Stepping Out of the Darkness

Suicide Awareness Month: First in a Series

It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think that is often true. I’ll never forget the great visual that suicide prevention impact entrepreneur Sally Spencer-Thomas  gave the audience at EAPA’s 2016 World EAP Conference, held Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2016 at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Compelling Talk

Spencer-Thomas discussed how employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be shining lights of hope in the social movement of suicide prevention. She concluded her compelling talk by having the lights turned off. Then she asked audience members who’ve been affected by suicide – first indirectly, and then directly – to hold up their cell phones.

As the room went from dark to heavily lit from all of those cell phones, it was apparent what a terrible thing it is to be that depressed, in the dark, with no idea where to turn, and how MANY of us have been impacted by this disturbing trend.

“No one should die in isolation and despair,” she said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that each year, more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of loss. In many cases, friends and families affected by a suicide loss (often called “suicide loss survivors”) are left in the dark.

‘Left in the Dark’: A Personal Reflection

I was among the many left in the dark in April 2008 after my best friend I’ll call “Ed” for confidentiality purposes, took his life. I got the call from another good friend and like him, was practically in shock. Ed? The one middle-aged guy among us who didn’t have a pot belly? Ed, who watched what he ate more than the rest of us? Ed, who jogged regularly?

Two other friends who weren’t in very good health at the time – now bad news about either of them would not have shocked us – I’m sorry to say. But “Ed”? We knew Ed was plenty stressed about his job, but when wasn’t he? Ed was a health care administrator who often lamented having to balance a budget, his long hours, and lately, the dire health of his wife.

Ed would get past it. He always had. Right? Or was his toughness more of a front? Was he, in fact, closer to the brink in the past than he had ever let on? You had to wonder.

I gave Ed credit for stepping into the light and seeking help from a mental health professional. Why didn’t that help? Some friends said Ed was the unfortunate victim of a sudden change to his medication that left him completely unable to cope with his struggles. Drastic side effects to meds can lead to devastating results, of that I have no doubt.

On the other hand, Ed used to joke about someone finding him dead in his office, slumped over on his desk (perhaps the victim of a heart attack). He sometimes mentioned dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse. Was this a premonition of sorts?

We’ll never know the answers. All I know for sure is that if a middle-aged guy in good physical health could in fact be suffering from mental illness, a resilient guy who had overcome lost jobs and other troubles in the past, then suicide can take the life of anyone.

As NAMI points out, it’s vital to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. Such talks are never easy – but start them we must, because we never know whose life we might save.




Lunch Breaks: Overlooked Source of Stress Relief?

The lunch “hour” may be a concept of the past, new research from staffing firm OfficeTeam suggests. More than half of workers (56 percent) said their typical lunch break lasts 30 minutes or less.

What are workers doing at lunch, besides eating? Respondents said they most frequently surf the Internet or social media (52 percent), followed by catching up on personal calls or emails (51 percent). That’s up from 27 percent and 25 percent, respectively, from a 2014 survey. Twenty-nine percent of professionals confessed to working during lunch. (See also the graphic below.)

These statistics aren’t surprising, but I do find the last one a bit alarming. If nearly one-third of professionals are working during lunch, what is the point of taking lunch? For one thing, if you’re anything like me, food crumbs tend to find their way onto your keyboard, and that makes your desk messier than it needs to be. More important, however, is the fact that we need to get away from our desks!

I know what you’re thinking. I’m too swamped to NOT work during my lunch! I confess I used to buy into that mindset. When I worked at a local publishing company, we not only had a full hour for lunch (I doubt that’s the case anymore), but we ALSO had 15-minute breaks at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I seldom took the scheduled morning “coffee break,” when the truth of the matter is it would have been GOOD for me to get away from my computer (ease eye strain a little), and stretch my legs (and neck), AND de-stress by chatting with co-workers!

