Welcome to the latest edition of the Work 'n' Care newsletter. Each month we try and bring you stories that embody all aspects of a carers life. Our aim is to empower you in your caring role and to make your life a little easier. Contact us with your experiences and ideas as the process of sharing can make a carers life just that little bit easier. Read the latest edition below or use the links on the right to navigate our story archives.

 

New study sheds light on avoiding insomnia

Do you care for someone who is an insomniac? Or maybe it is you who has trouble sleeping?

2am

Do you care for someone who is an insomniac? Or maybe it is you who has trouble sleeping?

Does this make your next day at work exhausting and unproductive?

The vital importance of getting adequate sound sleep has been well researched and now there is a new study that gives a clue as to how we can get back into a normal sleeping pattern and improve our health. The cure is as simple as getting back in touch with nature.

The study, published in the science journal Current Biology, found that ‘living in the modern electrical lighting environment delays the human circadian clock’ and that a weekend camping trip (or turning off the night-time lights) can quickly reset it.

Unlike the control group – whose members stayed up late at night and slept in later than usual while at home – the campers in the study maintained their regular sleep schedule. This prevented the ‘social jetlag’ that contributes to Monday morning grogginess that occurs because of the body clock shifting later over the weekend (because we tend to stay up later and use more light-emitting devices on weekends).

Without being thrown off by artificial light, the campers’ biological night had naturally lengthened – as it does with animals. “This has been assumed but never demonstrated,” said one of the 11-member research team, Professor Kenneth Wright, from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“When light hits photoreceptors in the eye, it alters the master clock which then signals a cascade of events that impact rhythms in our body, influencing not only when we sleep and rise, but also the timing of hormone releases that impact appetite, metabolism and more.

“Our studies suggest that our internal clock responds strongly and quite rapidly to the natural light-dark cycle.”

Professor Wright believes his findings could help light-based approaches for boosting work performance, quelling seasonal depression and circadian sleep-wake disorders.

“Living in our modern environments can significantly delay our circadian timing, and late circadian timing is associated with many health consequences,” he said.

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, population surveys have shown that between 13 and 33 per cent of the adult population have regular difficulty either getting to sleep or staying asleep.

So, if you have been on a nightshift or have jet lag, try and shift your body clock back to normal by going out into the daylight for as much of the day as you can, then turning off the lights at sundown and getting around with a candle.

Do not watch TV, use a mobile phone, computer or tablet device, as these devices emit the same light frequency as sunlight, so they switch off the body’s timely production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. This is turn impacts our ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and have good quality sleep.

We should take actions that keep us ‘in tune’ with our natural body rhythm, which is to go to sleep around 9 or 10pm and wake up at 6 or 7am – the most natural and innate rhythm of our bodies.

Read more about the research here:

http://www.colorado.edu/today/2017/02/01/cant-get-sleep-wilderness-weekend-can-help

Dealing with fatigue in the workplace

Employers and workers need to be mindful of the impact of fatigue in the workplace.

Fatique
Employers and workers need to be mindful of the impact of fatigue in the workplace.

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission has handed down a decision that sends a clear message that all parties must cooperate to guard against fatigue and ensure safety at work.

According to SafeWork NSW, fatigue is ‘a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively’. 

Research tells us that a lack of sleep (i.e. fatigue) has comparable affects to alcohol consumption:

  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.10
  • Between 0.05 and 0.08 blood alcohol content, every person suffers impairment in tasks requiring skills, vigilance and precision.
Fatigue in the workplace therefore needs to be carefully managed as all jobs require skills.

The case before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (Grafton v Waverley Council (No.2) [2017] NSWIRComm 1020) was about Phillip Grafton, a full-time employee of Waverley Council.  During the day, he worked as a ‘Public Place Cleaner’. At night, Mr Grafton also worked full-time as a night-filler at Woolworths.

Mr Grafton injured his wrist and took extended time off work. He made a workers’ compensation claim, and through that process, Council became aware of his second job. They tried to get Mr Grafton to reduce his hours, but he refused. Council terminated his employment for serious misconduct; disobedience. He brought a claim for unfair dismissal to the Commission, which failed.

You can go and look up the case to see the Commission’s reasoning, but in short, the Commission sided with the Council in finding that the termination was not harsh, unreasonable or unjust.  

The Council’s directions to Mr Grafton to reduce his hours ‘were lawful because his work with Woolworths had the potential to conflict with his Council duties, in the sense of his ability to carry out those duties in a safe manner, without risk to himself and others,’ the Commission said.

The point about the case is that employers have a legal duty of care to protect the health and safety of all employees at work.

