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The like button for work

So far in this life I’ve worked in my dad’s hardware shop as well as a tile factory. I’ve worked on a farm, been an intern at a stockbroker, an auditor for an accountancy firm, a corporate financier, a removal man, a massage therapist, a manager of a therapy business, a yoga teacher, a writer and a speaker.


Over twenty five years I’ve had fun at work, been lost, sometimes sad, often supported, sometimes excited. My mood shifts relentlessly. I’m lucky that I often find happiness and meaning at work. I’m fascinated by work. We spend so much time in it. The time we have and the health we are blessed with are our only assets so why do we sometimes squander these things?

Many employers are smart. They realise that if their staff are healthy, happy and engaged at work they are more likely to work harder, take less time off, share information with their colleagues, are more productive and less likely to leave the firm. I’ve written about this before (Happiness and productivity at work) 

A good manager at work, like any good football team manager, knows performance is affected by confidence and the positive vibe in the team. This positive vibe is a fragile thing. It waxes and wanes. We try to assign reasons for a sudden loss of form but often it’s just down to chance or a myriad of unquantifiable factors. And so it is at work. Good vibes come and are shared, or can drift away. (How emotions spread at work)

Measuring the mood at work

images (2)In order to understand the vibe at work a lot of organisations have resorted to questionnaires. I’m fairly dismissive of the veracity of these surveys simply because they are often one dimensional and ask people how they think about their place of work rather than how they feel. Quite often these questions fail to address what the employee wants to be asked. Are they just the lazy option for poor management? (Can you measure engagement at work?)

When I reflect on the managers who motivated and energised me , they would take me for a coffee or a beer and ask me how I felt. They wouldn’t be afraid to say hard things to me. They supported and encouraged me. They cared for me and many are still my friends years after I left the organisation.

These managers did not use surveys to measure the mood of their staff. They talked to them.

I’ve just read an amazing blog by a workplace coach. He gave the example of a case study where the employee was required to put a smiley face or a grumpy face on a white board at the end of each day. I am almost speechless. Picture your place of work. Or any of the places you have worked, and then think about how a smiley/grumpy board would affect the place!

BUT… I’ve thought for a long time that if you could measure the mood of an organisation anonymously you could provide information that could be of great use to management. I used to work for KPMG, doing due diligence on companies about to be acquired. Alongside the historic and current financial performance of the company tracking the positive vibe of its employees could be useful too.

I appreciate it’s a generational thing… Many young people want to do anonymous surveys. They are also happy for their data to be mined by Google and Facebook (or rather they can’t imagine a world where beliefs and feelings were shared in confidence).  If they are happy with Google and Facebook doing this then why not their employers?

Perhaps software could measure positive and negative expressions in email exchanges between staff. I’m sure that piece of software is already being considered by organisations. Google claims to be seeing into the future already. With some degree of accuracy they can predict flu pandemics based on searches for tickly coughs and cold remedies  (Google predicts the future). Its almost inconceivable that large organisations are not already monitoring or planning to monitor the emotions of their staff. How do you feel about that?

Is there a conclusion?

I think that capturing data on how staff feel at work could provide a great deal of useful information. It could enable training resources to be channeled effectively and poor management to be improved, but it should never be seen as a lazy alternative to good management practices.

People see through smiley faces and contrived wellbeing programmes at work. They want to be appreciated by their employers; comforted and supported, as well as challenged and occasionally reprimanded. We are flesh and blood and there is still no better alternative to good management practices and relationship building. The relationship we have with an organisation is in many ways like a marriage or being part of a family and these complex relationships should not be replaced by algorithm management.

“All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected. But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships. A timeless interval was spent doing that. “
— Isaac Asimov





Can you love your job?

Can you fall in love with work?
“I come to work and work hard, not just for the money but because I like the people. I can see where the company is going, we all pull our weight.  I can see myself developing here.  I feel supported and valued”

Do you feel like this?

If not then this article is for you.  At the end I suggest ways to help you re-evaluate your relationship with work

Before answering this question I need to take a look at how we measure the relationship between employees and employers.

Lots of you reading this will have filled out employee engagement questionnaires at work.  Organisations use them to identify issues within the workplace and to help attract new recruits.  For example in the UK organisations strive to get Investors in People status or break into the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for.  In order to do this an organisation needs to show an evidence base to demonstrate that employment is not just a financial arrangement between the organisation and the employee, but is also about meaning and fun.

Consultancies such as Towers Perrin and Gallup have devised surveys to measure how engaged employees are. These surveys tap into the following:

  • Basic Needs – Are my basic needs met in the workplace? Do I have the right tools?
  • Teamwork – Do we work well as a team?
  • Growth – Do I have the opportunity for career and personal development in my organisation?
  • Valued – Do I feel valued as a human being?  Am I supported and receive a fair salary?
  • Vision and values – Am I clear on the vision and values of the organisation and how I fit in?
  • Likeability – Do I like my colleagues? Do I like the organisation?
Gallup has run its survey over 5 million times and their internal data (unverified by third parties) suggests a strong link between positive responses to questions similar to those listed above and the financial performance of the organisation.