And I wondered why I was so stressed all the time! But I learned. At a subsequent employer, I made it a point of getting away from my desk for at least a 30-minute lunch break. I saw this as a great time to get to know my colleagues a little better, unfortunately they didn’t seem to see it that way. You guessed it: They worked straight through their lunch, quickly snarfing down a sandwich or some leftovers at their desk.

“You know, you’re never not busy,” I would say. “If you’re waiting to not be so busy to take a break for lunch, you’ll be waiting a long time!” One day, a co-worker mentioned that Taco Bell sounded a lot better than her day-old bologna sandwich, and so I thought we’d have a nice visit at the local TB. No, she meant she’d write down her order, I’d drive there and pick it up, drive back, and she’d eat at her desk! Aaaaah!! Frustrated, I basically gave up at that point and continued to eat by myself.

That last point, however, isn’t all bad. While some of us, like me, longed for some company during lunchtime, others need to get away from people and just chill out somewhere. My wife, for instance, likes to hop in her car and drive somewhere relaxing, taking in nature.

That’s okay, too. The point is, don’t be glued to your desk all day long. Like I said, you’re never NOT going to be busy, so get away anyway! Your eyes, neck, back, and most of all, your nerves, will appreciate it.

While networking/eating with colleagues is the ideal, OfficeTeam notes other ways in which taking a true lunch BREAK is beneficial:

You need to step away from work. Getting out and taking a real break can help you return to the office more productive. Try exercising or walking to clear your mind.

You need to take time for yourself. Running errands or taking care of personal tasks during lunch can result in a shorter to-do list later (which in turn can relieve stress).

You’ll be better able to watch what you eat. Packing a nutritious lunch and going somewhere to eat can keep you from impulsively grabbing chips and other unhealthy snacks from a vending machine.


OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, is the nation’s leading staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled office and administrative support professionals. The company has more than 300 locations worldwide. For additional information, visit Follow for career and management advice.



Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day!  Regular blog posts will resume the week of Sept. 10-14.

At left, Initech CEO Bill Lumbergh from “Office Space.” Think you’d want to work for him? ! doubt it!


The picture that appears at right  looks like a better work environment to me.

All kidding aside, hope you all had a great day off.  Thanks for reading!

Millennials: More Diverse than Boomers

You’ve probably read, heard, (or believe) the disparaging remarks about Millennial-age employees. They’re too into themselves to be team players at work, they don’t show up for work on time, if they show up at all, they don’t work hard, etc., etc. Sound familiar?

Now here is some positive news about this group. According to statistics, Millennials are 30% more diverse than the Baby Boomer generation. “The Millennial generation has ushered in a new wave of the nation’s broader racial diversity that is now actively involved in the workforce.”

I find this statement pretty easy to believe. Several of our nieces, all in their 20s, have traveled extensively. One niece spent a semester studying in Italy, another lived in Ireland, and still another visited a college friend in Brazil. A few of them also took an extended trip to some Asian countries several summers ago. (And this is on top of the vacations in the US they went on with their parents when they were kids!)

This trend seems to becoming more the norm, than the exception. For instance, a friend of mine who works in employee assistance has a daughter who lives abroad. (Australia, I believe, I lose track!)

So what, you might say? MANY people travel today. True, but many Boomers like me don’t take traveling for granted. Hardly! When I was their age, I could count on my fingers how many states I had been to, let alone traveling overseas! And I could say the same about nearly all of my friends in the blue-collar town in Wisconsin where I was raised.

What does this mean? It means that, unfortunately, I had a pretty narrow view of life and other cultures when I was growing up. And the narrower one’s world view, the easier it is to harbor biases and prejudices. I don’t think a lot of us necessarily do this on purpose – it’s just that without exposure to other groups of people, it is difficult to relate to people who aren’t of the same race or culture. Not impossible, certainly, but much harder than it is for an individual who has far greater world experiences, and thus often more accepting of different views, cultures, etc.

Fortunately, I went to a state college where I met students from Africa, Korea, and other countries. What an eye-opening experience – as has been meeting people from other countries in my profession. There are a lot of great people out there! But what about those who never attend a university? (And I know plenty of folks who haven’t. Who do they meet? You see my point?)

