Happiness At Work #54 ~ this week’s highlights

Moon over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Happiness At Work Edition #54

Several of the stand-out stories we’ve collected highlight mindfulness in this week’s new collection.  This is partly because I am drawing together a selection of ideas for a post about mindfulness I hope to have written in time for a collection in the next week or so, but also it seems because this subject is featuring across the air waves just at the moment.  Michael Mosley has had a new Horizon programme that featured this practice, more and more organisations are starting to notice the prevalence of mindfulness practice in some of the most successful companies on our planet, and a new study has found that mindfulness has a great deal of benefit to offer students, especially during this time of year of stressful exam taking.

But we start with some good news for women in particular who face an end of their relationship…

Women Happier Than Men After Divorce, Study Finds


Ongoing survey of 100,000 people found that women are significantly more content than usual for up to five years following the end of their marriages.

Despite the hellishness of divorce — emotional turmoil, disrupted living arrangements, and a shrinking income — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, especially for women, a new study has found.

Research published in the journal Economica has found that women are much happier and satisfied with their lives following divorce…

photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin cc

photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin cc

Personality Traits Of A Successful Woman Leader

Pam Johnson is an HR professional in the furniture industry, as well as an adjunct professor for her local community college .  She is constantly seeking out people with leadership qualities to fulfill management positions.

In a the male dominated world in which we live, it becomes increasingly important that strong women leaders take charge and make themselves known. They should use their strong personality traits to be a role model to other women and young girls. What, you ask, are the personality traits that tend to make a woman a good leader? Take a look at these personality traits and see if you, or someone you know possesses these traits. If you or someone else does possess these traits, encourage that person or challenge yourself to become an outward role model for other females.

  • Confidence…
  • Intelligence…
  • Interpersonal skills…
photo credit: f.stroganov via photopin cc

photo credit: f.stroganov via photopin cc

Your glass really can become half full: The documentary that shows how you can train your brain to become an OPTIMIST in seven weeks


  • Michael Mosley has investigated the science of personality and discovered that our outlook on life is not fixed and unchangeable
  • By regularly practicing two mental exercises – mindfulness and cognitive-bias modification – and with no drugs or therapy he felt happier
  • Cutting edge tests showed that within just seven weeks his brain activity became less characteristic of a pessimistic and anxious person
  • Study has shown that on average, being optimistic can add more than seven years to a life – four years more than if a cure for cancer was found

If you’re a pessimist who thinks a leopard can’t change its spots, just read on.  For researchers claim you can teach yourself to be an optimist in as little as seven weeks.

And there are even more reasons to be positive: the training consists of two simple excercises. One involves looking at smiley and angry faces and the other is a 20 minute meditation exercise…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Enlightenment Engineers


Meditation and mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley. And it’s not just about inner peace—it’s about getting ahead.

More than a thousand Googlers have been through Search Inside Yourself training. Another 400 or so are on the waiting list and take classes like Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy in the meantime. Then there is the company’s bimonthly series of “mindful lunches,” conducted in complete silence except for the ringing of prayer bells, which began after the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh visited in 2011. The search giant even recently built a labyrinth for walking meditations.

It’s not just Google that’s embracing Eastern traditions. Across the Valley, quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become staples at many of the region’s most prominent companies…

These companies are doing more than simply seizing on Buddhist practices. Entrepreneurs and engineers are taking millennia-old traditions and reshaping them to fit the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, largely atheistic culture. Forget past lives; never mind nirvana. The technology community of Northern California wants return on its investment in meditation. “All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde,” says Kenneth Folk, an influential meditation teacher in San Francisco. “This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.”

It can be tempting to dismiss the interest in these ancient practices as just another neo-spiritual fad from a part of the country that’s cycled through one New Age after another. But it’s worth noting that the prophets of this new gospel are in the tech companies that already underpin so much of our lives. And these firms are awfully good at turning niche ideas into things that hundreds of millions crave…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Mind over matter is the key to happiness in workplace


‘Contemplation is the new caffeine’ – thus ran the headline in a recent piece in Wired magazine in which the tech journal observed a growing trend amongst large US corporations for incorporating mindfulness, meditation and creative thought into their battle plan for tackling rising workplace stress.

Google has lead the charge recently with a series of ‘mindful lunches’ and other companies have followed suit. The co-founders of Twitter and Facebook have made contemplative practices key components of their office cultures, holding regular in-office meditation sessions and arranging for work routines that maximise mindfulness…

So in some ways the timing could not be better for award-winning poet and psychotherapist Christina Reihill to launch her new initiative into the corporate market here in Ireland. ‘Soul Burgers’ won the prestigious Allianz/Tile Style Business To Arts Bursary Award and is the latest incarnation of a project that has already been adapted for musical performances, stage productions and urban art productions.

Reihill – the daughter of Tedcastles tycoon John Reihill who died earlier this year – describes it as “a one-hour mindfulness and well-being seminar to address issues of awareness, personal responsibility, anxiety and problems of addiction, in a unique, gentle and thought-provoking way”…

“Too many HR departments deal with people as products and then wonder why productivity, motivation, change and false expectations remain unresolved”, Reihill tells the Sunday Independent. These issues need a more subtle and soulful approach.

The latest research from America backs up the idea that mindfulness increases workplace happiness, productivity and emotional intelligence. And if Reihill and her team have anything to do with it, Dublin-based corporations will be right on trend.

photo credit: Kuzeytac via photopin cc

photo credit: Kuzeytac via photopin cc

Mindfulness in the workplace on the rise

By Jane Kennedy, Geoff Cannon, Glenn Barndon

Workplace stress and general anxiety has become far more prevalent with the increase in technology, digital communication and a change in attitudes towards our work life.

…Large corporations such as Google, Apple, Nike and Target are encouraging its staff to practice mindfulness at work.

“Mindfulness is all about the reality of what’s happening here and now, so if we just pause to come back to our senses, back to reality, that’s all we really need to do,” Dr McKenzie explains.

Studies show that practicing mindfulness helps reduce stress, improve productivity and increase general happiness in the corporate world…

Mindfulness at Work by Dr Stephen McKenzie is out next week. And you can hear him speak more about mindfulness and stress with the ABC’s Glenn Barndon in a podcast inside this article…

How to Manage People Mindfully

The new comedy The Internship pokes fun at the quirky, innovative, utopia-like work environment of Google headquarters. We have all heard stories about Google’s carefully designed “adult playground,” where brilliant minds are nurtured with a creative mix of work and play. The stimulating and seemingly self-sustaining “community” created by Google captivates imaginations with visions of the ideal workplace. And with the ideas that are born on site, it’s easy to see why.

Where we work has a heavy impact, not only on our personal well-being, but on our value to the company we work for. One of my favorite things about attending the fourth annual Wisdom 2.0, a conference that brought together CEOs and experts on mindfulness, was the overwhelming sense that people care. Too often in the world today, people use their power in destructive ways. At Wisdom 2.0, however, business and spiritual leaders from around the world collaborated to discuss the intersection between explosive technologies and personal well-being. Their mission for attendees was “to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.”

