The Fabric of Social Support

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”

Oscar Wilde

How much social support do men and women report?

How dissatisfied are they with their sources of social support?

Differences in Social Support Between Men and Women

We took a look at some results from our stress and health risk assessment called StressScan by analyzing availability, utility and satisfaction of social support by gender. We tested gender differences by using a statistical test called Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and found some interesting differences in gender with a sample of almost 800 professional working men and women.

1. In general, women reported greater availability and use of their social support network (supervisor/boss, colleagues/co-workers, partner, family and friends) then their male counterparts (all p’s < .01).

2. Women reported using their boss or supervisor significantly more frequently then men. This is surprising as research doesn’t support that mentoring has been found to be more strongly related to men’s career success than women’s. In general, successful women tend to indicate that mentoring is less important to their career advancement than do less successful women.

3. Women reported significantly more availability, use and satisfaction with their friends compared to males. They also reported greater availability and use of their partners, families and friends (all p’s < .01) which is consistent to what Shelly Taylor, Ph.D. has suggested as part of the female “tend and befriend” response to coping with work and life stress (Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Behaviorial Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight” Psychol Rev, 107(3):41-429).

In our statistical analysis of social support for professional men and women we were able to determine the relative amount of dissatisfaction with specific sources of social support. Men and women (N= 785) rated they were either “Not at All” or only “Slightly” satisfied with the following sources to meet their emotional and instrumental support needs:

  • Boss/Supervisor 31.0%
  • Colleagues/Co-Workers 16.8%
  • Family 13.0%
  • Partners/Significant Others 9.9%
  • Friends 8.3%

With respect to work, the Gallup Organization’s survey of over five million employees suggests that employee satisfaction increases by about 50% when they have close relationships at work. If they have strong relationships with their boss employees reported to be more than 2.5 times more likely to be engaged with their jobs.

Having a strong social support network and being satisfied appears to be associated with their level of self-reported stress and well-being. Men and women in our sample who reported greater overall social support also reported significantly:

  • Lower Stress (correlation r= .35, p < .01)
  • Greater Resilience/Hardiness (correlation r= .47, p < .01)
  • Greater Happiness (correlation r= .58, p < .01)

We know strong social support for both sexes is significantly associated with longevity, physical health, and psychological well being.

But, remember that getting married still seems to be the leading cause of divorce so, if you aren’t willing to go to marriage counseling with your boss or colleague then go hug a friend…..Be well….

So, if your aren’t willing to go to marriage counseling with your boss or colleague then go hug a friend…..Be well….

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of LifeHub, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and is a guest lecturer at the Anderson School of Management. Ken also serves on the editorial board of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available at



Just How Stressed Are You?

Kenenth Nowack, Ph.D.

All of us experience stressors at work and home each day but how we perceive these events determines whether or not they are experienced as stressful.

Our own research suggests that 40% to 60% of all employees express a moderately high level of stress on the job. Our work and non-work lives are very permeable with most of us taking work stress home and home stress to our job ((Nowack, K. (2006). Optimising Employee Resilience: Coaching to Help Individuals Modify Lifestyle. Stress News, International Journal of Stress Management, Volume 18, 9-12)). The contributors to stress are varied and is is logical that we take work stress home with us as well as import the pressures from family challenges back to the job ((Nowack, K. (2008). Coaching for Stress: StressScan. Editor: Jonathan Passmore, Psychometrics in Coaching, Association for Coaching, UK, pp. 254-274)).

The American Psychological Association (APA) in their 2011 survey of American’s perceptions of stress found that women, compared to men, reported higher levels of stress (5.4 vs. 4.8, respectively, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress).

In the APA survey all respondents reported an increase in overall stress from last year and more people reported increased symptoms of stress including fatigue, anger/irritability, depression and headaches.

We were interested in seeing whether results from our own personal stress and health risk appraisal called StressScan would help to identify what professional working employees reported being stressed about and how it compares to the recent 2011 APA survey. StressScan measures 14 psychosocial scales that have been shown to be associated with diverse individual (e.g., job burnout, depression, physical health) and organizational (e.g., absenteeism) outcomes.

