Thursday, August 11, 2016

Employee Involvement

Employee involvement. Seems like a nice idea, doesn’t it? But employers often find that they have a hard time actively engaging their employees in the organization. Many say that this is one of the problems that they have in trying to implement health and wellness programs.
In the previous blog, I discussed the Psychologically Healthy Workplace awards program sponsored by the American Psychological Association and state and provincial psychological associations across the U.S. and Canada. Employee involvement is one of the five areas that are evaluated by APA or the state or provincial associations when an organization has applied for the award. The evaluation process has three parts. The application in which an organization is asked to describe one of the practices it makes use of in creating a psychological healthy workplace, environment that it feels is very effective, a survey of employees at all levels within the organization, and a site visit. The evaluation process, although extensive, does not cost the organization anything but some time and effort. The first two steps are completed online. After the site visit, the organization is given feedback regarding the five areas that are being evaluated. How to get employees engaged in the mission of the organization is often one of the areas that employers want to talk about.
Imagine the following scenario: Use the skills and attitudes of resilience to address this challenge. You are the HR person for your organization, a medium-size manufacturing company. You offer a number of health and wellness programs for your employees, but less than 20% participate. You are frustrated and don’t understand why more employees don’t take advantage of this generous benefit that your organization offers.
Now, give some thought to how the skills and the attitudes of resilience might be helpful in dealing with this situation. Here are some suggestions that we have that you might think about applying to the situation.
First, you need to consider how you communicate with your employees and how connected they are to you and the company. Do they feel valued by the organization or do they think this is being done just to reduce the cost to the company in health benefit claims? You also may need to deal with some of the strong feelings you have about this issue so you can think more clearly about how to deal with this challenge.  
Talk with others about what they would do or have done in a similar situation.You may come up with others skills and attitudes you could apply.
In the next blog, we’re going to talk about work/life balance.  Unfortunately, many organizations spend a good deal of time talking about this, but don’t really walk the walk.

My Job

The bad news is that for many Americans their job is a major source of stress for them. The good news is that employers and the employee can make their workplace less stressful and more psychologically healthy.
In the late nineties, the American Psychological Association began giving an award to workplaces that were “psychologically healthy.” Workplaces could apply for the award and be evaluated on five areas: employee involvement, work/life balance, employee growth and development, health and safety, and employee recognition. Since the program began over six hundred awards have been given by the American Psychological Association and state psychological associations. The award has shown a light on organizations’ good practices.
Today, most state and provincial psychological associations in the United States and Canada participate in the awards program. The awards continue to recognize organizations that commit to programs and policies that foster employee well-being while enhancing organizational performance.
Why am I writing about this in a blog that focuses on resilience? Because I believe that keeping in mind and practicing the skills and the attitudes of resilience can help employers and employees create psychologically healthy workplaces. In the next few months I’m going to focus on the five areas on which organizations are evaluated and how the skills and attitudes of resilience can be helpful in dealing with the challenges that employers may face in creating work/life balance, recognizing their employees,creating healthy and safe workplaces,involving their employees in decision making and fostering their growth and development.
For more information about the Psychologically Healthy Workplace awards, contact the American Psychological Association at apaexcellence.org  or contact your state psychological association.

Managing Stress

In this blog over the years I’ve talked a lot about the management of stress. The skills ofresilience are really stress management skills. They are also the skills of emotional intelligence  These areas overlap a lot and have a lot to do with the issue of happiness as well.
Recently, I was asked to do an interview with a national magazine around the issue of stress management. The author wanted specific recommendations regarding how to manage stress quickly. We talked for about a half-hour and came up with a number of strategies; again, strategies very directly related to resilience as well as to the management of stress.
The management of stress has much to do with the beliefs that we hold about ourselves and other people. And about the world in general. In this blog, I’ve talked a lot about the issues of permanency and pervasiveness and personal blame. It is easy for us to get into this type of thinking which, as Seligman has defined repeatedly in his research, has much to do with pessimism and depression. So challenging our beliefs has much to do with resilience and with managing stress on a daily basis.  We make assumptions about how we should look, feel and behave. We also often get into black and white thinking. We say things like, ‘If I don’t get this promotion, I’m never going to get ahead in life.’  Or, ‘If this relationship fails, I will never find another person that I can love or could love me.’
Managing stress often involves challenging these assumptions and these beliefs. We need to argue with ourselves rather than simply accept these beliefs at face value.
We also need to find ways of channeling and expressing the stress that we are feeling. Sometimes we can do this by simply talking to others. Exercise can also be a very good idea. And engaging in creative activities, like drawing, writing or painting, can also work.
We also need to get our lives organized and directed. Before we can do this, we usually need to decide what is most important and what our goals really are right now. We can often make what may appear to be an overwhelming agenda manageable by writing it down and then realistically prioritizing the things that we can accomplish and making a plan to accomplish them.
So managing stress may be as simple some days as making a list and prioritizing the list, challenging our beliefs and what we must accomplish and finding ways to express our frustrations and often our anger specifically using creative activities as a channel.
Resilience has much to do with managing stress, and the skills of resilience and stress management are very, very similar to the ones that Goldman and others have defined as emotional intelligence and that those working in the area of positive psychology believe can lead to people feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives.

