In the Media
Wendy Wollner in the news
CAREER COUCH ‘Your Performance Has Come Up Short’
Interview with Wendy Wollner
Are Your Kids Guilting You into Staying Single? Single moms: Who has the final say when your offspring hates your date?
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child
The dos and don'ts of using humor in the workplace
‘Your Performance Has Come Up Short’
By MATT VILLANO
Published: November 28, 2008
Q. For the first time in your career, your boss has given you a negative performance review. How should you react?
A. It’s only natural for a negative performance review to hurt, but try to maintain your composure during the review and focus on the message.
“It’s important to see bad reviews as wonderful gifts,” said Wendy Wollner, chief executive of Balancing Life’s Issues, a corporate training firm in Ossining, N.Y. “At the very least, they are going to make you stronger and give you a road map of strategies to do your job better down the road.”
Hopefully, the criticism you receive will not come as a complete surprise; good managers address performance issues as they occur and try not to spring them on their employees at the annual review.
Q. What are the potential ramifications of a negative review?
A. If your review is tied to salary increases, you could be looking at a lower raise or no raise. But, often, one bad review is nothing more than a wake-up call.
Strung together, however, a series of negative assessments could be seen as a pattern of underperformance and could lead to demotion, or, eventually, dismissal, said Scott I. Barer, a labor and employment lawyer in Woodland Hills, Calif.
“From a legal perspective, the review process exists to create a paper trail to call upon if they need to put an employee on notice,” Mr. Barer said.
From a practical perspective, he added, most review processes are intended to promote career development by providing employees with feedback on how they can improve performance over time. “It’s in the company’s best interest to give every employee a chance to right his or her ship,” he said.
Q. Is it acceptable to be emotional after the review?
A. Paul Shrivastava, professor of management at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said employees should take 24 hours to digest the feedback they received in a negative review.
“Generally when we get bad news, we need some time alone to marinate in it and let the gravity of the feedback sink in,” Mr. Shrivastava said. “It’s probably a good idea to give yourself time to process the review before you react, just so you don’t do something you might regret.”
Q. Should you ask your manager to detail the concerns?
A. Asking for additional information is perfectly acceptable, so long as you phrase your requests the right way.
Teri Hires, a senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International, a leadership consulting firm in Minneapolis, noted that employees should be careful not to sound accusatory in their follow-up questions, avoiding those that challenge the boss’s judgment.
Instead, she said, follow-ups should focus squarely on particular missteps, and on specific actions the employee can take to improve.
“A couple of good basic questions include, ‘Can you tell me how that behavior was exhibited?’ or ‘If I were doing this right, what would it look like?’” said Ms. Hires, who is based in New York. “When you take the boss’s feedback as a given and focus on what you can do next, it shows that you’re willing to make things work.”
Q. What if you disagree with the substance of the review?
A. Objecting to aspects of a negative review is a risky proposition, since your manager could interpret your actions as selfish and destructive. Still, if certain facts are unequivocally incorrect, it is important to set the record straight.
The key is to disagree respectfully. Lisa Lane Brown, author of “The Courage to Win: A Revolutionary Mental Toughness Formula,” said employees should “resist the overwhelming temptation to defend” themselves, and should calmly refute each fact with evidence that demonstrates what actually occurred.
“If facts are wrong, it’s perfectly O.K. to address them,” she wrote in a recent e-mail message. “Just remember that whether you agree with the review or not, you’re still stuck with the perception of your manager.”
Ms. Brown added that in cases where employees must sign their performance reviews, it is acceptable to sign with the caveat of disagreement, so long as the employee provides a report on the components under contention.
Q. After the review, how should you go about rebuilding credibility at work?
A. First, meet with your manager to lay out a step-by-step checklist for improvement. Next, deliver weekly status reports to keep your manager apprised of short-term performance achievements. Finally, request periodic meetings with the manager to discuss cumulative development.
Ronald Mitchell, chief executive and co-founder of Gotta Mentor, a career mentoring and career coaching company in New York, says it’s a good idea to get everything in writing, so you can quantify the ways your performance has changed.
