I hear from a lot of people who feel tired, stifled, belittled, overwhelmed, and patronized at work. They feel disrespected in meetings, put down by their "teammates," or are just exhausted to their core. So many of us put up with jobs and organizations that diminish who we fundamentally are. We feel bad, heavy, or mixed up at work but tell ourselves that it's just because we're not tough enough to "hang." We become convinced that since we feel badly, something must be wrong with us.Read More
A lot of what I've been doing lately has been centered around this concept of "a wild new work." I think that term is appealing to folks because it sounds alive. And hopeful. Many people are hungry for work to be different - for it to be nourishing and adventurous instead of a source of depletion or fear. For others, it's easy to throw off this concept as frivolous, or optional - as if only privileged freelancers or white collar workers have the right to dream of something better.
From where I sit, this concept is not optional.
To work in a way that is life-giving is part of the next phase of our human evolution, if we choose to be brave and allow it to unfold. If you believe that the way we treat people in most organizations has no impact on how we treat the earth or the beings we share it with, then I'm sorry, but you are mistaken.
What does it do to a person to go to a stale office building every day to do meaningless work under the hum of fluorescent lights? How does monotony and micro-management change us over time?
According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, we are deeply shaped by the work that we do and the environments in which we do that work. (Check out his 10-minute TED Talk for more on this).
What does that mean for you? When you look around you at your work, does it strike you as an environment that you want to become?
For some of you, I think the immediate reaction would be "No!"
Some of the most troubling aspects of the way many of us work now are:
- The systemic squashing of our own internal truth and integrity (e.g., our obsession with "experts," "objectivity," and productivity above all else)
- The rampant disconnection: from the earth, from animals, from those we love, and, therefore, from our own humanity
When we work in places where those things are true, we experience sickness, whether it's physical, mental, or spiritual.
In these environments, we forget who we are, which makes it easy for us to become desensitized to things like the systematic harm done to people of color or the literal pillaging of the earth (#nodapl). We fill our bank accounts or get to tell others about our fancy job, but meanwhile, something is closing off inside of us. As Viktor Frankl wrote, "Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for."
Because of what it does to us and our communities over time, the tightness and misalignment that's felt in so many workplaces by so many people is a serious issue. The tightness and misalignment you feel is a serious issue.
Things have to change.
The work we dedicate so much of our lives to should make us - and the world around us - healthier. And there are people who are making that a reality today. Tami Simon, founder of a company called Sounds True, shares her vision of how business can be different:
We have this idea about business--everything we do has to help us make more money, be more productive or whatever. But that's not my view of business. My view of business is that we are coming together as a community to fill a human need and actualize our lives.
I believe her vision is possible and have seen it happen for myself and others - including people working within organizations. There are always things you can do to nurture your spirit and your humanity, even in the midst of a mechanical workplace. If you feel interested in learning new ways to work and support yourself, I've got three ideas:
You can join our Facebook group, A Wild New Work, where we share resources and discuss issues coming up for working people.
If you're a working woman in Portland, you could check out the four-week group I'm offering starting October 29th, where we will get very real about all of this and shake things up in our worklives.
If any of those ideas resonate with you, I hope you'll take a step forward.
Your relationship to work, how you're treated in your worklife, and how you treat yourself in your worklife are so important, and I hope that, no matter what, you at least give yourself permission to want what's best for you and your gifts.
I was really afraid to publish a post called 50 Reasons You Feel Like Shit at Work, and I was fearful in large part because it was so critical of common organizational practices. For a long time, I was worried about coming across as too negative, too anti-organization, and so I wrote more mild posts in an effort to support readers while also keeping a door open to do work within organizations. I thought that if I played nice enough, I could continue writing while also working to make change inside of companies, even though when I'd tried, it felt totally draining.
We need innovative, forward-thinking people inside of organizations to drive change. Absolutely. For sure. And we also need people on the fringes noticing and giving voice to the things that are harmful and need to stop, which is where I feel more aligned with who I really am.
We need both kinds of people if we're going to create organizations that allow people to show up as wholly themselves.
There is an unhealthy amount of silence around our organizations and their practices today. I felt afraid to post what I did because it still feels taboo to me to be critical of companies or non-profit groups. And yet, they wield a lot of power, and because of that, need to be held to a higher level of accountability.
Why are so many of us uncomfortable talking about the lack of transparency and humanity in these places?
