Gender Equity is Not a Zero-Sum Game

May 31, 2024

For far too long women have been unfairly treated in the workplace. Whether it is lower pay or fewer advancement opportunities, senior leadership positions or corporate board seats, women have been held back from achieving their full potential. This is not only bad for women, but also for organizations that miss contributions from half the population.

Zero-sum thinkers will view the world as binary: either you win and I lose, or I win and you lose. A mutually beneficial solution is not even considered, and this is often the problem when we discuss gender equity.

In a recent announcement, philanthropist Melinda French Gates says she plans to spend $1 billion over the next two years to support women and families, and that she is committed to advocating for women and girls.

“For too long, a lack of money has forced organizations fighting for women’s rights into a defensive posture while the enemies of progress play offense,” said French Gates. “I want to help even the match.”

This is incredibly good news and long overdue in supporting the advancement of women around the world.

But many men are struggling to reach their full potential, and this is also important.

According to Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, for the first time in American history, in 2019 the balance of the workforce tipped toward women. In 1972, women earned just 42% of bachelor’s degrees and by 1982 women were as likely as men to graduate from college. During the next 20 years, women’s enrollment rose quickly while men’s did not. And by 2019 the gap reversed: women earned 59% of the bachelor’s degrees, while men earned just 49%.

Women are on the rise and that’s a very good thing. At the same time, men are losing ground and that needs to change.

Granted the diminishing number of manufacturing jobs has certainly contributed to this lack of opportunity for many men. The number of service jobs have outnumbered manufacturing jobs for years. According to Statista, as of 2021, nearly 80% of US jobs are now in some type of service.

Richard V. Reeves, author of the book Of Boys and Men, writes that we are now facing a labor shortage in two of the largest and most important service sectors of the economy—health and education—and we are trying to solve this crisis with only half the workforce.

STEM vs. HEAL

Reeves recommends that in the same way women are seeking to make further progress into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, we should find ways to encourage and assist men into opportunities in HEAL (health, education, administration and literacy) fields.

STEM careers currently account for 9% of all jobs in the US while HEAL careers account for 15%. Those in HEAL careers include nurses, lab technicians, dental hygienists, teachers, librarians, social workers, and childcare workers, are currently dominated by women. In theory, these jobs could become more attractive to men. Higher pay would certainly be important, but that’s not everything.

Making these careers more appealing and accessible to men would benefit both them and the people they serve. Reeves suggests that male teachers might provide role models for boys. Male nurses might make men more likely to take responsibility for their physical health. Male psychotherapists may make it easier for men to seek help and follow through with tending to their mental and emotional wellbeing.

This is not a zero-sum game. Women don’t have to lose their jobs at the expense of men getting theirs. It’s more about changing the stereotype that men are computer programmers, engineers, and CEOs, and women are nurses, teachers, and social workers.  

30 by 30

Reeves suggests we should set a 30 by 30 Goal: 30% female representation in STEM jobs and 30% male representation in HEAL jobs by 2030. This would certainly improve the lives of both men and women.

Doing this would take a concerted effort to shift how we currently think about the roles men and women play in the workplace. It would require the media, government officials, teachers, administrators, parents and communities to honor and support the work of every individual based on their skills and abilities rather than their gender.

Let’s stop thinking in terms of zero-sum when it comes to gender equity. Provide opportunity and support so that everyone can contribute to the best of their abilities, and we can improve our organizations and the overall economy.

Transforming Conflict

April 28, 2024

Too often conflict is due to an inability to remain open and to rethink our position. This is true in both our personal and our professional lives. And conflict can escalate when it’s based on an intractable position that prevents resolution.

Perhaps we should adopt what Stanford professor and technology forecaster Paul Saffo calls, strong positions weakly held. With this mindset we can confidently assert our opinion while remaining open and influenceable—not to eliminate conflict but to help transform it.

Strong opinions weakly held is about taking a stand based on your knowledge and experience, however, when new information comes along, you can remain flexible to adjusting your position as necessary.

“Instead of trying to resolve conflict and reach agreement, can we aim for something more realistic and more sustainable than resolution?” asks William Ury, author of Possible: How we survive (and thrive) in an age of conflict. “What if we were to focus on transforming conflict?”

This is about changing the form of conflict from destructive fighting into productive conflict and constructive negotiation.

“The more we react to conflict, the bigger conflict grows,” writes Ury. “Conflicts turn destructive because each side reacts in an escalating back-and-forth that all too often ends with everyone losing.”

Interests versus Positions

“In the language of negotiation, to zoom in means to focus on the interests that lie underneath our positions,”writes Ury. “Positions are the things we say we want. Interests are our underlying motivations—our desires, aspirations, concerns, fears, and needs. Whereas positions are what we say we want, interests are why we want what we want.”

What if we were to inquire beyond positions and into interests? By seeking to understand the interests, you are better able to move from stuck to unstuck.

Braver Angels

This reminds me of the work Braver Angels is doing to bring Americans together by bridging the political divide and strengthen our democratic republic. Founded directly after the 2016 Presidential Election, Braver Angels focuses on facilitating workshops to help individuals fully listening to those with a different position to better understand.

The goal of Braver Angels is not to change minds, but to better appreciate our differences and help ensure the American Experiment survives and thrives.

With 100 alliances spread across Red and Blue states with more than 33,000 participants equally representing those who identify as Republican and Democrat, Braver Angels seeks to engage people in a dialogue based on commonality rather than division. It’s meant to get beyond mere positions to better appreciate and respect each other’s interests.

Transforming conflict requires reminding us of our compatible needs instead of focusing on our opposing positions. This means viewing conflict as an opportunity to strengthen the commonality rather than the differences between us. It requires working together cooperatively rather than competitively. If we are able to do this, we are more likely to ensure that we can move forward together and tackle our most challenging problems.

Best Friend at Work

January 31, 2024

Numerous studies have found that effective engagement in the workplace has to do with a number of factors, which include recognition, communication, culture, leadership, autonomy, and career progression. Another item especially important after the pandemic and with the hybrid work environment is having a best friend at work.

According to a Gallup Workplace article titled “The Increasing Importance of a Best Friend at Work,” employees who have a best friend at work are more likely to engage customers and colleagues, get more done more quickly, support a safe place to work, innovate and share ideas and have fun while working.

“Our latest findings show that since the pandemic started, there has been an even stronger relationship between having a best friend at work and important outcomes such as employees’ likelihood to recommend their workplace, their intent to leave and their overall satisfaction with their workplace,” writes Gallup’s Alok Patel and Stephanie Plowman.

Many complain that making friends after becoming an adult is difficult. There is certainly some truth to this and that’s why it’s important to do the necessary work to cultivate friends. It’s not only important in the workplace, but in your personal life as well.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine claims that more than a third of adults over 45 feel lonely, and nearly a quarter of those over 65 are considered to be socially isolated.

Social isolation and loneliness are directly associated with poor health and shorter lifespans. Loneliness is also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Arthur C. Brooks, co-author of the book Build the Life You Want, includes friends as one of the four important pillars of a happier life. In the book, he provides five lessons regarding the blissful work of friendship:

  1. Don’t let an introverted personality or a fear of rejection block your ability to make friends, and don’t let extroversion prevent you from going deep.

  2. Friendship is ruined when we look for people who are useful to us for reasons other than friendship itself. Build links that are based on love and enjoyment of another’s company, not what she or he can do for you professionally or socially.

  3. Too many deep friendships today are spoiled by differences of opinion. Love for others can be enhanced, not harmed, by differences, if we elect to show humility instead of pride—and the happiness benefits are enormous.

  4. The goal for long-term romance is a special kind of friendship, not undying passion. Companionate love is based on trust and mutual affection. It’s what old people who still love each other talk about.