Stress is conceptualized as the experience of major and minor irritants, annoyances, and frustrations (hassles) of daily living over a three-month period. This brief measure of work/life stress was based upon factor analytic research of the original Hassles scale ((AD Kanner, A, Coyne, J., Schaefer, C.; & Lazarus, R. (1981). Comparison of two modes of stress measurement: Daily hassles and uplifts. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4, 1573-3521)). StressScan measures the extent to which respondents experience daily hassles in six distinct factor areas including:

  1. Health
  2. Work
  3. Personal Finances
  4. Family
  5. Social Obligations
  6. Environmental and World concerns

We analyzed differences by gender across these six StressScanscales (ANOVA) using requests for free trials for this assessment over the last few years (N=149). In general, women reported significantly higher levels of stress compared to males (mean for woman = 16.48 versus mean for men = 15.35, p

We found only two stress categorieswere rated as significantly more challenging by women compared to their male counterparts (p

  • Financial Stressors (mean for women 3.15 versus mean for men 2.72)
  • Family Stressors (mean for women 3.08 versus mean for men 2.70)

However, we found no significant differences in self-reported work, health, social or environmental stressors. In our sample, professional working women continue to report more hassles and life challenges around family issues and finances than men (note: we don’t gather marital status on our demographics but this would be useful to know in analyzing these differences).

These findings support the recent APA stress survey as well as confirm that women may indeed still perceive they have two full-time jobs–one at work and the other when they leave.

If you are interested in finding out your own level of work and life stress let me know at and I will set up a complimentary free trial for you.

Well, it’s time to take a break and get some exercise….Be well…

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Work and Life Success

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

In a lot of my executive coaching we discuss performance, effectiveness and success. Some executives perceive they are wildly successful using only a narrow way of defining their life–with work being the most important factor despite having poor health, broken family relationships and a sense of not really knowing if they are making a real contribution to anything meaningful.

Merriam-Webster defiines “success” as one that succeeds, the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence or outcome/result.

How successful are you? How do you define success in your own life?

Personal Success Scorecard

In working with so many senior executives that might be described as “successful” in their chosen careers, it became pretty obvious that they were a success but in a very narrow way. It would appear to be much more valuable to have a “scorecard” that could describe domains outside of work and career as a way to define, measure and strive for personal definitions of success. I conceptualize “success” as having at least four overlapping pillars or domains that include:

1. Achievement: What have I done that I am most proud of?

2. Relationships: What Impact have I had with those who mean the most to me? What are my core values and reasons for living?

3. Well-Being: What brings me the most pleasure and contentment?

4. Legacy: What are my core values and reasons for living?

Each of these have specific definitions and metrics that help us to define just how “successful” we might be from our own perspective and as experienced or seen by others.

In fact, we can create a set of objectives and “metrics” for each of these domains that give you an idea of how to maximize your overall success both personally and in the eyes of others you interact with.

I’ve discovered that introducing this personal success scorcard early in my executive coaching intervention provides an interesting model for my clients to think about even if our primary contract is around cultivating their “leadership effectiveness” directly leading to enhanced individual, team and organizational effectiveness. This scorecard also allows me to openly discuss “balance” and what it means to be at least actively cognizant and aware of how we are spending our time and energy.

If a client is completely unbalanced (e.g., a Type A workaholic or what is now being labeled “engaged workaholics” with total focus essentially on the career domain) but isn’t dissatisfied, are they unsuccessful? Perhaps the answer lies in what is valued by the client but I’ve yet to see senior level executives that can sustain a high degree of effectiveness and performance in their chosen occupational field without some time and attention in the other three success domains.

And just how happy should we be? Does it really matter? In fact, recent research suggests that if career success is an important goal, that being moderate or moderately high in self-reported happiness appears to be the most desirable level. However, if we are looking at relationships, being as happy as possible is indeed the goal. Even with a large genetic “set point” we now know that approximately 10% of our happiness level is situationally determined (e.g., we get a speeding ticket or we receive wonderful unexpected feedback from someone we value) and 40% is based on the behaviors, thoughts and feelings we can actively control each day.

Perhaps it isn’t possible to be totally balanced in each of these success scorecard domains but it’s something we should at least be actively reflective and conscious about them each day. At least with the few executives I’ve worked with that have made the most progress in their careers, they have also attempted to focus some time and attention to one of the other domains outside of achievement. I don’t have any research data to support this hypothesis but it seems that attention to the three domains other than work/career might actually have an unintended side effect of facilitating success in that one as well.

Maybe the lesson for leaders can be summed up by Sloan Wilson who said, “Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.”…Be well…..


When Are You Happiest?

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

We all know that negative moods are associated with poor physical health and psychological well-being (Nowack, K. (2008). Coaching for Stress: StressScan. Editor: Jonathan Passmore, Psychometrics in Coaching, Association for Coaching, UK, pp. 254-274). Happy individuals tend to have more responsive immune systems, less hormonal reactions to stress and are more likely to utilize health lifestyle practices that can make a difference in long term health and well-being (Nowack, K. M. (1989). Coping style, cognitive hardiness, & health status. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 145-158).

