Work and Wellness
with Jill L. Ferguson, M.A.


5 Quick Ways to Boost Your Customer Service

More than two weeks ago I ordered something from the online version of a brick and mortar retailer. I received a notice that the items would be delivered in two days. Two days came and went and the package didn't arrive, though the post office notification system said it was out for delivery for 12 hours that day. By the next morning, that notification had been deleted from the post office system, reverting to "arrived at postal facility". Days later, with no change, I contacted the post office and was told that the package had been delivered the wrong distribution center and an inspector would contact me. The inspector called a few hours later to say that somehow the package got routed incorrectly and it would be delivered eventually (she couldn't estimate when) and asked if my case could be closed since I now had that information. I responded that I wasn't sure since the package hadn't been delivered so the case wasn't really resolved. It is now one week after that call with the inspector. The USPS notification system still shows the same message: in transit to facility. This time, I reached out to the retailer and explained the situation. The customer service agent was understanding, apologized for needing to put me on hold while he accessed my account and looked up the package tracking. He apologized again that I haven't received the package that was shipped on a two-day delivery guarantee (even though it wasn't the retailer's fault), and he promptly refunded my money and said that if the package ever did show up, to go ahead and keep the merchandise. He made sure I understood when the money would be credited back to my card, that I had to do nothing further with the e-mails I would be receiving, and asked if I needed anything else. I provide both of these are examples of customer service, and as a reminder that sometimes it takes very little effort to make an effective difference.


Sleep (or Lack Thereof) Affects Work and Wellness

Sleep: it's a word and a subject matter that seems to be everywhere. Arianna Huffington wrote a book about it. The National Sleep Foundation  was founded to improve health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy. Apps have been created to track our sleep, help us sleep better and to wake us at our body clock's optimal "end sleep" time. And last year, the World Health Organization declared a sleep deprivation epidemic. And yet for some reason many of us don't seem to get enough sleep or are looking for ways to fall asleep faster or to stay asleep through the night. That last part applies to me, or to my dog more specifically, as he thinks he needs to go outside in the middle of every night and when I oversee that activity, I often have problems falling back asleep. The dog, on the other hand, is back out in z-land in seconds. Professor Vicki Culpin at Hult International Business School released a report about how tiredness affects you at work. She equates being tired at work with being drunk, saying tiredness can affect your speech, motor functioning, your levels of aggression and impulsiveness, your memory, your decision-making and your problem-solving skills.


5 Things to Boost Your Financial Wellness

Money. This one word can be very emotionally-charged. You nay think you don't have enough of it, or that other people have too much of it. Money triggers jealousy, greed, anxiety, fears, stress, love, gratitude, feelings of freedom and so many other emotions. Some people spend their whole lives in pursuit of it, and no matter how much they have some people still live in fear that it isn't enough. A friend once confided that his father had investments worth in the eight digits and still worked 60-80 hour weeks because he didn't think it was enough. Feelings of lack like that cause stress and anxiety and affect our mental health...not to mention the toll taken on our emotional, mental and physical health from working so many hours. And PsychCentral in the past has written about the correlation between money worries and depression. But financial wellness, like any other kind of wellness in our lives, comes about when we critically assess our situation, deal with the emotional baggage surrounding it (by identifying its sources, searching its "truth" and then letting it go) and by creating a plan that puts us on the on which path we want to journey.

mental health

More than 20 Healthy Ways to Play

Play. It's something we adults don't do enough of. It's Friday and sometimes it's good to take a day off from work, not because of illness but for the sake of your wellness. Call it a mental health day, call it a wellness day, call it a me day. The name of the day doesn't matter, but the spirit of it does. And if it has been many months since you've taken a vacation day, your brain and body probably need a day off more than you think they do. Back in January, I wrote 10 Tips for Low-to-No-Cost Self-Care. A day away from the office or your practice and away from your work e-mail and phone is a good time to try some of those tips. As Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. writes, "Play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids." Play is what stimulates creativity, it helps us connect with others and it helps us maintain our social well-being.  Play also helps stimulate our minds, and playing with a partner may stimulate our relationship. Play also reduces stress and contributes to overall well-being. Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play told NPR, "What you begin to see when there's major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they're not much fun to be around. You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious."