Why is this important? “As diversity percentages begin to rise with each generation, understanding and learning to navigate workplace culture is key to success.”

Who is likely better suited to “navigate workplace culture” – someone who has been exposed to other cultures, races, and countries, or a person who has never traveled overseas? Now this is not necessarily true in all cases to be sure! But in an increasingly global economy, it would appear that Millennials have much more to offer the workplace than some might be led to believe.

To learn more, Sharon E. Jones, is a diversity trailblazer and immensely successful woman of color who offers a practical guide for hardworking and ambitious diverse professionals in her new book, Mastering the Game: Strategies for Career Success.

Learn more at and, and connect with Jones on Twitter and LinkedIn.


The Dirty Dozen: Targeting Our Toxic Thinking

The gist of this blog post can be summarized in one sentence: ‘Think about what you are thinking.” “That’s a silly question,” you might say. “Of course I think before I speak!” But do we REALLY?

Consider the following workplace scenario. Jim, Don’s boss, strolls up to him toward the end of the day, taps him on the shoulder and says, “Don, I really need you to stay late tonight to finish revising those *TPS Reports.”  Don replies, “Dang it Jim, I can’t. My son, Eric, has a big soccer game tonight and I promised him I’d be there!” Jim and Don are now caught in a no-win scenario. Either Don sucks it up and stays late, appeasing his boss – or Don challenges Jim’s authority by saying he won’t work overtime.

Such situations can often be avoided when we learn how to control our toxic thinking and emotions – our “dirty dozen” as it were. Dirty Dozen? you might think. Wasn’t that an epic 1960s war flick starring Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson?

Of course it was, but in this case the “Dirty Dozen” refers to an important concept Dr. Caroline Leaf explains in her landmark book, “Who Switched Off My Brain?”  See any or all of the following links:

According to Leaf, the Dirty Dozen areas of our lives targeted by toxic thinking are: 1) Toxic thoughts; 2) Toxic emotions; 3) Toxic words; 4) Toxic choices; 5) Toxic dreams; 6) Toxic seeds; 7) Toxic faith; 8) Toxic love; 9) Toxic touch; 10) Toxic seriousness; 11) Toxic health; and 12) Toxic schedules.

Why is learning to control these things so important? “Research shows that as much as 87% to 95% of mental and physical illnesses are a direct result of toxic thinking — proof that our thoughts affect us physically and emotionally,” Leaf states.


…physical, emotional, and mental health are a direct result of our thought lives.

In controlling toxic thinking, a better response might have been: “Jim, I know those * TPS Reports are important, but they’re not due until Friday and it’s still only Wednesday. Plus I promised my son that I would get to his big soccer game tonight. How about if I leave at my normal time today, and stay as late tomorrow as I have to in order to get them done?”  Think Jim might have been more agreeable to a statement like that?

What does this have to do with employee assistance and other behavioral health professionals? Potentially, quite a bit. Consider, as an EA or other professional, how many counseling sessions you’ve been called in to resolve because toxic thinking was rampant? Toxic thoughts that in many cases can be avoided.

We need not be slaves to our words and actions, like lava spewing out of control from a thundering volcano. It takes time, and it takes practice to learn to think and act differently, but isn’t it worth a try? Or, whether at work, home, or both, would you rather get into argument upon argument?  “Dear friends, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James: 1-19).

*TPS Reports was one of the many funny parts of the movie, “Office Space.”








Demoted – not PROmoted? It Happens

How common are demotions at work? According to new research from staffing firm OfficeTeam, nearly half of HR managers (46 percent) have seen someone at their company moved down a rung on the career ladder. Professionals were most commonly demoted for poor performance (39 percent) and not succeeding in a new job after being promoted (38 percent).(See also infographic below.)

A demotion may happen for a variety of reasons, including performance issues, organizational changes, and an employee requesting fewer responsibilities due to personal or career priorities,” said Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam.

