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February 28, 2010

Celebrity suicides highlight the heavy toll of depression

Three sad stories from the celebrity world drive home the heavy toll that depression can take and highlight the desperate plight of those who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Fame, fortune and the love of friends and family proved powerless in the face of the crushing weight of depression for three young men who recently took their own lives:

  • Celebrated 40-year old British fashion designer Alexander McQueen took his own life. His mother had died a few days before and his friends were concerned at how hard he was taking this loss.
  • 41-year old Andrew Koenig, best known for playing Mike Seaver's best friend "Boner" on the 80s sitcom Growing Pains was found dead in Vancouver after having been missing for several days. Family say that Koenig suffered from recurring depression.
  • Michael Blosil, the 18-year old son of Marie Osmond, took his own life after a battle with what friends and family members describe as severe depression.
In a heartbreaking video interview, Andrew Koenig's parents entreated people to be vigilant about the signs of depression in loved ones. "Don't ignore it; don't rationalize it...extend a hand." Walter Keonig cited the National Suicide Prevention Hotline as a resource.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), more than 33,000 people die by suicide every year in the U.S., making it the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years, and the 11th leading cause of death overall. More than 90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Here are some facts about the role that depression and other psychiatric disorders play:

  • Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 24 million people.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (17 million), cancer (12 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million).
  • About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately die by suicide.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.

When You Fear Someone May Take Their Life
According to ASFP, 50% to 75% of suicidal individuals give some warning of their intentions. The most effective way to prevent a friend or loved one from taking his or her life is to recognize the factors that put people at risk for suicide, take warning signs seriously and know how to respond. They issue a one-page guide with signs of imminent danger of suicide and steps that can be taken to respond to these warning signs.

Many suicide prevention groups suggest an easy mnemonic to remember warning signs: IS PATH WARM
Substance Abuse
Mood Changes

Employers can play a role in prevention
SPCR suggests that employers can play an important role in helping to prevent suicide. Because people spend a significant portion of their lives at work, employers have the opportunity to see changes in behavior, personality or mood. Training managers to be alert for and make referrals when they observe signs of depression and other early warning signs of problems may save lives.

If you observe warning signs or changes in behavior or personality, don't try to diagnose the problem or find the reason for the behavior changes, simply help the employee to find professional assistance through your EAP or an occupational health specialist. Work performance can be a great leverage for people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek help for a problem.

Additional resources
What Employers Can Do to Prevent Suicide
Preventing Suicide: A Resource at Work
Midlife Suicide Rate Spikes
Workplace tools: Depression Calculator
Mental illness and the workplace
Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

February 26, 2010

Motivate your team: World class speaking tips

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to "ideas worth spreading." Its genesis was as a conference focusing on three areas: Technology, Entertainment, Design (thus the acronym "TED") but since the early days some 26 years ago, it has broadened its scope. The annual conference attracts innovators and thought leaders from business, science, technology, and the arts. You can sample video clips at the TED site - but fair warning, there are more than 600 clips archived and surfing them can be quite addictive. They are rightfully billed as "riveting talks by remarkable people." An index on the right hand side of the page allows you to sort them by the newest releases or to surf the archives by various other categories such as "most favorited all time", "rated as inspiring", or "rated as jaw-dropping." Most are under 18 minutes, many are under 10 minutes in length.

Now, thanks to Garr Reynold's blog Presentation Zen, you can learn how to make presentations in the TED style by reviewing the "TED Commandments" or rules every speaker needs to know. Garr also presents a variety of clips from TED presentations that represent various speaking styles, from "presenting fully naked" (using no slides or notes) to presenting with highly visual slides, and several other styles in between. If you have any upcoming presentations on the docket - whether for a large or just a meeting designed to motivate your work team - this is a good resource to bookmark for presentation tips and inspiration.

February 21, 2010

By the numbers

Ten links to useful business tips:

5 non-negotiable provisions for your social-media policy

5 ways to put the spring back in workers' steps

5 tools to Googlize your business

9 leadership strategies to beat the recession blues

9 top HR documentation killers

10 mistakes writers don't see but can easily fix when they do

10 management practices to axe

10 immediate actions: What to do when you are sued

12 behaviors you can practice to make you a more inspiring leader

62 ways to use Twitter for business

February 19, 2010

Toyota's fall from grace: won't someone think of the employees?

As we've watched the Toyota recall story unfold - one painful, awkward chapter after another - we can only hope that the company has a really good EAP. In all the talk about the crisis that the company is going through, there is a lot of emphasis on the share price and the damage to the brand, but our thoughts go out to the rank and file employees who have gone from heroes to villains in one fell swoop. One day, the workers enjoyed the pride of association with one of the world's most successful and respected firms, noted for impeccable quality and reliability; and then, seemingly the next day, their company is besieged with international recriminations, negative headlines, and plummeting sales. In a terrible economy, the specter of job loss must suddenly loom large.

After every major corporate PR crisis, the literature is rife with analyses and dissections of what went wrong on a management level. Just one time, we'd like to hear more about the perspective and impact on the worker level. At the height of the AIG scandals, we recall the trapped-in-the-headlights look of one employee caught by the media as he was leaving the building one day. "I am not AIG," said the poor fellow. "I just work here."

