The key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world

I love my job sign

You can’t read a business article these days without some reference to The Big Quit or The Great Resignation. According to a report by Morneau Shepell, one of the country’s biggest HR consulting firms, 25% of Canadians are considering leaving their jobs. Companies are scrambling to try to figure out how to hold on to their top performers and lure the brightest minds to their organization. We’ve entered a new war for talent.

Flexible and hybrid work and employee wellbeing seem to be the two top themes, with competitive compensation and benefits programs now being table stakes.

I believe while providing flexible work and focusing on employee wellbeing will be important, they will not be enough to create true job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world.

There’s an obvious answer to this pressing problem that everyone seems to be missing: the key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world will be in the work itself.

Let me explain.

The Friday before my birthday, I started working on a project around 3:30 in the afternoon. Fridays tend to be quieter days for me at work: there are less meetings and interruptions. It was a project where I needed concentrated time to think and focus. I worked away at it, and when I looked up at the time, it was after 5 p.m. So much for knocking off a few minutes early on my birthday weekend. But for the first time in a long time, I felt good about work. I was able to think creatively, immerse myself in a problem and logged off feeling an immense spurt of satisfaction.

I had achieved what the work experts call “flow”. Flow is a state of focused attention so intense it doesn’t allow you to have cognitive bandwidth to do or think of anything else. It is an intersection of optimal being and optimal doing and when we achieve it, it creates inner harmony and happiness since we feel engaged, productive and in control.

Flow is like REM sleep, but for work. To be healthy and productive, our body needs to experience deep REM sleep every night. If you don’t, you feel tired, irritable, and you can’t concentrate or focus.

For many knowledge workers, work has become a constant barrage of emails, zoom calls and interruptions which is affecting our wellbeing and happiness at work. We are not achieving REM at work.

In this article in positivepsychology.com, researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi summarized it this way: “The happiest people spend much time in a state of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

One of the biggest benefits of flow is that it amplifies performance. Author Malcolm Gladwell claimed in his book Outliers that a person needs to do something for 10,000 hours to master a skill. In a 2014 study called the Flow Genome Project, author Steven Kotler estimated this time can be cut in half by achieving flow.

The interesting thing about flow is knowledge workers to some degree have control over flow. We can intentionally structure our workday to build in concentrated 60-90 minute sessions of work, we can turn off notifications, establish no meeting windows, and purposefully not check email. But I firmly believe companies need to wake up and create a more conducive environment to create flow in work and greater job satisfaction for their employees.

Some companies are already doing this. In my blog post The Future of Work, I talked about a Fortune 500 software company in India which tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.

Hiring more employees, and cultivating a culture that encourages time spent on creative and strategic thinking and innovation are two more things companies should be doing to help employees do their best work and achieve job satisfaction.

This week’s #HappyAct is to achieve flow in your work this week. Leave a comment. How did it make you feel and did it increase your job satisfaction?

Ten love quotes for Valentine’s Day

poster of love quote

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day you’ll find panicked husbands staring blankly in the empty aisles of Shopper’s Drug Mart, scrambling to find the perfect last minute $10 card and box of heart-shaped chocolates.

For me, Valentine’s Day is simply a day to tell the people I love how much I care for them and how I can’t imagine living life without them. Here are my ten favourite love quotes for Valentine’s Day.

“We are most alive when we are in love.”
John Updike

“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.”
Henry Miller

“Love and work, work and love… that’s all there is.”
Sigmund Freud (defining happiness and reflecting on the importance of relationships and having a sense of purpose)

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Nora Ephron

“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.”
Agatha Christie

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Oprah Winfrey

“True love stories never have endings.”
Richard Bach

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”
Oscar Wilde

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Charles M. Schulz

And an important one for the times we live in,

“I have decided to stick to love; hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

And if I were to add my own:

“The greatest teacher of love is a dog.”
Laurie Swinton

This week’s #HappyAct is to look beyond the consumer trappings of Valentine’s Day and tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. But hey, like Snoopy’s Dad said, a little chocolate isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Reflections on the next chapter from down under

Author on a recent trip to Canada

Special guest blog post by David Dawson

Recently I sang at the funeral of one of my fellow choristers who was only 20 years older than me. He was 85. It got me thinking of what I can still do with the remaining time left on my clock.

