As a manager, it’s your job to make sure everyone on your team keeps learning. But beyond encouraging people to take classes and go to conferences, how do you do it? A good starting point is to talk about your own development. When managers open up about their personal areas for improvement, it becomes more acceptable for everyone else to do the same. Ask yourself these questions, and share the answers with your team: “What areas do I need to grow the most in? What insights have I found helpful in accomplishing these goals?” And when you come back from a workshop or training, don’t resort to the typical “It was interesting” summary — be specific. For example, you might say, “I thought I was a good listener, but now I can see that this is a growth area for me. The training showed me new ways to interact with others, and although they aren’t necessarily comfortable for me, I’m going to try them out.”
Have you ever thought that going on vacation isn’t worth it because planning the trip is so stressful? To make it easier to take time off, start the planning process well before you leave. Three to four weeks beforehand, set aside time to think about logistics, packing, and details. Identify the high-priority items you need to get done before you leave. Then block out time on your calendar to complete the must-do items. Aim to get them done a week before the trip; that way, you have some wiggle room if unexpected things come up (which they always do). For work tasks that will need attention while you’re gone, talk to a colleague about covering for you. Reach out at least a week in advance to ask for their help. Write down any deadlines and deliverables they need to know about, as well as contact information for key stakeholders and clients (and for you, if necessary).
What do you do if a new hire is struggling in their role, and even dragging down your team? Prepare for a direct, and uncomfortable, conversation. The employee needs to know exactly how they’re failing to meet expectations, so they can make the necessary changes. Share your concerns and ask for their point of view about what’s been happening. The employee may be grateful for the opportunity to clear the air and work on a solution together. You can start off by saying something like, “Boris, I want to talk about the last few weeks. You’re on track in some ways, but we need to make some adjustments.” Then give clear, specific feedback on how the employee should improve. Once you’ve done this, watch how the person responds. If you don’t see significant effort almost immediately, and real improvement over the next three to six months, you may have to take more-serious action.
Encouraging your star performers to consider outside job offers might seem like a bad idea. But doing so sends them a clear signal that you care about their learning and development. Tell the people you manage that you want them to consider all options for their careers. This will help them to talk openly with you about their career plans, which in turn will give you the time and opportunity to find a way to keep them when they’re considering a job offer. Maybe you can give them a new project, add to their responsibilities, or negotiate a raise. And if you think an employee has grown as much as they can in your company, support their efforts to get a job somewhere else. Your transparency will make them more likely to recommend your company as a great place to work, and maybe even to return in the future.
Bcc’ing your boss on emails may seem harmless. You’re just keeping your manager in the loop about that important project, and it’s no big deal if the other recipients don’t know — right? Wrong. Research shows that bbc’ing the boss can corrode trust if teammates find out, because the sender’s intentions aren’t clear. To your colleagues, it may seem as though you were being underhanded or sneaky. If you need the boss to know what’s happening, don’t bcc them; forward the relevant email with a note, or write a new email that’s personally addressed to them. You can frame the email as an update, which achieves the same goal as bcc’ing — without the risk of alienating your colleagues. These extra steps take a little more time, yes, but they’ll also keep you from damaging your relationships at work.
For managers, the standard procedures for firing someone tend to be about the legal issues involved. But it’s worth thinking about how the firing process itself can be more humane to the employee. (Remember, if you deviate from your company’s procedures, you should talk to HR about what’s happening.) For example, when you know you’re going to fire someone, you might consider telling them so that they can start a job search. You could allow them some time to go on interviews during work hours. You can even offer to review their résumé, make introductions, and serve as a reference. After all, even though the person isn’t a good fit for your company, they may be a great fit for another one. Being fired is a terrible experience for an employee, but by being transparent and thoughtful, managers can make it a little more humane.
Many people handle work stress by buckling down and powering through. But that’s not a great way to actually relieve your anxiety. Instead, try reframing the stressful situation as a learning opportunity. Learning something new adds to your skill set and knowledge, and helps you develop feelings of competency and growth, which can alleviate feelings of stress. You can also learn with others. For example, rather than just wrestling with a challenge in your head, get input from colleagues. Discussing a stressful situation with them can reveal hidden insights, either from their backgrounds or from the questions and perspectives they’ll offer. And don’t think of learning as an additional layer of work; think of it as a break from the hard work of getting the task done. Framing learning as a form of respite can make it more appealing and more likely to create a positive, enjoyable experience.