I think it's because for many of us, doing so has been labeled "unprofessional," and we're afraid of what could happen if we're critical of the very people who sign our paychecks.
Many of our ancestors have either been part of a labor movement or were working adults while their peers were trying to form unions. I know how controversial unions can be, and some of them are just as crooked as the organizations they're "protecting" employees from, but their foundational purpose is pure: to publicly hold organizations accountable for how they treat their employees.
We need people to serve that function. We need to unveil harmful practices like hiding pay practices from employees, expecting salaried employees to work way more than 40 hours/week, and putting employees through patronizing disciplinary processes.
We need less silence and more accountability. Without bringing things out into the open, they stay secret and gnarly and more harmful than if we just looked at them and at least acknowledged that they were happening.
It breaks my heart when I hear about people who feel like they have no one they can talk to about an abusive boss, a total sense of overwork, or a suspicion that they're being paid less than their peers for the same work. These are real, serious issues, and while I know the people in power often feel just as isolated and afraid as those "below" them, they're kind of like politicians: they should be beholden to the people in their community.
Some organizational leaders will, for a long time to come, cling to the notion that they're actually only beholden to "the business," as if that's a real thing.
The social contract between workers and organizations is changing though, and the organizations that succeed will be the ones who stop trying to hide harmful practices and who humbly partner with their people to make things better.
Whether you work in an organization or without, I encourage you not to be silenced anymore. If you see something destructive, shed light on it. If you see something beautiful that needs more room to grow, do whatever you can to give it that.
You get to decide what kind of a place you want to work in, and you can effect real change by doing your part to hold the organization and its leaders accountable for their decisions and their treatment of you, the community, and the earth itself.
I know it's not always comfortable, but it is a requirement for those of us calling for a new, healthier, more authentic world of work.
If you'd like to join a community that's discussing some of these issues, I invite you to check out our Facebook group, A Wild New Work.
There are so many organizations that are operating as glorified bureaucracies. Layers upon layers of control, measurement, and analysis clog the processes that they're supposed to support, and some of the highest paid people in those organizations aren't those actually doing the work - they're the ones analyzing the work.
With all of the levers and rules piling up in these organizations, it's no wonder people are running around feeling completely overwhelmed and foggy.
It turns us into people who create more and more problems for ourselves so that we can stay busy and demonstrate how valuable we are. I want to share a quote from Ricardo Semler, who has an awesome TED Talk called "How to run a company with (almost) no rules."
Semler says, "Bureaucracies are built by and for people who busy themselves proving they are necessary, especially when they suspect they aren't."
Even if you don't identify as someone who creates busy-ness in order to prove that you're necessary, I'm sure you've met someone in this state. These are the people who talk about how busy and overwhelmed they are all the time, and I've been one of these people.
In my former worklife, I totally looked for more and more work in order to show how valuable I was. I made things overly complicated and did more for the sake of doing more, even though it rarely added value to the organization.
To demonstrate how ludicrous this is, I want to take a look at the natural world for a minute. Human beings are extremely complex thinkers, and we have these big brains that enable us to predict outcomes and analyze results, which has helped us to survive as long as we have. I would argue, however, that we have swung way too far in the direction of complexity.
While data is important and valuable, it is never more important than the quality of the work that's being done.
Imagine a family of beavers building a new dam and lodge along a river. Do you think any of those beavers, once they've finished building their new home, is like "You know, I think we need to do a survey of other local beavers and build a report that demonstrates how fast beavers are building in this region. Maybe then we could compare it to reports from other regions and see how we compare!"
Do you think that when bears gather food before they hibernate for winter, they look at what they've got and then go gather more just for the sake of seeing an increase in food stock year over year?
In the animal world, simplicity reigns.
When the work is done, the work is done. Resources aren't wasted on reports or tasks that don't actually contribute to the well-being of the animal.
Nature purifies, and it holds a valuable lesson for people stuck in a state of overwhelm and bureaucracy.
The next time you feel an urge to complain about how busy you are, I encourage you to pause and simply, lovingly, ask yourself: "Is what I feel busy with truly contributing any value?"
Are you busy with things that you believe contribute to the organization's higher purpose, or are you busy with things you're doing to try and prove your worth? What would happen if you just stopped doing those things? We often overestimate how much other people depend on the mundane tasks that we dread doing.