I was inspired in my reflections by a story in The Guardian about a psychiatrist who was diagnosed with bladder cancer and told he was going to die and daydreamed about becoming an actor. At the age of 63, he enrolled at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and this month, at age 80, is the lead in the play Freud’s Last Session, at the King’s Head Theatre in London.

There are the limitations now set by age, which are about personal energy levels and the insight of a lifetime of experiences. While becoming aware of my shortcomings in life, I have accepted that I did the best I could at the time with what I had to work with.

Rather than castigate myself for not trying hard enough or being resilient enough to achieve an unimaginable goal, I would like to think all of that has prepared me for the next period of my life where I hope to do the work I have been trained to do by those around me: filling my time as much as I can with small acts of kindness. While these are small happy acts for me, I can only hope they are huge blessings for those around me. For this, I am blessed.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from The Guardian:

 “The more we are able to accept our achievements are largely out of our control, the easier it becomes to understand that our failures, and those of others, are too. And that in turn should increase our humility and the respect with which we treat our fellow citizens. Ultimately, as the writer David Roberts put it, ‘Building a more compassionate society means reminding ourselves of luck, and of the gratitude and obligations it entails.”

David Dawson has been weathering the pandemic down under with his faithful sidekick Brad the dog by his side, musing on politics, social media, religion and life.

Making soup is good for the soul

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

Every year when the end of autumn rolls around and the weather gets chilly, I start making soup. There is nothing like a warm bowl of homemade soup to lift one’s spirits. Growing up my mom used to make soup occasionally and I guess it rubbed off on me.

My first attempt at making soup was in the early 1990’s when I was about 25 years old and knew next to nothing about cooking. I made a pot of leek and potato soup which resembled wallpaper paste and I ended up throwing most of it out.

I didn’t attempt soup again until I taught at Alloa Public School in Brampton in the late 1990s. The teachers had a weekly soup club and this is where my soup-making skills really got started. I had to bring a big pot of soup and the pressure was on for it to be delicious. We would share recipes and it was a bright spot every week throughout the winter. Gradually I collected a lot of great soup recipes. Some of them are quick and easy and some of them require a bit more time and preparation, but they all are made with healthy ingredients and are a quick “picker-upper” if you are not feeling well.

For the last 10 years at least I make soup every week. Gary and I have it for dinner at least once a week and I would take it to school for lunch as well. If anyone I know is sick or needs a little TLC, I bring them some soup. I make a different soup each week and by the time I get through all my favourite recipes, winter is mostly in the rear-view mirror.

During these frigid, snowy days why not try your hand at making soup? Here is one of my favourite recipes, thanks to Libby Dawson for sharing it with me.

For the little ones in your life: check out this YouTube video of the children’s folk tale, Stone Soup, proof that soup brings out the best in people.

Sweet Potato Bean Soup – serves 6

1 tbsp. each butter & vegetable oil

½ onion, coarsely chopped

1 rounded tsp. curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & diced

5 c. stock (boiling hot)

19 oz. (540 mL) can white beans (kidney or navy), rinsed & drained

1 tbsp. each balsamic vinegar & maple syrup (both are optional)

Salt & ground pepper

Plain yogurt; chopped fresh coriander or parsley

Heat butter & oil in a large saucepan over med heat. 

Add onion and cook about 5 minutes until soft but not brown. 

Add curry powder; cook while stirring for 1 minute 

Add sweet potatoes; cook for a few minutes

Add hot stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until sweet potato is soft

Add half of the beans. Puree until smooth, and then add the rest of the beans. 

Add vinegar and maple syrup, stir, and serve with yogurt and parsley/coriander on top.

