Monthly Archives: May 2015

“Work out” stress!

Don’t let tress become your permanent companion as it harms your health. Luckily, there are a few simple but effective techniques to pause in between and relax.

As described in my last week’s blogspot, the supposedly happy self-employed suffer from stress and burnout syndromes, too. Just like the employees who feel pressurized by their bosses. But permanent stress will not necessarily lead to the psychiatric clinic or practice. Especially not with freelancers.

On the blog of the corporate consultancy and recruitment firm Solcom, the E-Commerce expert Michael Meckelein published some useful anti-stress tips for freelancers. I would like to pass them on to my readers and add some of my own experiences.

Tip number one is a two-minute relaxation. You sit at your desk and pick up a deep breath. Then you put your elbows vertically on your desk and put your forehead into your hands. Now close your eyes and deeply breathe several times. Think of something beautiful: a beloved one, a holiday scene … whatever you like. Thus, the body quickly comes to rest. Then frown, make faces and purse your lips. Soon you relax your facial muscles and activate the stimulants. Finally, massage your earlobes and your neck. Sit straight and upright. Allow your shoulders to swing, relax and stretch your neck … you feel fit and fresh again, do you?

Another exercise in a sitting position is good for you if you are constantly working on the PC––which is a permanent strain for your eye and neck muscles which often leads to headaches. Just lift your view, look out of the window and try to identify small things in the distance or on the horizon. This will relax your eye and neck muscles so that you can easier focus on your work again.

Another good advice is about your daily and weekly planning. Set achievable targets––every morning until the evening and at the start of the week until the weekend. At the end check your completed work: Have you reached your goals? Yes? Do you notice how this already means a piece of satisfaction and self-affirmation to you? I’m doing that. Makes me feel good. Was there a task that you could not fulfill? Don’t increase the workload. Reduce the requirements or schedule more time for this.

Last but not least: Take a break and catch some fresh air. After a maximum of four hours of work, simply go out for a walk. Or go out to lunchtime. Recharge your body with fresh oxygen and clear your mind as your head needs a break, too! Anyway: Bring your non-moving muscle groups in motion and relax mentally!

Here’s my personal advice: At lunchtime, after three to four hours of PC working time, I go to the gym next door, doing some strengthening back and abdominal exercises and then go on the treadmill or the bike trainer for at least half an hour. And when the weather is nice I just go out jogging. Even though I actually get my head free from almost all thoughts of work: While jogging, very often the best and most spontaneous ideas come up and I save them by a write-in phone app.

By the way, sport is even a preventive medicine against stress––as revealed by a study of Professor Dr. Reinhard Fuchs, the sports psychologist at the University of Freiburg. Subsequently he wrote a book named “Seelische Gesundheit und sportliche Aktivität” (Mental Health and Physical Activity). If there is anything like that available in English, why not buying it.

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Finally self-employed. A dream?

According to studies, many Germans want an independent or freelance work–––mainly because of the free timing. Are company founders so lucky?

About 40% of all entrepreneurs or freelancers give up during the first five years of business and want to go back to the employee-existence. Why? Especially because they find that the existential worries of an entrepreneur may be far greater stresses than the pressure from superiors or the forced working hours under which they had suffered as employees.

As self-employed they do not know any quitting time. They are at all times available for their customers. They also don’t take any sick days because these mean loss of earnings. What they neglect most is, of course, their health. My father had heart problems recently. However, he postponed the medically diagnosed and absolutely necessary bypass surgery for half a year––to the date of the planned company handover to his successor. He wouldn’t survive these six months.

What do the self-employed suffer most frequently from? It’s the great responsibility and the deadlines. The culture of long working hours, too. The neglected social contacts. The family that comes up short. The partner’s displeasure. Finally, they suffer from dissatisfied customers. No more senses of achievement. The orders get missed and only the financial worries grow. The few experiences of success can no longer compensate for the supposedly many failures.

If that continues for years, the occasional fatigues, saggings and power losses become eternal. Typical companions are back pain, insomnia or tinnitus. A warning sign is when getting up in the morning becomes a nightmare because there’s no more desire for the day. And if no more recovery times occur and the stress besomes an everyday corrupter, the way to burnout and depression is not far off. Anyone who is unable to work because of this causes a boom––but only in hospitals and psychiatric clinics.

Speaking of stress: On this issue, a German health insurance institute recently published a study which they well-intentioned but almost ironically called “Stay easy, Germany” (Bleib locker, Deutschland). According to this, 57% of all Germans felt stressed sometimes or often. Every fifth even felt permanently stressed. 67% of all employees, self-employed and officials believed to feel more stressed today than three years ago. 61% think life today is much more stressful than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

Even more depressing numbers? There you go, the study is extensive and relentless honest. 22% of all professionals stated that they have suffered from burnout, depression or anxiety disorders in the past three years. 33% marked with a cross that they were exhausted and burned out. 40% felt that they were frequently worn out. 64% can not or only insufficiently switch off from professional stress in their free time. And a frightening 70% simply said “I am stressed”.

