Tag Archives: work/life

Suicide Prevention: Yes, You CAN Help


suicide prevention logoThis topic may sound grim, but the bottom line is that we can help our colleagues with mental health issues, if we know what to watch for and how to offer assistance.

I have been fortunate not to have anyone close to me commit suicide, though I have known professional acquaintances who killed themselves and I’ve had several friends who have been devastated when a loved one committed suicide. I’ve known many people who have suffered depression. Some have received treatment, and others have not. The problems of depression and suicide are real in any workplace, and perhaps especially in the legal profession.

I attended an American Bar Association CLE program last week on the topic of suicide prevention in the legal profession. My purpose in attending was to obtain the Ethics CLE hours I needed to maintain my bar license. That purpose was fulfilled, but I was struck by how susceptible lawyers are to depression and suicide.

  • Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.
  • Lawyers rank near the top in professions in incidence of suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among attorneys.
  • 20.4% of law students have thought seriously about suicide sometime in their life, compared with 5% of all graduate students
  • 20.6% of attorneys admit to problematic drinking, compared to 11.8% in a broad, highly educated workforce

The problems of mental illness and suicide in the legal profession are serious. Yet attorneys are not likely to seek help. Attorneys are often perfectionists, and their very perfectionist tendencies both cause them to be more prone to depression and less likely to seek help. Lawyers worry about privacy and confidentiality concerns. They wonder if they will lose professional status and the ability to obtain and retain clients.

Many years ago, I worked with one attorney who shut himself in his office every day for about six weeks. He said he was writing the definitive brief on a particular issue for a case he had. Yet he closed himself off from all his other work and from the rest of his colleagues. This man and his wife had recently separated, and I now realize he was exhibiting classic symptoms of depression.

There are many physical and behavioral signs of depression. Some common signs include

  • Physical: high blood pressure, chest pains, rapid heartbeats, headaches, and/or fatigue—all physical symptoms of many diseases.
  • Behavioral: more rapid speech, less conversation, isolation from contact with coworkers, weight gain or loss, erratic or changed schedules, disheveled clothes or lack of bathing, or other unusual behavior in the workplace.

When you work with someone regularly, you know when they are not behaving normally. As the commentators in the ABA program said,

“When you know a person, you know what is normal and what is not normal.”

So, what do you do if a colleague is acting oddly?

If you notice a colleague acting oddly—abnormally—then talk to him or her. Don’t be afraid to be direct in asking if the person is thinking of harming himself or herself.

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • Previous suicide attempt (particularly if there has been more than one)
  • Substantial psychiatric problems
  • Alcohol or substance use
  • Resistance to accessing mental health treatment

Ask about these things in particular.

Not everyone with these risk factors will try to commit suicide. But there are warning signs. The ABA program gave this list of warning signs that someone may be seriously contemplating suicide:

  • Ideation — They have thought of suicide and may have a plan
  • Substance use — They are drinking or self-medicating more (with legal or illegal drugs)
  • Purposelessness — They feel their life has no meaning
  • Anxiety — Their anxiety feels overwhelming
  • Trapped — They feel trapped by their circumstances, unable to see a change
  • Hopeless — They feel hopeless
  • Withdrawal — They are withdrawing from friends and family and activities they enjoy
  • Anger — They feel anger, perhaps irrationally
  • Recklessness — They act recklessly, not caring about harm to themselves or loved ones
  • Mood Change — Their mood is atypical for them for a sustained period

If you know someone with these warning signs, find a way to get them talking. “How is your day going?” is a good opener.

Of course, it helps if you regularly solicit input from your colleagues. An open, inviting workplace offers the best chance of knowing when someone is in emotional pain. The “How is your day going?” opener should not be reserved for coworkers who are possibly suicidal.

