behavior · community · happiness · health · mental health · psychology · Social

Practice the “Inside Scoop” to Combat Loneliness at Work

I read a fantastic article written by former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy about the physical and cognitive damage brought on from isolation and loneliness, which many of us suffer, especially at work. We’re so focused on working, and for long hours, we often forget to stop and check in with each other and learn about each other *raises guilty hand*.


Murthy discusses this in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” He shares some statistics and the impact this loneliness has on our individual work productivity and how that effects businesses’ bottom line.

For example:

Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees — and half of CEOs — report feeling lonely in their roles…

During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness…

Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity…

At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making…

Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work, and less likely to fall sick or be injured…

He also offers a suggestion to combat this: setting up time at work for an “Inside Scoop” session, either as part of the weekly team meeting or other routine meeting.

People were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen.

These sessions quickly became many people’s favorite time of the week, and they were more enthusiastic about participating at staff meetings. People felt more valued by the team after seeing their colleagues’ genuine reactions to their stories. Team members who had traditionally been quiet during discussions began speaking up. Many began taking on tasks outside their traditional roles. They appeared less stressed at work. And most of them told me how much more connected they felt to their colleagues and the mission they served.

This experience rings very true for me on my own team; during our team meetings, one of our senior managers on my team would always make sure there was time in the meeting for everyone to go around the room and share what their weekend plans were. People could say as much or as little as they wanted. But it gave us all a glimpse into their outside lives and helped us all feel closer. We learned about shared interests in music and art, got to hear about personal successes like their cover band scoring a gig or going to a sister’s wedding. We all became closer and would ask each other on the progress of our personal projects, and offer support or gentle teasing if we felt a project wasn’t getting the attention we all thought it deserved, whether it was finishing their degree or sewing a dog bed. It made us all closer and feel more connected.

As the team ebbed and flowed after awhile we stopped doing this practice, and although the change went unnoticed (until now), the change in team dynamics, camaraderie, and effectiveness has shifted.

It would be worth bringing it back.

In an age with more population density and a literally globally connected world thanks to the Internet, we are all experiencing more loneliness. The good news is we also have the power to combat it. It doesn’t have to be formal; as Murthy says:

I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.

There are other practices that can help combat loneliness too, like offering to help out others, and be willing to accept help when offered. Being proactive is hard, but worth it. And it doesn’t have to be big.

We can start simply by asking how somebody’s weekend was, and actually stopping and being present to listen.


behavior · community · creativity · culture · happiness · health · play · work

Quick ways to be happier at work

Obviously there is a lot that goes into a “good” job – coworkers, supportive managers, and work you believe in. But there is also a surprising amount you can do within your own environment and office surroundings that will make your day-to-day grind better.

Here are a few compiled by Mashable (P.S.: Manatees are awesome!):

  1. Beautify your work space. You personalize your home; why not personalize your desk? Make your cube or office a pleasant place to work with a few framed photos, a decorative pen holder or a tiny cactus. Image: Mashable/Vicky Leta

Read them all


anthropology · behavior · community · culture · environment · happiness · health · mental health

OpenIDEO – How might we create healthy communities within and beyond the workplace?

Digicorp workplace
OpenIDEO asks how do we promote wellness in the workplace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wow, OpenIDEO is on a role lately with their challenges that get my creative juices rolling and my passions up, in a good way! This latest challenge is about wellness in the workplace:

Together with Bupa and the International Diabetes Federation, we’re asking our global community to help us explore how people can best be supported in the workplace to make positive changes to their health and wellness – and what skills and tools are needed to pass these positive changes onto their networks of co-workers, family and friends.

via OpenIDEO – How might we create healthy communities within and beyond the workplace?.

As the Chair of the Wellness Committee at my job for just under a year, we tried out a lot of different wellness incentives, some with better results than others. I feel very passionately about offices promoting and encouraging wellness; we spend the majority of our waking lives there, it’s cheaper in the long run for companies to have healthy and happy workers, and it promotes productivity and dedication from employees.

