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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Deal with Employees who Suffer from Bipolar Disorder

Some of you may employee or know someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, often known as Manic Depression. Upon hearing those words, "Bipolar disorder", many people recoil in fear, doubt, and uncertainty. While people who suffer from Bipolar disorder have needs different from other employees, it doesn't mean they aren't employable.

As you can see from the graphic, courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health, there is a brief definition of Bipolar disorder. Those who suffer Bipolar disorder tend to demonstrate some or all of these symptoms to varying degrees (also from NIMH):

When suffering from the Manic Phase
  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively “high,” overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Distractibility, can’t concentrate well
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
  • Poor judgment
  • A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong
When suffering from the Depressive Phase
  • Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
While these lists look like reasons not to hire someone or continue their employment, it doesn't mean that an employee or job seeker can't perform their duties. In fact, there are several people with lesser degrees of Bipolar disorder (Bipolar II), who through medication (e.g. Lithium, Depakote, etc.) and psychotherapy, lead successful careers as lawyers, doctors, etc. Understanding that Bipolar is a treatable, biological condition allows employers the ability to accommodate those who suffer from the disorder, but have a capacity for work.

Managing a Bipolar disorder sufferer requires the same skills as managing any differently-able employee. Reasonable accommodations should be made, as well as reasonable expectations. However, a good manager can go one step further by understanding the nature of the disease, and offering compassion and understanding, as well as outwardly demonstrating support for the employee. In Western culture, mental illness is still somewhat taboo, while physical maladies are not. By demonstrating patience, a willingness to listen, and just play respect will set the proper example for other employees. When difficulties arise, examine them fairly, but through a lens of understanding. Does the employee's behavior warrant discipline or dismissal, or merely a restatement of expectations? Understanding what is appropriate is a learning process, and may require the support of an HR Business Partner to explain employment standards, particularly the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

People who suffer from Bipolar disorder can present challenges to employers, like any differently-abled person. However, with patience and understanding, as well as clear expectations, the Bipolar sufferer can perform at or near the same level as other employees. This isn't a matter of "enlightenment" or some other noble act, but rather an acceptance of the dignity of all people, and their desire to work and be active and contributing members of society.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steve Jobs Leaves Apple

Steve Jobs is leaving Apple, eventually. Whether because of health, age, or any other reason, key employees leave companies. It happens everyday. What distinguishes a great company from a just a good company is how they plan for this eventuality.

Succession planning is the process by which companies figure out who will run the company in the future. Succession planning isn't just about the morbid possibility of losing key talent to death or illness, but more about recognizing up and comers. Succession planning is also about creating a deep bench of talent that can be used when new opportunities arise or business conditions change. Compare Annuity Investment Plans!

While nobody likes to think that they are replaceable or even expendable, most people are. Steve Jobs leaving Apple would definitely affect a lot of people, but the company won't close up shop or quit making iPods overnight. Rather, Jobs has identified his top talent who will be able to run the company when he is long gone, or at least he should.

Take a look at GE. When legendary CEO Jack Welch left, the company didn't fall apart, instead Jeff Immelt took his place and dividends are still being paid. When the Denver Broncos fired Mike Shanahan, the team didn't fold, but it may actually do better than 8-8 this year. This is what succession planning is all about, recognizing that the organization is bigger than any one person. A Better Way To Search for $100,000+ Jobs. Join!

Consider succession planning in your own business. You never know when that top developer, sales person, or executive may just up and leave. However, you will know who is capable of filling the big shoes left behind.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

How to Run a Good Meeting

How often do you dread the never-ending weekly meeting? Like most, you dread it every time you think about it.

Few things kill productivity and creativity than poorly planned and run meetings. Need an easy online web conferencing solution without an installation? Try Dimdim, it's easy, open and affordable. Sign up Now!

Meetings should be used for both the dissemination of information, as well as the creation of new information. To do both successfully and in a timely manner, a few simple rules should be followed.

1. Have an agenda. An agenda lets all attendees know what will be discussed and allows them to be ready with questions, updates, etc.

2. Stick to the agenda! The meeting leader needs to exercise discipline and stay on topic. If you are a participant, bring up non-agenda items at the end of the meeting.

3. If you are the meeting leader, pay attention! Few things diminish the value of a meeting more than having the meeting leader fiddling with their Blackberry or working on their laptops.

4. The meeting leader should be willing to question whether a weekly meeting makes sense. If its just for updates, would a Wiki be a better option? Is the meeting covering the same information as another meeting? Could this meeting be held every two weeks?

Meetings can be very beneficial, provided that attendees are prepared, information is communicated, and that it is only as long as it needs to be. Following these basic rules and principles, people will actually not dread meetings you lead.

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