  5. Real friendship requires real contact. Technology can complement your deepest relationships, but it is a terrible substitute. Look for more ways to be together in person with the people you love must.

While these lessons are not specific to finding and making a friend at work, they can certainly be applied there. Regardless of where you make a friend, keep these lessons in mind to help make it easier.

Seeking to make a best friend—whether at work or outside of work—means investing in your happiness that will pay dividends throughout your life. And if you’re able to make a best friend at work, you will most likely be more engaged and satisfied with where you work.

Work & Happiness

January 12, 2024

It’s a new year and time to reflect on whether your job is serving to increase or decrease your happiness. In an era where there seems to be little loyalty to employees or to employers, perhaps taking a more active role in your career can lead to greater satisfaction in what you do and greater happiness in your life.

In 2014 economists determined that a one-percentage-point increase in unemployment lowers national well-being by more than five times as much as a one-percent increase in the inflation rate. Is our well-being impacted more by our jobs than the overall value of our paychecks? Given how much time we spend at our jobs, what we do for a living greatly impacts our satisfaction and enjoyment.

“Hundreds of studies have shown that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are positively related, and causal: liking your job causes you to be happier all around,” writes Arthur C. Brooks in his book Build the Life You Want, which is co-authored by Oprah Winfrey. “Engaging in work with your whole heart is one of the best ways to enjoy your days, get satisfaction from your accomplishments, and see meaning in your efforts.”

The authors explain how four factors help determine whether you can live a happy life: family, friends, work, and faith. No one of these is more important than the others. And, assuming you’re earning enough money from your job to provide for your basic needs, you should seek to make your work “love made visible” in the words of Brooks and Winfrey. Among other things, this means choosing extrinsic rewards only to the point of providing for your economic requirements and intrinsic rewards for your overall happiness.

To do this with your career, the authors suggest putting some space between your job and your life by making friends outside of where you work. Take weekends off and partake in true vacations to ensure your life is more than what you do for a living. Your career or job should be an extension of who you are and not vice versa: work to live rather than live to work.

Specifically, with regard to enabling your work to be love made visible, Brooks and Winfrey suggest the challenges are:

  1. Figure out your career goals. To do this, seek intrinsic rewards from what you do to ensure that you are not simply motivated by financial motives or fancy titles. Intrinsic rewards will lead to inherent fulfillment and enjoyment when you do your work. You can often determine whether you have enough intrinsic rewards by reflecting on how you speak to other people about what you do for a living.
  2. Decide whether your career path is linear, steady state, transitory or spiral. Is your path a ladder, a lattice, or something else? Then actively pursue that path by paying attention to your internal signals as a guide for whether and when to move from one position or company to another.
  3. Determine whether you have a work addiction by honestly looking at your patterns and assess the health of your habits. Are they serving your mental and physical health, your relationships, your overall happiness? Depression and anxiety are strongly associated with work addiction—either the cause or the result. Making time for family and friends, hobbies, and exercise can reduce the likelihood of these and improve your happiness.
  4. Own up to whether your identity is defined by what you do. It’s all too easy to lose your true self to a representation of yourself that is based on your job title or duties. Avoid this self-objectification, which is allowing your job to determine who you are. Make sure you get space from your work and have people in your life who see you as a person and not just as a professional.

While your work is not the only factor that can determine your happiness, it can certainly play an important role. Therefore, reflect on whether you are taking an active role in your career. Ensure you don’t let your identity define who you are based on what you do. And, most importantly, don’t neglect your family, friends and faith as these are equally important for building the life you want and one that is happier.

Civility at Work & Beyond

December 6, 2023

The workplace continues to evolve as hybrid models enable working from home while maintaining optimal productivity. Yet there is definitely a cost to remote communication and collaboration—no matter how effective are the tools we can use.

This cost to communication and collaboration may be due to an overall lower level of trust or respect. It could also be because there is now an alarming lack of civility throughout our lives.

Look no further than our representatives in congress to see how dysfunctional our so-called leaders have become. Cable news programs are less about conveying news and information so viewers can draw their own conclusions than partisan battles that are all about dramatic one-upmanship to keep viewers tuned in. Social media is rampant with vitriol that clearly fails to deliver Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “give people the capacity to form communities and bring the globe closer together.”

We are actually moving further apart because we are talking over each other, failing to fully listen, seeking only confirming data that supports our perspective, and generally choosing to stay within the confines of our own tribes.

Civility is the deliberate practice of treating others with courtesy and politeness, yet many people are choosing not to do so. A Harvard Business Review study found that 98% of employees have experienced incivility at work. Half of the participants reported that they were treaded badly at least once a week.

This lack of civility can show up in the workplace in various forms:

  • Passive-aggressive communication
  • Failing to assume positive intent with email messages
  • Not giving others the benefit of the doubt
  • Keeping the camera off in a Teams meeting
  • Miserable performance feedback meetings

These things can all contribute to a lack of engagement, poor performance, lower productivity, and greater turnover.

Our behavior in the workplace may be a reflection in how we behave in our personal lives, and I suggest this needs to change. Showing general kindness and compassion to others—regardless of whether we know them—can make both you and others feel better.

When I reflect on random acts of kindness and compassion in my own life, there were so many times where I received a helping hand, generosity, and comfort. But two acts I performed continue to stick with me as I felt so much joy in initiating these actions:

  • Many years ago, while visiting a sick loved one in the hospital, I was unable to leave the parking garage as the woman in front of me didn’t have cash to pay for her parking. I gave her $5 and, although she asked for my address with the promise of paying me back, I held no assurances. I simply felt good about my ability to help someone, who very likely was also visiting a sick loved one. A thoughtful card with the money arrived a few days later.
  • While walking across a bridge near my home, I witnessed a young woman lift a leg across the railing with the intent to jump off. I quickly crossed the street, put my hand on her shoulder and engaged her in a conversation to prevent her from jumping. Several other people assisted in helping this troubled woman, and before long the police arrived who I’d like to believe provided greater assistance. It was a powerful moment that lifted my spirits on how I as well as several other strangers all engaged to be helpful.

In the workplace, communication and collaboration can improve via greater kindness and compassion by practicing giving others the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent, listening with our full attention, and delivering critical feedback while demonstrating care.

Make it a point to behave with kindness and compassion throughout your life. Practice and encourage more of this in your workplace. Both you and others will feel better and you will help make your workplace and our world a more civil and peaceful place.  

The Greatness of Gratitude

November 10, 2023

This is the time of year my thoughts turn to being thankful for the abundance in my life. It is the Thanksgiving holiday, of course, but November is also the month I’ve suffered great tragedy and loss in my life. Through this tragedy and loss, however, I’ve been able to find grace and a focus on what I have rather than what I’ve lost.

As I’ve written about previously, Thanksgiving is the time of year when we are reminded to express our gratitude, yet certainly shouldn’t be limited to only this time of a year.

In fact, many studies have found that having a grateful outlook and regularly expressing gratitude to others has positive effects on our emotional health as well as our relationships. Some studies have further discovered that our physical health can also benefit by expressing gratitude.

“Gratitude heals, energizes and changes lives,” says psychologist Robert A. Emmons. “It is the prism through which we view life in terms of gifts, givers, goodness, and grace.”

Some studies asked participants to write letters of thanks or list positive things in their lives. The effects of those acts revealed mental health benefits such as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased self-esteem, and overall greater satisfaction with life.

What is especially profound is that not only does this expression of gratitude improve the well-being of the giver and receiver, but it may also be good for those who simply witness it. Observing an act of gratitude between people can cause the one watching to feel warmth towards the others.