Now, to be fair, a lot of people are handed work and told it's necessary because it affects someone else down the bureaucracy chain. You may not feel like you have a lot of ownership over the work you're supposed to do, but that's not true.
You have more ownership than you know, and the seemingly infinite reports, measurements, and analysis will never stop coming until regular people in regular jobs start exposing them for the clutter that they are.
So what can you simplify today?
Can you stop once the dam and the lodge are built? Can you gather enough for the winter and then rest to enjoy the bounty? I hope you'll give yourself permission to try.
A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation on Work Life Integration to the Southwest Washington chapter of the Society for HR Management. Afterward, one of the participants said that we really need more of this kind of "woo-woo" wisdom in the workplace, and I couldn't have agreed more! Her comment got me thinking: what would an organization that practices work life integration actually look like? I talk all the time about how unhealthy our workplaces can be, but I haven't really shared what I think a healthy organization would look and feel like.
In this post, I want to take you on a journey through a day in the life of a healthy, vibrant organization - it's one I made up, and we'll call it Integrated Widgets, Inc. Let's pretend that I'm being brought in as an HR Consultant, and my first task is to spend a day in the organization and just observe what goes on.
First stop: Reception, around 9:00am. I'm greeted by the receptionist, Micah (no lame gendered stereotypes here), who is warm and friendly and relaxed. The office space is beautiful: there are plants growing, there's lots of natural light, and the energy is neither totally dull nor completely frenzied. It feels good to be here. I see that people are still coming in to start their day, there's a walking group that just finished a 3-mile loop together, and I smell the coffee brewing.
Next stop: The break room. Micah offers me a selection of appealing coffees, teas, and pastries, and I notice what good taste this organization has. People are in the break room chatting, catching up, and I see that a few people have brought in snacks to share. The colleagues I meet are warm, they welcome me, and I find myself wanting each of them to be my new friend.
Stop #3: An office tour. Micah shows me around the office, and I notice right away that there's a mix of working spaces: some are quiet, closed off spaces, and others are totally open without any walls or barriers between desks. I ask him about the mix, and he tells me that employees are able to pick their workspace depending on their introversion/extroversion style. The easily-over-stimulated introvert in me swoons. I see that people's work areas are personalized as much as they want - some are bare and clean, others are full of photos and funny mementos. Some of the stuff posted is even a little racy and includes swear words, which warms my heart. Real people seem to work here.
There are also cute dogs around! Sweet, loving pups sit at the feet of their owners and force them to take regular breaks and walks throughout the day. There's a buzz in the air - not an urgent, over-caffeinated buzz, just a mild excitement and sense of ease. I see that many of the desks are still empty at 9:30, and Micah tells me that a lot of people work from home some days of the week or come in later - as long as the work gets done, management doesn't care when people are around. As much as I love being an entrepreneur, this workplace is definitely tugging at my heartstrings.
Next stop: The only meeting taking place today, which was scheduled to discuss the expansion into a new market for Integrated Widgets, Inc. Meetings here are rare, and for good reason: management here knows that most meetings are a total waste of time. The meeting is scheduled for 42 minutes, there are only five people present, and a clear agenda has been sent out ahead of time. Jodi, the meeting facilitator and Chief of New Markets, starts right on time even though Brad, the CFO, is late (again).
Jodi starts out by asking everyone for a quick check-in: how are they feeling today, what's getting them stuck, and what's working? I notice that the answers are transparent, and the usual chasm between managers and employees seems to be quite small. People are open about what's getting them stuck, and Jodi listens attentively and takes notes. She commits to following up on each of the obstacles named to see how she can help get things moving in the right direction.
All of the meeting attendees contribute value throughout the meeting, there's hardly any wavering from the agenda, and it ends promptly after 42 minutes. It's one of the most productive meetings I've ever witnessed, and people leave with smiles and clear next steps. (For some helpful tips on how to run meetings like this, check out this article).
Next up: Quiet working time. There's no one waiting for the conference room after us, because everyone else seems to understand that this is quiet, solitary working time. While some of the work at Integrated Widgets, Inc. requires collaboration, most status updates are given online through the company's project management software. I notice that people don't have chat windows open or emails popping up - no, no, this is dedicated, deep work time, and people are encouraged to really focus and dive in.
Next: Lunch! People eat lunch in the break area, outside, but not at their desks. I see people walking after they have lunch, together or alone, and to my surprise, most people break for an entire hour. How European!