What struck me about the gathering was that a group of driven and powerful figures from our society were there in hopes of learning how they can have an impact, how they can use their power for good. This spirit of community is one that would greatly benefit any business hoping to survive today’s economy. Mindfulness is a practice that can help individuals feel more integrated, both personally and interpersonally. By mindfully forging a sense of connectedness and camaraderie, employers not only enhance the well-being of their employees but of the business itself…

As managers, we can learn to be mindful in our decisions, policies and practices. The best way to start is by thinking about what our values are and choosing to live by them. If all of us were to do this in each of our interactions, we would find that our attitude is contagious. We will communicate more clearly, relate more personally and create a more integrated environment that benefits the businesses we work for and the lives of the people who surround us…

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

Mindfulness Means Nothing: Lose the Word, Find a Habit

This is a really helpful introduction to mindfulness by Mark Bertin, M.D.

Mindfulness: A Dictionary Definition
Mindfulness According to Oxford:
The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something

Dr. Kabat-Zinn created his “mindfulness-based stress reduction” (MBSR) program to introduce centuries-old Buddhist concepts into the secular West. Mindfulness is not a spiritual practice unless you want it to be. Whether you’re an intense business leader, an inner-city kid from Baltimore or living on a mountaintop in Tibet, mindfulness builds skills and perspectives that cultivate a larger sense of equilibrium around basic facts of life such as everything is always changing, nothing stands still, and uncertainty rules.

The concept behind the entire MBSR program can be unintentionally misleading. Give us eight weeks and we can fix your stress problem. It can sound very… advertising driven. As any MBSR teacher would say, in reality stress is going to continue whatever we do. And even when your stress level does improve (as research suggests it may), MBSR does not immediately alter anything for some people or eliminate stress forever for anyone; it is not cure-all or a quick fix.

The eight-week program is an introduction to a lifelong training. Stick to it, even when practice is difficult and not much seems to happen, and your experience changes. Mindfulness is more analogous to long term physical fitness than anything more immediate such as knee surgery or a dose of antibiotics.

The Language of Mindfulness
Mindfulness According to Grandma:
Learning how to “be in the moment” and familiar with what you are experiencing so that you become more focused and less reactive in your behavior.

There’s often confusion about the relationship between various related concepts such as “mindfulness” and “mindfulness meditation” and “mindfulness-based stress reduction.” Are they all the same or different? Do they all depend on each other? If I take a mindfulness class do I have to sit quietly for hours on end and pretend to be happy about it?

First, what is meditation? Mindfulness meditation is a particular type of meditation that breaks a habit. We all live much of life distracted and not quite paying attention to what’s actually going on. We exist on autopilot, generally relying on habitual and often reactive behaviors. Through meditation we aim to build a capacity to attend fully to real life, as it is, for better or worse, without any escapism or striving for a totally still mind. Not only can you meditate if you have a busy mind, it’s expected that you’ll have one…

Mindfulness refers to the whole package, a particular set of cognitive skills we develop that help manage our lives. Mindfulness doesn’t require meditation, but it’s built through meditation. It does not require a particular program. You can practice mindfulness at any time through the day, bringing your full attention to whatever you’re doing, with a particular attitude of openness and acceptance (whatever that means)…

Mindfulness is more than attention training.

Mindfulness According to Siri:
The trait of staying aware
(of paying close attention) to your responsibilities.

Stress results when real life does not fit our idea of what should be. Which might mean something as huge as “I imagined I’d be in a happy marriage forever but now I’m getting divorced” or as simple as “I had my heart set on a cheeseburger but they are out of cheese.” Recently back from vacation we may feel particularly magnanimous, accept our disappointment, and move forward. After an awful night sleep and a fight with our boss the no-cheese experience causes a meltdown. A lot of the time, if not all the time, our perspective matters.

When we discuss paying full attention to our immediate experience, it means not only to external forces (no cheese today) but all our internal chatter…

Mindfulness may be a proactive version of the traditional serenity prayer, without the God reference. Being open and curious means acknowledging the reality of the moment, however we feel, without excessive wrestling. Equanimity, a sense of peace and ease, often follows. May I develop for myself the ability to change the things I can, to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom always to see the difference.

Mindfulness is a skill set. 
Mindfulness According to Dr. G, Pediatrician/MBSR participant:
Mindfulness is a state where one accepts the past as unchangeable and the future as theoretical, where thoughts are just thoughts
and the present moment is all there is.

So what is mindfulness already? Mindfulness is the ability to live life more fully aware of what’s going on both around us and in our minds. Through that awareness, we become more familiar with our ongoing mental habits. That awareness increases our ability to pick and choose (without expecting total success) which ones to continue and from which we might step back at any moment…

Mindfulness for a healthy brain.

Mindfulness According to basketball coach Phil Jackson:
The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game — and life — will take care of itself.

I don’t work out because I want stronger lungs or legs or arms in particular. I want my body as a whole to stay in shape. And I don’t practice mindfulness because I expect better focus or less stress or more responsiveness in isolation. I support a general state of mental well-being through ongoing effort. That hopefully improves life not just for me, but for my family and anyone else who deals with me day to day…

Mindfulness is a word, and a less than perfect one at defining anything in particular. The concepts behind mindfulness matter far more. Try it and find out.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

How Meditation Works

From the many complexities of mindfulness to its inherent simplicity, here Liz Kulze, within a summary of research evidence and case studies,  puts its practice within a less complicated and so easier reach…

…In a practical sense, “sitting” is really all there is to the meditation aspect of mindfulness meditation. For anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour (or more) each day, whether alone or with a group, you sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed, focusing on your breath as it moves in and out. Your mind will inevitably wander, which is where the mindfulness aspect comes in. Instead of growing frustrated with your lack of focus or getting caught up in the web of your thoughts, you train yourself to observe the thought or emotion with acceptance and curiosity, and to calmly bring your focus back to the breath…

Emotional Intelligence ~ 20 Years On ~ Part 2

In Intentional Workplace ~ transforming work one conversation at a time Louise Altman, Partner writes helpfully and with passion about the connections between mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence (EI)…

…What are the barriers to open expression of emotional learning in most institutional systems?  In Part 1 I shared my assumption that any organization committed to EI learning and widespread application must be willing to act as an “open system.” Too often people are asked to open up and share their thoughts and feelings in systems they believe are inauthentic and closed.

Some EI practitioners have asked whether deep EI practices can flourish in systems that are rigidly hierarchical.  It’s an important question that often gets to the heart of assumptions and behavior in authoritarian-based relationships and structures.  The engine that runs these systems is often based on fear – and most EI advocates would agree that fear is antithetical to EI learning and practice. Because so many managers still mistake compliance for engagement, EI can sometimes be seen as a solution for lack of cooperation or enthusiasm among employees…

…One of the most important lessons I have learned since I began studying EI has been to get out of head and into my body.  Body awareness is typically low in most corporate audiences – and it’s essential to any real EI learning….

…Unfortunately most workplace cultures still require us to ignore the needs of our bodies. Long hours, not enough breaks, lack of access to the outdoors, endless sitting and increasing work loads and demands conspire to reinforce the mind-body split. Most EI learning does not sufficiently deal with these conflicts. I’ve facilitated many EI programs and team meetings in dreary, windowless rooms with heavily distracted workers who wonder why they are so chronically stressed…

…Mindfulness is a tool to build emotional intelligence not a corollary of the learning.  In a use and discard culture, mindfulness training is just another tool that can be downloaded and applied to get whatever is needed to make the deal. It’s a cold and cynical view of an ancient practice that must enter sacred territory to succeed – the body and the mind.

