The future of work

future of work sign

There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.

As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.

Here is my vision for the future of work.

First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.

Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.

We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. 

There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.

Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.

We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.

Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India 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.

We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.

The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.

Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.

The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.   

Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.

Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.

Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.

Who would you rather work for?

Stop being your own worst enemy

skeleton looking at a computer

There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.

Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?

I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.

Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.

The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.

We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.

As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.

Next week: part two on the Future of Work

52 walks later

Group of employees
Some of my co-workers who walked with me in 2018

For once, I followed through on a New Year’s resolution.

Last January, I posted this blog where I vowed to walk one day each week at lunch with a fellow Empire Life employee. My goals were to stay connected with my co-workers and what’s happening in the company, get in shape, and save money (as opposed to going out for lunch with people to catch up).

In full disclosure, I didn’t quite make my goal—work schedules, vacation, and a nasty gland infection in November meant I finished just shy of my 52 walks this year, but I figure I met it in spirit. Here is what I learned on my walks:

  • For some of us, a quick walk at lunch is one of the only times to ourselves. For instance, I learned one co-worker  has five kids under the age of seven, with two-year old twins. If I had five kids under the age of seven, I’d definitely need an escape now and then!
  • Every person has a story to tell. One of my favourite walks this year was with a co-worker who just happened to mention that her husband had received an invitation to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. She agreed to let me post a little contest on our company intranet to guess who the mystery wedding guest was. We had a lot of fun as people tried to guess which of us knew royalty.
  • People have many hidden passions and talents. Several guys I work with are beer aficionados and are members of the Kingston and Area Brewers of Beer club, I work with several “foodies”, and people love their pets!
  • Life is full of joy and challenges. Many shared their lives, struggles and challenges with me. It was a great reminder that you never really know what’s going on in people’s lives (despite Facebook and Instagram) and to always listen with your heart.

And finally, but I didn’t need 52 walks to know this, I work with some of the nicest, most talented people around. Thanks to everyone who joined me for a walk in 2018. I plan to continue my walks in 2019.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Leave a comment.

Best happy acts of 2018

Author and her daughter

When I started this blog four years ago, I hoped I would find a community of people who would join me on a journey to explore what it means to be happy and be inspired to take action to create our own happiness, one happy act at a time.

I also knew there would be others who would never “get it” and think I’m crazy. I once had someone ask me, why do you blog about the same thing every week?  Sigh.

While there is always a common thread in my posts: exploring what makes us happy, I hope dear loyal readers you have figured out that like life, happyact.ca is a smorgasbord of content. Some weeks, it is a blog for foodies or commentary on work; other weeks it’s a travelogue or a humour column.

Some weeks it’s an advice column where I’m seeking advice for a problem or issue in my life. Other weeks, I’m sharing a tiny drop of inspiration or motivation. Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and it’s helped you on your journey to be happy.

I know life gets busy and there is a good chance you may have missed some happy acts this year, so to help you overcome FOMO (fear of missing out), here is a reprise of my top ten favourite happy acts of 2018. I hope you keep reading every Sunday morning and continue on with me on this journey in 2019.

On travel and exploring

On being happy at work

For giggles

Motivation and inspiration

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to a happiness filled 2019.

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

Have a Happy Do Over Day

I watched a movie about time travel last week called About Time, a charming British indie film that was warm, thought-provoking, and witty.

In the movie, the father and son have a special gift: the ability to travel to places and times they have been before.

There is a critical scene in the movie, where the father tells the son the secret to happiness is to live each day twice: the first time normally with all the tensions and worries of every day life, and the second time doing the exact same things but noticing how sweet life is.

The film shows an ordinary day for the son. His morning is stressful, juggling making breakfast and lunches for his children, then fighting the morning commute downtown to his job as a lawyer, and endless meetings that seem pointless and bring little joy into his life.

The next scene is the son living the same day over. This time, he sees how beautiful his children are, and cherishes the precious moments with them over the breakfast table. On his morning commute, he looks out the window at the sunshine and marvels at the gift of another day. He sees the humour in the office shenanigans and celebrates success in court.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pretend we are time travellers. Choose an ordinary day this week, and relive it doing the exact same things you do every day, but this time, noticing how sweet life is. I’m going to try it and see what happens. Leave a comment and share your experience.

Timing is everything

Time's Up poster

There is a new book on my reading list for 2018: best-selling author Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

Pink’s book focuses on the science of timing to help us make smart decisions in our lives.

Our lives are a never-ending stream of “when” decisions. There are little “when” decisions: when is the best time to study for an exam, when are you most productive at work. And there are the big “when” decisions: when to start a business, start a family or change careers.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Toronto Star have written articles on Pink’s new book. The article in The Star focused on New Year’s resolutions and why “fresh starts” like at the beginning of the year, really work.

To establish a fresh start, people use two types of “temporal landmarks”— social and personal. Social landmarks are those that everyone shares Mondays, the beginning of a new month, national holidays. The personal ones are unique to each person: birthdays, anniversaries, job changes.

These time markers allow us to clear the slate on the past and help us see beyond the minutiae of day to day living to see “the forest beyond the trees” for a fresh start.

I am hopeful that 2018 is a fresh start for all of us and that #TimesUp.

You don’t have to tell Tarana Burke timing is everything.

The founder of the #MeToo movement has been quietly, tenaciously, devoting her life for ten years promoting empowerment through empathy, raising awareness of inequality and sexual harassment against women.