The Shopping Trip

As I have done in previous blogs, I’m going to present a challenge from the card game, “Bounce Back.” Your job is list the skills and the attitudes of resilience that you would use in dealing with the challenge. Describe how you would respond to the challenge using these skills.
This one relates to Jack and Diane taking a shopping trip to the mall. They are looking for new outfits for an upcoming event that they were invited to. They both try on several articles of clothing trying to find the perfect ensemble. By the end of trying on everything, their arms were quite full. After ringing up the items and leaving the store, Jack notices that he is still holding a pair of jeans that he forgot to get rung up. The clerk had not noticed and neither did Diane. Jack really wanted these jeans as well. It was a simple mistake, but he thought he could not just take them home.  What skills should Jack use to resolve this dilemma  Should he just head home or head back to the store and explain the situation? Should he ask for Diane’s advice?
Here are some of the skills that we think would be useful to Jack in dealing with this situation. Obviously, these are only suggestions. One size does not fit all, and everyone is different.
We would first off suggest that Jack deal with the feelings that he has about himself and the options that he has in terms of his behavior. How will he feel if he doesn’t take the item back? Will he be comfortable shopping in this store in the future? This is a situation where we think talking about it would be a good idea. We would suggest asking Diane’s advice.
If he decides to take the jeans back, we would think that giving some thought to what he would say would be a good idea. Using humor might also help.        
Dealing with a situation requires Jack to look at the values that he has as a person and as to how he sees himself and feels about himself. How he will act on his values will determine the outcome of this situation.
Talking with others about how they would deal with a similar situation or how they have dealt with a similar situation would be helpful. Again, you may come up with other skills and attitudes that you would apply in the situation. In using this game over the years, we have found that it encourages people to really think about what they would do in a specific situation and requires them to actually demonstrate how they would apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience to the challenge.

The Car Accident

As in past blogs, I’m going to present a challenge from the game, “Bounce Back,” which has been developed into an electronic game that will be available on the Internet in the fall of this year. The game is a tool that we have been using in teaching the skills and attitudes of resilience. It is a serious game, meaning that it teaches skills that ask you to apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience to a specific challenge and describe how you would respond to that challenge using these skills. And just like life, we don’t know what challenge we will be dealt.
This one involves a car accident. After a car collision on the Interstate caused by Kelly texting and driving, Kelly finds herself in the hospital with minor injuries. Next door, she can hear the doctor and parents of a person that was put into a coma with severe head injuries from the same accident. It doesn’t sound good. The doctor enters Kelly’s room and is asking her permission to let the coma patient’s parents speak to her about the accident. Kelly is wracked with guilt, unsure how the conversation will go moving forward. She agrees to see the parents. What skills and attitudes should Kelly apply in this situation?
This is obviously a difficult situation for Kelly. She feels responsible for the accident.  She will have to really manage the strong feelings that she has if she is going to be able to communicate with the other patient’s  parents. She will need to try to make some connection with these people and will need to use the communication skills that she has to understand what they are requesting of her and to communicate to them the feelings that she has about the situation. 
After the conversation, she will need to connect with others who can support her. And she will need to talk about the feelings that the conversation brought up. She will need to take care of herself.
We would encourage you to talk with others about this situation. Some of your family and friends may have been in a situation like this. You may come up with other skills and attitudes that you could apply to the situation. As we have said in earlier blogs, every situation and every individual is different. Again, we would encourage you to think this through and to talk with others about how they have dealt with similar situations.
We have found over the years that using this game encourages people to really think about what they would do in a specific situation and requires them to actually demonstrate how they would apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience to the challenge.
So talk about it with others. We will present another challenge in our next blog