Having a bad manager can feel like the kiss of death for your career, not to mention your happiness. But there are steps you can take to cope. First, don’t try to give your manager feedback about their frustrating behavior (bad bosses usually aren’t open to it anyway). Instead, put your energy into making requests for the resources and support you need to do your job. Be specific, and articulate how the request will benefit your manager and the organization. Another tactic is to find outlets away from work for socializing and reducing stress; a strong support network is crucial for dealing with an emotionally draining environment. If the situation doesn’t improve over time, consider exploring other opportunities in your organization. Meet with colleagues and managers to find out about positions that might interest you. And be open to the possibility of quitting. If you dread going to work every day, and if you spend more time thinking about your boss than about work, it may be time to go.
When your network is mostly people whose backgrounds and skill sets are similar to yours, it’s unlikely to help you find new ideas or creative solutions. Diversify your network by connecting with people whose viewpoints, insights, and experiences differ from your own. When you meet someone new, talk about what you don’t have in common. Ask friends to introduce you to their contacts who have an interesting job or who work in a unique space. In particular, try to meet people who will challenge your assumptions and biases. If you’re struggling to build your network in the usual ways, create a reason to bring a diverse group together. For example, a monthly book club can give you the chance to hear a variety of perspectives, as well as to read authors you wouldn’t normally pick up. By making a concerted effort, you can develop a network that both inspires you and pushes you to expand your thinking.
We all tell ourselves stories about work, and these stories shape the way we think, lead, and make decisions. For instance, if the story that runs through your head all day is “Everything’s a battle in this office,” you’re more likely to expect hostility and be primed to attack. Negative stories like this one generally don’t help you, so consider shifting to a new narrative. Start by identifying a challenge you’re facing, and then ask: “What is the basic story I’m telling myself about this issue?” Consider how the story is affecting you and your team. Is it constraining or liberating? If the latter, think about what you’d like to change and how your story needs to shift. What reimagined (and true) version of the story would be more useful for pursuing your goals or doing things differently? Rewriting a story is often a matter of choosing to see a situation from a different, more-positive, perspective.
People often lie in an attempt to be kind. (“You look great in that outfit!”) When is it OK to tell an innocuous fib, and when is the truth a better bet? Before you tell a white lie, ask yourself if you’re sure it will lead to a better result in the long run. Sometimes the answer will be obvious; in other cases it may not be so clear. Consider whether the other person prefers comfort or candor, as well as whether they want different things in different situations. If you don’t know, ask. With colleagues, for example, you could ask what type of feedback they generally appreciate, and when they want to hear tough but constructive criticism. But in most circumstances, as the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. If you’re not sure what to do, ask a group of people for advice — and if they don’t unanimously agree that a lie is OK, tell the truth.
A side gig can be a great source of extra income, but when you’re launching one it’s easy to focus on the wrong things. For example, you shouldn’t be fretting over how much to pay for a fancy logo or website, or whether to incorporate as an LLC or an S corporation. In the early stages, those things aren’t critical. What is critical is determining whether you even have a business — meaning, do customers want to buy what you want to sell? Run a small, inexpensive test to see if there’s preliminary interest: If you’d like to write a book about a particular topic, write a blog post and see what the response is. If you’d like to start a coaching practice, take on a pro bono client and see how it goes. Most successful businesses do eventually need a nice website and a proper legal structure, but those complex and expensive steps can wait until after you’ve proven your idea.
When you’re tired, you’re less effective at your job — it’s as simple as that. To prioritize sleep, start by accepting that working more doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing better work. Sleep deprivation takes a toll on your cognitive abilities, whether you notice the effects or not. Your caffeine consumption can be a good litmus test: If you need coffee just to make it through the morning, or even the afternoon, that may be a red flag. Make a plan for how you’re going to sleep more. Some simple ideas: Set an alarm for when you’ll put down your work and leave the office. Stop using devices at least an hour before you go to bed. (Maybe even go to bed early once in a while.) Start the day with a short to-do list of essential tasks — and once it’s done, go home. Remember, there will always be more work to do tomorrow.
