exploring possibilities for an engaging and productive workplace

Food and Drink at Work

Friday, December 17, 2010

Typically I've kept an electric kettle at work, which I can use to quickly boil water for tea. I like to share the kettle with office-mates and guests. The tea seems to facilitate office chit-chat, smiles, and laughter. All great sources of office creativity and productivity.

BBC's Tom de Castella wrote about tea and productivity at work in his recent article, Is a Tea Break at Work Good for Productivity? He starts off saying the average British employee spends 24 minutes a day getting tea and coffee. Extrapolate this out to the whole British population and you have a serious loss in man hours worked. The article goes on to quote several researchers and academics who argue the benefits of breaks, caffeine, and more despite the lost work time.

Brits aren't the only ones eager to converse, take breaks, and enjoy a warm drink at work. Yesterday's Marketplace (NPR) featured a story, The Value of Being Happy at Work. Kye Ryssdal talks with Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal of Sony Pictures. He introduces them by saying he "...was intrigued by a successful company that has put 5,000 employees through a program that sounded a little touchy-feely."

The interview reveals that Pascal and Lynton have developed programs aimed at building community. One example, Sony used to have an executive dining hall and less appealing dining options for regular staff. They put a stop to this, built a commissary and started subsidizing healthy meals for everyone. 

They go on to talk more about what makes Sony employees happy at work. They even discuss paid TV breaks as a form of engagement. When it comes to results, Pascal says, "... we've seen are the different divisions of the company working together in a way that they never had before, us being able to get, wring more money out of all the things we do. Because people are working together, everybody works hard to do the same thing."

I wonder if Sony provides easy access to tea and coffee too?

As part of my MBA program at Bainbridge Graduate Institute I've began working with a team of classmates on a business idea. My team is focused on sharing, so sharing has been top of mind lately. Yesterday I was talking with one of these teammates, Darren Guyaz, about a commonly held assumption, the idea that you cannot get paid to do what you love.

Something I've heard before, is that work is just work while weekends and evenings are reserved for the things you love. What I don't understand is why you can't do what you love at work and on the weekends? My belief is that our greatest gifts stem from what we love and hold most closely. What if sharing those gifts is our life's work?

The more I read and write about work, I see that work can change our lives and the world. As I research sharing, I see the same possibility.


This video was a collaborative effort by Bainbridge Graduate Institute students with music by Darren Guyaz, drawings by Paul Taylor Hess, and voice-overs by Nina Carduner, Suzanne Pinckney, Darren Guyaz and myself.

The Boss

Saturday, December 4, 2010

This morning one of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin, wrote a post titled: The World's Worst Boss. Followed by the first line, "That would be you."

As long as I can remember, I've heard people complain about their bosses. Family, friends, me- everyone's doing it. What if we re-frame the concept of boss, would we still complain so much?

Seth Godin is asking us to take responsibility for ourselves. We choose our perspectives, we set our schedules, we're in control of our own destiny. He has a point. This is simple.

We've all heard the phrase, "I'm my own worst critic." He calls us out on that too. Would you work for anyone that talked to you the way you talk to yourself? Whoa! I wouldn't work for me. Listening to my own self talk, I can be a real jerk. What if I held myself to the same standards I have for 'the perfect boss'?


Interuptions at Work

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thank you Christopher Allen of Life with Alacrity for connecting me to Imran Ali's  blogpost. The post discusses Jason Fried's TEDxMidwest talk, Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work. 

This is the first time I've watched a TED talk and thought to myself, oh-no!, this is all wrong. I'd love to hear what you think, here's Jason Fried:


In short, Jason Fried says people don't go to work to get things done. In fact, work is one of the worst places to get things done. Mostly because work is full of unnecessary distractions and interruptions like chit-chat, conversation, and meetings. He describes meetings as toxic, and explains that if there were no managers, employees would never have meetings. Jason compares a disruptive workplace to a disruptive night's sleep. He argues that work, especially creative work, requires long stretches of uninterrupted time. He concludes with three recomendations:

  1. No-talk Thursdays. A period of “quiet time” prohibiting coworkers from talking to each other thus limiting distraction.
  2. Replacing active communication, like conversation, with passive forms such as email, IM and collaboration tools.
  3. Cancel your meetings. Things will still get done!
While Jason's words make sense, I noticed myself disagreeing with most everything he says, especially the recommendations. For those who know me, you know this is unusual, I'm generally agreeable.

What's missing from his talk is balance.  As we're taught at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Yes, and... 