After lunch: Another chunk of focused work. People seem to respect the quiet time, and while it's not as subdued as it was this morning, most folks still aren't constantly responding to emails or chats. Email responses seem to be relegated to small chunks throughout the day, and Molly, the Payroll Administrator, tells me that this allows everyone to get way more done. She also notes that people are intentional about their emails, and that the company culture is such that you only send emails that are actually helpful and productive.
Next up: A mid-afternoon break. Around 3:00, a natural break seems to occur, and people get up to stretch, walk their dog, or grab a quick snack in the break area. People chat, they provide updates on their projects, it all feels very low-key and rejuvenating.
Finally: People begin to intentionally close out their days. I see them making lists of things they accomplished today and sharing them on the company portal. I see them giving "shout-outs" to one another for successes or for going above and beyond with a customer. Most of them plan ahead for tomorrow and make a list of 2-3 priorities to focus on. Spouses and kids come by to pick up their loved ones, pets start dragging their humans away from the keyboard, and folks leave with enough time to enjoy life for the evening.
While some people do stay later, I notice there's none of the "burning the midnight oil = a hard worker" lingo that's normally present in our workplaces. No one seems ashamed for leaving after six or seven hours of working. Employees have a realistic sense of what they can accomplish in a day, they're given the flexibility and time to focus productively, and they're treated like adults when they say it's time for them to go home.
If this kind of workplace seems ideal and far-fetched, I get it. I don't think it's impossible, though, and I've seen workplaces that approximate this seemingly Pollyanna-like existence.
Healthy organizations are places where growth can happen. In order to grow, we need sunlight (clarity), water (flow), and dirt (groundedness). And yes, sometimes we need fertilizer (poop), but what use is the fertilizer without those other key elements?
If your organization is close to the healthy one I toured above, I'd love to hear from you! I'm interested in learning more about how folks are creating this growth-friendly environment on the ground, and your insights would be invaluable. If your organization is not close to becoming like Integrated Widgets, Inc., we can definitely talk about that, too! You can reach me using this Contact link.
Know someone who'd like to take a tour of a healthy organization? Pass this along!
This is a guest post from a fabulous friend of mine, Lauren Gonzalez, MS, CM. Lauren is a mediator and conflict coach, and the owner of Summit Resolution Services. If you need help with a conflict you're in, she is an amazing resource! Check out her site for more information, and enjoy this helpful post!
When I was 16 years old, I got my first job at a small boutique clothing store near downtown Dallas. The staff was small – just myself, an elderly lady named Cynthia*, and our boss, Janine*. The three of us worked well together, enjoying lunch breaks chatting about the US Open and the places we’d love to visit if only we had the time and money to travel.
I felt like my first employment experience was a smashing success; I enjoyed my work and felt comfortable in my environment. I felt that, by all accounts, I was an exemplary employee, with just one small hitch: I was perpetually late. Not glaringly so, just three minutes one day, five minutes the next. My job was to open the shop, but there were never customers waiting for me to open the doors in the morning. “What’s the big deal?” I’d thought.
Unbeknownst to me, it WAS a big deal to Janine. After working at the boutique for a few months, I arrived a few minutes late one morning, and Janine was there to greet me at the door. She said nothing, but the look on her face said it all: I was in big trouble. I silently went about my duties, vacuuming, dusting, opening the register, and Janine remained stoic. I convinced myself that perhaps I’d imagined her displeasure, but as I entered the kitchen for my first cup of coffee, there sat Janine waiting for me.
Without much fanfare, she proceeded to yell at me about my chronic tardiness, her face beet red, her neck veins bulging. I’d never seen Janine behave that way. I was speechless, blindsided. She concluded her tirade as quickly as it had begun, and after her swift departure from the kitchen I sat dumbfounded, tears stinging my eyes. After what felt like hours, I pulled myself together and continued about my work. I can’t recall if I was ever late again to that particular job, but I do remember giving my notice a few weeks later.
At 16, I was not able to process such hostility, much less summon the confidence to stand up to it. Life experience had not yet taught me how to advocate for myself, or to question the “leadership” style of my boss. Some out there might advise that I “toughen up,” believing that leadership is synonymous with shouting orders, making threats, and “keeping everyone in line.” These folks belong to a decades-old school of thought that views the workplace as only a place to do work. Punch your time card, keep your head down, do your work, save the personal growth for your personal time. The problem is, work is personal. I took my boutique job seriously, I felt proud of my accomplishments as an employee, and Janine’s attack felt personal, whether or not it was meant to. Her behavior created a toxic workplace, where I feared that any small mistake might set her off, and the only feasible response seemed to be a walk away.