What are your ideas? Add them to the inspiration. I’ll have to share some of my ideas for this challenge on the blog, as well as my ideas from the previous OpenIDEO challenge I mentioned, which is currently in the concepting phase.

architecture · behavior · culture · design · happiness · mental health · Social

New Office Designs in Seattle Trend Towards Open, Social Spaces

Most of us these days work in a cubicle, although the past ten years have really seen a transformation of space and place at the workplace in order to create happier, and therefore more productive, workers. This article in the NYTimes focused on some organizations in Seattle that have embraced a more open work floor plan:

Is this your idea of a perfect work environment?

MARTHA CHOE’S ideal working space is not her private office, nice though it is, but rather a long, narrow table in the vast atrium of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters here.

Ms. Choe, a former member of the City Council here, is the foundation’s chief administrative officer, and she had considerable input in the building’s design. One objective from the start was to give the 1,000 employees a variety of spaces to accommodate different kinds of work. “There’s a recognition that we work in different modes, and we’ve designed spaces to accommodate them,” she says. “I think one of the lessons is to understand your business, and understand what your people need to do their best work.”

The building was designed by NBBJ, a 700-employee architecture firm whose largest operation is in Seattle. The structure is a culmination of ideas about the 21st-century workplace that NBBJ has been exploring in corporate office designs worldwide, including its own offices here.

These are the main concepts: Buzz — conversational noise and commotion — is good. Private offices and expressions of hierarchy are of debatable value. Less space per worker may be inevitable for cost-effectiveness, but it can enhance the working environment, not degrade it. Daylight, lots of it, is indispensable. Chance encounters yield creative energy. And mobility is essential.

This isn’t a suddenly exploding trend. NBBJ’s research has found that two-thirds of American office space is now configured in some sort of open arrangement. But even as these designs save employers space and money, they can make office workers feel like so many cattle. So how to humanize the setting?

SEATTLE serves as a test tube because of several converging factors: There’s a lot of money here to experiment with projects. The work force is relatively young and open to innovation. And the local culture places a high value on informality, autonomy and egalitarianism. People will put in long hours under high pressure if they feel respected, but they won’t tolerate being treated like Dilberts.

Most office workers in Seattle and elsewhere labor in environments much less inspiring than Ms. Choe’s. And most employers have much less to spend to make things pleasant. (Bill and Melinda Gates personally contributed $350 million of the campus’s $500 million cost.) But staying competitive requires coming up with the best ideas, and the office environment can be the incubator for them.

Read the full article.

I am all for creating spaces that encourage collaboration and make workers feel comfortable and ready to get down to business. My only question is lack of meeting space. In my last two jobs it has been very hard to find private spaces to meet, although both were cubicle-based workspaces so that layout doesn’t necessarily solve things either. And I’m not alone in my concerns, as the article points out:

NOT all of NBBJ’s corporate clients have boarded the informality-and-buzz bandwagon. When the R.C. Hedreen Company, a real estate development firm based in Seattle, commissioned a renovation of a 10,800-square-foot floor in an old downtown office building five years ago, it specified a perimeter of private offices. Collaborative spaces are provided for creative teamwork, but the traditional offices remain the executives’ home ports.

“Individually, a lot of our workday is taken up with tasks that are better served by working alone in private offices,” says David Thyer, Hedreen’s president.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” is skeptical of open-office environments — for introverts and extroverts alike, though she says the first group suffers much more amid noise and bustle.

What are your thoughts on work space? Do you like having an open space to share, or do you prefer your own cubicle or booth? How do you handle the meeting privacy issues at your office? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

brain · creativity · mental health

8 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Improve Your Well-Being and Creativity

I’m having quite the brain block at work today, but I did find this article helpful; in fact, I went right out and bought myself an early lunch (or late brunch) after reading this.

To help you break the busy-ness cycle and work happier, we’ve rounded up a handful of counter-intuitive ways to tweak your habits and your mindset. They range from obvious-but-oft-ignored tips to the slightly more eccentric.
1. Eat breakfast.
According to New York magazine, “between 1965 and 1991, the number of adults who regularly skip breakfast increased from 14 to 25%.” We all know that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” but few of us act on it. The truth is there are few better one-stop options for improving general well-being. Numerous studies have linked eating breakfast with better general health, increased productivity, and a lower body mass index. If you want to feel better, look better, or just work better, there’s one simple solution: eat breakfast — preferably foods with a low glycemic index.

