New Answer for Mental Illness in the Workplace

In my professional career I’ve unfortunately had to deal with a suicide, attempted suicide, several major heart attacks and strokes of C-level executives. The level of stress business owners and CEOs deal with can have serious repercussions on not only the financial welfare of their businesses, but their health as well.

I’ve worked with companies where the CEOs were suffering from depression and unable to make the best decisions on the direction of the company, even to the point their businesses failed completely. I’ve been in negotiations for the sale of a company where a bipolar owner refused to sign the papers for a deal he had agreed to, only to change his mind and ask me later why we didn’t do the deal.

The mental health of CEOs and employees at all levels is a serious business, and one I need to be cognizant of at all times. It should be a concern for anyone running a business, as untreated mental illness costs companies $44 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center and reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Tackling Worker’s Mental Health, One Text at a Time.”

It’s not just that people are missing days of work, with people suffering from depression costing the company 27 days of work a year. They are also less productive when they are at the office.

Some companies have instituted Employee Assistance Programs to help workers who may be suffering from anxiety, depression or some other form of a mental condition. These programs usually involve giving workers free counseling sessions on the phone. But some people are still reluctant to pick up the phone.

They may perceive a stigma to seeking treatment and worry about losing their jobs.  Managers are not sure what to do to help them, according to the article “Mental Problems in the Workplace” on the Harvard Health Publications website.

According to Kent Bradley, former chief medical officer at Safeway as reported in the article “Overcoming Stigma Around Mental Health Services, “71 percent of U.S. adults with depression won’t contact a mental health professional. They figure that they’ve got to work it out themselves.” He points out barriers that include not being aware of their condition, not being open to learning more about it or seeking care for it, the cost of counseling and medications, and difficulty with access to the right health care provider.

So some businesses are seeking to provide help through access to apps that help with their employees’ mental health. Rather than pick up a phone and call for a counseling session, employees can text or video chat with a therapist who can also connect them with a health coach, reports the article.

The app Ginger.io offers “personalized care for stress, anxiety and depression from a team of experts.” Users download the app and are assigned a health care coach, who coordinates their care with a team of specialists and checks in on them if they haven’t heard from the user in a few days. The user can schedule a video chat with a therapist, share information about medication needs with their physician and continue to personalize the plan until they find the right care for them.

Addepar, a financial services tech firm purchased access to the new app for its 200 employees. So far, 50 people have signed onto it.

Sprint has tried another app from Castlight Health for its 42,000 employees and dependents. Once a user downloads the app and enters health information, the app can identify who might need help by reviewing the employees’ medications and health claims and directs them to help.

Let’s say something about an employee indicates they may be suffering from anxiety. They may get a message asking if they are feeling overwhelmed and suggesting they take a questionnaire to determine if treatment is indicated.

Sprint invested a bunch of money in the app – $2.1 million. But the hope is that in addition to helping its employees, the company actually saves money on what it spends on behavioral health treatments.

However you choose to handle it, it makes sense for your company to have some policies in place to address employees who may need treatment for mental health issues.

3 Reasons You Want Employees to Take Vacation

In France, taking days off is considered a national birthright. The standard for an average worker is 30 days paid leave a year. One company, the utility EDF, has a policy that if you work more than 35 hours a week, you get an additional 23 days off every year. That’s on top of the company’s standard 27 days. Yes, that means 50 days of vacation a year – 10 weeks.

Pretty much the entire country takes two to three weeks off in July or August. In fact, the French people are divided into two camps and they even have names for them: Those who vacation in July are called Juillettists and those who chose August are called Aoûtiens.

In case you are wondering, yes, there is a massive traffic jam every year around the last weekend in July when the Juillettists are returning home as the Aoûtiens are just setting out. There’s even a name for that too: it’s known as the chassé-croisé. So here’s your warning: don’t try to travel on the highways in France that weekend.

We do take vacation in the U.S. although the average worker gets just 15 days a year. And even with that amount, some people have to be forced out of the office. But CEOs and business owners would be wise to make people take time off. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It’s better for their health
  2. It makes employees more productive
  3. It can give you a chance to detect fraud

For more on the topic, please refer to “Why You Want Your Employees to Take Vacation.”

4 Ways to Attract Millennials to Your Company

 

Today I am happy to introduce a guest blogger. Chris Butsch is a Millennial Happiness Expert, speaker and the author of the upcoming book The Millennials Guide to Making Happiness.

Millennials now outnumber Gen Xers and Boomers in the workplace, and with the improving economy, they have unprecedented choosiness in who they’d like to work for. And make no mistake, Millennials like to shop around. The average job tenure in 2014 was around 4.5 years, the lowest since the 1970s. For Millennials, it’s less than half that. And as the Boomers and Xers retire, a company’s survival will depend on its ability to attract America’s next working generation.

