A really terrific question – and we’d love to hear your answers…?
And it’s a great headline too for this week’s Happiness At Work collection #73 question: based on the strongest trends, patterns and the new norms we are carving into our cultural assumptions and expectations, are we making ourselves any better?
This week we highlight a blend of stories that illuminate and probe and wrestle around and celebrate the new-in-the-now – in our organisations as much as across our societies and within the fabric of our everyday lives. Together these stories bring a growing sense of what we are becoming and making of ourselves.
See whether you think this is to our greater good or our increased ill…?.
by Judy Martin writing in Forbes magazine
We have often noticed that what gets valued gets measured and what gets measured gets attention, energy and investment. In our first story Judy Martin marks the growing validity of happiness and wellbeing at work as a serious metric in the engine rooms and accounting houses of our organisations, and asks…
Can you hear it? There’s a nascent ethos of binaural business wisdom coming from progressive CEOs truly concerned with the health and well-being of their talent, and the deepening of our own mindful awareness as individuals in desperate need of a more peaceful, productive and healthy working experience.
The well-being of the workforce, if only disconsolately by default, might be the metric of salvation in an era of digital exuberance, overworked employees and disengaged talent looking to jump ship.
A salvo of scientific research in stress and creativity, along with statistics reflecting big business’ desperation to retain and engage talent, pack a wallop of a wakeup punch to the tummy of the traditional business model. And some of big business is hearing the wakeup call.
CIPD, a UK Human Resources trade organization, reports that over the last year alone, the number of employers making workplace cultural changes to try to reduce long-term absence levels has increased 20% in the last year. It its Simplyhealth Absence Survey, 85% revealed they’re making changes to working patterns, environments and flexibility. This passage from the report speaks volumes to acknowledging employee well-being:
“The benefit of changes to working patterns has been recognized by many employers, with over 70% of organizations reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement. A further 46% also stated they were using flexible working options to support employees with mental health problems.”
But the positive news is littered with some hard core disturbing facts:
- Absence levels, according to CIPD have crept up to post-recession numbers seen in 2010 and 2011.
- ComPsych reports that “elevated stress levels are the new norm for employees.” The employee assistant provider says its 2013 StressPulse Report found that 62% of employees indicated high levels of stress, and that one-third lose an hour a day in productivity as a result of stress.
- Gallup’s recently revealed that 70% of American employees are either disengaged or miserable at work.
(I discuss the intersection of work stress and well-being here in my recent post Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto.)
“The message is clear,” says HR trend tracker Meghan M. Biro, Founder of TalentCulture.com and host of one of the most popular Human Resources twitter chats on the web, #TChat. “Leaders have to do better building employee engagement and job satisfaction through programs like wellness and work flexibility. When you see people who can’t wait to get to work in the morning, you’ll know you’ve created intrapreneurs who will radiate a highly contagious fulfilment and happiness. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Mindfulness and Well-Being Garners Growing Attention
That beautiful thing seems elusive and hard to define in terms of success. But if you ask media mogul Arianna Huffington, well-being at work should be trending high enough for the c-suite to take more notice…
“The truth is that we no longer have the luxury to ignore our well-being, our wisdom, our ability to make good decisions, because the world is moving so fast that we can no longer be in maintenance mode. We have to constantly be innovating, constantly creating, and we can’t do that from the surface. We can’t do that from burnout,” said Huffington adding, “Right now the American workforce is running on burnout, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.”
The Wisdom 2.0 Business Conference at Google’s New York City headquarters, founded by author Soren Gordhamer who wrote Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, explored mindfulness in business and its impact on the well-being and performance of talent in our real-time world. The topic resonated deeply with another speaker at the conference, Rich Fernandez; a former Google employee and Founder of WisdomLabs. He effused with audience agreement that due to technology – demands, information and complexity are increasing without the capacity to manage all the stimulation.
“Our in-boxes and the way we work make the world very complex, and the world is already turbulent as it is. It’s really hard for our organizations, and those of us who work in those organizations to become resilient at the same rate,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez says we have more wicked problems than we’ve ever dealt with before, adding, “Our leaders need to be more complex and adaptive in their thinking. They need to be more agile and self aware…”
A Personal Take on Well-Being at Work
Judging by the arguments made, it behooves leaders to take the reins on the well-being wagon at work, but that dirt road is paved with potholes of resistance unless the spreadsheets prove other wise. Perhaps individual effort to improve ones well-being might be the faster track. If employees learn to better manage their energy and work flow, they just might see an improvement in their performance and ability to manage stress.
“Everyone needs to learn to recognize and respect their own personal rhythms of peak performance and need for healing rest and recovery,” Rossi recently told me in an interview at WorkLifeNation.com.
I’ve been fascinated by the concept of well-being at work and how it has the potential to fuel more energy and better employee performance. The implications are more crucial than ever before as the global marketplace becomes more competitive, and talent driven creativity and innovation might catapult a company above the rest. The question is, whose responsibility is it to nurture the well-being of employees? Please share your thoughts.
Judy Martin is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and stress management consultant who tracks workplace trends. Connect with Judy on Twitter: @JudyMartin8 and visit her at WorkLifeNation.com where she writes in depth about workplace concerns, work stress management initiatives, workplace well-being trends and transforming stress in an “always-on” world.