What are the pitfalls of these surveys?

  • Often completed at work and are one-dimensional snap shots of what people think at a specific moment in time
  • Don’t ask participants to describe how their actions or feelings change over time
  • Boring and time consuming to complete
  • Generic and lacking in contextual or situational awareness
  • Fail to examine the blockages to engagement, which employees are really interested in
  • Do not have an evidence base or baseline measurement of engagement to compare findings against
The surveys are often filled in at work with your boss breathing down your neck. They use a snapshot approach to ask employees how they “think” about their organisation, rather than how they feel.  Tony Graham is the former HRD of Scottish & Newcastle. According to Graham, not only are most engagement models passive (asking, for example, what managers did for the employee six months ago), but they seek to capture what people ‘think’, which is meaningless if it does not correlate with what they ‘do’.

There is little evidence that engagement (as measured by these types of surveys) has a relationship with financial performance.  Peter Hutton (former Deputy MD at Mori) author of “What Are Your Staff Trying To Tell You” claims the correlation between the Gallup survey questions and business performance is “extremely small” – ranging from a low of 0.057 to a high of 0.191 (a 100% correlation would be 1). He adds:

“No statistician would put any credence on this. Although Gallup does not claim there is a direct engagement: performance correlation, I believe it implies it. But correlation does not mean causation.”

It’s often difficult to ask the right question. Carol Mote of HR management consultancy Verdant Futures previously had HR experience at Birds Eye Foods.  She says the reality of asking what you want is always more difficult than it sounds:

“At Birds Eye we never really got what we wanted, because we couldn’t ask the questions we wanted. Questions like ‘What would be the top three things you would like changed in the next quarter?’ would be diluted to something like ‘How could we improve productivity”

So what is employee engagement?
When you look up the definition of engagement you get marriage.

download (1)So it’s a bit like a marriage or at least you’re dating.  When you look at the survey questions noted above they seem quite consistent with the kind of questions you might ask about a relationship with a person ……or maybe you should be asking.
  • Are my basic needs met?
  • Do we work well as a team?
  • Do I have the opportunity to grow as a person?
  • Do I feel valued?  Am I supported?
  • Am I clear on your vision and values? How do I fit in?
  • Do you like me? Do I like you?
Everyone reading this article is now asking these questions about their loved ones.

But the big, obvious, difference between marriage and the relationship you have with your employer relates to motivation by love or money.  In reality there may be little difference between the two.

Love – Some lucky people love their place of work and career.  Most kind of like it but there are shades of grey from loving to liking to loathing.  Hopefully you love the person you are married to.

Money – some people get paid to do the job they love, some people get paid to do the job they loathe.  In some relationships there is an understanding that one person will provide financially.

So in the truth the relationship you have with your partner is similar in many respects to the relationship you have with a company.

In both a marriage and an arrangement with a company there are accommodations and understandings that you come to over time.  It’s complicated.  Initially you might be at a company for the money and career opportunities but over time you grow to love your colleagues, enjoy your routines and get pleasure from mentoring new people in the organisation.

Marriages can go through stages from passion to gentle understanding (or simmering hatred and divorce).  It’s often the same with the relationship you have with a company; from high energy excitement, a voyage into the unknown, through to gentle acceptance of your place… or alternatively; bitterness, rivalry, jealousy and separation. eggs

So answers to the employee engagement questions are strongly influenced by the length of your relationship.   Like a marriage the complexity of a relationship between an employee and a company is very hard to narrow down to just a few generic questions.

Keeping the fires burning
How long does that person or organisation keep your attention and energy levels high?  Perhaps as long as you get some meaning or fun, stimulation or opportunities for growth from it.

Being in love or engaged with your partner/organisation is often not a matter of the head but rather of the heart and the guts.

The questions business psychologists and HR departments are using to measure engagement may describe how we think, but not how we feel.  They miss the mind /body connection.  Although I am not aware of any research to date, I expect organisations that score very highly on each of the Gallup questions would have fitter and healthier people working for them.  Thinking positively about your work, colleagues and routines is likely to have a positive effect on the body.  The problem with current surveys is that they tend to encourage people to answer how they expect they ‘should’ think about something.  Questions and answers can be contrived and stilted. The questions might not be relevant to the needs of the organisation or the employee.

By asking questions about feelings, pain, energy levels and so on, we tap into a whole new area in the workplace.  One that acknowledges the whole human experience of wellbeing in the workplace.  We may be measuring engagement from the other side of the coin to existing studies, but interpretation of more contextually relevant information can throw up solutions which may be of great benefit to the individual and organisation.

So how can we measure feelings?  
One possible way is to use an online tool for measuring  emotional intelligence.  If you want to do this just click on the link below.   We are able to give feedback on your ability to recognise, use, understand and manage your emotions.  We also ask you to fill out an online strengths assessment.  This ranks (from high to low) your top 24 character strengths.  Finally we ask you to provide a description of one major blockage to your engagement at work.

Using this information we provide two 60 minute feedback session on Emotional Intelligence at work and develop actions to use your strengths to overcome the challenges you face.  Follow this link to view our workplace coaching package.

