Fostering Employee Well-Being While Working Remotely

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a unique set of challenges to fostering employee well-being while working remotely. One major source of social interaction in people’s lives is found in the office environment. With many in-office employees now working remotely, this source of interaction and feeling of community has been jeopardized. In the pre-COVID era, those who chose to work remotely did so of their own volition and still were able to connect with others on their own timeline. Now, more people are working remotely due to the threat of contracting coronavirus rather than choosing a more conducive schedule. With this major source of social interaction stripped away, many employers are searching for resources to foster employee well-being and mental health.
 
The sense of isolation that may be experienced by remote employees can easily be exacerbated by burnout. In working from home, the lines between personal and professional lives may become blurred, with no sense of an “off” button. Previously, once an employee left the office their workday ended. However, with homes becoming offices, there is a lack of distinction between work and personal endeavors. Some employees have children at home who were previously in school, creating a greater chance of burnout due to divided attention and priorities.
 
However, there are several key things employers can provide their employees to help prevent burnout and feelings of isolation. One key component to fostering employee well-being is to promote a sense of connectedness through utilizing technology. For example, video conferences and team calls can provide social interaction with other employees and a sense of unity.
 
A second suggestion is for employers to suggest ways for employees to set boundaries, a firm schedule, and definite breaks. Devising a routine that includes breaks helps employees to set boundaries that create a demarcation between professional and personal lives. It provides that “on” and “off” switch that arrives at and leaves the office previously provided.
Finally, access to telemedicine is an important part of fostering employee well-being and mental health. Telemedicine provides employees access to licensed professionals that can discern and help all who may be suffering from anxiety, loneliness, isolation, and depression. With these simple tips, employers can help ensure that their employees receive proper support.

Originally published on Matt Walker Kansas’ website.

Spring Break Destinations for Families

There are so many different options that families can go to as far as vacations are concerned. This is the case for families that plan to go on any vacation during any time of year. However, the options really open up for families due to the fact that kids are usually off during spring break. In this piece, we are going to go over some of the best ideas for families as far as spring break is concerned.

A great destination for a family to consider is Yosemite National Park. It is a great spot for those who are adventurous and are big fans of outdoor activities. Spring is the season of new life. It is also the season in which Yosemite National Park functions at its best. Expect to see a dramatic increase in wildlife and seasonal flowers. The granite walls at the park are an attraction to visitors worldwide.

Another great option for a location is Yucatan, Mexico. Besides the beautiful time that one will have on the beach, individuals will notice that there is a significant amount of greenery in the area. A good idea for individuals looking to travel to this location is to visit the Mayan ruin known as Chichen Itza.

For individuals that are into architecture, it’s a good idea to visit the town of Merida. There are also plenty of parks to visit in the area in case one brings kids along.

When it comes to spring break destinations, there are fewer sites that are more iconic than the Grand Canyon. In addition to witnessing the Grand Canyon in all of its glory, kids can have a great deal of fun here. This location has a Junior Ranger program and kids of various ages and skill levels can enjoy a good hike.

In addition to the incredible amount of nature and the incredible scenery at the Grand Canyon, there are some awesome things that one can do. For those that are planning to stay for a while, the area has a grocery store as well as a bank. Adults can enjoy great activities such as camping and biking. In addition, families can enjoy picnics as well as a wide range of dining options.

Originally published on Matt Walker Kansas’ website.

How to Save for Retirement in Your 30s

When it comes to saving for retirement, the sooner you begin to invest, the better. Ideally, you should start savings for retirement in your 20s, but there’s always time to get started. While you might need to be more strategic with your saving, there are plenty of ways to kickstart your retirement plan. The tips below will help you get started on savings, even if you’re starting a little later in life. 

Open a Roth IRA

The maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA varies per year, but usually varies from $4,500 – $6,000. They are simple to open, are a low-risk investment, and allow your investments to grow tax-free. Your earnings can grow as long as you want and you’ll never be forced to cash out after a certain amount of time. 

Prioritize Your Spending

You might have been able to get away with more nights out and spending half your paycheck on items you didn’t need in your 20s, but that’s not possible in your 30s. Without a retirement plan in place you need to prioritize your spending on what truly matters. 

Analyze your finances and see where you can cut spending to start contributing to a retirement fund. Use the 50/30/20 rule to save well while also maintaining balance in your life. Spend 50% of your paycheck on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings. 

Consistently Add to Your 401(k)

In an ideal situation, you want to make the maximum allowable contribution to your 401(k) plan. If you can’t afford to do that immediately, dedicate a small portion of each paycheck to deposit in your 401(k) account. As you become more financially stable, gradually add more each paycheck until you reach the maximum amount each year. 