While interviewing dozens of young professionals for my upcoming book The Millennial’s Guide to Making Happiness, I took the time to understand why they love their current employers, or what they’re looking for in their next venture. What’s the #1 most-desired perk? What are the red flags? Around 65 percent of employers report struggling to hire and retain Millennial talent, so here are 4 ways to join the 35 percent.

1)   Have a Clear Purpose and Mission Statement

As children of the digital age, we Millennials are obsessed with Impression Management. Our jobs become part of our identity, so we’re naturally attracted to companies with missions we can get behind. Ninety-five percent of us say a company’s reputation matters strongly to us, so it’s unlikely we’ll work for a company whose Google search reveals images of Communism on the first page, like Comcast.

Having a clear, concise mission statement not only helps Millennials understand your company’s goals, it gets us excited to help you. Ensure your mission statement is broadcasted everywhere, not just your website. Which brings us to tip #2.

2)   Know Where Millennials Are Looking Online, and Be There

While Millennials spend less time researching each employer (12.4 hours compared to the 25.9 older generations spend), we tend to look in more places and for different things. Most companies have online information ready for the scrutinizing Boomer (i.e. health plan and 401k), but few are truly prepared for the investigative Millennial.

We’ll go to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see if you’re there, and if you are, what kind of content you post. These platforms are a way for companies to show off their work culture, and companies who post a couple of times a week content like updates, employee praise, or helpful articles, win Millennials. For good accounts to model after, visit the Facebook pages of The Nashville Entrepreneur Center and Carvana.

Millennials will also see what former employees are saying about you, and our forum of choice is Glassdoor. We make up just over a third of the workforce, yet account for nearly half of Glassdoor’s traffic. We’re reading and writing thousands of reviews for each other, and Millennials considering one company as an employer are sure to come across this one:

Good reviews on Glassdoor are crucial to recruiting Millennials.

Good reviews on Glassdoor are crucial to recruiting Millennials.

When I interviewed for my first job at Epic Health Systems as a Project Manager, I felt nervous about the alarming number of Glassdoor reviews citing poor work-life balance. I actually printed some off and showed them to my interviewers to ask their honest opinions, which they graciously offered. I got the job, but had Epic scored lower than a 2.5 on Glassdoor, I honestly wouldn’t have flown up for the interview.

If your company has no Glassdoor reviews, consider reaching out to former employers who are likely to leave you positive words.

3)   Update Your Technology

Millennials live on the cutting edge, constantly optimizing our lives with apps, trackers and gadgets. We’re the most likely to order an Uber on a SmartWatch and get excited when a wall socket has a USB outlet.

“Millennials don’t think of technology as an extra,” writes Art Papas in Forbes. “They expect to be able to use it in all aspects of their lives.” As such, we love employers who also keep up. Productivity software, the latest Microsoft Office, and fast internet beckon tech-savvy Millennials, while aging beige monitors and fax machines make us question the company’s forward momentum. But above all, Millennials love laptops at work because they often come paired with another item on our workplace wish-list: flexibility.

4)   Pay in Dollars and Freedom

On average, Millennials get married seven years later than our parents did in the ‘70s. We place huge value on international travel, and are the least likely to own a car or a house. Surely part of our changing mindset is due to our tepid economic predicament, but mostly we wait to “settle down” because we value our freedom.

According to Fast Company, Millennials place more emphasis on work-life balance than other working generations, and Bentley University found that 77 percent of Millennials believe flexible work schedules boost our productivity. We’re not asking to work less; rather, we just want to get more done in the same time or the same done in less time.

And according to Ellen Ernst Kossek, author of CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age, we might be right. “Research shows that employees are healthier, experience less stress, and are more productive and engaged when they effectively make choices about how, where and when they work.” Which explains why more Millennials look at the 9-to-5 and ask: why?

As for vacation, my friend from Switzerland once asked me, “How much vacation do you have?” When I told her 10 days, she balked. “Only 10 days left? Wow, where all have you been traveling this year?” Thanks to globalization, more and more Millennials are picking up on our country’s deplorable standards for time off. And since we highly value freedom and travel, we’ll work hard for companies with forward-thinking strategies.

Virgin, Best Buy, and Netflix offer unlimited vacation time, while startup powerhouse Evernote offers a bonus to employees who take at least an entire week off. While these policies sacrifice in-office time, they boost retention and employee happiness, creating a clear return on investment.  Research shows that prolonged work-a-thons atrophy our productivity and ability to cope with stress, so Millennials especially are more likely to burn out of jobs that don’t provide adequate time off.

