Do You Have the Entrepreneurial Gene?

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

Why do People become Entrepreneurs?

It appears that it might actually be in your genes.

It is already well established that there is substantial heritability for the “Big Five” personality factors (Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Emotional Stability, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness) with approximately 50% of the variance accounted for by genetic factors (Shane et al., 2010).

Genetic factors also seem to account for a significant proportion of variance in who becomes an entrepreneur and personality might actually be one of the many factors through which genetics might exert their influence (of course, there may be others and even some more important such as hormones, activity levels etc.). How can such a claim be made? Research with twins allows for the examination of “nature” versus “nurture” factors to be teased out.

In a new study of 3,412 twins from the UK and 1,300 twins from the US, researchers examined whether genetic factors were associated with the “Big Five” personality characteristics ) and the tendency to become an entrepreneur (defined as self-employed, starting a new business, being an owner, or engaging in a start-up process). The researchers found that common genes influenced the correlations between only two personality factors and the tendency to become an entrepreneur (Shane, S. et al. (2010). Genetics, the Big Five and the tendency to be self-employed. Journal of Applied Psychology, 6, 1154-1162). These included:

1. Openness to Experience
2. Extraversion

These findings are interesting in light of earlier meta-analytic research findings exploring personality and entrepreneurial intentions (includes individuals who have not yet started a venture) that found correlations of .16 between Extroversion and intentions, .09 between Extroversion and performance, .24 between Openness to Experience and intentions and .21 between Openness to Experience and performance (Zhao, H. et al. (2010). The relationship of personality to entrepreneurial intentions and performance: A meta analytics review. Journal of Management, 36, 381-404). These significant associations, although modest, do support the relationship between having high energy and being outgoing (Extroversion) and risk taking (Openness to Experience) and entrepreneurial interests as well as performance.

Earlier research by Hao Zhao of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Scott E. Seibert of the Melbourne Business School analyzed and combined the results of twenty-three independent research studies (Zhao, J. & Siebert, S. (2006). The Big Five personality dimensions and entrepreneurial status: A meta-analytical review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 259-271). The twenty-three studies included in the meta-analysis compared entrepreneurs to a group of managers on the five factor personality (FFM) traits. Statistical differences between entrepreneurs and managers were found on four out of the five personality traits. Entrepreneurs scored significantly higher than managers on the scales of Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness.

In general, entrepreneurs can be characterized as more creative, more innovative, and more likely to embrace new ideas than their manager counterparts (Openness to Experience). Second, the results indicated that entrepreneurs were higher than managers on Conscientiousness (i.e., drive and work ethic). Further analysis indicated that the differences were due to the entrepreneurs having a higher achievement orientation as compared to managers. Entrepreneurs and managers did not differ on other aspects of the Conscientiousness factor such as dependability, reliability, planning and organizational skills.

The second key set of results showed entrepreneurs to be significantly lower than managers on Neuroticism and Agreeableness. In general, entrepreneurs appear to be more self-confident, resilient, and stress-tolerant than non-entrepreneurial managers. These results are logical given the highly stressful, demanding, and changing work environments which entrepreneurs usually find themselves. Entrepreneurs are able to tolerate a greater amount of stress without anxiety, tension and psychological distress. This may help entrepreneurs handle ambiguity, take risks and feel greater comfort with failure.

With regard to lower scores on Agreeableness, entrepreneurs were found to be tougher, more demanding, and more likely to use more negotiation and influence skills than managers. Finally, no significant differences were found between the two groups on Extroversion in this earlier analysis but it still appears to genetically be associated with the selection of entrepreneurial careers.

People become entrepreneurs in part because of the “fit” of their genetically influenced personalities to the job of running their own businesses. On the other hand, a careful reading of the current research suggests that the Big Five personality factors have only a modest effect on the tendency to become an entrepreneur.

From a teaching and coaching perspective, helping students and talent develop interpersonal competence and skills associated with Extroversion might actually have a greater impact on entrepreneurial success than trying to increase Openness to Experience. Why? The association between Extroversion and the tendency to become an entrepreneur appears to depend less on genetic factors than does the association between Openness to Experience and the tendency to become an entrepreneur.