Create an Emergency Fund

Nothing derails your finances quite like emergency expenses. That’s why it’s essential to create a fund dedicated solely to those unforeseen expenses. To start, create a separate account from your savings and retirement funds and add $500. This creates a stable base to which you can add. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to have 3-4 months worth of income in this account at all times just in case the worst-case scenario becomes a reality. 

Pay Off Your Debt First

Many people in their 30s are starting to build or expand their families. However, many are still trying to pay off their own debt. Focus on paying your school or credit card debt before starting a college fund for children. It’s best to pay down existing debt before worrying about funds like these that won’t be needed for many years to come.

Tips for Retaining Great Employees

Your business is only as effective as your employees make it, so it’s essential to recruit and retain competent and talented employees. It’s not only up to you but your company and team as whole to do everything they can to make everyone feel welcomed and valued. 

Once you’ve attracted and hired stellar team members, the work doesn’t stop there. Keeping talented professionals is harder than it looks and takes work, but it always pays off in the end. Use the tips below for simple ways to retain great employees. 

Offer Competitive Benefits

When it comes to employee satisfaction a competitive benefits package cannot be underestimated. It’s your company’s stance on how much their health is worth to you, so make an effort to provide many elements that can truly make a positive impact on their health. Instead of a one-size-fits-all package, use targeted packages to please groups based on their specific needs. 

Allow Flexible Schedules

Does your team genuinely need to be in the office 8 hours a day? Such rigid schedules can be off-putting for many people, especially those with children and other commitments. Prioritize a work-life balance and allow some flexibility either by telecommuting, working from home, or having the option to spend half the day in the office and the other half elsewhere. 

As long as productivity, communication, and collaboration remain high, it’s a simple but effective way to show your employees that you care and will incentivize them to stick around. 

Recognize Quality Work

Is there anyone who doesn’t like to feel appreciated when they’ve worked hard on a project? Keep your employees engaged by recognizing the work they’ve done either publicly or with a quick email. People who feel their work is routinely unrecognized or not valued will start to look for a job where they can connect with their team more and earn the recognition they deserve. 

Prioritize Professional Development

Your talented team might be operating at the top of their game and consistently deliver quality work that is the envy of other departments. However, that doesn’t mean your team is satisfied. While they might be excelling at many aspects of their jobs, most people have bigger dreams for themselves. 

Provide opportunities to let your employees express their professional goals. Brainstorm ways you and your company can provide or guide them towards their continuing education or development. A company that shows it’s willingness to propel their employees towards their goals instead of gluing them to their current position shows commitment that they won’t want to leave. 

Promote from Within

Seeing a manager consistently overlook their team members to hire a newcomer for a position is demoralizing, especially when those employees have put in years of hard work. Before a position is opened to the public, send out the position to the in-house team. 

Doing this shows your team that you believe the work they’ve put in is valued and they will continue to have opportunities to grow within the company.

Tips for Traveling with Children

Tons of people say you have to give up traveling once you have kids, but that’s just not true. While traveling with your children will add more time to your preparation and, maybe, some stress, it’s 100% possible to have an unforgettably amazing trip with your kids. 

The tips below will help you plan your dream trip with the entire family in tow. Not only will it make the trip run more smoothly, but it will be a vacation everyone will enjoy. 

Avoid Postponing Travel

There is no single reason you should have to postpone traveling while your kids are young. Travel as soon as possible to get your kids used to the process, allow them to gain exposure to other people and cultures, and to create unique memories. 

You might have to wait to do certain activities, but there are always plenty of options for family-friendly activities. 

Adjust Your Expectations

You might want to take hour-long hikes and long tours of art museums, but your children probably won’t have the stamina or excitement for those activities. Keep your young family members in mind when planning activities. 

Focus more on activities where kids can play, touch, and immerse themselves in the experience. Lots of museums have areas dedicated to children so you can explore and learn together by visiting your favorite sections as well as theirs. 

Plan Well In Advance

Knowing exactly how you can travel with your children and all of your backpacks or bags is essential. You’ll also have to plan around school schedules, the holiday season, or the busy tourist season. 

The more prepared you are for all aspects of your travel itinerary, the fewer unexpected obstacles can throw a wrench in your plans. You’ll be able to spend more time having fun instead of searching for solutions. 

Prepare Your Children

It can be hard to convince your kids to do what you want them to. When planning your travel, it’s essential to also prepare your children. They should have clear expectations of what traveling will look and feel like and clear boundaries for their behavior. 

Perhaps more than anything else, they should be excited about the trip. Use a picture book to show them the places they’ll visit or let them pick out an activity they can look forward to to keep their spirits high during the time it takes you to get to your destination.

