Searching for Realistic Role Models

December 10, 2018 in Top 10 2018

Searching for better role modelsWe’re often advised not to compare our lives to what we see from our friends on Facebook and Instagram. The theory goes: People tend to expose on social media only the best, happiest facets of their lives, and comparing our own ordinary existence to the world-traveling, fancy-food-eating filtered glimpses we get of Continue reading »

New Attention on Mental Health at Work

December 8, 2018 in Top 10 2018, Uncategorized

mental healthThis is the 5th in my Top 10 Wellness Stories of 2018.

Not long ago, I attended a panel discussion in which an audience member asked the panelists what their organizations were doing to address mental health. No one had anything to say other than, “We offer an EAP.” A wave of ick swept over the room as the tragedy of this truth dawned upon us — the panelists and the audience.

Now, we hear increasingly about workplace mental health. I’ve shared many workplace mental health and psychological wellbeing resources here on the Jozito website.

These readily make clear that countries like Canada, European Union members, and Australia are far ahead of the US in their action planning, and I’ve previously written about Japan’s aggressive approach.

Will the US learn from other countries and develop an evidence-based agenda to address mental health in the workplace (and beyond)?

I’m optimistic and predict that evidence-based solutions prevail.

Yearning for Civility, “A Matter of Good Health”

December 4, 2018 in Top 10 2018, Featured

Number three -- for the third of top 10 wellness stories of 20183rd of the Top 10 Wellness Stories from 2018

Worldwide, a yearning for civility blossomed in 2018, and workplaces were no exception.

In addition to Christine Porath’s presentation at SHRM, civility surfaced on the agenda of major wellness conferences, and a prominent midwest health care system launched, with some fanfare, an introductory “Choose Civility” e-course.

Some of the best research on workplace civility intervention comes from Michael Leiter and others, who studied the Civility, Respect, and Engagement in the Workforce (CREW) program that was successfully implemented at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, where, among other things, it was linked to improved patient care.

And check out Prof.Leiter’s study of CREW’s impact — in a non-VA health care setting — on interpersonal relations, burnout, commitment, teamwork, trust, absenteeism, and job satisfaction.

Pier Massimo Forni, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, wrote:

Civility means more than just being nice. It encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.

As a testament to the persuasiveness of Dr. Forni’s book, behold Howard County, Maryland, where readers were moved to launch a comprehensive Choose Civility initiative, with partnership among nearly 50 government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and education systems united to encourage civility at home, at school, and at work. The program’s website is a trove of information and resources, including Choose Civility’s Strategic Plan, which may serve as a model for an employer getting started with its own civility initiative. (If you don’t live in Howard County, please get appropriate permission before using their content.)

Illinois Gets Its Fill of Noise as Wellness Study Sparks a Squabble

December 4, 2018 in Top 10 2018, Uncategorized

Two -- for the 2nd of 10 top wellness stories of 20182nd of My Top 10 Wellness Stories from 2018

I’ve written ad nauseam about the University of Illinois Workplace Wellness Study, so allow me to just explain why I’m optimistic about where it’s heading.

This evaluation of an employer’s fledgling wellness program gave wellness critics a rationale to declare employee wellness a failure. The evaluation data, which showed almost no positive outcomes during the program’s startup, is only preliminary and doesn’t say what critics say it says.

Distinguished defenders of wellness recently insisted that the lead of the story was buried, and the really important finding was that the program improved morale, employee engagement, and job satisfaction. This was, at best, either a gross misinterpretation or a dereliction of responsibility to actually examine the study.

In fact, the study didn’t measure morale or engagement. If anything, the happiness, energy, and job satisfaction metrics suggested that morale and engagement were unchanged.