I’m neither very extroverted or extremely high in risk taking and sensation seeking but I sure love being my own boss….I wonder what the researchers would say about that….Be well….


Social Support of Bosses and Health

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


Being a leader can be a lonely place. The higher you go in an organization the least likely you are to have colleagues and reports provide you with honest and candid feedback about your behavior. How many of us of heard the refrain, “another great meeting Lou” only to wander out the door muttering to ourselves just how much a waste a time the meeting actually was.

Leaders also seem to be high in self-delusion(no research has looked at how many leaders still have “imaginary friends”). In a recent study reported in Harvard Business Review, CEOs seem to have unrealistically optimistic perceptions about several aspects of their top team’s performance. In this study, CEOs reported providing significantly higher effective direction for their team or believed that team members are less interested in promoting themselves than caring more about team interests than their direct reports (Rosen, R. & Adair, F. (2007). CEOs Misperceive Top Team’s Performance. Harvard Business Review, September 2007).

What exactly do relationships at work do for talent? Do close relationships with one’s boss and colleagues have any impact on engagement and productivity? Current research suggest strong relationships with one’s boss and direct reports are associated with:

  1. Less inflammation measured as C-Reactive Protein (Suarez, E. (2004). C Reactive Protein Is Associated With Psychological Risk Factors of Cardiovascular Disease in Apparently Healthy Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine 66:684-690).
  2. Enhanced immunity (Schwartz, G.E., Schwartz, J.I., Nowack, K.M., & Eichling, P.S. (1992). Changes in perceived stress and social support over time are related to changes in immune function. University of Arizona and Canyon Ranch. Unpublished manuscript).
  3. Less burnout in professional working women–lower depersonalization and higher personal accomplishment (Nowack, K. and Pentkowski, A. (1994). Lifestyle habits, substance use, and predictors of job burnout in professional working women. Work and Stress, 8, 19-35).
  4. Increased depression(Stroetzer, U. et al. (2006). Problematic interpersonal relationships at work and depression: A Swedish prospective cohort study. Journal of Occupational Health, 51, 144-151).
  5. Enhanced job satisfaction (Simon, L., Judge, T., & Halvorsen-Ganepola, M. (2010). In good company? A multi-level investigation of the effects of coworker relationships on well-being. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 534-546).
  6. Greater longevity and less illness during our life based on meta-analytics reviews of over 148 studies (Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316).

In fact a recent survey of over 15,670 employees in diverse industries by Career Systems International, the third most important retention driver was having strong relationships and working with great people (42%). Only having stimulating/exciting work (48%) and having an opportunity to grow and develop (42.9%) were rated higher.

Despite the challenges and problems in both conceptualizing social support, social integration and networking by researchers and practitioners, having people in our lives to use for emotional, functional and intellectual support appears to be a protective factor in health and one that simultaneously contributes to increase productivity.

We took a look at some social support research 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 which was surprising as research suggests that more successful women indicate that mentoring was less important to their career advancement than did 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. Behavioral Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight” Psychological Review, 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%

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

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

Maybe the Youngbloods were right after all….”C’mon people now, Smile on your brother, Ev’rybody get together, Try and love one another right now, Right now…” Right now! Be well……


Does Work Make You Crazy?

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. (2006). Optimising Employee Resilience: Coaching to Help Individuals Modify Lifestyle. Stress News, International Journal of Stress Management, Volume 18, 9-12).

News alert (in case you might have not known already) — Work-related stress can be a direct cause of clinical depression and anxiety among employees.

A recent finding in Psychological Medicine comes from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has followed a group of 1000 children born in 1972-73 in Dunedin, New Zealand throughout their lives. The study subjects have been assessed at the ages of 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 26, and most recently at the age of 32, in 2004-05.

The study included 406 women and 485 men. All were asked at age 32 about their perceptions of work stress. In general, men reported higher psychological job demands, lower social support, and higher physical job demands than women.