2. Sit less.
Most of us spend the greater part of our day sitting in front of a computer. In fact, the average person sits 9.3 hours a day — more than they sleep. All of this sedentary work is leading to increased cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and lots of other unhealthy side effects. Like death…

more at 8 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Improve Your Well-Being & Creativity

I wouldn’t call them counter-intuitive, per say, but definitely not the usual ideas, like getting an office pet (#4) or distancing yourself from a problem (#7). And many of them really do focus on overall well-being, not just creativity and collaboration in the workplace.

What other “odd” ways do you use to improve your well-being? Leave it in the comments.

community · culture · design · technology

Smashing the Cubicles – Technology Review

Typical rolltop desk
The workplace is changing. Image via Wikipedia

I just wanted to share a nice article from Technology Review discussing some of the different ways that people are adapting the typical work environment. The way we work is changing, so why not the way our workplace looks? I used to work in a cube with poor lighting and no view of the sun, so BOY let me tell you how important a good work environment can be.

The quick expansion of social and mobile technologies is creating a widely distributed workforce. To better suit employees who come into offices more sporadically, some companies and design firms are testing radically new—and more efficient—configurations for physical offices, and betting that improved technology will make the experiment more successful than similar ones in the 1990s.

A project at the headquarters of Cisco Systems in San Jose, California, for example, overthrows decades-old conventions about office space. Called Connected Workplace, it replaces individual cubicles with open clusters of wheeled desks that belong to groups, not individuals; personal belongings are largely confined to lockers.

There are no PCs at the desks, because the employees who use the space use mobile technologies, including the Cius tablet, which Cisco recently began selling to businesses. Rick Hutley, a Cisco vice president, chooses his desk according to which colleagues are present and what’s on the day’s agenda. Then he docks his Cius to a port on the desk that includes a phone handset. The tablet handles voice and video calls whether it’s docked or mobile, and it can be used to share documents at meetings.

more via Smashing the Cubicles – Technology Review.

behavior · community · culture · happiness · Social

At Google, groups are key to the company’s culture – San Jose Mercury News

Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...
Being part of a social group at work provides a pillar of support. Image via Wikipedia

Company culture seems to be this ethereal idea that no one can really wrap their head around, but “they know it when they see it.” They also know that employees having a strong connection with peers at work and a social buy-in to their employer promotes loyalty, worker productivity, and less absenteeism. This is an interesting profile of one aspect of Google’s work culture and community – creating mini support groups and internal communities.

Groups have always been an integral aspect of life at Google, but as the company approaches 30,000 employees, they have become an ever more critical mooring for new and veteran employees at a company trying to assimilate “Nooglers” at a pace of more than 100 a week. Many valley companies have groups for employee minority or cultural groups, but Google goes further, actively encouraging, and sometimes evenAdvertisementproviding financial support, for employees to organize special-interest groups ranging from economic theory to photography.

Google has 19 “Employee Resource Groups” or ERGs, employee-initiated entities that receive
financial support from the company and represent social, cultural or
minority groups…

more via At Google, groups are key to the company’s culture – San Jose Mercury News.

The article goes on to point out, and this should be a no brainer, that having a healthy, enriching work environment is also crucial to overall individual wellness and work fulfillment. Many companies are afraid to let their teams “goof off.” Maybe they should consider it “Googling off.”

anthropology · behavior · culture · disease · health

Workplace Cited as a New Source of Rise in Obesity –

Gli stand - FORUM PA 2011
The amount of physical activity in a typical work day has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Image by Forum PA via Flickr

To be perfectly honest, I have gained a significant amount of weight since starting my new job in November. I avoid the free sodas but can’t resist the occasional free chocolate, and combined with being chained to my computer for typically 10 hours at a time (or more) BOY is it adding up. And apparently I am not alone:

A sweeping review of shifts in the labor force since 1960 suggests that a sizable portion of the national weight gain can be explained by declining physical activity during the workday. Jobs requiring moderate physical activity, which accounted for 50 percent of the labor market in 1960, have plummeted to just 20 percent.

The remaining 80 percent of jobs, the researchers report, are sedentary or require only light activity. The shift translates to an average decline of 120 to 140 calories a day in physical activity, closely matching the nation’s steady weight gain over the past five decades, according to the report, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.