Disappointments are inevitable and unpleasant — a missed promotion, a failed project, a poor investment — but you can always learn something from them. To constructively deal with your next setback, think through what happened. Distinguish situations that were predictable and preventable from those that were unavoidable and beyond your control. Ruminating over something that didn’t go your way — and that you couldn’t control — will only frustrate you further. For situations that you could have handled differently, consider them in positive terms: What can you do differently next time? What lessons can you learn from the mistakes you made? And remind yourself of what’s going well in your life, so you don’t let the disappointment take an outsize role in your brain. It might sound like a cliché, but keep the setback in perspective — and try to let it go. You may be tempted to play the situation over and over in your head, but staying preoccupied with it will only create unnecessary stress.
It’s not always obvious how to improve your emotional intelligence skills, especially because we often don’t know how others perceive us. To figure out where you can improve, start with a reality check: What are the major differences between how you see yourself and how others see you? You can get this kind of feedback from a 360-degree assessment, a coach, or a skilled manager. Next, consider your goals. Do you want to eventually take on a leadership position? Be a better team member? Consider how your ambitions match up with the skills that others think you need to improve. Then identify specific actions that you’ll take to improve those skills. Working on becoming a better listener? You might decide that when you’re talking with someone, you won’t reply until you’ve taken the time to pause and check that you understand what they said. Whatever skill you decide to improve, use every opportunity to practice it, no matter how small.
Working from home can be a coveted perk (No commute! No interruptions!), but it can also cut you off from coworkers and your friends at the office. How can you combat loneliness when you work remotely? First, make sure you see your colleagues’ faces from time to time. Instead of phone calls, use videoconferencing so that you can see the other person. This helps you read their body language, creating a more natural conversation. Second, don’t skip the small talk. When you work from home, you may try to avoid “wasting time” by keeping the conversation on work topics. But small talk is the cement that creates rapport. So before a meeting starts, ask your colleagues about recent vacations, their kids’ sports matches, or upcoming wedding plans. These small details can build deeper relationships that are both personally gratifying and professionally beneficial.
Most of us write our out-of-office messages as we’re running out the door for vacation or a business trip. But putting more thought into what the message says can help you build relationships with the people who try to reach you while you’re away. Instead of just including the dates when you’re out and who to email in your absence, consider sharing why you’re gone. Where are you going on vacation, and why did you pick that location? What are you learning at the conference? You can also share a resource that will speak to your audience, like an article or a new piece of research. It could be related to taking a vacation (there are lots of great stats on why time off is so important!) or something that potential clients might be interested in. A personal — but still professional — message allows you to connect in a new way with colleagues, clients, and vendors.
Changes can make employees nervous. Whether you’re announcing an acquisition, a reorg, or a new HR policy, people often need help processing the information. Make the announcement go more smoothly by explaining the reason behind the change. Give the background on what’s not working and why the new plan will alleviate that organizational pain point. For example, talk about how customers have been hurt or how the business is incurring extra expenses, and explain exactly how the change will solve the problem. Also, discuss how the change will affect people on an individual level; employees’ first reaction is often to ask, “What does this mean for me?” Don’t sugarcoat any inconveniences the change will bring. And avoid the urge to say that delivering the news is hard for you — that may sound manipulative. Instead, demonstrate humility and responsibility, and focus on what your employees need.
When it comes to a major career change, pay is often a sticking point. Can you afford to switch jobs if you’d be making less money? Eliminate some of the uncertainty by testing out your new salary. Figure out what you expect to earn, and live on that for two to four months. This will give you a realistic picture of daily life in your new career. If you’d be making significantly less money, think hard about what you could cut back on — meals out, expensive groceries, or TV subscriptions, for example. At the end of your test, revisit your budget to see how you did. And, of course, check in with your spouse, partner, or other family members to discuss the financial implications of your career change. Setting expectations for what you will, and won’t, be able to afford will leave less room for surprises.
Even if you find it easy to leave your worries at the office, your spouse or partner may not. How can you help them cope with work stress? For starters, really listen. When your partner gets home and begins telling you about an office frustration, don’t “half listen” while you do the dishes or make dinner. Stop, pay attention, and empathize. Sometimes they may just want to vent; other times they may want your advice. If you’re unsure what they need from you, ask. You can offer advice — but be gentle about it. Say something like, “I have a suggestion for that problem. Can I share it?” And if you get the sense that your partner is misreading a situation at the office, ask nonthreatening questions to learn more: “What makes you think that’s the case?” Whatever you do, never compare your spouse’s stressful day with your own. Stress endurance is not a competition.