Negative Outcomes Will Be Positive

I’m optimistic about what will happen when the data from this multiyear study finally emerges. I predict that, despite the laudable efforts of the program staff, the University of Illinois wellness study will show that this type of approach — emphasizing health risk appraisal, biometric health screenings, and incentives — won’t produce the desired outcomes. These types of programs rarely do. And this will be good news, because it may finally break the spell that’s been cast by purveyors of such programs, and we can all get busy with the real work of identifying and implementing serious well-being strategies.

Mindless Cheating

December 4, 2018 in Top 10 2018, Uncategorized

academic dishonesty1st of My Top 10 Wellness Stories from 2018

Brian Wansink, author of bestsellers like Mindless Eating and Slim by Design, recently had 13 of his research articles retracted and was nudged right out of his job as director of Cornell Food and Brand Lab, earning a spot on my list of 2018’s biggest wellness stories.

Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Wansink, you’ve probably been affected by his research. His studies, cited more than 20,000 times, are about how our environment shapes how we think about food, and what we end up consuming. He’s one of the reasons Big Food companies started offering smaller snack packaging, in 100 calorie portions. — Vox

Wansink led many headline-grabbing studies of eating behavior, showing, for example, that people eat less when food is served on smaller plates and that pre-ordering lunch leads to healthier choices. His work unleashed many employers’ nutritional wellness strategies, especially “making the healthy choice the easy choice.”

The media ate up Google’s implementations of Wansink’s “tricks” at their employee eateries, and wellness managers, like the rest of America, were sold, stocking the healthier vending machine options at eye level, featuring more nutritious foods near cafeteria entrances, serving on smaller plates, shutting down buffets, and changing the name of the daily special from “Tilapia” to “Succulent Italian Seafood Filet.” (Ask me why the “succulent, descriptive menu-item names trick” backfired when I tried it in an employee cafeteria).

According to the Cornell provost, Wansink’s academic misconduct included “the misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.” — Vox

(Also see: Here’s How Cornell Scientist Brian Wansink Turned Shoddy Data Into Viral Studies About How We Eat — BuzzFeed news investigative report.)

Dr. Wansink’s fall from grace is first on my list because it sounds a clarion call to our industry and to business leaders: Be wary of gimmicky research and employee wellness fads. It’s a lesson, as you’ll see in the other stories on my 2018 Top 10 list, that bears repeating.

Job Motivating Potential

December 2, 2018 in Featured

If a job has high Motivating Potential, the jobholders are more likely to feel  their work is meaningful, to exhibit high levels of motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. If a job has low Motivating Potential, jobholders are more likely to exhibit negative outcomes, like absenteeism, turnover, and sluggish performance.

Continue reading »

Misconduct and Harassment Unmasked Beneath a Veneer of Psychological Safety

November 4, 2018 in Uncategorized, industrial organizational psychology

Finding sexual misconduct and harassment beneath a veneer of psychological safety

A recent Fast Company article gushes about a particular company’s culture of psychological safety — that is, its “employees’ ability to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.”

Really?

This is a company about which the Department of Labor once said, “Discrimination against women…is quite extreme.”

A New York Times article recently revealed that the company has protected, arguably even rewarded, executives accused of sexual misconduct. It described one exec who “often berated subordinates as stupid or incompetent.” The company “did little to curb that behavior.”

A screenshot the exec’s ex-wife included in a lawsuit, according to the Times, showed an email he sent to another woman: “You will be happy being taken care of,” he wrote. “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”

In our quest for a psychological-safety poster child, we may need to conduct a better search.

Sexual misconduct and harassment

The Serious Workplace Mental Health Solutions Take Shape Outside the US

October 27, 2018 in Stress, job design, job strain

Pay attention to the science-backed workplace mental health frameworks that are taking shape outside the US, like those in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

In the US, the messaging of vendors and consultants tends to drown out science. Last year, for example, data from a meta-analysis — which included more than 120,000 research subjects — showed that job strain (the combination of high demands and low control at work) may lead to clinically diagnosed depression. This is consistent with a lot of other research that points us toward employer strategies for the primary prevention of mental health problems. But psychosocial risk and primary prevention are missing-in-action when we look at mental health resources made available by US employee wellness professional organizations and their vendors/consultant partners, .