“When someone outlines the ways in which you need to improve, the very last thing you want to do is seem passive and disinterested,” he said. “Going out of your way to show your manager that you’ve heard the criticisms and you’re ready to take them seriously speaks volumes about how committed you are to long-term success.”
YOU were da’ man in July.
Back then — with a job offer in hand from a prestigious Wall Street firm — you were the toast of your graduating class, or the envy of co-workers.
Four months ago, that offer was your ticket to the high life. Now it’s a ticket to the unemployment line, rescinded before you were even issued a company ID. Instead of skipping through raindrops like Gene Kelly, you’re looking like you just learned Darth Vader’s your father.
Though mass layoffs like Citigroup’s recent bloodletting are grabbing headlines, career experts say many workers — from entry-level grunts to high-level executives — are having job offers rescinded in the current downturn.
“It’s happening a lot,” says career expert and columnist Nicole Williams, author of “Earn What You’re Worth.” “It’s pretty pervasive.”
Wendy Wollner, an industrial psychologist and CEO of the corporate training firm Balancing Life’s Issues, reports that in the past month, two of her clients have had offers nixed in spite of having offer letters in hand and agreed-upon start dates and salaries. Eight others have had handshake agreements broken.
“That’s a huge number,” she says. “Normally we get one a year.”
With job offers standing on ground that’s as shaky as the San Andreas Fault, those waiting to start at a new firm should steel themselves for the worst and handle themselves like pros if bad news comes, experts say.
“The biggest challenge is staying professional,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of the the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University. “You can’t rant and rave and yell and scream — even though that might be an understandable reaction — because they might want you down the road.”
The best response is to say that, although you’re disappointed, you understand the company is facing tough economic times and to keep you in mind if the position reopens in the future, says Jody Queen-Hubert, executive director of career services at Pace University.
“Be very careful,” she says. “It’s a small world.” If you have difficulty maintaining your composure, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for some time to get it together, then call back in a few minutes, an hour or the following day, adds Sarikas.
Still, getting the shaft often leads the shaftee to contemplate legal remedies for the wrongs suffered. Some are available, but attornies say they’re few and far between.
Since New York and many other states have “at will” employment laws — which means that barring outright discrimination, a company can fire you for any reason at any time — businesses can rescind a job offer for almost any reason. Under most circumstances, an employee “does not have a legal option to sue that employer,” says Carol Goodman, an employment lawyer and litigator who represents the management side at Herrick, Feinstein LLP, a city law firm.
There are limited grounds for legal action, however. If you’ve signed a contract or an offer letter that specifies the length of your employment, you could sue. If you’ve moved or turned down other job offers because of the offer that’s been rescinded, you could sue, though Goodman says those lawsuits are a “longshot.”
“It is not — capital N-O-T — true of somebody who leaves one job and starts another.
There has to be a critical, substantial change in somebody’s life, and you have to have relied on that offer to your detriment,” she says, adding that “it’s very unusual for that to happen.”
Robert Benowitz, a partner at the New York firm Rick, Steiner, Fell & Benowitz who generally represents high-level employees in employment cases, adds that legal action is possible if an employer has provided a prospective employee a document, such as a letter or an employee handbook, which states that grounds for termination are more limited than the state’s “at will” laws.
Again, “it’s not necessarily something that’s widespread,” he cautions.
A better idea is to head the problem off at the pass.
“If you have an offer in an industry you know is having problems or faces challenges, then you want to be proactive,” says Andrea Rice, co-founder and president of Gotta Mentor, an online resource for students and professionals. “If they’re rescinding offers, they’re probably not rescinding all offers.”
Contact both the HR person who offered you the position and the person who will be your direct supervisor, suggests Rice. Restate your enthusiasm for the job, then ask if they know the status of the company’s job offers and when they will make a firm decision whether to rescind.
“You want people on the inside advocating for you,” she says.
Pace’s Queen-Hubert says it’s a good idea in any case for students who’ve committed to a job that starts six or nine months down the road to be in touch with their prospective employer every two months.
Many experts say that until you’ve actually been handed a cubicle and a key to the restroom, you should keep your eyes open for another job. It’s a dicey strategy, though, because word might get back to your prospective employer that you’re still looking.