The Link Between Positive Emotions and Health

In a study of 2,873 healthy British adults conducted by Dr. Andrew Steptoe, those who reported more positive emotions during the day had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol that is typically associated with increased blood pressure, immune suppression and obesity (Steptoe, A. et al. (2007). Neuroendocrine and inflammatory factors associated with positive affect in healthy men and women: The Whitehall study II. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167, 96-102).

Among women, but not men in this study, positive emotions were significantly lower as well as important cardiovascular inflammation markers including C-reactive protein and interleukin-6.

Gathering key new information and using modern research methods to study 1,500 Californians across eight decades, health scientists Dr. Howard S. Friedman and Dr. Leslie R. Martin from UC Riverside found that those with the most optimism and cheerfulness die younger than their less positive counterparts. It was the conscientious people—careful, sometimes even neurotic, but not catastrophizing—who lived longer.

Part of the explanation lies in studying the health behaviors of the study subject — the cheerful, happy-go-lucky kids tended to take more risks with their health across the years (Friedman, H. & Martin, L. (2011). The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. Hudson Street Press). It turns out that overly-optimistic people tend to put themselves in harm’s way — they just don’t see risks as clearly as people who are prone to some level of caution/pessimism. So, it seems that it is important to be happy but maybe not too happy if you want to live longer.

These findings support the idea that happiness is protective.

When Are You Most Happiest?

A pair of researchers from Cornell University are the latest to mine social networks looking for trends. Scott Golder and Michael Macy analyzed 509 million Twitter messages posted over a period of two years by 2.4 million users across 84 different countries. From this data, they have gleaned that people have the same daily cycle of moods, regardless of their culture or language.

The results showed people tend to be happier in the morning and during weekends. The Twitter messages revealed that they wake up happy and slowly grow more dissatisfied as the day goes on. This behavior happens on both weekdays and weekends (the weekend tweets usually start approximately two hours later most likely because people are sleeping in.

Even in countries where the weekend is not Saturday and Sunday (e.g., United Arab Emirates), these patterns were still clear.

Out of that work came a website,, that allows people to see how often a particular word is used at different times of the day and week.

This research suggests that happiness is an ultradian rhythm (shorter than 24 hours) much like body temperature, concentration, eye blinks) which is maximized in the morning hours….No word yet if you miss out all together if you are a “night owl”….Be well….


Vacations: The Good and Bad News

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

I just came back from a wonderful vacation to visit my best friend and colleague Bill Bradley who has been doing some wonderful volunter work for some very poor schools in Zihuatanejo, Mexico (he has written an inspiring new book and blog about the last few years of his efforts to sponsor some special students and his work).

It got me wondering about the need for vacations and the impact they might have to restore our physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual energy.

How Long Does the Effect of Vacations Really Last?

There is quite a bit of research that suggests that holidays and vacations are healthy. Newer research is focusing on the fade-out of these effects.

In a recent study by Jana Kuhnel and Sabine Sonnetag, one hundred and thirty-one participants completed questionnaires one time before and three times after vacationing.

Results indicated that teachers’ work engagement significantly increased and particpant’s job burnout significantly decreased immediately returning after vacation.

However, these beneficial effects faded out within one month (Kuhnel, J. et al. (2010). How long do you benefit from vacation? A closer look at the fade-out of vacation effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 125-143). Maybe I should take at least one vacation every month.

Can Vacations be Good for Your Health or Harmful?

Researcher Karen Matthews from the University of Pittsburgh studied 12,338 men for nine years as part of a large coronary heart disease study called MRFIT (Gump, B. & Matthews, K. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612). She found that annual vacations by middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease was associated with a significant reduction in all-cause mortality and more specifically death due to heart disease. Her study provides some interesting research in support of the argument that vacations might actually be good for your health.

The United States is definitely the land of “relaxation deficit disorder” and even when we need a vacation or should take time off during a holiday we are often reluctant to do so. Even worse is when we do, we might even get sick because of it.

According to, 61% of workers in the United States take less than 15 days of vacation per year. Comparison studies suggest we do work 100 hours more than professional workers in Europe. The average work week in the United States is a bit more than 44 hours and even more if you are in a professional position or own your own business.

A survey of 2,082 workers by Hudson (The Hudson Employment Index) suggested that more than half of the respondents said they do not use all of their vacation time and 30% indicated that they use less than half of their allotted personal time. Interestingly, 30% also reported feeling more comfortable taking sick time rather than vacation.

So, why do some of us get sick in the heat of the battle, others after the battle and some are just plain resilient in the face of work and life stress (Nowack, K. (2007). Who is the Resilient Talent, and How Do You Develop It? Talent Management, 3 (6) p. 12.)?