In my work, the essence of EI  is  emotional freedom. I know that many managers are attracted to competencies like Emotional “Regulation” (ah, at last we can train them to control themselves) but the heart of EI must be internal truth-telling.  Too often, leaders expect that EI learning will get employees to “comply” and engage even in cultures that do not support emotional honesty.

Still Asking the Wrong Questions

Twenty years on, some of the questions people ask about emotional intelligence still surprise me.  Is it really useful for business?   Should all levels of the organization have it? …

…As we move forward into the future of EI in the workplace, we need to begin asking different questions. These questions should be premised on something deeper than the bottom line. What do people need to come alive through their work? What kind of culture is needed to create an atmosphere of emotional safety and courage? What are the beliefs that hold us back from changing – personally and collectively?

Emotions are deep and complex. The cold, hard calculus of business demands short-term solutions and quick-fixes. Practitioners can’t install  EI nor can they provide the “deliverables” without  a change in the mindset of business culture.   Yes, you can improve your emotional intelligence. No, you cannot do it in a day or even a week. Yes, it’s really useful, even essential for every business, in every industry. When we stop asking the wrong questions, we’ll know we’re making progress…

photo credit: Night Owl City via photopin cc

photo credit: Night Owl City via photopin cc

School Mindfulness Programs May Reduce Stress — And Make Teens Happier, Study Finds


It’s at the most stressful times of the school year — like during exam periods — that strategies to relieve academic pressure mean the most. And recent research is shedding light on an effective way for schools to help manage students’ stress: mindfulness, a mental practice that aims to develop greater awareness of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry this month found that mindfulness programs could reduce stress and lessen symptoms of depression among secondary school students, as well as increase well-being…

How to teach … mindfulness

The Guardian Teacher Network has resources to help introduce the concept of mindfulness to pupils, to help them be calm, focused and creative.  A wonderful set of resources we can all tap into from Guardian writer 

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

6 Ways to Be Happier at Work This Summer

For most of us, more of our waking hours are spent at work than anywhere else. In fact, the average American spends approximately 100,000 hours at work over the course of his or her lifetime. That stat alone is a pretty sobering reminder about just how important it is to be happy at work.

The novelty and excitement of starting a business tends to wear off after the first year, as we become focused on the less-than-optimal aspects of running a business. However, there are some simple things you can do to change this mindset and have a more positive outlook at work this summer:

  1. Make time to exercise…
  2. Take control of your time…
  3. Appreciate others…
  4. Challenge yourself…
  5. Start something outside of work…
  6. When all else fails, smile…

Meditate Away the Sizzling Stress of Summer

Meditation is about being mindful of your spirit enough to focus inward for the serenity and guidance you need. It’s having a moment to hear yourself think. We have the answers within us, and with a steady routine, we can harness a personal power that will remove much of the emotion that stress can cause. The only steadfast rule is slow breathing. Proper breathing is an advantage to handling life and health matters, and is especially helpful for dealing with overall stress. I have outlined a simple method of breathing to get you started so that anyone, at any age, can enjoy meditating…

photo credit: tarotastic via photopin cc

photo credit: tarotastic via photopin cc

8 Ways to Cure Over-Thinking and Regain Your Happiness

Some straightforward simple yet effective tips from 

Let’s face it — over-thinking leaves you drained. It robs you of your peace and poise of mind. It’s mental exhaustion on the level of running a marathon every day. It’s a mind-numbing habit that keeps you stuck from leading a happy, healthy life. And who doesn’t want to be happier? Here are eight proven strategies to help you kick the over-thinking habit.

  1. Stop!  Enough!  The next time your monkey mind begins to produce a drama worthy of an Oscar, silently shout: “Stop! Enough!” Change the channel to something peaceful.
  2. Visualisation.  Visualise a happy memory or simply allow your mind to sink into its happy place…
  3. Just Breathe.  Turn your attention and focus on our breath. Focus on your inhales and exhales. Slow your breathing down. Take deeper breaths. Relax your jaw. Unclench your fists. Just Breathe….
  4. Go For A Walk.  Get out of your head, move your body. Swing your arms. Do a few lunges. Walk it out. Focus on each step. Pay attention to the way your foot makes contact with the pavement. Tune in to the movement of your body and not the replay of last week’s argument.
  5. Journal.  If the complaint or drama even has the inkling of being persistent, I write it down. As a response, monkey mind goes quiet. Once written, the need to be heard has been met. No need to revisit….
  6. Engage In Your Favourite Hobby.  Over-thinking produces no results and offers no solutions. Switch gears and do something you enjoy!
  7. Be Mindful.  Whatever you decide to do, engage your full attention on that activity….Keep your focus on whatever it is you’re doing. It will help prevent your monkey mind from wandering….
  8. Be Present.  Over-thinking is all about dredging up the past and/or borrowing trouble from the future. The best cure for over-thinking is to simply be present. Be here right now….

Why I’ll Never Write Another Top 10 List About Happiness

Britt Reints writes in her blog In Pursuit of Happiness

…you aren’t taking your happiness seriously if you need a top ten list. And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with being in a place where you take other stuff more seriously. Truly.  Maybe you’re researching how to cure cancer, or raising six kids, or focusing all of your energy on putting food on the table this month. Those lists that make happiness seem like something you can slip in between appointments probably just piss you off anyway, and that’s OK.

But maybe you are at a point where happiness is important.

Maybe you’re restless, searching, and always feeling not quite right.  I don’t know what that “OK, it’s time now” moment feels like for you; for me it felt like “screw it, let’s just blow up my entire life and start over.”  Whatever it is, you know.  And you know those shorthand missives about how to be happier are crap.

You know there’s more to it.

So do I.

And I’m promising you right now to stop pretending otherwise.

Let’s do this…

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Beyond McMindfulness

Not all commentators are unequivocally positive about this mindfulness movement.   suggest some reasons for caution…

Suddenly mindfulness meditation has become mainstream, making its way into schools, corporations, prisons, and government agencies including the U.S. military. Millions of people are receiving tangible benefits from their mindfulness practice: less stress, better concentration, perhaps a little more empathy. Needless to say, this is an important development to be welcomed — but it has a shadow.

The mindfulness revolution appears to offer a universal panacea for resolving almost every area of daily concern…

While a stripped-down, secularized technique — what some critics are now calling “McMindfulness” — may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

Most scientific and popular accounts circulating in the media have portrayed mindfulness in terms of stress reduction and attention-enhancement. These human performance benefits are heralded as the sine qua non of mindfulness and its major attraction for modern corporations. But mindfulness, as understood and practiced within the Buddhist tradition, is not merely an ethically-neutral technique for reducing stress and improving concentration. Rather, mindfulness is a distinct quality of attention that is dependent upon and influenced by many other factors: the nature of our thoughts, speech and actions; our way of making a living; and our efforts to avoid unwholesome and unskillful behaviors, while developing those that are conducive to wise action, social harmony, and compassion.