The Hurricane

As I have done in previous blogs, I’m going to present a challenge from the card game “Bounce Back.” Your job is to list the skills and the attitudes of resilience that you would use in dealing with the challenge. Describe how you would respond to the challenge using these skills. Here’s one that relates to the weather: very, very bad weather.
A hurricane is moving up the coast and is approaching the community you’ve lived in most of your life. Your home may be damaged severely or destroyed. What would you do in the time, one or two days, before the storm strikes? Describe the skills and the attitudes of resilience that you would use in preparing for the storm’s arrival. Take some time and think about this and what skills and attitudes you might apply to this situation. 
Here are some of the suggestions we have about ways that you might deal with this challenge. Again, these are only suggestions. Every situation is different, as is every person. 
First of all, we would encourage you to deal with the strong feelings that  we would assume you might have. You need to calm down and to think clearly about what you’re going to do. That means managing all of these feelings. Talking with others may help you to calm down. It may also help you to connect with others and understand how they are approaching the situation and what they are doing to prepare. Connecting with others is an important skill to apply in any crisis situation.
Your connection with others will also help you to make realistic plans and to take action to carry them out.
Being flexible will also help you to deal with the situation. Being rigid, either in your thinking or your actions, generally does not help one to deal with a crisis situation. You may have to try in a different way to deal with the problem. The storm may be different from others that you have weathered. Be open to new information. Don’t get stuck. It could cost you your life.
We have found that using this game and its challenges encourages people to really think about what they would do in a specific situation and requires them to actually demonstrate how they would apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience to the challenge. Put yourself in this situation and think through what you would actually do.
We would encourage you to talk about this challenge with others. Asking them what they would do. If you value their opinion and their direction, asking them can be a very important part of developing a plan of action and approaching the situation in a flexible and adaptive fashion.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Much has been written about post-traumatic stress disorder. We have posted blogs discussing this problem and suggesting ways in which the skills and the attitudes ofresilience could be helpful. Undoubtedly, when we go through traumatic situations, they cause stress and they can cause damage and create scars that will last for a long time. But many of these will not be permanent. And, indeed, if we survive the trauma, we may develop attitudes and skills that will help us in dealing with our life in general and with future traumas.
A number of years ago, a group of psychologists decided they would do a meta-analysis of all of the studies of child sexual abuse, focused specifically at how victims of this abuse survived and what happened to them in later years. Do they carry the scars of their abuse forever? How well-adjusted were they? Did they marry? Have children? Create relatively normal and positive lives for themselves? Somewhat to the surprise of some of the researchers, they found that, indeed, the majority of victims of such abuse developed relatively normal, healthy lives in later years. They did not in all cases. In fact, did not in most cases carry permanent scars that hindered them from having relatively healthy and productive lives.
The researchers expected that their study would be greeted in a positive way by others in the field. To their dismay, many in the field were exceedingly critical of them and their research and appeared to want to maintain the idea that the majority of people who are abused as children will be damaged for life. Will be damaged forever. This is not what the research showed. Indeed, some were, but many were not. Their study illustrates that human beings are amazingly resilient creatures and that children and adolescents especially are. The participants in these studies were victims initially.  But in the end they were survivors.
Out of their research and the work of a number of other people, the concept of post-traumatic growth has developed. The concept is basically one of:  If it doesn’t kill you, it may, indeed, make you stronger.
For most of us who have worked in this field for many years, the concept of post-traumatic growth is not a new one. Long before extensive research was done in this area, most of us were quite aware of the individuals that we had worked with who had actually grown and developed new skills and attitudes in dealing with the traumatic experiences that they had had in their lives. The field of positive psychology has benefited from this research and has used much of it as a cornerstone for the positive psychology “movement.” The  positive psychology movement is not focused on denying the impact of trauma on our lives. Individuals can be damaged and, in some cases, destroyed by the traumas that they experience in their lives.  But many may learn the skills and the attitudes that will carry them through and allow them to have meaningful and productive lives.
If you haven’t read much about this area, I would encourage you to look on the Internet for articles about post-traumatic growth. A number of these have been authored by Dr. Martin Seligman and his colleagues.