Is Sunday night the new Monday morning?

For a growing number of workers, Monday morning is coming earlier. And they aren’t happy about it.

According to a recent national survey, chronic workplace stress is contributing to higher levels of anxiety among workers who often report having these feelings of workplace dread on Sunday nights before the start of the week.

It’s the downside of a strong labor market.

The tight labor market means higher employee turnover and fewer employees to do the work, thereby increasing stress at short-staffed workplaces. That’s one of the reasons for the reported rise in anxiety many employees feel. Another factor is the notion that some employees feel they need to check emails or do work-related tasks even when they aren’t at work.

What’s an employer to do?

“Communicate,” said Jeanie Sharp, regional manager for Robert Half and Accountemps in the Greater Lehigh Valley and Delaware. “Meet with your team; meet with them on an individual basis to see if they are experiencing this. Encourage them to manage time wisely … so they are not bringing work home with them on the weekends.”

Accountemps, a California-based division of Robert Half International, offers accounting and finance staffing services. It has an office in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

Survey says …

Robert Half undertook a recent survey, conducted by an independent research firm and including responses from more than 2,800 professionals 18 or older and employed in office environments in 28 major U.S. cities.

The survey found:

  • 39 percent of U.S. workers reported having the ‘Sunday Scaries’ – anxiety felt Sunday night before the start of the work week;
  • 44 percent cited heavy workloads/project deadlines as the primary cause of anxiety, followed by having a challenging relationship with their manager (18 percent) and not liking their job duties (17 percent).
  • Workers in some cities reported higher levels of anxiety: Sacramento, Los Angeles, Denver and Cincinnati.
  • Cities with the least levels of anxiety: Nashville, Tampa, Portland, Minneapolis and Boston.

Sharp suggested managers should lead by example and do their best to disconnect on weekends and evenings.

“It’s not always feasible and it’s not always reality,” Sharp said.

For employers, it’s important to look for signs that employees are overworked, such as missed deadlines, working overtime or co-worker drama, Sharp said. Other signs are changes in their relationships with co-workers or managers.

“I think workplace stress and workplace anxiety is a legitimate concern and should be talked about,” Sharp said.

Susan Larkin, vice president of Allied Personnel Services in Allentown, said workplace stress and anxiety is becoming more common, in part due to short staffing.

“Pretty much every business you call now … they need people,” Larkin said. “We are seeing a lot of overtime. I think people are working a lot more in general.”

In the past, workers could take vacations knowing there was enough staff to provide back up and get the work done, but that’s increasingly rare. But there is still pressure on – and stress for – remaining staff.

“A lot of times it’s because they can’t find someone to work that shift and it’s falling onto the employees,” Larkin said.

Larkin doesn’t see Sunday anxiety causing more people to be absent on Mondays. But it can lead to burnout and unhappiness.

“I think people don’t find joy in their jobs anymore,” Larkin said. “High employee turnover affects everybody.”

She described it as “the flipside of the low unemployment rate.”

“I would say this applies across all sectors,” Larkin said, including both white-collar and blue-collar jobs.

What can be done

Tina Hamilton, president of MyHR Partner in Upper Macungie Township, has been in the human resources field for 32 years, and said there are some steps employers can take to mitigate stress.

For example, employers can offer perks to make Mondays a little more appealing, such as free lunch or breakfast but most employers are not going to do that every week, Hamilton said.

Another strategy employers can use is a four-day workweek but it’s an option that’s not realistic for every company, she said.

One of the mistakes employers make is thinking on their own that they know what employees want without asking them directly.

“But if you are going to ask them, you have to respond,” Hamilton said. A helpful question to ask is, ‘what would make your Mondays more pleasant?’

But it also comes down to mindset, which is harder to influence.

“It starts fundamentally with having the type of job people enjoy,” Hamilton said. “An employer, unfortunately, doesn’t have complete control over their attitude.”

Guest view: To energize workforce, try a dash of purpose

Let’s face it. All of us are feeling the effects of low unemployment – from manufacturing to health care. It’s impacting our bottom lines and operations, causing employee fatigue and burnout, and making us re-evaluate how we compete in the marketplace. Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

These days, employees are looking to work for organizations that offer extensive benefits, foster a strong internal culture, create a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and promote work-life balance. At Hospice & Community Care we are continuing to find that most, if not all, of our job candidates are looking for those qualities in an employer.

