How Storytelling Can Help Young Doctors Become More Resilient


I recently stood in front of a group of emergency room residents at my hospital and asked an unusual question.  “Has any of you ever judged your attending physician for not trying hard enough to save a patient’s life?” Then I looked around the room. But like every time I’d given this presentation, there were no takers.

I can’t say I was surprised. I was piloting a new program which uses storytelling to help young doctors reflect on how they handle the emotional and psychological toll of caring for suffering patients. In my experience, engaging in honest exchange about these dimensions is rare in medical culture—in fact, it is tacitly discouraged.

“Well, let me tell you about a time when I was that attending,” I said.  Then I steeled myself, and launched into my story.

The patient was a young woman, healthy up until the moment of her

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Help Your Team Do More Without Burning Out

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As we begin our coaching session, Nick is fired up. He radiates energy, his eyes are beaming with determination, and he never really comes to a full rest. He speaks passionately of a new initiative he is spearheading, taking on the looming threats from Silicon Valley, and rethinking his company’s business model completely.

I recognize this behavior in Nick, having seen it many times over the years since he was first singled out as a high-potential talent. “Restless and relentless” have been his trademarks as he has risen through the ranks and aced one challenge after another.

But this time, I notice something new. Beneath the usual can-do attitude there is an inkling of something else: Mild disorientation and even signs of exhaustion. “It’s like sprinting all you can, and then you turn a corner and find that you are actually setting out on a marathon,” he

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Helping Health Care Workers Avoid Burnout

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To make progress against knotty problems, break them down — dissect the causes and analyze their impact on different groups. That analysis inevitably leads away from dubious “magic bullet” solutions and toward multiple, targeted interventions that are more likely to be effective. The measures and data to perform this type of analysis are now becoming available for burnout, a problem that is growing in all sectors, but is particularly challenging in health care.

To better understand the sources of burnout and resilience against it, we analyzed data for two characteristics associated with burnout for more than 80,000 health care personnel from 40 healthcare systems nationwide (approximately 19,000 nurses, 5,000 physicians and 60,000 non-nurse/MD personnel). The first of these characteristics, “activation,” is the extent to which a person is motivated by his or her work and feels it is meaningful. The second, “decompression,” is the degree to

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How to Cope with Secondhand Stress

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It’s a well-known phenomenon: Emotions are contagious. If you work with people who are happy and optimistic, you’re more likely to feel the same. The flip side is true too: If your colleagues are constantly stressed out, you’re more likely to suffer.

How do you avoid secondhand stress? Can you distance yourself from your coworkers’ emotions without ostracizing them? And should you try to improve their well-being?

What the Experts Say
First, the bad news: Secondhand stress is nearly inescapable. “We live in a hyperconnected world, which means we are more at risk for negative social contagion than at any point in history,” says Shawn Achor, a lecturer and researcher, and the author of The Happiness Advantage. “Secondhand stress comes from verbal, nonverbal, and written communication, which means we can pick it up even via cellphone.” But the good news is that we are not helpless,

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How to Help a Colleague Who Seems Off Their Game

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When we think about productivity at work, we often think about how to motivate ourselves — or the people on our team. But sometimes the people who are struggling to stay focused and engaged are our peers. And while it may not be an official part of your job description, helping a colleague is the kind thing to do and can be beneficial to your own productivity.

Here are several things you can do for your colleagues to help them through a rough patch.

Acknowledge

The first step is to let your colleague know that you’ve noticed they’re off their game. Find a time to chat with them at their desk or invite them to grab a cup of coffee or a drink after work. Tell them what you’ve observed. Perhaps they look down, or frustrated, or unable to concentrate.

You can’t force a colleague to disclose what’s

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You Have to Stop Canceling and Rescheduling Things. Really.

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A friend recently returned to his parked car to find it had been sideswiped. Now, every time he calls the insurance company, he hears a message saying: “Can’t take your call right now. Leave a message. All calls will be returned by the end of the day.”

So far, he’s called over a dozen times; his calls have been returned only twice.

Why would an insurance adjuster have a voicemail message assuring callers that “all calls will be returned by the end of the day” and then return only 20% of the calls it committed to returning? Probably for the same reasons most of us promise “to write back to your email on Monday” but don’t, or promise “to send out that memo by Friday” but don’t.

Why do any of us say we will do things and then fail to do them?

We overcommit ourselves.

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Protecting Company Culture Means Having Rules for Email

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A new study out of Virginia Tech University confirms something that just about every knowledge worker already knows: Dealing with after-hours emails produces anxiety that is damaging not only to the worker, but to their family.