Mental health crises — just like physical health crises — are mission critical, but this doesn’t mean we can’t prevent them before they happen and, what’s more, aspire to create workplace environments in which employee well-being flourishes.

Canada’s “Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” is a compelling example of a social strategy to promote mental health in all its stages — emphasizing primary prevention. Find out more about Canada’s Standard and other science-backed workplace mental health strategies on the Jozito mental health resources hub.

Employee Happiness: “A Great Idea that Didn’t Work Out.”

October 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

In 2013, Carol Harnett and Fran Melmed interviewed Bob Merberg for their CoHealth CheckUp podcast (which is no longer in production). They asked him to discuss a “great idea that didn’t work out.” In this 2-minute answer, he talks about a positive psychology intervention designed to help employees cultivate happiness.

You can listen to the entire interview here.

 

 

Center for Workplace Mental Health – Website (US)

October 4, 2018 in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -website

This American Psychiatric Association site “provides employers the tools, resources and information needed to promote and support the mental health of employees and their families.”

Though the site doesn’t significantly address primary prevention, APA’s Center for Workplace Mental Health site does cover important topics that have not yet been addressed on many other sites, such as:
Continue reading »

Studying the Study: Different Kinds of Analysis Yield Contradictory Results For Illinois Wellness Study

August 22, 2018 in Uncategorized

This is Part II of a 2-part post. Check out Part I, Does The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study Say What Everyone Says It Says?.


A lot of questions remain about if and how these programs work. We have observed results for only the first year of our intervention. We are continuing to collect data to evaluate effects in the second and third years.

— Illinois Workplace Wellness Study website

The University of Illinois study rolls on as the researchers demonstrate they are eager to uncover the truth and not just confirm over-simplified pre-existing notions about whether wellness works or doesn’t work. Notice that they called their paper, “What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do?” rather than using a title that declares the issue put to rest, like, say, “Workplace Wellness Doesn’t Work.”

Magnifying glass study a line chartUltimately, they may very well find that the Illinois program doesn’t yield the desired outcomes (potentially a real kick in the pants for Aetna, one of the researchers’ “collaborators”). Or that it does. If we knew for sure, there’d be no point in the study.

Personally, I’ve never had any reason to believe a wellness program would reduce an employer’s health care costs. But, so far, there isn’t anything in this study I’d cite to support that opinion.

 

Randomized Controlled Trials vs. Observational Studies

One of the most interesting things about the study is its design. It’s a randomized controlled trial (RCT) — a rare sighting in the world of wellness — and the researchers compared their findings to what they would’ve concluded if their data came from a an observational study (the kind that almost all our healthy lifestyle guidance is based on — from “physical activity is good for you” to “don’t inhale too much asbestos”), potentially explaining, as Aaron Carroll argues in his column, why some wellness studies show that wellness does work. Or, as one of the Illinois study’s principal investigators wrote to me in a private correspondence, “Methodology matters.”

Even when methods are about as good as can be, we probably should never trust a single study with high confidence…Take, for example, the randomized controlled trial (RCT). It’s reasonably considered the gold standard of social science methods. When you read the results of a well-conducted RCT, does that mean you can take them and run with it? Not so fast. They may not apply outside the population studied.

– Austin Frakt, co-editor with Aaron Carroll of the Incidental Economist, in Limitations: The Achilles Heel of Single-Study Relevance

No Reason to Expect Improvement

The Illinois Wellness study is and will continue to be important. It has the potential to deliver actionable insights into the value of incentives; the profile of employees who tend to engage in wellness programs; the types of programs that are and aren’t effective; and, ultimately, the behavioral, health, financial, and productivity outcomes we can expect from comparable programs.