It appears that some of us who just unwind and take a holiday might actually be at risk for getting sick! Yep, you are on that plane just ready to take a long deserved vacation and all of a sudden you begin to feel lousy. You think, “No, not now — I don’t need to get sick during my vacation!”

Typically, you were also the same students in college who head home after finals week and after creating a huge sleep deficit (OK, partying, cutting back on exercise and eating lousy will definitely add to that) and feeling some final exam pressure (surely at least once class got you fired up) you head home for that long awaited break only to basically find yourself in bed the entire time.

Just when I thought holiday breaks and vacations were advised, recommended and a stress reliever I had a chance to chat with a colleague and friend of mine who is on faculty at the UCLA School of Medicine — Marc Schoen, Ph.D. who has been studying this exact mind-body connection in his book,”When Relaxation is Hazardous to Your Health.”

When Vacations Can Be Bad for Your Health

Indeed, relaxation can actually be a contributor too getting sick–particularly if you unwind to fast and move from a chronically excited “stress state” to a sudden “relaxed” state like going away on a vacation. There is even a name for this — the “Let Down Effect” coined by Dr. Schoen.

When you’re straining and struggling under the burden of work or family pressures, your body releases a number of stress hormones which mobilize your immune system against illness. But when the stressful period ends, your immune system “pulls back its troops” and the body becomes less vigilant in weeding out internal and external invaders. At the same time, says Schoen, a reservoir of body chemicals called prostaglandins, left over from the stress response, tends to produce inflammation, and can trigger problems like arthritic pain, migraines and exacerbate other stress related conditions.

Here are some options recommended by Schoen to minimize the Let Down Effect and stay healthy before and after vacations:

  1. Schoen recommends techniques that activate the immune system a little, and thus keep it from slowing down too rapidly after a period of stress. Try short bursts of exercise — even just five minutes in length — which can trigger a positive immune-system response. “Walk up and down the stairs in your office building,” says Schoen. “Or after a stressful day at work, instead of coming home and vegging-out in front of the TV, take a brisk walk for a few minutes.”
  2. Try some mental problem solving, like crossword puzzles, under time constraints. “Several studies show that doing math computations at a rapid pace actually increases immune-system activity,” says Schoen.
  3. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, which can give your mind and body a rest stop from the day’s anxieties. Consciously make yourself breathe slower, inhaling deeply and exhaling naturally. Become aware of the gentle rising and falling of your abdomen. This deep breathing can lower your heart rate, slow your brain waves, and even reduce your blood pressure. Paying attention to your breathing is actually a simple and calming form of meditation.

The idea is to move more slowly from your current fast paced and chronically stressed state to a more gradual relaxation state. It’s the “unwinding before you unwind” condition. The risk of shifting to quickly is the risk of spending your vacation or holiday fighting something you’d rather avoid having to deal with in the first place.

So, if you head off for a holiday break and begin to feel less than 100 percent, you might want to follow the advice of Dr. Schoen…..Be well….


I Believe in the Placebo Effect

“Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


In a recent study, 61.3% of the public and 20.2% of professionals believe that a miracle can a save person in a persistent vegetative state and 57.4% of the public said divine intervention can save a person when doctors think treatment just isn’t going to work, compared with just 19.5% of trauma professionals according to Lenworth Jacobs, M.D., of Hartford Hospital and colleagues. (Jacobs LM et al. “Trauma Death: Views of the Public and Trauma Professionals on Death and Dying From Injuries.” Arch Surg. 2008; 143(8): 730-735).

For the study, Jacobs and his colleagues conducted a random-digit-dialing telephone survey of 1,006 Americans over the age of 18 (margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points). They also surveyed a convenience sample of medical personnel involved in trauma care, including medical directors of trauma units, trauma nurses, and emergency services personnel.

Well, the power of belief is truly amazing:

In a study of 256 patients with chronic arm pain (rating of at least 3 on a 10-point pain scale), 133 were treated with sugar pills (one a day for 8 weeks) and the other with fake acupuncture (twice a week for 6 weeks).

In the study, 25% of the acupuncture group experienced side effects including 19 who felt pain; 31% of the pill group experienced dizziness, restlessness, nausea, dry mouth and fatigue. After 10 weeks, the pill group reported significant decreases in pain (average 1.50 points) and after 8 weeks those receiving fake acupuncture reported a drop of 2.64 points.

The fake acupuncture had greater effects than the placebo pill on self-reported pain (Kaptchuk, et al., 2006. Sham device v inter pill: Randomised controlled trial of two placebo treatments. British Medical Journal).