Today, an estimated one in three Americans are obese. Researchers caution that workplace physical activity most likely accounts for only one piece of the obesity puzzle, and that diet, lifestyle and genetics all play important roles.

more via Workplace Cited as a New Source of Rise in Obesity –

Thankfully there are things I can do at work, like adjust my desk so that I can stand instead. I often take breaks to wiggle or stretch, and I get a discount at several local gyms. But this is not enough, and if we want to not have to pay for workers’ lifestyle-induced health problems, from obesity to carpal tunnel syndrome, we need to encourage businesses to improve health in the workplace!

For starters, no free candy and less hours expected of your workers! You’ll get more productive workers, really really!


Personal note: work-life balance

This is not my typical post; this is a post about the need for a work/life balance in order to remain a complex, healthy human being, and yet how this idea seems to be having a back lash in the late 2000’s.

These days there seems to be a mocking tone around the phrase “work/life balance.” It’s become trite, the buzz-word that’s lost its zing, like “self-esteem” was in the 1980s and has now become the bane of every elementary school teacher’s existence. But what is so wrong about

This attitude against the balancing act seems to come especially from people talking about “Generation Y” or “Millenials” or whatever other buzz name is going to stick. The career and gender-gap-in-the-workplace all describe the Millenials as “prioritizing a work/life balance.” Unfortunately, most people who are not Millenials read that and translate it as, “lazy and don’t take work seriously.”

As a millennial, I can staunchly say this is not true. We’re the first generation where “multi-tasking” (another buzz word in its day) is the expected norm, and we do it well. We also find nothing wrong with listening to some vintage Dead Kennedys on our ipods as we sit in front of a computer for eight hours going through tedious emails and menial clerical work that, except for the CEO of Facebook, is about all we can get hired to do so far. Sure we expected more instant job satisfaction after getting out of college (who wouldn’t after getting ribbons their entire life just for participating?), and sure it’s going to make us yearn for our days back in college when our “work/life balance” involved sleeping in and being mentally stimulated and challenged for a living. Does that mean we’re wrong?

Even beyond the slacker Millenials, “work/life balance” also seems to have become a code word for “mother who puts her children before her job.” Is that a bad thing? Apparently so, according to a lot of studies that find women who take time off in their careers to have children, even as brief as a year, have a hard time find jobs again and don’t make as much money as women in the same positions who didn’t take time off. Yet women are still expected to be the primary care-providers for their kids, and if they aren’t super-moms who can stay home with their child and make an organic, meatless, gluten free, protein-filled dinner as their children practice their Baby Mozart and take infant soccer camp, all with a killer bod three months after giving birth, then these women are obviously stunting their child’s development. At the same time, they are also expected to work full time at an office (working from home is still considered suspect). If they miss a day at the office because the kid broke his foot on his infant soccer ball, then they’re not reliable employees.

Unfortunately, many people who are scoffing at this whole “work/life balance” trend are the people who need it the most. For many people who do decide to give up their lives to job and country, “work/life balance” basically means finding time to have a drink with a client and getting (maybe) four hours of sleep. No wonder Starbucks is so popular. In this day and age of blackberries, emails, cell phones, video conferencing, and fairly inexpensive four-hour plane rides across continents now seeming like a long, tedious commute, people are working literally 24/7, not taking time for themselves, wearing down their bodies in the process (obesity epidemic, anyone?), and are expected to give more.

Of course every organization – work, family, church, little league – wants to be the top priority in a person’s life, they will fight tooth and nail to become that. The problem is when we buy into it, or try to prioritize it all.

Especially in American society, competitiveness, standing out, overachieving, and going all the way are appreciated, nay, expected of us all. Students are rewarded for straight A’s; an athlete gets attention only if they score the most points or win first prize; the person who works extra hard on a project gets promoted; being overworked and underslept is are considered bragging rights.

So I say put down your coffee, or at least linger at the office coffee station a little bit longer; hit that snooze button one more time, turn off your cell phone, go out and play catch with your dog (he’s been waiting ever so long). Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been working to make our lives better and more efficient, simpler. I say it’s time to take advantage of all that hard work and actually live simply, efficiently, and better. For starters, I’m going to take a nap.