Saturday, January 29, 2022

How to declutter and pare down life to its simplest form.


                                                       Photo by Jessica Kessler on Unsplash

 A month back, I completed my home renovation project. I renovated my apartment. While the goal was to redo the flooring and provide for a fresh coat of paint, the other significant purpose was to declutter and let go of what we as a family had collected for the last forty years.

Since my husband and I had full-time jobs that involved a lot of travel, we had probably hoarded a lot of stuff that we did not need but had no time to segregate and give away. We filled bookshelves, cupboards, chest of drawers, suitcases. 

I have an addiction to cleanliness, and whenever I would get time, I would clean, throw away, donate whatever I did not require. On the other hand, my husband loves hoarding, and he finds it emotionally and physically challenging to clear the mess. 

His study room was filled with papers, books, stationery, clothes, gadgets that had started overflowing from drawers, cupboards and tables. Multiple requests made to him to clear the mess had no effect; each time we would end up arguing, our arguments would end up leaving me frustrated.

So this time, I made up my mind to declutter the rooms while the house was being renovated. 
After a series of emotional tantrums and persuasion, my husband agreed to let go of some of the stuff.

What does clutter do to your brain?

"Under the influence of clutter, we may underestimate how much time we're giving to the less important stuff." —ZoĆ« Kim, "Minimalism for Families: Practical Minimalist Living Strategies to Simplify Your Home and Life "

Research shows that clutter can influence our ability to think clearly. It affects cognition, behaviour, emotions and relationships. 

The materialistic world we live in compels us to buy things that may give us moments of joy. It is temporary. Most of such things we do not need, but we buy them because somebody else in the social circle has bought them. 

Impulsive shopping to satisfy your emotions ends up in some corner of the house. Items start getting collected, clutter starts building up. Clutter leads to a feeling of stress. 

When you start to organize storage, there will be several such items that would have been bought with the intention of being used at some time. And since the items have never been used, you do not feel like discarding them because they have a monetary value attached to them. So you end up storing them.

Next time you need something and open the cupboard, you have to hunt through the mess to get what you need. Spending time sifting through the clutter not just takes time and effort but also make you feel less energised. Time lost could have been spent on something more fruitful. 

I was trying to keep a memory alive.

When I decided to declutter my kitchen and pantry, I found several steel utensils and glass crockery my mother had given me during the marriage. Giving them away was a tough decision as it had an emotional value attached. 

By keeping those items, I was trying to keep the memory of my mother alive. I finally decided to keep just one thing from the lot and give the rest to charity.

 It took some time to come to terms with what I had done, but once I convinced myself that someone had better use of those things than me, I felt liberated. 

The Zen Story- an example of mental clutter.

I was reminded of a Zen story about two monks returning to their monastery one evening. It had rained, and a beautiful young woman was standing on the path, unable to go on because of a big puddle blocking her way. The elder of the two monks lifted her up in his arms, carried her across the puddle, and continued on his way.
That evening the younger monk came up to the elder monk and said, "Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman, right?"
The elder monk answered, "Yes, brother."
Then the younger monk asked, "But then, sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the road?"
The elder monk smiled at him and said, "I left her on the side of the road, but you are still carrying her."

As seen from the story above, mental clutter does not allow you to think straight. When we have too many things to think about and an information overload, we tend to think negatively. It is difficult to think clearly and filter what is essential from all the noise. Information overload tends to get our brains in overdrive. Multitasking, excessive use of social media, constant notifications from mobile phone apps can distract and cause mental clutter. 

"Outer order contributes to inner calm." —Gretchen Rubin on her blog

Tips to declutter 

A clean and orderly environment makes me feel more energetic and creative. How about you? 
If you are still procrastinating about your decluttering project, here are some tips that can inspire you to sign up for it,