This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati). The distinction is not moralistic: the issue is whether the quality of awareness is characterized by wholesome intentions and positive mental qualities that lead to human flourishing and optimal well-being for others as well as oneself…

Up to now, the mindfulness movement has avoided any serious consideration of why stress is so pervasive in modern business institutions. Instead, corporations have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon because it conveniently shifts the burden onto the individual employee: stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments. Cloaked in an aura of care and humanity, mindfulness is refashioned into a safety valve, as a way to let off steam — a technique for coping with and adapting to the stresses and strains of corporate life…

One hopes that the mindfulness movement will not follow the usual trajectory of most corporate fads — unbridled enthusiasm, uncritical acceptance of the status quo, and eventual disillusionment. To become a genuine force for positive personal and social transformation, it must reclaim an ethical framework and aspire to more lofty purposes that take into account the well-being of all living beings…

These thoughts are picked up and challenged back by  in her post in Psychology Today, which summarises and champions the heart and hope our western interest in mindfulness is centred and moving from:

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Beyond McMindfulness: Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Ever since mindfulness began spreading its wings in Western culture, there has been the fear that it would be stripped down, diluted and packaged for sale by greedy money-hoarding capitalists just wanting to make their bank accounts fatter. If this happened, inevitably it would just become a passing trend that the public would eventually grow weary of. The most cautionary piece about this was an article published on Huffington Post called Beyond McMindfulnessWhile the sentiment of commodifying mindfulness into a marketable technique is alive, and worth cautioning against, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

Ultimately, a program has to be marketed to meet people where they are. The 15th century Indian poet Kabir said, “Wherever you are that’s the entry point.” For people to enter into the experience of mindfulness, it helps to package it for stress reduction, reducing depressive relapse, increasing productivity, increasing attentional focus, or lowering blood pressure. These allow people to be attracted to it and then have a genuinely beneficial experience that can guide them toward what matters.

Can you imagine if you walked into a corporation and said, “We have a program that integrates ancient practices from a Buddhist context that embeds moral and ethical guidelines for the benefit of all beings.” I don’t think you’d find many takers. But, rest assured, most of the leading programs out there are taught by people who hold these moral values in mind and integrate them in a way that can be understood and accepted…

Ultimately, the reason mindfulness will not just become another trend is because too many people at this point are experiencing how it not only reduces stress, but gets you in touch with what matters. It’s intentionally not tied to the Buddhist context, so maybe we call it “Western mindfulness.” More and more people are being trained under a more secular perspective and with the intention of it being a benefit beyond the egoic self.

In fact, there’s now an entire magazine called Mindful that’s dedicated to these more secular perspectives and how it is changing the face of business, education, mental health, medicine, and all these various sectors of life. Take heart, the magazine was started by people who have a deep appreciation for mindfulness as a movement that is globally transformative.

A very popular conference called Wisdom 2.0 that is all probably the leading conference for mindfulness and business has a subtitle that says, “How do we live with greater awareness, wisdom and compassion in the digital age?” My sense is that the trend is not heading toward McMindfulness, but is deeper than that. The folks that are just packaging it for a buck are more likely going to be the ones whose voices get drowned out by the leading programs.

I appreciate the cautionary notes in Beyond McMindfulness since we need to be aware when someone is just using the term as a buzz word without ties to a deeper moral purpose. But I want to make sure it’s balanced out with the reality of how a secularization of mindfulness, while not explicitly tied to Buddhist principles, is a vital movement for individuals, businesses, medicine, mental health and education…

Boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. We’ve got to get at the root causes.

…Men practice high levels of mindfulness in a variety of arenas in our society. At  military boot camps and police academies, men learn to control their breathing and focus on a target before firing a weapon. Sports are a great training ground for mindfulness: Basketball players are taught to clear their mind by going through a routine when shooting a free throw. Being in “the zone” is active meditation in its highest form.

Notice, however, that in all of these mindfulness practices, compassion is removed from the equation. These boys and men are being trained for win-or-lose competition. “It has been historically dangerous for a man to be vulnerable,” says Elad Levinson, who suggests that men’s resistance to explore interior emotions like compassion is the result of hundreds of years of conditioning…

While some argue that this is the result of a biological predisposition, contemporary research in neuroplasticity, by scientists like Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s  Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, finds that even short-term compassion meditation training (30 minutes a day for eight weeks)  alters the brain activity in regions associated with positive emotional skills like empathy. That is true for both men and women. As Davidson  says, “Compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.”

We understand the benefits. The need is there. But how do we get men to participate in mindfulness and compassion training? Here are five ways to plant the seeds of compassion in boys—and cultivate its growth in men…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

The power of shutting down your senses: How to boost your creativity and have a clear mind

Written by 

John C. Lilly’s original floatation experiments involved people wearing uncomfortably tight suits and breathing masks while being completely submerged. The tanks also made lots of noise, so complete sensory deprivation wasn’t possible.

The modern scenario sounds much more comfortable, and goes something like this:

You strip off, shower and step into a pod-like tank full of water and 850 pounds of Epsom salts. The salts make sure you float and prevent the risk of drowning by making it extremely difficult to roll over…

The long period of nothingness leaves you with only your mind, essentially. Once your body starts to get used to the lack of sensory input, the stress-centers of your brain relax and release less cortisol—the main brain chemical related to stress. Graham Talley, who owns a sensory-deprivation tank center in Portland, explained it like this:

Getting rid of all sensory input allows the ‘constantly-make-sure-you’re-not-dying’ part of your brain to chill out for a second, allowing the creative, relaxed part of your brain to come out and play.

Without the constant pressure of analyzing the world around you, your body lowers its levels of cortisol, the main chemical component of stress. “Your brain also releases elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, the neurotransmitters of happiness,” Graham continues. “Not having to fight gravity lets your muscles, joints, and bones take a well-deserved break. Without the gravity pushing you down, your spine lengthens an inch, chronic pain is relieved, and your muscles get to fully rest.”

…One of the coolest advantages of floating is how much it boosts creativity and nurtures inspiration. After floating in complete isolation, your senses are heightened… colors are more vibrant, scents more aromatic, and food taste better.

When part of your brain stops getting input—e.g. if one of your senses is deprived—other parts of your brain will pick up the slack. Many floaters experience hallucinations as their brains respond to not getting sensory input. This is part of the vivid mental imagery I mentioned earlier—your brain is relaxed enough to visualize strong images you wouldn’t see normally.

Are you curious enough to try it now? I certainly am. But, if you’re not quite ready to give it a go, or you’re not lucky enough to have a tank nearby, you can actually try some mild forms of sensory deprivation at home…

photo credit: cosmonautirussi via photopin cc

photo credit: cosmonautirussi via photopin cc

Mindful Photography: A Simple and Fun Exercise That Boosts Well-Being

Here’s another to add to the list.

It’s based on the idea that happiness is boosted by being grateful for what you have.

Unfortunately we often ignore what we have in the rush through everyday life.

One way of combating this is to take photographs of whatever is important to you as a reminder. Here are the instructions for ‘mindful photography‘, by positive psychology experts Jamie Kurtz and Sonia Lyubomirsky:

“Throughout the course of the day today, you will take photographs of your everyday life. […] think about the things in your life that are central to who you are. If you wanted someone to understand you and what you most care about, how would you capture this? While this is highly personal, some examples might include sports equipment [or] a memento from a favorite time spent with your romantic partner [..]. Have your camera or camera phone handy and take at least 5 photographs of these things today.” …

photo credit: HORIZON via photopin cc

photo credit: HORIZON via photopin cc

Harrison Ford Is A Carpenter


Wise and practical ideas from actor, lawyer, Russian language student Michelle Witton about how to make a path through to your dreams that can be built from doing things you like and feel good at while you’re waiting to do the thing you love and feel passionate about…

…Both law and acting are working with language. Law is about creative problem-solving, generating options to deal with issues. It’s given me the knowledge to deal with contracts, raise money for shows, do free legal work for The Actor’s Centre. I don’t advocate it for all. I’m sharing about a path – just one of many – that I’ve found creatively sustaining and rewarding…

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

SHAWN ACHOR Author of the international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage and Positive Psychology Expert!