Still, “It’s a good risk to take,” says Williams. “Until you’re sitting at the desk, you’re a free agent and you need to be out there exploring your options. This is your ass.”
“The obligation to the individual is to do the best he possibly can for himself and his family,” agrees Bob Hoberman, a partner at RW Consulting in New Jersey. “It may be that the job offer has seven out of 10 things that he wants, but maybe he can find one that has eight or nine.”
Jennifer Hudson's tragic loss will take time to heal
By Kelley L. Carter
It was supposed to be a time of celebration for newly engaged Jennifer Hudson, who was simultaneously promoting her self-titled first solo album and a new movie, The Secret Life of Bees.
Instead, she's dealing with an almost unimaginable tragedy that's playing out in the public eye: the shooting deaths of her mother, brother and nephew.
Hudson, who is back home in Chicago, has canceled all upcoming appearances, including a video shoot scheduled for earlier this week in Los Angeles and promotional trips planned for her new album.
Where does the Academy Award winner go from here? Hollywood watchers expect Hudson to publicly address her losses — when the time is right.
"To think that so much of that family has been lost to her now, it's unprecedented in celebrity history," says Janice Min, editor of Us Weekly. "This isn't a woman who hides anything. It would be out of character for her to pretend it didn't happen. She's always been very open.
"As a musician, she'll turn some of this pain into music. Somewhere down the road, she'll talk about it."
It's anybody's guess when that will happen. Bereavement counselors stress there's no blueprint for grief — it can take months or years to reconcile death. "What's important is to not name a timeline. She could be ready to talk openly about this experience tomorrow or not for months," says Wendy Wollner, a New York-based industrial psychologist and CEO of Balancing Life's Issues. "That's an individual process. I do think she's going to be strong very quickly. She has her sister. I think that bond will be huge for her; they will help each other through this."
When Hudson is ready to share her story, many are convinced that will happen with an A-list news anchor or on the couch of talk show icon Oprah Winfrey.
"She's not ready to do interviews. We're in a place where there's more questions than answers," says Howard Bragman, a longtime Hollywood publicist and author of the upcoming book Where's My Fifteen Minutes? "There will be a tearful interview with Diane or Oprah or Matt or Larry … a situation like this, you're in it for the long haul."
Min agrees: "Oprah is the logical place to go. It's safe to cry on the sofa. Talking to Oprah is like talking to your best friend who's also a therapist. And everyone watches it. It will be couched as a tribute to her family and not a rehash of the murder."
Experts agree that Hudson will use the experience as an opportunity to grow and help others.
"Some of us are equipped by God to handle certain situations. And once we have handled them, we turn our setbacks into comebacks, and that is what Jennifer can do," says Tim Storey, an ordained minister and a life coach who has worked with Quincy Jones, Kanye West and Robert Downey Jr. "I fully believe that she will turn this around to change many people's lives." And down the road, Bragman says, "I suspect she'll get involved with an organization that works with domestic violence or victims rights, but it's too soon for that."
Says Min: "My sense is she won't become a recluse or leave Hollywood. She's a born entertainer."
Contributing: Donna Freydkin
Wendy Wollner, Founder and President of Balancing Life’s Issues Inc.
What was your education and professional experience?
Were they helpful in starting your business? I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Syracuse University and a Master’s Degree in Industrial Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Following graduation, I worked in human resources, career placement and held various positions at universities. Then for several years I worked as an independent consultant before forming my own company, Balancing Life’s Issues, Inc. Combining my education, life and work experience, I found my clients responded to my down-to-earth, direct and honest approach and insights related to work/life balance issues.
When did you establish your business?
I incorporated BLI in 2001.
How did you spot the opportunity? How did it surface?
I was doing well as an independent consultant and my schedule was overflowing; I actually had to turn down opportunities- this was a key moment for me. It was then that I decided to start building my business by hiring other speakers who shared my same passion and approach.
What were your goals? What were your lifestyle needs or personal requirements? How did you fit them together?
When I started Balancing Life’s Issues, Inc. I had been through a divorce, and was trying to balance my life as a working, single mother of three. Needless to say, it was a challenging time. I needed a career that could support my family financially, yet remain flexible to fit with our busy schedule. It was important to me to speak about engaging topics that were near and dear to me, topics that I had an opinion on and with that I found my place in the work/life field.