For the university, the iThrive program is a good start — more thoroughly thought-out than most new programs. (Thanks to the study’s transparency, a large employer seeking to launch a wellness program could use the study’s published material to develop a program template — though I’d recommend skipping the incentives and the screenings, and adding longer-range plans for a more comprehensive strategy.) But that’s what it is — a start.

In a non-study situation, smart leaders of a “comprehensive” program, seeing that Year 1 activities had no effect on anything, would undertake a quality improvement process and make adjustments accordingly. After all, if there aren’t any behavior changes in Year 1 — and environment, culture, and work design aren’t even on the radar — there’s no reason to expect health, financial, or productivity improvements in the following years.

I admire the researchers’ refraining from sensational conclusions based on their Year 1 data. Now, it’s up to thought leaders with a media platform, and up to us — those responsible for applying research findings to our programs — to exercise the same restraint.

Does The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study Say What Everyone Says It Says?

August 20, 2018 in Employee Wellness Programs, Featured

Welcome to Reality signSeems like every month, the University of Illinois workplace wellness study re-enters the limelight, and earlier this month Aaron Carroll, MD really shoved it center stage in his New York Times piece, Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise.

This was a randomized controlled study of an employee wellness program. To date, the study results have shown no improvement in health behaviors, health care costs, or productivity. To date.

You can read the full study paper published on the Bureau of Economic Research website. But if you’re not one to wade through a swamp of statistics, check out the study’s very own website for info, updates, and bar charts galore.

Does Feeling Valued Count?

Rather than cherry-picking the facts, allow me to just suggest questions to consider as you learn more about this study:

What does “doesn’t work” mean, anyway? Work to do what?

The study found that the number of program participants who believed their employer was committed to their health and safety increased significantly as an effect of the intervention. Is this important?

In the study paper, how many times do the researchers make the claim that has captured the imagination of Dr. Carroll and many others in the business and health care media, that “wellness doesn’t work”? (You can cheat by using your browser’s “Find” function. Or take a guess. It’s somewhere between -1 and +1.)

Was the study published in a peer-reviewed journal?

“I heavily favor peer-reviewed work.”

— Aaron Carroll, in The Power (and Weakness) of Peer Review, 2011.

How many employers, and how many different kinds of wellness strategies, were included in this study of the University of Illinois wellness program (called iThrive)?

Let’s say you’re running a program for a global manufacturing company or a tech start-up. How comparable is your employee population to the employees at University of Illinois?

A Comprehensive Wellness Program

iThrive is said to be a “comprehensive” wellness program. In my mind, a comprehensive wellness program might include some behavioral programs, cultural strategies, environmental strategies, and, most importantly, organizational strategies that promote healthy work.

Is this a comprehensive program? You be the judge. The core activies and strategies of iThrive:

  • Biometric health screenings
  • Health risk assessments
  • Participation incentives
  • Participation in “one of several activities in the fall and then again in the spring.” Activities included classes on chronic disease management; weight management; tai chi; physical fitness; financial wellness; healthy workplace habits; a tobacco cessation hotline; and an online, self-paced wellness challenge.”

A “Post-Intervention” Time Warp?

  • Screenings were conducted from August 15 to September 16, 2016.
  • Health risk assessment was conducted from September 8 to October 4.
  • Fall wellness activities were held October 10 to December 16.
  • Spring wellness activities were held January 30 to April 25, 2017.
  • “Post-intervention” healthcare utilization was measured for the period August 1, 2016 through July 31, 2017.

Thinking carefully about this timeline, what changes in healthcare utilization patterns would you expect during the first year of the program?

Keep these questions in mind. And I hope you’ll pose a lot more of your own when you read about future findings from this and other studies.


Check out Part II of this post, Studying the Study: Different Kinds of Analysis Yield Contradictory Results For Illinois Wellness Study.

HR and Benefits: Are You Ready for Blockchain and Crypto?

July 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

blockchain and cryptoWe all need to educate ourselves and stretch our creative muscles regarding blockchain and, maybe, cryptocurrency. It’s a bummer blockchain is so hard to understand, but that’s no reason to dismiss it.