Plus, affording your employees more vacation time and flexible work hours creates a quieter office, so you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Little Changes CEOs Make Can Lead to Big Ones

 

Trash cans and toilet paper. You wouldn’t expect CEOs to concern themselves with such mundane items. Aren’t they supposed to concentrate on managing the company’s resources, developing and implementing long-term strategies and communicating with the board of directors?

Yes, of course. But part of their overall strategy may need to include small changes in the workplace that can lead to big shifts in employee outlooks and increased productivity in the workplace.

Suzanne Sitherwood has been CEO of Laclede Gas Company since 2012. An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, “CEOs Sometimes Use Small Changes as Wedge for Broad Transformation,” detailed a few of the design changes she made when she took over to foster an interactive atmosphere.

These included moving into her assistant’s office, installing a round table for management meetings to foster “a sense of unity and equality” and keeping her office door open. And she banned the use of individual trash cans in offices.

Yes, that’s right. Trash cans were taken out of individual offices and moved to communal areas to encourage staffers to meet face to face. So instead of tossing a crumpled-up piece of paper into the bin by your desk, you had to get up and walk into the main area, where you just might run into a co-worker doing the same thing.

That’s one of the more creative ways I’ve heard of encouraging interaction among employees. Steve Job’s tried to institute another not-so-popular idea when he built the Pixar headquarters. He wanted to design the building with only one set of bathrooms in the atrium, rather than the usually placement of being tucked off to the side. (Fortunately for the employees in offices located far away in the wings of the building, he was overruled.)

Both these CEOs know that attention to small seemingly insignificant details like these can lead to bigger changes in their companies. Laclede Group, now rebranded as Spire, was once considered a conservative, unexciting utility. After Sitherwood took over, she turned that image around. The company made two major acquisitions of other gas utility companies, and increased the stock more than 50 percent.

A little change that that led to a major turnaround for me had to do with toilet paper. I was brought in to manage a computer parts company in Texas after the bank had forced the egomaniacal, ineffective CEO out. Although he was highly educated, he didn’t know diddly about how to treat employees.

His wife, affectionately known to the employees as the Dragon Lady, was the COO. It didn’t take me long to find out what she had done to earn this nickname. She was rationing coffee and toilet paper.

My first day there, a meek-looking secretary shyly approached me and asked for $20 to buy the daily allotment of coffee and toilet paper. I’d actually never heard the term “daily allotment of coffee and toilet paper” outside of a war-time situation. It seems Dragon Lady had limited how much of these items employees were allowed to use.

My decision was easy in this case. Banish the daily allotment – toilet paper and coffee for everyone! That one small change signaled to the employees that they mattered to the company. That one small gesture changed everything. The employees regained their faith in the company and they all begin working together to save it. We stabilized the company, sold it in six months, and all the employees kept their jobs.

There’s one change designed to improve office morale I find a little questionable. Last year President Nobuaki Aoki of the MK Taxi company in Kyoto, Japan, installed six personalized vending machines in his company.

These machines have his photo on them and in addition to snacks, dispenses sound bites in his dialect like “Groom yourself well and smile,” “Good job,” and “Thanks for working hard again today.” The idea, of course, is to boost employee morale. But I’m guessing these words mean a lot more coming from a supervisor rather than a machine.

Think about small changes in your office that could boost employee morale. But think twice about the vending machine.

 

 

Want People to Work for You? Make Them Feel Heard

They have 14,000 employees. And more clamoring to come on board.

Under Armour was recently included on LinkedIn’s U.S. list of Top Attractors, the top 40 companies at attracting and keeping the best employees. In an article referencing the inclusion, “To Thrive at Under Armour, You Have to Answer Kevin Plank’s Three Questions,” I found out one of the reasons why more people want to join the ranks at the sports clothing and accessories company with close to $4 billion in revenue.

The three questions management is encouraged to ask after every meeting or conversation are:

  • This is what I heard
  • This is what I think
  • This is what we are going to do

The goal of the questions, Kevin said, is to make sure you heard and understood what people said. With this method you don’t waste time on miscommunication, you facilitate buy-in and people feel their ideas have been heard, a huge factor in employee morale and retention.

My favorite method for clear communication is the whiteboard. I’m a huge fan of the whiteboard, even writing a whole chapter on its use in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

For more reasons I love the whiteboard, please read my post “The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World.” Good luck with your new and improved communication.

 

We Are Not Family in the Workplace

You hear it all the time – “I love my job. We’re like family there.” It’s true that a workplace setting may sometimes resemble a family. You spend a lot of time together. You have parties together, go out to lunch, celebrate successes. Sometimes people in the office even get nicknames like Aunt Betty.