1. Putting everything in order can make you feel happy and energetic. Identify one area of the house each day and sort all the items to see what you need. Those that have never been touched or are overused but are still shoved in the storage can be removed for giving away. This will help free up the space. A freed up space is sometimes a pleasure to look at.
2. Decluttering cannot happen in a single day. Therefore make a plan, set a timeline for the decluttering project, decide what you will keep, what will be donated and what can be thrown in the dustbin. Set up three different bins of three different colours and label them Items to keep, items to donate and things to throw. 
3. Follow minimalism, which means owning only those things that add value and meaning to your life. This is not as simple as it sounds. It takes a lot of self-discipline. But once you decide to buy what you need consciously, you feel liberated. Take small steps to make this big change. Don't spend time window shopping or shopping on Amazon. The first thing I did to follow minimalism was to give up shopping for clothes for one year. The whole of last year, I did not buy any clothes. The achievement not just made me happy, but I felt elated when the goal was achieved. I donated a carton full of clothes that I had sparsely used during the renovation work. The most significant advantage is now I can quickly choose what I need to wear. This saves time and effort in making a decision. 

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”-Marie Kondo

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The big disconnect between employer and employee expectations.


                                                                 Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

From all the news and reports available on the internet and the media, it appears there is a big divide between the employer and employee expectations. Employees are looking for improved human aspects of work. 

Job seekers have become selective about the kind of work they want to do and the companies they would like to work for in their next job. Companies need to think beyond just compensation packages. Job seekers have a long list of considerations, and compensation could be just one point in that list.

 Experts predict that this trend will continue till the end of the year and maybe beyond. According to Gallup data, great resignation is not an industry, role or pay issue but is a workplace problem. So it seems the roots of these resignations are much deeper than the virus? What is your opinion, and how are the HR community and Company leadership addressing this issue.

The Great Disconnect

From all the surveys and reports, it is evident that the great resignation is not just in the US. It is a global phenomenon. While the crisis could be worst in Technology companies, almost every sector is facing attrition challenges. 

The accelerated digital adoption by enterprises and consumers across the globe has provided massive opportunities for the IT industry to grow exponentially, as per the experts. 

This is the time when the industry needs talent. Even though India has the largest technology talent pool of close to 4.5 million engineers, companies struggle to fill key positions. If the organisations have to succeed and grow, their people must first succeed. 

There is a lot of demand in the industry for niche skills like AI, Machine learning, cloud, cyber security etc. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022, 54% of all employees will require upskilling due to the rise of automation.

Besides increasing opportunities in the job market for techies with specialised skills, there is a shift in employee perspective about work. 

The Mckinsey article, "Great Attrition" or "Great Attraction"? The choice is yours, clearly shows that employers have not fully understood why employees are leaving. Employers are out of touch with employee expectations. Employers are still focusing on transactional factors, whereas employees expect relational ones.

While lack of specialized talent could be one reason for the attrition, there is also a significant shift in the way employees evaluate their careers. Employees today are hungry for trust, purpose and inclusion. 

The pandemic has played a critical role in changing employee perspectives. Employees are not just looking at work-life balance, work bonuses and perks, but are also looking at what companies can offer in terms of work culture, environment, inclusion and empathy. 

Lessons learnt from Great Resignation. 

According to the Mckinsey's article, there is a significant gap between the employees' reasons for quitting and the employers' perspectives on the great resignation and high attrition.

Important attributes for employees are

  • Being valued by managers
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Being appreciated by the organisation
  • Potential for advancement
  • Having caring and trustworthy teammates
  • Flexible work schedules

Below are a few points that I think employers need to consider.

1. Reassessing Employee Engagement

Companies with a high attrition rate are compelled to reassess their employee engagement policies. What would have worked before the pandemic may no longer be relevant and effective in the current situation. 

Companies are taking steps to contain attrition, such as giving preference to internal candidates for open positions, global deployment opportunities, fast-tracking career paths, and promoting employees. These are traditional methods used by companies. But in the present times, employees are rethinking their priorities at work. Some of these methods may not be enough to retain your best employees. Financial rewards may not always help to drive motivation and performance.

The pandemic has radically changed the way people think about their work. Employers need to see employees as individuals with unique needs and challenges. Leaders need to understand what motivates their people and how does it align with the company's purpose.

Companies should start including employees in defining their work processes. Make the culture more inclusive. Listen to what the employees are trying to tell them. People should feel motivated and empowered to stay with the same organisation.

According to Gallup data, great resignation is not an industry, role or pay issue but is a workplace problem. Gallup finds that it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure employees away from a manager who engages them and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers.