A summary of some of Shawn Achor’s writing and speech topics, including:

The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance

Most companies and schools follow this formula: if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy. This formula is scientifically backward. A decade of research shows that training your brain to be positive at work first actually fuels greater success second. In fact, 75% of our job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way.

By researching top performers at Harvard, the world’s largest banks, and Fortune 500 companies, Shawn discovered patterns, which create a happiness advantage for positive outliers—the highest performers at the company. Based on his book, The Happiness Advantage (2010 Random House), Shawn explains what positive psychology is, how much we can change, and practical applications for reaping the Happiness Advantage in the midst of change and challenge.

Positive Leadership: Restoring a Culture of Confidence

Confidence, trust and job satisfaction are at historic lows. When the economic collapse began, the world’s largest banks called in Shawn Achor to research how to restore confidence and forward progress. While many managers succumb to helplessness, with their teams and clients quickly following suit, Shawn researched those who maintained high levels of success and leadership during the challenge. He found that our brains create confidence based on the belief that our behavior matters to the outcome we desire. To develop this trust, we must create “wins” for our brain necessary to overcome learned helplessness and must train our brains for rational optimism.

Based on the science of positive psychology and case studies of working with companies in the midst of an economic collapse, Shawn provides practical applications for raising the belief that individual behavior matters and helping leaders to keep teams motivated and engaged.

The Ripple Effect: How to Make Positive Change Easier

Common sense is not common action. This is because information does not necessarily cause transformation because we require a certain level of “activation energy” to start a change. Shawn Achor’s research in the field of positive psychology has revealed how changes in our own brain due to mindset and behavior can have a ripple effect to a team and an entire organization. This positive ripple effect can create a more productive, positive work culture making positive change easier. Audiences will learn about the latest scientific research on mirror neurons and mental priming to explain how positivity and negativity spread, case studies on how to become a lightning rod for change, and findings on how a positive ripple effect profoundly affects an organization’s ability to transition and change.

Rethinking the Formula for Success: The Power of Positive Education

At schools and companies alike, we are sometimes taught to think: “if I work harder, then I will be successful, and then I will be happy.” This formula–which undergirds much of our educational and professional world–is scientifically backwards. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, explains how positive brains reap a unique advantage raising nearly every educational and business outcome–but only if we get the formula right. By demonstrating how happiness is a choice, we can help students not only cultivate positive habits and mindsets, but achieve higher levels of success as a result.

Shawn’s study on 1600 Harvard students and his seven years as a Freshmen Proctor gave him a unique window into the thinking of success-driven and sometimes overwhelmed students. His subsequent work at schools and companies in 51 different countries now reveals how very simple changes to our mindset and habits can result in positive changes that cascade to others around us. Using his new research which made the cover of Harvard Business Review, interactive experiments, and humorous stories, Shawn shows how we can bring this research to life for our schools and for ourselves.

Shawn Achor photo credit: luci.mckean via photopin cc

Shawn Achor
photo credit: luci.mckean via photopin cc

Inside Bhutan: Is Happiness More Important than Economic Growth?

Max Johnson

As Bhutan heads to its second round of elections this weekend, Max Johnson reports on the mountainous nation and its commitment to Gross National Happiness

‘WE ALL WANT happiness: the question is, how much happiness does economic development bring you? Gross National Happiness is more important to us than GDP. We want to develop, but not at the expense of losing our culture, our identity.’ …

‘Look, all human beings want their lives to improve of course. But when we are on our death beds and we look back, we want to know that we lived a fulfilled life, a life without laziness, greed, arrogance, wrath and desire. The pursuit of wealth does not lead to the satisfaction of the soul. In the end, ashes to ashes, as you Christians say.’  …

But what exactly is Gross National Happiness? President Jigmi Y Thinley said in his party’s manifesto that the central tenet of GNH is about balancing the needs of the body (material gains) with those of the mind (spiritual growth).

GNH is thus based on four pillars: equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, environmental conservation (72 per cent of the country is covered by forests and 60 per cent is protected), preservation and promotion of culture and good governance…

photo credit: Risto Kuulasmaa via photopin cc

photo credit: Risto Kuulasmaa via photopin cc

And here’s an interesting exercise…

The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians, and Philosophers


John Irving, Joan Didion, David Byrne, Rem Koolhaas, Madeleine Albright, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Dennett, Andrew Sullivan, Ed Ruscha, Brian Eno, and more…

What seven words would you choose to describe you?

Happiness At Work #54

These and many more stories can all be found in this week’s collection.


Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Happiness At Work and/or Engagement ~ what’s the buzz?

Office workers in meeting

We are noticing more and more noise about the necessity of what is being termed ’employee engagement’ – why it is so necessary, what it makes it so hard to achieve, and what is likely to help and hinder it happening.

Of course we whole-heartedly applaud this emphasis on the human dimension of organisational life.  But at the same time, we wonder why ’employee engagement’ is perhaps being credited with a higher, harder-edged validity than happiness at work.  Are they the same?  Is one an aspect of the other?  Are the two symbiotically dependent upon each other?  Should we be concerned about the use of the more distanced, abstracted and objective-sounding ’employee engagement’ in preference to the more straightforward-sounding everyday recognisable un-jargoned idea of happiness at work?

This post won’t necessarily answer these questions, but rather, deliberately leave them hanging, suspending them above a series of new articles from this week’s latest Happiness At Work Edition #54, in the hope of encouraging more conversation about what we really want and what really matters to us in our work.

photo credit: Theophilos via photopin cc

photo credit: Theophilos via photopin cc

This week’s HRZone publishes a new toolkit of ideas to help organisations to build engagement amongst their people, which they title: Employee Engagement Is the Secret Sauce of Business Success…have you got the bottle for it? and from which we have drawn heavily in this post.  In it in his conclusion to his chapter, Professor Cliff Oswick makes a call for a radically new ‘Art of Non-Leadership’, writing:

Better decisions are made by groups than individuals. All the research tells us that. So why not allow the ecosystem of employees to be decision makers? Leaders of a truly engaged workforce create the conditions where people feel they have a voice and a stake, where organisations have forms of internal crowdsourcing, and where the leader facilitates employee-instigated behaviour rather than delegates responsibility.

In truly engaged organisations, employees take decisions and implement solutions for themselves. It’s the route to a more successful organisation.

And it’s still leadership. But not as we know it.

Employee Engagement is the Secret Sauce of Business Success… have you got the bottle for it? 

The link attached to the above heading will give you the HRZone’s free download guide –

an employee engagement toolkit with insight from leading academics, it’s a practical roadmap for organisations looking to engage their staff…

There is much valuable resource in this and here are some of the highlights that stood out for us.