Here are some suggested ways to express gratitude:

  • Write a handwritten note of thanks to people you are grateful for. This can have a dramatic effect as it is so rarely done in this age of electronic communication.
  • Thank your direct reports and colleagues for their contributions. Be specific on what you are grateful for as this dramatically improves its impact.
  • Perform random acts of kindness: use your turn signal when changing lanes or making a turn, open or hold a door for a stranger, simply make eye contact and smile when passing someone on the street.
  • Write down what you are grateful for each night before going to sleep. This will help you sleep better and improve your outlook in the morning.
  • Create a gratitude jar and provide slips of paper where you can easily write down what you’re grateful for and drop it in the jar. Watching the contents grow will continually remind you of the abundance in your life.
  • Catch yourself when you find you’re feeling jealous of others’ good fortune. Avoid comparing yourself to others by limiting your time on social media.
  • Remember to appreciate what you have rather than what you lack. This could be your health, family, friends, job, or your freedom.
  • Take a walk in nature and be grateful for all that cannot be adequately simulated by technology: Physically moving your body, breathing fresh air, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of all that surrounds you.

Regardless of how you express gratitude, find ways to do it regularly as this will sustain your good health and well-being.

“I think the benefits of gratitude activities truly unfold through long-term habits,” said Joel Wong, a professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University’s School of Education. Dr. Wong has a list of 100 questions as prompts for expressing gratitude. These include both micro and macro gratitude questions, as well as those that are interpersonal and redemptive.

The greatness of expressing gratitude is how simple and meaningful it can be. It’s good for your health. It doesn’t cost anything. It will likely improve your relationships. And expressing gratitude may benefit even those witnessing it from the sidelines. Be grateful for yourself and for others.

Rethinking Retirement

October 18, 2023

I have reached the age where many of my siblings, friends and colleagues either left the workforce or are headed in the direction of what we call retirement. But this is not your parent’s retirement as people today are living longer than ever and looking to remain active, healthy, useful and, in many cases, engaged in work long after retirement age.

Many factors could be at play here as our longer lifespans have fueled our desire to remain relevant. For many people, fishing, golfing, travelling, and hanging with the grandchildren are no longer fulfilling on their own. Whether it’s about identity or purpose, many want to further contribute, give back, be of service.

According to a report titled The New Age of Aging, based on a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults with more than 900 adults age 50+, here are five key insights:

  1. The demographic makeup of the U.S. is turning upside down as older adults will soon outnumber youth under 18 for the for the first time in our history.
  2. The definition of “old” has been pushed back by twenty years, driven by a new breed of older adults. People over 60 are now more active, open-minded, and curious, and far less rigid and isolated than previous generations.  
  3. Seventy-one percent of today’s modern elders, adults 65+, say the best time of their life is right now or in front of them.
  4. We need to re-imagine purposeful roles for older adults, as 83% of adults 65+ say it’s more important to feel “useful” rather than “youthful” in their retirement years.
  5. There is a need and desire to better match our healthspans to our lifespans.

The survey found that a majority of today’s retirees and pre-retirees say they want both work and retirement: full-time, part-time, or cycling in and out of work. Flex-work, remote-work, sabbaticals, and paid leave should no longer be restricted to younger workers. And keeping older adults working could fuel economic growth and promote greater lifelong financial security.

Age Wave further uncovered five keys to thriving in this longevity:

  1. Actively take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  2. Build and nurture strong relationships with family, friends, and loved ones.
  3. Maintain a clear sense of purpose and pursue meaningful involvements.
  4. Be willing to course-correct as needed to achieve your dreams throughout life.
  5. Commit to saving and investing for lifelong financial security.

A sense of purpose and connection to others enhances your well-being and can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke. On the other hand, loneliness can be more deadly than cigarette smoking.

Purpose can be found in many ways as people choose to volunteer time and expertise to organizations or causes that are most meaningful to them. Consider joining an organization like Third Act where you can contribute your time to protecting our planet.

Try replacing the notion of “aging” with “longevity.” Rather than ask an elderly person how old they are, ask them how many years they have lived. You get the same answer, but I think this may signal a recognition of what they have accomplished rather than simply endured.

Regardless, whether you are in you 65, 55, 45, or even younger, the sooner you rethink retirement, the sooner you’ll be prepared to make the most of it when it arrives.

Best Practices in a Return to the Workplace

February 28, 2023

The pandemic made it necessary for many of us to work from home and various technologies made that possible. For a number of tasks, our productivity increased. Now that it seems safe to work side-by-side again, many are resisting and it’s time to install best practices in returning to the workplace.

Many businesses are offering a hybrid model to bring forward lessons learned while working from home. These include flexibility in when the work gets done, recognizing the advantage of reduced commuting time, acknowledging the value of more focus time. Of course, this last one depended on who else was in the home and whether Zoom meetings dominated one’s schedule.

Benefits for our returning to the office at least part of the week can include maintaining connections with others, building a solid reputation founded on who we are and how we show up, and strengthening relationships to help foster greater collaboration now and networking throughout our careers. Finally, our overall health and well-being. Social media and the pandemic have led to further isolation. Don’t dismiss the value in real-time interactions.

If a hybrid model of working partly in the office and partly at home are likely to become the new normal, it would make sense to derive best practices for such a model. For example, a hybrid model can be effective if it addresses proximity bias, maximizes social opportunities, and capitalizes on remote innovation opportunities.

Proximity Bias

During the pandemic none of us were more proximal to the boss. When we return to the office in a hybrid model, we should ensure that those physically closer to those in power are not given an unfair advantage for promotions. Both the worker and the boss need to recognize that proximity bias may not be intentional but can certainly play a role in who gets promoted. Workers need to show up more fully when in the office and engaging as fully as possible when working from home. Bosses need to recognize those who produce results and not merely those who are physically present.

Social Opportunities

The last thing you want when seeking to bring an employee back into the workplace is to have her spend all day on Zoom with colleagues working from home. This was the case for someone told to do an internship in the office because of the opportunities to learn and grow from co-workers. But those co-workers never came into the office. It’s important to organize days when team members will all be in the office and prioritize opportunities to collaborate in the same physical space rather than stare at a computer screen. Be intentional in spending meaningful time with co-workers so that you can optimize your time in the office for collaborating, building trust and rapport, and generally working effectively together.


Remote Innovation

Let’s face it: companies want and need to innovate to stay competitive. The trouble is that innovation is hard to come by under the best of circumstances, but don’t rule out this coming when working remotely. Insight and inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time and very often this happens outside of the office. If companies encourage the flexibility in taking mid-day walks and endorse daydreaming during breaks from tasks, this could very well provide the spark needed for new ideas and opportunities that lead to vital innovation. Workers should optimize focus time for getting things accomplished when working remotely. They should also allow for divergent thinking and allow for creative inspiration.

People returning to the office at least part of the time can result in higher engagement, increased trust, better communication, and a feeling of belonging. These qualitative results are difficult to measure but shouldn’t be minimized as they are vital to higher productivity. It’s important to take what we’ve learned from working remotely and bring the best practices into a hybrid model that benefits both employees and employers.

How to Live: Happiness vs. Meaningfulness

August 30, 2022

Living a long and happy life seems to correlate more directly with the value of our relationships than our accumulated wealth. Though this may seem obvious, it’s not so frequently practiced.

In a famous longitudinal study tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores beginning in 1938, scientists hoped to learn the clues leading to healthy and happy lives. What they discovered was that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. These strong ties delay people from physical and mental decline and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even one’s genes. This finding was proven across the board with both the Harvard participants as well as those in the inner-city.

A study of 50 ninety-five-year-olds were asked if they could live their lives over again what would they do differently. The most common responses were: 1) They would reflect more. 2) They would take more risks and chances. 3) They would have left a legacy, something that would last beyond their own lifetime.

As we age, we should seek more meaning rather than merely happiness. This would mean shifting from primarily satisfying our needs and desires to giving back and leaving a legacy. Moving from what David Brooks in his book The Second Mountain terms “resume virtues” to “eulogy virtues.” It’s not about what you’ve achieved in your working life, but about the people you’ve touched along the way. It’s about your character rather than your accomplishments.