2. Human aspects of work.

"Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability"-Anne M. Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox.

Leaders and managers must talk to and listen with empathy to understand what their team members are going through. Employees need to feel that their leaders and managers genuinely care about them.

Empathy is an essential skill for leaders and managers, and it takes on a whole new meaning and priority in the current scenario. It can help drive business results.

With declining mental health and increasing stress levels, people experience more negativity when subjected to toxic work environments. Being humiliated at work because of not meeting deadlines, receiving rude emails from managers etc., keep adding to the stress and negativity that people may be experiencing at home because of the pandemic. Such rising workplace incivility impacts productivity and collaboration. 

3. Skills required by managers

Technical skills are insufficient to tide over the chaos when attrition is soaring and rocking the workplace. The professional skills they learn at the beginning of their careers are not enough to see them throughout.

Companies need to invest heavily in training and coaching managers. They need different skills to attract, engage, and retain team members in a highly competitive marketplace. Companies must develop effective managers and leaders capable of managing during the VUCA times and cultivating skills required for business success.

Empathy is a critical leadership skill, especially during pandemics when people face grief, loss and sickness and live in fear. It is the ability to lead while understanding and awareness of the team members thoughts and feelings. It is not sufficient to show sympathy. 

Empathy is a learnable skill. One can learn to empathise if one can develop the skill to listen and be aware of what is happening around. It takes patience and practice to develop this skill.  

4. Resetting the company culture

"On what high-performing companies should be striving to create: A great place for great people to do great work." - Marilyn Carlson.

During the pandemic, when employees worked remotely, there were reports of zoom fatigue, and many individuals felt disengaged. New hires onboarded remotely found it challenging to navigate the organisation. To some extent, individuals felt alienated and stressed. 

Company cultures are defined as the ways in which individuals in an organisation behave and the ways things get done. The way people work together, actions and behaviours that are supported or discouraged, the language used by leaders and managers and more of such things define the type of culture an organisation supports.

Work culture can be evolving all the time depending on circumstances. The company core values are the foundation of your company culture. The pandemic has impacted the company cultures, and leaders need to reset the cultures to adopt flexible working, agility, innovation, respect for everyone, and customer-centricity. 

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”


– Simon Sinek, author, Start with Why

Sunday, January 9, 2022

How to manage the tsunami of change

                                                        Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash                                                

With the onslaught of AI and other disrupting technologies, the workplace will undergo rapid changes. In the VUCA world, employees are struggling and constantly challenged to move out of their comfort zones.

Every industry is in the process of transformation. Traditional jobs are disappearing and new roles are coming up. To keep up with this rapid change, individuals need to adapt to the changes. It's believed automation alone will displace many jobs over the next 10 years and many more new jobs will also be created. A McKinsey Global Institute report on future of the workforce shows that between 75 million and 375 million people globally will have to change their occupation and acquire new skills by the year 2030.

The Tsunami of Change

These changes are not just causing disruption to businesses, but are also becoming a big problem for the managers to face. Managers and their teams are feeling insecure, causing major health hazards.

This tsunami is here to stay. And its resulting impact will be more dangerous to the organisations and the people that work in these organisations. It is therefore crucial that organisations require having cultural orientation around change to remove all barriers to such transformation programs.

While AI and other technologies would bring in changes for the good of the mankind and improve our lives, like any other changes these also would leave its impact on people if not managed. People are key to such changes. It is not just technology that needs to be focused on, but people need to be made comfortable with such changes. Cultural changes and organisation level changes are required to be given priority when transformation programs are launched. The human aspect is crucial to success.

What is needed to survive during such transformation?

• Agility: remain flexible to changes and adapt with speed. Agility has become a popular concept today. But more than a method, agility also has to do with your mindset. Remove all the filters and stop being attached to your thoughts and beliefs. Agile is all about learning and adapting. Keeping abreast of all developments and technology during this period is very crucial for success.

• Give up working in silos -- a meaningful creative collaboration between all employees is a must during such times. Since the transformation is a common goal for the entire organisation, working in silos reduces productivity and efficiency. Working in silos prevents sharing of best practices across different business/functions. It also dampens employee motivation levels.