5 Tips for Finding a Signal in the Noise

The majority of us are reachable by more than a dozen ways all day and night. Take a moment to think about it.We have  at least one phone for calls and texting; maybe a messaging app or three like WhatsApp, SnapChat or iMessage; videoconferencing with Skype, Facetime, Zoom and/or WebEx; and social media accounts with messaging (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.). All day long while I work in my home office I receive messages from around the world, and this common for many people. Data Never Sleeps released a visual that summarizes every minute of the day in 2017, and the results include that Americans use 2.6 gigabytes of Internet data per minute, more than 15 million texts are sent, and close to half a million tweets were sent. Many companies expect their employees to not only be available by company-issued cell phones but also by instant messaging any time employees are at their work computers. My husband works for big corporation that expects this, and I've listened to him in wonder when he says, "I sent him a message but he never responded. Why wasn't he at his desk?" as if the culture is to be always present and to respond immediately or else your work ethic is suspect.  Sometimes the barrage of messaging (or even its potential) and the implication that we are always available (and thus could be working or forced to work at all hours) can be overwhelming and add to our levels of stress and anxiety. PsychCentral has written a wealth of articles on dealing with stress and with anxiety, but one article in particular, Strategies for the Chronically Overworked,  might be most relevant if the situation I described sounds like you.


5 Stress-Free Ways to Market Your Business or Practice

Marketing our businesses to try and get new clients or customers can be very stressful. (Find out how stressed you feel by taking this test.) It may be difficult for us to determine where to spend our time, energy and money to yield us the most fruitful results, and sometimes we don’t even know what marketing should entail. “Growing your career or business is an evolution, not a revolution,” CEO of the Stella Group, Ryan Alovis, told Forbes. And your marketing strategy helps your business or practice evolve. Marketing has been defined at its basest form as the “process of teaching consumers why they should choose your product or service over competitors.” But marketing really is the study and management of relationships, in its purest form. It involves not only the creation of the product or service concept, identifying who would purchase it, the promotion of it, and then the moving of it through the selling channels, or what is referred to in marketing textbooks as the 4 P’s: product, price, promotion, place.


The Power of Asking for Help

Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. Inherent in the American culture is the idea that the self-reliant individual is the ideal. As the University of Missouri at St. Louis states on their website under the heading "Key American Values," Americans "have been trained since very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They have not been trained to see themselves as members of a close-knit, tightly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation, or other collectivity. It is this concept of themselves as individual decision-makers that blinds at least some Americans to the fact they share a culture with others." This key value is also what makes us think we can do everything ourselves, and makes us feel badly about asking for help when we need it. And when it comes to work situations and culture, when we think about asking for help there, sometimes we fear that a request for help would make us look incompetent, incapable, and inept. While this has always been true for men--as they don't want to be seen as weak--and PsychCentral has written about it, many women in the workplace have felt the need to try twice as hard as their male counterparts and do twice as much to get just as far and to prove their worth. (Harvard Business Review has a lot of research and stats that back up that claim as does the Institute for Women's Policy Research and many other reputable research organizations.) Sometimes our inner voices tell us when we think about asking for help, "See, if you admit you can't do this on your own, they'll see you for the imposter you really are." Even though on some level we know this isn't true, we are not imposters but capable, qualified and highly intelligent individuals. But the fact is, even though individualism is on the rise across the globe, we can't do everything by ourselves when it comes to work (or life for that matter) and we shouldn't try.


