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  • Toxic Coworkers? Rude Behavior Is Contagious, Study Says

    When we’re on the receiving end of condescending or curt remarks at work, we may think we can brush them off. After all, they’re not as openly hostile as threats or outright bullying. But a new study shows that subtle incivility in the workplace can deplete employees’ mental resources—and makes us more likely to act rudely to other coworkers, as well.

    This is how toxic culture can spread through professional networks, say researchers from Michigan State University. Workplace incivility is estimated to have doubled over the past two decades, they write in the Journal of Applied Psychology, and has an average annual impact on companies of $14,000 per employee due to loss of production and work time.

    To look at what might be fueling these behaviors, the researchers surveyed 70 employees, three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. They found that incivility tended to “spiral”—with one unkind act leading to another—and that it often occurred unintentionally.

    RELATED: 12 Ways to Make Your Office Better for Your Health

    The reason, they say, has to do with mental fatigue and a subsequent loss of self-control. “Incivility can be somewhat ambiguous,” says co-author and management professor Russell Johnson, PhD. “So when you’re exposed to it, it can take some mental energy to understand why you were targeted and whether there was a negative intent.”

    It’s depleting to manage those emotions, he adds. “You feel frustrated, angry, and anxious—and, somewhat ironically, when people are depleted like that they are more likely to pay it forward to others, even if it they don’t mean to.” He compares the phenomenon with someone who hasn’t gotten enough sleep, and is more likely to snap at others as a result.

    One way employees can stop the cycle, he says, is to make sure they’re always working “with a full tank of mental fuel.” To replenish that tank, he recommends taking five-minute walking breaks to blow off steam, leaving the office to have lunch with a friend, or—if your company has the facilities for it—taking a quick power nap. “Sure, you’ll lose 30 or 40 minutes,” he says, “but you’ll be more refreshed when you return and less likely to succumb to other people’s incivility.”

    RELATED: The Reason You're Burned Out at Work May Surprise You

    When workers are confronted with put-downs, sarcasm, or passive-aggressiveness, he says, the best thing to do is address the matter upfront. “Confront that person and ask what they meant or why they treated you that way,” he says. “It’s better than sitting around wondering about it, since that rumination seems to be what leads to those detrimental effects.”

    The study also found that workplaces with “politically charged” environments—those where employees do what’s best for themselves and not for the company, and where rules and processes are not clearly laid out—had the highest levels of incivility-induced mental depletion.

    “When it isn’t made clear how you should go about conducting your work or how rewards, like promotions, are given out, it can lead to undermining and one-upmanship,” says Johnson. “If managers set clear boundaries and give good feedback about what’s acceptable and what’s not, they can limit those behaviors.”

    RELATED: Crappy Relationship With Your Boss? Blame Your Parents

    At the very least, says Johnson—even if you can’t do much to improve your coworkers’ attitudes—simply being aware of how incivility spreads can be a positive step.

    “If you know that you’re more likely to be curt to others when you’re feeling burned out, hopefully you’ll be motivated to work harder not to act this way,” he says. Now if you could just get everyone else in the office to adopt this attitude, too, maybe those rude remarks wouldn’t happen in the first place.

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  • The Reason You’re Burned Out at Work May Surprise You

    Workplace burnout has a lot of different causes: long commutes, horrible bosses, unrealistic expectations, the list goes on and on. But a new study suggests that one significant source of job stress isn’t necessarily a part of the job itself—it’s how mismatched your responsibilities are with your personality.

    This may seem obvious. After all, why would anyone take a job that doesn’t suit her personality? But according to study author Veronika Brandstätter, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, it happens quite often. The problem is, she says, people can have perceived notions of themselves that don’t match up with their true, “unconscious needs.”

    “People often choose a job because it fits their ‘conscious’ motives that are formed by social norms and expectations of others,” Brandstätter says. “For example, an individual with the self-concept of being a person of influence might choose a career as a manager, though the activities associated with a manager’s job do not provide the real affective satisfaction.”