• Up-skill and cross-skill as required. New skills need to be learned to be alive and kicking in transformation programs. Always be curious and on the lookout for new skills that you can add to your skill box. It is never too late to learn. There are many ways available today where you can learn. If you don’t have the luxury of attending classroom training, you can always look at online training courses that offer you the courses from the comfort of your home.

• Change your mindset. Many of us carry baggage from the past, which we find difficult to let go. Something that has worked in the past, may not always work in your current circumstances. In fact, if you insist on doing things the way you have done it before, you will miss the bus.

"No matter what, people grow. If you chose not to grow, you’re staying in a small box with a small mindset. People who win go outside of that box. It’s very simple when you look at it."- Kevin Hart

Friday, January 7, 2022

Burnout-a reality employers can't ignore


                                                          Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

2021 has been an exhausting year. Employees are rethinking their relationship with work. According to an article in the wall street journal, a September survey by Think Tank the Conference Board found that more than three-quarters of 1,800 U.S. workers cited concerns such as stress and burnout as significant challenges to well-being at work, up from 55% six months earlier. Half said workload-related pressure was harming their mental health.

DDI's new Global Leadership Forecast 2021 research identified that 86% of high potential employees feel burnout. That rate has climbed 59% since before the pandemic.

Business success cannot be achieved by leaving a trail of dead bodies behind.

In the last few years (pre-pandemic and post-pandemic), many of my clients were high performers but unhappy at work. They were stressed out and burnout. 

Part of the stress was due to the uncertainty caused due to the pandemic. Work from home blurred the boundaries between work and home.

 Employees had to work long hours while working from home as employers expected them to be available on calls and zoom meetings at all times.

 Many of them were juggling between office work, child care and eldercare. And with the pandemic making it mandatory for kids to be attending online classes, parents had a tough time managing them and all other household chores at the same time.

 While researching workplace stress and burnout, here is what I found.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

According to WHO, "Burnout is an occupational phenomenon and is defined as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

Burn out symptoms are 

  • The feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, feeling of negativism, or cynicism related to the job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

In 2019, WHO included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases.

 The difference between Stress and Burnout

 The terms stress and burnout are used interchangeably and can be confusing. Different people use the term to mean other things.

 We feel stressed when we have a deadline to meet. We also feel stressed when hosting a party or expecting visitors at home. Some of these could also be positive stress. Many believe that they perform well under stress. So not all stress is negative. 

We get stressed when we are pushed out of our comfort zone. So, stress connected with an event is a normal part of life, and we all tend to experience it.

But negative stress can be harmful. If there is a pushy and demanding boss at work in an organisation with toxic work culture, the stress can be felt for a prolonged period and can be severe. We may have no control over such a situation, causing us to be constantly stressed. 

One may begin to feel empty, lacking motivation, pessimistic, and generally not caring and hopeless about life. There will be complete disengagement from work. This is burnout.

What causes burnout?

Overwork or working in a toxic environment may not be the only cause for burnout. It could happen even if we are subjected to unfair treatment at work or under-challenged and not given enough work to quench our thirst for work to suit individual potential.

According to an article in HBR, burnout occurs due to the following causes

  • Unsustainable workload
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Insufficient rewards for effort
  • Lack of a supportive community
  • Lack of fairness
  • Mismatched values and skills

The big question is if the causes are due to organisations, their policies and culture, is enough getting done by the employers to alleviate these issues?

According to the Gallup report, 76% of employees sometimes experience burnout on the job, and 28% experience burnout often or always at work. Employees who experience burnout actively seek a new job. 

According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, workplace burnout cost companies $125 billion to $190 billion per year in additional health care spending. 

Burnout has worsened during the pandemic.

Burnout is not a win-win for an employer or the employee.

Creating artificial deadlines and building an unprecedented amount of work pressure on employees, companies rob employees of their time to do more focused work and concentrate on completing their tasks or generate new ideas and be innovative. This certainly is not a win-win situation for the employer or the employee. By creating a toxic work culture and a stressful environment, companies force employees to leave the organisation sooner than later. No wellness programs or perks can help alleviate burnout under such conditions. There would be no motivation to perform, and if the performance overall takes a hit, the organisation bottom lines will also get impacted. From lost productivity to reduced retention rates, employee burnout will turn all-important key indicators red and deliver a fatal blow to all prospects.