While distractions are distracting, they can be incredibly valuable too. I can think of several times when a distraction has resulted in an epiphany, jump starting my work. 

As I discussed in Take Lunch and Talk About Nothing it's important to converse and chit-chat with co-workers. While distracting, workplace conversation facilitates relationships and enhances teamwork. While meetings might be over kill at times, I believe they can be fun and productive. To me, meetings represent time and space for collaboration, which is key to success in the workplace.

What's interesting is every time Jason said, you (fill in the blank)... I found myself saying, no I don't. Maybe I'm the anomaly? When I think of work that requires long periods of uninterrupted time, I think of the work I enjoy least, the stuff that's easy to put off like responding to emails and voicemails in a timely manner. For me, my inbox and desire to respond quickly is more a distraction than any face to face interactions. I am most creative and tend to get the most done when others are around. Having people to share ideas with, challenge my thinking, and give other forms of input is a necessity. This sharing works both ways, listening to my colleagues, I learn what they're up to and often find opportunities for collaboration or support. 

What are your thoughts on distractions and interruptions at work? What enables you to do your best work?

Understanding Productivity

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the short time I've been writing this blog, I've found it difficult to discuss topics from the perspective of employees and employers. On the employer side, it's difficult to find data or information that helps make a business case for things like happiness at work or work-life balance. How do these things lead to increased productivity?

In hopes of better understanding, I've decided to explore the idea of productivity. What does it mean, how is it measured, and who's keeping track?

Productivity Defined

Looking at Wikipedia and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics you'll see that productivity measures outputs of production in terms of per unit inputs. What I'm interested in is called "Labor Productivity." The definition makes sense when I imagine a factory. If I hire one employee I can expect to produce x units of product based on that worker's productivity. 

I have a difficult time translating this definition to an office environment. Many desired skills seem difficult or impossible to measure in terms of productivity. Skills and traits like: creativity, project management, innovation, teamwork, communication, quality, customer service, etc.


Measuring Productivity

I had hoped to better understand labor productivity in the office by learning how productivity is measured. These are some common measures I've found: 


  • Multi-Factor Productivity (MFP) measures the combined efforts of labor and capital based on either a value-added or gross-output. (OECD measurement manual)

  • Comparing outputs and inputs using measures such as GDP for output and labor hours for input
What fascinates me is how little information is available on how an individual firm measures productivity. Most productivity indicators are on a macro-economic scale. Additionally, the information on this topic isn't very accessible as it's buried in academic papers and journals. 

Who's Keeping Track

Where can budding entrepreneurs and managers find information that would help them measure productivity? Where can employees find information to measure their contribution? In some cases it seems like productivity might be confused with Return on Investment (ROI) where a business, department, or program will measure how long it takes for something to pay for itself through avoiding costs or generating revenues.

It appears that measuring productivity is the work of economists and large organizations like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet I hear the words productivity and productive on a daily basis; these are everyday words.


Work Life Balance (part 3 of 3)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In my last two postings, I discussed what work life balance means and why it sometimes sparks controversy. So far I've only covered the perspective of employee, now it's time to look at work life balance from the perspective of an employer.  How can work life balance contribute to productivity?

Researching this topic, I've seen comments about increased retention and decreased turnover, but it's been difficult to locate actual data, especially data generated by or confirmed by employers. So I thought I'd look at the career pages for some of Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work, to see what employers are advertising. Looking at these videos, most of them do not use the words "Work-Life Balance," but it seems to be a component of their employee programs. 

  • Adobe emphasizes "Work Hard, Play Hard".
  • Dreamwork's Animation talks about how much fun it is to work there.
  • Google promotes the value of employee input and the many perks like food, massage, etc.
But, what can the average company do? I think the companies above are perceived as having more money than most, thus enabling them to have extravagant programs. I haven't seen anything promoting work life balance in shift work or lower income jobs.

Obama's Council of Economic Adviser's wrote the report in March 2010: Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Flexibility. Here are some key findings that I found interesting:

  • Less skilled workers have less workplace flexibility.
  • 1/3 of firms site costs as a barrier to implementing workplace flexibility agreements
  • There is no common cost/benefit for these programs, they vary greatly by industry and size of workforce.
  • Wider adoption of policies and practices may have benefits to firms and the US economy as a whole.
  • There's a lack of data, which makes it difficult for employers to understand costs and benefits.
Businessweek's, The Increasing Call for Work-Life Balance says, "Employees who feel they have a better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than those that don't."