High psychological job demands, such as long hours, heavy workload, or poor relations with one’s boss, were found to be associated with clinical depression, anxiety, or both in both women and men.

It was found that women who reported high psychological job demands (using a standard approach to measuring work load and decisional control over things on the job), such as working long hours, working under pressure or without clear direction, were 75 per cent more likely to suffer from clinical depression or general anxiety disorder than women who reported the lowest level of psychological job demands.

Men with high psychological job demands were 80 per cent more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders than men with lower demands. Men with low levels of social support at work were also found to be at increased risk of depression, anxiety or both.

This study shows that high levels of workplace stress may be an important contributor to common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety. These disorders certainly contribute directly to employer costs for medical claims, absenteeism, presenteeism and disability.

It’s seems so easy to just begin to suggest individually based remedies to help employees cope more effectively with stress on the job. However, my research review of stress management interventions suggests that individually based approaches, without targeting the organization, are unlikely to have sustain impact over time (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). So, without addressing things like work load, decisional control, team support and leadership practices these individual approaches to stress management will have limited effects on organizational outcomes like absenteeism, health and productivity.

In his book Primal Leadership, Dan Goleman states “Roughly 50 to 70 percent of how employees perceive their organizational climate can be traced to the actions of one person: the leader. More than anyone else, the boss, creates the conditions that determine people’s ability to work well.” Additionally, research by Robert Hogan and his colleagues have suggested that at least a dozen studies tend to suggest the base rate for leadership incompetence is about 50 percent. Our own research and others suggests that the leadership practices and perceived fairness of management might alone prevent talent from getting sick and going crazy at work (Nowack, K. (2006). Emotional intelligence: Leaders Make a Difference, HR Trends 17, 40-42).

If that doesn’t work, there is always the Serenity Prayer….Be well….


Gender, Personality and Careers

Kenenth Nowack, Ph.D.

For over 40 years, one robust theory of career choice has been based on the idea that choice of vocation is really an expression of personality (Holland, 1973). A person can be described as having interests associated with each of six personlity types in a descending order of preference (a person might have a mix of many of these). The six personality and work environment types described by Holland are generally described as follows (RIASEC):

  • Realistic – practical, physical, hands-on, tool-oriented
  • Investigative– analytical, intellectual, scientific, explorative
  • Artistic – creative, original, independent, chaotic
  • Social – cooperative, supporting, helping, healing/nurturing
  • Enterprising – competitive environments, leadership, persuading
  • Conventional– detail-oriented, organizing, clerical

A recent meta-analysis of over a half a million participants examined gender differences in vocational interests and found surprising differences by gender (Su, R. et al. (2009). Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex interests in interests. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 859-884). Men showed significantly stronger preferences for occupations that are referred to as “Realistic” (jobs requiring physical activities involving tools, machines or animals) and “Investigative” (jobs that involve thinking, analysis and organizing prevalent in such occupations as science and medicine) than women although the authors did not speculate as to why these differences emerged.

There seems to be quite an established literature showing consistent relationships between personality traits and occupational environments (Judge et al. (2009). The big five personality traits, general mental ability and career success. Personnel Psychology, 52, 621-652).

For example, significant negative correlations have been found between the “Big Five” personality factors of Openness to Experience and “Conventional” occupations requiring work with data, filing records and other rule regulated behavior (r = -.31), between Extraversion and “Investigative” occupations (r = -.16), and positive correlations between Conscientiousness and “Investigative” occupations such as scientists (r = .33) and between Emotional Stability and “Realistic” careers such as fitness trainers, opticians, policemen, and fire Fighters (r =.18). So, it’s not surprising that “risk taking” entrepreneurs might find jobs with low complexity, high structure and lots of rules and procedures less stimulating.