Then, when a friend or colleague opens up to you, don’t just give them a pep talk, but really listen. Don’t minimize their concerns, but do express concern and offer assistance. People who are suicidal will not respond to “I’m sure things will get better.” They cannot hear that, and they need help. Let them know you care. Let them know you will get them professional help.

Have resources at your fingertips to call if the problem seems serious and immediate.

Resources that all professionals and managers should have available include the National Suicide Prevention hotline (in the U.S., the number is 1-800-273-TALK).

If you’re in the legal community, know your state’s lawyer assistance program number; it can be found from the American Bar Association link to each state’s site.

Know what resources your company or law firm offers, and have the Employee Assistance Program number handy. Have the number of a local emergency room available.

You can help by offering to stay with them while they call a hotline or your local Legal Assistance Program. Or take them to an Employee Assistance Program counselor.

If you are talking with the person over the phone and not with them, but are seriously concerned about his or her safety, do not hesitate to call the local police and ask them to make a well-being check.

The ABA program I attended was a good reminder for me that we need to watch out for each other in the workplace. When I mentioned this ABA program to a friend of mine in the military, he said that he had attended similar training through the military.

The advice he received was the same that the ABA stressed — ASK! Communicate with your colleagues. Be direct in asking if they are thinking of harming themselves. If they say yes, take action.

Excellent advice for all of us.

What training have you had in suicide prevention? If you have additional tips, add them in the comments below.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Human Resources, Law, Management, Workplace

Happy Labor Day! Take Time to Celebrate and to Plan


labor.day.02During the summer months, it is often difficult to move ahead on projects. People are not in the office, and even with smartphones and other technological devices that keep us in touch, communications slow down. Most employees cannot operate at a frenetic pace forever, and the opportunity to breathe and relax is healthy for everyone. Labor Day is the last gasp of summer.

But for productivity to be what it needs to be, vacations must end and work must resume. There are less than four months left in the year. In many businesses, Labor Day marks the beginning of a final push toward accomplishing objectives set for the year.

This Labor Day, the last holiday of summer, take a moment to reflect on the successes you have had so far this year—both personal and work-related. Savor them. Be thankful. Celebrate with those you care about.

Monday night, take another moment to plan your Tuesday. What are the three things you MUST accomplish on Tuesday? Write them down.

And what are three more things you MUST accomplish by the end of the week? Write them down also.

Then, on Tuesday, hit the ground running. There are less than four months left in 2015.

Happy Labor Day!

Leave a comment

Filed under Work/Life, Workplace

How To Recognize and Avoid Toxic Mentors


MP900302921A regular reader suggested recently that I write about toxic mentoring. I’ve been interested in mentoring programs for over twenty years now. Throughout my career I’ve had good mentors and not so good mentors (meaning they weren’t really mentors at all, but thought they were). But I’m not sure I’ve ever had a “toxic” mentor, so I had to give this topic some thought before writing.

What Is a Toxic Mentor?

In my view, a toxic mentor is one who makes you feel worse about yourself and your career, rather than better. It isn’t just that this person doesn’t help you, it’s that he or she actively makes things worse. Confusing or bad advice. More interested in themselves than in you. More like a parent than a coach—they control rather than teach.

Here are a couple of articles with good descriptions of toxic mentors:

What Is a Good Mentor?

MP900341467You may not be able to recognize toxicity in mentoring relationships in advance, just like you can’t always recognize it in a friendship or romantic relationship. So it is best to tiptoe into finding a mentor. And get recommendations from other people of who has helped them.

I think the best thing to look for in a mentoring relationship is mutuality—mutual respect, mutual honesty, mutual desire to get something out of the relationship. If you don’t have this type of reciprocity, you cannot build a good relationship.

My favorite article about finding a good mentor was published in Forbes. What I like about it is the emphasis on someone who is self-reflective, curious, and generous. Most articles don’t focus on these traits. But if a mentor does not know himself or herself through self-reflection, he or she is not going to be very good at helping you assess yourself. And curiosity and generosity are two excellent traits to look for in any coach or friend.

