Guest Writer: “How Are You Managing Your Stress and Overwork?”

Article by: Judy L. Buka MED., LSW
Comprehensive Counseling Services, Inc.

As a therapist who works in a small business, a special interest of mine has been how to keep rising stress levels down.  Trying to run the business, build it and concentrate on its growth and success can be overwhelming especially for small business owners and individuals who run, or own, their company.

A recent study of 2,500 American workers by CareerBuilder.com found that 77 percent feel burned out at their jobs!

“So what,” you might ask? It’s no secret that stress is a fact of daily life, and in fast-moving cultures with technology thrusting us to new heights, what else is new?

Well, some things we may not think about are, for example, that if the stress is ignored in a workplace, rising stress levels can actually affect the atmosphere and relationships between coworkers by affecting employee behavior. Under strain and stress, for example, managers sometimes lash out at their employees, become overbearing and can create a hostile workplace. Companies pair down their workforce to remain competitive and increase the demands on themselves and each other. Small business owners especially feel this pressure, as they try to do all they can to keep costs down.

Effective communication in the workplace is essential in management and leadership. Constructive communication is essential for effective functioning. Lack of effective communication skills can create disconnect and destructive dynamics. Look at your own situation and try to figure out what you can do to eliminate stress both at the workplace and at home.

Here are some areas of workplace stress to be examined and perhaps modified for a more relaxing day!

1. Environment and Organizing Your Environment:

-Is your workspace being kept orderly?
-Do you and your staff have all of the papers, materials, equipment, and tools you need at hand.
-Are they easy to find and organized in a way that is convenient for all to use?
-Remember that a constant need to look for or find needed papers and materials can cause frustration, overwhelm and increase stress.
-Time spent looking for materials is time taken away from accomplishing things in a timely fashion.

2. Distractions:

Do you find that you are interrupted a lot during the day to return phone calls or look at and answer e-mails? Are there people dropping in with constant interruptions?
-Try to reduce distractions!!
-Set up specific times during the day to check e-mails and return phone calls.
-Set up hours when others can ask you questions or when your door will be open for them. When you are trying to get things done, stress is lowered when your attention is not diverted to other things or people.

3. Time Management:

A considerable amount of office stress results from allocating too much time to less important things or working on what is in front of you, rather than what is important. You end up then, facing a rapidly approaching deadline on an important project and experience stress and pressure.
-Prioritize important projects and schedule them accordingly. Daily “to do” lists help clarify time frames.

4. Delegating Responsibility:

Small business owners and executive directors often try to do too much. It is a trap into which many fall.
-Try to delegate tasks to others competent to do them.
-Learn to say “no” and only bite off what you can chew.

5. Balance:

Small business and non-profit people have a personal stake in their financial future and in the success of the business or organization. However, make certain you have some time every day that is free from the pressing concerns of your business.  Make sure you take adequate breaks to get away from work. Take a walk outside, go have some coffee or read a magazine as a small break.

6. Avoid Unrealistic Expectations:

Stress and the feeling of failure come from feeling that you are not meeting your expectations or someone else’s expectations.
-The solution is to set realistic goals for yourself and your employees. Expecting too much in too short a period of time sets the stage for stress, anxiety and, eventually, burnout.
– When offering your services to others, it’s often best to promise less than you can deliver and then deliver more than you promised!

7. Get Sleep!:

Stress is greatly increased by trying to work if you’re too tired.  Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep. Set a bed time and stick to it!

8. Look at the Substances You Take In!:

Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all boost stress levels.
-Replace coffee and soda with water or non-caffeinated beverages.
-Quit smoking and encourage your employees to do so, too. Moderate your alcohol consumption.

9. Eat Healthy

Eat low fat proteins, vegetables and fruit daily. Be careful not to skip meals.
-Eating smaller meals throughout the day can relieve stress and is better for your metabolism.
-Eating correctly and getting enough exercise will make you feel better. You will release endorphins, which will reduce stress and help keep your blood pressure down while boosting your immune system.

10. Deal with Employee Conflicts as They Arise:

-Create an open atmosphere where employees can discuss any problems they are having with you and try to resolve them through effective communication.
-Get help on effective communication if you have not had it.
-Festering disputes between employees will be destructive and can cause stress for everyone.
-Remove problem employees who create negativity or hostility in the office at once.
And remember, effective communication is the key to a harmonious atmosphere.