More than 1,000 books on happiness were released last month on Amazon
At a recent Stanford alumni conference – “Are you happy now,” moderated by former CBS News anchor Katie Couric – the focus was on just that. The panel featured Stanford professors and David Kelley, founder of IDEO, a design and innovation firm based in Palo Alto.
Panelists first defined happiness as a feeling good experience, a combination of pleasure and meaningfulness, knowing how to have fun, and doing something with a purpose.
Some people are hard-wired for happiness. Surprisingly, there are happy and unhappy minds, mostly dependent on our genes but also our upbringing. Couric said her husband always tells her she was born on the sunny side of the street. I have cloudy-side origins. Fascinating, since we seldom analyze ourselves this way.
When asked if stress is an impediment to happiness, Kelley said that doing something for someone else or society helps alleviate stress. He added that creative people are happier and usually more excited about things.
Firdaus Dhabhar, a Stanford psychiatry professor, said stress can be helpful and make us more effective, but we need down times between stressful periods. And while some of us view stress as a bad thing, it need not be so unless it overwhelms us.
Panelists agreed more children are depressed now, compared to a decade or two ago; no explanation why. While money won’t buy happiness, as long as one’s basic needs are met, individuals tend to be happier. Those who choose to spend their money on experiences and activities are happier than those who spend their money on “things” such as another pair of shoes or a second house.
Technology is changing our lives, Kelley said, for better or worse. He knows of teenagers who come home early from a dance date so they then can text each other about the dance. “Technology can help you keep unconnected and impersonal.”
Yet, he added, an amazing 60 percent of teens surveyed say they feel worse after spending time on Facebook because all their friends “seem to be doing all these fab things.”
Panelists discussed children a lot, beginning with Couric’s question: Does having children make you happier?
Studies show children create more meaning in our lives. But parents today have a difficult time allowing their kids to fail — they want to protect them, and turn into helicopter parents, constantly hovering over them.
Couric asked why parents today feel they have to go to every one of their kids’ sports activities, every practice, every concert and every on-stage event. Parents work on their kids’ projects, and supervise their homework. It’s “what parents have to do,” she complained.
Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford marketing professor, said studies show that the happiness curve starts at 18 when kids are doing all sorts of exciting things, then leads to satisfaction, then onto doing something meaningful. And finally some contentment. People are least happy when they are 35 to 45 years old with three kids, but from 50 to 70 happiness increases, and then goes downhill. Happiness shifts over the course of life.
The United States is 18th in the world in happiness ratings, but compared to other countries, we pay less attention to the meaningfulness of life.
And what is the most important component for happiness? The panelists listed a sense of autonomy in one’s life, personal growth, authenticity, genuineness – and sleep.
Dare I now wish you a Happy Thanksgiving? Perhaps that will stress you out.
By 2015 there will be 25 billion devices connected to the internet, and by 2020 this is predicted to haves doubled to 50 billion interconnected devices.
This IT Brief outlines seven items sampling what they call the vast Internet of Things…
Within this “Internet of Things,” there is an already massive range of connected devices that continues to grow every minute. Here are seven things you may not have realised are internet-connected:
Already here and a part of the Brave New World we have made for ourselves are…
Assassination by WiFi – as seen in Homeland, heart devices already have WiFi capability and are increasingly transmitting data to smartphones, registering potentially life-threatening irregularities. But this bring risks, and Vice President Cheney’s cardiologist has had this WiFi disabled – just in case…
Cows on Facebook – Ranchers are already using wireless sensors to monitor their stock from afar, bringing them news feeds such as when a cow is pregnant, and other farmers are using robotic milking that sends data about much milk their cows are producing…
Pot plants that water and light themselves – WiFi enabled sensors that provide information about nutrients and temperature can also automatically tun off and on watering and lighting accessories…
TV computing – WiFi capabilities are increasing the range of internet activities we can do through our televisions…
Pills that keep us monitored – WiFi enabled to transmit information to remind us to take our meds, and report us if we don’t to our doctors and relatives…
Rubbish that keeps us honest and clean – new tech systems using radio frequency identification that transmit data so there is no hiding what rubbish we’ve put where…
Machine control – in manufacturing a increasing amount of data is being provide across a broader and broader network to provide the intelligence to drive business excellence and controls…
‘help connect and inspire people who believe in better business…Be part of the change…’
Luke Dodd reviews this one-day conference in his Melcrum Internal Communications blog
Finding meaning in what your organization does is at the heart of smart Internal Communication.
Using that understanding and infusing it within your communication strategy encourages employee engagement, makes messages sticky and ensures alignment to business values.
And for those communicators wishing to make that connection, the search for meaning can go far beyond the office walls. It can lead us to reach out into the world and ask whether our individual efforts are helping society.
Meaning is powerful. And meaning can transform your organization.
Taking a high-level view of business was at the heart of the agenda for Meaning 2013 (#meaningconf), organized by Nixon McInnes and held at the Corn Exchange, Brighton, UK this past week. Over 200 delegates attended, ready to take a look at the world in a different way. Here are my highlights and thoughts from the day’s proceedings…
Some of the themes and the issues this gathering set out to explore were…
- Organisational Design & Structure ~ is topdown command and control fit for the 21st century?
- Workplace Democratisation ~ are businesses with collaborative decision-making practices getting the edge on old-school competitors?
