Has Technology Made Our Lives Easier?

If you are an older reader here at LockerGnome, you will recall the days when technology had no place in our lives. We lived in a time where there were no computers, no cell phones, and no mp3 players. When you mention this to the youngsters who are now tethered to all sorts of devices, they look at us like we are from another planet. But has technology made our lives easier or has it compromised our human behavior to the point where we no longer communicate face to face with each other?

I learned something interesting about two weeks ago from our 11-year-old grandson. He was doing a homework assignment and was printing out the answers to a particular problem. I asked why he was not writing out the answers, which is called cursive, to which he told me that it is no longer used. They apparently do not teach cursive writing in school any longer since the thinking is that computers are now used to write letters, emails, Facebook, and so forth. Since the kids also send text messages, you do not need to know how to write. The only writing skill that is taught is to learn to sign your name.

Coming from a generation in which we only had telephones and letters in which to communicate, I have noticed a change in our behavior. Between emails, Facebook, texts, voicemails, and other communication sources, when someone asks if you got their message, we need to ask how they sent it. It has become confusing trying to keep track of all the different communication means since we continue to receive postal mail. Toss in the Internet and the forums, groups, and other organizations we may belong to and the task of monitoring everything becomes overwhelming.

In days gone by one left work behind when they walked out of the building at 5:00 pm. Today with everyone having cell phones the office staff can call you anytime, anywhere if they have a question. Whether you are in your car, having dinner or taking a bathroom break, you are in constant contact with work. Your office can contact you via email sending contracts, assignments, and other work chores via email directly to your laptop. They can even text you anytime they wish even on the weekends. The question becomes: when do we get a break away from work and actually get to rest?

Last week my wife and I were visiting our middle daughter and her family. She had a day off and along with her family ventured out for a day of fun at the zoo. But during the entire time from when we left her home until we got back, she was either texting or calling to stay on top of what was happening at the office. At the end of the day she mentioned how much fun she had and I wondered how she even knew. Even during our lunch she was banging the keys on her phone texting back to the office. If this is what you call a day off, I would have to differ in my interruption of what a real day off is.

So has technology improved your life or has it just added more stress to your daily life?

Comments welcome.

Molecular Playbook For Halting Heart Failure Risk Factor Uncovered

There should be an image here!Like a well-crafted football play designed to block the opposing team’s offensive drive to the end zone, the body constantly executes complex ‘plays’ or sequences of events to initiate, or block, different actions or functions.

Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center recently discovered a potential molecular playbook for blocking cardiac hypertrophy, the unwanted enlargement of the heart and a well-known precursor of heart failure. Researchers uncovered a specific molecular chain of events that leads to the inhibition of this widespread risk factor.

The new research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a concept study in the very early stages of investigation and has yet to be examined in animal models. Nonetheless, it represents a new avenue of exploration for scientists working to find ways to prevent and treat cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure.

“While our findings are still in the beginning phases, they are important because heart failure is a major cause of human disease and death, and it remains very hard to treat,” said Zheng-Gen Jin, Ph.D., associate professor within the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Medical Center and lead author of the study. “One of the main treatments for heart failure, beta blockers, has huge side effects, such as increased fatigue and depression, so scientists need to continue to look for new ways to care for patients with the disease.”

The playbook begins with a key protein, histone deacetylase 5, or HDAC5, one of several proteins that influences gene expression — the process by which genes are turned on and converted into proteins that carry out the body’s functions. The location of HDAC5, in conjunction with other factors, helps determine whether or not gene expression takes place: If HDAC5 is pushed outside the nucleus, genes are turned on and proteins are made, but if it remains inside the nucleus genes are suppressed.

The major finding and linchpin in the playbook is the action of PKA, an enzyme that researchers found changes the composition of HDAC5, keeping it inside the nucleus of heart muscle cells and stopping the expression of cardiac fetal or cardiac growth genes — genes that spur the growth of a newly developing heart in a fetus, but also cause the growth of unwanted heart muscle cells in adults, making the organ bigger and thicker than it should be.

Researchers also believe PKA helps counteract stress signals, such as from high blood pressure, which interact with and typically boot HDAC5 out of the nucleus, clearing the way for the expression of cardiac growth genes and the subsequent development of heart muscle cells that lead to the enlargement of the heart.