Hospice & Community Care employs nearly 400 people – ranging from physicians to RNs, from bereavement counselors and social workers, to aides and LPNs. We serve more than 500 patients and families each day, whether at home, in a senior living community or at our inpatient center. We care for patients in Lancaster, York, and parts of Adams, Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin and Lebanon counties. And we provide personalized care and comfort to help patients and their families live better with serious illness through end of life.

The nature of our business is challenging. Caring for and comforting people at the end of life is not always easy. So, what motivates our employees to continue to deliver quality care and comfort? Having a sense of purpose. Knowing they are making a difference in the lives of people every day at one of the most challenging times in their lives.

Here are some ways we create that sense of purpose at Hospice & Community Care.

Communicating and acknowledging

While I can share stats and figures with employees on how we compare to other hospice providers or our patient family satisfaction, that doesn’t have the same impact as hearing from a family who has received our services. We try to make it a point to share with staff the feedback and many notes of appreciation that we receive from patients’ families. We often hear from our team members that these stories mean so much to them. It energizes them, validates their hard work and reinforces a sense of purpose.

In addition to our clinical staff, we have account representatives, fundraising staff, technology support and others. These individuals may not interact with patients or families daily, but they, too, want to feel a sense of purpose. Our account representatives help provide clarity to families navigating the health insurance system. That clarity provides more time for families to spend with their loved ones rather than dealing with insurance companies. Hospice & Community Care’s development team raises needed funds to enable us to provide care and support for patients and families. Our tech-support team ensures that our computer systems are running efficiently and are user-friendly to ensure that patient information is being documented securely, ensuring patient safety and confidentiality.

All employees need to have a sense of purpose. As business leaders, it’s our job to help them connect the dots.

Opportunities to learn and grow

We advocate for education and continuous learning among all of our employees. We offer in-house educational opportunities – from in-person trainings to webinars – as well as tuition reimbursement.

By offering these opportunities, our employees know that we value them and are committed to providing them with the tools needed to succeed. It also shows them we are willing to invest in their future at Hospice & Community Care. Providing educational opportunities has not only helped with our employee retention, but has also been a big draw to potential candidates.

Promoting work-life balance

In health care, there are many opportunities for staff to experience issues of burnout and compassion fatigue. It’s important that they not carry that into their personal lives.

As a result, we recognize the value of having ample paid time off. We offer employees 30 days of paid time off (including holidays) during their first full year of employment with us. In addition, our paid time-off package grows each year through 10 years of service. We believe that having time away from work helps our staff enjoy life more, care for themselves better and experience a better quality of life.

Regardless of one’s position within an organization, it is critical as an employer to reinforce purpose among all of our employees; they will be more passionate about their work, bring new and innovative ideas, and stay committed to our mission. But most importantly, having a sense of purpose will translate into how your employees interact with your customers, clients or patients, and translate into a commitment to your organization. This is why at Hospice & Community Care our employees will always remain our top priority.

Steve Knaub is president and CEO of Hospice & Community Care.

Go take a nap: Can brief downtime help busy small-business professionals be more productive?

People in the tech industry know that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to shut down for a bit and then reboot.

So it’s no surprise that many tech industry leaders, used to long days and stressful conditions, have chosen that same advice to get their staff up and running again, by encouraging a reboot with midday naps.

Companies like Google, Cisco and Zappos encourage employees who are putting in long, hard days to take short, refreshing naps. The three companies even provide nap space – ranging from nap pods to recliners – to help employees find time to take a reviving snooze.

These tech companies aren’t necessarily sleep innovators. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush were reportedly fans of a midday nap.

Even leaders sometimes need a break.

But the art of the mid-day “lunch” nap hasn’t caught on much in this area. While most people said they could see the merits of catching a little shut-eye during a lunch break, representatives of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management said they were aware of no companies locally that have official policies or accommodations encouraging lunchtime napping.

“We don’t see it as far as company policy or as acceptable practice, but I do know some specific white collar companies where it’s done. It’s not being lazy. It’s being done to be more productive,” said Scott Appnel, manager of business development for HealthWorks-Occupational Medicine at Populytics Inc. and a SHRM-LV board member.

There is science behind the need for napping. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep, which is about seven and a half hours. A nap can help ease the fatigue from that lack of sleep.

Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, a pulmonologist with Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Sleep Disorders Center, said naps can certainly benefit a person in the middle of a work day.

“First of all, I’m a big fan of stepping away from the workplace in the midday – anything to break from your brain’s attention to work,” Schellenberg said. “Cat naps can be restorative for many people.”

But Schellenberg cautions there should be limits on lunchtime napping. He said a general rule of thumb is to keep such a nap to under 20 minutes. A light short nap can be refreshing. But a longer nap risks sending someone into a deeper sleep pattern that’s harder to wake up from. And it can leave a person feeling groggy and sometimes more tired than they were before a nap.