- 21st Century Leadership ~ what kind of leaders do the challenges of our time demand, and what is leadership today?
- Steady State Economics ~ can we keep growing in conventional terms and if not, what are the alternatives?
- Sustainability In Business ~ what are the opportunities for businesses to embrace sustainability?
- Technology Disruption ~ what technology themes are imminent and likely to disrupt business as usual?
- The Future Of Work ~ what do people want from work and what can they expect from progressive businesses?
And, generously, NixonMcInnes have posted all of the the talks from the day in their YouTube channel, so you can pick and mix the ideas that interest you from this blended guide…
NixonMcInnes believe as we do, that business needs to re-design in the 21st century. They created Meaning to connect and inspire future business leaders who believe in the same thing, curating talks that inspire action.
Key take-aways and all of the talks from the day…
- People want to be part of change (founder of the Swedish Pirate Party and Swarmwise author Rick Falkvinge)… “We work for autonomy, mastery and purpose…Leaders need to provide a mission for people to rally around, where everybody can see there’s a place for them. If someone can help towards reaching a goal or driving a single idea without having to be asked, magic happens, people start swarming towards that idea. Ideas should be credible, executable and epic, so shoot for the moon. On second thoughts, no – we’ve already been there. Shoot for Mars…”
- If you’re human, you’re a storyteller. Get good at it (story activist, Mary Alice Arthur)… “How do you make change? By unleashing the Trojan mice…” Stories make for driving positive change. If you apply this to entrepreneurs, having a story in business gives clear purpose for people to rally around your cause. Stories show a mrs human approach to business, essential for gathering a swarm of proactive people for driving change. “What question is your life calling for? And what story are you living in and living into?“…
- The best leaders lead through inquiry (co-founder of JustGiving Anne Marie Huby)… “The stronger the culture, the less rules you need.” At JustGiving leaders lead through questioning. No single person can win points through status. It takes collective intelligence to answer problems no one person can answer. JustGiving’s core values and democratic approach to business empowers culture and team integrity…
- Invent things that add value (Anne Marie Huby)… Focus on inventing products that have real meaning – profits should be a by-product of doing better things. Placing more focus on how we’re doing business not what we’re doing leads to better outcomes. Test and learn constantly…
- It’s possible not to fire a single soul in 57 years of business (Mikel Lezamiz, director of cooperative dissemination at MONDRAGON)… “Workforce has the power, capital has the tool.” Employee have their core values, cooperation, social responsibility, innovation and participation which owes a lot to a 0.01% staff turnover rate and 0 firing record.
- Fun should be featured in the business model (James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog)… BrewDog have adopted a disruptive business model where they set up an ‘equity for punks’ scheme allowing their fans shares in the company along with huge discounts across their beers – proving that having a little fun, disregarding corporate growth models and doing something you’re truly passionate about is the future of business…
- Positive understanding of tech = positive change (Dr. Sue Black, one of the Guardian’s top ten women in tech)… Since launching the #techmums campaign Sue Black has helped numerous mothers enrich their lives with the power of the internet “If you’re going to lead a business you’ve got to be moving towards Maslow’s ‘self-actualisation’…”
- A dark age is looming (rogue economist, author and Harvard Business Review blogger Umair Haque)… We need to build businesses with stronger values and less focus on financial growth. When we look at meaning in our everyday lives, we shouldn’t be focusing on material wealth, we should be focusing on fulfilment. The same is true for business. We need meaning more than ever but “we’re entering a Dark Age for humanity when we’re reluctant to speak out against unfair systems.”
- Don’t become the companies you set out to disrupt (social technologies expert Lee Bryant)… Too many startups are mimicking the very organisations they’re battling against. We need to recognise that top-down organisational norm isn’t working anymore. It’s time to innovate and squash traditional structures, finding a way that incorporates your mission and values.
- Identity is the new money (internationally recognised thought leader in digital identity and digital money, Dave Birch)… “We have a new superpower because we can connect with anyone else on the planet in an instant…
- Finding meaning in what your organisation does is at the heart of smart communication... Using the understanding [of meaning] and infusing it within your communication strategy encourages employee engagement, makes messages sticky and ensures alignment to business values. Meaning is powerful. And meaning can transform your organisation.” (Luke Dodd)
Inge Woudstra, director of W2O Consulting & Training, writes in the Guardian
Management programmes often suggest ways to change the way women think, but perhaps we should be changing our workplaces instead.
Women are different, yet coaching, mentoring and leadership programmes often focus on fixing women; helping them to do well in an organisation designed for men. Is that really the solution?
Don’t adapt, instead create a workplace that works for women. Here’s how:
Create a female support network
Growing in your career requires self-confidence. A great way to do this is to join a women’s network: a place where you can find inspiration and recognition from sharing with like-minded people.
You may have to try a few networks before you have found one that feels right for you. If you can’t find one, why not create your own? Invite a few colleagues for a monthly dinner. Make sure that the people you invite are at a similar level to you and aren’t connected to your day-to-day workplace.
Author and bio-psychologist Martine Delfos explains that female support networks satisfy the basic human need of feeling safe and secure. Men have the same need to feel safe and secure, but they tend to find this kind of support and encouragement with their partner at home.
Remember to also build networks that do include men, as you will need those for the same purpose men use networks: for sales, self-promotion or increased power and influence.