Sadly, this type of workplace scenario is not uncommon. There are Janines in every industry, using bully tactics to get the results they want. Sometimes their tactics are overt – shouting, public shaming, relying on punitive measures. Sometimes they are more insidious, using bribery or threats to “motivate” employees. Unfortunately, bully bosses have a way of affecting an entire office culture. Oftentimes you can spot them by identifying the side effects they produce: high turnover, mostly silent meetings where nobody feels safe to provide real input, an office filled with tense, overworked employees, a highly toxic workplace that inhibits growth.
The truth is, bully bosses are not just a problem for their employees, they are also a real problem for the organization they serve. Any leadership style that silences creativity, growth, or change is a detriment to the workplace. And any employee working under a bully boss is familiar with the struggle. But what can you do, as a single employee, to effect change on a person in a position of power? How can you advocate for yourself when you may fear real repercussions?
In any conflict situation, I always advise my clients to start with themselves. When confronting any sort of bully – in the workplace or elsewhere – you can increase your efficacy by understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and what you bring to the table. Identify your strengths as an employee. Identify your areas of weakness. Work to gain a realistic understanding of the positive aspects you bring to your organization. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or colleague if you have trouble identifying your skills and talents. This knowledge will not only bolster your confidence that you are worthy of being treated better, it may behoove you to remind your bully boss just what you bring to the table – particularly if he or she often focuses myopically on your flaws and mistakes.
Next, get wise to yourself. Find a peaceful place (probably away from the office) where you can get clarity about how you feel when you are bullied, and how your boss’s bully tactics affect your work. When Janine yelled at me, I felt a mix of fear and anger, but underneath these emotions, I felt disrespected. As a result, I wanted to hide any mistakes I made, avoid asking Janine questions about even mundane matters, and, eventually, I wanted to make my exit from the business altogether. These are things I could have shared with Janine, giving her more insight into my perspective on her behavior.
Third, identify how you want to be treated. Oftentimes a person can feel overwhelmed when confronted with a list of emotions. What is often more helpful is to springboard from how you felt to making clear requests for identifiable, tangible changes. For example, I could have requested that Janine discuss troubling behavior – such as my tardiness – without yelling, and that she confront me as soon as she notices an issue, rather than waiting several weeks and exploding.
Finally, develop a plan. For me, this step is the most difficult, because I get so caught up in waiting for the “right moment” that I never take action. Or, I convince myself that the matter is not worth revisiting, and talk myself out of confronting my boss altogether. The key is to address the issue swiftly – within the next week or so, while it is fresh on your mind – and as appropriately as possible. You probably won’t be stuck in an elevator with your boss any time soon, giving you the perfect amount of uninterrupted time, so pick a time when you know your boss is usually undisturbed, or (even better) actively schedule a half hour block with your boss to have a conversation.
The key to a productive dialogue is creating as much relational safety as possible, so although you may feel fearful and intimidated, try not to go in guns blazing – remember that you are modeling the very behavior you would like to see from your boss. If necessary, involve a third party – a trusted colleague or supervisor who might support you during the discussion, or offer neutral insight into the situation – but the goal is not to intimidate or scare your boss into behaving better. Threats do not usually result in lasting change, and may heap more repercussions on you. When you are facing someone in a position of power, it often helps to have a backup plan that can provide an “out” in the event that things do not go well. Perhaps you can involve your bosses’ supervisor, or, if no other option is available, give your notice and find a healthier place of employment. Your backup plan is not meant to be used as a threat, but as a confidence-builder that provides you an alternative option if necessary.
We are all sending messages to those around us about how we ought to be treated, whether we realize it or not. If I allow someone to consistently yell at and belittle me, I am sending a message that I am okay with this behavior. Yet, if I simply quit a job without trying to discuss the matter with my boss, I am missing an opportunity to grow, and to be an active part of creating a workplace that does not tolerate bullying. Remember that your boss is a whole person – not all good, but certainly not all bad. Many bully bosses are enacting behavior they have seen modeled by their bosses, or are simply not naturally skilled leaders, so they feel they must rely on heavy-handedness to achieve results.
