want have that person on their team.  Though an interesting entertainment concept, the show also offers some good, applicable leadership takeaways. Here are four we can all use as reminders when it comes to dealing with employees:

1.) We learn more from listening to our team members.  The judges on The Voice are seated with their backs turned toward the contestant and are forced to listen without biases or making judgements based on appearances.  In the same way, leaders need to listen to what the issues are before making any rash decisions.  Those folks in the trenches may be able to provide helpful information that can save the company money or offer a better way of performing certain tasks. Give your employees the spotlight and the microphone and really listen.

2.) There will be some duds we will have to let go of.  Regardless of how some in government want to create schools where everyone is a winner, and nobody loses, we all know how it works in the real world. There are some that are talented, smarter, faster, and better than others. We want those on our teams.  We will have to send the others home or let our competitor have them.  It is wonderful to be helpful and charitable, but not at the risk of your business.  By building a strong, healthy business, you are able to give back more to your community, but you first need the right people in place.

3.) Be on the lookout for talent, even if they are already with another company.  Eyeing the competition for talented folks with a winning attitude is simply smart business.  Keep a watchful eye on who your competitors are hiring and snatch them as soon as they become available.

4.) Constant coaching develops successful team members.  The Voice judges or coaches work with their selected candidates and prepare them for doing battle on the stage against other candidates.  We can do the same with our employees.  Providing coaching on a regular basis not only increases the likelihood of a better performing team member, but also instills a sense of loyalty from the employee because of the realized effort we as leaders are putting toward their career success.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Don't Let the Government Run Your Business

" The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." --- Ronald Reagan

On the Orange County primary election ballot is a proposal to guarantee earned sick time for employees of businesses of Orange County.  The proposal states that, "Orange County will adopt an ordinance providing that employees of businesses in Orange County earn up to 56 hours of sick time each year unless the business provides more- with pay required only in businesses with 15 or more employees as defined - to seek medical care, recover from illness/injury, care for a family member as defined, or use when necessary during a public health emergency, with such ordinance enforceable in court."

The ordinance is not needed.  In fact, the ordinance should have never made it to the ballot, (but that is another story and one that reflects unfavorably on our current Orange County Commissioners).  Businesses that already provide benefits for its employees are doing all that they can to attract the best talent in town.  Those businesses that don't, lose talent.  That is called competition in a capitalist market and one that has worked wonderfully for one hundred years.

Several states are going the way of government controlling how businesses operate.  In San Francisco (shocking!), Vermont, and within the Federal Government, part-time employees have the "right" to request schedules that revolve around child and elder care, school, and other activities outside of the business.  At this time, business owners are not required to conform, but they are required to listen and take such scheduling into consideration.  Government is looking over the shoulders of those business owners.  Business owners are waiting for the next shoe to drop.

While these may seem like harmless intervention by Uncle Sam, it is only a foothold into much more control to come.  To stay out of the spotlight and be told how to run your business, here are few key points or reminders to keep Big Brother at bay:

1.) Be nice -- Businesses with the greatest reputations of treating people respectably are simply doing the right things on a continual basis.  The smart players begin treating people right before the hiring phase begins, constructing want ads and holding job fairs in a way that attracts the best talent available.

The niceness continues after the team members are on board with generous compensation, great training programs, and fair benefit packages.  Simply treating people nice does work and helps to increase productivity and boost the bottom line.  Make sure your management team is being nice and follows your core business values and principles.

2.) Be prepared -- Unfortunately, groups will persuade government officials to force businesses to do things like offer mandatory sick time because they do enjoy a handout.  Some things you can't fight, but others you can prepare in advance for.  Things like having great policies in place and communicating those to your team members works wonders.  Keep everyone on the loop regarding new laws, regulations, and upcoming changes.  Communicate over and over again the direction the business is taking and what and why the business offers what it does.

3.) Be Vocal -- You, as the employer, still have rights, at least still in the state of Florida.  Times they are a-changin', but you can make a difference.  First, get really involved in your industry associations.  Every industry has some supportive organizations that provide a voice on your behalf.  Some are stronger than others, but all are worth getting involved with.  

Second, stay in tune with what your local government is doing.  Write or call your local representative to let them know how you feel.  Be prepared to offer solutions and not just complaints.  When they do something right, let them know by dropping a note or calling them.  The key is to stay in touch.

Finally, let your team members know what is happening in your industry.  Give them periodic updates in case they don't know and let them know how you will be addressing in issues that may affect them or your business.

You don't need or want government interference. Adopt these pointers today to protect your employees and your business.

Monday, July 14, 2014

World Cup Lessons

"Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is." --- Vince Lombardi

Billions were tuned into the final match in the World Cup between Germany and Argentina.  I can see why some consider soccer a dangerous sport because I almost passed out while watching it.  Well, more like dosed off.  I'm sure it is fascinating to some, because it is considered the number one sport in the world, it is just not my cup of tea.  However, I did pick up on some pointers from the World Cup that can be applied to business.

1.) Delegate the details.  With so much activity surrounding the World Cup, if the details aren't addressed, chaos can ensue.  Instead of trying to manage every portion of the game, the stands, the media, the travel, etc. World Cup officials put point persons in charge of various segments of the event.  Every point person reported back to the head organizer.  The same should apply to your business.  Instead of working on all the details, which will eventually lead to the death of your business, delegate areas of concern in your business to others. After you've delegated it, leave it alone.  Trust your people.

2.) Winning is not everything.  Brazil was trampled by Germany. Brazil knew they would win.  Their fans knew they would win. However, not only did they lose, but Germany embarrassed them with a score of 7 -1.  That is a big margin in soccer, but Brazil will continue to dominate future matches using what they've learned in this World Cup.  They will be on top again because the players, coaches and managers will review films, dissect plays, and improve on conditioning for future world matches.

3.) Keep your team energized.  Every team participating in the World Cup wanted to win, but all during the waiting and anticipation, the team leaders kept their players loose and motivated.  This can be a daunting task as the personality of each player must be in tune to the goals of the team and a clear-cut direction of the mission must be restated whenever possible.  Players can lose perspective and get distracted with all of the hype surrounding the World Cup.  The same is true with your business.  Distractions abound and without a repeated statement of vision and mission, team members can lose focus.

Like the World Cup, your business is in a competition on a daily basis.  You are fighting for contracts competing against others in your industry; you are fighting to ensure that all of the details of your business are addressed; and you are fighting to keep your team energized and focused.  The major difference is that the World Cup is once ever four years and your business is in it to win every day.  Make it a point to address these three key areas and remain in the winning game.

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