Blockchain will be used to store medical records and also to accelerate the advancement of medical research. Cryptocurrency could be incorporated into employees’ Total Rewards packages. And, if the will is there, it may be used to advance more participatory workplace practices — representing real progress for employee wellbeing.

Civil, an application of blockchain and cryptocurrency, is focused on democratizing journalism (not workplaces or employment — though they do say their own employees have “equity/token opportunity”). Still, Civil’s model, in which currency represents not nothing — the accusation commonly and rightly leveled against, say, Bitcoin — but influence.

Imagine influence issued as an employee benefit. At first blush, it may seem unlikely — but not if viewed as a future iteration of employee ownership, co-ops, or even stock options and other equity awards.

You’ve probably read dozens of Blockchain-for-Dummies explainers and still don’t get it. Here’s one I’ve found helpful:

Blockchain explained: It builds trust when you need it most

And an employer’s unique application of blockchain to protect workers in non-US countries:

Drink It Up: Coca-Cola Is Using Blockchain to Improve Workers’ Rights

 

The Future of Workplace Wellbeing – As Seen by the “Redesigning Wellness” Podcast

July 24, 2018 in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized

Wellness podcasting headphones

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how to take wellness past well-being and into the future. Specifically, how can we expand beyond physical health and, as wellness professionals, deliver maximum value to our organizations.

Check out the milestone 100th episode of Jen Arnold‘s Redesigning Wellness podcast.

As a result of all the interviews she’s conducted, combined with her own experience and insight, Jen has her finger on the pulse of employee wellness more than just about anyone.

In this solo episode, Jen — with her characteristic candor — systematically lays out a case for a new vision of wellness and previews exciting opportunities she’s creating for wellness professionals who want to make good things happen.

Listen to “Celebrating 100 Episodes” on the Redesigning Wellness podcast wherever you usually get podcasts, or stream it here…

Organizational Culture Is Rooted in Organic Interaction

July 13, 2018 in Featured

company culture connection

What Do Companies Mean by Culture?” is a fascinating article from Scientific American’s “Workplace Anthropology” series.

Right down to the way it uses the word “organic,” the article aligns with my recent post about the importance of a work environment that encourages employees to craft their own “fun at work,” rather than simply having fun activities prescribed:

And the best cultural markers are those that aren’t imposed on employees—mandatory game night or spin classes!—but are those that are formulated by employees. These create a shared sense of continuity, which creates the foundations for trust and support and strengthens the bonds between people. Organizational culture is rooted in the ways companies encourage these organic interactions but also in how they support their employees themselves.

 

Webinar: Wellness, Wellbeing, and Workforce Sustainability — 3 Routes to Employee Wellness and Optimal Performance

July 13, 2018 in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Employee Wellness Programs, Stress

Big thanks to the folks at Lumity, Inc. for inviting me to present the webinar “Wellness, Wellbeing, and Workforce Sustainability: 3 Routes to Employee Wellness and Optimal Performance.” If you missed it, check out the recording

In this orderly mash-up, I present about 40 years of work in 33 minutes (plus Q&A). It has something for everyone — from the HR generalist who’s been assigned to wellness but may not know much about it, to veteran managers of comprehensive programs trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work. I cover

  • the premise of health risk costs and risk reduction;
  • the distinctions between wellness and wellbeing;
  • ROI vs. VOI;
  • typical wellness program components;
  • work, stress, and health;
  • job crafting.

Without being overly prescriptive, I offer my own interpretations of evidence and practices, some of which you’ll find immediately applicable and some of which will irk you to no end. This link, exclusively for my blog readers, takes you directly to the recording.

The Play’s the Thing: Two Brilliant Articles from Different Generations Shed Light on Fun and Work

July 11, 2018 in job crafting

worker with a banana

Viewed through the lens of job crafting, “Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction,” a classic in the annals of organizational studies, offers clues about how to foster real “fun at work” that can boost employee wellbeing and, with any luck, improve business results.