How to Foster Creativity in the Workplace

Employees tend to enjoy creative work environments where they feel they have the freedom to be imaginative. These are some suggestions for how to foster creativity in the workplace.

Give employees the chance to brainstorm.

Some employees have great ideas that could potentially change a company for the better. However, many employees may be too shy to speak up and share their ideas with their coworkers and superiors. Creating specific times for employees to brainstorm in a comfortable environment with pens and paper for those employees who may not want to vocalize their thoughts can evoke excellent ideas.

Get to know each employee.

Employees who feel that their bosses understand their unique personalities will be more likely to share their honest thoughts and opinions. Superiors can get to know their workers by taking a few minutes each day to have short conversations with employees and ask non-intrusive questions to get to know them.

Consider the workspace’s sounds, colors, temperatures and lighting.

These are all crucial factors for creating an engaging work environment. When it comes to sound, the workplace should never be too loud to the point where employees cannot hear themselves think, but a dead silent atmosphere can be off putting as well. Sectioning off different spaces for working together and thinking to themselves can create the right blend of noise and quiet. Regarding color, employees will most likely feel bored when everything is neutral. Adding splashes of color throughout will boost motivation and creativity among workers. In terms of temperature, the goal is to keep employees comfortable by avoiding making the workplace too hot or cold. Also, the lighting should be as natural as possible.

Use suggestion boxes physically and virtually.

Ideas often come to people at random times, so employees should have the opportunity to share their suggestions at any time instead of only at brainstorming sessions. Doing this will let workers drop an idea into the suggestion box in person or online at off times such as when they first walk into the office, return from lunch or wake up in the middle of the night.

Following these suggestions and making sure to have a diverse workplace will make for a creative work environment.

Originally published on Matt Walker Kansas’ website.

2021 Travel Planning Tips

We are living in a vastly new social landscape, and as the world slowly enters a state of spring many of us look to travel in order to escape the vistas that have become almost painfully monotonous to us after a tumultuous year. Travel has also received its fair share of changes as we march towards a post-covid world.

You definitely want to be safe and do all the research you can to see how the pandemic affected your desired destination. Economies that host a strong tourism industry have no doubt had their own share of troubles during the pandemic, and with the demand rising rapidly as the world is slowly allowed to open back up planning ahead to make sure you have all that you need to have a safe and fun vacation away from your normal haunts. As you plan your vacations and trips this year, it is vitally important to keep a Plan B at the ready.

In the event that something goes awry with your original plan, you have a lot to keep in mind. Even though the vaccines are starting to be administered, they will not be an instantaneous fix. You will want to make sure that your travel insurance will cover you when you arrive at your destination and you will want to be sure that you have a plan in place should your destination have to go back into lockdown. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that being over prepared is better than being surprised and unprepared.

Keep in mind that the majority of big-name destinations such as Hawaii, Disneyland, and the majority of the biggest cities in the united states are going to be highly sought after – especially if you happen to be traveling with your kids. If you want to get in at one of these big-ticket destinations, then it is imperative that you start planning months in advance (like now) to make that happen by the end of the year.

Traveling in 2021 might mean traversing a brand new landscape, but it is bound to be worth it after a lengthy pandemic that has left everyone involved with some degree of cabin fever. Make sure that you are planning for the worst-case scenario even as you go in expecting the best from your well deserved 2021 vacation.

Originally published on Matt Walker Kansas’ website.

Top TED Talks for Entrepreneurial Leaders

TED started in 1984 as a conference that sat at the intersection of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. In the many years that have passed, the organization has grown to encompass so much more than that and is dedicated to the sharing of ideas around the world. In recent memory, TED is known mostly for the TED talks, short presentations where influential experts speak passionately about ideas and advancements in their field. At this point, giving a TED Talk is a hallmark of being a thought leader. For you fellow entrepreneurial leaders out there, here are some of the best TED Talks to help you inspire and lead. 

A Guide to Collaborative Leadership

This presentation is led by Lorna Davis, the former president of Danone, Kraft, and Mondelez, and in it, she talks about sustainable leadership. It may be tempting to be a hero or a lone wolf when you’re a leader, but Lorna has found from her experience trying to lead alone that interdependent leadership yields the most success. Contrary to what you might expect, she says that it’s harder to work as a group instead of being a hero because the former requires transparency and vulnerability. How can you apply this to your business? As you work on innovating and expanding, it’s worth it to be open to collaborative leadership.