Ask for the management support you need
Not everyone is motivated in the same way. Do you know what makes you stretch yourself? Reflect on questions such as: What inspires you to work harder? What gives you that little push to go for a challenging project, or promotion?
…Most men tend to be motivated by challenges and competitions. Language that may work for men could include, “I bet you can’t beat our competitor” or, “This is a very challenging project.”
Women tend to be motivated by co-operation and a more encouraging style, with language that could include, “We really need your help to build our client base” or, “I saw you perform really well on the last project, I just know you can do this one.”
Find out what works for you and subtly let your manager know; they may well become your fiercest supporter.
Speak up: your view is important
It’s easy to sit back and let others take the lead. After all, putting yourself in the spotlight isn’t easy.
However, as Sheryl Sandberg argues in her book Lean In, your organisation needs you there. Teams with a better gender balance perform better simply because women’s brains tend to make different connections. You may, for instance, see the wider impact of a decision, or remember past experiences better and draw lessons from them.
Voice what you need to feel valued
You should feel happy and satisfied at work. Barbara Annis, author of Work with Me, did exit interviews with women, and her research shows that 40% cite “not feeling valued” as a key reason for leaving their organisation. Work-family reasons are mentioned by only 30%.
Men and women have a different way of feeling recognised and valued. Women tend to need to hear they are valued more often. In addition, women tend to look for appreciation for themselves as a person, whereas men tend to feel valued when their (public) achievements are valued.
…It’s good to realise that you have a different approach, but may well get the same results. Knowing this may help you to feel more confident at work, which can make all the difference.
James Kerr, author of Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, writes for HRZone….
…Having feasted for 100 years on an extraordinary 75% winning record, results were slipping. The Men in Black had just come a miserable last in the Tri Nations, a championship they’d come to regard as their own. Worse, morale had plummeted…
Something had to change.
The senior leadership gathered for a three-day summit under head coach, Graham Henry, in what he now calls the most important meeting of his career.
Out of it came a new resolve – to redesign the world’s most successful sporting culture – and a new phrase; Better People Make Better All Blacks. The strategy? Develop the character of the players off the pitch, so that they perform better on it.
Their plan revolved around the following pillars:
- Devolved leadership, involving techniques not dissimilar from the military’s ‘mission command’ doctrine; to arm the players ‘with intention’ and to trust them to deliver.
- Individual personal development; involving the creation of a ‘living document’ that charted individual progress day by day, week by week, season by season.
- The creation of a learning environment modeled on Henry’s experience as a headmaster; a philosophy of continual improvement encapsulated in the phrase ‘Champions Do Extra’.
- Train to win; training at intensity so Thursday’s training was even more brutal than the cauldron of a test match, leading to recalibration of expectations.
- A focus on brain biology in which they identified the effect of stress on cognitive function and developed triggers and anchors to help the players cope.
- The ritualisation of behaviour around their core narrative; epitomised by the team’s development of a new haka, Kapa o Pango.
This final element bound the rest together. “The success was being really good at that,’ says Wayne Smith, the All Blacks assistant coach. ‘Really good at making our team talks, our reviews, our game plans, all apply to the central story.”
Between 2004 and 2011, the All Blacks took their winning record from an extraordinary 75% (over 100 years, making them the most statistically successful sporting team in any code, ever), to an almost unbelievable 86%.
Clearly, the soft stuff – the story, the mind game – delivers the hard stuff, measurable competitive advantage. It also delivered a little gold cup.
In my book, Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, I isolate the 15 key lessons in leadership I learned from my immersion into this inspiring environment. They are the proven principles that the All Blacks use to fuse themselves into a singularly effective high-performance organisation.
Here are a few of the All Blacks’ secrets of success:
Sweep the Sheds
…Surprisingly perhaps, a core All Blacks value is humility. They believe that stratospheric success can only be achieved by keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
Follow the Spearhead
…the All Blacks seek to replace the ‘me’ with the ‘we’. No one is bigger than the team, so much so that there is an unofficial policy, ‘No Dickheads’. They select on character over talent, believing that it delivers better long-term dividends. Something that many corporate environments might do well to consider.
Create a Haka
A key factor in the All Blacks rebirth was the development of the new haka, Kapa o Pango. By bringing the players and management together in an inclusive process that invoked the past while creating the future, the All Blacks reattached personal meaning to public purpose. Rituals reflect, remind and reinforce the belief system of the collective; it’s no surprise that the organisations and cultures that have survived and thrived over the centuries – from countries to churches, Wal-Mart to Leo Burnett, have significent rituals at their core to communicate their story and purpose.
Pass the Ball
To paraphrase Tom Peters, leaders create leaders, not followers. Central to the All Blacks method was the development of leadership groups and the nurturing of character off the field, to deliver results on it. This involved a literal and metaphorical handing over of responsibility from management to players, so that by game day the team consisted of ‘one captain and 15 leaders‘…
Leave a Legacy
There is a Maori concept, whakapapa, which captures the idea of our genealogy, our lineage from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. The sun shines on this, our time, just for a moment and it is our responsibility to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. The All Blacks seek to ‘add to the legacy’ in everything they do, knowing that higher purpose leads to higher performance.
To regain their momentum, and to win back the World Cup, the All Blacks developed a values-led, purpose-driven high-performance culture and they used the power of storytelling to give it personal resonance. The result of this extraordinary environment was extraordinary results.