Cardiac hypertrophy usually occurs when there is added stress on the heart. The most common cause of hypertrophy is hypertension, or high blood pressure, which forces the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, causing the muscle to thicken over time. When the heart is enlarged, it does not work as efficiently as it should and can lead to heart failure.

According to Jin, next steps include animal studies to determine if keeping HDAC5 in the nucleus through PKA signaling stops cardiac hypertrophy in mice. Findings may reveal the HDAC5/PKA interaction as a viable target for drug therapy to treat cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure. Researchers have filed a patent application for the concept that is currently pending.

“Jin and his team have defined a new, potentially drugable target for treating cardiac hypertrophy, yet much more research is needed to determine if the findings hold beyond the current study,” said Joseph Miano, Ph.D., associate director of the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. In addition to Jin, Chang Hoon Ha, Ph.D., Ji Young Kim, Ph.D., Jinjing Zhao, M.D., Ph.D., Weiye Wang, M.S., Bong Sook Jhun, Ph.D., and Chelsea Wong from the University of Rochester Medical Center contributed to the research.

[Photo above by AF-Photography / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Emily Boynton @ University of Rochester Medical Center

[awsbullet:Caldwell B. Esselstyn]

How To Keep Your Eyes Healthy While Staring At A Computer Screen All Day

For many of us, myself included, we spend a great deal of our time on the computer. I know much of my waking hours are spent surfing the Internet and writing short blog posts. I am one of the fortunate few that have escaped eye strain or the other maladies such as headaches, that plague many computer users. When I read an article about eye strain and eye health, I thought it was worth passing it one to all of you. I have selected some of the ills and cures for your perusal.

Eyestrain may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Pain and tension around the eyes and/or temples (which can spread to the head, neck and back)
  • Eye dryness and/or redness
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache
  • Difficulty performing visual tasks
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision

Eyestrain isn’t known to lead to permanent damage of the visual system, but it can keep you from doing your work. The causes of eyestrain vary for each individual, and may change for an individual over time. The three main types of causes are: inadequate workspace set-up, inefficient lighting, and lack of proper eye care. Let’s look at how to address all three to avoid eyestrain.

Eyestrain may cause you a lot of strife, through painful headaches and blurred vision. But you can fix eyestrain in a straightforward way, by modifying your work habits.

Enlarge text: Your eyes have to strain to read small text, so keep text large to give your eyes a break.

Read offline: Intense reading on a computer monitor isn’t ideal for productivity because eventually your eyes will tire out. When you come across a long article or document, print it out (in large-enough print of course).

Work in spurts: Your computer is set up for virtually nonstop work — but you aren’t a machine. You need to take breaks to recharge, and so do your eyes. The 20-20 rule is easy to remember: every 20 minutes take a 20-second break.

Re-position your monitor: When you stare at your computer monitor, you naturally blink less often. So your eyes don’t get naturally lubricated as often. This leads to eye dryness and redness. To reduce this effect, position your monitor below eye-level.

Relax: Work is important, but you need to be relaxed enough so that tension and stress don’t get in the way. Take frequent short breaks during the day, and longer breaks one to two times a day so that you can get your mind off work.

Inadequate lighting is another major cause for eyestrain. Too much lighting overexposed and irritates the eye. Too little lighting causes the eye to strain in order to see. There are several ways to adjust the lighting in your environment to find what works best for you.

Adjust monitor brightness and contrast settings: Go to your monitor settings and decrease the brightness and contrast until you find the balance that’s easiest on your eyes. You’d be surprised how bright and contrasted the default settings are.

Adjust other lights in the room: Even if your monitor and desktop settings are set for optimal use, light from your surroundings can irritate your eyes. If the room is too dark, that can affect the overall brightness of the monitor.

There is additional information at the link below, but the above tips should help you to relieve eye strain. I know for a fact that proper lighting in a room is important. I have been to many offices in which the work areas are flooded in fluorescent lighting which tends to reflect on the computer screens. It is amazing that ergonomics is a practice by many businesses follow but that proper lighting seems to take last place in workers comfort.

What do you do to relieve eye strain and to keep your eyes healthy?

Share your experiences with us.

Comments welcome.

