exploring possibilities for an engaging and productive workplace

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.