Combining this information, what are low cost programs that encourage work life balance? How can employers get the rewards without breaking the bank? If you have ideas or examples, please post in the comments.


PS. While researching this post, I found this video to share. This isn't about productivity, but I appreciate Nigel Marshe's message: Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle.




Work Life Balance (part 2 of 3)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Work Life Balance- Fact or Fiction?

In Part 1 of this post, I defined Work Life Balance and shared my struggle in balancing work with everything else in my life. 

Part 2 will explore the controversy around Work Life Balance. Research reveals claims that Work Life Balance represents a myth, illusion, or even delusion. 

Later this week I will post Part 3, what does Work Life Balance have to do with productivity? How do employers benefit?


This video recaps what Work Life Balance is all about and promotes the idea, but did you notice the first line? There is no such thing as Work Life Balance... Even those promoting the idea take issue with the term. It seems the myth is all about semantics. Since this isn't a perspective I share, I thought it would be best to show you what others have to say.

Andrew May's post on RechargeLounge explains:  
The term ‘work life balance’ is a myth. And I actually believe that the term ‘work life balance’ itself sets many people up for failure because they either feel like their lives aren’t balanced or don’t have an understanding what balance is for them. And remember the set of scales that was so often used to depict work life balance, with work balancing on one side and life balancing tenuously on the other. Using these scales to depict work life balance again sets people up for failure because they illustrate that if work is going really well, then life tips over, and if your life is going swimmingly then work must suffer as a result.

From the Womens Media BlogMadeleine Holman writes:  
Let’s stop the balancing charade. It is an unworthy goal and unachievable to boot. We don’t want or need balance. What we need is a sense of autonomy and control over what we have promised to others and ourselves. What we need are some tools that will help us to decrease our fear that we aren’t doing the essential things we need to do to in the various areas of our lives.

Keith Hammonds wrote in Fast Company's article Balance is Bunk!:  
The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream, a vain artifice that offers mostly rhetorical solutions to problems of logistics and economics. The quest for balance between work and life, as we've come to think of it, isn't just a losing proposition; it's a hurtful, destructive one.

In Mindfulness Matters, Arnie Kozack writes:
The term work-life implies a duality. Work is set against the rest of life. These are now in competition for our precious time and energy. If one wins, the other loses. However, life is a unity. Any separations we make are constructions, arbitrary boundaries drawn on the seamless fabric of life. 


Work Life Balance-- Fact or Fiction, what do you think? 

Work Life Balance (part 1 of 3)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

So, what is Work Life Balance? It's a phrase I've heard over and over again, one that often stirs up controversy, but I'll get to that in another post.  I define it as finding balance between work life and the rest of my life. Personal Sustainability is something else I hear regularly, and it's similar. I describe it as finding a balance that enables you to continue doing whatever it is you do (work, family, volunteering, etc.). Oddly, I'm not seeing a wikipedia entry for Personal Sustainability, so please comment with alternative definitions.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has a Work Life Balance Quiz you can take to see how balanced you are. I scored a 10, which is the top end of the scale for Barely Balanced. Interestingly, I fully expected to be labeled as On the Right Track! otherwise known as totally balanced. For context I'm currently working part-time, in graduate school, and married. Before starting grad school, I was married, working full-time, and often spent 60+hrs at the office-- doing a job that I loved supporting a mission I believed in. Maybe I'm not completely balanced, but I've certainly improved. By exposing some of my biases, I hope you can read this in context and shine a new perspective on your own Work Life Balance.

A couple of weeks ago, Nina from Secretariaint posted a great question, I'm curious to know if you have any thoughts on those who take too much joy in their work and become imbalanced in their personal lives?

My friend, who's a new mom, emailed me with a similar response, I’ve been enjoying your blog, especially as I re-evaluate my relationship with work. How do I chose between a baby I adore and a mission I believe in? (If this question resonates with you, check out the Work.Life.Balance blog)

First, these are questions that we all have to answer for ourselves and the answers will be different for everyone. These questions also hit home as they speak to a situation I've experienced myself, see above comment about working 60+hr work weeks and loving my job.

I was able to cut my hours down to a standard 40 by realizing that I do my best work when I take breaks, eat lunch, and go home. If I could do these things, I would show up at work feeling refreshed, so my time spent working was much more productive. This also helped me approach work related stress from a centered and rested place, ultimately contributing to a more positive attitude and healthy relationships with co-workers-- even during crunch times.