    So Brandstätter and her colleagues performed a study to see how people’s implicit motives affected their overall mental health in various workplace environments. They recruited 97 adults from a Swiss website for people suffering from burnout, asked them questions about their health and job responsibilities, and then gave them a writing exercise to tease out parts of their personality they wouldn't necessarily report themselves.

    RELATED: 7 Subtle Signs You're Burned Out

    The researchers focused on two important traits: the “power motive” and the “affiliation motive.” People who have a strong power motive have a need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation, they wrote. Those with an affiliation motive crave positive personal relationships, and want to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.

    The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found that burnout happened across all types of jobs—those with lots of power, those with no power at all, those that offered plenty of opportunity to interact with others, and those that didn’t. In other words, the main predictor of burnout was not one single thing, but the discrepancy between the job and a person's implicit motives. 

    The greater the mismatch, the higher the burnout risk. Mismatches pertaining to the power motive—how much oversight and influence a person desired versus how much they actually got—were even linked to an increase in physical symptoms like headache, chest pain, faintness, and shortness of breath.

    "We found that the frustration of unconscious affective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behavior, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being,” Brandstätter says. “The same is true for goal-striving that doesn't match a well-developed implicit motive for power or affiliation, because then excessive effort is necessary to achieve that goal.”

    This is important for employer and employees, says Brandstätter, since workplace burnout can cause both financial and heath burdens. It can lead to absenteeism, employee turnover, and reduced productivity—and it’s been linked to chronic conditions such as anxiety, heart disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression. The American Institute of Stress estimates that burnout costs companies $300 billion a year.

    RELATED: Job Killing You? 8 Types of Work-Related Stress

    So how do you avoid this kind of mismatch?

    First, think about about what types of situations you truly thrive in: Is it when you’re making new friends and forming close bonds with others? If so, you’re affiliation-motivated. Or is it when you’re making decisions and yielding influence over other people? That shows you’re power-motivated. (And yes, it’s possible to be both.)

    Now, Brandstätter suggests, run through a sort of “fantasy exercise” when considering a potential new job.

    “Ask yourself: ‘When doing my job, how would I feel? Would I experience intensive positive feelings, such as joy, happiness, and pleasure? Would it be possible for me to experience a feeling of strength and impact?' The anticipated experience gives us a clue whether the job in question might match our motives,” she says.

    For someone with a strong affiliation motive, it’s important that you anticipate feelings of joy, happiness, and friendly contact with others while doing that job. If you can’t picture experiencing that during day-to-day activities, it may not be the right job for you. Likewise, someone with a strong power motive should hope to experience feelings of strength, and have the sense that they’re making an impact.

    RELATED: Here's How to Stop Work Stress From Turning Into Burnout

    That advice is only helpful, though, if you’re considering a new job. For those stuck in a current job that doesn't match their motives, Brandstätter recommends talking with your boss and colleagues about ways you might “craft” your position to be more in line with your needs.

    For example, an affiliation-motivated employee who has little contact with others might find a way to work more collaboratively with coworkers. And a power-affiliated person who is frustrated by her lack of influence might take a leadership-training course or apply for a supervisory position.

    Admittedly, Brandstätter says, there is one situation that’s not as easily resolved. “A manager required to take responsibility of a team but who does not enjoy being in a leadership role probably would have to change jobs,” she says. Finding a position that doesn’t require these traits could make that person’s workday more enjoyable—and maybe even improve their well-being overall.  

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  • The Mental Tricks Laurie Hernandez Uses to Summon Crazy Confidence

    Team USA gymnast Laurie Hernandez is blowing us away in Rio: Her talent is obviously out of this world, but what’s just as impressive is the poise and confidence the 16-year-old first-time Olympian exhibits pretty much every time she’s on camera.

    Take her performances so far. At the Olympic trials back in July, Hernandez calmly stood before a huge crowd, closed her eyes, put one hand on her stomach, and breathed deeply. Then she proceeded to kill it on beam. (She took first.)