“It’s never easy to accept a lower role, but workers can show their professionalism and bounce back by keeping their emotions in check, understanding the root cause and performing at a high level to position themselves for future advancement.”

OfficeTeam offers three tips for workers when dealing with an involuntary demotion:

  1. Remain calm. Focus on understanding why your role is being downgraded.
  2. Get details. Find out what’s expected in the new position and if there are steps you can take to be reinstated in your previous job. Ask your manager to identify areas for improvement and training opportunities.
  3. Weigh the options. Think through the changes before deciding whether you want to make the most of the role or look for a different one that better suits your long-term goals.
  4. *…… Related to the point above, move on if the demotion will negatively impact your work attitude because you will feel humiliated.   In a newspaper job I once had, a managing editor (I “think” that was his title) was demoted to associate editor, and he seemed very “sour grapes” about it. Why he was still there – no one could figure out. It hurt the morale of everyone in the newsroom. Don’t hang around! Get a different gig!  (*Tip courtesy of author of this blog.)

OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, is the nation’s leading staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled office and administrative support professionals. The company has more than 300 locations worldwide. For additional information, visit


Work-Life Balance Increasing? That Depends.

Are professionals living to work or working to live? A new survey from global staffing firm Robert Half shows it’s more of the latter these days. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of employees polled said they’ve achieved a good to excellent work-life balance. Forty-three percent think it’s getting better compared to three years ago.

Professionals in Nashville, Denver, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and Raleigh reported the most dissatisfaction in their work-life balance. Employees in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco scored the highest marks.

View the infographic below for the best and worst cities for work-life balance along with data tables by age and gender.

“When employees can enjoy their personal lives alongside work responsibilities, they are happier and less stressed and bring their best efforts to the job,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half.

In fact, according to Robert Half research linking happy workers with higher productivity and increased loyalty, employees who felt they achieved symmetry between work and home were two times more likely to be happy on the job compared to those who reported they didn’t.

So, who should be responsible for work-life balance? Thirty-nine percent of employees think it’s the company’s job. But in a separate survey, 26 percent of business leaders said they believe achieving that balance is primarily the employee’s concern.

McDonald notes that management teams who support work-life balance recognize the benefits to their organization. “Companies that value the well-being of their employees are more likely to attract and retain skilled talent in today’s competitive hiring environment. Basically, happy and well-balanced workers mean less burnout and turnover.”

Advice for offering work-life balance options can be found on the Robert Half blog.

Should You Give Honest Feedback?

By Cheryl Hyatt

We are all asked to give feedback by others. Some are placators, giving generic praise whether it’s warranted or not. Others have a habit of going on a warpath, finding anything and everything wrong in excruciating detail. It’s understandable why many punt: giving honest, helpful feedback is a lot of work. It requires time, attention, and diplomacy. We have four questions to ask yourself before giving feedback.

What are they asking? Read between the lines to suss out what they are actually seeking. A request for feedback might actually be someone’s asking for permission, help, or approval. If the sender is actually offering a status-update, listing everything you find problematic about a project will not be productive.

What is my most important observation?  We always see a lot of things we would do differently. You gain credibility—and increase your chances of being heard—by editing your list and distilling your message down to one or two key points. Whether criticism or praise, your message will carry more weight when you are thoughtful and selective.


What is my motivation? It is always important to step back and consider why you are reacting the way you are. Are you seeking to show that you’re the smartest person in the department or are you genuinely motivated by a desire to improve the project?

What might be the results of my silence? Sometimes giving negative feedback can be very uncomfortable; however, saving someone from an embarrassing outcome can be the kindest thing to do. Conversely, keeping your snide comments to yourself can help a department function more smoothly. Consider the outcome from the outset.

With over 20 years of executive-search consulting experience, Cheryl Hyatt has been responsible for successfully recruiting senior-administrative professionals for educational and non-profit organizations. Before partnering with Dr. Fennell, she was the President and owner of The Charitable Resources Group and provided not only executive search services but fundraising consulting expertise to the clients she served. Cheryl brings over 30 years of management and organizational leadership experience to her role with clients.