In hindsight, this all sounds easy, but it wasn't. At work, I was changing the world and I loved it! Everyday I was working to improve people's lives, reduce stress, promote wellness, lower emissions, reduce carbon footprints, and much more. Cutting down from 60 to 40 hours a week was a pain staking process filled with fear and doubt. Here's a snapshot of what was going through my head at the time: What if I let my co-workers down? If I don't do it who will? If it doesn't get done today, when will it? I can't say no, what if they fired me? What if I don't spend enough time with my husband? How the hell am I going to do all of this when school starts?  YIKES...

Ultimately I had a lot of help in changing my outlook on work. I met with a coach who helped me understand Work Life Balance and draw boundaries. She challenged my thinking by asking tough questions about my values, my actions, and where these things were poorly aligned. I sought out co-workers who took pride in their work, did a great job AND took their lunch breaks before going home on time. I read books on stress and found out that I was a really stressed out individual, which isn't the life I wanted for myself. So I'll be the first person to admit that Work Life Balance doesn't come easily to everyone.

What are your thoughts on Work Life Balance and Personal Sustainability? Share your stories, ideas, and questions in the comments.

This is part 1 of a series on this topic, so stay tuned for more...

Just an FYI, Refreshing Work has a new domain name, www.refreshingwork.com. The old URL, www.refreshingwork.blogspot.com will automatically forward to the new one. 

Enjoy! and thanks for reading

Take Lunch and Talk About Nothing

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thank you to Nina at Secretariaint for the inspiration behind this post.

Andrew Kjerulf has dubbed himself the "Chief Happiness Officer" and writes about happiness at work in  his books and his blog. He starts each week with a Monday Morning Tip and this week's tip is simple: invite a co-worker to lunch. He recommends going with someone you don't know very well and NOT talking about work. 

This goes hand in hand with a recent New York Times article investigating, "Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier." The article suggests people with sisters are happier and explains the reason is they talk more. They don't talk about feelings, emotions, or anything in particular. They're simply happier because they talk more. This is all about quantity not quality.

In my post Joy at Work, I explained a little bit about happiness at work. It turns out that a happy workplace is a productive workplace and we just learned that talking paves a path toward happiness.  

Talking ---> Happiness ---> Productivity

Wow! Happiness and a productive workplace may seem more complicated than lunch or a conversation, but these are great places to start. So take your breaks, eat your lunch, and strike up a conversation while you're at it.


Me and my sister, having lunch and talking about nothing

What is Work?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I haven't mentioned that the impetus for this blog is my "Using the Social Web for Social Change" class at Bainbridge Graduate Institute. This week we were tasked with creating a social change video for our blogs. Since I'm writing about work, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to explore the meaning of work.


The video uses words that I gathered from a quick informal survey. Last Friday I sent a message to all of my contacts who were online using either Skype or g-chat.

Could you do me a quick favor: in a brainstorm type of dump, what words come to mind when you think about "work"? Please list as many single words as possible.

Thirty people responded (thank you!). You might think that I received thirty lists with many of the same words. This would make sense since work is such a commonly used word, but that's not what happened. The replies contained 292 unique words, meaning 292 words that were only mentioned by one person.

With such diverse perspectives on work, there's a lot to explore, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's out there and hearing your thoughts-- so please comment.

Joy at Work

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is their room for joy at work? 
I answer this question with a resounding "YES," but I've heard others respond with an equally passionate "NO".  I could write this off as another side effect of my own optimism, but I think there's more to it than that. Lets start with the idea that finding joy at work requires both employer and employee. 

This week, Seth Godin wrote in his blog, "Traditional corporations, particularly large-scale service and manufacturing businesses, are organized for efficiency. Or consistency. But not joy."

I agree, a company can organize for joy. Executives have tools like organizational structure, strategy, and policy, which can all impact the overall happiness within a company. Supposing executives make rational choices, it's reasonable to ask for data, why would management choose tools that foster a joyful workplace (aside from obvious reasons)?  

Researchers investigating Happiness Economics find that happiness leads to higher productivity, and we all know that increased productivity is good for the bottom line. Now is the time for leaders within these "traditional corporations," to try something new-- try organizing for joy. 

Seth Godin goes on to explain how leadership might go about this, "... give people the freedom (and yes, the expectation) that they will create, connect and surprise. These are  organizations that embrace someone who makes a difference, as opposed to searching for a clause in the employee handbook that was violated."

