The Gorilla glue of an organization

kid with capeEmployee engagement continues to be at an all-time low globally. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. The economic consequences of this global “norm” are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity a year.

I’ve shared my own views about declining employee engagement before. In Love in the Workplace, I said a pay cheque is what makes people show up for work every day, but what they do with their time depends on three key things: the degree to which the work they do aligns to their passions and strengths, the relationships they have at work, and what I called the “negative quotient” or “piss off” factor–the degree to which negative factors at work affect their ability to succeed.

I believe that more than ever, but I think there is a fourth key factor contributing to low employee engagement, and that is undervaluing a key segment of employees, the unsung heroes of every organization.

This group is highly knowledgeable and experienced but usually not as well known to senior leaders. They may not aspire to move up the corporate ladder, but prefer to fly under the radar and do their work without fanfare, quietly coming in every day and producing, solving problems, sharing their knowledge and helping team members out of jams. They are the glue that keeps the corporate machine running smoothly.

They also serve another incredibly indispensable purpose—they set the tone for the culture of a company.

I’m very lucky to work for a company that has these unsung heroes in spades, but we need to do a better job of recognizing them.

In my world of corporate and strategic communications, data, metrics, employee engagement numbers and strategic alignment, and yes, culture are buzzwords that rule the day. Some leaders believe the most valuable use of their time is crunching numbers and spreadsheets.

I take a contrarian view. I think I provide the greatest value by doing my part to develop and promote a positive and people-focused culture, by helping and recognizing the people who are the Gorilla glue of my organization.

So to the Mirandas, Randys, Sandras, Donnas, Karens, Lillians, Elaines, Amys, Kristas, Andreas, Garys, Jessicas and all the other unsung heroes I have the privilege working with every day, thank you.

This week’s #HappyAct is to recognize an unsung hero in your life or organization. Feel free to share your message to them below.

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Take the work happiness test

sign take the test

The average person spends 2,000 hours per year at work. Based on that staggering figure, it stands to reason that being happy at work is key to our overall happiness.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are three main things that contribute to happiness at work:

  1. Feeling like you are making a difference
  2. How hopeful you are about the future and the link between your work and your goals and aspirations
  3. Having positive work relationships

In Love in the Workplace, I shared the findings of one leadership expert, Mark Crowley who found a monumental shift in the drivers of happiness from time with family and hobbies to time at work. Crowley concluded “how satisfied workers feel in their jobs now determines their overall happiness with life. This monumental shift means that job fulfillment has become essential to people everywhere.”

HBR has a 24-question test you can take to measure your happiness at work. It gives you a summary report and tips on how to use your strengths and find happiness. It also shows your responses and happiness/satisfaction levels in comparison to other HBR readers who take the test.

I took it again this week. Like employee engagement scores, I find results for these kinds of tests can swing depending on your current state of mind. I scored Medium on Purpose and Hope and High on Friendship at Work. The test reinforced for me what I need to do to stay engaged at work and gave me helpful advice for making work a positive experience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the test to see how happy you are at work. How did you do? Leave a comment.

For more on happiness at work, read

How to be happier at work

Develop your emotional intelligence

Attend a retirement party

Two women with drinks celebrating
Elaine on the right with her sister Lynn-Marie (also retired!) at her retirement celebration

I’ve attended a lot of retirement parties lately. Several years ago, my company announced a change to retiree benefits, and I think many of my friends and colleagues just decided it was time to go.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the retirement celebration of my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson. You may recall Elaine, since she’s been a subject of blog posts like Show your spirit, You Can’t Buy Happiness, but You Can Buy Chocolate and Play Hookey for the Day.

While some people like to quietly slip out, Elaine helped plan an entire week of retirement festivities with lunches, dinners, and an after-work fete at a local bar. Today, I’m taking her to Handel’s Messiah for her retirement present.

On Friday, I celebrated the upcoming retirement of my friend Beatrice, who told us that Empire Life was the longest place she ever worked. She stayed because she liked the people she was working with so much and the work was always interesting and challenging.

There are so many reasons why these celebrations are so special.

I enjoy hearing the incredible stories and contributions my colleagues have made to their organizations, often over the course of decades.

I love seeing the smiles and laughter around the room and how genuinely happy everyone is for the person retiring.

I like seeing former colleagues who made the leap years ago who came to honour the newest recruit to their ranks. Without fail, they look ten years younger and say they are busier than ever.

But most of all I love the warmth and family feel of these gatherings. Like it or not, work is a huge part of our lives. The people we work with become our family. And when one of our members leaves us to embrace a new, exciting chapter in their life, we celebrate with them.

This week’s #HappyAct is to attend a retirement or honour the work contributions of a special colleague. And to all my friends who have made the leap into retirement or are making the leap this year, I am so happy for you. Enjoy, and don’t look back!

Get unplugged

Special guest blog by Alison Taylor

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make me happy. Well, to be truthful, most times it is the simple things.

Living in a country setting really makes you appreciate the quiet calm of the countryside. I am lucky to have access to hundreds of acres of fields and bush that I can walk through with my pal, Molly (friend of the four legged kind).

I like to get away from “devices” and unplug. I don’t disconnect though….I rather connect in a different way and use my senses to observe and interact with the “natural” kind. Sometimes it is the stillness, and peacefulness of the experience. Other times, the wind is howling, snow is crunching under your big boots, and you feel exhilarated.

There can be those moments where you see wildlife and marvel at their resilience, or watch the birds flittering in the grasses and listen to their songs and time stands still.

For me, I like to unplug as much as I can on weekends. My work week is full of the latest buzz words: high tech, digital disruption, seeking electronic efficiencies, etc.  It is nice to spend my weekend on what really matters, and spend time “unplugged” and surrounded by an environment that has stood the test of time and will be around many years to come whether I plug in or not.