Here are some good articles on what to look for in a mentoring relationship.

How Can You Avoid Toxic Mentors?

Maybe the reason I haven’t personally been zapped by a toxic mentor is that I’ve never relied on one person to mentor me in all things. There were senior attorneys who taught me how to practice law. There were older women who’d successfully raised children while working in demanding jobs many years before I did, whether they were more senior to me in the organization or junior. There were women I admired as people who could be effective without aping how male executives operated. I needed them all to develop my career the way I wanted to.

And there were some things for which I had no mentor, just good bosses and trusted colleagues to help me muddle through.

Still, there are a few suggestions I can offer about how to avoid negative mentoring relationships:

1. Enter the relationship slowly. So many times, mentors are assigned, or the mentor’s role in the organization makes the relationship seem necessary, yet the personalities of mentor and protege simply don’t mesh. If your mentor isn’t helping you, then build other relationships that can get you what is missing in the first mentoring relationship.

2. Have goals for both the mentor and the protege. Ideally, the mentor can learn from the protege as well. That way, the relationship is not as needy.

3. Don’t expect one person to “fix” you or your career. In fact, don’t expect a multitude of mentors to be your savior. Recognize that your work and your personality are what will get you ahead. Mentors can only help you avoid the minefields.

What has been the best help or advice you ever received from a mentor?

3 Comments

Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Workplace

Five Tips on Managing Work and Family: Here Is How She Does It


51dDweLYrsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_There’s a new book out on working mothers—I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam. Ms. Vanderkam took a data-based approach to the issue of how women manage both a career and children. She asked women in highly paid professional jobs who also have children to keep hourly records of what they did every day for about three years.

Her book makes the case that the women she studied—all of whom were mothers with children still at home who earned at least $100,000 per year—actually don’t have such rough lives. While they may not “have it all,” they have a lot. They are not stress-free, but they are pretty satisfied with their lives.

Ms. Vanderkam’s website promotes the book as follows:

“I Know How She Does It offers a framework for anyone who wants to thrive at work and life.”

So what is the framework? How do they do it? Primarily by taking control of their lives. Here are the primary take-aways I had on how they do it, and how the rest of us can, too:

1. Flexing Your Time

The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s study flex their own time, even if they don’t have formal approval for doing so. During most weeks, they do something personal during normal working hours. (And, of course, they do some work during off hours as well.)

It isn’t surprising that women in this group had the ability to flex their time. Most people earning more than $100,000/year have a support staff and technological tools that can cover for them when they are gone. They can mask their absences, both by handling email and phone calls when they aren’t in the office and by getting work done outside of normal working hours.

This isn’t new. In fact, back in the early and mid-1980s, I flexed my time when I needed to, handling personal matters during work hours and taking work home every night, so I’d have something productive to do if a child woke up sick in the morning. Maybe I was ahead of the times, but I doubt it. I just did what I needed to do to feel capable both at work and at home.

2. Managing Your Time

Moreover, the women featured in Ms. Vanderkam’s book are good planners. They take time at the end of each day to plan the next day. They take time at the end of the week to plan the next week, so they hit the ground running on Monday. Not surprisingly, time management is critical to getting a lot done. And their time management is accurate—they are honest about how long things will take.

Again, not a surprise. Every really successful manager I know is good at time management, or has a trusted assistant who manages his or her time. I think the issue of taking time to plan is something that is hard for some people, but I have always found that the work goes faster and more smoothly if I do spend time planning.

3. Taking Care of Yourself

In addition, these women take care of themselves—they exercise and get the sleep they need. They also have support—a committed partner (when available) and reliable child care providers.

At salaries of more than $100,000, Ms. Vanderkam’s surveyed group has more than many women do. But for all of us, it is a matter of getting the support we need. The one thing I have agreed with Hillary Clinton on over the years is that it takes a village to raise a child. The more support parents have, the better.