But there are big differences between a family and a business. Here are just two: a business has the goal of making a profit. And it can choose who gets to stay and who goes. With family members, for better or worse, you’re just stuck with them.

This family mentality, while it may sound inviting to outsiders and help with employees’ morale, is actually not what you want to encourage in a workplace. Yes, you can keep your parties and celebrations and encourage good relations and positive morale among co-workers. But the overall goal is to build a high-productivity team – not a happy family.

Let’s take a look at Netflix.

Netflix has 81 million subscribers and grew its revenue from $1.2 billion in 2007 to $6.8 billion. This pioneering company has changed the entertainment industry. Its history, place in our society and future is fascinating. You can read all about it in the New York Times Magazine article this past weekend, “Can Netflix Survive in the New World It Created?”

But there was a point early on when the company’s survival was in question. In 2001, after the internet bubble burst, Netflix had to lay off 50 of its 150 employees, cutting its staff by one-third. And what happened? The people who were left had to work harder, but were actually happier.

Founder and CEO Reed Hastings and former head of HR Patti McCord thought it was because they “held onto the self-motivated employees who assumed responsibility naturally.” They said office politics disappeared overnight.

Since then the company strives to maintain what Hastings calls its “high performance” culture. A lot of companies pay lip service to that value, but at Netflix, they mean it.

Netflix captured its culture in a slideshow the company produced in 2004. (And that has been viewed 14.5 million times.) This 124-slide, simply produced show includes the company’s philosophy of hiring, And firing.

“Like every company we try to hire well.”

“Unlike many companies, we practice: adequate performance gets a generous severance package.”

“We’re a team, not a family. We’re like a pro sports team, not a kids’ recreational team. Netflix leaders hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.”

The analogy of the kids’ recreational team versus the pro sports team is perfect to capture the mentality I’ve seen so often in my practice with GlassRatner. I mention a few stories in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

There was the company where the CEO’s grandmother was on the payroll, but whose primary responsibility seemed to knit the CEO socks. There was the beloved “Aunt” Tess who handled payroll, helping herself to the salaries of several non-existent employees every two weeks.

I’ve seen many companies that run more like a kids’ recreational team. Everyone gets a trophy and we love the ladies who brings the snacks!

But in real life, people who don’t perform get cut from the team. And the job of CEOs and senior management is to field the best team possible. Netflix does that early on by recognizing mediocre talent and paying them to get off the team.

Zappos has a similar philosophy for cutting people quickly who aren’t going to be the best team members. They famously use “The Offer,” giving new employees the opportunity to receive $2,000 to leave rather than starting the job.

Last year, Zappos had a large increase in turnover when 18 percent of the company took buyouts, an extension of “The Offer.” Zappos was unfazed, according to this article in The Atlantic, “Why Are So Many Zappos Employees Leaving?”

“We have always felt like however many people took the offer was the right amount of people to take the offer, because what we really want is a group of Zapponians who are aligned, committed, and excited to push forward the purpose and vision of Zappos.”

That’s the kind of team you want to build. A pro sports team. Team members who don’t perform can and will be cut.

When Bankruptcy is Not the Answer

When a well-known media company previously worth roughly $250 to $300 million files bankruptcy, it makes news. Add in an outed revenge-seeking billionaire financing a lawsuit against the company brought by a pro wrestler/reality TV star over a published tape c of him enjoying some hanky-panky with his friend’s wife, well, now you’ve really got a thriller.

Gawker Media, an online media company and blog network owned by Nick Denton, filed for bankruptcy last Friday. The filing came after the company lost a $140 million lawsuit brought by the flamboyant former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan over excerpts of a tape of him and his friend’s wife Gawker posted on its site.

Peter Thiel, who made his fortune with PayPal and Facebook, funded the lawsuit, calling it one of his most philanthropic efforts, as well as many others in what is seen as an act of revenge over many Gawker posts about him, including one in 2007 with the headline “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”

In this instance, filing bankruptcy may have been the only option for Gawker, as insurance doesn’t cover the $140 million judgment, and the company wanted to protect its assets from seizure.

Odds are really good you won’t find yourself in this situation. But you may be considering filing bankruptcy. That is one option I discuss with clients when their companies are in dire straits.

However, there are several other avenues to explore first and many reasons not to take this step, as outlined in my post The Downsides of Bankruptcy. These include the expense, the damage to your company’s reputation and the loss of control.

While bankruptcy is one tool used to protect assets, it’s not the only one and requires careful consideration of the alternatives. At GlassRatner, we look beyond the obvious choices and consider the optimum strategies to help you and your business.