Sharing the Workload Helps Our Businesses Grow

Sometimes our lives go more smoothly when we learn to let go and let other people handle some of the workload. As I wrote last week, I'm in the process of writing a textbook. The book is on how to create a freelance, contract and/or entrepreneurial career, and each chapter has case studies of professionals that exemplify key points in the chapter. Over and over again as I interview people in a variety of industries, the same thing keeps coming up: the importance of knowing when to let go and let others shoulder some of the workload and how doing so helps businesses grow. As entrepreneurs, small business owners or solo practitioners, we often try to do everything ourselves. We handle billing and customer relations, answer all of our own e-mail, keep our own financial records, manage our social media accounts and messaging, order supplies, plan and execute our marketing strategies, schedule our meetings and do everything else associated with running a business. We may allocate a certain amount of time per week to such tasks, or we may resort to after-hours or weekend upkeep of the management side of maintaining a business or private practice. And sometimes facing these tasks, we may feel frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed or inept. The business part of a running a business can be a lot of work. It's why PsychCentral and other websites have articles that ask experts how they manage their practices or businesses. But maybe the question we should be asking, besides how others do it, is why we are doing it? Why do we place all of the onus for every task on ourselves?


What Happens When We Say Yes

In January I read Shonda Rhimes' The Year of Yes. Rhimes is the creator of televisions shows, such as Gray's Anatomy. And her year of yeses came as a challenge from her sister who told her she rarely said yes to anything. Rhimes realized her sister was correct and decided to start saying, "yes" more often, not to be a people pleaser  but to be more open to opportunities. She said yes to speaking at her alma mater's graduation, to receiving awards, to attending red carpet events and to writing a book (which publishers had been after her to do for a few years). And with each yes came more opportunities and better feelings about herself and the choices she was making. She felt more empowered and like more of her needs were fulfilled. The messages in the book must have sunk in deep because two weeks ago I received a textbook contract with a six-week deadline from a publisher that inquired last November if I'd be interested in writing a book for them, and I found myself signing on the dotted line and saying yes. Then last Saturday, when I had planned to spend the afternoon and evening working on the book, I was invited to drinks with neighbors and overrode my initial hesitation and "I have to work" feelings and said yes. And those three hours with the neighbors resulted in additional people contributing case studies for my book and new business relationships and friendships. And I have since said yes to taking on a few more clients and to another book project...and instead of feeling overwhelmed with all of the work, I'm feeling exhilarated. Chief executive of The Energy Project and author Tony Schwartz writes in The New York Times, "'No' is first and foremost a fear response, most useful in situations of genuine danger." Schwartz did a quick experiment with his dogs to prove his point. "First, I said a single word – 'Yes' – with unbridled enthusiasm. The dogs leapt to their feet, their tails wagging, and raced over to me. Next I said 'No,' firmly. Both dogs looked down and slunk away. I felt as bad as they did," he writes.


Failure is Not Final

This week as the world watched SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket launch the red Tesla roadster to Mars and beyond and then land just as the rocket was meant to, we experienced success firsthand as a collective. But like every success, this one was built on the lessons learned through failures. Starting in 2006, 2007 and 2008 SpaceX had three failures that almost killed the company. Then in 2015--on Elon Musk's birthday--a SpaceX rocket vaporized shortly after launch. And in 2016, a SpaceX rocket exploded while fueling (before it ever launched). During all of those challenges Musk was quoted as saying, "When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor." And with that attitude he pressed on, delivering successful launches last year and this week. Writer/director James Cameron said, "But failure has to be an option in art and in exploration--because it's a leap of faith. And no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks." A Harvard Business School study by Shikhar Ghosh said that 75 percent of venture-backed start-ups fail. Failure is often based on the following reasons: lack of focus; lack of motivation, passion and/or commitment; too much pride (which overshadows listening to others' advice); applying bad advice to the business; lacking a good mentor; and lack of business knowledge (in finance, operations and/or marketing). But every failure can be mined for the a successful future.