In the introduction, Tom O’Bryrne, CEO of Great Place To Work writes:

…The truth is that it’s actually quite hard to do. Although there are a number of approaches to engagement there are no guarantees of success. For every organisation that creates a workplace of motivated, engaged people improving business performance, there are many others who struggle and fail. Many businesses today are too busy focusing on the short term – the order books, the bills – to have the time or resource to focus on engagement. The irony is of course that focusing on the people side of the business will ultimately help drive the business outcomes in the long term…

Employee engagement, as much as happiness at work, is situational, and what will be right and relevant in one place and time is likely to be very different than any other specific place, time and people.  In their opening chapter, Engagement Across The Globe – The Importance of Local Context, the authors summarise the findings from their recent study to show that even though engagement matters in every conext, what helps of hinders engagement changes according to the situation:

…As one director remarked, employee engagement is much easier in times of growth, when the aims of the company can be easily aligned with those of the employee, since both parties can benefit from growth. However, one of the MNCs in the study had had to reduce its workforce by 20% following the financial crisis, and in a period of such significant downsizing the drivers of employee engagement became very different. Managers felt that they needed to direct their energies towards maintaining and/or rebuilding trusting relationships with the workforce and the trade union representing them…

One of our favourite Happiness At Work experts in Jessica Pryce-Jones, and we notice a very strong correlation with the research conclusions of the top factors that affect people’s happiness at work that she outlines in her excellent book, Happiness at Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success:

Pryce-Jones defines happiness as “a mindset which allows you to maximise performance and achieve your potential. You do this by being mindful of the highs and lows when working alone or with others.”

Happiness at work has five major components, called the 5Cs:

  1. Contribution: what a person does in the workplace and her view of it.
  2. Conviction: a person’s ability to stay motivated.
  3. Culture: how well a person fits within the ethos and dynamic of the workplace.
  4. Commitment: a person’s general level of engagement with his work.
  5. Confidence: a person’s level of self-belief and how well she identifies with her job.

The 5Cs are accompanied by three supporting themes: PrideTrust, and Recognition.

Notice the similarity to the list of the most important factors for success in being a highly engaging manager, as identified by Katie Truss, Professor of Human Resource Management, Kent Business School, in the second chapter of the HRZone report, What Can Line Managers Do To Raise Engagement Levels?

Research suggests that these cluster around five core interconnected domains:

  1. the design of work,
  2. trust,
  3. meaningfulness,
  4. interpersonal respect, and
  5. voice. 

It is really interesting to see the word ‘voice‘ being used in this list of essential factors for employees.  During our work with schools we came to understand the immense importance and difficulty of encouraging and really listening to student voices talking about what they needed to flourish and learn at the best.  At the moment we working again with the wonderful Hackney Museum to help make a series of arts-based learning events with local community members, and again we are discovering the complexities of keeping an alert curiosity and interest in what the people in the room want and think and believe and feel about their own lives and aspirations, especially when our own ideas are trying to get out and into the room.

photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

This idea is well illustrated in the American case study written up by  in his story:

Want To Help Kids Solve Problems? Have Them Design Their Own Solutions

… Their journey began with a simple question: What change do you want to see in your community? It ended with their answer, which they created collectively over 12 class periods as part of their marketing class…

It aimed to help them learn the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity…

The idea of recognising employee voice made in this Employee Engagement  guide remind us of the necessity alongside the challenge of making time to ask into and listen closely to the people whose lives we seek to affect…

…Studies have shown that where employees feel they are able to express their views on work-related matters and know that these views will be listened to, then levels of engagement will be high. Some organisations are particularly good at encouraging employees to share ideas. One award-winning financial services firm has a scheme they call ‘Why on earths?’; if employees find themselves asking, ‘why on earth are we doing this?’ and bring this to the attention of managers, along with some proposals for improvement, then they are eligible to win a prize…

The aforementioned Jessica Pryce-Jones is emphatic about the distinction between engagement and happiness at work, as she writes in her introduction to her book, Happiness at Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success:

Myth 2: Happiness is Job Satisfaction or Engagement in Another Guise

Engagement in its purest sense refers to the relationship you have with your working environment and the strength of your connection to it.  Thought to be the opposite of burnout, it’s been broadly defined as “vigour, dedication and absorption” and has been widely used by organisations and consultants for improving retention…At its best engagement has been researched through using the concept of flow at work…

 But here’s the central issue:  in crunching through all our statistics – and we now have over 300,000 data points – we can see that engagement relates to 10% fewer items than happiness at work does…Although its something that matters – who doesn’t want to feel engaged at work? – it’s not as “large” a concept as happiness at work is…Engagement – and job satisfaction – are both things which happiness appears to encompass…

The starting point of happiness at work is that it is self-initiated:  we know that you want to make your working world better and enjoy contributing to it if you are given that opportunity…Being happy at work operates best from the ground-up because you know most about managing and affecting your world…

Be honest: would you rather be satisfied, engaged or happy at work?  You decide…

photo credit: Leonrw via photopin cc

photo credit: Leonrw via photopin cc

Pryce-Jones’ contention that engagement is primarily concerned with getting the right environment appears to be corroborated by Amy Armstrong, Research Fellow, Ashridge Business School, in her chapter of the HRZone engagement guide, Overcoming The Barriers To Senior Leader Engagement, which begins by citing the MacLeod Report Engaging For Success

Engaging leaders create work environments where employees are more committed, stay longer and give more to their organisations, which means that leaders are the ‘climate engineers’ by setting a culture and tone for engagement across the entire organisation. That said, UK engagement levels remain stubbornly low, therefore it is important to understand what prevents some leaders from taking responsibility for engagement. This was one of the objectives of a fascinating piece of research launched earlier this month by Ashridge Business School in partnership with Engage for Success, a Government-sponsored movement that is seeking to improve levels of engagement and well-being across the UK, and in which, it is suggested that it is the skills and capabilities of top management that is a key barrier to engagement.

The research, a year-long study which explored engagement through the eyes of 16 UK CEOs, suggests that for senior leadership, engagement is one of the most difficult parts of the leadership task, requiring them to possess specialist skills and attributes and often having to manage seemingly contradictory demands. The research also suggests that a new leadership model should be found given that the ‘command and control’ style of leading, with its emphasis on organisational hierarchy, has declining relevance in many organisations.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

The three main obstacles this research identified for leaders in their attempts to build engagement in their organisations…

…shortcomings in leadership capability, such as poor self-awareness on the part of leaders, facets of leaders’ personality and values that prevent them from being engaging leaders and the culture and system in which we operate, seen in some ways as antithetical to engagement…