New research exploring predictions of adult occupational environments from childhood personality traits rated by teachers found (Woods, S. & Hampson, S. (2010). Predicting adult occupational environments from gender and childhood personality traits. Journal of Applied Psychology, 6, 1045-1057) the following:

  1. Only two personality traits, Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness, were significantly associated with adult occupational environments.
  2. Openness to Experience was most strongly associated with “Investigative” and “Artistic” occupations (i.e., those that are scientific and artistically oriented, respectively).
  3. Conscientiousness was associated with all of the major occupations (i.e., those who are achievement oriented, dependable and diligent are correlated to some extent with all vocations although recent research suggests that for low complexity jobs having too much conscientiousness might actually hinder job performance).

My own research work suggests that men in leadership roles aren’t always seen as effective as their women counterparts despite an equal interest to pursue (but not always obtain) managerial and leadership positions ((Nowack, K. (2006). Gender Differences in Leadership Practices. Unpublished manuscript)). In fact, in our own 360-feedback studies, men report being significantly stronger in such competencies as listening, conflict and problem solving (no, this isn’t my attempt at humor). In our studies and others, women appear to be rated significantly higher in overall leadership and communication competence and effectiveness by both internal and external customers (e.g., direct reports and peers).

A new theoretical model of how we respond to stress might actually provide a clue about why women and men might differ in their approach to leading individuals and teams — particularly in times of crisis, challenge, and conflict. It might also explain why women have genetic predispositions to prefer conventional (e.g., accounting), social (e.g., nursing, teaching) and artistic occupations relative to their male counterparts.

The model, called “tend-and-befriend” by UCLA health psychologist Shelley Taylor and her colleagues, won’t replace the classic “fight or flight” stress response (Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Female Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight” Psychol Rev, 107, 41-429).

In particular, Taylor proposes that women respond to challenging and stressful situations at work and home by protecting themselves and their young through nurturing behaviors — the “tend” part of the model and expressing emotions and socializing, particularly among women — the “befriend” part of the model. Males, in contrast, show less of a tendency toward tending and befriending, and emphasize the classic “fight-or-flight” response, they suggest.

Indeed, women under stress may have a biological predisposition (mediated by pro-social peptides such as oxytocin) to become more affiliative, caring, nurturing and emotionally expressive compared to men.

Taylor’s theory and current research seems to support the idea that women are likely to express more participative, collaborative and transformational displays of communication and leadership particularly under stress relative to their male counterparts. Like every individual factor, not all of us will find this biological disposition equally distributed.

The “tend and befriend” effect might help to explain an interesting finding about gender differences in leaders as well as providing some biological clues about how our personality and interests impact our ultimate career decisions for men and women…..Be well…


Are Vacations Harmful to Your Health?

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 charity work for some very poor schools in Zihuatanejo, Mexico (he has written an inspiring new book about the last few years of his efforts to sponsor some special students and help a few schools down there) and it got me wondering about the need for vacations and the impact they might have to restore our physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual energy.

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 will definitely add to that), eating more poorly then you typically do, 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 sicker than a dog (not really sure how this saying began).

Just when I thought holiday breaks and vacations were advised, recommended and a stress reliever I had a chance to chat with a dear 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.”

The “Let Down” Effect

Indeed, relaxation can actually be a contributor to getting sick–particularly if you unwind to fast and move from a chronically excited “stress state” to a sudden “relaxed” state. 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:

  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 as a student you remember coming home on breaks and holidays and winding up getting sick, you might want to follow the advice of Dr. Schoen.

If all else fails, one alternative to vacations is just to stay at home and tip one out of three people you run into….Be well….


Resilence: How Hardy Are You?

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):

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

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.

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….

[tags] stress, resilience, hardiness, lifestyle modification, personality hardiness, anxiety, depression, workload, pressure, ken nowack, envisia, kenneth nowack [/tags]

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Holidays are a Great Time to Recover Your Sleep Debt

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

I woke up tired this morning and know exactly why…I didn’t get both enough sleep and good quality sleep last night. Good thing I’m not making executive decisions, flying the space shuttle or doing delicate brain surgery not to mention being the third link in the security at one of our nuclear power plants.