If you were absent the day they assigned Banana Time in Industrial Sociology class, I highly recommend this unique article. Sociologist Donald Roy’s story, embedding himself in a small group of die press operators, was published in 1959 and is unlike anything else you’ve read in a journal. At times it’s humorous, sarcastic, and self-deprecating. And it’s always empathetic.

Roy didn’t set out specifically to explore fun at work. He primarily was studying how laborers coped with tedious work. He also sought to “penetrate the mysteries of the small group,” recognizing there might be a relationship between surviving monotony — and it’s “twin brother,” fatigue — and the human relations that take place among co-workers.

Roy describes the isolation he and his small cadre of co-workers experienced:

…This was truly a situation of laissez-faire management. There was no interference from staff experts, no hounding by time-study engineers or personnel men hot on the scent of efficiency or good human relations. Nor were there any signs of industrial democracy in the form of safety, recreational, or production committees.

Roy cites forerunners who described humans’ irrepressible impulse to engage in play, which can help “the worker find some meaning in any activity assigned to him.”

Short-Range Production Goals with Achievement Rewards

He shares his experience of this impulse, in the initial days before he interacted with the three other die press operators — “clicker operators,” as Roy called them — in his work area. He cognitively crafted what he called “the game of work”:

‘As soon as I finish a thousand of the green ones, I’ll click some brown ones.’ And, with success in attaining the objective of working with brown materials, a new goal of ‘I’ll get to do the white ones’ might be set. Or the new goal might involve switching dies.

“Thus,” Roy writes, “the game of work might be described as a continuous sequence of short-range production goals with achievement rewards in the form of activity change.”

Ultimately, he acknowledges, “These games were not as interesting in the experiencing as they might seem to be from the telling.”

After his first week, however, Roy realizes that another game — one played daily by his co-workers — is taking place.

Looking Forward to Banana Time

First, he notices a regular pattern of horseplay and teasing. In one example, one of the clicker operators, Ike, would steal a banana from the lunchbox of another, Sammy:

Ike would gulp it down by himself after surreptitiously extracting it from Sammy’s lunch box, kept on a shelf behind Sammy’s work station. Each morning, after making the snatch, Ike would call out, “Banana time!” and proceed to down his prize while Sammy made futile protests and denunciations. The banana was one which Sammy brought for his own consumption at lunch time; he never did get to eat his banana, but kept bringing one for his lunch. At first this daily theft startled and amazed me. Then I grew to look forward to the daily seizure and the verbal interaction which followed.

Roy describes a variety of “time” activities the workers wove into their daily work routine. Many revolved around refreshments, such as peach time, a daily mid-morning ritual in which Sammy shared two peaches with the other press operators. There were also coffee time, Coke time, and many other “times,” including, of course, quitting time.

(Sorry Family Guy fans… No peanut butter and jelly time!)

Team Job Crafting

These playful activities, initiated organically (that is, intrinsically) within the group, are a form of team job crafting. They met specific employee needs like social support and relief from monotony, and were enjoyed by everyone who chose to engage. Contrast organic, worker-crafted fun with activities planned by management or by a fun-at-work committee.

Banana Time and the other “times” are examples of relational (social) crafting. (For an overview of job crafting, including relational, cognitive, and task crafting, see my previous post: I Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name Is Job Crafting.)

Roy observed other kinds of social interaction, as well, and the influence they all had on what we now call the employee experience:

The interaction was there, in constant flow. It captured attention and held interest to make the long day pass. The 12 hours of “click, —move die, click, — move die” became as easy to endure as 8 hours of varied activity. The “beast of boredom” was gentled to the harmlessness of a kitten.