1. Developing Leadership Capability
…Leading engagement can be characterised as walking a fine line. There may be a dichotomy in leading engagement whereby leaders feel an expectation to project confidence, while admitting that they do not have all the answers. Equally, they need to be decisive while giving voice to people across the organisation and they have to be resilient yet emotionally attuned.It is therefore important that we focus on developing leaders who are encouraged to experiment with new ways of leading to discover a personal style that is emotionally-attuned, contextually-relevant and is borne from self- insight…
2. Get To the Heart of Leadership
Engaging leaders also lead with authenticity and purpose and in a way that is aligned to their personal values. Leaders are not simply mouthpieces for their board of directors; rather they find ways of leading that are congruent with who they are and what they believe. However, leading in this way requires a level of personal self-disclosure, which some leaders find deeply uncomfortable. Some leaders may be inherently shy, or be more comfortable with ‘managing the numbers’ than with entering into conversations in which they reveal their own fallibilities…
Leaders need to be encouraged to enter into conversations at work where they are open about who they are and how they feel, since it takes a confident leader to disclose, empower and engage.
3. Change the System
In the UK, we have a task-oriented culture, valuing hard work and output above almost all else. In this kind of environment it is the tangible business outcomes that are valued, so the push on senior leaders is to get things done in a systematic way in order to drive business results. Consequently, it is easier for senior leaders to be judged on measurable outcomes, such as increasing turnover, as opposed to being judged on their ‘softer’ skills of engagement such as inquiry, conversation and interaction. These issues are further compounded within the current economic climate where some leaders have become pre- occupied with addressing questions of short-term viability and survival, as opposed to focusing on the long-term processes of engagement.
However, leaders should be encouraged to move the dial to the longer term to encourage a system in which the invisible processes of engagement are valued just as highly as the tangible outcomes of it.
4. Calling for New Ways of Leading

We have for a long time talked about the role of leader as though it were static, yet this is far from being true – generational shifts, social and demographic change and the impact of declining trust have all contributed to new and different demands being placed on those who lead. Tomorrow’s leaders may look very different, which is likely to have significant implications for how we identify and select leaders for the future.

In the past, individuals may have been promoted into senior leadership positions for possessing skills such as rationality, order, control and toughness, but these are skills that have declining relevance in many organisations. Future leadership models need to have engagement at their core, particularly given the differing expectations of a multi-generational workforce.

The absence of a single ‘right way’ to lead opens the path to more individual ways of leading. It is also time to try genuinely different approaches to leadership development and to encourage a new generation of leadership experimenters who have the courage and the attributes to play their part in defining leadership for the future.

Her conclusion is a clear call to action that chimes with the things that we, too, deeply care about…

By exploring what characterises engaging leaders and engaging leadership, leaders should be encouraged to experiment with new ways of leading to discover their own personal styles that are emotionally-attuned, contextually-relevant and borne from self-insight. Ultimately, through leading with engagement at its heart, there becomes a better way to work that releases the full capabilities and potential of people at work, while at the same time enabling organisational growth and ultimately economic growth for the UK. 

Photo by: KaliFire (Maroc) kali.ma photo credit: kali.ma via photopin cc

Photo by: KaliFire (Maroc)
photo credit: kali.ma via photopin cc

In his chapter, Developing Leadership Styles That Facilitate Employee EngagementProfessor Cliff Oswick identifies Engagement as the latest in a progression of E’s that begins in the 1970’s with Enrichment, which required leaders to help create work that was more meaningful;
and developed in the 1990’s into Empowerment, which meant leaders delegating work and responsibility within agreed boundaries, and proved more of a struggle and less often a success for most managers.

Which leads us to today and engagement, a process where employees feel a sense of commitment and an affinity to their organisation. Employees feel that they have stake in the organisation, feel part of it and care about it…

And here again is another voice making the call for a new style of leadership…

When you have high levels of employee engagement people self-instigate; they do things because they think it is right to do so, because they feel they have a responsibility. Not out of a sense of compliance. There is a more collegiate atmosphere and a greater sense of community. This feeds into a more innovative culture, and better performance.
Once again, with engagement, a change in management approach requires a change in leadership approach. Engagement is more about political engagement, people having a stake in their organisation, and in its decision-making, democratising the workplace. It requires a different style of leadership…
photo credit: WilliamMarlow via photopin cc

photo credit: WilliamMarlow via photopin cc

Oswick’s paper goes on to discuss what he calls Bad Leadership, Good Leadership…

Certainly there are some popular and prevalent leadership styles which are a bad fit with engagement. One is the highly controlling and autocratic directive style, often dressed up in more acceptable language as strong leadership. Strong leadership is the polar opposite of what is required to create the conditions for employee engagement.

Equally bad, but different, is the highly charismatic leader. Charismatic leadership is often described in terms of vision and highly developed interpersonal skills. The leader has a vision, knows the direction everyone should head in, and persuades others to follow. Although different to the directive style, it is similar in the sense that employees are still following the direction set by the leader.

Perhaps surprisingly these two leadership styles are still common in organisations. The higher up you go in organisations the more you see these styles exhibited. Senior executives, for example, are often described as “strong leaders” with this being considered a positive attribute…

…if they want to engage their workforce leaders should avoid these leadership styles for much of the time. There are more effective ways to lead people to get high levels of engagement. They represent, to varying degrees, what I refer to as the art of non-leadership.

The ‘better forms of leadership’ he advises then include ‘distributed leadership,’ where the leadership role is shared and rotated with the situation; and ‘servant leadership,’ which emphasises what the followers need and makes it the leaders job to satisfy these.  But he is critical of both of these because they don’t go far enough.  And again we get the call to revolutionise leadership practice:

If we really want employee engagement to flourish, to get the very best from the workforce, we need leaders to be braver. A more radical approach is required.

The Art of Non-Leadership

Non-leadership is a form of leadership. It’s a form of leadership which involves deliberately not intervening. Non-leadership is the active non-engagement leadership approach – it’s not intervening and not imposing a direction or view. You don’t construct a problem and you don’t constrain the solution. As things arise you don’t step up and take responsibility.

How does it work in practice? …

Increasingly work in organisations is open and ambiguous, with many alternatives, rather than closed and predictable. So processes of organisational change, of innovation and creativity, matters relating to social responsibility, these are ambiguous and hazy. In the early stages of a project you may find yourself asking questions such as ‘how do we improve our processes of customer service?’ or ‘what new products and services should we be developing?’ These are divergent type thinking situations, where there are a number of possible answers. These cry out for a non-leadership approach.

Next, frame the problem or the situation in the broadest possible terms to create the best conditions for engagement. “How can we become more sustainable?” is a more broadly framed topic than “how can we reduce the amount of non-recyclable packaging on a particular product?” This allows people to be very creative and generative in their thinking around problem solving. It allows more people to get involved and to interact, so you get a ‘wisdom of the crowd’ effect within the workplace.

With a non-leadership model, not only do you not constrain employees over identifying the problem and the solution, you don’t constrain them on the implementation, either…

When the team is busy devising problems and implementing solutions, what is the leader doing? Apart from the mundane resource-type decisions, leaders should be facilitating and accommodating employees in their problem-solving activities. It is more of a non-directive counselling role, available to provide resources and advice if required, and actively encouraging and supporting the creativity that people exhibit.

It takes courage to adopt a non-leadership approach, and to resist the temptation to step in and direct, to retain and exercise a degree of control. That is one reason why this style of leadership has taken so long to start to develop. Managers like to be in control. Psychologically, it feels far more secure…

Non-leadership may seem a radical approach, but the workforce is changing in radical ways. Employees want to be included in the decision- making process. They want the workplace to be more democratic in orientation and more inclusive. Traditional ‘leader knows best’ models do not work with the new generation of employees.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

This guide ends with the Editor of HRZone Jamie Lawrence’s 10 Thoughts To Take Away With You.  These are the ones that stand out especially for us…

2. For engagement to succeed, it must form part of an organisation’s DNA, owned by everybody, with the understanding that the benefits will be felt in the future.