To investigate the limits of placebo, Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center divided 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) into two groups: one received no treatment and the other was given dummy pills to take twice a day. The second group was told by the doctors that they would be taking “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS-symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes“.

The results, published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, showed that the placebo pills were more effective at relieving symptoms compared with doing nothing at all (Kaptchuk TJ, Friedlander E, Kelley JM, Sanchez MN, Kokkotou E, et al. 2010 Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. PLoS ONE 5(12): e15591. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015591). These results suggest that placebos work even when people know they are taking a placebo.

If You Believe You Are Being Prayed for Are You Healthier?

I’ve become a bit more interested in the association between spirituality and religiosity with health (Giesser, B., Coleman, L., Fisher, S., Guttry, M., Herlihy, E., Nonoguch, S., Nowack, D., Roberts, C. & Nowack, K. (2005). Living Well: An integrative approach to wellness with multiple sclerosis. Paper presented at Annual Conference of The American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) Board/American Society of Neurorehabilitation (ASNR), Chicago, Illinois. UCLA Department of Neurology and National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Southern California Chapter). I’ve wondered about the relationship between being prayed for and recovery from illness.

Recently, a study including 1,802 patients in six hospitals by Benson and his colleagues (Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, Lam P, Bethea CF, Carpenter W, Levitsky S, Hill PC, Clem DW Jr, Jain MK, Drumel D, Kopecky SL, Mueller PS, Marek D, Rollins S, Hibberd PL. (2006). Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. 151(4):934-42) failed to show any impact of remote prayer although there has been some criticism of the study design (e.g., 45% of those invited to participate elected not to be part of the study, intercessors were not allowed to pray their own prayers and it was impossible to limit prayers for those in the “control” group). One interesting finding was that those who knew they were being prayed for actually did worse than the other two groups.

Maybe a bit of deception or ignorance is the best medicine after all….Be well….


Can Hardiness and Resilience Be Enhanced?

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

 Perceptions of stress at work are quite high with several recent studies by Envisia Learning Inc. suggesting that 40% to 65% of all executives and employees rate their jobs as being very or extremely stressful with significant impact on work/family balance and overall health ((Nowack, K. (2000). Occupational stress management: Effective or not? In P. Schnall, K. Belkie, P. Landensbergis, & D. Baker (Eds.), Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, Hanley and Belfus, Inc., Philadelphia, PA., Vol 15, No. 1, pp. 231-233)).

In a poll by Reston, Virginia based TrueCareers, more than 70% of workers do not think there is a healthy balance between work and their personal lives. More than 50% of the 1,626 respondents reported they are exploring new career opportunities because of the inability to manage both work and family stressors. Not only that, a survey found that 79% of all job holders said they had increased their search for new jobs since the economy weakened more than a year and a half ago.

We were interested in seeing whether results from our own personal stress and health risk appraisal called StressScan would help to identify what professional working employees reported being stressed about and why some stay healthy in the face of work and life challenges and stressors. StressScan measures 14 psychosocial scales that have been shown to be associated with diverse individual (e.g., job burnout, depression, physical health) and organizational (e.g., absenteeism) outcomes ((Nowack, K. (2008). Coaching for Stress: StressScan. Psychometrics in Coaching Association for Coaching, UK, pp. 254-274)).

Stress is conceptualized as the experience of major and minor irritants, annoyances, and frustrations (hassles) of daily living over a three-month period. This brief measure of work/life stress was based upon factor analytic research of the original Hassles scale. StressScan measures the extent to which respondents experience daily hassles in six distinct factor areas including: 1) Health; 2) Work; 3) Personal Finances; 4) Family; 5) Social Obligations; and 6) Environmental and World concerns.

We analyzed differences by gender across these six StressScan scales (ANOVA) using requests for free trials for this assessment over the last few years (N=149). In general, women reported significantly higher levels of stress compared to males (mean for woman = 16.48 versus mean for men = 15.35, p < .01). No other significant differences were found across gender for quality/quantity of sleep, social support network (availability, use and satisfaction) or happiness.

We found only two stress categories were rated as significantly more challenging by women compared to their male counterparts (p < .01) using a 1 to 5 scale where 1 = Never, 3 = Sometimes and 5 = Always):

  • Family Stressors (mean for women 3.08/mean for men 2.70)
  • Financial Stressors (mean for women 3.15/mean for men 2.72)

So, why do some talent in the face of work and life stress experience job burnout, depression and physical illness and others remain physically and psychologically healthy? Our research has found three distinct coping patterns in the face of work and life stressors: 1) Hot reactors (those who get sick in the battle of stress, challenge and change); 2) Sustainers (those who get sick after the “letdown” with the battle); and 3) The Hardy (those who are resilient and experience stress and challenge free from illness and distress).