Source – Productive Geek

Stressed by Technology? You Are Not Alone

Technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Wireless Internet connection is prevalent in shopping malls, restaurants and airports. We are expected to answer emails within minutes of receiving them, and people are accustomed to having their mobile devices attached to their hands. However, with constant access and when outdated technology fails to keep up with us, stress ensues — a phenomenon that Intel Corporation is now humorously calling the “Hourglass Syndrome.” While not a real syndrome or medical condition, Hourglass Syndrome is a term coined by Intel to describe the situation that many consumers face while waiting for their technology to keep up with the speed of life.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/XQGtdRBYFEs" width="320" height="240" wmode="transparent" /]

According to a July technology online study conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by Intel, eight out of 10 (80 percent) U.S. adults get frustrated waiting for technology and about half (51 percent) have done something out of character when frustrated while waiting for technology. Of those who admitted acting inappropriately while waiting, 62 percent of U.S. adults admit to yelling or cursing out loud when their technology can’t keep up with them, while others hit their computer mouse (29 percent) or bang on their computer screen and keyboard (24 percent). Of those who have acted or seen someone act inappropriately in public due to frustrations with technology, 70 percent saw strangers, 46 percent have seen family or friends and 33 percent have seen co-workers act out in frustration while waiting for technology.

Have you ever missed out on the perfect concert or sporting event tickets, or found yourself seated in the back row, middle seat on an airplane because your technology could not keep up with you? The survey revealed that in addition to an increase in stress and frustration, sluggish technology often causes people to miss out on something while they are waiting. More than one third of U.S. adults (35 percent) said that they missed out on something while waiting for technology, such as losing an opportunity to participate in an online sale (13 percent), or purchase airline, concert or sporting event tickets. Sound familiar? You may be experiencing the “Hourglass Syndrome.”

“We are closely connected with our devices,” noted Margaret (Margie) Morris, a clinical psychologist and health technology researcher at Intel. “They become extensions of ourselves and become critically involved in our relationships with others, how we express ourselves, and our efforts to manage stress. We enjoy the freedom to communicate and work from anywhere, so we rely on the technology to perform. When it lets us down, the disappointment runs high and sometimes spills over into our feelings about ourselves.”

In an effort to address the Hourglass Syndrome and reduce the wait, Intel introduced the new 2010 Intel Core™ family of processors, smart technology that is faster thanks to a new feature called Intel Turbo Boost Technology1. With this new feature, Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors can automatically adapt to an individual’s performance needs, giving the boost you need to speed up and saving energy when you don’t — reducing the wait for users. Applications are faster, and your PC is more responsive, even as you multi-task.

Over the past 5 years, much has changed in the way we use technology, including the launch of YouTube in 2006, Facebook exploding to more than 400 million users, high-definition (HD) content online, massive growth in digital photography sharing sites and consumers demanding faster and easier video streaming and editing capabilities. Consumers need a PC that gives them the freedom to handle it all without suffering from the Hourglass Syndrome.

“Intel understands how stressful technology can be,” said Karen Regis, director of Intel’s Consumer PC Marketing. “We are determined to design products that can improve the quality of your life and lower your stress levels, as opposed to increasing them.”

In addition to its commitment to consistently develop new and make upgrades to the brains inside of computers so that they keep up with the demands of people’s fast-paced lifestyles, Intel has teamed up with psychology expert Cooper Lawrence to provide people with tips on how to better handle stress.

“Mindful stress management is very important,” said Lawrence. “The more prepared you are, the easier it can be to manage your stress. Simple tips to deal with increased stress include having a support network, developing a sense of control and generally just changing your outlook.”

Family Child Care Providers' Behavior Found To Affect Children's Stress

There should be an image here!A new study on preschoolers attending full-day child care in licensed day care homes has found increases in cortisol, a stress hormone, when the children are in child care that exceeds their levels at home. The increases were larger in day care homes where providers were intrusive or overcontrolling.

The study, in the journal Child Development, was conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, Georgetown University, and the Oregon Social Learning Center.

The researchers looked at about 150 mostly White, largely middle-class 3- and 4-year-olds in 110 different family child care homes, observing the children’s behavior at child care as well as the behavior of their care providers, and sampling saliva to measure cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that helps individuals adapt to challenges and stretches their coping skills.

The study found that about 40 percent of the children showed elevations in cortisol that were large enough to indicate that their bodies were stressed. It also found that cortisol increases over the day were larger in settings where care providers were intrusive or overcontrolling. In such settings, children moved frequently between activities, were given relatively little time for free play, and spent long periods of time in structured activities led by the providers. While many of these structured activities seemed designed to help the preschoolers learn letters, numbers, and colors, the activities weren’t carried out in a way that allowed the children to learn actively through play, but rather in a rote fashion that required the little ones to sit quietly and respond when called on.