I cannot fault my 16-year-old self for the way I reacted with Janine, but if I were confronted with the same scenario today, here is what I would do:
- I would create a realistic picture of myself. I would acknowledge honestly to myself that my tardiness was unacceptable, and own my mistake. I would also find encouragement in knowing that I was great at interacting with customers, exceptional at organizing inventory, and overall a quality employee.
- I would dig deep into why Janine’s actions bothered me, and how I felt after the incident.
- I would imagine what I would like my future interactions with Janine to look like, and I would identify precise behavioral changes that must happen in order to feel respected.
- A day or two later, I would ask Janine to sit down with me after the shop closed to discuss our working relationship, and I would make concrete requests about how I would prefer to be treated.
There is no guarantee that my conversation with Janine would have gone smoothly, or that she would have listened, or changed.
Still, even if I quit the boutique after a failed attempt to create dialogue, I would feel great about my decision, knowing that I tried absolutely everything I could before leaving. Perhaps the next person in my position would be treated differently as a result of my efforts. Perhaps I would still be working there today.
Know someone who has a bully for a boss? Consider passing along these skills by sharing this post with them!
*These were not their real names.
In a few days, those of us in (or of) the United States will celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. This holiday, like many holidays, is mired in a messy history that is often overshadowed by Black Friday sales and football games. In its purest form, however, this day is about gratitude. Giving thanks. Most of us will spend the day with our loved ones, but that shouldn't mean that the thanks giving stops when we go back to work.
Gratitude transforms the way that we see the world. When we teach our brain to be grateful, it learns to look for other things to be grateful for. This means that you - and those around you - can learn to feel and express more gratitude, which research shows will make you a happier, healthier person.
So if we as individuals can learn to be more grateful, can't our workplaces? What would a gratitude-centered workplace look like? I have some ideas:
- Simple. When we're grateful for what we have, we feel fewer urges to consume. Grateful workplaces would become better stewards of their resources - whether it's money, time, space, or materials.
- Jovial. I think most of us take things at work too seriously. When we notice and give thanks for what we need (basics like shelter, food, and the interwebs), there's space for a lighter approach to life. We can even laugh off adversity and give thanks for the hard lessons we're learning.
- Connected. When was the last time someone sincerely thanked you for something? Didn't it feel good? Didn't you feel a connection to that person? Instead of assuming that people in the workplace will become connected through their shared goals (or enemies), we can foster deeper connection by encouraging shows of gratitude.
This season, I encourage you to look for ways to infuse your workplace with more gratitude. Set up a kudos wall, spend 5 minutes emailing notes of gratitude to your co-workers, or end team meetings by asking everyone to share one thing they're grateful for.
A study conducted by The Energy Project and the Harvard Business Review found that when folks in an organization feel genuinely valued and appreciated by those in leadership, they report having 53% more focus and feeling 58% more engaged. So even if your heart isn't convinced, the data is pretty compelling: gratitude can be transformational.
In closing, I want to share a poem by Melody Beattie, who writes about the power of gratitude more beautifully than I can:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
I'm grateful for you, dear reader, and for the attention you gave this post. If it resonated with you, consider spreading the thanksgiving spirit by sharing this post with others.
We do some pretty awful things to our bodies in the modern workplace. Many of us stay stationary for hours on end, fail to drink enough water, over-caffeinate, under-nourish, and push our bodies to do more, more, and more.
How we treat our bodies has serious ramifications for the quality and quantity of work that we do. None of us can feel integrated and energized to do our best work when our bodies are exhausted and starved of the nutrients that they need. Tony Schwartz writes, “Taking care of yourself physically won’t turn you into a great performer - it’s just once piece of a more complex puzzle - but failing to do so assures that you can’t ever perform at your best (emphasis mine)."
In the past few months, I've gotten serious about working with my body instead of against it during the workday, and I've noticed a real shift in the quality of my work and the way that I feel at the end of the day. I've had the privilege of working with Amanda Helser, who is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a Western herbalist. I asked Amanda if she'd be open to sharing some of the tricks and knowledge she's given me in our work together, and she said yes!
In our conversation below, you'll find some seriously helpful insights into how you can support your body (which, of course, includes your mind!) during your workday.
Me: What are some of the harmful health habits that you see a lot of working people exhibit?