How did you evaluate the opportunity in terms of the competition and the market?
I found I could reach more companies and grow my business by forming partnerships with my competitors. I discovered a unique niche in the market by becoming a national training affiliate for large work/life and EAP providers.
How did any outside advisors make a difference in your company?
I encountered a lot of naysayers in the beginning from well intentioned friends and family. “Are you going to have enough money? Remember, you are a single mom, after all.” “Do you know how many small businesses, fail?” etc. I had to stay focused on my goals and trust my instincts. The positive feedback I received from my clients really kept me going in the early years and to this day.
What did you perceive to be the strengths of your venture?
Our services, our speakers and our reliability. Our programs are direct, candid and deliver practical information about important work/life issues. Additionally, our seminars have a personal touch– the facilitators have a vested interest in each topic and that makes our programs so engaging. I use my experiences from when I was a single mother and the challenges of running a successful business as material for my trainings. I believe audiences can immediately relate to me on many levels because they find many similarities in their own lives. I earn their trust because my speeches are sincere, personal and truthful. I don’t hire trainers, unless I can hear commitment to the topic in their voice. It’s not enough to have the credentials, I have to know each trainer will be able to connect with the audience emotionally, and make a difference. As a result, we consistently receive high ratings from all our clients and we are invited back again and again. We have an unwavering commitment to service excellence. Our clients know that we are responsive, care about their total satisfaction and they can count on us to deliver programs that are not only entertaining but facilitate outcomes.
Planning for growth and pacing ourselves. As a small business, it’s a challenge to manage growth at the right pace.
Tell us about your business and the services you provide:
Balancing Life’s Issues, Inc. is a national provider of custom work/life balance trainings. We have a nationwide team of expert trainers that provide programs on a wide range of topics including managing stress, balancing work and family life, healthy living, household budgeting, organizational change, team building, leadership skills, workplace effectiveness, parenting issues and caring for elders. With programs ranging from one-hour work/life seminars to keynote speeches to health and benefit fairs, our services help employees feel valued, and companies retain and enhance a more committed and productive staff.
What do you find most rewarding as an entrepreneur?
When my vision becomes reality and the services are delivered in a way that meets my expectations. I know it’s working when my clients request a seminar or service again and again.
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
You have to be willing to fully commit and work harder than you ever thought you would have to. In the beginning, you may have to do it all and several years in to it, you may still be doing tasks that you may not want to do anymore. It is hard work but worth it. Also, it’s not easy to replicate a successful model. Communicating your vision to others to implement is challenging.
What are your plans for the future?
Continue growing and adding new clients. I’d like to expand the training programs into longer sessions and continue our growth while constantly developing new relevant programs and finding quality educators to deliver them.
This issue of WomenandBiz.com’s theme is “Being Proactive”. What actions would you suggest our readers to start taking today, in order to have a more balanced business/life?
Be very clear of your values and priorities each and every day. That often involves reprioritizing your “to-do” list throughout the day. Ask yourself frequently - what is the most important thing to do right now? Say yes to opportunities as much as you can and decline when it’s in direct conflict with your priorities. I assure my clients that finding the balance in one’s life is a learned skill. By reaching within ourselves and learning to think differently we can make important changes in our lives.
Take a close look at businesses that are doing well and strive to stay one step ahead of the game. Read biographies and learn from other people’s mistakes and successes. Maintain an optimistic and positive mindset of being successful.
Dieting is no fun, whether it's for your waistline or your wallet. Now that you've accepted that all-purpose truth, get over your fear and loathing and find $100 you don't need to spend each week.
Impossible you say? "Not so," says Wendy Wollner of Balancing Life's Issues, a national corporate training company. "Many people don't even know how much money is slipping through their fingers each week and identifying that is the first step," according to Wollner. Next step annualize each expense. Add up what it will cost you over the year. That realization usually convinces even the most recalcitrant to come up with a bail out plan for fiscal restraint.