Hyatt-Fennell brings over 60 years of combined highly successful executive search expertise to its clients, a reputation for achieving results on the national and international level, and the ability to place top executives with higher educational institutions nationwide. The Executive Search firms of Gallagher~Fennell Higher Education Services and The Charitable Resources Group merged in 2010 to formalize their partnership and create Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search.


Make Time for Summertime

Does going for a cool dip on a scorching hot day sound appealing? Maybe your pooch would even like to join you! Perhaps trying your luck at a carnival game or going around and around (and around) on your favorite ride at the fair is more your thing?

Whatever activity you enjoy doing, the point is to do something – because, for Midwesterners like me, summer goes by all too fast. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that we were talking about the start of the summer solstice (the longest day of the year)?

But the calendar doesn’t lie, and now, here we are nearly into August! I always say that once the 4th of July and the big car show here in town roll around, the rest of the summer goes as “pffft” as the air leaking out of a flat tire.

But while we can’t do anything about the passage of time, there are things we can do to enjoy the summer months before they’re gone – and many of them involve little, if any money.

* Go to a garden or field and enjoy the beautiful flowers you’ll find there.

* Fire up your gas grille and slap on some burgers and dogs.

* Venture over to the local ice cream parlor for a scoop or dish of your favorite sweet treat. Just be sure to walk there and back to burn off the calories!

* Knock off work early and have a picnic lunch (or dinner) in the park with your significant other.

* Listen to some summertime classics, like “In the Summertime” (Mungo Jerry), “Summer in the City” (Lovin’ Spoonful), or “Hot Fun in the Summertime” (Sly and the Family Stone.) If you don’t quite recall how they go, links appear here:–3xw10

* Have a picture taken with a celebrity. (Okay, maybe that one’s a stretch, but I did have fun having my picture taken with Butch “Eddie Munster” Patrick at the Iola Old Car Show.)

* The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

It’s true that workplace concerns, which are usually the subject of these posts, aren’t going away just because it’s summer. Bill collectors know no season! But neither should we ignore summertime like it’s any other month of the year, something we Northerners know all too well once the leaves change color and the temperatures plummet.

We’ll get back to workplace issues another time – for now, I’m going to stop typing and go walk my dog. What about you?

Recovery: Keep moving ahead, no matter what

Heroin. Cocaine. Alcohol. Depression. Bipolar. Or perhaps some combination. Whether you are suffering from an addiction or mood disorder, or you are a professional who treats individuals with addiction and/or mood disorders, you are well aware that recovery is a difficult process that takes time.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as follows:

“Recovery from mental and substance use disorders is a process of change through which individuals work to improve their own health and well-being. They live a self-directed life and strive to achieve their full potential. The guiding principles of recovery are:

* Recovery is person-driven;

* Recovery occurs in many pathways;

* Recovery is holistic;

* Recovery is supported by peers and allies;

* Recovery is supported through relationships and social networks;

* Recovery is culturally based and influenced;

* Recovery is supported by addressing drama;

* Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibilities;

* Recovery is based on respect; and

* Recovery emerges from hope.”

These are important principles to understand.’

In addition, the following is a working definition of recovery and remission from a fresh hope perspective, in which recovery is defined as, “the process of finding hope, purpose, and meaning for one’s life.” Stated another way, recovery is experiencing a meaningful life, in spite of any chronic brain disorder, mental illness, or any kind of mood disorder.”

Notice that both definitions present the over-arching message that hope and restoration of a meaningful life are possible.

Recovery is about wellness. It’s about moving towards the life you want versus coping and surviving as you are now. It’s about wellness versus coping, thriving versus surviving, and living a rich meaningful life versus a broken and pain-filled life.

It’s hard, and it’s hard to go through it. But keep moving ahead no matter what.

Sources: SAMHSA —

Fresh Hope —