Seven Lessons for Workplace Leaders

It may feel like a stretch, at first, to apply Roy’s 1959 die press operator experience to the modern workplace, but it suggests no less than seven insights relevant to most modern work situations:

  1. Workers engage in playfulness to remain stimulated.
  2. Fun delays or cloaks fatigue.
  3. Workers use gamification to find meaning in their work.
  4. Playful rituals during the workday are used to mark time and support short-term intrinsic motivation.
  5. Workplace fun often revolves around food and beverages.
  6. Playing with others is more meaningful than playing alone.
  7. Informal interaction between members of a work group is important for job satisfaction.

As for management goals, Roy posed one possibility: “Leavening the boredom of individualized work routines with a concurrent flow of group festivities had a negative effect on turnover.”

He observed that the more he played the less tired he felt, which may have positive implications for productivity, but Roy neither measured productivity nor speculated about it.

One of Roy’s most important observations, in my opinion, is that, given the opportunity, workers craft their own fun, especially via social interaction.

Job Crafting, Gamification, and Play

Arnold Bakker and Marianne van Woerkom, in last year’s article “Flow at Work: a Self-Determination Perspective,” posit that job crafting and “designing work to be playful” are two strategies workers use to satisfy basic needs, which leads to improved job performance. They cite (as Roy did) a well accepted theory that humans have a “natural tendency” for play. And they point to research suggesting that fun at work “leads to higher job satisfaction, morale, pride in work, creativity, service quality, as well as lower burnout and absenteeism.”

Echoing Roy’s experience of cognitive game-playing before he discovered Banana Time (Remember? “As soon as I finish a thousand green ones, I’ll click some brown ones”), Bakker and van Woerkom share testimonials from people who gamified their work, such as one HR manager who said:

When I need to work on a boring, bureaucratic task, I gamify it by building additional tasks into the boring task. One option is to fill out the form using the fewest words possible yet covering all the content that must be addressed. This makes it a writing challenge and so, more interesting.

Bakker and van Woerkom conclude,

Proactively creating conditions at work that foster play – to which we will refer to as “playful work design” could therefore be an effective strategy to increase flow at work.

(Flow at work, the author’s explain, is “a short-term peak experience characterized by absorption, work enjoyment, and intrinsic work motivation.”)

Beyond “Fun” Activities at Work

Bakker and van Woerkom focus on individual gamification, which Roy found to be “not as interesting in the experiencing as it might seem to be from the telling,” rather than socially interactive play. Nevertheless, their research affirms Roy’s finding 50 years ago: workers will find ways to craft fun into their work. And the authors encourage leaders to create conditions that encourage workers to do so.

For today’s manager, the lesson is clear: Ping-pong tables, office scooters, outings, office parades, and dress-up-as-whatever days in the office are all well-and-good, but more important is an environment that supports employees crafting their own fun. (The foremost benefit of social outings, office parties, and other gatherings — especially when accompanied by autonomy designed into the work — may be to provide opportunities to interact in ways that foster future fun and relational job crafting.)

When all is said and done, as we contemplate Roy’s insights, as well as the theories advanced by Bakker and van Woerkom, we may conclude that trying to provide fun at work needn’t be nearly as high a priority as enabling the fun of work.

______

Thank you to Dmitrijs Kravcenko and team, who introduced me to Donald Roy and Banana Time via their remarkable podcast “Talking About Organizations.” Check it out. Start with the first episode, or jump right in with their discussion of Banana Time.

Coloring Outside the Lines of Job Design

June 3, 2018 in job design, job crafting

coloring book

It’s easy to imagine how a white collar employee like a project manager or a data scientist might engage in job crafting. But what about, say, a machine operator or a restaurant server? Do they have enough flexibility to refashion the tasks, relationships, and other building blocks of work to more effectively match their strengths and needs?

Crafting any job presents challenges. But it can be successful across the full spectrum of occupations. Research I’ve previously described, as a matter of fact, included a wide variety of jobs: Silicon Valley tech workers, teachers, hospital housekeepers, chemical plant workers, police officers, and nurses, to name a few.