Well, maybe you won’t be surprised that in a recent study of US Workers, the prevalence of fatigue (lack of sleep being one of the major contributors) was 37.9%. Fatigue, when present, is associated with a threefold increase, on average, in the proportation of workers with condition-specific lost productive time (Ricci, J., Chee, Lorandeau, A. & Berger, J. (2007). Fatigue in the U.S. Workforce: Prevalence and Implications for Lost Productive Work Time. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 49 (1), 1-10). A Sleep in America Poll released by the National Sleep Foundation in 2008 reported that 65 percent of Americans have trouble falling asleep, wake during the night or wake feeling unrefreshed at least a few times each week.

In fact the top three causes of lost work time by employees in the US based on research from Ron Kessler at the Harvard Medical School (due to both absence and presenteeism) include: Sleep disorders, depression and fatigue (these three each account for approximately 425-490 lost workdays per 100 full time employees).

Even the prestigious Harvard Business Review (October 2006) conducted an interview with sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler on the relationship between lack of sleep, poor performance and impaired decision making and judgment. He suggested that corporate America should pay more attention to the impact of lack of sleep on employee health, safety and productivity.

My colleague, friend and personal sleep expert Dr. Mark Rosekind who is now a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board has found that even two hours less sleep than you need at night can negatively impact mood, psychomotor and cognitive funtioning including:

  • Degrading critical judgment and decision making by 50%
  • Diminishing memory by 20%
  • Interfering with communication skills by 30%
  • Affecting mood by 100% (good mood goes down and bad mood goes up)

Well, any new parent can attest to these findings….

If we look at some provocative new research maybe lack of sleep does indeed have an upside. According to data from the Cancer Prevention Study II, individuals who average seven hours of sleep each night have a lower mortality rate than do those who sleep eight hours or more ((Kripke DF, Garfinkel L, Wingard DL, et al. Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59:131-136)).

These findings were also consistent with earlier research suggesting that the lowest mortality was again at seven hours of total sleep, with some increase in mortality associated with short sleep and an even steeper increase with long sleep. Good news indeed given that the average American on weekdays sleeps about six and one-half hours.

Stanford’s Dr. Clete Kushida, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who has worked in the field of sleep research since 1977, offers these tips to a better night’s sleep:

  • Maintain a regular schedule, getting to bed and rising at the same time as consistently as possible each day, selecting the number of hours of sleep that make you feel best, whether it’s seven hours or 10.
  • Use bright light within five minutes of waking, for 30 minutes, to synchronize your internal clock.
  • Avoid bright light two to three hours before bedtime, which delays sleep onset. If you read, get just enough light to read and avoid halogen.
  • Avoid remaining in bed if you can’t sleep. After 20 minutes, if you can’t sleep or fall back asleep, go into another room and do something else until you feel drowsy.
  • Avoid reading or watching TV in bed (especially thriller novels or action shows) unless it makes you drowsy.
  • Avoid napping, unless you nap every day at the same time for the same amount of time or you are tired and about to get behind the wheel of a car.

All obvious you say? Don’t blame me then when you wind up dreaming about this blog tonight.
zzzzzzzzzzzend….Be well….

[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, dreams, dreaming, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]


Sleep Deprived Talent are Grumpy Talent

“I’m not asleep… but that doesn’t mean I’m awake”

Author Unknown

We all seem to be working longer and harder with health, sleep and mood being negatively affected.

Research by Sylvia Ann-Hewlett and Carol Luce show that 62% of high earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week and 10% work more than 80 hours ((Hewlett, A. & Luce, C. (2006). Extreme jobs. The dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek. Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 1-12)). Their findings suggest that more than 70% of professionals reported not getting enough sleep.

Leaders and others know that sleep-deprived talent (and leaders) are typically moody, miserable and just not much fun to be around. New research from UC Berkeley using MRI technology helps explain why for the first time.

The study is the first to show exactly what areas of the brain are affected by sleep deprivation ((Yoo, S., Gujar,N., Hu,P., Jolesz, F., & Walker, M. (2007). The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology. Vol 17, R877-R878, 23 October 2007)).

In the UC Berkeley study of 26 young adults, half of the subjects were kept awake for 35 hours straight and the other half were allowed a normal night’s sleep in that same time period. Then all of the subjects were hooked up to an MRI and shown a number of images while the researchers monitored what happened in their brains as each image was shown.