Hot Reactors: About 1 in 5 executives can be described as “hot reactors” on the basis of how they react to stress and the effects on their long term health. Hot reactors are most likely to experience physical illness, job burnout and psychological distress during stressful and challenging projects, assignments and heavy workloads. Behaviorally they are prone to demonstrating impatience, irritability, frustration with incompetence, mood swings and anger. In our research, these hot reactors are highly correlated with typical measures of Type A behavior characterized by a relentless drive for success as well as cynical mistrust of those around them.

Hot reactors seem to be biologically “wired” to react to stress with exaggerated physiological and behavioral responses. These executives are often resistant to changing their basic coping style as most truly believe their ability to work long hours, suppress fatigue and feel energized by stress is a key to his/her career success. Such executives seem to chronically be exhibiting the classic “fight or flight” response almost to the point of exhaustion and burnout. Most are high risk for long term cardiovascular disorders including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

Sustainers: Talent who find themselves feeling the symptoms of a cold coming on right after a big project has been completed or getting away for a much deserved vacation are experiencing the clinical “let down effect.” Such individuals are shifting from a high state of activation to a lower state rapidly making their immune system “let down” from its normal “high stress” protective state and leading to increased vulnerability to get sick in the short term.

Sustainers are used to prolonged periods of high stress states and are able to suppress fatigue and “get up” for the battle in order to succeed. Their vulnerability comes not during the battle but after. By using relaxation strategies to manage the chronic stress response these executives can stay healthy both during stressful times and when things slow down. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress, tension and anxiety when they first appear, executives can begin to utilize a wide range of behavioral and cognitive strategies to avoid the chronic “race horse” condition that is characteristic of most “high flyers.” These “sustainers” truly do pay the price of being able to hang in during very stressful situations, challenges and times without breaking down physically or emotionally.

The Hardy: The resilient and hardy talent in our research are the ones who experience high levels of stress, work/life unbalance and critical demands but maintain a high level of physical health and psychological well-being. In our research, these individuals are less likely to report job burnout, absenteeism due to illness, anxiety, sleep problems, and depression.

Resilient talent appear to maintain and practice specific lifestyle behaviors that become part of his/her daily routine and utilize coping habits that help translate stress into positive challenges that energize, rather than, compromise the immune system and well-being ((Nowack, K. (1994). Psychosocial Predictors of Health and Absenteeism: Results of Two Prospective Studies. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, September 1994, Los Angeles, CA)). We can’t always avoid some chronic (high level of work demands or child care issues) or acute (injury, child illness) stressors but those who are hardy appear to cope and manage them in a manner that minimize negative health outcomes.

Profile of Hardy Talent

  • Experience and report less work and family stress on a daily basis
  • Maintain a high level of physical activity/exercise despite travel and work/family demands (e.g., work out at least 3 days a week for 60 minutes).
  • Maintain heart healthy eating/nutrition habits (e.g., eat breakfast, avoid convenience food, and manage weight).
  • Are non-smokers and drink alcohol in moderation (e.g., no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day).
  • Consistently maintain an adequate level of sleep and practice sound sleep hygiene (e.g., avoid building a sleep debt and get adequate sleep required to avoid being inappropriate sleepy during the day).
  • Minimize hostile, impatient and aggressive behaviors towards others that are associated with eliciting the “fight or flight” response.
  • Practice some type of daily mental or physical activity that elicits the “relaxation response” (e.g., meditation or yoga) reversing stress activation.
  • Cultivate and utilize a strong social and professional support network by spending time with those who are satisfying to be around and avoiding those who are “energy zappers” in our life.
  • Possess a hardy outlook on life including viewing change as a challenge, identifying and spending time on his/her passions and develop an external set of attributions for failures ((Greene, R. and Nowack, K. (1996). Stress, hardiness and absenteeism: Results of a 3-year longitudinal study. Work and Stress, 9, 448-462)).
  • Identify and emotionally express strong feelings in writing or verbally to others on a daily basis.
  • Stop obsessive thoughts that create tension and explore action plans to resolve the stressor.
  • Minimize the use of defeating and perfectionist “self-talk” (e.g., constantly using the words “must” or “always”).
  • Actively ruminate and express gratitude for his/her life situation
  • Identify and act on his/her signature strengths to maximize career and life satisfaction.

Being resilient isn’t something that we are necessarily born with although there appears to certainly be a genetic predisposition to possessing biological wiring favoring the release of neuropeptide Y and other hormones that may damper the stress response. We have also seen in our own research and others the capacity to develop hardiness or resilience:

Hardy talent appear to develop an ongoing commitment to maintain a lifestyle that enables them to balance the demands at work and home while remaining energized, productive and healthy.