    This week, as she struck her starting pose for the floor exercise, she sent the judges a smile and sneaky wink. Later, before hopping up on the beam, the camera caught her whispering to herself, “I got this.” And she was right.

    But these little pre-routine behaviors aren’t just a fun part of her personality, says sports psychology consultant Robert Andrews. They’re actually valuable tools for getting in the right mindset for optimal performance—and they’re easy enough for anyone to learn, elite athlete or not.

    Breathing like a champ

    Andrews, who has a master’s degree in psychology and a background in fitness, runs the Institute of Sports Performance in Houston. He’s worked with hundreds of professional athletes, including Hernandez and her teammate Simone Biles; in fact, he taught Hernandez that very breathing routine she practices before competition.

    “I like to say that oxygen is the cure for stress and anxiety,” says Andrews. “A lot of athletes, when they’re stressed out, start breathing a lot shallower and faster. So learning how to monitor and be aware of breathing patterns under stress is important.”

    What Hernandez is doing before she competes, he explains, is called diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing. “She’s moving her diaphragm down so that her lungs can open up,” he says. “Laurie, like a lot of people, tends to hold her stress in her stomach—so she’s connecting her mind to her stomach and her breathing patterns.”

    Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can release tension in the body, says Andrews, which can also relax the mind. That changes hormonal function in the brain, and lowers the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

    RELATED: How 6 Olympic Athletes Deal With the Pressure

    Acting confident goes a long way

    Andrews also works with athletes on body language and posture, which he says can have a big psychological influence on performance. “Laurie has a very upright, straight posture when she’s getting ready for a routine,” he points out. Not only does that make an impression on the judges, he says, it can also make an impression on her own brain.

    “Strong body language like that can actually increase the production of testosterone and lower the production of stress-related hormones,” he says. “It creates brain chemistry that increases assertiveness and confidence, which you need just the right amount of when you’re on the bars, the beam, the floor, wherever.”

    The same goes for Laurie’s now-famous “I-got-this” pep talk. Andrews didn’t teach her those words exactly, but he says he has talked with her about the power of positive thinking.

    “Where you point your mind, your body follows—so Laurie has figured out that those words are very empowering for her mind and body, and they’re going to help her bring out that fierceness that she needs,” he says. “I can’t think of a better powerful, affirmative statement of belief in herself.”

    RELATED: What 5 Olympic Athletes Can Teach You About Body Confidence

    You can use belly breathing too—and not just for sports

    Anyone can benefit from diaphragmatic breathing before a stressful event, says Andrews—from an age-group runner competing in a race to a teenager taking an exam. The practice can help in the corporate world, too, with everything from job interviews to sales pitches to public speaking. 

    “I’ve had high school and college students who report back to me that they’re making better grades on tests and giving better presentations in front of the class because they’re using these mindfulness techniques,” says Andrews. “Athletes call it their peak performance zone, but really everyone works better when they’re in a mindful, centered state.”

    Ready to give it a try? Here’s what to do next time you’re in a stressful situation and feeling nervous. (If you’re not in one right now, just picture yourself there.)

    • Close your eyes and sit or stand up straight.
    • Find the spot in your body where your stress is building up. Is it in your throat? Your chest? Your stomach? Focus on that spot.
    • Inhale deeply, so that your stomach expands out and not up. It can help to put your hand on your stomach to feel this movement happening.
    • Concentrate on slowly breathing in and out, and feel your stress levels come down.

    Andrews works with athletes on bringing those emotions down to the appropriate level. If 1 means no stress at all and 10 means all-out freak out, some people might perform best at a 5, others at a 3, he says. The key is to learn what works best for you.

    And while Andrews says that the mental aspect of competition is especially important in Olympic sports—where a hundredth of a point or a literal split second can determine the winners—he agrees that it’s also a big part of successful performances of any type, at any level.

    So next time you’re feeling unsure of yourself, try giving yourself a little mental boost a la Laurie Hernandez. Close your eyes, focus on your breath, and maybe even give a little wink. Because guess what? You’ve got this.

    Continue Reading »

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