Now, where do you spend your money? If you're male apparently surveys show you spend it on lunch, hobbies such as golf, and electronics, including media rooms. If you're female you spend it on hair, clothes, cosmetics and other beauty products. For most people this isn't discretionary spending but part of their living expenses. Unfortunately, many can no longer afford their own lifestyles.
So, what can you give up and what won't you give up? According to Donna Rosato of "Money Magazine" gym memberships are the number one "can't live without" ironically followed closely by "eating out". On the other hand, those surveyed were most likely to forgo new gadgets, sporting events and big vacations.
That being said, here is a list of 10 things from which you can pick and choose in order to eliminate $100 a week from your budget:
Meals out/take out
Snacks on the go
You can also cut back on spending in some areas even though you think you can't:
Pet care and products-learn to bathe the dog yourself.
Dry cleaning try to save dry-clean only items for special occasions.
Gym- look for one that's less expensive or do without the personal trainer.
Housekeeper- reduce from once a week to bi-weekly, even once a month.
Do some of the chores yourself.
Landscaper- find a local student to mow the lawn and trim the hedges.
Insurance- try combining car and home for savings. Utilities- conserve and look for extras and waste you can eliminate. After all of this disciplined belt-tightening, you'll probably feel you've earned a vacation from the stress of thinking about every nickel and dime you spend. And the truth is vacations re-energize us to better deal with life's challenges. However, continuing with the program of why spend more when you can spend less, don't fly, drive and look for all-inclusive packages. Better yet, stay home and get to know your community in a different light. You may discover a wonderful restaurant, art gallery, park, wine store, bakery, and bowling alley.
Think of the new frugality as an adventure and a challenge and there is a point to all of this penny-pinching. Your reward is your own money, fruit of your labor that can make you feel more secure, fuel your retirement and your children's education. And it's not just a case of long-term goals; you'll actually have more money to do the things you really want to do now.
Ten years after a rancorous divorce, Tina Talbot, a 47-year-old San Francisco tax attorney, is marrying her boyfriend of five years. However the happiness of the occasion is muted.Talbot's 14-year-old daughter is putting her mother "through the ringer," doing her best to ignore and irritate her stepfather-to-be. Says Talbot, "Pam walks out of the room when Sam comes in, and ignores all his efforts to befriend her. This has been going on for years. I basically have two separate relationships -- one with my fiance and one with my daughter."
Talbot's not the only single mother whose kid has clashed with mom's date: Lara Tyler, in a similar situation, has chosen to end her relationship of two years "to the best guy in the world" due to her 12-year-old daughter's "relentless mouthing off and disrespect" toward Tyler's boyfriend. Tyler, a 45-year-old Chicago realtor sighs, "I feel such guilt at leaving her father way back when that I just can't bring myself to do something that will upset her further."
What is wrong with this picture?
To be clear, I am not advocating that single mothers put their love life ahead of their children. Moms need to be sensitive to their kids' feelings by not bringing a parade of "uncles" into the house -- in other words, make sure you know your date very well before introducing him to your amazing and beloved offspring. And if said amazing and beloved offspring dislike your date, listen and carefully evaluate their reasons. Never force them to spend time alone with your date. Lisa Daily, author of How to Date Like a Grown-Up: Everything You Need to Know to Get Out There, Get Lucky, or Even Get Married in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond, sums up, "Don't sacrifice time with your kids for time with your dates. [Kids] need you more."
That is indisputable. You meet someone and you're thrilled, happy, and excited. Rah, rah! Unfortunately your children become anxious and worried about what changes this new person will bring to the household. Be patient and understanding. Your job is to reassure them they will always be first.
However, that patience needn't be unlimited. There is something skewed and sad about adolescents manipulating their mothers into giving up any semblance of a private life. New York-based psychologist Wendy Wollner (balancinglifesissues.com), a specialist in helping people find balance in their lives, has seen this scenario time and again. A mother of three and stepmother to two, Wollner knows this terrain firsthand. She explains, "Women struggle with expectations for how they should behave, being perfect, wanting to please everyone, especially their children. But it's a disservice for children to get the message that being selfish is okay."
It's the imperfections of life that allow us to grow, the struggle to rise to challenges that can transform us into strong, resilient, empathetic beings. Isn't that what we ultimately want for our children?