These figures apply to all employees––and thus to the supposedly happier self-employed, too. Is Burnout prefigured? Is there no way out of the fatal spiral?

In my next blog post, I would like to quote the “Tips to reduce stress in the office” which the author Michael Meckelein recently published on the blog of the business consultancy and recruitment company Solcom. Until then, I’m going to exercise these tips and enjoy a few days of Pentecost freelancer’s recovery.

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No money and no time for the family

A recently published study shows what German workers are satisfied about––and where they see or face problems.

The social business network Xing and the market research institute Statista wanted to know the facts precisely. For their new study about the working world and environment of German employees they interviewed 4,000 workers and asked them what they were happy and unhappy about.

One of the worst news first: Only 40 percent of all full-time employees can support a family alone. A clear majority earns not enough! And for the loved ones at home not only money lacks but also time. After all, a third of all respondents indicated that they missed the readiness of their bosses for a reasonable reconciliation of work and family life. The sectors to which this applies most are catering, manufacturing and––lo and behold––social and educational jobs. Looks like in the social professions there are the most unsocial employers.

Given such poor marks for the work-life balance, it is not surprising that a large proportion of employees would like to work less by an average of five hours a week. By the way: The so-called “knowledge workers” which were considered separately in the study of the workers in other industries grew significantly more emphasis on flexible working hours.

The study also addressed the topic of changes in the working environment. 12 percent of all respondents are unhappy about changes, but respectable 71 percent respond to the changes cool or even positive. 17 percent see no change in their work area. Speaking of changes in a different way: Many who want or need a new job are very pessimistic. From 30 years on they feel that it would be more difficult to find a job––the older, the more. No wonder that they set the point of job security at the top of their wish list.

Again, it’s the “knowledge workers” who expect much more changes than the employees of other industries. They identify more with the products or services of their companies and certify them predominantly positive images. On the other hand, a lot of them wanted to have more meaningful tasks.

And how satisfied are the employees with their superiors? Around half of them judge their bosses very positive, after all. However, this also means that half of all German executives have to optimize their leadership skills. But only about a fifth of all surveyed workers said that they have problems with the boss. And that’s probably the best news from this study.

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Don’t search talents. Educate.

A shortage of skilled is almost everywhere, but most of all at less attractive regions and locations. So what can companies do?

Thorben Fasching works in a leading position for the digital agency Hmmh at the city of Bremen. He is also a blogger on a branch portal. Recently he wrote a blogspot about a recruiting problem that is likely to be known in other industries, too. But Fasching’s article is all about the solution to this. The title of the article reads––roughly translated: “In the back province the only way is promoting young talents”.

Bremen, provincial backwater? Yes, in the marketing sector, the half a million inhabitants city is part of the outback. In Germany there are the top five locations Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Berlin and Munich, each with thousands of agencies. Bremen has just about 150. The second largest city of Northern Germany is just as diaspora as in other lines of business some tiny little backwood towns. Image advertising and employer branding is not enough to attract talents there. However, Fasching’s agency needs many skilled workers because in spite of its rather insignificant location it is one of the largest digital agencies in Germany. In order to recruit people it goes ways which are exemplary. The guiding principle is to find and tie students to the agency at an early stage while they’re still at the classrooms and auditoriums.

To school students, the company offers internships which can be up to three weeks long. The students learn about the job profile and get to know the world of work in a business of this kind. They are mostly inexperienced and uncertain, as the expert blogger writes, but extremely open and grateful for everything they learn. The jobs they get are interdisciplinary tasks with which they carry out instead of just watching how the others work. For example, they may create the corporate design of a fictitious brand flagship stores––with the help of the agency team and led by a supervisor.

Students are another target group. With them, the Agency has identified potential synergies. Most of them eventually need part-time jobs e.g. to be able to pay their shared apartment. And the agency needs qualified junior staff in the future. So it provides for example design students with specific projects in part-time work. In these jobs they already get fully integrated into the team. The topic of the degree dissertation, too, can be identified and created together, if it corresponds to a task area of the agency and its clients.

There are many advantages for the agency. As graduates, the students are already familiar with teams and the professional fields and ready to start as employees. They need no more initial trainings when the ink of the contract is dry. For the students, this means they don’t have to search for a job which is often quite tedious without any references. And they profit from a smooth transition into professional life.

“Our recipe for success: Not only the Agency but most of all the youngsters shall benefit from the cooperation,” writes the blogger, adding that the company would remain in positive memories even after first jobs away. So the agency would not only have won a majority of the recruiting program’s participants as employees without ads of vacancies, selection processes and interviews. In fact, many have found their way back to Bremen after having worked a few years away in the top marketing places and gained experiences or even prices. They come back and enhance the agency as top people of the industry. A win-win situation.

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