Developing Emotional Intelligence in the workplace pack

You will receive:

  • A summary report on your emotional intelligence scores
  • Your ranked list of top 24 strengths
  • Two 60 minute coaching sessions
  • Advice on developing your emotional intelligence using your top strengths in order to address your major workplace challenge 

For more information go to Breathe Australia



Last week one of my clients told me about a lovely short story which explores how compassion and kindness can transgress social and economic divides. The story ends abruptly with the word ABUNDANCE!  On the tube on the way home the details of the story had already faded but the word abundance still resonated strongly.

What makes people feel abundant?
Research from the fields of behavioural economics and positive psychology informs us that feeling good has little or no relationship to our earnings or how many material possessions we have.  Providing we live in a stable political environment, have access to education and basic healthcare, earning more does not lead to an equivalent incremental increase in how happy we say we are.

Positive Psychology research appears to support some Buddhist teachings – that happiness is a state of mind which can be developed through training rather than through the acquisition of additional material resources.  The pursuit and attainment of wealth may lead to the development of an internal state of happiness but the research suggests it is not the wealth itself that creates happiness, but the journey that is made to attain wealth (ie the friends you meet in your career, the places you visit and enjoy, the sense of self worth developed through the achievement of goals.

Life coaching gurus often recommend one of the most important priorities in life is to develop an internal mindset of abundance and wellbeing.  This feeling of abundance somehow attracts more abundance in the form of material wealth, friendships and opportunities.   This kind of moves us into the sphere of quantum physics and the law of attraction – somehow we manifest our physical reality through our intention.  No matter how many quantum physics books I read I’m not sure whether I will truly understand what Schrodinger and his cat were all about, but
I do know that in the social sciences the observer affects the observed and the outcome of the experiment.  I also know that when I observe a part of my body it changes.  For example if I imagine doing bicep curls my biceps grow more than if I was, for example, playing chess  (Shackell, Standing study, Bishop’s University)    A few months back my blogs were about how our perception of “reality” is influenced by mood, eg. happier people see a greater variety and ranges of colour.  But can it be that my thoughts create and influence all I see?

How does feeling abundant attract abundance?  Ignoring the quantum physics possibilities for a moment I thought of three evidence-based ways in which abundance (or the opposite) might spread.

The spread of emotions – maybe we smell them
Researchers at the University of Utrecht have uncovered a mechanism by which emotions may spread and this may impact our feelings of abundance.  It appears that different emotions have different chemical compositions which we can perceive in each other at a very subtle level and are transferable.  The smell of perspiration released by men while feeling afraid or repulsed was enough to trigger the same emotional reaction in women, an experiment showed.  When exposed to bottled sweat given off by men as they watched clips from the film “The Shining”, women began showing physical signs of being afraid such as a fearful facial expression, darting eye movements and heavier sniffing.  In contrast, the smell of perspiration from men who had been watching MTV’s Jackass – which features stomach-churning stunts – caused a disgusted facial expression and other signs of the emotion including a reduction in eye movement and sniffing.

These findings suggest certain emotions can be contagious and can be detected via chemical signals, even though the women were not aware of it at the time, researchers said.  This system might have evolved as an unconscious form of communication, where fear could be spread between people to warn them of imminent danger, and disgust could be shared to highlight the risks of toxic foods or chemicals.  Dr Gün Semin of Utrecht University, who led the study, says “these findings are important because they contradict the common assumption that human communication occurs exclusively through language and visual cues. Importantly, the women were not aware of these effects and there was no relationship between the effects observed and how pleasant or intense the women judged the stimuli to be.”

Further studies could help establish whether other emotions like happiness or anger, which are less directly related to survival, are equally contagious.

If we pick up the message “this person is giving off abundance vibes”, we may be more willing to trust that person.  We may expect they are more likely to give us something rather than try and attain something from us, and are more likely to welcome these people because they are unlikely to detract from our own abundance.

Spread of emotions through facial signals
In their 2003 study Ebling & Levenson suggest people have a simplistic subconscious system of attract versus repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces.

As far back as 1986, Mullen’s study of the influential effects of news broadcasters’ expressions on presidential elections, concluded that micro-facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. In 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside-in as an inside-out mechanism.

When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both a display cabinet for emotions and also act as a creator of authentic emotions.

Our abundance or lack of it can be on display for all to see.

Choosing the right goals 
When you feel abundant you are more likely to feel calm, centred and relaxed.  In this state you may be less likely to follow the crowd.  You have the confidence to choose the goals and activities which are meaningful to you.  Being motivated by fear and a sense of internal poverty may make us work hard but seeking abundance through external gratification often fails to satisfy the inner hollowness.

If you can smell an inner mental state on other people, and see it written on their faces and these states are able to transfer between people, its sort of understandable why on meditation retreats people are asked to avoid contact with each other.  We’re trained to develop a positive, abundant internal mental state which we can then, hopefully transmit to the world around us.

A great book aimed at creating an abundant mindset is Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom.  Its a wonderful fusion of neuroscience and Buddhist practices.  It explores how you go about training your mind to feel kind, compassionate and abundant.

Hope you found this useful
Cheers Andy