But it wasn’t until actress Alyssa Milano urged women this past fall on social media to speak up using the hashtag #MeToo that we were able to crest the tipping point to create a wave of support and change the dialogue and power imbalance between men and women on sexual harassment.

The wave became a tidal wave this January with the creation of #TimesUp, a legal organization formed to pay for and provide legal support for victims of sexual assault and the platform and voices of powerful women like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon.

Yes, timing is everything.

I am hopeful it is finally our time—time for women to be truly viewed and treated as equals.

I am hopeful that every organization will look within its own walls with a microscopic lens and make changes to ensure equal pay for equal work, and equal representation of women on boards and in the C-suite.

That every government implements policies to ensure women are protected, can receive an education, and can live freely without fear of retribution or harm.

That every father and grandfather teaches their sons and grandsons to treat women as we deserve.

And that some day soon, every woman will feel finally, it is our time.

52 Walks in 52 Weeks

Author in front of her office ready to walkThis year, my New Year’s resolution is to take 52 walks in 52 weeks in 2018.

Let me explain.

I have many friends at work, but work is so busy, I often don’t have time to catch up with them. Occasionally, we meet for lunch, but this eats up our lunch hour and budget and adds unwanted pounds.

So here is my plan. Every week this year, I am going to invite one co-worker to walk with me for half an hour one day a week at lunch. It may be a good friend, someone I’ve met I want to get to know better, or maybe even a complete stranger.

My goals are to get in shape, save money, and stay connected with my co-workers and what’s happening in the company, which will benefit my job.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Leave a comment. Don’t miss next week’s post on the secret to being successful at keeping resolutions.

Top 10 Happy Acts of 2017

Happy New Year, from our family to yours

Got the post-holiday blues? Tired of winter already? Why not brighten your day by revisiting some of the best happy acts from 2017.

To inspire you in 2018

  1. Be a child genius: see what Aldous Huxley and Ron Howard have in common
  2. Always see with your heart: a tribute to a very special dog
  3. Swimming in a fish bowl: My eyes filled with tears reading this post again.

Happiness at work

  1. The rise of incivility in the workplace: fight stress and the impulse to snap back when the pressure is on at work
  2. How to be happier at work: learn three simple things you can do to up your happiness quotient in the workplace

Life on the home front

  1. Eight tips for achieving family life balance: struggling to keep up with your to do list at home? Read this post or watch Bad Moms Christmas.
  2. The most important decision you’ll ever make: a must read if you have kids.
  3. Make friends with fearsome creatures: I was surprised at the vociferous reaction to this post on snakes.

Just for giggles

9. What if your best friend was a robot? 2018 may be the year machines take over the world. We might as well make friends with them.

10. Check out my top predictions for 2017—hey at least I got one call right—my dogs did manage to get off the couch once this year before 11 a.m.

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to more happy acts and the world being a happier place in 2018.

Play hookey from work

Friends at the Kingston sign

It was our Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For 10 years, my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson and I had talked about going for a patio lunch and not going back to work. We finally did it on Friday.

Now before you HR types get all bent out of shape, we did this with the full knowledge and approval of our bosses, and booked it as vacation time. Whatever points we lost on the spontaneity factor were more than made up for the excitement of looking forward to our afternoon of hookey.

Our first stop was Confederation Basin to put the “I” in Kingston. Earlier this summer, Kingston erected a new sign where tourists can take their picture. There may be no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston.

Then we headed up Brock Street to Atomica for a leisurely patio lunch. If you’re not familiar with the Black Dog Hospitality Group of restaurants in Kingston, which includes Dianne’s Fish Bar, Le Chien Noir, Harper’s Burgers and Atomica, they are a favourite of the locals.

We split a yummy caeser salad; Elaine had one of their signature pastas, and I had their Retro pizza. The best part about not being “on the clock” is you can relax and just take in your surroundings (a couple of drinks each helped too.)

For instance, as I was sitting on the patio, I noticed a statue of a beaver on top of the building across the street. I’ve probably walked past that building a gazillion times and never noticed that beaver before. We also watched a young couple next to us get googlyeyed and the guy at the end of the patio shovel his food in with his fork like it was a backhoe.

beaver statue

Two hours and two drinks later, we decided to wander down to Ahoy Rentals to go canayaking (a new term I made up after a couple of beers). We got sidetracked at Battery Park by the breakwater. I was telling Elaine how as a kid I would jump from rock to rock on the breakwater in Port Credit where I grew up, but how they put a fence up so people couldn’t go out on the rocks anymore.

In Kingston, there’s just a sign warning people to proceed at their own risk, so we proceeded. At the end near the lighthouse, we could see Elaine’s office. We texted her co-workers to look out the window to see us waving, but they were too busy working (hah!) We talked to a retired RMC professor who kayaked past us and waved to the boaters.

Woman at lighthouse

Since it was already four o’clock and we were thirsty again, we decided to pass on the kanayaking and headed up Princess Street to Barcadia, a bar with old arcade games. Elaine had brought some rolls of quarters, so we raced sports cars through the streets of Paris and Moscow, played baseball (I was the home run queen and beat her in the bottom of the eighth), Pacman and pinball.

It was too nice a day to stay inside, so we checked out some of the stores on Princess Street, then topped the afternoon off with a “It was just a dream” fro yo at Parfait.

While it was well after dark when I got home, in the old days, we probably would have gone into the wee hours of the night. Still, it was an awesome afternoon playing hookey, and on the plus side, we were both able to enjoy a beautiful weekend. This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an afternoon playing hookey–just don’t get caught!