One particularly striking finding of this study is that it’s not just the amount of time taken up by reading and answering emails after work that’s stressing out employees (and their partners). In fact, what’s creating more anxiety is just the expectation that an employee will be available for work outside the office.

Take this example: A manager does not expect employees to return her emails during off-hours or while they’re on vacation, but she never explicitly says this. Instead, she assumes they “just know,” and therefore thinks there is no harm in sending messages during these times, because she figures they’ll just be waiting for the employee when he returns.

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How Self-Reflection Can Help Leaders Stay Motivated

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We tend to romanticize leadership. When friends are promoted to managerial positions, we slap them on the back, tell them that they finally made it, and congratulate them for their hard work. Our reactions are understandable. Occupying a leadership role often comes with more prestige, financial resources, flexibility, and future employment opportunities. We often forget, however, that there is a flipside to this coin — leadership is hard and exhausting work.

Leaders have many responsibilities (e.g., budgeting, hiring and firing, paperwork), requiring them to perform diverse tasks and to monitor progress on a multitude of goals. In addition to managing their own performance, leaders are also accountable for their followers’ performance. Employees tend to bring their worries and anxieties to work with them and expect their leaders to manage those too. For example, research suggests that when followers struggle with emotional issues, they approach their leader

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What to Do When You Have a Bad Boss

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Despite the $15 billion companies spend annually on managerial and leadership development, bad bosses are common in the American workforce.  A study by Life Meets Work found that 56% of American workers claim their boss is mildly or highly toxic. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”

And a recent study by Gallup found that one in two employees have left a job “to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

Surprisingly, though, another study found that employees end up working longer (two years, on average) for toxic bosses than nontoxic bosses. Why?

Quitting is hard

People stay in jobs with bosses they don’t like for a multitude of reasons. Some of the most common reasons I’ve heard during my 20 years of organizational

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To Cope with Stress, Try Learning Something New

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Stressed. Anxious. Exhausted. Drained. This is how many employees feel at work due to stressors like longer work hours, more-frequent hassles, the need to do more with fewer resources, and so on. Such work stress has been shown to induce anxiety and anger, unethical behavior, poor decision making, and chronic exhaustion and burnout — all of which impair personal and organizational performance.

There are typically two ways people try to deal with this stress. One is to simply “buckle down and power through” — to focus on getting the stressful work done. Professional workers often have a “bias for action” and want to find a solution quickly; and they pride themselves on being tough people who can keep working despite feeling stressed and fatigued.

The other common tactic is to retreat — to temporarily disconnect from work and get away from the

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Are You Sacrificing for Your Work, or Just Suffering for It?

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It was the last of three two-mile intervals, and I had one lap left. It was the point in a hard workout when the pain stops burning the legs and lungs and becomes a thick cloud of smoke behind the eyes. I saw my high school track coach standing on the side.

“What’s the time?” I asked as I ran by. He glanced at the stopwatch hanging around his neck and shouted after me, “Too slow, if you have breath left to ask!” I sprinted away.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, once I had recovered. “It’s OK, now you can go to bed,” he answered. I loved the guy. He cared for us as if we were Olympic hopefuls. I clearly was not one. In fact, I was utterly untalented. (“Make sure you work as hard on your education” is another of my coach’s memorable utterances.)

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How to Help Your Spouse Cope with Work Stress

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Home is a sanctuary from work stress, right? Not always. Even if you are able to leave your projects and worries at the office, your spouse may have difficulty doing so — and that stress can rub off on you. How can you help your partner cope? What’s the best thing to say when your partner starts complaining — and what should you not say? Is there a way to help them see things differently? And how can you set boundaries so that home can be a haven again?

What the Experts Say
Dealing with stress is a fact of working life. And when you’re half of a dual-career couple, you have both your own stress to manage and your significant other’s stress as well. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Jennifer Petriglieri, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. “Two careers can mean

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How Self-Care Became So Much Work

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The United States is no stranger to self-improvement, from the meditation and essential oils of the 60s to the Jane Fonda aerobics tapes of the 1980s and the fat-free-everything 1990s. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841, sounding a bit like a modern SoulCycle instructor. From these deep roots, the $11 billion self-improvement industry has grown.

Today, like so much around us, that industry is heavily influenced by tech. Our focus is shifting away from the actual self — our bodies, minds, and spirits — and toward data about the self. With iEverythings around us at all times, we expect our steps to be enumerated, our REM cycles to be recorded, and our breathing patterns to be measured. It’s not enough to just feel better — we need our devices to affirm that we are doing the work.

This dogged self-improvement quest

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5 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload

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Do your to-do lists stretch on and on — and on? Do you dread checking email on Friday afternoons, worried about seeing messages piling up when you’re just trying to get out the door? Or maybe you’ve noticed that anxiety is preventing you from concentrating on whatever you’re currently doing. You might feel anxious that you’re not working during times that are incompatible with working, like when you’re buckling your child into their car seat or you’re stuck in traffic. You may even feel anxious about the project you’re not working on when you’re busy plugging away on something else.