HR's Role in Toyota's Crisis
Consultant and HR guru Dr. John Sullivan has produced an interesting "think piece" with the provocative title How HR Caused Toyota to Crash, in which he challenges readers to consider whether Toyota’s current predicament is a result of poorly designed practices and weak execution on the part of the human resource department. He says that:

"In any situation where employees fail to perform as expected, investigators must determine if the human error could have been caused by factors beyond the employee’s control. Such external factors might include actions by senior management, lack of adequate information or job training, faulty inputs to the process, or rewards that incent actions not in line with documented goals.

If you believe in accountability, you have to accept that human errors that lead to corporate catastrophes could be the result of faulty HR processes, most notably those related to acquiring, developing, motivating, and managing labor."

His piece is worth your time and don't skip the comments, which also make for a good read. Some commenters accept that HR is a contributor to the problem, but balk at being the cause; other commenters find the premise silly, viewing the problem as the exclusive purview of PR, the quality team, the engineers, or the folks at the top; still others note that if HR wants a seat at the management table, they must also assume some share of responsibility for the company's problems.

We fall in the "contributed but not caused" camp on this issue, but think it is a topic well worth exploring - particularly given how the Toyota culture has served as a benchmark and a template for so many best practices over the last few decades: lean manufacturing, just-in-time processes, continuous improvement, quality, and mentoring - to name but a few. And Dr. Sullivan's premise is all the more valid when you examine the heightened role that HR played in the company. Jeffrey K. Liker and Michael Hoseus examine the issue of Human Resource Development and the Toyota Culture in a 2008 article that explored the role of HR in a lean enterprise in the light of an HR reorganization after a crisis of trust at it Georgetown, KY plant.

Toyota's unique culture
Time features an excellent article that looks at the role that Toyota's much ballyhooed corporate culture may have played in "the epic breakdown."

"One organizing philosophy behind TPS is popularly ascribed to a concept called kaizen — Japanese for "continuous improvement." In practice, it's the idea of empowering those people closest to a work process so they can participate in designing and improving it, rather than, say, spending every shift merely whacking four bolts to secure the front seat as each car moves down the line. Continuous improvement constantly squeezes excess labor and material out of the manufacturing process: people and parts meet at the optimal moment. Kaizen is also about spreading what you've learned throughout the system. And then repeating it.

...Sakichi Toyoda developed another concept, jidoka, or "automation with a human touch." Think of it as built-in stress detection. At Toyota, that means work stops whenever and wherever a problem occurs. (Any employee can pull a cord to shut down the line if there is a problem.)

...That was the idea. But the fact that Toyota has produced so many imperfect cars is evidence that its system developed faults."

The authors note that it was an enormous challenge to export the corporate culture over the company's rapid growth, which encompassed long distances and many cultures. In addition, as the company grew, the empowerment of the individual worker diminished. Steven Spear of MIT, author of Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition noted:
"The big deal is this question, Does an organization know how to hear and respond to weak signals, which are the problems, or does it have to hear strong signals? You have to listen to weak signals. By the time you get to strong signals, it's too late."
These articles all provide food for thought. We'll no doubt be reading more analyses like these over the next several years, and we think it is worth putting the role of HR and the corporate culture under the microscope in any of these dissections.

Meanwhile, all you Toyota employees - our thoughts are with you. If the stress is getting you down, call your EAP!

February 14, 2010

Barriers to employees seeking help for mental health issues: concerns about confidentiality, work status

Are your workers afraid to seek help for mental health issues or substance abuse? Most are, according to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which showed that barriers still exist for employees in seeking health services, particularly mental health and substance abuse treatment. Employees expressed concerns about confidentiality and loss of status at work:

"76 percent thought their status would be impacted for seeking treatment for drug addiction, 73 percent for alcoholism and 62 percent for depression compared to 55 percent and 54 percent who indicated status as a barrier for diabetes and heart disease treatment."

In conjunction with the Partnership for Workplace Mental health, the APA offers these tips for employers to address these issues:

  • Lead by example. Supervisors and managers play a crucial role in creating a healthy environment by taking care of themselves. Set the tone and take care of your own health.
  • Promote prevention, early intervention and wellness programs. Encourage regular preventive health screenings, conduct health fairs, provide healthy meals and snacks at meetings, encourage exercise and promote work/life balance.
  • Discourage people from working while ill. Employees that need to take off time due to an illness should know that their employer wants them back – safely, healthy and productive.
  • Promote the investment you are already making. Remind employees of the health benefits and programs available to them. Make sure employees know how to access care, including programs like Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Reassure employees about confidentiality – this is especially important for mental health treatment. Remind employees about the ways that their privacy is protected when they utilize services, including Employee Assistance Programs.
In the current issue of Human Resource Executive, Tom Starner examines the survey and the issues raised in the survey in greater depth in his article Scared of the Stigma. The article offers various suggestions from experts on practices that will foster more amenability to treatment resources. One suggestion we liked is that employers consistently pair mental-health information with general physical-health information. We would agree that this would help to reduce the stigma, would reinforce the link between physical health and mental health, and would help to disseminate the message that help is available.