Had Mr Grafton been involved in an accident that caused harm to others, because he was fatigued, there could have been very serious consequences.

But workers also have some responsibility to ensure that their acts and omissions do not affect others.  Some personal responsibility needs to be taken and employees must cooperate with employers.

Disagreements at work are inevitable – what to do

Most of us spend a considerable percentage of our time at work.

Meeting
Most of us spend a considerable percentage of our time at work. Unfortunately, for quite a few of us, that time, eight hours a day, 40-something hours a week, can be a living hell.

In too many workplaces, the pervading culture is that it’s a war zone, not a co-operative endeavour. Competition for advancement is one thing; ratbag backstabbing skulduggery is altogether another. But in too many environments, it’s the law of the jungle that prevails.

So, it’s a management problem? True. And it’s also true that in some workplaces it’s management itself that is the problem. But attitudes need to change all the way down the ladder if ‘work’ is not to be a toxic environment.

Maybe, just for a start, the language needs to be modified. The word most commonly used in discussion of workplace toxicity is ‘conflict’. It might take the fever out of a situation if it was referred to as ‘disagreement’ and accepted as inevitable. And, of course, it needs also to be recognised that everyone’s entitled to their view.

A common situation in which workplace ‘conflict’ arises is when there’s a radical alteration in management structure. We might call this the ‘Superman Syndrome’. The business isn’t doing well, morale is low, the future bleak; the operation stumbles along from day to day. In comes the new-broom hero: There’s going to be some big changes made. There will be one way to do things: her way, or his way. It’s a matter of shape up or ship out.

This is an extreme example maybe. But that’s the ethos that governs very many workplaces.

Change is imposed without consultation. It’s enforced by warnings, threats and punishments, up to and including dismissal. Life can become, literally, a fight for survival.

Some organisations have codes in place to eliminate bullying and harassment. But more often than not, the boss is exempted – and there’s a trickle-down effect. At best, it may be that coercion replaces bullish command as a management method.

So, just for a start, the fundamental perceptions need to be adjusted. The key word is ‘empathy’. The bad seed may be planted at the very first encounter.

“I’m the boss,” Mr or Ms Management assumes. “I am a superior being in relation to this mere Worker Bee.”  

“He/she’s a boss,” Worker Bee assumes. “He/she’s a bully who thinks he/she’s better than me.”

It’s assumed from the outset that they have nothing at all in common: they’re members of different species.

It may seem to be stating the obvious, but wouldn’t things work better if they talked to each other? And things would work better still if they actually listened to each other.

If Mr or Ms Management accepts that Worker Bee may have views on the way things are run and that those views might frame a contribution to the operation, that shifts the relationship away from the customary war footing. If Worker Bee accepts that Mr or Ms Management has a job to do, that he or she is the one who has to make the final decision, then a truce becomes possible.

Both sides need to be prepared to listen. Both sides need to recognise that they have the right to speak to the other and be listened to.

Maybe business organisations, be they corporations or backyard workshop operations, also hospitals, universities, schools etc., need to function more like families than military establishments.

Ah, but then, some families are as dysfunctional as the most blinkered, brutish sweatshop. The same things apply in that situation too. Attitudes need to change. Ears need to listen, mouths need to be permitted to speak.           

Pollyanna pie-in-the sky? All too simple? But maybe life doesn’t need to be as complicated as we so often make it.

Praise versus criticism in the workplace and at home

Praise or criticism? Which has the most power to change behaviour?

Feedback
Which is more effective in improving individual or team performance: using positive feedback to let people know when they’re doing well, or offering constructive but critical comments to help them when they’re off track?

Research* published in Kim Cameron’s book, Positive Leadership suggests that this is a trick question. The answer, as one might intuitively expect, is that both are important.

The factor that makes the greatest difference between the most and least successful people at home and at work appears to be the ratio of positive comments “I agree with that,” for instance, or “that’s a terrific idea”, or “I love it when you smile”, to negative comments like “I don’t agree with you” “we shouldn’t even consider doing that” “that colour looks terrible on you”, “that report is full of mistakes”, “I’m sick of clearing up your mess”.

The highest-performing teams made only one negative comment to six positive ones, while the poorest performing teams made three negative comments to every positive one.

That is not to say all criticism is bad. In fact, it is an essential part of the mix. Why is that? First, because of its ability to grab someone’s attention. Think of it as a whack on the side of the head. Second, certainly, negative feedback guards against complacency and ‘groupthink’.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) has conducted its own research on praise and criticism. It found that constructive criticism could help leaders overcome serious weaknesses.