See past your thoughts

Dog walking in the woods

Have you ever gone for a walk or a drive, and arrived not remembering anything you’ve seen along the way because you were so lost in your thoughts?

It happens to me more than I would like to admit.

I’m conscious of it now, so when it happens, I stop in mid-stride if I’m walking, scold my brain, and start looking at the world around me. I make a conscious effort to be in the moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, see the snow glistening on the pines and just take it all in.

It’s easy to become prisoners of our thoughts. It’s hard work to see past them.

1,000 days

People wearing masks in 1918 in California

Very early on in the pandemic, an older caretaker of a church told Dave, “It will be a 1,000 days, every pandemic takes a 1,000 days.”

The Spanish flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. By my count, we are at 675 days which means we have about 10 months left of living with COVID.

For the first time in almost two years, I am quietly optimistic we are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

Early on, the other catchphrase was herd immunity. The pandemic will subside when a large proportion of the population has either contracted the disease or developed enough antibodies through vaccines to protect themselves from contracting the disease. With the highly contagious Omicron variant, we are now seeing herd immunity in action.

This week’s #HappyAct is to allow yourself to hope. Stay strong during these last few critical weeks and months and let’s all continue doing what we need to do to support our beleaguered healthcare workers who have been the real heroes on the front lines.

I choose to hope the end is near, and I for one, can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.

Ed. Note: This post is not based on any scientific evidence. Please take it as it’s intended, hopeful musings that brighter days lay ahead.

The 75 Easy Challenge

Bentley the dog ready for his 75 Easy Challenge
Bentley ready to take up his 75 Easy Challenge

You may have heard about the 75 Hard challenge that’s taken over TikTok and the internet. Created by fitness guru Andy Frisella, it’s a challenge that is supposed to toughen you up mentally and physically. He calls it “ironman for your brain”. The challenge involves doing five things for 75 days straight:

  1. Drink 3-4 litres of water a day 
  2. Follow a diet with no cheat meals or alcohol
  3. Workout twice a day for 45 minutes, and one of the workouts must be done outdoors 
  4. Read 10 pages of a non-fiction or self-help book each day
  5. Take a progress picture each day

We were talking about the challenge in the car yesterday, and I said, “that’s way too hard and life’s challenging enough right now, I’d rather do a 75-day easy challenge”. Here’s what our 75 Easy challenge would look like:

Laurie’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Drink two glasses of wine two days a week, one white, one red
  2. Complete one puzzle
  3. Read the newspapers and actually get moving before 10 a.m. on the weekends (shoot, I guess I’ll have to start the challenge tomorrow)
  4. Walk from my home office to the kitchen fridge and back at least twice a day
  5. Wear something other than slippers and leggings at least once a week

Dave’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Ice fish twice a week
  2. Pet Bentley 10 times a day, including once on the belly
  3. Read 30 pages of either John Sandford, Wilbur Smith or Ken Follett a night
  4. Drink one bottle of Baileys or Cabot Trail maple cream, with or without coffee
  5. Bring his minnows in every night so they don’t freeze on the front porch (to help with #1)

Clare’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Eat two Mr. Noodles a day, one small bowl and one large bowl
  2. Limit her screen time on her phone to less than four hours per day
  3. Wear an actual winter coat each time she leaves the house
  4. Watch at least one hour of Netflix or DisneyPlus a night
  5. Clean up after herself in the kitchen at least once a week (again, see #1)  

Grace’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Keep her voice down to under 100 decibels when talking on the phone late at night
  2. Journal every day
  3. Write and re-write her study schedule daily
  4. Pick two items of clothing up off of her floor each day
  5. Learn one new song on the guitar each week

Bentley’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Chase the squirrels from the bird feeders twice a day
  2. Sleep on one couch at least once every night
  3. Eat two dog treats a day without trying to slobber
  4. Actually come when my humans call, “Come, Bentley”
  5. Bark for only 10 minutes a night on the front porch at absolutely nothing

There you have it. Hey, at least we’ll feel good when we’re all successful at the end of the 75 days. This week’s #HappyAct is to make up your own 75 Hard or Easy Challenge. What will it be? Leave a comment.