3. Organisations looking to engage employees must consider what they are trying to achieve and where they are trying to achieve it – successful engagement depends on taking into account contextual economic, social, political and local factors

4. Across different national contexts and employment groups, effective communication and the critical role of line managers emerge as universal drivers of engagement

5. To become engaged, employees need to appreciate the connection between their own work and the overall aims of the organisation and, ultimately, society

9. Senior leaders will not become engaging leaders until they find ways of leading that are congruent with who they are and what they believe in

10. Ultimately, change is required at all levels of an organisation in order to foster the trust and behaviours necessary to build a long-term culture of engagement


5 Ways Leaders Build A Culture of Trust

JENNIFER MILLER offers these practical guidelines for developing greater trust…

Is your organization built on a culture of trust?

Look around you; there are plenty of clues as to whether trust abounds. How quickly are decisions made? How many people do you copy (or worse, bcc) on e-mails? Do executives check in on the “troops” even when on vacation?

Given that 82% of workers don’t trust their boss, trust is a scarce resource in many organizations.

When it comes to creating a trusting workplace culture, the best place to start is with you. As a leader, you either believe in someone’s trustworthiness or you don’t. Leaders who try to split the difference with “trust but verify” won’t build a culture of healthy organizational trust…

Trust is about creating space for people to thrive; excessive verifying diminishes that space. Use these five tips to reduce the amount of verifying happening in your company so that trust will flourish:

  1. Assume positive intent, until proven otherwise…
  2. Banish bureaucracy…
  3. Look at your company’s written word…
  4. Tell employees: “I trust you to make a good decision.”…
  5. Eliminate “we” and “they” when describing other teams…
photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail

On the subject of leadership development, Peter Bregman, writing in Forbes magazine has this to say…

…There is a massive difference between what we know about leadership and what we do as leaders.

I have never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership. In fact, I can’t remember ever meeting a leader who didn’t know enough about leadership.

What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical. It’s not about knowing what to say or do. It’s about whether you’re willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it.

In other words, the critical challenge of leadership is, mostly, the challenge of emotional courage…

We’re teaching the wrong things in the wrong ways.

If the challenge of leadership is emotional courage, then emotional courage is what we need to teach. You can’t just learn about communication, you have to do it, in the heat of the moment, when the pressure is on, and your emotions are high…

The only way to teach courage is to require it of people. To offer them opportunities to draw from the courage they already have. To give them opportunities to step into real situations they find uncomfortable and truly take the time to connect with the sensations that come with that…

Alongside their toolkit for engagement that I have extensively quoted from above, HRZone also publish a success story from the field:

Interview: Emma Pinker, General Manager, London Vision Clinic, on employee engagement

in this HRZone feature Emma Pinker says what this much-talked about idea of employee engagement means to their organisation…

…employees are passionate, enthusiastic and happy to work at our clinic.

Talking about how they achieve this so successfully – good enough in fact to be included in the latest  2013 Best Workplaces List, she cites their annual team building event as the most important thing they do…

…This was introduced in 2010 and involves a half-day clinic. The clinic departments will be placed in a mix of different teams prior to the day and they will immediately start with coming up with a team name and theme. Each team is given a set of 20 tasks and clues/riddles to solve together. A time frame is normally given and teams need to photograph evidence or perform various tasks to obtain points. The themes involve London landmarks and history so not only do they work as a team but also get to explore and learn about the city as well. The team with the most points win. Needless to say, there is a great level of competition, team building, laughs and many memories made on the day of this event and to date, I believe it bonds the team and brings them closer together…

Reading this makes us wonder whether, even though we are using to some new words to headline the development agenda these days, if perhaps some of the solutions we already know about continue to be worth investing in.  Over the years we have seen dozens of team building events give people time out and away from their day-to-day demands to refresh and revitalise themselves and their relationships and bring an extremely high return rate, and perhaps, now more than ever, people need these moments to re-fire and sustain their commitment to the hard work and hard work days of 21st century professional lives.

Improve Your Happiness At Work

Whereas Jessica Pryce-Jones sees engagement as a subset of happiness at work, Kevin Kruse sees it exactly the other way around.  What difference does this make?  In the end we notice more similarities than difference in what Kruse and Pryce-Jones are advocating.

Here are some thoughts extracted from Skip Pritchard’s interview with Kevin Kruse for his blog Leadership Insights

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, former CEO, speaker, and a blogger.  His newest book is Employee Engagement for Everyone.

…”Engagement is similar to being happy at work, but it’s a little deeper. Engagement is the emotional commitment someone has to their organization and the organization’s objectives. When we care more, we give more discretionary effort. Whether we are in sales, service, manufacturing or leadership, we will give more, the more engaged we are. Not only is this good for a company’s bottom line, but when we are engaged at work, we also end up being a better spouse and parent, and we have improved health outcomes…”

“Communication is one of the top drivers of engagement. It is sort of the “backbone” that runs through the other primary drivers of Growth, Recognition and Trust….”

“The biggest impediment [to having an engaged culture] is the senior leaders themselves. Either they don’t truly get why engagement is important, or they think it’s important but think the answer lies in corporate-driven initiatives like casual Fridays or a summer picnic. Instead, they need to realize that most of engagement comes from one’s relationship with his or her boss. It has to be a grassroots effort driven at the front lines…”

“…People who are engaged use the word “we” a lot. In fact, that was the title of my first book on the subject of engagement….”

photo credit: tronathan via photopin cc

photo credit: tronathan via photopin cc

Workplace Happiness

Dr Izzy Justice writes about the confusion between engagement and happiness in his latest blog post…

Last week, Gallup revealed troubling survey results in its 2013 State of the American Workplace Report on employee happiness and engagement. Both at dismal levels. 70% of employees are not inspired or engaged at work.

I have been writing about this trend since 2008 when workplace power shifted dramatically from the employee, who was just grateful to have a job during a paralyzing recession, to the employer. No point in rehashing the mistakes that were made in leadership across many organizations as I am pleased to note a renewed focus on happiness as a key element in workplace performance.  A happy worker, and engaged worker, is simply a more productive worker.  The Gallup Report gave many examples of creative programs that some companies are doing. Everything from game rooms, to nap rooms, to flexibility in schedule – all popular with employees. But I believe these are merely band-aid solutions to a much larger issue no one seems to want to discuss.

Why do we think that what is needed for a human being to be happy at work is somehow different than what is needed for happiness in general? Happy people generally tend to be those who have very healthy relationships with people in their lives. The quality of human relationships far outweighs the ping pong table, pool table, free lunch and whatever else employers are providing to engage their employees. Quality human relationships are almost entirely an emotional experience. There are no real set of quantitative metrics to check off to determine quality relationships. The American worker, leader, and workplace are mostly bone-dry of human emotions, many even discouraging emotions in the workplace. The level of emotional literacy, emotional intelligence, and emotional training/programs are dismal. I submit that as long as this is the case, then employee engagement levels will continue to drop. We have to have the courage to accept the powerful role of emotions in all we do – not just at work – and to embrace EQ as a foundational competency…

For more stories that connect with these ideas you might like to check out our weekly Happiness At Work  collection.  Here is this week’s latest edition, which includes all these stories:

Happiness At Work #54


photo credit: Ant1_G via photopin cc

photo credit: Ant1_G via photopin cc