Amanda: It comes down to movement and meals. Our bodies are not meant to sit in front of a computer doing repetitive movements. Sitting for long periods of time with poor posture contributes to sluggish digestion. Going for a brisk walk every day to get your blood circulating will improve digestion, energy, and blood flow to your brain.
Another harmful habit is caffeination instead of balanced meals. We often mistake our low energy, typically mid-morning and mid-afternoon, for a need for caffeine. The 3 o'clock soy latte or sugar craving to get through the day is our body's way of saying, "Hey we're crashing from a lack of a balanced lunch." If your lunch consists of mainly protein and fat with vegetables, with low simple carbohydrates (grains), then your body has slow-burning fuel to keep your energy up and your appetite satiated well through the afternoon.
Me: One thing I've been hearing about among working professionals is something called "adrenal fatigue." Can you talk a little bit about that and how it might show up in the workplace?
Amanda: Adrenal Fatigue is a deficiency in the functioning of the adrenal glands. Normally, our adrenal glands secrete specific amounts of steroid hormone, cortisol, which is the hormone that shows up in our stress response. Too much physical, emotional, environmental and/or psychological stress can deplete your adrenals, making everything seem overwhelming and exhausting.
Typically, it begins with an over-reaction to stress. For example, traffic sending you into a rage or a deadline at work that puts you on an emotional roller coaster. Our adrenals become fatigued after constantly taxing them in an overly stressful lifestyle. Regular, balanced meals are extremely important for someone with depleted adrenals. Low or irregular blood sugar is in itself a stressful situation that taxes your adrenals.
Here are some signs of adrenal fatigue to look for: difficulty getting up and going in the morning, craving salty foods, everything feeling like a huge effort, taking a long time to recover from illness, constant snacking on sugar or caffeine, 3 or 4 o'clock afternoon drag, feeling less focused and difficulty staying on task.
Me: Unfortunately, I've seen all of those signs in every workplace I've visited. How do you think our workplaces would change if we took better care of our bodies and were more in tune with what they needed?
Amanda: I can think of quite a few ways:
- fewer sick days
- increased productivity (and maybe, as a result, shorter work days)
- reasonable expectations for work load
- more laughter and joy
- more focused time on work tasks and less time spent on distracting things like social media
- longer lunch breaks with time for exercise
- weight loss, especially around the mid section (this is where people with poor adrenal health tend to put on weight).
Me: What are a few easy, simple changes that working people can make to be healthier today?
Amanda: Changing how we react to stress starts with nourishing our bodies with a balanced diet. This is important because how and what we eat communicates to our body's nervous system what kind of response we want to create: one of “fight or flight” that halts digestion and gets you pumped to run from the threat, or one of “rest and digest” that promotes good digestion and optimal energy balance.
- Start with balanced meals. Combine healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, and a few whole grains at every meal to provide a steady source of energy. All of these macronutrients break down at different rates to sustain energy levels.
- Eat in a peaceful setting away from your desk. Sit down, take 3 deep breaths and smell your food. This ritual starts the process of good digestion. Chew your food well.
- Avoid sugar and caffeine as a general rule. Once in a while is fine, but an everyday habit will deplete your energy. Try a healthy snack high in protein before reaching for the coffee or cookie.
- Go to sleep before 10:30pm. This is before your second wind, which will keep you up until 1:00 or 2:00am. Try to turn off all electronics by 8:00pm. The light of electronic screens is especially stimulating.
- If it's ever possible, sleep until 9:00am. This is extremely restorative to the adrenals.
- Let exercise be something you enjoy-- not just another life stressor. Change up your exercise routine. It doesn't have to be painful or sweaty or long, but make sure you have at least a little fresh air and movement every day.
Me: You're awesome! How can people work with you?
Amanda: I work with local or distant clients to help them balance their energy through eating a delicious whole foods diet. It starts from the inside out! You can reach me at www.coevolutionnutrition.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on Facebook.
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The language we use in the workplace has been on my mind a lot lately. I think I'm starting to realize how tired I am of our usual words and phrases, and I can't escape how archaic - and harmful - they feel. There's some compelling research out there that shows how the words we use affect how we perceive situations and people. Someone once told me that "Words are spells," and it makes me wonder what kind of workplaces we're conjuring up with labels like "employee," "subordinate," and "manager".