It turns out that happiness levels are positively correlated with whether people see their lives as meaningful, according to a survey of 400 American adults by Roy Baumeister and his colleagues. Our relationships are related to both how happy we are as well as how meaningful we see our lives. Feeling more connected to others improved both happiness and meaning. 

Ultimately, the researchers identified five major differences between a happy life and a meaningful one.

  1. Happy people satisfy their needs and wants, but this is generally irrelevant to a meaningful life. While health, wealth, and ease in life were all related to happiness, but not with meaning.
  2. While happiness is focused on the present, which is more fleeting, meaningfulness requires thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them.
  3. Happiness is derived by what other people give to you, while meaningfulness is more about what you give to others. And though spending time with friends was linked to happiness more than meaning, spending time with loved ones (e.g., taking care of your children or elderly parents) was linked to meaning, but not necessarily happiness.
  4. Meaningfulness in life involves stress and challenges to be overcome. High levels of worry and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness and lower happiness. It could be that while challenging oneself through obstacles may not lead to happiness, it has the potential to bring about longer-term meaningfulness.
  5. Self-expression is important for meaning, but not necessarily happiness. I can attest to this as I’ve written short fiction and feel that it is important and meaningful to me, even though I derive little happiness from this creative expression.

Clearly striving for happiness is important, but it shouldn’t be the only pursuit to live a long and healthy life. As with many things, it’s often about delayed gratification. There can be great satisfaction and fulfillment in working hard at something, making steady progress, and ultimately finding meaning. And remember to value relationships over things because when you’re 95, you’ll be glad you did.

Make Email a Useful Tool

August 12, 2022

Along with attending meetings, nothing dominates our workday more than tending to email messages. But does this have to be the case? Instead of allowing email to dictate how we spend our work lives, let’s put it back into the place where it belongs as just another tool that adds to rather than diminishes our overall productivity.

In my work coaching clients, I ask them to report how they spend their workday, and they so often report that they are consumed with back-to-back meetings all day every day. This is obviously not optimal and it needs to be gotten under control as I wrote about previously.

When you spend so much time in meetings, you either choose to multitask while in attendance or do your work (including email) when the workday should be complete. Multitasking while in meetings is not the solution as you are present for neither the meeting or the work you are trying to focus on. I suspect you really don’t need to attend all the meetings you go to, and it will serve you better by choosing to opt out whenever possible.

Regarding email, there are many things to consider so that you don’t spend nearly as much time on it. Many of these may be quite obvious, but that doesn’t mean we all do them.

Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to control your attention and choose your life, says it’s important to hack back on email. His suggestions include:

  • If you want to receive fewer emails, send fewer emails. You likely contribute to the problem of too many emails every time you send one. Consider whether email is the right medium for your message. Would it be better to pick up the phone to avoid a constant back and forth via email messages? Perhaps a face-to-face meeting would work even better. Text, slack message, or is it even necessary to write or respond?
  • Consider having office hours for when you will respond to emails. Rather than act as if every message is both urgent and important, choose more intentional follow through. Rather than checking your inbox constantly, specify times each day when you will check and respond as needed. Consider putting those times in an automated response, so people are not surprised when you delay in your reply.
  • Hesitate in replying as everything is not urgent and can go away with time. Oftentimes you may think “this will just take a minute, so I’ll reply,” even though others also included on the distribution may appreciate the opportunity to respond and thereby share their knowledge and expertise. Then perhaps next time an issue comes up, the sender may choose to reach out only to that person thereby reducing the number of emails you receive.
  • Schedule delayed delivery. Many people tend to respond or compose email messages late at night or on the weekend. This flexibility is great for you, but the recipient may sense more urgency than you intend. Consider scheduling a delay to have them sent early the next morning or the following Monday morning.
  • Eliminate unwanted messages. Reducing the number of email messages should begin with unsubscribing to those you don’t read or want. In the workplace, if you are receiving internal messages on projects or subjects that are not important to you, consider politely requesting that you not be included on the distribution list.

Another idea is to use the 1-minute rule. If you can reply within one-minute, then do it now. Otherwise plan to reply to all other emails at a designated time when you can focus more thoroughly. Again, try to avoid doing this throughout the day as it will detract from your ability to focus and accomplish important work.

Email has been around for decades and, while it may be shunned by many Millennials and Gen Zers, it will likely remain in the workplace so it’s important to make it work for us rather than against us. Make email a useful tool.

Success in Motivation

July 29, 2022

Maintaining motivation is challenged because we are so often focused on the wrong incentives. This is true whether it’s about our physical health or our effectiveness in the workplace. Seeking some far-off desired outcome is doomed without the right incentives to maintain motivation and succeed in reaching your goals.

Using intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic ones is helpful whether you’re trying to keep a healthy body or mind.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that all humans have three psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—that underlie our growth. This 50-year-old theory challenged the once dominant belief that the best way to get people to perform tasks is to reinforce behavior with extrinsic rewards.

However, half a century later, all too often organizations continue to incentivize employees primarily with external rewards rather than focus on these psychological needs.

Autonomy is feeling you have the choice to willingly behave in a certain way. In the workplace, this means you have agency for how to approach the task and complete your work.

Competence is the experience of mastery and being effective in your activity. This means making gradual progress, learning along the way, and feeling like you’re capable.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected and belonging to others. It’s about feeling valued by the people around you. This social aspect is often overlooked, but vitally important in maintaining motivation.

According to Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, authors of the book Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, the human psyche needs these three elements to flourish just as the human body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to run properly.  

In the same way managing overall physical health is greatly influenced by our habits and the lifestyle choices we make, so too are our behaviors and mindset in the workplace.

When it comes to physical health, this means ensuring that you focus on the proper fuel necessary to feel good and maintain proper health. Your physical health can thrive if you are motivated to consume the nourishment your body requires and limit the empty calories, sugary products and junk food that gets you into trouble.

Similarly, your psyche needs the right fuel to operate best by having a choice in how you approach the work (autonomy), experience mastery at being effective and making progress (competence), and feeling connected and belonging with others (relatedness).

Relatedness is likely compromised as we do more remote work and struggle to connect with others without being in their actual physical presence. As valuable as video conferencing technologies are in enabling remote work, not being in the physical presence of others limits our ability to fully connect. Motivation may be undermined because this social interaction is really crucial to feeling connected and belonging to something larger than oneself.  

As we continue to strive for a healthy hybrid workplace, keep this relatedness factor in mind when deciding how to make the most of your days in the office. Whenever possible, choose to have face-to-face interactions, impromptu casual conversations, team lunches, and other social engagements to build further connection and the feeling of belonging. This will help sustain motivation and keep you engaged.

Imagine a Four-Day Workweek

July 13, 2022

The pandemic has forever changed how we think about what it means to go to work. And though the hybrid approach is rapidly becoming the predominant model in many white-collar workplaces, perhaps we should consider a more radical change to the 40-hour, five-day workweek. Is it now time for the four-day workweek?

Instead of simply providing more flexibility on when employees get in their 40+ hours of work, why not give them the opportunity to trim the fat by cutting out wasted time, push back on non-essential meetings, and find ways to do the work more quickly and efficiently to achieve the same results so they can spend more time away from work?

This is ultimately about giving workers more autonomy and agency for getting work completed.

In 2018 the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian introduced a four-day, 32-hour workweek as a pilot program and told employees that if productivity didn’t suffer, they would make it permanent. After eight weeks, they discovered not only did job performance not suffer, but there was an increase in employee engagement and work-life balance.