4. Making Choices

The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s book also may not spend their time on conventional activities. If they can’t get home for dinner, they have breakfast with their kids. They make time to play with their kids when they can. They don’t watch much television. At work, they skip as many meetings as they can.

And they don’t do it all. They make choices about what’s important to them and focus on getting those things done. The rest they let their partner do, or they hire someone else to do it—house cleaning, grocery and other shopping, etc. Again, money is a help. But we all do things because we think we’re expected to do them. Instead, we should focus on what is truly important to our specific family.

5. Putting in the Time

The only real surprise for me was that the working mothers in Ms. Vanderkam’s book worked an average of 44 hours/week. I would have guessed it was north of 50. Many executives—women and men alike—do have to work more than 44 hours/week. In all things, to be successful, you have to put in the time.

I think of the years when my children were small as being some of the roughest years in my life. Nevertheless, I was successful in my career, and I was available at home. I put in the time both places. The years were rewarding both financially and emotionally, even if I didn’t get to read many novels and gave up baking cakes.

What tips do you have for managing your work and personal lives?

2 Comments

Filed under Management, Work/Life, Workplace

Fair Labor Standards Act and the Expanding (or Contracting) Work Week


laptop-260x173I’ve written before about the need to update the Fair Labor Standards Act. A recent article on the Knowledge@Wharton website reminded me of this need again. See Management, If Not 40 Hours, Then What? Defining the Modern Work Week, Jan. 28, 2015.  As the article states, “With the advent of telecommuting, flexible hours, globalization and answering emails after hours and on vacation, the American worker has entered the era of the fuzzy work-home divide.”

The blurring of work and home lives began decades ago for many professionals. As an attorney in the early 1980s I could bill hours from home or on the road, though face time at the office was definitely important. But today, with smartphones in the hands of every worker, even many traditionally hourly occupations can be performed anywhere and anytime. Whether this is a positive or detrimental development depends on how it is managed—both by management and by employees themselves.

There are also differences in what workers want. Some want longer work weeks for more pay. Others want shorter work weeks for more time for other activities. Similarly, managers want more work for the same pay, but they also want productive workers who are engaged in their roles (which requires that the rest of their lives also be running smoothly).

1. Which Direction Are We Headed?

The eight-hour day was one accomplishment of the early 20th century labor movement, protecting workers from terribly long hours in dismal factory conditions. It was also intended to spread work out across more laborers during the Great Depression. The eight-hour day and forty-hour week were certainly not traditional in the agrarian society that predated the Industrial Revolution. There is nothing set in stone about the eight-hour day or forty-hour week, other than that it is mandated for non-exempt employees under the FLSA and similar laws in other nations.

The Wharton article focuses on a number of possible developments in defining the work week of the future, mostly focused on requiring fewer hours in the week. And yet, U.S. workers currently work an average of 46.7 hours per week, and 18% work more than 60 hours.

Will workers continue to increase their time spent working? Will managers permit more flexibility?

With today’s more flexible work and more flexible technology, the fixed eight-hour day may have outlived its usefulness. Yet in which direction will the work week of the future move—toward more hours or fewer? There are strong arguments for both. Whichever direction we take, managers will be challenged to comply with regulations that change much more slowly than the workplace does.

2. How Do We Manage?

imagesTraditional management: One option in managing work time is for companies to forbid any work by hourly employees except during certain hours. This makes compliance with the FLSA easier, but the trade-off is that company policies typically then do not permit employees to perform personal assignments during working hours. Otherwise, productivity suffers.

This option also penalizes employees who want to put in extra time or have flexibility in when and where they do their work. Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps, depending on your perspective), the FLSA is set up to regulate defined work times and to require payment for all time spent working.