Burnout is not specific to any one industry but is felt across manufacturing, IT, construction, hospitality and more. Companies need a deeper understanding of what is causing employee burnout. Finding the root cause of this problem is essential and crucial if there is a serious intention to help employees with mental health issues. Quick fixes like sending people on holidays or asking them to take sick leaves, recommending yoga and meditation will not cure those showing severe signs of burnout.

Burnout causes a physical effect on a person's body. Research shows burnout affects brain function and can cause premature brain ageing and reduce cognitive function. Burnout can also cause coronary heart diseases leading to untimely death.  

Heart of the problem

"That's the great irony of allowing passionate people to work from home. A manager's natural instinct is to worry that her workers aren't getting enough work done. But the real threat is that they will wind up working too hard. And because the manager isn't sitting across from her worker anymore, she can't look in the person's eyes and see burnout."

Jason Fried

Management behaviour is one reason for the increased stress that employees feel. Those working remotely feel there is always pressure to demonstrate their productivity and let their bosses know that they are working.

Employees are tasked with too many priorities, and they are expected to use digital tools for multitasking. They are inundated with chat requests. Added to this is the expectation that they collaborate with different stakeholders and decision-makers. This results in endless meetings and conference calls, leaving less time to complete their work. Such excessive collaboration can be exhausting and stressful. 

One of my coaching clients shared what her typical working day looked like. She worked from 9 am to 10 pm almost every day. Her husband is an entrepreneur and works from his office. All the work related to looking after her ten-year-old son, managing other household chores and cooking was left to her. She handled all this along with her full-time job by setting up her office on the kitchen counter. She managed to attend conference calls, respond to instant messages, solve team member problems, and ensure that she responded to her son's needs while attending online classes or completing his homework. The demand on her time prevented her from attending to her personal needs. Barely a minute to catch her breath. "I have no time to do anything I enjoy," she told me. There were warning signs of burnout. Her nerves were frayed. Her only option was to let go of her job and take a break. Mental fatigue affected her health, and she was on the verge of depression.

"The reality is: there will always be more work. From our jobs and owning businesses, to being a manager of our families and our homes - there will always be more work. It never goes away. We never escape from the responsibilities that life presents us. But one of our main responsibilities should be ourselves, after all, there's only one of us anyway."

 ― Vanessa Autrey, The Art of Balancing Burnout

Employee burnout is an organisational issue.

What can managers do to help employees fight burnout?

A few suggestions based on my personal experience, having managed multiple global teams for more than three decades and having coached individuals facing work-life challenges.

  1. Invest in your team members through awareness, time and attention. Listen to their work-related problems and actively participate and support them in finding a solution.
  2. Build a trust relationship with the team such that the employees believe that their manager will invest time in their well-being and development. They need to feel that the manager genuinely cares for them; they will only share their concerns.
  3. Conduct regular one on one, performance reviews, coach and mentor them, celebrate their achievements. Never hesitate to have a difficult conversation whenever the need arises. Difficult conversations are not tough if you genuinely care for the person. Learn the skills to have conversational flexibility and not end up arguing. Converse with patience and empathy to make the conversation more effective.
  4. Help them find meaning in their work and explain the importance of their job. Team members will less likely feel burnout if the manager can show them how their contribution and hard work are connected to its mission.
  5. Create a positive work environment where team members can feel safe to share out of the box ideas, talk with respect, respect conflict and support each other in the team.
  6. Everyone is vulnerable to stress. As a manager, if you are stressed, you need to seek help and guidance immediately. While you need to be a role model of strength and confidence, be compassionate towards yourself. Don't try to be hard and beat yourself and let your personal well-being fall by the side.


   "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." - Ralph Waldo `````Emerson.

Burnout is an issue that organisations can no longer afford to ignore. It is said, " Knowing is half the battle". If organisations know the crisis and pay attention, can we hope that this crisis will be addressed?

Business success cannot be achieved by leaving a trail of dead bodies behind.

This article is also published on LinkedIn and can be read here