Judy L. Buka M.ED., LSW is licensed by the Marriage and Family Counselor and Social Work Board, and offers counseling, for individuals, couples, and groups.

Groups (small and confidential) available for stress reduction, and small business owner support.
Groups are 2 hours $35 per session.
Contact Judy for more information: 513-891-1533
Also workshops available on effective communication!

Judy L. Buka M.ED., LSW
Comprehensive Counseling Services Inc.
10999 Reed Hartman Highway Suite #233
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
513-891-1533
http://www.bcounseling.org/

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This article was featured in our monthly newsletter, Bridgeworks Connect.
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Operation Happiness: Non-Profit Employees

How to keep your non-profit’s employees happy with all the changes and belt-tightening that seems to be across the board is a challenge. Harvard Business School reported that job satisfaction nationwide is at a 23-year low and that’s not just with non-profits. Chronicle Survey says that 40% of workers characterized themselves as dissatisfied with their jobs. That means, if you have 10-20 people with your organization, 4-8 of them are probably unhappy.

This dissatisfaction can be attributed to a number of things, though. The Chronicle of Philanthropy hosted an online discussion recently with Jan Masaoka, the Chief Executive of the California Association of Nonprofits and, previously, with Blue Avocado, and Trish Tchume, the National Director of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. They took questions from readers and also posed some of their own, answering them with their many years of experience.

The first question was “What is employees’ #1 dissatisfaction?” The responses centered mostly around transparency of procedure. It would depend on who was being asked, but a large complaint is not necessarily that employees want to be in on the decision-making process, but that they are unclear about what the process is. In non-profits and many other agencies and organizations, there are formal and informal hierarchies. Decisions are often made through the unofficial hierarchies and employees need clarity on how the organization is structured in this area as much as the formal processes which would be written in the handbook. Jan stated, “Too many non-profits (and for-profits) emit messages like ‘we do everything as a team’ that people read as indications that the non-profit is a democracy. It’s important to be able to say, ‘This is a decision that you will have input on, but the decision will be made by X.'” According to Daniel Pink, people are motivated by three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Give your people these things and they will thrive.

Another topic brought up was that of “bailing” by employees, or “organization-hopping.” People who find themselves dissatisfied with their current position or place of employment may “bail” on that organization if they are confident they can get another job at the same pay or see themselves as marketable. This brings up another point: How long does a person need to stay at position/organization in order to be seen as a dependable/loyal person? There is a statistic that leaders of younger generations have about 8-10 transitions over the course of their career as opposed to far fewer in previous generations. However, this can be misleading because while younger leaders may change organizations, they are often staying within the same cause.

No turnover can equal stale ideas. Some organizations and positions expect a certain amount of turnover in staff. Some are meant to turn over every year or two. For example, you would not want a 35% turnover in management positions, but having a high rate of turnover for youth workers on a playground is expected and acceptable. Employers should be seeking ways to build into their employees not only for their current job, but also for any jobs they may have in the future.

One other question was on effective methods in getting good problem-solving input from staff. Jan and Trish suggest that good problem-solving cannot happen when there is widespread distrust. But if there is a general attitude of “we can work things out,” then having teams prioritizes their own work is the best way to start. Check out an online resource: Structuring Leadership: Alternative Models for Distributing Power and Decision-Making.

To read the full discussion, visit the website.

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Designing a Non-Profit Website

We posted this on our Facebook not long ago, but thought it worth-while to share in our newsletter as well.

With the influx of information and the flood of social media and mobile technology, the manner in which information for non-profits is shared online has been changed to be sure to catch the attention of easily-distracted online donors. The key? Simplicity.  Here are 5 important things to keep in mind when designing your non-profit website.

Photos and Videos

Limit the amount of words you put on your home page. Instead, fill the top section with photos and maybe a video to capture the attention of browsers and are relevant to your mission. Keep the bulk of your text on secondary pages which can be easily connected to from your home page.

Consistency

Traveling from one page to another on the same site, only to find a completely different set up can be so jarring that a potential donor may just click out and not come back.  Keep your secondary pages consistent with the home page. This means, match your color scheme, font style and size and layout and be sure to place your social media links and “Donate Now” buttons on the top right corner of each page. The eye travels to that side of a website naturally, so capitalize on that tendency.