The larger elevations in cortisol meant different things for girls and boys in terms of behavior. Girls with larger increases in the hormone acted more anxious and vigilant at child care, while boys acted more angry and aggressive.

“These findings indicate that the behavior of the care provider is associated with both how well children function at child care, and how much their cortisol is elevated,” according to Megan R. Gunnar, Regents Professor of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, who led the study. “They add to our understanding of how children process stressors in child care, highlighting differences between boys and girls in how they express being more physiologically stressed.”

Sarah Hutcheon @ Society for Research In Child Development

[Photo above by Francisco De La Torre / CC BY-ND 2.0]

[awsbullet:mindful child stress]

Gene That Ties Stress To Obesity And Diabetes Discovered

There should be an image here!The constant stress that many are exposed to in our modern society may be taking a heavy toll: Anxiety disorders and depression, as well as metabolic (substance exchange) disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and arteriosclerosis, have all been linked to stress. These problems are reaching epidemic proportions: Diabetes, alone, is expected to affect some 360 million people worldwide by the year 2030. While anyone who has ever gorged on chocolate before an important exam understands, instinctively, the tie between stress, changes in appetite and anxiety-related behavior, the connection has lately been borne out by science, though the exact reasons for this haven’t been crystal clear. Dr. Alon Chen of the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department and his research team have now discovered that changes in the activity of a single gene in the brain not only cause mice to exhibit anxious behavior, but also lead to metabolic changes that cause the mice to develop symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes. These findings were published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

All of the body’s systems are involved in the stress response, which evolved to deal with threats and danger. Behavioral changes tied to stress include heightened anxiety and concentration, while other changes in the body include heat-generation, changes the metabolism of various substances and even changes in food preferences. What ties all of these things together? The Weizmann team suspected that a protein known as Urocortin-3 (Ucn3) was involved. This protein is produced in certain brain cells — especially in times of stress — and it’s known to play a role in regulating the body’s stress response. These nerve cells have extensions that act as ‘highways’ that speed Ucn3 on to two other sites in the brain: One, in the hypothalamus — the brain’s center for hormonal regulation of basic bodily functions — oversees, among other things, substance exchange and feelings of hunger and satiety; the other is involved in regulating behavior, including levels of anxiety. Nerve cells in both these areas have special receptors for Ucn3 on their surfaces, and the protein binds to these receptors to initiate the stress response.

The researchers developed a new, finely-tuned method for influencing the activity of a single gene in one area in the brain, using it to increase the amounts of Ucn3 produced in just that location. They found that heightened levels of the protein produced two different effects: The mice’s anxiety-related behavior increased, and their bodies underwent metabolic changes, as well. With excess Ucn3, their bodies burned more sugar and fewer fatty acids, and their metabolic rate sped up. These mice began to show signs of the first stages of type 2 diabetes: A drop in muscle sensitivity to insulin delayed sugar uptake by the cells, resulting in raised sugar levels in the blood. Their pancreas then produced extra insulin to make up for the perceived ‘deficit.’

‘We showed that the actions of single gene in just one part of the brain can have profound effects on the metabolism of the whole body,’ says Chen. This mechanism, which appears to be a ‘smoking gun’ tying stress levels to metabolic disease, might, in the future, point the way toward the treatment or prevention of a number of stress-related diseases.

Yivsam Azgad @ Weizmann Institute of Science

[Photo above by David Friel / CC BY-ND 2.0]

[awsbullet:stress obesity diabetes]

Should You Take Your Work Home?

The answer to this question really depends of the individual, their situation and their personal preference. I know some co-workers who never take work home with them and I know others who put in another six to eight hours of work when they get home.

I also grew up seeing both sides of the coin. My mother regularly brought work home. In fact, it was rare to see her not working during the evening. My father, on the other hand, left all signs of his work at the office.

Personally, I made the choice some time ago to bring work home with me, not because I’m a workaholic, but rather because it allows me to be more flexible. If I didn’t, I would likely end up staying at the office into the early evening and my preference is to bring work home as opposed to working late. This way, I am at home with my family for dinner. The work I bring home is done after my son’s bedtime.

