Psychologist Teresa Amabile, author, with Steven Kramer, of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, and the keynote speaker for this year’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, identifies the inner work life of employees as a key factor in organizational success.
She writes, “Individual performance is closely tied to inner work life.”
This is a problem for many organizations. There are systems, processes, incentives and consequences put into place to ensure that observable behavior is appropriate in the workplace, but it is more difficult to assess and far more difficult to control the inner work life of an employee. If the state of the inner work life of employees significantly influences their performance, it becomes important to pay attention to this dimension of the workplace experience. But how does an organization do this in an effective way?
Directing observable behavior can be very effective in standardizing processes and promoting productivity. Ideally, it is shaped by careful attention to the systems that contribute to organizational goals. When inner attitudes of employees align with these organizational efforts, there are dramatic improvements in performance that are mutually beneficial for the worker and for the company. One way to foster this alignment is by creating a mindful workplace.
The practice of mindfulness develops a particular way of paying attention. It fosters awareness of the present moment, improves focus and does this in a non-judgmental way. This type of awareness, in a mindful workplace, increases the connection with inner work life.
A mindful employee becomes more aware of his or her inner life as it fluctuates moment by moment. It interacts with ever-changing circumstances. This heightened awareness allows the worker to make the small adjustments that facilitate emotional stability, accurate perceptions and consistent motivation over the long-term. It is an important ability in a complex marketplace in which organizations constantly need to find ways to adapt to new demands and to grow and develop in order to stay viable for its customers.
This mindful workplace, however, requires an adjustment in the way an organization looks at itself. The inner work life of the employee is not as directly influenced by incentives and consequences as observable behavior. It cannot be dictated by a supervisor. However, when the organizational goals align with the inner experience of the worker, he or she will engage in a deeper and more consistent effort and will do his or her best work.
Mindful leadership styles must shift from establishing control to establishing a partnership with the employee (see the APA Monitor article, "Venus Rising"). That is one reason why most companies that are trying to develop a mindful workplace start by engaging the executive team first. When leaders are mindful, they are more able to attend to the inner work life of the employees and link that to the work of the organization in an effective way.
This mindful leadership is a more interactive relationship. Leaders must take time to understand the experience of employees and to more fully explain how the work they are doing has meaning for the benefit of the larger whole. Mindful employees must become more willing to give input to shape and direct the effectiveness of the work that is being done.
We have seen these kinds of shifts in the relationship between the organization and the workforce in the companies that have been recognized as psychologically healthy workplaces. We have seen the development of positive relationships between leaders and the workforce in these organizations. We have consistently seen workers actively contributing to make the company more effective and more successful.
Creating a mindful workplace may be a step toward creating a more psychologically healthy workplace, with the benefits recognized in those companies that have won local and national awards, yielding benefits for employee and organization alike.
In my next article, I will be looking at some of the specific effects of being mindful that promote a better organization.
For those of you who have read my blog posts on this site, you are probably well aware that I’m fairly passionate about the work I do. I think organizations and workers have a lot of potential to do great things. And it irritates me to no end to constantly read pessimistic, apocalyptic articles about that potential. Unfortunately, those types of articles are all over the place, and Slate is a recent purveyor of such writing.
In what can only be defined as an attempt to make dissatisfied workers everywhere feel content in their level of dissatisfaction, the author argues that “the ‘do what you love’ mantra…devalues work and hurts workers.” Using quotations from such accomplished experts on the subject as Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and David Rubenstein (all of whom have expertise but not on this subject), the article goes on to blame elite academics (I guess people like me) for creating this mantra and presupposes that such a mantra is solely one of privilege.
The author even goes on to say that people who make lower salaries cannot love what they do, citing “personal care aide” and “home care aide” as two of the fastest growing jobs, with average salaries under $21,000 per year for each. This implies that to be happy, one must be in a job that pays a lot of money.
While research has suggested people in the U.S. are happiest when they make $75,000 or more per year, it is not a perfect correlation (it never is), and quite a sizeable majority of those making below that threshold are in “jobs” rather than “careers” or “callings.”
- People work in a job when their primary motivation is to work to support their lives outside of work.
- People work in a career when their primary motivation is to work because it fulfills their achievement needs.