“Donate Now” Button

Branding your “Donate Now” button with your website and even logo will make it more appealing for passing-through donors.  But that won’t do any good if it’s not easy to find or if your donation page is cluttered or the 2nd or 3rd page a person has to click through. Set up your button to go directly to the page that collects contact and credit card information and be sure to put your “Donate Now” button on every page of your website.

E-Newsletter and Text Alerts

If your non-profit sends out an e-newsletter or group texting alerts, keep the sign-up for it prominently featured on each page.  The subscription process should be as simple as possible. Only require the individual’s email address and, at the most, their first name. You can provide the option for them to fill in other information, such as, last name, snail mail address, phone number etc, but be sure the only required field is for the email address. Also, only make it mandatory to enter a zip-code if you plan to email or text message based on regional location. And by no means should you require an individual to create a user-name and password to sign up.

Page Titles for SEO

If the acronym “SEO” is completely foreign to you, check out this quick, descriptive video for the basic idea: What Is Search Engine Optimization / SEO.  Now that you have the basics under your belt, you can see just how important it is to making sure your website is being found through search engines.  Because tags and key words have been abused by so many SEO specialists, search engines are giving more and more priority to page titles for their results. Be sure to give each page a unique title. On your home page, include your organization’s name and your tagline.  This and having fresh content are increasingly important for good search results.

If you would like some more pointers, go to the original article found on Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog.

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5 Ways to Show Respect

“R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me.”

Aretha Franklin proudly spelled out the word in song, but how do you show respect to others you encounter in your daily life and workplace?  Many non-profits may try to show respect for their employees and volunteers, but may mistake genuine respect for being polite and considerate.  Here are five tips to keep in mind.

1. Listen.

I mean, really listen.  Of course you might be busy, but find a time when you can intentionally listen to the person and share their problems for a bit.

2.  Make eye contact.

Looking someone in the eye while they are talking shows that you are engaged in the conversation.  You can react to their facial expressions and quickly convey what you are feeling about what they are saying.  It lets them know that they have your full attention.

3. Be on time.

Nothing says “Your time is valuable to me” like being on time to a meeting or appointment.  You know how it makes you feel when someone is late to meet with you. Apply the golden rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

4. Be encouraging.

For some people, it takes a great deal of courage to share an idea.  It can be easy to shoot down an idea that someone is very excited about or make them feel unimportant.  Genuinely encourage others to show that you truly value them and their ideas.

5. Create a learning environment.

Building into people shows that you respect them.  Giving them the materials they need to learn something new and then showing them how to do it are both important in creating the atmosphere to learn.

Of course, there are many more ways to show respect.  How do you show respect to others?

For more tips, check out the full article here.

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Non-Profit Tax Quiz

There are always questions and opinions about taxes and non-profits, but do you think you really know your stuff?  Blue Avocado put together a 17-question quiz about non-profit taxes.  Don’t worry, they keep the questions light and interesting and use jargon only when necessary.  Here is a sampling of the questions:

Q – If you give a non-profit 501(c)(3) $10,000, how much less will you pay in federal taxes (assuming you itemize and are in the highest tax bracket?)

a.  $10,000
b.  $3,500
c.  $1,500
d.  $10,000, but only if you get a receipt within 60 days of the donation.

Q – A “progressive tax structure” means:

a. It is supported by “progressive” people.
b.  It is part of Obamacare.
c. People with higher incomes pay a higher percentage in taxes than people with lower incomes.
d. Taxes increase with inflation.

Q – Which of the following is legally a restriction on 501(c)(3) non-profits:

a.  Non-profit staff cannot donate blood.
b.  Non-profits cannot borrow money, except from board members and staff.
c.  Non-profit board meetings must be open to the public.
d.  Non-profits cannot divvy up the surplus at year-end and distribute it to staff.
e.  b and c

Q – To be officially poor according to the federal government, a family of four can have a total annual income of no higher than:

a.  $22,350
b.  $31,700
c.  $42,000
d.  the salary of the governor of Wyoming.