The sleep-deprived subjects had a significant activity in the amygdala (the section of the brain that puts the body on alert to protect itself and control emotions) and simultaneously activity slowed down in the prefrontal cortex, which controls logical reasoning. However, subjects who had gotten a full night of sleep showed normal brain activity.

Americans are among the most sleep-deprived people in the world with 40% of Americans getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to a 2009 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, and 75% reported having some sort of sleep disorder one or two nights a week.

What this means for most people is that a sleepless night or very poor quality of sleep can cause employees to overreact to emotional challenges that they would otherwise be able to tolerate without any trouble and impair decision making and problem solving.

Our own research with our stress/resilience assessment called StressScan in a study of over 1,151 working professionals found the following results:

  • Missed an entire night of sleep or large proportion because of work or play — 8.2% Often or always
  • Received less sleep than you require because you stayed up too late or got up too early — 35.7% often or always and 36.5% Sometimes
  • Received less sleep than required because you had difficult either falling asleep or staying asleep for as long as usual — 21.7% often or always

So, look out if you have sleep deprived talent and leaders who lack emotional intelligence — their amygdala already is compromised and that’s no Halloween trick or treat….Be well…
[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]


Does Personality Change?

“From birth to age 18, a girl needs good parents, from 18 to 35 she needs good looks, from 35 to 55 she needs a good personality, and from 55 on she needs cash.”

Sophie Tucker


Despite increasing evidence that most personality traits are highly genetically determined (current estimates suggest as much as 50%) much of personality is flexible within our “set point” ranges and that it changes over our life span shaped by our experiences.

Recent longitudinal and cross-sectional aging research has shown that personality traits continue to change in adulthood ((Roberts, B. et al. (2008). Personality trait change in adulthood. Current directions in Psychological Science, 17, 1, 31-35)). Change in personality traits occurs in middle and old age, showing that personality traits can change at any age. Research by Brent Roberts, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, summarizing over 100 studies of personality suggests that most people become more confident, warm (agreeable), responsible (conscientious), and emotionally stable as they age, especially in young adulthood (ages 20 to 40).

Although there is much debate about genetic “set points” for personality, we can change significantly according to new research from Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University. Dweck’s research suggests that people either have fixed beliefs about their personality (it can’t be really modified) or they have a malleable set of beliefs that it can be developed through efforts and education. Adults (and children) with a malleable viewpoint are more open to learning new things, confront new challenges, stick with tough tasks and demonstrate greater resilience.

Her research suggests that this orientation is trainable and can result in greater performance and other personality related changes (e.g., increased openness to new experiences and sociability). She suggests that by emphasizing and praising traits (e.g, intelligence) we are reinforcing a fixed perspective and that we should really recognize effort or strategies. Today parents seem upset if their kids come in 6th place in any competition and don’t receive a trophy–maybe they are on to something here!

Even our level of happiness can be changed despite evidence that at least 50% of our happiness is genetically programmed. For example, Ed Diener and his colleagues analyzed data from a 15 year study on marriage transitions and life satisfaction ((Lucus, R., et al. (2003). Reexamining adaptation and the happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527-539)). On average, most people moved toward their baseline level of happiness but interestingly a large number remained at their baseline and others stayed below it.

In our own research on happiness with individuals with the auto-immune disease multiple sclerosis (MS) we have seen significant positive changes in work and life satisfaction ((Giesser, B., Coleman, L., Fisher, S., Guttry, M., Herlihy, E., Nonoguch, S., Nowack, D., Roberts, C. & Nowack, K. (2007). Living Well with Multiple Sclerosis: Lessons Learned from a 12-Week Community Based Quality of Life Program. Paper presented at 17th Annual Art & Science of Conference, March, 2007, San Francisco, CA )). We have explored how a comprehensive 12-week “MS Living Well” program that meets for 4 hours over 12 consecutive weeks can modify well-being using our own stress and health risk assessment called StressScan. We use one scale in particular which is called “Psychological Well-Being” and is a global measure of life satisfaction or happiness (it includes aspects of positive affect, engagement and meaning). We have also replicated this finding with an online version of this program that also demonstrated a significant increase in happiness over the same 12-week period ((Giesser, B., Coleman, L., Fisher, S. Guttry,M., Herlihy, E., Nonoguchi, S., Nowack, D., Roberts, C, & Nowack, K. (2010). Living Well with Multiple Sclerosis: Comparisons of a 12-Week Blended Learning Versus Direct Classroom Program)).