If you have moments of feeling overwhelmed by your workload, here are some suggestions to try.  Not all of these will be right for everyone, so pick what you think will help you. But always, always start with taking slow breaths (it’s better to focus on slow

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How to Stop Saying “Um,” “Ah,” and “You Know”

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Um.

Ah.

So.

You Know.

Like.

Right?

Well.

When we find ourselves rattled while speaking — whether we’re nervous, distracted, or at a loss for what comes next — it’s easy to lean on filler words. These may give us a moment to collect our thoughts before we press on, and in some cases, they may be useful indicators that the audience should pay special attention to what comes next. But when we start to overuse them, they become crutches — academics call them disfluencies — that diminish our credibility and distract from our message.

Using research that incorporates behavioral science, AI, and data, the people science firm I run, Quantified Communications, determined that the optimum frequency is about one filler per minute, but the average speaker uses five fillers per minute — or, one every twelve seconds.

So let’s take a look at what the

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How to Cure Your Dread of Public Speaking

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Public speaking is so stressful for so many people that it is routinely used as a stress manipulation in psychological studies. Tell undergrads they have 10 minutes to prepare a speech that will be evaluated by experts, and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol shoot through the roof.

Yet success in many roles requires speaking in public. In addition to presenting in my classes, I typically give a talk per week in front of groups. People ask me if speaking gets me nervous. It does not. And I give a lot of credit to my fascination with stand-up comedy. While I’m not a comedian myself, I’ve been a fan of comedians and their process for a long time, and I think there are three lessons that anyone can learn from them about public speaking.

It’s OK to Die

Why exactly is public speaking so nerve-wracking? One main reason:

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You’re Never Going to Be “Caught Up” at Work. Stop Feeling Guilty About It.

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Most people I know have a to-do list so long that it’s not clear that there’s an end to it. Some tasks, even quite important ones, linger unfinished for a long time, and it’s easy to start feeling guilty or ashamed about what you have not yet completed.

People experience guilt and its close cousin shame when they have done something wrong.  Guilt is focused internally on the behavior someone has committed, while shame tends to involve feeling like you are a bad person, particularly in the context of bad behaviors that have become public knowledge.

The fundamental question is whether these feelings are a good thing. To answer that, it’s worth quoting the movie Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance plays the spy Rudolf Abel. He’s asked at one point whether he is worried, and he responds, “Would it help?”

In this case, the answer

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How to Manage an Employee Who’s Having a Personal Crisis

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We all have life events that distract us from work from time to time — an ailing family member, a divorce, the death of a friend. You can’t expect someone to be at their best at such times. But as a manager what can you expect? How can you support the person to take care of themselves emotionally while also making sure they are doing their work (or as much of it as they are able to)?

What the Experts Say
Managing an employee who is going through a stressful period is “one of the real challenges all bosses face,” says Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School and author of Being the Boss. Most of us try to keep work and home separate, but “we all have situations in which our personal and professional lives collide,” and how you handle these situations with your employees is often

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How Are You Protecting Your High Performers from Burnout?

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A little over a year ago, a high-performing specialist at one of the largest technologies companies — we’ll call him Santiago — was given an opportunity no high performer could turn down: an opportunity to play a manager role on a project he really cared about. The director told him, “You care about this; you lead it.” So he did, and all seemed to be going well — even though he was planning a significant company-wide event at the same time, a role he had volunteered for.

“We had a really important conference call I had spent a lot of time preparing for. The call went well, but when I finished the call, I realized I was feeling really sick,” Santiago recounts. “It got worse after that. I went to the doctor later that day, and he told me I had pneumonia. I ended up in the ER the next

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Why Is Crying at Work Such a Big Deal?

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I couldn’t stop crying. Months of late evenings and demanding travel had cracked my professional exterior. I tried to present my quarterly numbers while my colleagues squirmed in their seats, offered me a box of tissues, or just stared. My boss abruptly ended the meeting. My colleagues quickly evacuated the room. I was left alone in the conference room, crumpled tissues in hand.

For women, crying in a professional setting is often seen as the kiss of death:

“Stop crying! Someone will see you.”

“Quick, run to the ladies’ room!”

These are just two versions of similar warnings I’ve heard throughout my career. But it’s not just me. Female friends and colleagues have told me they too have been told to shut down the waterworks. It’s a familiar narrative for women who cry at work: Escape to bathroom. Grab toilet paper. Wipe eyes. Blow nose. Take deep breath

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