The key word here is serious. HBR provides 360-degree feedback to leaders. They have observed among the 50,000 or so leaders in their database that those who’ve received the most negative comments were the ones who, in absolute terms, improved the most.

Specifically, their aggregate data showed that three-quarters of those receiving the lowest leadership effectiveness scores – and who made an effort to improve – rose on average 33 percentile points in their rankings after a year. That is, they moved from the 23rd percentile (the middle of the worst) to the 56th percentile (or square in the middle of the pack).

It seems the people who get the most negative feedback have the most room to grow. It’s far harder for someone at the 90th percentile already to improve so much.

But clearly those benefits potentially come with serious costs or the amount of negative feedback that leads to high performance would be higher.

Negative feedback is important when the organisation is heading over a cliff, to warn an employee that they’d better stop doing something horrible or start doing something better right away. But even the most well-intentioned and necessary criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative.

It can change behaviour, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts.

Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigour, determination, and creativity.

Perhaps that’s why HBR has found with the vast majority of the leaders in their database, who have no outstanding weaknesses, that positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement.

In fact, for those in the database who start out above average already (but are still below the 80th percentile), positive feedback works like negative feedback does for the bottom group. Focusing on their strengths enabled 62 per cent of this group to improve a full 24 percentage points (to move from the 55th to the 79th percentile).

The absolute gains are not as great as they are for the most-at-risk leaders, since they started so much further ahead. But the benefits to the organisation of making average leaders into good ones is far greater, because it puts them on the road to becoming the exceptional leaders that every organisation desperately needs.

As an interesting aside, it is noteworthy that this research is echoed in an uncanny way by John Gottman’s analysis of wedded couples’ likelihood of getting divorced or remaining married.

Once again, the single biggest determinant is the ratio of positive to negative comments the partners make to one another. And the optimal ratio is amazingly similar – five positive comments for every negative one.

For those who ended up divorced, Gottman found the ratio was 0.77 to 1 – or something like three positive comments for every four negative ones.

Clearly in work and life, both negative and positive feedback have their place and their time. If some inappropriate behaviour needs to be stopped, or if someone is failing to do something they should be doing, that’s a good time for negative feedback.

The key is to keep the opposing viewpoint rational, objective, and calm – and above all not to engage in any personal attack (under the disingenuous guise of being “constructive”).

So, lead by example – both at home and at work – and endeavour to move the proportion closer to the ideal of about 6 to 1 by your own example.

*The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model, published by American Behavioural Scientist.

Be happier in a few minutes daily

If you are interested in happiness and positivity tips and articles, spend some time on the Dr Happy website.

Happy
If you are interested in happiness and positivity tips and articles, spend some time on the Dr Happy website.

Dr Happy has been posting info on this theme for more than 10 years at drhappy.com.au

The material comes from various sources and happiness gurus all over the world, like the gem below, adapted from Hal Elrod’s best seller ‘The Miracle Morning’ which has helped redefine the mornings and the lives of millions of readers since its release in 2012.

Every morning, right when you wake up, do each of these six things for one minute.

  1. Sit upright, legs crossed, eyes closed in silence. Let your thoughts pass through. Breathe slowly and deeply, like you’re meditating.
  2. Read or recite a short set of affirmations, a little pep talk for yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror for extra oomph.
  3. Visualize yourself going through your day. Open your window or step outside, look at the sky, and imagine yourself actually doing the things you will do that day, whether it’s grocery shopping, filling an Excel spreadsheet, writing, cold calling people or flambé-ing a chicken.
  4. Do ONE set of exercises. That’s it. Shoot for however many repetitions you can muster that day. Say it’s push-ups. Try for 20. Sometimes it might be 50 (or five). Take a walk. Adapt to how well you feel.
  5. Read one page of a book. This isn’t about crossing items off your reading list. It’s about finding one good piece of insight to accompany you throughout the day.
  6. Write into a one-sentence journal. Many people over-complicate journaling. It’s helpful even if you just answer one question with one sentence. You cannot write a sentence without learning something. Pick one question you’ll answer each morning, for example: How do you feel right now? What did you learn yesterday? Are you ready to take on the day? Why/why not?
  7. Plan how and when you might do a small act of gratitude or appreciation on this day. Imagine bringing a smile to somebody’s face. This could be the office cleaner, a person standing a supermarket aisle, a friend or relative. Nothing is better than making someone happy each day. The happiness bubbles up within you and enhances your wellbeing, work and productivity.
That’s it! These few minutes will pay off for the rest of your day, and, if you do it regularly, for the rest of your life.