So, unfortunately, the answer to this question is no longer a simple yes or no, as it may have been in the past. I believe that the introduction of flextime has made grayed the line between work and home. With many businesses allowing their employees to work flexible hours, more and more people are bringing work home and completing it when the opportunity arises, as opposed to doing everything in the office between 9 and 5.

[awsbullet:time management stress]

Tips For Managing Stress

It is important to recognize that stress is part of your life and that it is important that you learn to manage your stress. One of the best ways to do this is to maintain a balance in your life that works for you. Some people are able to deal with much higher levels of stress than others because they have taken steps to manage their stress.

One of the most important steps in managing your stress is recognizing that maintaining good health with a balanced diet, good exercise program and adequate amount of sleep is critical. Not only will you be able to maintain greater energy at work and at home but you will also be able to approach stressful situations with a better frame of mind. You must also be able to recognize when the situation is getting too stressful for you and then take actions to deal or manage the stress.

If you recognize that the stress will be short-lived, you may choose to increase your exercise regime, increase your relaxation time or work hard to get the tasks done quickly. However, you may decide that the stress will be longer-term and you may have to decide how to manage it.

Some ideas may include planning your daily schedule differently so that you break up the day with your exercise routine, you may be more careful with your diet and plan some breaks. You may also decide that this level of stress is not worth it and begin looking for another job.

[rsslist:http://shop.tagjag.com/products/depression]

Are You Taking Accountability For Your Own Work Life Balance?

As we become busier in our lives with family, work, friends, and home chores, it becomes more difficult to maintain a work/life balance. It is important to remember that we have some control over our lives and often our own expectations lead us to make decisions that make us feel dissatisfied with our life/work balance and can lead to stress. If this has happened to you, you learn to balance work and life.

First, you will need to identify the personal values that are most important to you for your family relationships and professional life. This will allow you to prioritize the time you spend on what you value most and to manage your multiple responsibilities. It is also important to recognize the sources of stress in your life and determine if you have techniques to deal with the stress.

It is impossible to live without stress, but to maintain the work/life balance you need to recognize the symptoms and watch that you are maintaining a good balance for you values. If you take the time to relax and rejuvenate you will find that you have the balance that will allow you to approach your work and life activities with greater energy and enthusiasm.

[awsbullet:coping+with+stress]

Rising Costs, Medical Concerns and You

To those in the medical field it has long been known that stress is the enemy of good health as it raises blood pressure, gastrointestinal disease, and tends to exacerbate mental conditions. Given that it is only a matter of time before the struggle to make ends meet, on a limited income, will result in a rise in medical conditions that cost each of us even more.

Recurring stress is where the real problem is. Each month as the cost of fuel, food, and medical care increases it is tougher for families to make it and one knows that as these costs rise consumers are forced to tighten their belts. When this happens it is to be expected that a slow down in the economy will result thus triggering a spiral of job loss and increased economic woes that put a further strain on the over ready overburdened taxpayer to meet the needs of those without work.

So as gasoline has already reached historic levels throughout the country, which in the heartland means we are paying $3.69 a gallon for gas and $4.55 a gallon for diesel, and milk and eggs have doubled over last year the blue collar worker is struggling to stay afloat as they watch their savings dwindle. This is turn is forcing home and new construction foreclosures at an unprecedented rate. Are you stressed yet?

Well, consider this scenario. Truck drivers in England are already paying Near $2,000 A week to keep their trucks on the road. Even in France the price for diesel has reached $10.00 a gallon forcing delivery truck drivers in both countries to pull their rigs over in protest. There is no way that these drivers can continue to deliver the good consumers need without passing the increase in fuel costs on. As it stands they are paying more out in fuel costs than they earn. If this continues skyrocketing costs are destined to bring down our economy as we know it and we could well be faced with a depression that will make the 1929 one look like a piece of cake.

However, across the country the financial crunch is affecting more than people’s wallets. While it will take time to see the affects on people’s physical well-being it is taking an immediate tool on people’s mental health. According to social workers and mental health professionals they are seeing increasing numbers of patients who are suffering from extreme anxiety and a host of other emotional problems as they find themselves caught between rising costs and unpaid bills.

According to Brooke Ash. A community social worker for Community Partnership of the Ozarks, there are an ever increasing number of crisis calls coming in to their office. By that she is talking about people like single moms who call in tears because the high cost of gasoline is keeping them from being able to purchase enough food or pay their rent if they hope to be able to travel back and forth to their jobs.