Tracking Time: Another option for managing time is to require hourly employees to keep time sheets, where they log on and off the clock to handle personal matters. This is a difficult policy to enforce, and also runs the risk of violating the FLSA’s requirements that non-exempt employees must be paid for all breaks unless the break is long enough for them to leave the premises. So, employees could be permitted a half-hour of personal time in the middle of the day, but not a series of five-minute breaks to handle personal phone calls.

I predict that companies will develop diverging policies on this issue. Some will become more flexible, despite the management challenges. Others will hold to traditional schedules, at least until the FLSA changes significantly.

Congress should debate this issue and develop 21st Century laws for 21st Century workplaces.

What do you think? Should the FLSA permit more flexibility?

Leave a comment

Filed under Human Resources, Law, Management, Workplace

Finding Your True North—A Year-End Reflection


northAs I head into the end of each calendar year, I tend to spend some extra time in reflection. I recently found a list of ten things we should do to find our own true north. The list was in an old file, and I labeled it as coming from a presentation I attended by Dr. Terry Crane. However, I could not find Dr. Crane on the Internet, so I cannot provide further credentials. If anyone has links to Dr. Crane’s information, please send them to me in the comments below.

Here’s the list (it’s a good one):

1. Get an education.

2. Be an expert . . . in something.

3. Don’t take no for an answer.

4. Cultivate mentors—male and female—and never burn a bridge.

5. Build & keep your network; don’t lose a headhunter.

6. Be able to apply technology and understand how it impacts your business.

7. Become a mentor yourself—do not leave others behind.

8. Identify your support system—family and friends—know what’s important to you, and what your tolerance and flexibility are.

9. Take risks—do what’s uncomfortable, you can always go back.

10. Develop a passion for the work you do—it’s too much a part of your life not to.

Based on this list, how are you doing in finding your true north?

Leave a comment

Filed under Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace

Managing Time & Other Resources: When Do You Take the Easy Way Out?


yoga“The body wants to do the easiest thing possible,” my yoga instructor said to the class a couple of weeks ago. His remark reminded me of my first college class, Economics 101, when the professor began our semester with the words, “Economics is the science of getting the most output for the least input.”

We all want to take the “easy way out,” whether it be in physical endeavors like stretching and strength building, or whether it be our use of resources such as time and money. We want to expend the least physical and mental effort we can and get the greatest result.

Other adages related to resource management include

  • Anything worth doing is worth doing well, implying that we should work until we have done the best we can.
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good, meaning that we should do “enough,” but not strive for perfection.

So which philosophy is the best to adopt, whether at work or in other aspects of our life? Do we strive to overcome our instinctive quest to do things in the easiest way possible, to settle for “good enough”? Do we do enough to get by, but not worry about doing our best? Or do we put out all the effort we can, hoping that the extra effort will pay off?

The answer, of course, is that it depends.

I’ve written before that “systematic neglect” is a valid decision-making philosophy. As I learned from Robert Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, part of a leader’s responsibility is to decide what not to do, which tasks to ignore. However, we are responsible for the consequences of our neglect.

During my career, there were times when I decided that it was in my best interest to expend extra effort and put out a stellar work product. But there certainly were other times when I put a project on the back burner long enough for it to go away entirely.

And there were times when I was caught with a project undone when it bubbled into crisis mode.

I wished I could tell ahead of time which tasks would become unnecessary and which would become catastrophes. Unfortunately, making good judgments on these issues takes a lot of experience, and even then, it is an inexact science prone to failure.

Still, most of us figure out a balance between doing everything and keeping our sanity. At work, figuring out our own personal balance is part of learning who we are and where we fit in the organization.

It is critical to figure out our balance to be successful, whether we are an individual contributor, a manager, or a CEO. We learn to think about which projects have short-term impacts and which have long-term criticality.

We also learn that the balance changes constantly, as our job changes and as the organization’s needs change.

Whether to take the easy way out is ultimately a decision we make every day. In yoga class, in our careers, in our families.

Think about a time when you took the easy way out—did it work?

Leave a comment

Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace