Friday, September 13, 2019

Help Employees Not Go Overboard On Worrying about Stress

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Enjoy the Stress--It's Not All Bad

Stress Isn't Always Bad for You -- Here's Why

Although stress is a normal part of everyday life, we typically think of it as a bad thing. The reality is that some stress challenges us to improve ourselves because it pushes us beyond what we think we can handle. Without stress, then, we don't grow or adapt to new challenges. Here's why we should welcome some stress into our lives, and some tips on telling the difference between healthy and unhealthy stress levels.

What Is Stress? 

Stress is a natural response to change. It's the mental and physical symptoms you experience when you're exposed to new challenges or when you feel under pressure. Stress causes symptoms such as:

Elevated heart rate
Muscle tension
Faster breathing
Trouble sleeping because of racing thoughts and heightened awareness
GI problems e.g. nausea and stomach upsets

When you experience stress, your body releases a wave of hormones through the bloodstream. These hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, help you react quickly to a challenging or threatening situation. This is otherwise known as the "fight-or-flight" response.

The body produces the same hormonal response whether you're running for your life or getting ready for a first date. In other words, stress is never going to be eradicated from modern life, but the good news is that some stress is actually healthy.

Yes, really. Not all stress deserves a bad reputation. Let's consider why. 

Some Stress Is a Good Thing

Not all stress is created equal. Luckily, the most common stress we face each day is acute stress, and it's the least worrying form of stress. In fact, acute stress can improve our performance, sharpen our minds, and help us retain new skills.

Acute Stress 

Acute stress is caused by a recent event or an accumulation of multiple tasks. For example, you might be stressed by:

An upcoming wedding
Arguing with a friend
Looming deadlines

This stress only lasts for a short time. Once the triggering event is over, the stress disappears.

Why is acute stress sometimes a good thing, then? It's simple. Stress pushes us into action. If we didn't stress out over exams, we wouldn't study. If we didn't fret over deadlines, we'd leave tasks unfinished. And, thanks to sharpened reactions, stress lets us overcome challenges and solve problems that we couldn't figure out before.

Stress can be a motivator. It's pretty uncomfortable, but it forces us to get results. Think of it like exercise. The more you train, the stronger you become. Acute stress has the same effect.

Good v Bad Stress 

So it's clear that some stress actually benefits us, but what about when stress is harmful? Chronic stress is when the body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode. When this is the case, the pressure wears you down eventually. Chronic stress can be caused by:

Working as a caregiver to a sick relative
A toxic workplace environment
Unhappy or dysfunctional family
Long-term health problems
Ongoing poverty or job loss

Chronic stress is dangerous. It causes long-term mental and physical symptoms, and it may lead to heart disease, obesity, or skin conditions.

Tips for Managing Stress

Since some stress is a normal part of our lives, we must learn to deal with it. You can:

See a stressful situation as a challenge, not an impossibility
Accept when you can't control a situation
Avoid harmful responses to stress such as alcoholism
Get help when stress becomes a problem
Develop your organizational skills to stay on top of tasks before they become too stressful

Remember, stress can mean you're pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. You don't improve yourself when you're comfortable. Stress, under the right conditions, can inspire and motivate you to achieve your full potential.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

EAPs Helping Customer Service Employees Deal with Angry and Hostile Interactions on the Job

Few events cause employees more distress and contribute to more fantasies about quitting
Customer arguing. EAP training can help employees
than frequently encountering irate customers in a job. 

Does the company EAP have a role in reaching out, helping these workers, and in effect, claiming the high ground associated with this area of behavioral risk and exposure that can affect a company's bottom line? 

I say yes. And it fits the EAP core technology perfectly.

Violence in the workplace, verbal assault, morale issues, turnover costs, team degradation, employee-victims blowing off work the next day and calling in sick (aka "taking mental health days"), physical illness, and lower productivity -- all of these metrics can be adversely affected by a poorly managed "customer aggression intervention education program" in the workplace.

Never heard of such a program? You have now. I think you should consider starting one.
This is fertile ground for EAP work. There is plenty of research on the impact of aggressive customers and the consequences of their behavior on employee wellness. But there are few programmatic intervention approaches run by those with behavioral health knowledge and experience.

Frankly, hopes of the employee self-referring to the EAP are not really going to cut it as the only way to deal with customer service stress. A more proactive approach is needed.

I am developing a tip sheet on this topic and will make it available to you soon, but at least for now, let's discuss some of the ways employees can cope with this common workplace issue of customer service stress vis-a-vis the angry customer, and bit about the EAP role.

Customers Can Turn on Employees

Customers can turn on employees, dehumanize them, and treat them with hostility because they represent the organization to which their fury is targeted. An employee representative is the company or business. Without customers seeing employees in this fashion, they can't act out successfully. This gives a strong clue to intervention - humanness. [Suggested EAP Resource for customer service 1 of 3 ]

A recent study released this past summer found that consumer bargain hunters, for example, treat store clerks "as less than human." It's almost as though they go into "a zone" that turns employees into objects. Here's the study.

You can assume there are customer service employees who, after dealing with an irate customers, desire nothing more than to drive home, jump back into bed and hide under the covers. These workers are your target audience for offering additional support from the EAP.

Add value to your EAP by developing referral funnels that spot these workers, discover their needs, and turn them into thankful clients. This is truly "value-added" EAP at its finest.

Help employees discover the tricks of the trade for dealing with angry customers. Here are a couple ways to counsel these employees so they develop more resilience and are able to help themselves face hostile customers.

Listen first, speak later

employee listening to customer with empathy to reduce stress
Help employees understand that the initial burst of anger from customers will almost always be the most intense. From there, things are going to go downhill (in a positive sense.)

This is a powerful awareness, and like the other tips that follow in this post, helping employees "reframe" their experience is critical in order to help workers feel more empowered.

Because it’s so stressful for the person on the receiving end of the hostility, many flustered employees mistakenly try to end confrontations a bit too quickly in order to ease their own discomfort associated with the behavior of the customer. This is a tactical mistake. But, of course it is understandable. [Suggested EAP Resource for customer service 2 of 3 ]

Ironically, quick intervention leads to escalation of the angry and hostile customer reactions. The missing link? It's empathy. Coaching employees to resist the urge interrupt, argue, or engage in problem solving immediately is key to helping reduce customer agitation.

Remember those counseling interview courses or social work interviewing courses you took in school? You undoubtedly learned about the levels of empathetic response that professional counselors use to help clients feel heard. This is an excellent model of communication that customer service employees can also learn. And you can teach it to them.

Learning the levels of empathetic response will be fun learning and it will also be appreciated as a way of helping employees remain calm and keep their cool when customer aggression ramps up and the pressure is on.

You want to help employees develop better reflexes and actually relax in the face of customer agitation. Teach them to slow down their breathing and listen intently without fear -- help employees become fearless customer service honey badgers as they maintain eye contact with their customers.

Apologize and Empathize

Employees should learn that the angry customer eventually runs out of steam and pauses to collect his or her thoughts. When this happens, you've got them -- right there, take the opportunity to apologize. This is the employee's  "in."

Apology is an art, and it is well worth learning. So, the EAP should do a couple presentations or role plays. Not difficult, but important.

Apologies can reduce the customer service employee's stress, as well as the customers'. Help employees learn the art of an effective apology because it goes right to the heart of what has upset the customer.

For example, a customer who is displeased about an undisclosed $10 service charge is more likely to be angry about feeling deceived than about the fee itself. Help employees understand that this is the crucial link to address. Addressing this anger specifically and empathizing with it will be powerful. [Suggested EAP Resource for customer service 3 of 3 ]

Remember above when I discussed the "levels of empathy" that you may have learned in professional counseling courses in college? Draw on this material. It is a good place to practice these skills. Here are the levels in response to the above. You may have to create your own examples, but follow this model below and you will do great.

Issue: "Customer is angry and shocked at a $10 service charge."

Empathy 1: "Don't blame me."

Empathy 2: "I can't do anything about it."
Empathy 3: "Sorry you are just finding out about this." 
Empathy 4: "Your reaction to this charge justified."
Empathy 5: "I must feel blindsided and taken advantage of by this."

As you can see, the above can create a lot of discussion in a seminar setting with customer service employees, but who better to help them deal with stress, understand empathy, gain resilience, have a bit of fun, and experiment with empathetic responses and customer than you as the EAP?

A mistake but often seen as an easy out for customer service employees that actually makes problems worse is resisting the anger and blame. Employees often attempt to shift or pass the buck to others in the organization so one does not feel targeted. In your customer’s eyes, you are the company, so don’t take anything that’s said to you personally. (Admittedly, this is easier said than accepted at an emotional level, but with practice and tools, it eventually becomes part of the employees "tool box."

Reflection and Clarifying

More customer service training for employees that you can consider is helping them understand is how to immediately, after apologizing, repeat the customer’s complaint to him or her.

This reflection and clarification assures the customer that the employee is concerned about the problem and will help the customer avoid further misunderstanding that may incite anger again. This is the part of the proof that things are going to get better.

Maintain a calm, positive tone
Employees have tremendous influence over their customer’s emotional state. This is the key point in any seminar to assist them in stress management. For example, something like lowering the voice and speaking slowly and calmly in a pleasant manner relaxes and disarms most angry customers.

Taking immediate action

The longer customers wait, the more they seethe. It is a simple strategy to make the unhappy customer the employee's top priority. This is in fact, the first rule to reduce one's personal stress. Avoid delay and denial. Help employees understand that the goal is ultimately to have the customer see the customer service employee as not just an employee, but an advocate. Without this goal in mind, the default position is "opponent." Once empathy is shown, a quick pivot to a discussion resolution the customer is looking for is the correct path.

When an employee can't find an immediate answer or solution, then what? The best answer is usually taking charge, promising to follow up later. Take down the customer's contact information and outline the corrective steps one is going to take. This part is critical in order be believed. The employee risks escalation without this "part B" to the follow up promise. Include the names of everyone who will be involved in the solution.

Example: “I’m going to send this purchase order to Sarah, our inventory manager. She’ll order the correct part for you. It should be here on Tuesday. She’ll call you at the number you provided”

“If you have any problems, please contact me immediately and I’ll help you resolve it. Here is my card.”

One of the biggest drivers of customer anger is feeling like they’re getting the runaround. Taking these steps assures your customer that:

  • She is valued.
  • You have a plan.
  • She won’t be abandoned.
  • You will be accountable and available for follow up.

Follow up

Don’t write them off! An angry customer is not necessarily a former customer.

A follow up phone call or message a few days following the resolution of a complaint sends the message that the customer service worker cares about delivering satisfaction. Most customers just want to feel valued. Small considerations build loyalty.

Employees who are customer service workers can’t please everyone, but they can improve and enhance company’s image and responsiveness in every dispute. The more they practice these above techniques, the more success they will have in calming customers and winning them over. And of course, less stress is the big payoff.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Download Reproducible Holiday Stress Tip Sheet

Download Reproducible Holiday Stress Tip Sheet: Free holiday stress tip sheet and reproducible handout for workplace wellness, free to distribute, editable, web usable.

Holiday stress and family conflicts are a common concern among employees. They can add to the difficulty of the season. We we decided to create this reproducible and editable tip sheet for workplace wellness.
Holiday Stress Free Tip Sheet to Reproduce and Distribute
We think it hits all the right spots, including thinking ahead and preparing a personal care plan; understanding and responding to triggers; letting go of resentments; practicing mindfulness; having a "go-to-friend" for support if needed; recognizing that no one is alone with this problem or issue; focusing on the fun and valuing loved ones. We also included a special section on the political divide we all only know too well!

Click here to download JUST THE PDF or go here to download 

This workplace wellness tip sheet is yours to copy and distribute without attribution, but if you put it on a Web site, please place a "back-link" someplace on your Web site--even in the farthest corner--where it is viewable by search engines --  [ ]. This will cause search engines to rank us higher and it helps us create more free tip sheets for you!

Other key links to explore . . .

1. See the Online Catalog--flip the pages!

2. Download the PDF catalog - it takes 20 seconds

3. Shorty Catalog, like #2 above, but on two sheets

4. Download everything you ever wanted to know about our "flagship" product FrontLine Employee Editable Wellness Newsletter-- here.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Women in the Workplace 2018 PDF (Download)

There's a lot of critical information in this new report on women in the workplace.

Despite the push to grow more diverse and inclusive workplaces, African American women in top management are still quite rare.

And there are more findings in this report critical to workforce management.

The new 2018 Women in the Workplace Study is a document you should read for three important reasons:

1) awareness for the problem of barriers to gender diversity that still exist;
2) the reliability of the information found in the document that discusses many aspects of modern day institutional discrimination; and
3) ideas about how you can make a difference in your role no matter what it might be.
The study was conducted by the prestigious accounting firm of McKinsey and Company.

Women in the Workplace 2018 PDF (Download)