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NEWSLETTER

Take Back Your Productivity by
Controlling Work Interruptions

From the Managers Minute

    Who among us hasn’t been deeply involved in a project at work — concentrating as your mind solves problems, arranges data, and sails toward completion — only to be interrupted by your boss or a co-worker: “Hey, you got a second?” It’s unintentional. Most of these time bandits are completely unaware of the magnificent train of thought they’ve just derailed.
   You stop. You listen. You shift gears. Then, you turn back toward your project …. Where was I? How long does it take you to regain your momentum? Do you ever get those ideas back?  Interruptions and distractions are everywhere in most offices. They’re part of every workplace. And they’re not just people. They’re the clutter on your desk, the unfiled documents — both on your desk and on your computer desktop. Sure, social media is a distraction at work, but according to Jason Fried, cofounder & CEO of Basecamp, at least you choose the timing of these diversions — like the “smoke break” of old.
   In addition to lost time and productivity, distractions can also cause errors. You go back to the project you were working on, and the interruption causes you to lose your place or forget a key date or component. In the health-care industry, one field where mistakes can have dire consequences, distractions and interruptions have been linked to errors in patient care. Many health-care organizations have developed systematic approaches to interruptions — a list of critical tasks that shouldn’t be interrupted — along with methods to keep them from happening.Productive Employee
 While consequences in many other fields don’t have such extreme effects, Fried suggests that we all “make the office a better place to work,” so we don’t have to go in early or stay late just to avoid distractions and get a lot done.
What’s the solution?
   Here are a few of Fried’s suggestions, as well as a few others:
No-talk Thursdays. (Establish a day or afternoon of silence where coworkers can’t speak to each other.) This will enable you to get more stuff done because it’s uninterrupted.
Switch from active communication (face-to-face) to passive (email, instant messaging, or collaboration products). While email or messaging is also distracting, it’s at a time of your choice.
Cancel the next meeting if you’re in charge of it.
Clear the space around your computer. Everything in your field of vision is distracting your thoughts. Move it to a drawer, a folder, a place where you can’t see it while you work.
Choose to check emails and other passive communication less frequently. Very few things are so urgent that you need to read them the moment they pop up.
Consider getting a sign for your work space that signals coworkers when you’re planning to be involved in something that needs 100% focus and uninterrupted time. Nicely let your coworkers know about this new signal and the reason for it.
Be aware. Stop interrupting other people. Think about just how urgent your need is — will something fall apart if you don’t get it … right … this … second? If you round the corner of a colleague’s cube or office and see him or her deeply immersed in something, go back to your desk and send an email.
   Some work interruptions add variety to your day and help with work relationships. (All work and no play can be dull.) But when interruptions and distractions affect your productivity and interrupt your thoughts on a regular basis, it might be time to make some changes. The time you lose isn’t just the time of the interruption; it’s also the time it takes for you to regain your momentum and to recover your ideas.

Workplace Anxiety Isn’t Always a Bad Thing –
In Some Cases It Can Help Boost Employee Performance

By Don Campbell

   A new model of workplace anxiety has found that in some instances it can help boost performance.  New research on anxiety in the workplace has uncovered some intriguing findings: in certain instances it can help boost employee performance.  
   “There are a lot of theories and models of anxiety that exist, but this is the first model situated in the workplace focusing on employees,” says co-author Julie McCarthy from the Department of Management at U of T Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.     McCarthy, along with her former grad student and lead author Bonnie Hayden Cheng, now an assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, looked at both the triggers of workplace anxiety and also its relationship to employee performance.    “If you have too much anxiety, and you’re completely consumed by it, then it’s going to derail your performance,” says McCarthy, who is an expert on organizational behavior.  “On the other hand, moderate levels of anxiety can facilitate and drive performance.”
   If employees are constantly distracted or thinking about things that are causing them anxiety, it will prevent them from completing tasks at work and that can eventually lead to exhaustion and burnout, says Cheng.  But in certain situations anxiety can boost performance by helping employees focus and self-regulate their behavior. She compares it to athletes who are trained to harness anxiety in order to remain motivated and stay on task. Likewise, if employees engage in something called self-regulatory processing, that is monitoring their progress on a task and focusing their efforts toward performing that task, it can help boost their performance.
   “After all, if we have no anxiety and we just don’t care about performance, then we are not going to be motivated to do the job,” says Cheng.  She says that work-anxious employees who are motivated are more likely to harness anxiety in order to help them focus on their tasks. Those who are emotionally intelligent, can recognize their feelings of anxiety and use it to regulate their performance, as well as those who are experienced and skilled at their job, are also less likely to have anxiety affect their performance.
   The model of workplace anxiety Cheng and McCarthy developed is broken into two categories.  One covers dispositional aspects, that is those that align with individual character traits. If someone already experiences high levels of general anxiety for example, their experiences with workplace anxiety will be different from those who don’t.  The other covers situational aspects, those that arise in specific job tasks. Some employees may be more affected by job appraisals, public speaking or other tasks that can distract them and lead to poor performance.
   The study, which is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, also outlines many of the triggers for workplace anxiety. The most prominent include jobs that require constant expression or suppression of emotion – think “service with a smile” – as well as jobs with constant looming deadlines or frequent organizational change.
   Office politics and control over work are other important factors. Employee characteristics including age, gender and job tenure can also affect the experience of workplace anxiety.  The authors note that anxiety is a growing issue for workplaces. Recent research has found that 72% of Americans experiencing daily anxiety say it interferes with their work and personal lives.
   While the authors do not condone inducing anxiety in employees to foster high performance, the good news for employees who chronically experience anxiety at work, or who experience it from time to time, is that it can help performance if they can self-regulate their behavior.
   “Managing anxiety can be done by recognizing and addressing triggers of workplace anxiety, but also being aware of how to leverage it in order to drive performance,” says Cheng.  She says there are many strategies organizations can use to help employees. Some of these include training to help boost self-confidence, offering tools and resources to perform tasks at work, and equipping employees with strategies to recognize, use, and manage feelings of anxiety through emotional intelligence development.