He also cautions that anyone who falls into the one third of Americans that don’t get enough sleep at night to avoid using naps as a substitute for that missed sleep. He said naps are refreshing when needed but are not a long-term solution to a proper night’s rest.

Finding the right place to nap can be tricky for those seeking out their 40 winks. An empty conference room or break room might do the trick, or a person can sneak out to his or her car for a break.

There are nap aids out there, but they don’t come cheap.

Nap pods made by New York-based MetroNaps sell for $13,000.

A European company makes portable head gear known as the Ostrich Pillow, which users can put on their heads for cushioning and to block out noise. They sell for $99 each.

The napping itself, of course, is free if taken on lunch break. Schellenberg said tired employees shouldn’t be afraid to take them when they need to recharge.

Back to basics: Trust, open dialogue, mentorship keys to small-business success

A small-business leader must be a good listener while providing an environment where opportunities for mentorships can flourish and create a path for future leaders.

How do you foster mentorships and ensure you are listening to new ideas?

For some, it pays to have an open-door policy, step out of your comfort zone or react differently to how you are listening to employees at all levels of your company.

Building a sense of trust also goes a long way.

“Listening, for me, is a key core competency any leader must have,” said Andrew Plank, owner and president of Blue Eagle Logistics, a company that provides freight and warehousing services in Upper Macungie Township, near Allentown. “You need to have formal and informal processes in place to really hear what is going on in your business.”

Leaders need to hold formal daily or weekly meetings to review the business and raise concerns, Plank said. Just as importantly, take the advice of management guru Tom Peters in what he calls “managing by wandering around,” which he introduced to companies nationally in the 1970s.

“You need to be wandering the building to see people informally to see and hear … A simple ‘how’s it going?’ conversation starter can provide insights that people may not be comfortable sharing in a group environment,” Plank said.  “It takes both styles to listen and learn.”

Listening also requires patience.

Daniel Laws, principal of DaBrian Marketing Group in Reading, suggests leaders listen first and come back to the conversation later.

“I think in terms of listening to new ideas, it’s having people you trust and taking the time to understand before you respond,” Laws said. His firm employs 10 people.

Laws learned more about comprehensive listening during meetings at Vistage, a leadership peer program that he belongs to. Being part of that group allowed him to practice listening to understand, rather than listening to respond.

“You’ve gotten some practice, so you can leverage that practice,” he added.

Sharing ideas also is essential for growth. Without them, companies remain stagnant and fall behind.

“Your workforce is your product, if you are not sharing new and better ways to do things, you aren’t growing,” said David Saba, director of public relations for SWBR Inc. in Hanover Township, Northampton County. “We are always looking at everyone to bring new ideas to our attention.”

SWBR, a marketing and advertising firm that employs 20 people, encourages a culture where people want to bring forth ideas, said Ernie Thomas Stiegler, the firm’s director of business development.

Industries change all the time and leaders have to be ready to adapt. By participating in conferences, seminars and webinars, leaders and employees stay on top of new ideas and trends.

“Especially for senior staff members, you can get a little comfortable so it’s really important that you are educating yourself,” Stiegler said.

Open door is welcoming

For Juan Vidal, managing director of Offix Systems in Allentown, an open-door policy is the key to a healthy workforce, and it helps create an environment where people want to come to work.

Some companies where Vidal worked in the past believed that withholding knowledge gave a leader power. The opposite is true, Vidal said.

Creating a level of trust between leaders and employees and among co-workers allows them to feel comfortable sharing ideas.

“I’m a firm believer that the sharing of knowledge gives you more power and helps make you the best mentor,” Vidal said.

Ideas do not have to come only from the inside either.

Now in its 10th year in business, the owners and operators at The Knitter’s Edge in Bethlehem encourage fresh ideas from their staff, their customers and other local business owners.

It’s an approach that has worked well for the mother-and-daughter team that runs The Knitter’s Edge.

JoAnne Turcotte handles the more creative side of the business while her daughter, Amanda Evans, tackles the business end. The business employs 12 part-time workers.

They trust their employees to come forward with new ideas, often with no formal process.

“We also give them a lot of latitude,” Turcotte said. “I’m always willing to try new things. In here, I discovered over time, you don’t know ahead of time whether something will work.”

The small knitting shop offers about 30 classes a week and in a newsletter that goes out to about 8,000 people, the owners encourage their customers to send them ideas for new products, projects or classes.