Yet, finding joy at work is not exclusively up to the employer. Yes, employees have a role to play too. Everyone carries their own beliefs and opinions that shape their unique perspective. Your work could be doing everything "right." Ultimately you hold the key to your own happiness.

If you're not finding joy at work, I challenge you to reflect. What does a joyful workplace look like? What are your assumptions about happiness at work? What can you do to take responsibility for your own joy?

Commit to trying something new. Something that helps you find your own joy. It can be big or small, it's up to you. If you're comfortable, post your idea in the comments. It's rumored that writing down your goals and sharing them with others, helps you to achieve those goals-- a small price to pay for happiness.

Who Cares?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In getting this blog started, I've been doing some research. Who cares about this and what do they have to say?

Doing this research has proved more difficult than I thought. Surely, I'm not the only one interested in connecting the dots between work, people, engagement, happiness, health, productivity, etc.? Maybe next week I'll find the keyword sweet spot and Google will unveil volumes of information. Until then, here are some of the resources I've found:


Here are some of the many companies who've already connected the dots:

I chose these companies because they're on Fortune's list and I know at least one person who works there and loves their job. Do you work somewhere great? Comment, and share your stories.

Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

Friday, October 22, 2010

Around 5:30PM, five days a week, year after year, my Dad and I had this conversation:

Me: (enthusiastic) "Hi Dad!"
Dad: (flat) "hi"
Me: (eager) "How was your day?"
Dad: (sarcasm) "What do you think?..."
Dad: (irritated) "I had to go to work"
Me: (deflated) "oh"

Playing this dialogue on repeat for several years has shaped my attitudes about work. Around age twelve, I made a promise to myself, a promise to never come home from work feeling how I imagined my dad felt.

Today I was reminded of my promise as I watched this video



This video re-affirms what my blog is all about. It's about my promise. I believe there doesn't need to be a choice between playing around or getting paid. We can have our cake and eat it too! or as they say at school (BGI), "yes, and.."

Work can be a fun, rewarding, and positive experience where work gets done and done well. This can be achieved without compromising the health of the workplace or the worker. There is a win-win for employees and employers. From what I hear, places like Google, Adobe, and several others have got this figured out.

So, what's the secret sauce? I'm interested in the impacts of management, paid time off, engagement, culture, benefits, etc. How do these policies and practices impact productivity?

The Business of Bottled Water

Friday, October 15, 2010




In support of Blog Action Day this inaugural post will explore bottled water at work.

As an American I enjoy access to safe drinking water at home, at work, and most everywhere I go. On a global scale we are privileged. Many do not enjoy this basic human right. Despite this privilege, we spend billions on bottled water, which is often just re-packaged tap water. These bottles fill our landfills, litter our communities, and leach chemicals into our bodies while being sold to us at a huge mark-up. Some institutions and corporations are standing up to bottled water; contributing to social and environmental change that employees can be proud of.

San Francisco's mayor declared a ban on purchases of bottled water for employees, then Seattle's mayor did the same. Now several cities across the US have initiatives to promote tap water. Universities like UC Berkley and Seattle University have banned bottled water on campus. Large employers in the Oakland-Berkley areas, like CH2MHill and Clorox, have began encouraging use of tap water and have stopped providing bottled water for company meetings and events. Cities, universities, and company's are all employers who have employees effected by these decisions. What's your company's stance on bottled water?

Admittedly, I don't like being told what to do and I can see how a ban on purchasing bottled water could be annoying. Yet, there's something redeeming about this idea. Tap water is healthier for me, my co-workers, my community, the global community, and the environment. It also happens to be significantly less expensive than bottled water. I like when my company is smart about their finances. I like when my company takes a stance that encourages me to do something not for myself or for the company, but for something larger. More selfishly, cutting the cost of bottled water makes sense and doesn't inconvenience me.

As someone who's long avoided bottled water, its sometimes hard to remember why the stuff is so popular. I think it comes down to convenience, ease, and the fact that it's everywhere. With bottled water at work, you don't have to find a cup or clean the dirty one from your desk. Yet it doesn't take much effort to switch, especially if your friends are doing it too.

Generally people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I've had co-workers start their own initiatives like the "mug club" to encourage re-usable dishes at work. I love how these type of ideas bring us together with the happy side-effect of a more sustainable workplace. I'm also pretty sure these bottom-up initiatives inspire employee engagement, increase productivity, and improve retention rates. But these are topics for another day...

For more information on the impacts of bottled water, check out the documentary Tapped or the Story of Bottled Water.