Here are some of the words I've used and have heard used to describe people who are paid by a business: employee, subordinate, direct report, underling, laborer, and worker. What kind of tone do those words set? What do they say about our beliefs about this group of people? When I see those words, the themes I think of are: disempowerment, control, and condescension.
Here are some of the words I've used and have heard used to describe people who are "in charge" of others in an organization: manager, supervisor, and director. How do those words sit with you? What kind of images do they evoke? When I see them, I think of other words like: micromanaging, hierarchy, and babysitting.
What if instead of "employee" or "subordinate" we used "contributor" or "collaborator?" I wonder how our workplace attitudes and policies would change if we started viewing those who work at our organizations as people with something to contribute instead of people just clocking in for a paycheck.
What if instead of "manager" or "supervisor" we used "adviser" or "mentor?" Would that change how managers view themselves and their role? Would they feel less pressure to micromanage and start asking instead, "How can I support you?"
If language is as powerful as I think it is, it would serve all of us well to pause the next time we use these words in our workplaces.
Can you think of other work-related words that should be replaced? I'd love to hear about them in the Comments section below.
This is the first of a two-part series on giving and receiving feedback in the workplace. This series came about because of a reader's request; if there are workplace topics you want to hear about, you can always let us know!
We all know the difference between working with someone who gives helpful, constructive feedback and someone who just tears us apart. We all know how it feels to have a manager sandwich a critique between a lot of praise, and I bet a lot of us know how it feels to be criticized by someone who is technically your boss but who has never invested in a relationship with you.
The internet is bubbling over with webinars, articles, and trainings on how to give effective feedback in the workplace. It's a pillar of management theory, and the multi-million dollar executive coaching industry focuses a lot on how to motivate members of an organization. And yet, for many of us, it's still so hard to give any, nevermind effective, feedback to others. Giving feedback is a natural part of working with people, and it has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for growth and change.
So, here are 5 tips that I hope will help you do the inevitable, but in a way that feels more authentic and uplifting:
1. Start with a lot of positive feedback. Management and relationship research shows that it takes 5 positive statements to prevent the harm that can be caused by 1 negative critique. That said, bombarding someone with 5 seemingly frivolous or fake compliments before you throw down a really harsh criticism is not the answer. Anyone you're in a position to give feedback to should be someone you work with frequently enough that there are lots of opportunities to shower him/her with praise. Focus on what they're doing well and build them up so that when there is a learning opportunity for them, it feels like one and not an attack.
2. Recognize emotional contagion. Research shows that when someone in your environment (even if you can't see them!) is stressed, you can take on that toxic energy as well and start to feel anxious, angry, or uncomfortable. If you're trying to give constructive feedback to someone who is totally stressed out, you should a) think about whether there might be a better time or place to chat, or b) recognize that you might be taking on some of their stress, imagine yourself using that energy to do even better, and take a deep belly breath to re-engage. If you're the one totally stressed out, do yourself and the other person a favor and take care of your needs before trying to coach him or her.
3. Prioritize the relationship. Projects, papers, workplaces initiatives - rarely do any of our "outputs" impact us more than the relationships we have with others in the workplace. So many of us have bought into this utilitarian idea that our co-workers are just commodities, that we're all just here to color in-between the lines and make sure the work gets done. People who see the value in working well but prioritize relationships just do better across the board. When you have to tell Sally that she's missed the mark on performance for the third month in a row, remember to see her as a whole person who, in one way or another, you are in relationship with.
4. Create a container. For managers especially, it's immensely helpful to set up a weekly one on one meeting with the folks you support. This creates a container around feedback so that there's a clear time and place in which the employee can reflect and grow. By creating a container, you take some of the heaviness out of giving feedback and can just do it in real time, in a low-key way. As a manager or as a co-worker, you can ask how the other person likes to receive feedback - do they want you to be blunt? gentle? somewhere in-between? Be thoughtful about what happens in this container and do what you can to make it a positive, collaborative experience.
5. Reflect and acknowledge. After you've given feedback to someone, pause to imagine what that interaction may have looked like to an outsider. Reflect on how the other person might have felt, and how you felt delivering it. If it didn't go well, acknowledge that - to yourself and, if you feel like it's appropriate, to the other person. Try to be mindful of the ways you're getting better at giving feedback and the things that are still tough for you. And remember, that 5:1 positivity/negativity ratio should apply to what you tell yourself, too!