As a result of the pilot program, Perpetual Guardian found that:

  • Levels of engagement, teamwork, and stimulation went up between 30% to 40%   
  • Time spent on social media fell by 35%
  • Stress levels were down by 15%
  • People stated they slept more, rested more, read more, and relaxed more
  • After the two-month trial, the four-day workweek became permanent

“It’s not just having a day off a week,” says Perpetual Guardian founder and author Andrew Barnes. “It’s about delivering productivity, meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”

4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit established by Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart that provides a platform for like-minded people interested in supporting the idea of the four-day workweek.

Research suggests that alternative work arrangements such as the four-day workweek are particularly beneficial for working mothers and low-income employees because these they tend to be marginalized from high-paying jobs or promotions and are often labelled as “failed” employees because household and caretaking responsibilities prevent them from working long hours or unexpected business travel. The four-day workweek could help level the playing field for marginalized workers.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which I wrote about back in 2010, seems especially relevant today. ROWE gives workers the freedom to do their jobs how and when they see fit, so long as they produce the stated results on specified deadlines.

While ROWE may not be suitable in every work environment, it can work well with workers who are experienced, conscientious, and professional. That’s why workplaces such as IBM, JL Buchanan, WATT Global Media, GitHub, Trello, Toggl, DataStax and many others see the benefits to both their employees and the bottom line.

While ROWE can result in happier, more engaged, and productive employees, communication can be compromised if regular meetings or check-ins are not established and held firm. Not all employees are capable of being successful with such autonomy, and, of course, many workplaces simply don’t provide that much flexibility where established hours are required.

Nevertheless, where ROWE can be implemented, it can result in attracting and retaining top talent, lower real estate costs, and a company culture that values work-life balance.

I’ve learned that while employees love the hybrid work model, managers are not so enamored with the idea. Many claim it is too hard to successfully monitor and manage others. But perhaps this points to the problem. We need a new way to measure productivity that doesn’t involve watching over someone’s shoulder. This means providing greater autonomy for how the work gets done.

Whether the four-day workweek becomes a reality anytime soon, perhaps implementing the ROWE model is a step in that direction. Trust employees and give them the agency and autonomy to get the work done. Don’t simply fill five days with tasks, but provide the goals and objectives then get out of the way as employees deliver results. And be open to this being accomplished in just four days.

Workplace Flexibility in Flux

August 15, 2021

As organizations determine the best way to bring employees back into the workplace, it’s clear no one size fits all. Workers have found the virtues and drawbacks of working from home, and many prefer flexibility. Company leaders suspect something has been lost by not being in the office but haven’t been able to fully quantify it.

Many organizations are choosing to follow CDC guidelines on when to bring employees back, and due to the dramatic rise in the highly contagious Delta variant, timeframes have been pushed out to January 2022 and beyond.

Zoom Fatigue

Some organizations found workers to be more productive at least initially due to fewer interruptions and meetings. Yet our technology (Zoom, Teams, Slack, text messaging and email) found a way to overcome the physical distance and disrupt our re-found ability to focus. Staring at a computer screen is one thing, but using it to effectively communicate, collaborate, or manage others via camera is exhausting and often futile.

As an aside, I find it especially troubling during a video conference, our eyes are not looking into each other’s eyes, but instead looking down because the camera is located not in the middle of the screen but above it. Perhaps it would be great if we were all trained to look at the tiny green light like newscasters, but, of course, we would ultimately miss the reaction of our audience and that would also diminish real connection and effective communication.

While many workers have been able to reallocate the time saved by not commuting, others struggle with a lack of a clear definition between work and personal time. No longer is there a period of transition afforded by the commute. Further, we are challenged with the competing demands of home life (kids, pets, chores, etc.) while remaining focused on our work life.

Full Return

Companies that recently announced post-pandemic policies for a full return to the workplace include Abbott Labs, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Tesla, and Wells Fargo. This suggests they are expecting things to go back to relatively normal again. Most companies, however, plan to offer a hybrid or more work from home opportunities.

Fully Vaxed

Those requiring all employees returning to the workplace to be fully vaccinated include Amtrak, Cisco, CitiGroup, Delta Airlines, Facebook, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Salesforce, Twitter, Tyson Foods, Uber, United Airlines, Walgreens, Walt Disney and Walmart. This is a list that will likely continue to grow, especially since many state and federal offices are now making full vaccination a requirement as well.

And those who refuse to be vaccinated may have to provide proof of a valid health or religious reason and, in many cases, subject themselves to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.  

What can we learn from the past 16 months that can help us improve how productive and engaged we are in our careers? It seems that the pandemic has redefined the workplace and what it means to be “at work.”

In my work as an executive coach, I find I really miss meeting face-to-face with clients. There is no substitution for establishing trust, building rapport, and communicating in the most complete manner than by meeting in the same physical location. But I also know that once we’ve established this trust, rapport and understanding on how we communicate, we can often meet via phone or video conference and make it nearly as effective.

This kind of flexibility will be important going forward. While some jobs won’t allow for any remote work, many should enable some form of a hybrid approach. Giving workers and their managers the flexibility for how and when to work from home can raise productivity and engagement, but it should be done intentionally with measures in place for accountability.

The workplace we return to—physically or virtually—will likely be forever changed, and it’s important to recognize that this crisis can lead to a great opportunity for improving the way we work together.

Anxiety at Work

July 28, 2021

Do you feel anxious? You’re not alone. Anxiety is on the rise and blamed on everything from COVID-19 to political instability to economic insecurity to social media to unstable weather conditions due to climate change.

Everyone experiences anxiety and stress at some point in life. While stress is a response to a threat in a situation, anxiety is a reaction to the stress associated with it.

According to Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States.

Anxiety disorders are more than the simple anxious feeling you might get about an upcoming presentation or other relatively minor situation. Anxiety is a problem when it goes beyond logical worry into a more unreasonable or uncontrollable way when a minor event can be felt as thoroughly embarrassing or seems life-threatening.

Fear plus uncertainty leads to anxiety, according to Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and author of Unwinding Anxiety. He developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including app-based treatments for smoking, eating disorders and anxiety.

“When my students or patients are suffering under the weight of never-ending anxiety, a stubborn habit, or out-of-control addiction, I encourage them to see if they can envision these experiences as teachers,” writes Brewer. “Teachers help us learn. When we learn something, we feel good (it is rewarding).”

Brewer identified a reward-based learning process that includes first identifying the trigger that leads to a specific behavior, which then results in some type of reward. Analyzing this reward is key to understanding how to change your habit or your control anxiety.

Raising your awareness and staying curious can be vital. Brewer suggests the following: “Instead of asking why something is the way it is, get curious. It doesn’t matter what triggers worry or anxiety, but it does matter how you react to it. What thoughts are you having? What emotions are you feeling? What sensations are showing up in their bodies?”

In the workplace, anxiety can prevent you from being your best and—at a minimum—can be disruptive to feeling relaxed and under control in how you go about doing your job. When anxiety becomes a problem at work, it can be associated with any number of types of anxiety. Among Americans, these can include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects some 6.8 million, yet only 43% are currently receiving treatment for it. And GAD often co-occurs with major depression.  
  • Panic Disorders affect 6 million and women are more than twice as likely as men to have it.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million and can begin as early as age 13.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million adults and often begins before the age of adulthood.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7.7 million and rape is the most likely trigger for PTSD. Some 65% of men and 46% of women who are raped will develop the disease. PTSD and OCD are closely related and many experience them at the same time along with depression.
  • Major Depression Disorder (MDD) impacts more than 16 million adults, is more prevalent in women and the average age for onset is about 33 years old.

If you find your anxiety is impacting you more than it should, it’s important to get the help you need. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and you should seek professional assistance rather than ignore it or go it alone.  You can quickly assess your overall mental health and find resources at Mental Health America.

To be your best at work, you need to look after your health and wellness: physical, emotional, and mental. Pay attention and take action. You deserve it.

Right Job: Intrinsic Motivation & Creativity

July 14, 2021

After an extraordinary time working from home, many of us are nearing a return to the workplace. Seems like a good time to check-in with yourself to see if you are in the right job: One where you find intrinsic motivation not only to feel engaged, but also to be most creative.

This creativity is vital for both your organization to survive and for you to thrive.

Teresa Amabile, psychology professor at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and found that extrinsic motivators such as financial rewards that make people feel controlled can often stifle creativity.

While extrinsic motivation is primarily about external rewards such as money or recognition, intrinsic motivation means you are incentivized to do the activity for the enjoyment itself rather than for the external benefits that may result.

“You should do what you love, and you should love what you do,” says Amabile. Doing what you love means finding work that “matches well with your expertise, your creative thinking skills, and your strongest intrinsic motivations.” Loving what you do means “finding a work environment that will allow you to retain that intrinsic motivational focus, while supporting your exploration of new ideas.”

This means when you are in the right job you can leverage your core competencies, including the things you do best and enjoy as well as having autonomy and are regularly challenged to stretch your abilities.

Amabile found that external rewards can also boost one’s intrinsic motivation and creativity when they these rewards are unexpected or unchosen, especially if these extrinsic rewards support what you are already intrinsically motivated to do.

“My experiments have shown that extrinsic motivators that make people feel controlled or driven only by that motivator drain intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity,” writes Amabile. “But extrinsic motivators that either allow a person to be more engaged, or confirm their competence, in something they are already keen to do, can synergistically add to intrinsic motivation and creativity.”

According to Amabile, support from an employee’s manager is crucial. When a manager provides clear and honest communication, values individual contributions to the overall team, and sets clear goals, this results in the most creative projects. Further, creativity is optimized when the organization supports the free flow of ideas and an opportunity to develop new ideas.

It turns out that what drives creativity in the workplace comes down to simply making progress on meaningful work, providing a sense of moving forward on something that matters. When people felt this experience, they were both more productive and more creative.

And highly-creativity projects have environments that are more intellectually challenging, sufficiently resourced, plenty of autonomy and encouraged innovative thinking.

Do you feel intrinsically motivated and are you able to be creative in your job? If not, is there something your boss or organization can do to change that? Obviously, it is not entirely up to your employer as you also need to take responsibility. Don’t neglect this important aspect of job satisfaction as there may be no better indicator as to whether you simply remain employed or really thrive.

This is the perfect time for you to assess whether the job you’re returning to in-person is the one that enables you to bring out your best.  

Best Teams: Individual Well-Being & Strong Relationships

June 30, 2021

Now that many companies are seeking to bring employees back to the office at least on occasion, it’s a good time to reevaluate how our teams can be most effective. The best teams are those that value strong relationships and individual well-being.

That’s according to Jen Fisher and Anh Phillips, authors of Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines. In 2020, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report, executives cited, for the first time, both well-being and strong relationships as essential to interdependent, team-based workplaces.

Virtual meetings are a poor substitute for meeting in the same physical location. When your team does meet—either in person or virtually—it’s important to provide psychological safety, ensure everyone’s voice is heard, build and maintain trust, and be respectful.

“Belonging is essential and this is driven by comfort, connection and contribution,” write Fisher and Phillips. “When you look a little deeper, you recognize that all three are the result of healthy relationships with one’s team members.”

Healthy workplace relationships have also been found to reduce stress and illness, and research shows that social connection in the workplace improves employees’ commitment to their work as well as their colleagues.

Vulnerability is Key

Gallup research established four broad types of meaningful moments on teams: !) when you propose a new idea, 2) when you ask for help, 3) when you push back on something and 4) when you ask a personal favor. All these situations leave you vulnerable to rejection in its many forms—from being ignored to outright scorn.

“The way this vulnerability is received will either build the culture or break it and will either help or hinder both the individual’s and the organization’s ability to produce their best performance,” wrote Gallup’s Jake Herway.

The ability to work together effectively begins by simply treating others in the same way you want them to treat you. Be honest and respectful. Assume positive intent. Seek to understand before being understood, as Stephen R. Covey put it.

Use Technology Wisely

As much as various technologies help us to communicate, it’s important to recognize that these are only tools. They can be used effectively or not. While collaborating tools such as Slack may be appropriate some of the time, they are not most of the time. Texting has become more common than phone calls, yet it can undermine clarity in communication. In person, face to face, conversation certainly improves understanding over the back and forth of email messages.

“Work technology makes us more productive, and yet its habituating design leads to overuse and addiction, when we become less productive,” write Fisher and Phillips. “Given these dualities, the path forward to strong relationships and well-being is to become more intentional about what we do and to make a commitment to ground all our behaviors, individually and as teams, in carefully chosen values.”

Bring your teams back and choose to uphold values that encourage well-being and strong relationships. This is good for the individual, the team and the entire organization.

Build Back a Better Workplace

June 9, 2021

With any crisis comes opportunity. The crisis of COVID-19 provides the opportunity to take what we’ve learned and make appropriate changes to build back a better workplace. A way to do this is by becoming more focused on tasks, strengthening our work relationships, and embracing a work ethic based on results.

Companies—large and small—around the world were challenged during the past 16 months in order to stay afloat. Many, especially in retail and hospitality, were unable to make it and had to shut down either temporarily or for good. Others were able to utilize technology and many were able to work remotely alongside children, who were learning remotely.

Regardless, while productivity may have been relatively stable for many of these companies, in the long run, we’ll need to find a way to come together again in the same physical space—at least occasionally. That’s because things like creativity, innovation and a sense of belonging are vital and more likely to occur when we are together in the same room.

The workplace may have been forever changed by this pandemic. In many industries, it may no longer be necessary to come into the office every day. Employers may therefore require less office space while employees may need a home office. Once children are back in school again, parents may be much more effective working from home than when they were sharing space and bandwidth with others.

When we do return to the same physical space, it will be important to incorporate the good that came from those who were able to work effectively from home. Here are some things to consider.

Focus on task at hand

One of the first things employers discovered was that many employees actually became more productive while working from home. Though the initial transition may have been challenging to some, others were able to find focus without the disruption that can be so rampant in the office. It may have taken awhile before back-to-back meetings and continual interruptions interrupted our workday again. Though family members, pets and other interruptions may have replaced them, many may have found a way to better focus such as:

  • Maintain control over your time. Strategic thinking, completing a complex assignment, researching a new methodology, learning a new technology and many other things require focus. Take control of your schedule to guard your time.
  • Cut down on task switching. When you allow emails, text messages, Slack, news alerts, phone calls, etc. to interrupt what you’re doing, they greatly impact your ability to focus. Reject multitasking as it is completely counter to effectively focusing.

Strengthen relationships

When we become slaves to our technologies rather than simply treat them as tools, we became more disengaged from each other. No matter what social media companies say, when you choose to spend time interacting with a screen instead of a person, you are creating distance. When you can safely return to the office, do what you can to strengthen your real time relationships with co-workers.

  • Talk in person whenever possible. Rather than message someone down the hall, deliberately choose to interact face-to-face. This will build trust and rapport much better than any electronic substitute.
  • Help make your team more effective. Things like psychological safety, trust and a shared sense of purpose and belonging are critical to high performing teams. Do your part to optimize your teamwork.

Embracing ROWE

In many cases remote work meant managers could no longer micro-manage their workers. Overly oppressive bosses needed to let go of controlling how the work got done. While this could have been taken advantage of, many workers demonstrated just how effective they were in completing the work while unencumbered by an overly watchful eye. Results Only Work Ethic (ROWE) is all about what you deliver and not necessarily how or where you do it. To maintain agency over how and when you do the work, keep in mind the following:

  • Complete what you say you’ll do. It’s quite simple that when you can be trusted to complete your work on time and accurately, others will likely provide more latitude for how and where the work gets done. Do your part to follow through on tasks.
  • Allow your results to dictate your performance. Don’t look for excuses or others to blame when you are unable to complete your work. Take responsibility for what is yours and focus on achieving results that demonstrate your value.

Going back to the office can be a source of renewed engagement. It can bring about changes that enhance your experience. See if you can adapt how you show up so you contribute to building back a better place to work.   

Is Your DE&I Training Really Effective?

May 26, 2021

Though companies across the country recently created or increased diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs, to what degree have they been successful? Turns out, without significant investment in time and behavior-based training, much of this may have little long lasting value.

Most DE&I programs focus on half-day or one day sessions where the content is about increasing knowledge (what we know) and attempting to alter attitudes (what we believe). But with regard to our long-held beliefs and perspectives, failing to take the time to incorporate true behavioral change, such new knowledge may be quickly forgotten and beliefs will tend to revert back to where they were before the training.

Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant says research shows programs are most effective when they focus on behavior—not just raising awareness and changing attitudes but emphasizing what you can do. Sustainable behavior change means treating bias as a bad habit and one to break.

Grant says one of the strongest predictors of moving towards a more inclusive organization is appointing a chief diversity officer. Fighting systemic bias then requires creating a management structure for diversity and inclusion, which ultimately changes its composition leading to a change in the organizational culture.

BAE Systems, an aerospace and defense company with a workforce of 90,000 employees across 40 countries, created a series of initiatives to make anti-bias work an ongoing experience. For example, they have a Courageous Conversations program where alums from the bias training discuss race and racial equity with employees from underrepresented groups. They provide a Mentoring Program where they pair a white person with an employee of color. And BAE plans to make leaders accountable by building diversity and inclusion objectives into performance reviews.

“We’ve seen a 15% increase in those leaders, hiring women and people of color,” says Tyece Wilkins, a diversity and inclusion senior advisor at BAE. “We also see an 11% increase in their inclusive leadership skills. So, it’s not them saying, Hey, I’m a more inclusive leader. it’s their direct reports. The people who work with them every day saying this person is more inclusive.”

Glassdoor lists the 20 Best Companies for Diversity and Inclusion and includes Visa, Medtronic, Gap, HP, Nestlé, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Proctor & Gamble, and Microsoft. Such diverse companies as these demonstrates what is possible.  

It seems that the best DE&I training programs are those that are able to increase knowledge, influence beliefs and change behavior. To do this, it can come down to a combination of awareness, acceptance and action.

  1. Awareness – Provide ample time and opportunity to interact with those throughout the organization that includes diversity in race, gender and job title; actively listen to others’ perspective and experience; keep a beginner’s mind and learn to unlearn as necessary.
  2. Acceptance – Realize and accept without becoming overly defensive that you may have privilege simply because you are white, because you are male, because you are educated, because you were born not having to worry about where your next meal was coming from, or any number of factors that you probably couldn’t control. No need to apologize for this, but simply acknowledge it and learn from others.
  3. Action – Call out behaviors that are inappropriate in a manner that doesn’t embarrass or shame people; ensure that new desired behaviors are measured and rewarded; provide consistency throughout the organization so everyone is held accountable.

Training to unlearn a behavior (such as unconscious bias) means rewiring the way you think about and categorize that action. The challenge in rewiring those connections is that behaviors like bias are learned over a lifetime, and it simply takes time to unlearn them.

Effective DE&I training programs should be long enough to make a difference. They absolutely need to include all leadership from the very beginning. They need to provide not only increasing our knowledge and our attitudes, but also our behavior. Only then will we see a more equitable workplace.

Behavioral Change & Social Distancing

March 29, 2020

Even in the best of times, changing one’s behavior to break a bad habit, learn a favorable one or develop new leadership capacity is hard and takes time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ability to change behavior is vital to the health and safety of everyone.

If you’ve ever struggled with changing your behavior in order to lose weight or workout more regularly, you know that it takes a lot of discipline and persistence. It’s helpful to break it down into smaller parts so you can see regular progress rather than have one all-consuming goal. Rather than lose 10 pounds by summertime, focus on losing three pounds in the next six weeks. It also helps to have a partner to help you stay motivated. And it’s helpful when you can be compassionate with yourself if you slip up or fall back into old behaviors.

Behavioral change comes into play during this time of social distancing. When we are forced to isolate ourselves, it can be traumatizing as we are biologically social beings. Those fortunate to have loving partners, families and housemates who can be supportive are at an advantage. For those who live alone or are living under less than ideal circumstances, it is important to reach out and find community in whatever ways possible. New behaviors may have to be developed and practiced quickly in order to maintain your emotional well-being.

As a leadership coach, I help my clients identify the behaviors that may be holding them back from becoming more effective leaders. For example, these could be in communication such as appropriately giving or receiving feedback, effective presentation skills or body language, tone of voice or other behaviors that may be reflecting poorly on them. Once identified and accepted that they need to change, the next step is to create a development plan and then execute upon it.

For those interested in changing their behavior in order to ride out social distancing during this health crisis, I offer the following suggestions.

  1. Identify what is bringing about the most anxiety. Is it food, housing, job or other economic insecurity? Try to get to the root of the anxiety rather than just an overall label of fear in what may happen. Talk to a professional or close friend about this.
  2. See if you can identify what behaviors are helping or hurting your current situation. If you are concerned about food, are you doing what you can to budget yourself? Since you can’t go to restaurants, are you reducing expenses by cooking?
  3. Connect with others differently than before. Since you cannot socialize face to face, don’t just rely on texting and social media. Use your phone to talk or FaceTime with others. I’ve been Zooming with friends and extended family to stay connected.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Just because you can no longer workout at the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t stay in shape. Get outside to take in fresh air by walking, jogging, running or biking around your neighborhood. Do this every day as it will lift your spirits, especially now that we’ve entered spring.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself. Recognize that we are living in extraordinary times and there is no playbook to follow. Give yourself the space and time to do what you need to do in order to get through this. There will be an end to this crisis, and you will be stronger having lived through it.

Life on our planet will be forever impacted by this pandemic and, hopefully, we will be better prepared for the next one. By practicing social distancing and taking care of ourselves as we ride this out, we will all help flatten the curve and save lives.

The success you have in changing your behavior during this time may also enable greater confidence in your ability to change other behaviors. Use this time to learn and grow in your capacity to change behaviors so you can thrive throughout the rest of your life.

Express Gratitude Far & Wide

November 26, 2019

This is the time of year when we gather to give thanks—primarily to those with whom we have close relationships. Perhaps we should extend this gratitude to our colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, and even to strangers in our workplace, community and throughout our country. It’s good for your health and the health of our country.

The gratitude I speak of is not as deep as that reserved for family members and close friends, but appreciation, nevertheless. We can choose to see others as we see ourselves: no better or no worse, yet all of us flawed in perfectly human ways. We all have virtues and vices, gifts and challenges, hopes and dreams. Though we may look, sound and act very differently, we all share a common humanity.

As human beings we share not only biology, but also a desire for a long and happy life. A life that deserves respect regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual preference, or political affiliation. At this time of especially partisan tribalism, it’s time to focus not on what divides us but what can unite us.  

Begin by learning to see and respect what we have in common rather than what separates us. See that we are more alike than we are different. See that we are all in this together. That our actions—whether good or not so good—have an impact on others.

Then choose to be kind. Choose to smile. Choose to use your turn signal. Choose to engage in a helpful manner. Engage in a way that transcends social media “likes.” Begin where you are in whatever way you can. But begin today by expressing gratitude for our shared good fortune at being alive and sharing this planet.

Evidence shows that people who see and appreciate the positives in life are more likely to avoid psychological distress.  Expressing gratitude can help reduce your risk of depression, anxiety and drug abuse. And it’s really simple to acknowledge what you’re grateful for. Think about three things each night before falling asleep.

Better yet, tell someone you appreciate something they’ve done. You’ll feel better. They’ll feel better. And quite possibly that person may pay it forward by passing along gratitude to others.

We live at a time when far too many countries and corporations are gaining power and making money over our infighting and divisiveness. Don’t allow this behavior to weigh you down and make you bitter. Take a break from (anti-)social media and find a way to connect in real time and space with others.

Thank you for reading this post. Happy Thanksgiving.

Leading with Intention

October 13, 2019

Knowing what you want and how to get it is important as it provides the vision and roadmap for achieving results. But leading without intention, may prevent you from getting results for you as well as your team.

Intention is often defined as a mental state representing a commitment to carry out an action or actions in the future. Entering into this mental state is necessary as it provides the fuel required to act. And committing to something is vital for you to get from point A to point B.

This commitment can be kept internal only to you. For example, if you are looking to lose weight and exercise more, you may not need to communicate this to others. However, you may find that sharing this with others may, in fact, aid in your commitment and provide you with the external support you need to follow through.

Demonstrating your intention externally is important most of the time no matter what you choose to commit to. This is because when you communicate your intent to others, this clarity of purpose and the necessary motivation can convey the importance to others. And other people are often necessary to carrying out actions to achieve results.

As I wrote previously, using a turn signal when turning or changing lanes when driving provides a clear understanding to those around us regarding our intentions. Though you may think using turn signals is unimportant or optional, putting yourself in the position of other drivers can reinforce its importance.

If you operate without intention in the workplace, you may find people are confused, unmotivated or entirely disengaged in the actions you are looking to execute. The lack of clarity in your intent allows people to make up their own assumptions, which is never a good idea.

In leadership, the more intentional your behavior the more those around you are likely to respect and follow your lead. When they know the why behind your request, the more willingly they are to come along.

Benefits of leading with intention include:

  • Clearer Communication – When you state your intention directly, others will better understand why you are saying what you are saying. This knowledge of the why behind your what can be the difference between effective and ineffective leadership.
  • Motivated Employees – If you walk into a meeting with behavior, tone of voice and overall demeanor signaling you are clear in your intent, others will feel secure and motivated to follow where you want to take them.
  • Positive Corporate Culture – Intention is an essential part of motivating people to achieve results because it enables others to feel valued and trusted for what they bring to the workplace. Your intentional behavior models the standard for a corporate culture they want to be part of.

Leadership requires many behavioral attributes. Leading with intention means you provide a clarity of purpose that can inspire and motivate others to help carry out the actions needed to achieve your desired results. And that will make you a better leader.

Astronomical Compensation at the Top

June 21, 2019

What happens when one person in a company or on a team is significantly compensated far beyond everyone else? Perhaps a superstar athlete or outstanding CEO should be paid a lot because of what they deliver. But what level of compensation inequality is appropriate?

While the pay for athletes is very public, corporations try to shield the total compensation given to senior executives for good reason. But as you’ll see, that is changing.

In the NFL the more a team pays an elite quarterback, the less is available for the other 52 players due to the salary cap. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and now the highest compensated player in the league, will command just under 14% of the Seahawks’ salary cap. (No team has won the Super Bowl with more than 13.1% of the cap dedicated to one player.)  At $35 million, Wilson makes about 17 times as much as the average NFL player.

Research conducted in the United States and around the world indicates that people are generally unaware of just how unequal CEO pay is in most corporations.

In the US, for example, people say they estimate CEOs earn about 30 times the average worker. In reality, as of 2012, the average CEO earned $12.3 million. That’s about 350 times the average worker’s income of $35,000. Is the top executive at any company worth 350 times more than its average worker?

How much do CEOs contribute to the bottom line?

Management professor Markus Fitza sought to find out. In a comprehensive analysis of thousands of corporations over nearly two decades, he found that only about 5 percent of the performance differences between companies could be attributed to the CEO. Fitza estimated that in addition to uncontrollable elements, such as fluctuations in the economy, about 70 percent of a company’s performance—which the CEO normally gets credit or blame—is a matter of random chance.

Others analyzed the same data using different statistical methods and found that the CEO effect might be as high as 22 percent. Regardless of whether the number is 5 percent or 22 percent, it may be hard to accept that the CEO is really worth his or her salary.

What about the larger impact of income inequality?

According to Keith Payne, author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die, those states and countries with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of the social and health maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness and crime.

States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the highest levels of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems. In contrast, New Hampshire, Utah and Iowa are the opposite.

On a global scale the United Kingdom, Portugal and United States have the highest level of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems, while countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden have the lowest income inequality and rate best on the index of health and social problems.

“The inequality reflected in statistics like the Gini coefficient is driven almost entirely by how wealthy the rich are,” writes Payne. “If some economic genius were to come up with an innovation that doubled everyone’s income overnight, it would make the problems of inequality worse, not better as multiplying the income of millionaires would increase their wealth by a greater amount than doubling the income of someone earning $15,000 a year. Everyone would be wealthier, but inequality would grow that much more pronounced.”

About three-fourths of Americans believe CEO pay is too high, and nearly two-thirds believe it should be capped. And this is based on people believing CEOs were compensated 30 times as much as the average worker, not 350 times as much!

Beginning in 2015 corporations are required to publicly disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how much this more transparent dissemination of information will have on workers’ morale.

Research led by Bhavya Mohan found that when customers learn that a corporation has high inequality between the compensation for the CEO and average workers, they are willing to penalize the company by buying from a competitor with lower inequality.

Time will tell how this plays out and whether it results in average salaries rising to better offset CEO pay. Whether CEO salaries are capped, or corporations find a way to get astronomical pay more in-line with average workers, something needs to shift in order to reduce compensation inequality in the workplace.

Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

Lonely in the Workplace

December 7, 2018

Loneliness is on the rise in America. This is a huge health concern and has ramifications in the workplace. The solution is complex yet maybe we can learn something from magpies.

First some facts regarding the impending epidemic. A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 U.S. adults 18 years or older found that:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Only about half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Turns out loneliness can be as big a health risk as obesity. The American Psychological Association released a study concluding lonely people are at a greater risk for premature death. And according to John Cacioppo and William Patrick in their book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, studies suggest that one lonely day can exact roughly the same toll on the body as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes!

Many of us are not sleeping enough, and sleep deprivation can increase loneliness because it takes a lot of energy to engage with others. Despite the fact that the “open office” environment was designed to bring about more interaction, this has yet to be proven effective.

Using Slack, social media and your company’s intranet are no substitute for face-to-face water cooler—err, espresso bar—conversations. Interacting with co-workers in real time and in person enables connection unlike any other method.

Now about those magpies: Research by Ben Ashton from the University of Western Australia found that cooperatively breeding Australian magpies living in large groups showed increased cognitive performance. Repeated cognitive testing of juveniles at different ages showed that the correlation between group size and cognition emerged in early life, suggesting that living in larger groups promotes cognitive development.

“Our results suggest that the social environment plays a key role in the development of cognition,” says Ashton, though the findings are considered contentious.

Nevertheless, if magpies can benefit cognitively from social interaction, shouldn’t humans—considered the most social animals—find ways to interact face-to-face more often?

Bright spots in the Cigna survey found:

  • People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face.
  • Getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.

“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution,” said Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna. “Fortunately, these results clearly point to the benefits meaningful in-person connections can have on loneliness, including those in the workplace and the one that takes place in your doctor’s office as a part of the annual checkup.”

We shouldn’t look to our workplace to keep us from being lonely, of course, but we could all benefit by choosing to meet with our colleagues and discuss things face-to-face more often. To enable time for this will require getting out of those many meetings we currently attend. But that’s a topic for another post.