Bad Hire Firing Can Be Hard But It Must Be Done

By James Cassel

   Imagine: You hire a new employee but after a few weeks, you realize you made a bad choice.  What to do?
   Whether the problem is competence or chemistry, or anything else in between, the best advice is to be decisive and act - fast.  Some business people hesitate to pull the trigger because they do not want to admit they made a mistake.  Unfortunately, the mistake magnifies with time and does not get better.  It is OK to admit you made a mistake in hiring someone.  Not terminating sooner rather than later is a bigger mistake.
   Firing employees can be difficult for many reasons.  As Warren Buffett said: "It's pure agony, and I usually postpone it and suck my thumb and do all kinds of other things before I finally carry it out."
   Regardless, it must be done.  When you keep around a bad hire or employee it only gets worse the longer you retain them.  Moreover, when you terminate a senior-level hire, such as a CEO, and you bring back a former CEO on an interim basis, most of the time that interim CEO will find things worse than they were when he or she left.  If things were the same, then you probably would have kept the new hire.
   Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch (distinguished as one of history's most famous managers, and noted for turning the struggling GE into a global giant during his 20 year tenure) was not called "Neutron Jack" for no reason.  Indeed, he was known for his aggressive approach to categorizing and promptly terminating employees he ranked in the bottom 10% of his workforce, encouraging leaders to automatically fire their lowest performers as part of an annual corporate improvement process.
   As part of his "rank and yank" system, managers were asked to group all team members into A, B, and C categories: the top 20%, the middle 70%, and bottom 10%.  According to Welch, the middle should be coached and groomed to move up to the ranks of the top 20%.  The bottom 10% had to go.
   Welch innately understood what many business people neglect to realize: keeping around poor performers becomes a major drain on your company, costing you money, time and energy, not to mention morale.  It also makes things worse for the bad hire.  
   So, how long should you wait before pulling the trigger?  There is no cookie-cutter time line, and you should do it as soon as you realize it.  However, while it is never too soon to fire a bad apple, it should not come as a surprise to the person being fired.  They should have had an opportunity to hear and respond to feedback.  Make sure your employees have well-defined job descriptions and expectations, so they know what is required for success and can minimize the likelihood of failing.
   When firing someone, the key is to take ownership of your hiring mistake and implement the right strategy to reposition your company.  It is always good to consult with human resources specialists and labor attorneys.  As it relates to high-level terminations, communicate properly with your internal (employees) and external (clients/customers, vendors, partners, etc.) stakeholders.  Provide reassurances the company is on track and will continue moving forward as planned.  Also, identify what lessons can be learned to avoid the same problem with your next hire.
   Bad hires or bad employees are part and parcel of doing business, for any company in any industry.  We all make mistakes.  Business people who take timely, decisive action are protecting the best interests of all parties involved - including the bad hire, who is now free to find employment somewhere that he or she will be a better fit.

10 Tips to Reduce Stress

1.  Breathe deeply several times.  Allow the breath to slow down and the muscles to relax.
2.  Exercise.  Go for a walk.
3.  Think positive.  Remember the good things in your life.
4.  Count to ten.  This creates a moment of calm before reacting to the situation that causes stress.
5.  Stretch.  Muscle stretches induce relaxation and reduce the feeling of tension.
6.  Massage.  When stressed the muscles of he jaw, neck and   upper back become tense.  A soothing massage can help     reduce stress, pain and muscle tension.
7.  Meditate.  It helps to reduce stress and increase attention, creativity and performance.
8.  Turn everything off:  mobile phone, radio, TV, computer.  These are doors through which the world can access us anytime.  You have to be able to close them.  Determine when you can disconnect.  Don’t wait for the opportune moment because    usually it does not arrive.     Dedicate this time to do what you like and what relaxes you: listen to good music, sew, dance, read…
9.  Talk with your family and friends about your feelings.  It is important that others know how you feel so they can help you.
10. Ask for help when you need it.  If you do not sleep well, you have headaches, neck of back pain, talk to your doctor.
Learn to relax!

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