Helping Others Makes Us Happier

Researcher Elizabeth Dunn specializes in happiness in that she studies the what and the why of the things that make us happy. She discovered that helping others makes people happy on a fundamental level and that it matters not just that we help, but how we help. Giving blindly to charity, that is, not seeing where it goes or who it impacts, doesn’t actually encourage people to give more. Dunn’s advice is to create opportunities that enable people to connect with the communities that they’re helping. Through this shared humanity, Dunn says, is how we will experience the most joy from helping others. Take this advice with you if your company holds charity events or volunteer opportunities so that you can create an experience that will spark happiness for everyone. 

Sleep is Your Superpower

All too often, entrepreneurs feel compelled to believe that they’re superhuman. Truth is, like everyone else, you have limitations to what you’re capable of doing. It’s tempting to avoid sleep to make time for your daily grind, but ultimately, this is futile. Sleep researcher Matt Walker explains in his presentation the science behind sleep loss and the direct association that the lack of sleep has with chronic diseases, brain function, and more. As someone who studies the impact of sleep on the brain, Walker explains that sleep isn’t a luxury: just like food, it’s a biological necessity that everyone needs to survive. 

If you need some inspiration or perspective, be sure to check out these presentations. 

Originally published on MattWalkerKansas.net

Family-Friendly South American Vacations

An international getaway sounds blissful, but what’s even better is when you can share that experience with your family! Having the perfect mix of nature, culture, and relaxation, it’s not hard to see why South America is a top destination when it comes to travel, and fortunately, there are a number of kid-friendly options for the adventurous family. The continent has so much to offer from breathtaking scenery and incredible wildlife to cultural highlights in the form of food and art. Here are some of my top picks for family-friendly South American vacations.

Brazil

If you and your kids love trying new food and learning about new cultures through food, then a trip to Brazil will be fitting for you. Brazil is the perfect destination for foodie families and adventurous eaters. You can book culinary tours through Rio de Janeiro, which will also take you to Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountain. There will be local wine and craft beer for the grown-ups and regional delicacies like pão de queijo and brigadeiros for everyone to enjoy. To make things even easier, let the folks at South America Travel help you create your itinerary so you can have your epicurean experience without having to do the legwork. A trip like this is best for non-picky eaters ages 5 and up. While you don’t need a visa to visit Brazil, it’s recommended that you get some inoculations and stay up to date with your vaccines. Being in the southern hemisphere, the weather is warmest during our “winter” months, but a trip like this doesn’t require perfect weather.

Peru

Peru is home to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The ancient city ranks high on many travelers’ bucket lists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take the kids with you. There is a train and bus route up the mountains that makes ascending the Lost City of the Incas a breeze. At the top of the mountain, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views, the Temple of the Sun, and llamas. Something to consider is hiring a private guide who can add dimension to the runes and help kids to envision the ancient civilization. Mountains aren’t all Peru has to offer: round out your trip by staying by the beaches of Lima! It’s a bit of a hike when you get to Machu Picchu, so this itinerary is best for kids who don’t need a stroller and have some stamina, around ages 6 and up. 

Originally published on MattWalkerKansas.org

Common Retirement Mistakes to Avoid

Retirement planning will differ for each person because they all have unique situations that will determine how much one should save or when they can retire. There is no single “right” way to approach retirement; after all, nobody has all the right answers. That being said, there are wrong ways to prepare for retirement. These mistakes may seem harmless at first, but they can actually cause a great deal of long-term damage. Fortunately, however, if you catch these blunders soon enough, they’ll be easy to correct. Today on the blog, I’ll be focusing on a couple of common retirement mistakes to avoid

Forgetting about the impact of taxes on retirement income

You won’t be paying taxes on the initial contributions of a tax-deferred retirement account, such as a 401(k) or traditional IRA, but you will owe income taxes once you start making withdrawals in retirement. If you forgot about these taxes, it can have a significant effect on your financial future. It could lead to you withdrawing more money than you should from your retirement fund, which can then result in running out of money sooner than you expected. An increase in spending during retirement may put you in a higher tax bracket, meaning you may owe the IRS even more of your savings. Depending on where you live, you might owe taxes on your social security benefits at the state level, too. With all of these taxes, that’s a lot of retirement income that you won’t be able to spend. Preparing for them helps to prevent you from discovering an expensive surprise later down the road. 

Not considering retirement account fees

Since you’re paying fees when you invest savings in your 401(k) or IRA, it’s best to understand what you’re paying for. Even paying a fraction of a percentage more than you should can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. According to a study from the Center for American Progress, the average worker paying annual fees of 1% will end up paying over $138,000 in fees. Given a slightly higher rate of 1.3%, the same worker will pay more than $166,000 over a lifetime. Talk to your plan administrator and check your plan’s statements to find the expense ratio to find out what you’re paying in fees. If you find that you’re paying higher than average fees, consider switching to a less expensive option.

Originally published on MattWalkerKansas.com

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