It’s written in the cards

Tarot cards

It’s always fun this time of year to scour your horoscope to see what’s in store for the year ahead.

We took it a step further and did tarot readings for everybody in the house this week. Here’s what the cards told us:

  • Grace has a secret admirer, but there is also distrust of acquaintances who are seeking to betray her.
  • There is a mystery that will affect Clare for the better. Her confiding disposition may generate a friendship that will warm into love.
  • I drew cards that foretold of successful ventures in business and riches, the ship and anchor. I guess my ship will come in this year.
  • Dave? Well, he doesn’t believe in this mumbo jumbo stuff. We’re still trying to convince him to let us do a reading. For now, let’s say there will be water and fish in his future.

This week’s #HappyAct is to buy a cheap card of tarot cards (only $9.99 on most sites) and see what’s written in the cards for you this year. Happy reading!

Tarot card reading

Top ten travel happy acts for 2022

Stormy beach in North Carolina
Carolina beach before the storm

Normally in December, I do a round-up of my favourite happy acts of the year. But as I’ve said more than once during COVID-19, it’s tough blogging about happiness during a pandemic. So this year, I’ve decided to choose my top ten list of travel-related posts to give us something to look forward to in 2022. Some of these are great staycation ideas, others involve finding adventures further afar.

  1. Explore the backroads and hamlets of Eastern Ontario in Take a Scenic Drive and Visit an Amazing Place.
  2. Experience the feeling of skating until your feet chafe in The world’s longest skating rink turns 50 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
  3. Bridgerton fans: experience what life was like in Regency Europe by visiting English and Irish manors in Of manors and mansions when lords and duchesses attended balls, paid morning visits and strolled in stately gardens.
  4. On a glorious autumn day, there is no better experience in the world than picking grapes and helping with the harvest in Harvest the grape.
  5. In Walk through a sky with a thousand suns, we explored a sunflower farm in Prince Edward County.
  6. The Carolinas have always held a special place in our hearts, find out why in Carolina on my mind.
  7. On a wintry day, one of the best places to visit is an aquarium. Read about my girls’ weekend winter getaway to Ripley’s Aquarium in Discover an undersea world.
  8. There’s a reason why British Columbia has “Beautiful British Columbia” on its license plates. See why in Happy in beautiful BC.
  9. Hamilton, Ontario, a great tourist destination, really? Explore all it has to offer in Challenge a steadfast belief.
  10. Make a date to explore your local zoo or one of the smaller zoos in your region where you can get up close and personal with the animals in Have a Zootastic experience.

Where do you plan to visit next year? Leave a comment and here’s to a happier 2022 with many more travels and adventures ahead!

Daughter Grace in a garden in South Carolina
Grace at a manor house in North Carolina
Daughter Clare in a sunflower field in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Clare in the sunflower field in Prince Edward County

Find meaning behind the words this season

Sign with words hope, peace, joy and love

Peace and goodwill. Comfort and joy.

You hear these words everywhere you go this time of year, in holiday cards, in songs, in greetings and on signs.

I noticed a slight variation this week on my favourite church sign. It said, “Wishing you peace, joy, happiness and strength”.

Strength. It was an interesting choice of words. Yes, more than anything right now, we need strength and resilience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find meaning behind the words this holiday season.

May you experience,

Kindness and generosity of spirit
Love and laughter
The comfort of warm food and fond memories
Precious time to reflect and recharge
Moments of happiness and joy
And strength and acceptance to bring you peace this holiday season

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Don’t miss next week’s special year-end edition of Top 10 Happy Acts, my favourite blog posts to help you get through another COVID winter.

And to the stranger who showed generosity of spirit and bought our hot chocolates at the McDonald’s drive-through in Kingston last Wednesday, thank you for paying it forward! We reciprocated and hope the person behind us enjoyed their McHappy Meal and chocolate shake.