The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation, offers employer resources in conjunction with employer partners. It maintains a searchable database of employer innovations, actual cases studies of successful corporate approaches in key areas, such as screening and education, Employee Assistance Programs, and disability management. Also see A Mentally Healthy Workforce - It's Good for Business, a report which notes that employer barriers to effective management of mental health in the workplace include misperceptions about the cost-effectiveness of treatment; lack of information about the direct and indirect costs of mental illness in the workplace; and a general wariness about all things related to mental illness. The report addresses each of these barriers and offers concrete suggestions for how an employer can change from being a mentally unhealthy workplace - or a marginally healthy one - to a healthy workplace.

Mental illness and the workplace
Study points to mental health issues as leading cost and absence drivers
Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

February 8, 2010

Social media: fad or revolution? Manpower Research report points to the latter

Is your organization treating social media like a fad or like the biggest shift since the industrial revolution? If the former, you may want to view this 4.5 minute film, which makes a compelling case for the latter.

As compelling as this case may be, most employers seem to be taking a 'wait and see" approach, according to a report issued by Manpower Research, which found that only about 20% of the organizations surveyed have a formal social media policy in place. (See: Social Networks vs Management - Harness the Power of Social Media (PDF).) And of those organizations that do have a social media policy, it is more likely to focus on issues surrounding containment, control, and risk management rather than on ways that the organization can benefit by the power of social networks. The report suggests that social networks hold the potential to be transformative in enhancing productivity, innovation, collaboration, reputation and employee engagement.

Manpower's report recommends that companies consider taking the following steps to promote the constructive use of social networking:

Challenge employees to innovate
Promote the positive use of social media by encouraging employees to come up with ways to use these tools to do their jobs better. People love to discuss their successes, so get employees to describe how they've used social media tools in new ways, for example, to generate leads or serve customers better. You can focus these efforts by function or interest, as needed. Follow the lead of so many innovative organizations and run a contest for the best new ideas.

Tap internal experts
Teach by example by encouraging employees who regularly use social networking in their jobs to discuss and demonstrate how it's done. Keep track of the new ideas that flow from this kind of mentoring exchange and share the ideas and best practices.

Let employees "own" the governance
The foundation of any healthy social network is an engaged community. Let your employees help develop and enforce your company's guidelines. This approach will certainly appeal to those employees most likely to use social media, promoting trust in the goals of the guidelines that ultimately are instituted.

February 4, 2010

News briefs: sudden acceleration, unions, recession, work-life, too much fun & cool tools

Safety news your employees can use - In the light of the massive Toyota recall, here's some useful safety advice you may want to get to your employees: Sudden acceleration: what to do if it happens to you - this includes a video for how to handle such a situation, as well as advice from Consumer Reports.

Union demographics - the union density rate was essentially unchanged in 2009 - 12.3% vs 12.4% in 2008. Among private sector employees, the rate dropped to 7.2% from the 2008 rate of 7.6%. See more union info at Workplace Prof Blog.

Impact of the recession on benefits - How did the recession affect large and midsize companies and what are their recovery expectations for the coming year? Read the new Towers Watson report of a recent employer survey: From Recession to Recovery: How Far, How Fast, How Well Prepared. Here's a peek at a few things that struck us: more than half of the responding employers - 51% - have seen an increase in employee hardship withdrawals from retirement savings. Last year, 23% of the reporting U.S. companies reduced their contributions to employee retirement plans, versus a global average of 10%.

Work-Life - Organizational consultant CV Harquail posts a thoughtful discussion on why Work-Life initiatives are the foundation of authentic organizations. She tackles three myths which often keep work-life as a side issue rather than a central issue in organizations: (1) Work-Life is a women’s issue, (2) Work-life initiatives are only for employees who can’t keep up, and (3) Work-life initiatives are 'nice to have' but not critical.

Too much fun - at the Harvard Business Review blogs, self-proclaimed humorless grinch Grant McCracken looks at the problem of forced fun as evidenced by corporate cultures like Zappos, and asks if it makes a corporation less well-informed and less responsive. His commentary has sparked a pretty lively conversation in the comments.

Cool tools

  • Social Media Policies Database - Doug Cornelius, Chief Compliance Officer at Beacon Capital Partners presents a collection of 144 Social Media Policies from organizations ranging from media and nonprofits to government agencies and private businesses at Compliance Building. Thanks to Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer for the pointer.
  • SlideFinder - Struggling with ideas for that upcoming presentation? SlideFinder is a specialized search engine that allows you to search and view publicly available PowerPoint presentations at the slide level. Search on numerous topics and get ideas for content, presentation style, and more.
  • Affirmative and negative phrases when speaking about people with disabilities - the Office of Disability and Employment Policy offers a chart with helpful examples of language for communicating with and about people with disabilities. They also offer a list of etiquette suggestions for interacting with people with disabilities.

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