Those organisations that know what they stand for – and most importantly, why – consistently outperform those who are just going through the motions. They create better commercial results, generate more sales, deliver higher shareholder value, attract better talent, and retain it.
Clearly, many of the challenges HR leaders face are different to those of the All Blacks. Scale creates complexity, individual ambition can trump a collective spirit, organisational structure often undermines strategy. Nevertheless, if we seek to align all our people, resources and effort around a singular and compelling central narrative, and reinforce that story through communications, rewards, resourcing and training, the results will come.
In this article Elena Aguilar outlines the benefits and application of practising gratitude in schools, but these ideas are so universally applicable I have adapted it only very slightly to show its relevance for all of us, whatever work we doing…
The Neuroscience Behind Appreciation
Here’s the thing: Our brains need to feel gratitude in order for us to want to be at work. Our brains are like Teflon for positive experiences and like Velcro with negative experiences. This means the negative comments, interactions, professional development (PD) workshops, and so on, cling to our brains. But if we spend a few minutes in appreciation, recalling those fulfilling moments in a day or encounters with supportive [people], or the segments in workshops when we felt we were learning, our brains create new links between neurons.
As we strengthen these links and build them day-after-day, our mind finds it easier to travel down those neuron paths and to experience the associated positive emotions. We can help our brain evolve in a positive way and in a way that might help us transform schools.
If we feel more positive, we will want to be at work. We will most likely be more patient with our [customers] and with colleagues. We may speak to each other with more kindness. We might listen to each other more deeply. We might take risks in our [work] or leadership. But we can’t do any of these when we’re perpetually distressed. Expressing gratitude can allow us to engage in our [work] and learning in a more positive, open way.
“Gratitude is like a flashlight. It lights up what is already there. You don’t necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you can actually see what it is. And because you can see, you no longer take it for granted.” – M.J. Ryan in Attitudes of Gratitude.
Ways of Practising Gratitude
Adapting and responding to what is most meaningful to each individual person increases the potency and impact of the appreciation we show. Each one of us knows how we want to be appreciated. You might prefer quiet affirmation, or you might really like a public acknowledgment. Perhaps you would really appreciate getting a written message, or maybe you would rather hear it in person. Or maybe a small gift of chocolate is what it would take to make you feel truly appreciated.
Closing meetings with public expressions of gratitude is a powerful and invaluable to create community, as are other practices. For example, a staff lounge can have an “Appreciation Tree” where all are invited to write an appreciation on a leaf and post it on the tree. In addition, there are many ways that we can individually practice this brain-enhancing behavior. Here are a few ideas:
- Keep a gratitude journal. This exercise is a way of closing every day by recalling a few things we are grateful for from that day. By simply cataloguing them our minds start to search them out during the day
- What do I appreciate about today and what was my role in making it happen? This is a more focused journal prompt to respond to each day that helps us recognize our agency in our blessings. Through this process, we discover how we can create more positive experiences for ourselves
- Email a friend. You can also find a friend who wants to commit to emailing each other every day — or a few times a week — and sharing what you’re grateful for. Some of us feel more motivated by (and accountable) if we have an audience
- Write a gratitude letter. Select one person you feel gratitude for (living or dead) and write a letter appreciating the ways that that he/she has enriched your life. If you can, read it face to face. This is a powerful exercise to engage in occasionally and could be tailored to an education context at times – write a letter to someone from your past, someone you have been touch with for too long, someone you see a lot but somehow never tell them what you appreciate about them…
- Project 365. This is a fun photography project for those visually inclined. I did this for a year, taking one photo a day, and focused on capturing images that reflected something I was grateful for. After a while, I noticed that each day I’d consciously look for positive moments to capture. I felt like my mind was training itself, honing in on all that was good so that I could accomplish my daily task
- Use guided imagery and meditation. By taking a few minutes at the start or end of each day to call to mind what we’re grateful for, we strengthen those neurons that make us feel happier. When I wake up, I often silently appreciate my body for all it does each day to keep my healthy. You can do this for whatever you’re grateful for.
Our ability to feel gratitude is a muscle of sorts – it’s a habit our minds can develop – we just need practice. Imagine if we were all practicing individually, for a few minutes in the morning and a few in the evening, and then if there were ways built into our work day to express gratitude to those around us; imagine how different we’d feel about being at work each day.
Andy Fraser writes, on 13th November, World Kindness Day, about some new thinking that shows us how to make a better and more fictive workplace through practising more compassionate and kinder ways of working with each other…
1. Start small
According to business professor Adam Grant, the most successful ‘givers’ don’t try to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa. They do a lot of five-minute favours. “That might be sharing a little bit of knowledge, making an introduction when somebody is down on their luck or their opportunities, just listening, and offering advice or sympathy for a challenge that somebody is facing.”
2. Learn to focus
One Harvard University study found that we spend almost half our waking hours doing one thing but thinking about something else – and our distraction levels are highest at work. Amongst other things, this stops us from connecting with people around us.
Simple meditation and mindfulness exercises bring all kinds of benefits, including boosting our compassion levels (as this doctor’s waiting room study shows). More and more companies are offering meditation classes, and even CEOs and politicians are getting involved.