If you are interested in seeing how resilient you are and would like a free trial of StressScan ( just email me at and I will be happy to set you up! Be well….


Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

There are at least three distinct approaches to measuring EI and emotional and social competence representing different models.

The first, delineated by Reuven Bar-On, was influenced by his interest in the aspects of performance not linked to intelligence; the second, often tied to Daniel Goleman’s interpretation, approached EI through competencies; and the third, represented by Mayer and Salovey and colleagues, was influenced by their interest in the relationship between cognition and emotion.

These three approaches have led to diverse and non-overlapping measures of EI characterized as: 1) Personality oriented (e.g, Bar-On Emotion Quotient Inventory); 2) Competency or “Mixed” model oriented (e.g., Emotional Intelligence View 360); and 3) Ability or skill oriented (e.g., Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test; MSCEIT).

Issues with Ability Based Measures of Emotional Intelligence

  • Independece from personality measures (e.g., five factor models)
  • Weak convergent validity with other cognitive ability measures (i.e., they don’t highly correlate with IQ)
  • Scoring issues (i.e., lack of agreement and some controversy on how these assessments are scored)
  • Confounded with a measure of knowledge (i.e., they seem to be measuring what someone “knows” as well as emotional intelligence)

Problems wiht Self-Report (Mixed) Measures of Emotional Intelligence

  • High correlations with five factor personality measures (i.e., the overlap is so high it suggests that some measures of EI are really nothing more than another personality inventory)
  • Limitations of 360-feedback (e.g., inflated self-ratings, moderate correlations between and within rater groups)
  • Limitations of self-report (how do you measure EI in people who lack emotional intelligence?)
  • Tend to ignore context, situation and setting (EI is not a useful predictor of performance in jobs that don’t have high emotional labor or are socially demanding)

Our own “mixed measure” of ESC called Emotional Intelligence View 360 based on the Goleman construct has some strengths and limitations as all measures. Our EIV360 appears to be statistically unique from ability based measures (very low correlations with the MSCEIT), correlated with the most popular measures of transformational leadership and predictive of both academic and work performance.

In a review by Joseph and Newman (2010), they found a negative association between measures of EI and work performance when jobs do not require strong social skills. Although the sample sizes for this analysis were rather low (N = 220 and N =223, respectively) it does suggest that EI is important for positions like sales, customer service and leadership and less important in predicting performance and success when high levels of interpersonal interaction are required ((Joseph, D. & Newman, D. (2010). Emotional intelligence: An integrative meta-analysis and cascading model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 54-78)).

A newer 2010 meta-analysis by O’Boyle et al. included 65% more studies and twice the sample size to estimate EI and job performance outcomes ((O’Boyle, E., Humphrey, R., Pollack, Hawver, T. & Story, P. (2010). The relationship between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 10.1002/job.714)).

Their findings extent those of Newman (2010) and suggest that trait, personality and mixed measures demonstrated corrected correlations ranging from 0.24 to 0.30 with job performance. Their research also shows that all measures show incremental validity over cognitive ability and personality measures.

Measurement of emotional intelligence (ability based) is most likely different from other approaches (personality and mixed) but all techniques tend to significantly predict job performance, health and social competence particularly in roles and positions requiring high interpersonal interaction. So, depending on your purpose (e.g., selection versus development of talent) some approaches to measuring EI might be better than others.

The one big lesson from the confusion in the measurement of emotional intelligence is that “it’s not HOW smart you are that counts, but how you are smart…Be well….


Succesful in Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Kenenth Nowack, Ph.D.


Did you make a New Year’s resolution?

Nearly four out of 10 adults will make one or more resolutions for the new year, according to a study done by the University of Scranton (Norcross, J., Mrykalo, S., & Blagys, M. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405).

  • After the first week of carrying out the goal, about 75 percent of people maintain their goal.
  • After week two, nearly 70 percent of people will maintain their goal.
  • After one month, about 64 percent will stick with their resolution.
  • After six months, about 46 percent of people are still on track with their goal.

Rehab is for Quitters

Old habits are indeed very tough to break and relapse seems greatest when we are under stress. Starting new behaviors is indeed more challenging than sustaining them over time. Quitting is indeed something that some of us are pretty consistent in doing well.

According to new research, quitting may actually be better for your health. Psychologist’s Gregory Miller and Carsten Wroshch have found that people who are able to feel comfortable quitting when faced with unattainable goals may actually have better mental and physical health than those who persevere and push themselves to succeed (Miller, G. & Wrosch, C. (2007). You’ve Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em: Goal Disengagement and Systemic Inflammation in Adolescence. Psychological Science, 18).