They see mentorship running both ways. Turcotte and Evans work closely with local business owners by selling their products in the store, and collaborate with them on new product ideas. For example, the store works with a local yarn dyer and a local soap maker.

“We mentor with each other here and outside the company,” Turcotte said.

For Plank, whose company employs 28 locally, he’s also had some key mentors in his life.

“Sometimes I think they have found me,” Plank said. “I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to some really good people who were willing to share their experiences.”

The Behaviorist: Time off is not time wasted

I am a little bit embarrassed to tell you that I took six weeks off. A six-week sabbatical with my husband – reading, writing, resting, reflecting, relaxing, drinking wine and coffee, enjoying the sunshine and some exercise, and sometimes doing nothing at all.

I am embarrassed because I recognize the rarity of taking this kind of time. Talking about it at all feels boastful and a bit millennial. Even as I type this, I can picture my step-dad rolling his eyes and wondering how on earth anyone can ride off into the sunset for six weeks and have a job to come back to at all.

And while I am incredibly grateful for a team that supported my request to tag along on my husband’s sabbatical, I don’t believe that my experience should be rare or embarrassing. We need to begin embracing a culture that supports this kind of time to disconnect. I have been more productive in the month since returning from my own sabbatical than I was in the previous six months combined and there is a slew of research which proves that time spent away from the office is good for individuals, for families, for the economy, and for business.

‘Always on’

I spend most of my time at the office surrounded by well-being research and working with stressed out high-achievers juggling ever growing to-do lists. I’m sure they would all love nothing more than to take my advice and drive off for some fun in the sun.

However, most also feel a strong sense of responsibility toward the people who work for them, the boards to whom they report and the impact they would like to achieve. Many find these responsibilities incompatible with extended breaks. Vacation is viewed as a luxury, making both leadership and staff hesitant to use paid time off.

This is generally true across the country. Americans take significantly less vacation than the rest of the developed world. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four weeks of paid vacation each year, and the average worker in France takes 30 days annually. Europe recognizes a value in vacation that we have not yet embraced. Here, where the average private sector worker earns just 16 paid vacation and holidays per year, individuals are using less and less of their allocated time over the last 15 years.

According to a study by Project: Time Off, in 2015 over half of working Americans with paid vacation did not use it all. This cultural tone is often set at the very top. According to Emma Seppala of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism, 84 percent of executives in the U.S. report having cancelled vacations in order to work.

Unfortunately, this “always-on” mentality may be doing more harm than good. In addition to increasing rates of individual stress, burnout and strain on families, unused vacation time costs U.S. businesses $224 billion annually, and can unintentionally reduce overall productivity itself.

‘Take a vacation’

As I have studied workplace well-being, I have seen more and more research pointing to the benefits of time off, not only for the individual, but as an essential foundation for many of the highest-performing organizations. The research reveals that time spent away and disconnected from the office, leads to increases in dedication, enthusiasm, performance, stamina and creativity, as well as improved health (and thus fewer future absences). Our now largely knowledge-based economy requires this type of clear, energized and creative mind. Success in this type of economy is fueled by the very things that vacation provides.

A study featured in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 came to this same conclusion. According to the author, “statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.”

In fact, the report found that workers who took more than 10 days of their vacation allowance per year, compared with those who took less than 10, were more than 30 percent more likely to receive a raise or bonus within a three-year period. Other research utilizing brain imaging has found that doing nothing for a period of time increases alpha waves in the brain that are necessary for creativity, insight and innovation. In another study of 13,000 middle-aged men, those who skipped vacation for five consecutive years were 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who took at least one week per year.

A separate study of working fathers found that 37 percent of them would consider taking a new job with less pay if it offered more work-life balance. Thus, organizations that value vacation are likely to benefit through lower turnover rates, fewer absences, and increased innovation, all of which positively impact the bottom line.

Take the time

My advice? Take a vacation. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be whatever sounds restful and meaningful to you. Go camping, travel, visit family or friends, sit on the beach, or run a marathon. But turn off your phone, put an away message on your email, and disconnect from your everyday patterns. Rest. Read. Write. Move. Sit. Recover. And come back rejuvenated, energized and passionate for the work that you do.

If you are a CEO, owner or manager, spend time intentionally crafting wise PTO policies that prioritize rest and recovery. Show your teams that you value this time and set the cultural tone by using the policies yourself. Come back with fresh eyes and new ideas. You won’t regret it, and neither will your organization.

Kate Coleman is an associate at Work Wisdom LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster. She focuses on preventing and managing stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. She can be reached at [email protected].