It would appear from all the current research that our beliefs about ourselves can change and so can our personality. However, it remains seen just how much change in basic personality occurs over time.

Most of my executive coaching assignments with “competent jerks” seem to result in little or no personality modification or behavior change. Following up later it seems that if my old clients “derail” entirely or get fired they tend to become a bit more mellow and reflective. I’m guessing that it’s the kind of experiences that shape our personality more than others.

If only we really could figure out the kind of developmental experiences that truly enhance resilience, growth and development in both children and adults.

Unfortunately, it’s more art than science right now…..Be well….

Technorati Tags: surveys, Envisia, Envisia Learning, personality, happiness, resilience, climate, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack


Maintaining Good Bone Health

Denise Nowack, RD

While building strong bones started early in childhood, keeping them healthy as we grow older requires attention and care. Good nutrition—particularly daily sources of calcium—is important for maintaining bone health.

Choose nonfat or lowfat dairy products often

  • Substitute yogurt for sour cream in dips, dressings and toppings (240-400 mg/cup)
  • Use milk to reconstitute canned soups, cereals, or instant potatoes (300 mg/cup)
  • “Strengthen” your milk with nonfat dry milk powder. Add 2 Tbsp powdered milk to 1 cup of regular milk for a 290 mg boost to the 300 mg already in milk.
  • Fill a baked potato with ½ cup of cottage cheese and broccoli (cheese/75 mg; broccoli/60 mg)
  • Top casseroles, omelet’s, toast, or steamed vegetables with shredded Swiss or mozzarella cheese (150-250 mg/ounce)

Other calcium-rich sources

  • Any type of fish with edible bones, such as canned salmon or sardines (440-569 mg)
  • Choose low-oxalate dark green vegetables like kale, broccoli, turnip greens, mustard greens. The calcium in these veggies is better absorbed than the calcium found in spinach, rhubarb, beet greens and almonds.
  • Calcium-fortified tofu, soymilk, orange juice, breads and cereals are excellent staples. Check the food labels to see just how much calcium has been added.

Beyond Calcium
Vitamin D also plays an important role in bone health by helping with the calcium absorption. During the summer getting enough vitamin D is easy as it only takes 15-20 minutes of skin exposure to the sun each day. Vitamin D can also be found fortified in foods that contain calcium. Be careful with supplementation as vitamin D is stored in the body and can be toxic in relatively low amounts (>2,000 i.u./day)

Phytates (found in legumes like pinto beans and peas) as well as oxalates (high in spinach, rhubarb and almonds) can interfere with calcium absorption. While these foods have other nutritional benefits, avoid eating them at the same time as your calcium-rich foods.

Calcium Supplements
While foods remain the best sources of calcium, calcium supplements can be helpful for those who are not able to get enough from their diet. Supplements come in many forms. The two most popular are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Start by reading the label for the amount of elemental calcium.

Calcium Carbonate (e.g., Os-Cal, Tums) contains a high amount of elemental calcium and tends to be the best value. Calcium carbonate needs to be taken with food to help with absorption.

Calcium Citrate (e.g., Citrical, Solgar) contains less elemental calcium than calcium carbonate, but tends to be better tolerated. It is absorbed more easily and can be taken on an empty stomach.

The body can best handle about 500 mg of calcium at one time. Split doses of supplements throughout the day. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether a supplement will interact with any prescription medications you’re taking. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends avoiding calcium from unrefined oyster shell, bone meal or dolomite without the USP, as these historically have contained higher lead levels or other toxic metals.