This study was based on their previous research which found that those persistent individuals experienced higher levels of an inflammatory protein called C-reactive protein (an indicator of stress) as well as increased cortisol. They also reported lower psychological well-being. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal but inflammation appears to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other stress related conditions.

Contrary to what we might have been taught, it appears that it might be in our best interests to “cut our losses” in the face of unattainable goals and life challenges and actually disengage from the goal to ensure optimum well-being and potentially long-term health. This appears to be true whether we are in unsatisfying long-term relationships, working for leaders who are toxic or targeting a goal that is beyond our skill and ability “set points.”

So, any good things for those who persist? In other research Carsten and colleagues found that in the face of life challenge and disengaging from unattainable goals, those who redefined and set new goals were more likely to be able to buffer the negative emotions associated with failure. Maybe “rebound” relationships and new entrepreneurial goals might actually serve to help us find closure to the past and re-engage us for future journeys (Wrosch, C., Miller, G. E., Scheier, M. F., & Brun de Pontet, S. (2007). Giving up on unattainable goals: Benefits for health? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 251-265).

Want Help to Facilitate Successful Behavior Change in Clients?

Our new book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Dont’ Get it is based on a new three stage individual behavior change model. These stages include:

  1. Enlighten
  2. Encourage
  3. Enable

We have developed over 80 free coaching exercises to help your clients translate awareness from coaching and feedback into deliberate practice. Over time, these new behaviors become automatic requiring less cognitive load (concentration) and rehearsal and greater effectiveness.

Have a look at our book and free exercises to see what might be useful for some of your challenging (and easy) coaching assignments….Be well…..


Post Thanks (Giving)

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

If you want to change the world, have a lasting impact on your community, create a meaningful and psychological healthy workplace, develop a safe community, loving family or meaningful partnership–it all starts with you.

Several recent research studies have focused on the power of gratitude giving as a necessary condition for developing self esteem, enhanced social ties happiness and physical health.

Gratitude Research

Psychologist Martin Seligman and colleagues have focused on a variety of psychological interventions that increase individual happiness1. In a 6-group, random-assignment, placebo-controlled Internet study, he tested 5 happiness interventions and one control exercise. They found that 3 of the interventions significantly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms–a few for as long as 6 months.

Two of the exercises (using signature strengths in a new way and writing about three good things that went well each day) increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months. Another exercise, the “gratitude visit” was associated with significant and positive mood changes for 30 days. The other tested exercises and the placebo control created positive but only transient effects on happiness and depressive symptoms.

Another psychologist, Robert Emmons, from US Davis and his colleagues have also extensively studied the impact of gratitude2. In one study with adults with neuromuscular disorders, were asked to keep a gratitude journal every day for two weeks. They were asked to focus on several things each day that they were thankful about and to write about what things in their life they saw as positive and meaningful.

Participants in the “gratitude condition” showed significantly more optimism and life satisfaction than a control group. Interestingly, the researchers reported that spouses of study participants (i.e., people in the gratitude condition) seemed significantly happier than those in the control group. Not only did focusing on gratitude change attitudes, it also apparently changed behavior of those in the study.

Gratitude Exercises

Giving gratitude is something we can develop and make an automatic part of our day. Here are two evidenced-based gratitude exercises that have been proven by Seligman, Emmons and other researchers to enhance psychological well-being, social ties and life satisfaction.

1. Gratitude Journal: For two weeks, write down each day several things you are truly grateful for and explain why in your own person journal.

2. Gratitude Letter: Identify someone in your life you truly value that has contributed to your life success in some way. This person can be a family member, friend, teacher, or another person who has touched you in a positive and signifcant way and whom you have not probably acknowledged in a heart felt manner. Write a letter to this person describing what they have done to influence your life and why–mail it or deliver it in person.

3. Signature Strengths: Make a list of 3 things that you do well and you have a passion for. Actually schedule to do each during the next 30 days.

4. Be a Gift to Someone Else: Look for an opportunity to do something spontaneously positive to a stranger or someone you barely know (e.g., pay their toll on the freeway, purchase a coffee and something to eat for a homeless person asking for money outside your favorite coffee shop, cut a neighbor’s lawn that is difficult for them to do, drop off some groceries for someone who has a difficult time getting out of the house).  The recipient will appreciate your gesture and you will immediately feel a boost of the pleasure hormones that come with giving.

As Jack Buck says,”Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out“…..Be well….

  • Seligman, M., P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421
  • Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-38