3. Try compassion training
In the last 10 years or so, research has confirmed that we can deliberately cultivate empathy and compassion. For example, studies using ‘economics games’ found that people acted more altruistically after compassion training and were more likely to redistribute money that was unfairly allocated. Teachers and healthcare professionals were less stressed, anxious or depressed, and compassion training seems to protect caregivers from burnout and compassion fatigue. A number of different organisations now run courses for professionals.
4. Be kind to yourself
Our biggest enemy at work – or anywhere else – is often ourself. Self-compassion (which is not the same as self-esteem) is important because the more we have, the more likely we are to be happy, optimistic and satisfied with life.
Self-compassion is linked with qualities that are very useful at work. It makes us more conscientious, resilient and motivated, and more willing to take responsibility for mistakes.Kristin Neff, a leading self-compassion researcher and teacher, believes it is hard to show compassion for others if we don’t have any for ourselves. “Your batteries are going to run dry,” she says.
5. Promote compassionate leaders
Organisations don’t set their values, structures and procedures, the people at the top do – so we should select, train and support leaders who are prepared to make changes and listen to employees. Leadership consultant Richard Barrett gives the example of a large South African bank that started conducting regular staff surveys. The result was a striking growth in staff engagement, profits and share price. “Caring about your employees is really good for business,” says Barrett.
6. Beware of ‘takers’
“The negative impact of takers on a culture is greater than the positive impact of givers,” says Adam Grant. Weeding out “the most selfish, horrible people” creates a balance of givers and ‘matchers’. As matchers tend to reciprocate the treatment they receive, they will emulate the givers around them, and this will shift the whole culture of the organisation.
7. It’s not always about money
We’re missing a trick if we think the only way to motivate employees is through financial incentives, with an injection of fear for good measure. Many organisations overlook the value of appreciation, support and affiliation, both as a performance motivator and as a calming factor in stressful work environments. One practical way to address this is to find ways to recognize and reward employees who go out of their way to help others.
8. Make compassionate decisions
We can never know exactly what the consequences of a decision will be. But before we act, we can run a few simple checks. What is our motivation? What are the implications for others? How would we feel if we were on the receiving end?
9. Ignore the compassion myths
We might worry that acting in a compassionate way will see us branded as a soft touch who can’t get the job done (even though research suggests the opposite is true). Adam Grant says: “The easiest way to remove that barrier is to identify other givers in your organisation and build a community of people who share your values and are willing to see concern for others and compassion as a sign of strength as opposed to a source of weakness.”
10. Lead by example
As the psychologist and author Daniel Goleman points out, our emotions and behaviour are contagious. “A leader is anyone who has a sphere of influence, and we all do in our lives somewhere… We are all in a situation, in any interaction, to be compassionate.”
Jonathan Richards, chief executive of breatheHR writes…
Structured development improves morale and ultimately productivity, yet new research shows that many companies overlook the importance of supporting employees
…Continual staff mentoring and development is at the heart of every successful team and business. Yet despite demonstrable benefits, the Personal Development in the Workplace study we recently commissioned revealed that personal development was being seriously neglected by business owners across the UK.
The study surveyed employees in small-and medium-sized businesses in the UK. It revealed that almost half (47.6%) of staff feel that their boss doesn’t take their personal development seriously, while a quarter (27.9%) said they have never discussed personal development or training with their boss.
Perhaps most alarming is that more than 66% claimed to have no kind of personal development plan in place, effectively working day to day without any goals or training focus. While the figures showed only marginal differences of up to 7%, it emerged that women actually feel more engaged in the workplace, discuss their personal development more frequently with their employer and are more likely to have a personal development plan in place than their male counterparts.
These differences between men and women in the workplace may have roots in the classroom. It has been statistically proven that girls perform better than boys while at school, right through to GCSEs. This suggests that on a simple level, girls may well be more conscientious than boys, a trait which would mean they would also take a greater interest in their development at work.
There has also been a noticeable shift away from traditional gender roles in the past 15 years. Women, who are anecdotally and scientifically proven to be better at multitasking, are using this to their advantage and enjoying the benefits of a career and parenthood. Research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman called Study in Leadership: Women Do it Better Than Men asked 7,280 professionals which skills they believed leaders of both genders possessed. While you might expect traits such as relationship building and teamwork to come high on the list (which they did), the top three were: takes initiative; practises self-development; displays high integrity and honesty.
The study concluded that women excel at 15 of 16 individual leadership characteristics, as judged by their peers, subordinates and managers, with the variation between women and men increasing as individuals gain seniority. Traits such as taking the initiative and practising self-development go some way to explaining why women are more engaged in the workplace and are therefore more likely to have a stronger focus on their personal development.
So why are so many small to medium-sized businesses neglecting their staff development obligations? This could be down to the impact of the recession, with business owners more concerned with paying wages and keeping the business on an even keel, rather than diverting already limited funds to training and developing staff.
Happy employees tend to be high-performing ones, so an important starting point for business owners should be to think about how they can improve the individual lives of each of their staff. This doesn’t mean taking them on a company break or sending them away on training courses; it can be as simple as just providing support and encouragement and taking the time to understand what it is they want to get out of their job.
There is no silver bullet to improve company morale or productivity, but by making a small improvement to each employee’s work life you will dramatically improve business performance.