Kids are all id: selfishness personified. It's up to parents to empower their children to want their elders to be happy. Wollner explains, "I advise single mothers to explain to their daughters -- and it seems to be daughters rather than sons who do this sort of manipulation! -- that just as kids have playdates and need companionship in their lives, so do parents. When they leave home one day do they want mom to be left all alone?"
It was a long process for Wollner's children to accept there was a man in their mother's life. "I didn't rush them. We had many discussions where I encouraged the kids to express their feelings. That didn't mean I had to validate their feelings by giving in to them. I'd tell them, 'It's a two-way street. What are you doing to make things better with my fiance?'"
When your child has a physical boo-boo, the impulse is to kiss it and make it better. But the best medicine for an emotional strain isn't to cover it up with a glow-in-the-dark Band-Aid. Rather, kiss your child, love your child, and help your child realize that sometimes life hurts a little. Once she accepts the reality and stops fighting for the fantasy embedded in her head, her ache will ease.
These days Tina Talbot is the one aching. She is seriously considering breaking off her engagement to give her daughter more time (apparently five years isn't enough) to adjust to the idea of sharing her mother. Talbot says wanly, "Hey, in three years Pam will be off to college. Hopefully Sam will think I'm worth waiting for."
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child
by Wendy Wollner
Your 3-year-old is crying because you poured milk into her blue cup instead of her pink cup. Your 10-year-old struck out three times at the big game and comes home angry and sullen. Your 16-year-old is upset because she didn’t score as high as she hoped on an important test. What do you do when your child’s emotions run high? When he’s angry? Wants something she can’t have? Feels disappointed? Over the past decade or so, research has shown that a child’s emotional quotient (EQ) is just as — if not more — important as IQ for his or her success. A child with a high EQ relates and communicates comfortably with people, copes well with feelings, and can form lasting friendships. It is up to us as parents to raise emotionally intelligent children, which means teaching them responsibility, cooperation, empathy and how to understand and deal with their feelings appropriately. Children need these skills to cope with everyday issues. So where do we start?
Get to know your child.
The first step is to get to know who your child actually is— not who you want him to be. This is hard for parents because we all want to believe that our child is perfect. But we’ve got to consider the good, the bad and even the ugly to get the full picture. The goal is to figure out how your child thinks, feels and reacts in certain situations. Important questions to ask are:
• What is my child good at?
• In what areas does my child struggle?
• How does my child cope with frustration, anger, etc.?
• How does my child interact with friends, teachers, teammates, peers, etc.?
Allow your child to experience negative emotions.
As much as we love and want to protect our children, we must allow them to experience and deal with negative situations. In fact, meltdowns are excellent opportunities to teach your child how to cope with frustration, anger and other negative emotions. Remember, feeding or buying a toy for your child to stop the crying causes more damage. These are substitutes we often use to staunch an emotional problem, but they only avert a crucial learning opportunity and inhibit growth.
Increase your child’s emotional literacy.
Children sometimes mistakenly say that they are “mad” or “sad” because they lack the vocabulary to describe a specific emotion. Maybe they feel scared, disappointed, overwhelmed or squelched and just don’t know how to express it. Parents can set an example by using more specific words — not just happy or sad — to describe feelings and encouraging their children to do the same. Make a chart of specific words that describe emotions to which you and your child can refer to accurately identify their feelings. In the midst of a tantrum or outburst, ask your child to talk about the struggles she is experiencing. Ask what would make the situation better and how you can help. Show that you care and that you want to understand. When your child does handle a conflict well, give praise for the specific success, and remind him to use that tactic again in the future.
Teach your child to be respectful.
Kids will be kids, but parents need to hold their children accountable for their actions and teach them basic social skills. We are not born with manners; it is the parents’ job to teach their children how to behave and be respectful of other people’s feelings. Emotionally intelligent children say, “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me.” Help your child to read body language by pointing out simple customs like putting a jacket on to indicate that you are just about to leave. Parents can also help children be respectful by encouraging them to look at things from another point of view. Ask them to describe how characters of a book or film might feel and if they’ve ever felt that way.
Validate your child’s feelings.