Could world happiness end global poverty and lead to world peace?

March 20 is International Day of HappinessOn June 28, 2012, all 193 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the resolution to make March 20th the International Day of Happiness.

A basic tenet of the U.N. resolution is happiness is a human right and goal. It states,
“The General Assembly,[…] Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,[…] Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples. “

It’s wonderful to think that simply by doing what makes you happy and looking out for others’ happiness, we could solve global issues like poverty and war. Some would say this is idealistic and utopian. I see it as a beautiful and simple answer to so many of the problems in the world today.

Pharrell Williams has become an unofficial ambassador for the International Day of Happiness, launching his Happy video in 2014 and addressing the UN in 2015, where he proclaimed happiness is our birthright and asked for action on climate change.

What you can do to make the world a happier place on March 20th?
• Sign up at speakhappiness.com for their free “Happiness in the workplace” guide to make your workplace a happier place
• Share the happy. Use the hashtag #InternationalDayofHappiness and #HappyDay in March, or share one of my blog posts in March
• Read the 2015 World Happiness Report that delves into such fascinating questions as how does subjective well-being vary around the world by gender and age?
• Fresh out of school and need a job? The International Day of Happiness organization is looking for interns for social media, and a writer and editor

This week’s #HappyAct is to mark March 20th by doing something that makes you happy, and something to help the happiness of another person. Then do it every day of the year. Let’s make the world a happier place, one happy act at a time.

Aim for progress, not perfection

strive for progress signIn my line of work, I make it a mission to cut out jargon. There is one buzzword I’ve adopted and even grown fond of lately–the word agile.

More and more, you hear about agile teams, projects and processes. Agile methodology is when you plan out your tasks or work in phases, then measure and tweak along the way.

The reason why I like this word so much is because the agile approach embodies an inherent philosophy that has a direct impact on happiness —the importance of aiming for progress, not perfection.

Two of the leading experts in the field of perfectionism are Canadians—Paul Hewitt, a professor at the University of British Columbia and Gordon Flett at the University of Toronto. In just one of their many studies of 10,000 professors, they found a statistical co-relation that those pursuing a perfect solution had a lower number of publications, lower amount of citations and a lower impact on their profession. They also had a higher rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, shockingly, a higher rate of suicide.

I’ve never been a perfectionist. I can’t imagine the burden that weighs on people of trying to be perfect or achieving the perfect result all the time.

I’ve learned there are many ways to skin a cat. When my team works on a design concept or develops communication plans at work, there isn’t any single right or wrong answer or method. There are simply different options and approaches with different merits and risks. You choose a course, try it out, see what works, then adjust your plan.

You learn most when you fail. Unfortunately one of the biggest issues in business today is organizations say they are willing to let their employees fail, but when push comes to shove, the focus on the bottom line wins out. Companies are so lean they can’t afford the time, money or resources to fail.

Still, aiming for progress, not perfection is a philosophy that can benefit just about every aspect of our lives. Trying to lose weight? Aim for progress, not perfection. Studying for a big exam? Planning a large event? You know the answer.

This week’s #HappyAct is to aim for progress, not perfection. Perfection is an elusive dream. Instead set small, baby step goals, and celebrate when you hit milestones.

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer

thermometerDave and I have a standing bet when we get back from vacation. Who has more emails sitting in our inbox and how many days will it take for each of us to go from feeling completely relaxed to stressed out and tired?

This time, we were really lucky. For two weeks, we were able to disconnect from work, which in today’s day and age is a luxury. But I did find by the end of the second day back in the office, I was thinking about work after hours, feeling tired again and feeling my stress levels rise.

In order to be successful and happy in today’s business world, we need to learn how to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Last fall, I had the pleasure of attending Queen’s Leadership Course. One of the instructors was Peter Jensen who has made a name for himself coaching business people and Olympic athletes on how to manage stress to achieve high performance.

In his book, “Thriving in a 24-7 World”, Peter says we have to be thermostats not thermometers. What does this mean? Using the analogy of stress instead of the weather, a thermometer merely reacts to the stressors going on around it, dipping to severe lows or spiking high when things get heated. A thermostat sets an ideal setting, based on the conditions it finds itself in, and is able to regulate and manage stress, and further, harness it to achieve high performance.

Let’s take the case of the Olympic athlete since Rio is only days away. There are times when athletes need to increase their stress and performance levels—the days when they are slugging through endless hours of training. This can be a challenge, but the even greater challenge is during competition. Olympic athletes face incredible pressure and stress. They need to find ways to regulate that stress and channel it into their performance.

How? Peter offers up several strategies in the book on how you can turn your thermostat up or down to manage your energy levels and stress. Definitely read it, but I’ve summarized a few here:

Techniques for turning down your thermostat in times of stress:

  • Centring or breathing. Try inhaling, breathing in deeply through your nose then exhaling deeply, focusing on your diaphragm, then on your shoulders and upper body.
  • Never multi-task. Studies show people are not as productive when they multi-task. Focus on one key task at a time.
  • Learn different techniques to let it go.
  • Challenge negative thinking. Try to reframe the conversation or your thinking into what opportunities are available.
  • Break up big tasks into little tasks to create a sense of accomplishment

To turn up your thermostat when you’re feeling flat or lacking energy

  • Take a break, get sleep, go for a walk. All of these things will help you focus.
  • Try something new or different—it may just be what you need to create positive energy.
  • Remind yourself of your purpose or meaning.

The final word: Remember stress can be a positive. It can help you harness energy to achieve performance. The key is to recognize your stress levels, and set your own thermostat to help your body prepare for the challenge ahead.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. And for those of you curious who won the bet—I had over 500 emails in two weeks (but a lot of mine are social media notifications, media alerts and newsletters) and Dave had 64.