You can find the rest of the questions and an answer sheet by going here: Blue Avocado Non-Profit Tax Quiz

Don’t forget that CDP is holding a Professional Development Series the morning of November 10, 2011.  One of the speakers is Jim Clark, a CPA with Lloyd, Darner, Guenther & Ellis and will be talking about accounting for non-profits.  Be sure to register for this training here.

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Burnout

Most jobs come with their fair share of stress. The non-profit world is no different. It’s easy to find yourself in a place where stress has boiled itself over into burnout. Here are some signs, symptoms and tips for recognizing burnout and getting rid of it.

Dictionary.com defines burnout as “fatigue and frustration from too much work and stress.” HelpGuide.org takes it a bit further by calling it “a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” These definitions make a distinction between stress and burnout in that stress can cause burnout, but it is not burnout itself.

Burnout is a feeling of overwhelming that reduces a person’s productivity. It takes energy away and makes a person feel helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Here are some signs that you may be heading to a burnout:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Your responsibilities at work and home seem to be a waste of energy to care about.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • Most of your daily tasks seem overwhelming or mind-numbing.
  • You feel completely unappreciated.

Nathan Hand of School on Wheels in Indianapolis recommends scheduling time to do everything and a time to do nothing. The “doing nothing” should include unplugging and shutting down from technology. Schedule time with your family. Schedule time to reflect on what happened that week and on any future goals. He says, “We need to refresh, we need to rejuvenate, because we’ll be so much better after.”

In non-profits, a lot of emotion is poured into lives and causes and this can become draining if a person doesn’t have an inlet for refreshing. Here are some tips for preventing burnout:

  • Start the day with a relaxing ritual, about 15 minutes of something calming, ie., gentle stretches, meditating, reading something that inspires you, writing in a journal, etc.
  • Start living healthy – eat healthy, exercise more and get more sleep. A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to keep your body energized and equipped to handle daily stress.
  • Set boundaries. The hardest word to say sometimes is “no,” but it is essential to free you to say “yes” to other things.
  • Take a daily break from technology. It doesn’t have to be a long time, but make sure you set a time each day to disconnect from your computer, phone, email, etc.
  • Be creative. Creativity can really ward off burnout. Whether you pick up an old hobby or try something new, add something new and interesting into your life, completely unrelated to work.

Here’s the full HelpGuide.org article on Burnout.

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Errors by Grant Applicants

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently interviewed several grant makers and consultants at the Council on Foundations annual meeting in Philadelphia.  The topic: common mistakes made by grant applicants.  Here are the high points of those interviews including some of the extra points given in the comments.

Overpromising

Overpromising is a big no-no.  It’s easy to do, though, with all the competition out there.  However, don’t let the stress of getting the funds get in the way of truth.  Be sure to make realistic goals and have the data to back them up.

“Only One” Mentality

One funder states that it is risky to say your organization is the only one accomplishing a certain task.  They might even know of an organization offering a similar program .  Again, have the data or proof to back up your claims.

Flying Solo

Several of the comments centered around organizations writing an entire proposal without checking with the foundation at all.  With this has come many errors along the lines of not knowing the proper way to apply for a grant, who to send the paperwork to, and not knowing the appropriate amount for which to ask.  This is problematic and a fairly immediate turn-off for most foundations.  It says that the organization didn’t care enough to properly research the Foundation or isn’t concerned with details.

Shooting Blind

Complementing the previous topic is this one where organizations request an amount totally contrary to what the foundation typically awards.  This can be easily found out by contacting the foundation, reading the previous year’s 990, checking out the annual report and probably by reading the RFP (Request for Proposal).  A big mistake would be to ask for $100,000 when the foundation typically only funds up to $10,000 or requesting $10,000 when they might consider $100,000.  Some organizations were also completely unaware of the mission of the foundation.  If the foundation was established to assist work to people with disabilities, the proposal should meet that need as well.

In summary, read and follow directions.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Be honest and factual about what you do and can do.  Lastly, proofread what you are sending.  Double, no, triple-check everything before you send it out.  If a proposal is filled with typos (check even the spelling of the Foundation and contact’s name), it will probably be tossed out before they really get a chance to read it.

Watch the video here.

CDP is offering our “Mastering the Art of Grant Writing” training July 7, 2011.  If you would like to register for this training, or any others, follow this link to our website.

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