Unfortunately, financial stress tend also tends to bring pre-existing mental-health issues that may have previously been hidden since studies show that there is a strong connection between financial distress and emotional distress. The emotional side will be shown through anxiety, depression, insomnia and/or migraine headaches. According to Melissa Haddow, C.P.O.’s executive director those symptoms can in turn make managing finances even more difficult. She added that “A big topic of conversation is speculation that things are bad and getting worse.” And that in turn “makes families already in a tough spot financially frightened and fearful of what’s going to happen next.”

This in turn has resulted in an increasing number of relationship issues that are causing couples to break up increasing the number of single parent households. So the problem spirals downward from every angle.

Are you stressed yet? Hang on because there is no answer thanks to our elected political officials. I truly believe that these issues should have been addressed back in the seventies when the first fuel crisis hit and we were all forced to sit in odd/even license plate lines to fuel our vehicles. Our infrastructure should have also been addressed long before now. Rather than granting money to the arts who defame our flag; or to specific groups that lower our moral fiber; or to an unjust war in Iraq these issues could have been dealt with in a manner that would have made our country stronger.

So, if you want change there is only one candidate in 2008 that you can vote for. I truly believe that a vote for either Hillary Clinton or John McCain is a vote for more of what we have experienced in the last 20 years of the Bush/Clinton White House. However, a voter for Barack Obama gives Americans a chance to change our society for the better. For once we have a candidate who is not owned by Big Business or Lobbyists and who understands the needs of Americans for a reliable fuel source, for a renewed infrastructure, and for honesty in government.

While the change will take time and will not immediately solve the stress issues that are being caused by our current economic crisis a vote for Obama will provide hope that there may be a solution to the issues that are currently plaguing us.

Scheduly

Let’s face it, we’re all busy, and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I remember the days as a kid when I had an open schedule and could pretty much do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. Things change with time, and that open schedule is now history. Being busy isn’t always a bad thing, and it can be a lot easier to deal with if you have an established way to manage your crazy schedule. Appointments become a way of life, and people and clients that think your time is freely available will have to learn to schedule appointments with you. If you need a solution that can help you with appointments, just check out Scheduly.

What’s great about Scheduly is that you just set your schedule and the service will know when you’re available so that it can offer those time slots to the public. Not only will your Scheduly business page make it easy for others to schedule appointments with you, but you can also embed a scheduling widget on your own Web site. With this service, you’ll be able to easily keep track of your clients and appointments and alleviate some stress.

Knowing When To Pull The Plug

Work based stress seems to be at an all time high. For some more than others, apparently. For myself personally, I have been especially stressed this holiday season, largely because of work juggle that happens when I go to visting family, plan trips and all of that stuff that I would otherwise enjoy. So I think it is important that all of us, when possible, to take a few minutes of “you time”. Even if it’s not for an entire day, what you can take for yourself will be appreciated if you allow yourself to actually relax.

Thinking of this myself, I managed to track down some fairly helpful tips to dealing with stress at the workplace. Yes, even though I am working from home and have for years, don’t kid yourself into thinking that these things do not apply. Will I be able to follow most of them? I sure hope so. Because lapping up coffee, not taking breaks and seeing my schedule haywire has not been terribly successful thus far.

As a matter of fact, I still have work from today that I am going to have to carry over through tomorrow. It may seem like the wrong move to stop now, but the fact is that I need to start enforcing my own cut off times. It’s just a healthier move for me I think. At any rate, have a great weekend everyone!

[tags]relaxation, break time, rest, stress[/tags]

A Call For Participation

My goodness, where does the time go? I’ve been sucked into this “live” Web vortex, and I don’t see myself emerging from it anytime soon. I’m getting done everything I need to get done, but it’s happening differently now. I’m thinking about things differently now.

This Wednesday, I’m headed to San Francisco for the tail end (long tail?) of Web 2.0 Expo – and staying downtown for the Podcast Hotel on Friday and Saturday. I’ll be there for half the week, largely disconnected (unless you count Cingular’s EDGE network – which is slightly less painful than dial-up).

I could likely record a couple dozen interviews in audio and video format on-site, so consider this a call for participation. It’s going to be a busy week, and I’ve got a million things to do. Can’t wait to get started.