- People work in a calling when their primary motivation is to work because they feel their work contributes meaningfully to society.
In a study I conducted several years ago with police officers, results indicated that approximately 33 percent of officers in small police departments (regardless of the socioeconomic status of the community they served) fell within each category. So, it wasn’t about the money they made. It was about how they perceived themselves in relation to the work they performed.
We have long known that the more people enjoy what they do for a living, the more likely they are to be both satisfied with their work life and happy overall. Yet the author of the Slate article seems to believe that you should not consider looking for a new job or occupation if you do not love what you do because you are not supposed to love your work. In fact, if you love what you do and don’t make enough money, then you are being exploited – and you’re too stupid to realize it. The article even misquotes poll results, mistakenly arguing that 46 percent of the workforce is expected to check their work email on sick days, though the actual poll results simply indicate that 46 percent of workers report checking their email on sick days (not that they are expected to).
I’m not going to say there are never inequities in the workplace or that some organizations, occupations, and jobs need a major overhaul. I’m also not going to say that exploitation never occurs. But to argue that getting paid less to do what you love or enjoy – to do something you are passionate about – is some sort of lie or fabrication to exploit the masses is nothing but the generalization of the author’s own cynicism applied to the rest of the world.
I will, however, agree with the author on one point: Doing what you love does not somehow magically make your job easy or mean there is no work required. Just like anything in life worth having – a fulfilling relationship, satisfying career, or new home – you get out of it what you put into it. It takes work to make a successful marriage, and it takes work to transform your passion into something that allows you to live your life the way you choose.
I have been teaching an eight week mindfulness class since 1997 that is based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD and Zindel Segal, PhD. I do this most frequently in my office at my clinical practice, but I have also taught the class in business and other organizational settings.
An exercise that is used for teaching a beginning mindfulness group is to have participants eat a raisin. This is a single raisin and the process takes about 10 minutes. In the discussion that follows, those who are first learning mindfulness talk about this raisin experience as quite different than the way they usually eat raisins. Using all of the senses to engage with the experience, they notice shape, texture, smells, sounds (yes raisins actually make sounds) and tastes that enrich and enhance eating of the raisin. There is more going on in the eating than is usually noticed, because usually we are not fully present to the moment as it unfolds. That is the point of this exercise. It helps those who are curious about mindfulness to discover that there is much more that is happening in each moment than is commonly noticed.
This is true in the workplace as well as in the classroom setting. There are many moments during the day that have the capacity to be much richer than is recognized. The day-to-day tasks can be managed, measured and recorded. But the opportunities for a deeper connection with a customer, or a better process for the workflow, or a recognition of something that is well done might be discovered if the workplace is a mindful place. A colleague of mine, Al Bellg, PhD coined a phrase for this - mindful tasking. Rather than being distracted by trying to do more than one thing, as occurs in multi-tasking, mindful tasking involves bringing full attention to what we are doing right now. In a more mindful state, there are many opportunities to make choices that will influence how the day unfolds.
This is not a simple process. It is certainly not as simple as eating a single raisin in a guided exercise. Yet developing a mindful workplace holds great potential for making the workplace more psychologically healthy and effective. Developing a mindful workplace supports higher levels of employee engagement. The personal growth and development that comes from becoming more mindful can enhance professional development in the workforce. Continuous quality improvement is more reliably achieved when there is a commitment to be present in the moment and employees are able to see what is actually happening as the work is being done.
The first step in developing a mindful workplace is to become more aware of what is possible. Most employees spend much of the day on “automatic pilot.” The day-to-day responsibilities can become so familiar and routine that they can be done without conscious attention. This works, but it is not an ideal state of mind for you or your workforce to be in when you are trying to get work done. It leads to careless errors, accidents at work or even to conflict with customers who feel (sometimes rightfully) that they are being treated as an object rather than as a real human being.
Developing a mindful approach to work means that attention is being paid to what is happening in the moment (mindful tasking). The mind isn’t wandering off to something else that is irrelevant or counterproductive. It is awake and fully present to this moment.
This type of training of the mind does not occur simply by reading about mindfulness or even by understanding what it is about. It requires utilizing a systematic process that is practiced on a repeated basis. Neuroscience research shows that regularly practicing mindfulness results in a series of changes in the brain that, like exercise strengthens muscles, strengthens key brain areas so that they are able to function more effectively. One of the challenges of creating a mindful workplace is to make space for consistent and systematic practice, essential for developing this type of mind strength.
In the next article, I will discuss what we have discovered in research about how this works in sustainable ways and what is necessary to make it effective in the workplace.
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to rekindle the romance and fall in love all over again -- with your job. Having a positive work experience can make what you do everyday feel less like a chore.
Ask yourself, what drew you to your job in the first place? The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others? The ability to achieve certain career goals? A chance to work with amazing colleagues? Great pay and benefits that allow you to pursue your passions outside of work?
In celebration of Valentine's Day, we want to know what you love about your job. At the end of February, we will select and recognize our three favorite submissions. If your entry is selected, we'll send you a care package with some delicious treats to share with your co-workers. It's our way of helping you spread the love!
As part of our efforts to focus on the positive aspects of work, we've loved reading the submissions and learning why employees enjoy what they do, how much they're committed to the missions of their organizations and why they value their co-workers. Some are passionate about their profession (nursing, anyone?), others are enamored with their clients – especially our friends over at All Creatures Veterinary Hospital and others simply love waking up in the morning to go to work and make the world a better place.
Head on over to our "I Love My Job" Pinterest board to see highlights of the submissions we’ve received the past couple years. You’ll note a common theme – the value people place on meaningful work. Finding meaning in the work you do and feeling like you are contributing to something larger than yourself is an important part of a positive work experience. Do you find your work meaningful? Let us know by filling out our quick poll on the right-hand side of our homepage.
We want to keep exploring the joys of work and the impact loving what you do has on an organization’s success and reputation as an employer of choice. So this Valentine’s Day, take a moment to fall in love all over again and don’t be afraid to gush about the many ways you love your job by shouting it from the rooftops, or on our Facebook page. While you’re there, check out our special photo album of people (and pets, and “others”) sporting our “I Love My Job” stickers. “Like” your favorites, and comment on the ones that make you laugh. Even better, send us an email so we can mail you your own stickers and you can start spreading the love with photos of your own. So go ahead, click here to tell us why you love your job! And if you’d rather submit a video of all the reasons you love your job, email that, too!
I vividly remember when I purchased my first smartphone in June 2010. I thought I was fairly behind the times around then based on the rate in which friends and family were showing off their new iPhones. However, the Pew Research Center shows that it wasn’t until last year that the majority of cell phone users reported having a smartphone (and even then, it’s only estimated at 61 percent).
What I remember most about that summer is my newfound anxiety due to that little device. Without thinking, I agreed to receive "push notifications" on my email so that it would buzz or ding every time. That was a huge mistake. I found myself conditioned to constantly check the phone, regardless of what I was doing at the time (does Pavlovian response ring a bell?). I would even sometimes feel phantom vibrations on the rare occasion that there was a long time-span without new email and still check the phone.
This experience got me thinking about one of my favorite shows as a kid called Inspector Gadget. For those of you unfamiliar with early '80s cartoons, the main theme of this show was an agent to solves problems using his technology, often yelling "Go-go gadget
Fast forward a few decades, and you can see the parallels to modern life. We increasingly rely on our "gadgets" to solve problems for us, like helping us balance work and home demands through increased flexibility. However, we’re also finding that sometimes they make things worse by cutting into our recovery time at home and increasing distress.
Recent research finds that smartphones are interfering with our sleep—even more so than other technological devices—and leaving us too tired the next day to be fully engaged at work. This finding highlights that the biggest irony of our need to stay connected is that it often causes us to check out when we’re needed the most. During my "summer of the new smartphone," I could definitely see that I was becoming more unfocused and anxious during the day because of the notifications cutting into my sleep (and relaxation time before bed).
As a natural work-home separator, it didn’t take me long to realize that this was not going to end well if I didn’t set some ground rules on managing this new technology. I took off the notifications and set the phone so that I would have to manually go in and download new email. This put me back in control of my email access, instead of being a victim of it. I turned the phone to "airplane mode" after 9:00 p.m. so I wouldn’t receive calls or texts, but could still use the alarm for waking up. I also set three specific times to check and respond to email during the morning, afternoon and evening and stuck to them. My sanity was restored!
My research (partially inspired by this experience) has also found that creating clear boundaries about technology use at home can help employees take a psychological break from work and protect their sleep without instituting a zero tolerance policy on working from home. That is, the amount that employees check in only seems to matter if they don’t have some "gadget ground rules" on when they check and respond. Thus, you don’t need to go cold turkey on your gadget habit, just be more strategic on when and how you indulge. This allows you to really focus on enjoying your family, friends or leisure during "no gadget" time while also benefiting from the flexibility of working remotely.
It’s also important to note that you need to communicate your boundaries with others; otherwise, you will feel intense pressure to check in and respond immediately. Explicitly discussing your availability and response time expectations with others will go a long way toward alleviating disconnection guilt. With firm boundaries in place, you can go back to making your gadgets work for you, instead of the other way around.
Do you have any "gadget ground rules" at home? Please share!
What do the World Economic Forum, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and the cover of Time Magazine have in common? All of them are investigating mindfulness as a way to grow and develop new human capacity.
Mindfulness has been around for 3,000 years and has been practiced within many of the world’s great spiritual traditions. More recently, it has attracted the attention of world economic leaders and high performing athletes. There is a growing awareness of the connection between mindful practices and improved performance.
The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks started the season with regular meditation sessions for all of the players. They are not the first athletes to be introduced to this approach to enhancing their performance. One of the most successful coaches in NBA history, Phil Jackson, taught similar techniques to the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers World Championship teams that he led. The coaches of these teams believe that there is a connection between enhanced awareness, emotional control, and clear minds and excellence in athletic performance.
In the recent World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland, mindfulness was not only a topic of discussion but one of the topics that drew the largest number of participants. The participants included CEOs of some of the world’s most successful companies. The CEOs are looking for a way to deepen the ability of their companies to function in a complex business environment that is sustainable in the long run. Developing a more mindful business in a way that some are attempting to address these issues.
Perhaps this is just the latest fad in a never-ending quest to find the secret to success and it will take its place with encounter groups and other once popular trends.
But there is also a possibility that the development of deeper levels of awareness in a systematic format that has been shown to enhance brain function is something that business needs to notice, particularly if the goal is to have a workplace that can perform at high levels.
One goal of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program is to help employers learn about the critical components of a workplace that enhance employee well-being and the effectiveness of the organization. It has been demonstrated that these are not mutually exclusive goals but rather that, when business becomes more psychologically healthy, these goals enhance and support each other.
One way to begin the process of creating a more psychologically healthy and high-performing workplace may be to begin to systematically develop a more mindful workplace, from the leadership all the way through the entire organization.
Over the next few weeks, I will try to detail the process of becoming more mindful and enumerate the potential benefits that may await those who are willing to embark on this journey.
Photo Credit: Image by Norman Kuring, NASA GSFC, using data from the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP
Together, psychology and business can create healthy workplace cultures that support employee well-being and organizational performance.
Save the dates for our 2014 Work & Well-Being events:
- May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC
- September 11-12, 2014 in Chicago, IL
ExploreHigh-impact health promotion and wellness efforts … Workplace flexibility as a business strategy … Diversity and Inclusion at work … Communication practices that drive results … Lessons learned from award-winning companies … and more.
These events are designed especially for human resource professionals, benefits managers, health and wellness professionals, business consultants, occupational health professionals, health plan executives, corporate medical directors, business owners, managers and psychologists who work with organizations.
Details coming soon! We’ll post updates, including information about continuing education credit for psychologists and HR professionals, on our events page as it becomes available.
For questions about the 2014 Work & Well-Being events, including sponsorship and student volunteer opportunities, please email us or call (202) 336-5900.
Presented by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence
Dr. Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School professor and co-author of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, will deliver the keynote address at APA's 2014 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, which will be presented on Saturday, March 8th in Washington, DC.
Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, as well as a Director of Research. Her research investigates how life inside organizations can influence people and their performance.
Her current research program focuses on the psychology of everyday work life: how events in the work environment influence subjective experience and performance, including creativity, productivity and commitment to the work. She is the author of The Progress Principle, Creativity in Context and Growing Up Creative, as well as over 150 scholarly papers, chapters, case studies and presentations.
Amabile has presented her theories, research results and practical implications to various groups in business, government and education, including Google, Pixar, Intel, TEDx Atlanta, Procter & Gamble, Novartis International AG and Genentech. She holds a PhD in psychology from Stanford University.
In a previous blog post, I argued rather vehemently that perhaps the state of employee engagement isn't really in some desolate netherworld, the way some would have us all believe.
In fact, a recent Modern Survey poll reports that engagement is actually going up. Although only 13 percent are defined by Modern Survey to be fully engaged (high effort/high loyalty), another 26 percent are moderately engaged (moderate effort/moderate loyalty), another 34 percent are under-engaged (adequate effort/little loyalty) and 27 percent are disengaged (little effort/little loyalty). This means that 73 percent of workers are actually putting in at least adequate levels of effort when it comes to their work, with 39 percent putting in at least moderate levels of effort AND demonstrating at least moderate levels of loyalty.
I’m not saying companies couldn’t do better, but I don’t think those results are all that bad – and they paint a very different picture than the one presented by Gallup, which typically focuses on a worldwide engagement rate of 13 percent (the average of which includes numerous underdeveloped countries) and assumes that unless workers are highly engaged, they are either “checked out” or “actively disengaged.”
I’m not overly fond of either approach to engagement, but at least the majority of indicators in the Modern Survey poll have a strong conceptual connection to the definition of engagement used in scholarly research. Gallup’s Q12, on the other hand, has only minimal conceptual relationships with scholarly engagement constructs, and the majority of its items treat employees as the passive recipients of engagement rather than as active participants (this point has been echoed by others). Add to that the fact that Gallup argues its measure considers the four stages of engagement, something that I’ve never seen validated in any scholarly way.
You’re probably asking why I always seem so intent on criticizing Gallup, and that’s a fair question. It seems each week when I read about engagement on the web, almost all of it focuses on the dismal levels of engagement reported in Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report and then concludes by recommending specific actions employers should take for improving engagement (which typically include using Gallup’s tools and resources).
This suggests that Gallup has some sort of silver bullet that can lead to improved engagement, which will magically improve a host of effectiveness outcomes for the organization. And, of course, it assumes that there are 12 universal drivers of employee engagement.
Here’s a novel idea: Why not ask your own workers what motivates them to do their very best for your organization? What helps them to stay focused on their work, to want to get up and come to work each day and to stay with the organization? I’ll bet the answers you receive show an enormous amount of variability. You should be using those answers to drive your own assessment of engagement within your workplace.
Anyone who knows me professionally is aware that I am a strong advocate for creating companies that deliberately address the issue of the work-life interface. I am a huge proponent of interventions like work flexibility because they create a win-win scenario for organizations and employees. I can often be convinced that various work-life practices can produce benefits for the organization and the employee that are truly sustainable and make an impact.
That being said, there is no way I can be convinced that Bring Your Parents to Work Day is anything but silly (and probably a few other descriptors that force the APA editors to redacted this redacted and ensure that I am redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted and never allowed to redacted redacted redacted redacted ever again). And quite frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything Alison Green argues about this issue. I was disturbed that LinkedIn would think that was a good idea, but I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that Google was doing the same thing (maybe Google is not as close to ruling the world as I thought).
I already knew parents were overinvolved with their children at younger ages, but Bring Your Parents to Work Day is even a bigger problem. I don’t mind when someone’s parents drop by the office and get a brief tour from their child before they head off to lunch together. But the idea that somehow, parents and their adult children cannot discuss what they do in their professional lives without formalized tours and other goofy, time-wasting programs is a bit ridiculous. Alison Green may be right when she says this is just another element of the coddling that has occurred in the lives people who are starting to enter the workforce.
To which, all I can say is…Stop already! Enough with the goofy gimmicks. Stop wasting time coming up with the next silly idea, like Bring Your Parents to Work Day, that is not going to have a significant impact on the work culture. Quite frankly, it takes the focus away from where it should be – creating workplace cultures and processes that actually improve the way work is done. I suppose the powers that be at Google and LinkedIn can rest assured that if they decide to terminate an employee, the efforts to get workers’ parents more involved will also lead to parents challenging those terminations and intervening on their children’s behalf. And, that will just encourage this phenomenon to spread.
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/a_stepanov