Sometimes all you can do is acknowledge your child’s feelings and be a model of empathy and understanding. In those situations, the best thing to do is just to hug your child and say, “I really feel badly that you’re feeling sad right now.”
WENDY Wollner is a life-balance specialist with over 19 years of experience. She is the founder and president of Balancing Life’s Issues, Inc. (BLI), a national executive training company whose clients include IBM, Bank of America and The New York Times. To keep balance in her own life, Wendy lives in Westchester County with her husband and three children, two stepchildren, a dog, two cats and a rat.
If one of your great fears is dying, you may want to start reading up on Paris, Lindsay and Angelina.
No, it won't help you live longer, but a new study in Pyschology Today reports that identifying with celebrities helps us boost a sense of our own immortality.
To many of us, celebs seem so above it all that we think if we dress, act and eat them, we'll actually be like them. And - just like our fave demigods - we'll leave behind a lasting legacy, the researchers found.
The study, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was reported by psychology grad student Pelin Kesebir and her professer, Chi-Yue Chiu.
"What we found is that the universal fascination with celebrities can be explained by this desire for immortality," Kesebir said in a phone interview. "Famous people are perceived as immortal in the symbolic sense, and their perceived imperishability serves as a buffer against our fear of the nothingness that comes after death."
Thinking about death makes us look for meaning in the world by identifying with people whose legacy will survive us, Kesebir says. "We strive for the symbolic form of immmortality," she says.
Interestingly, not all celebrities are perceived as immortal, the study found. People want to read about celebs who represent our own cultural values. "The thinking is like this: I might die some day, but the values of my culture and those who represent these values are everlasting," Kesebir says.
Keeping abreast of celebrities in order to feel better about ourselves is common, says Wendy Wollner, founder of Balancing Life's Issues, a national executive training company that helps employees deal with family and work challenges. "We have such a strong fear of death, and the only thing that makes it more bearable is if we think our legacy can live on forever," she says. "If we can believe that we will always live on in other people's minds, it's not so terrible to die. By reading up on celebrities, we link our legacy to their legacy."
But keeping up with celebs can be a double-edged sword. "If people become really obsessed with celebrities, it can make you feel stressed and dissatisfied," says Debbie Mandel, author of "Addicted To Stress" and "Turn On Your Inner Light." "You can get upset that you don't have their wealth or their looks. You feel that you can never make it, which promotes a fear of failure."
When it comes to celeb watching, a little can go a long way. "It isn't healthy if we feel like we know all about their marriages and sex lives, and are on a first name basis with them," Wollner says. "If you can read about celebs and laugh and put it in perspective, there's no harm in it."
Reading about celebrities who represent our values can inspire us, according to study co-author Kesebir. "It can make us believe in the possibility of a meaningful existence in the face of death," she says. "We all need values to believe in and heroes who embody these values to look up to."
- Don't make fun of others. Many people think it’s alright to make jokes about others as long as it's just a joke, but making fun of someone else is never appropriate and is completely off limits. A joke at someone else's expense only creates tension and bad feelings.
- Don't perform slapstick humor. There is no room in the workplace for stupid or potentially dangerous humor, and there is nothing funny about someone falling or getting hurt. If someone drops the cafeteria tray, go over and help them pick it up and say you’ve done the same thing. It’s happened to all of us.
- Don't forward jokes. The company e-mail system is not for joke-telling. Besides, what is funny to one person may not be funny to all. It's not worth hurting your professional reputation over something meant to be comedic.
- Do laugh at yourself (this is fair game). At an office meeting, if the manager has the unfortunate duty of delivering bad news, laughing at themselves can help to reduce stress. It alleviates some of the feelings people have of always having to be perfect. It also helps make the manager seem more approachable.
- Do make others laugh. Being able to tell a tasteful, funny story, or helping your coworkers find the humor in a work situation can go a long way towards alleviating stress in the workplace.(Just be careful what type of stories you tell and never direct them toward someone or something specific!)
- Do spread your good mood. According to a recent study, happiness is contagious. One person's happiness can affect another's for as much as a year, spreading among the office like the flu virus. The good news is that even though unhappiness can spread from person to person as well, its ability to infect others is far weaker.