[tags]busy, stress[/tags]

Stress – Some Of It Is Good – Too Much Can Cost You A Lot

Some of us thrive on a bit of pressure – it can improve our performance because that’s the way we’re designed. However, too much over an extended time can take its toll.

In Victoria, 8% of all workers’ compensation claims are stress related – and these cost double the amount of other claims. The total cost in Australia for stress related workers’ compensation is estimated to be $200 million every year. Add to this sick leave, low productivity, staff turnover and other consequences of people being stressed and the costs start to mount up.

BUPA, the UK’s leading provider of private health care insurance, hospitals, and health care services has researched this area and tell us the leading causes of workplace stress are:

Lack of control over work. Excessive time pressures. Excessive or inflexible working hours. Too much or too little work or responsibility. Confusion about duties and responsibilities. Lack of job variety and interest. Inadequate training and possibilities for learning new skills. Poor work/life balance. Difficult relationships at work. Lack of support and lack of contact with colleagues. Organizational confusion, restructuring, job change. Uncertainty over job prospects.

How much control, as employers and managers do we have over these factors? Quite a bit, it would seem. Many of these factors relate to job design and communicating expectations – these are probably within the control of managers.

Job Design. Designing jobs can be done effectively if a process is followed that links the objectives of the organization to the individual’s outputs. Involving the individuals in this process will greatly enhance the results.

Even if you currently have a structure that you feel doesn’t need reorganizing or jobs that don’t need redesigning, going through this process will have benefits and may well be good insurance against the unhealthy growth of stress in the workplace.

We have found the most beneficial method of defining jobs is to work with current job holders to document their own jobs in terms of Key Result Areas (KRAs) i.e. the outputs from their jobs. With each of these, they also define how these are measured.

To get to this stage, first they examine the total output of the organization and then break that down to identify what their division or department contributes, then their work area and down to their particular job. This way they see and understand the linkage between what they do and the business outcomes.

This method has many advantages.

Involvement. By having the job holders themselves involved in the analysis of their work, they are able to voice their views over what is too much work or too few hours, what is challenging and interesting work and what is not.

The work may still have to be done but by allowing their views to be heard provides them with a sense of being part of the decision making rather than just victims. They will also have ideas on how best to manage the challenges.

Worthwhile work. If people can see the link between their efforts and the business results they can see that it is worthwhile – rather than endless effort for no obvious reason.

Control over their work. If they are identifying the KRAs they can see that these are the things that matter. In this way they can structure their activities and priorities to focus on those rather than get bogged down in superfluous tasks.

There is always plenty of work, but having clear priorities and the ability to make choices are definite stress reducers.

Measuring the KRAs. By having a measure against each KRA, they can monitor their own performance. The measure provides a clear idea of what success looks like and there can be a sense of achievement in getting close to or exceeding it.

Communication. Communication – in both directions – is a function of good management. Managers need to be trained to identify what is required, how to communicate it, and how to identify the needs of the employees.

As a simple rule of thumb, remembering to check off the “3 As” in communication is worthwhile:

Who is Affected? Whose Assistance is required? Whose Authority is required?

Knowing what is happening and why is much less stressful than not knowing. In the absence of communication, people tend to make things up and this can be very stressful.

Success will only come when employees are delivering what is required and are satisfied doing it. If they are not satisfied it is not sustainable. The consequences may be stress, resignations or just plain disgruntled, unproductive workers.

Managers need to know their staff – what interests them, what they like, what they don’t like. By getting close to them any issues can be identified quickly and nipped in the bud.

Summary
So, in reviewing the causes of stress and our possible solutions, we see that there is much within our control – involving people in defining their jobs and building management skills.

The good news is you can start gradually working on these areas or you can move quickly with a full-blown program. Those who take no action will pay the cost.

About the Author
Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group, a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations.

[tags]stress, paul phillips, horizon management group, ezine articles, human resource[/tags]

I'm Gearing Up So I Can Gear Down

I’m just over two weeks away until my ten-day vacation to Maui, Hawaii. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a “no laptop” vacation, although I will have my BlackBerry 8700c with me (I have to; it’s my cell phone). But my intent is to leave as much “work worry” behind as I can. I will let you know how successful I am in that department when I return. My stress levels have been pretty high this year, and I really need an opportunity to decompress.
Continue reading “I'm Gearing Up So I Can Gear Down”