Bill Taylor reports on the growing trend for organisations to train their staff to ‘treat customers as if they are guests in your home’…
The front page of the New York Times recently carried an in-depth report on a “broad and transformative trend” in Russia. It had nothing to do with more democracy or less corruption. It had to do with better customer service — specifically, an intense focus inside Aeroflot, the infamous Russian airline, to teach flight attendants how to smile.
“Anna, you just showed her the champagne bottle but didn’t say anything,” one instructor coaxed a young employee. “This is the silent service of Soviet times. You need to talk to her. And you need to smile and smile and smile.”
I found two things about the report especially noteworthy. First, these basic reminders are having a revolutionary impact at Aeroflot. According to the Times, customer surveys indicate that the airline now has the best service of any carrier in Eastern Europe, including the best the West has to offer.
Second, Aeroflot’s program comes at a time when the business culture in the United States seems to be questioning the importance, the value, even the authenticity of human-to-human connections. In an era of cutthroat competition, deep-seated cynicism, and the digital disruption of everything, does it make sense to make big bets on the power of small acts of kindness?
… the success of Pret a Manger, the fast-growing (323 stores around the world), fast-casual sandwich shop, [depends upon] its unapologetic commitment to developing a workforce that is bright, cheerful, and happy to keep smiling.
One distinctive part of the Pret offering is its wide variety of fresh (yet pre-made) sandwiches. This model allows the company to get customers in and out of the store in as little as 60 seconds — a true value for harried office workers, its target customers. But Pret wants that brief time to be filled with smiles, positive energy, and a genuine human connection, especially for repeat customers. CEO Clive Schlee calls it the Pret Buzz, and the company has identified a set of Pret Behaviors to create the Buzz and an in-depth training program to instill those behaviors.
“The staff manual tells staff to ‘use personal phrases that you are comfortable with and treat customers as if they are guests in your own home,’” a report in London’s Telegraph newspaper explains. “This is nothing so glib as a ‘Have a nice day’ culture; this is a philosophy that runs much deeper.”
It’s also a philosophy that has attracted loud critics on both sides of the Atlantic. The first attack came from the London Review of Books, which objected to the idea that Pret employees should be expected to do more than just provide competent service at a reasonable price. “Work increasingly isn’t, or isn’t only, a matter of producing things, but of supplying your energies, physical and emotional, in the service of others,” the essay complained. “It isn’t what you make, but how your display of feelings makes other feel.”
Then came an assault by Timothy Noah of The New Republic, who offered a withering critique of the “emotional labor” and “enforced happiness” that is at the heart of the Pret model. The essay began with a lament (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) about how Noah had come to believe that a young woman behind the counter at his local Pret was in love with him. “How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte?” he asked. “Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.”
Noah then generalizes from his personal disappointment. “Why must the person who sells me a cheddar and tomato sandwich have ‘presence’ and ‘create a sense of fun’?” he wonders. “Why can’t he or she be doing it ‘just for the money’? I don’t expect the swiping of my credit card to be anybody’s vocation. This is, after all, the economy’s bottom-most rung.”
That’s a serious question, to which I’d offer three serious answers.
First, I find it odd, and more than a bit condescending, to think that entry-level customer-service jobs should be performed with a grim sense of duty and barebones competence. It’s better for customers — and, I’d argue, for employees as well — to be part of an experience that is built around good cheer and personal expression rather than gritted teeth and furrowed brows. That’s why flying on Southwest Airlines still seems like such a one-of-a-kind experience (for flight attendants and passenger alike), and why Aeroflot is flying high these days.
To be sure, and this is my second answer, the Pret experience is not for everybody. That’s why Pret evaluates job applicants based on how well their personal attributes map to the company’s core behaviors, and assigns them trial runs at a shop, after which current employees vote on whether to extend newcomers a full-time offer. Every truly distinctive workplace I’ve encountered makes it clear to all concerned: If you don’t fit, it’s going to be hard for you to commit.
Finally, the lessons being learned by Aeroflot, and the model being perfected by Pret a Manger, speak to a deeper shift going on in the economy and society. At a time of vast and troubling uncertainty, in a world that is being reshaped by technology, small acts of connection take on outsized importance. It’s strange to think that a winning smile from a cashier or a flight attendant, or a nod of recognition from an employee who has seen you three times that week, might matter to the person receiving it — or to the person doing it. But I believe it does matter, both in terms of creating better human experiences and building more valuable organizations.
I’m convinced that “emotional labor” will become a more important part of the job at companies that win big in the future — and that’s a development that makes me smile.
By Susan Perry
The British newspaper The Guardian ran an edited excerpt last week from Charles Montgomery’s most recent book, “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.”
In the excerpt, Montgomery, who has written extensively about the link between urban planning and human wellbeing, asks the question “Is urban design really powerful enough to make or break happiness?”
His answer is (not surprisingly) a resounding “yes.”
“If one was to judge by sheer wealth,” he writes, “the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in wellbeing. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew.”
Social deficit and the shape of cities
There is a clear connection between social deficit and the shape of cities. A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce. People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.
A couple of University of Zurich economists, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, compared German commuters’ estimation of the time it took them to get to work with their answers to the standard wellbeing question, “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”
Their finding was seemingly straightforward: the longer the drive, the less happy people were. Before you dismiss this as numbingly obvious, keep in mind that they were testing not for drive satisfaction, but for life satisfaction. People were choosing commutes that made their entire lives worse. Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.
Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling On Happiness, explained the commuting paradox this way: “Most good and bad things become less good and bad over time as we adapt to them. However, it is much easier to adapt to things that stay constant than to things that change. So we adapt quickly to the joy of a larger house, because the house is exactly the same size every time. But we find it difficult to adapt to commuting by car, because every day is a slightly new form of misery.”
The sad part is that the more we flock to high-status cities for the good life — money, opportunity, novelty — the more crowded, expensive, polluted and congested those places become. The result? Surveys show that Londoners are among the least happy people in the UK, despite the city being the richest region in the UK.
Stress worse than that of a fighter pilot
But when cities enable us to get out of our cars and commute by slower means, such as biking or walking, our sense of wellbeing improves. Writes Montgomery:
Driving in traffic is harrowing for both brain and body. The blood of people who drive in cities is a stew of stress hormones. The worse the traffic, the more your system is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight-or-flight juices that, in the short-term, get your heart pumping faster, dilate your air passages and help sharpen your alertness, but in the long-term can make you ill. Researchers for Hewlett-Packard convinced volunteers in England to wear electrode caps during their commutes and found that whether they were driving or taking the train, peak-hour travellers suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters.
But one group of commuters report enjoying themselves. These are people who travel under their own steam. … They walk. They run. They ride bicycles.
Why would travelling more slowly and using more effort offer more satisfaction than driving? Part of the answer exists in basic human physiology. We were born to move. Immobility is to the human body what rust is to the classic car. Stop moving long enough, and your muscles will atrophy. Bones will weaken. Blood will clot. You will find it harder to concentrate and solve problems. Immobility is not merely a state closer to death: it hastens it.
A sense of connection
As Montgomery reports, one study, in which student volunteers were provided with pedometers for 20 days, found that the more people walked each day, the greater their energy, sense of self-esteem and level of happiness.
“The same is true of cycling,” says Montgomery, “ although a bicycle has the added benefit of giving even a lazy rider the ability to travel three or four times faster than someone walking, while using less than a quarter of the energy. … [C]yclists report feeling connected to the world around them in a way that is simply not possible in the sealed environment of a car, bus or train. Their journeys are both sensual and kinesthetic.”
Time to switch to a ‘new mobility’
A growing number of people — urban planners, environmentalists, health experts and others — are, in Montgomery’s words, calling on “cities and corporations to abandon old mobility, a system rigidly organised entirely around one way of moving, and embrace new mobility, a future in which we would all be free to move in the greatest variety of ways.”
“We all know old mobility,” one expert tells the Canadian reporter. “It’s you sitting in your car, stuck in traffic. It’s you driving around for hours, searching for a parking spot. Old mobility is also the 55-year-old woman with a bad leg, waiting in the rain for a bus that she can’t be certain will come. New mobility, on the other hand, is freedom distilled.”
Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the Robots of Humanity
Where out technology meets our humanity there is no doubting the bravery and betterment of the world we are making.
Paralyzed by a stroke, Henry Evans uses a telepresence robot to take the stage — and show how new robotics, tweaked and personalized by a group called Robots for Humanity, help him live his life. He shows off a nimble little quadrotor drone, created by a team led by Chad Jenkins, that gives him the ability to navigate space — to once again look around a garden, stroll a campus …
Steve McCurry’s new photo collection profiles people in their oldest years from around the globe – all emanating a strong presence that glows out of these images, as if to say to us: “we have made good enough – what will you do?”
Enjoy and draw breath from these exquisitely crafted and curated images…
Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.– Garson Kanin
None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
– Henry David Thoreau
In 1938 Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and kicked off the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development in history. The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing. The astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits — ranging from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum” — indicates just how exhaustive and quantifiable the research data has become. Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published the study’s findings in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience (Amazon) and the following is the book’s synopsis:
“At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before. Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement. Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects),
‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”
In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant raises a number of factors more often than others, but the one he refers to most often is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years. In 2009, Vaillant’s insistance on the importance of this part of the data was challenged, so Vaillant returned to the data to be sure the finding merited such important focus. Not only did Vaillant discover that his focus on warm relationships was warranted, he placed even more importance on this factor than he had previously. Vallant notes that the 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” (WR) earned an average of $141,000 a year more during their peak salaries (between ages 55-60) than the 31 men who scored the lowest in WR. The high WR scorers were also 3-times more likely to have professional success worthy of inclusion in Who’s Who.
One of the most intriguing discoveries of the Grant Study was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life. For instance, Business Insider writes: “Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring. Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old. Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work. On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 — whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”
In Vallant’s own words, the #1 most important finding from the Grant Study is this:
“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love. Full stop.”
This is a very special delicately potent video poem by artist Shelia Ghelani…
“O long line of green… O Hedge O Hedge…’
In August Sheila spent two weeks in Cambridge with straybird working on Ramble 1 of Rambles with Nature hosted by Cambridge Junction. Together they made a series of four short ‘cinepoems’ for small screens, such as smartphones, which will also be presented as an installation. On Considering The (English) Hedge is the first of the series to be released for viewing.
Click here to find out more about Rambles with Nature and visit Sheila’s blog to keep up to date with the project as it unfolds.
All of these stories – and many more – are collected in this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #73. As always, we really do hope you find things here to enjoy, use and grow from.