Less Flexibility May Mean More Job Crafting

Job crafting pioneers Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski tell us — in Job Crafting and Meaningful Work — why it can be easier for employees in highly structured, lower-status jobs to engage in crafting compared to those with more flexibility:

Since their jobs included tasks that had clear means and ends established (e.g., “you should service this machine using the following steps,” or “you must enter these data in this way”), it was easier for them to see the “white space” in their jobs—i.e., where they could fit in new tasks or relationships or drop tasks and relationships that were not very important.

Berg and company go on to describe, in contrast, the challenges of crafting a flexible, typically white-collar, job:

Lack of structure, combined with the continuous pressure to pursue their end goals, seemed to make it more difficult for [“higher-rank employees”] to recognize opportunities to craft their jobs. In other words, to color outside the lines of a job, one needs lines there in the first place.

We talk a lot about the importance of autonomy for employee wellbeing — and for job crafting, specifically. But more autonomy or less, at either extreme, may be suboptimal. The sweet spot lies somewhere in between.

Who Built Maslow’s Pyramid? Not Maslow.

May 22, 2018 in industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid

The Pyramid commonly used to illustrate Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The 3-minute video below summarizes an article — Who Built Maslow’s Pyramid? A History of the Creation of Management Studies’ Most Famous Symbol and Its Implications for Management Education — to be published in the  journal, Learning and Education.

The article argues that Maslow never conceptualized the pyramid commonly used to illustrate his Hierarchy of Needs. The figure was developed by a consultant seeking to simplify Maslow’s theory for corporate clients, and it distorted Maslow’s work in the process.

Maslow’s theory aside, we can find a broader learning here. The phrases “some consultant,” “distorted,” and “overly simplistic,” remind me that consultants and other practitioners do, indeed, habitually oversimplify and distort theories of employee wellbeing.

In the employee benefits and wellness spheres, a couple of examples of oversimplification come to mind:

  1. Consultants and other practitioners increasingly cite Self-Determination Theory, which says that autonomy, competence, and relatedness are prerequisites for human flourishing. But many present the theory as a simple explanation of behavioral motivation and are hard-pressed to explain what relatedness is or how it fits in.
  2. Behavioral economics is a trendy framework consistently misrepresented. Wellness consultants have described it as a theory of intrinsic motivation. Behavioral economists, however, will assert that there is no such thing as intrinsic motivation. If behavioral economics had to be bucketed as one or the other, it could only be considered — with its warm embrace of incentives and other manipulative techniques — a framework for extrinsic motivation.

Scholars resent such oversimplification. But I’d be cautious about one-sidedly indicting consultants.

Perhaps scholars should endeavor to communicate their theories and findings in a manner more accessible to lay practitioners. Were relatedness and competence really the best terms to communicate what’s intended in Self-Determination Theory? Indeed, delve into the details of Self-Determination Theory, and you’re likely to find it nearly incomprehensible to non-psychologists. The theory picked up steam outside psychology circles mostly after Daniel Pink simplified it in his bestseller, Drive.

Similarly, behavioral economics has repeatedly been distorted by TED-talk superstars who have little or no training in either behavior, economics, or any combination of the two.

We wellness professionals would benefit by reading fewer bestsellers and more journal articles. I might also suggest that scholars — in order to learn how to reach an audience of practitioners with minimal distortion before TED talkers and bestselling authors pull the rug out from under them — study fewer journal articles and more bestsellers.

Perhaps a consultant would not have created Maslow’s pyramid, and it would not have taken hold to the extent it has, if Maslow or another scholar had more effectively illustrated his ideas.

[Hat tip to Kuldeep Singh, who shared the “Who Built Maslow’s Pyramid” article on LinkedIn, and Rob Briner, who shared the video in the lively discussion that ensued. This blog post is adapted from comments I contributed to that discussion.]

Japan Gets Real About Workplace Stress

May 10, 2018 in Stress

Job Stress

In 2015, Japan passed a law requiring businesses with 50 or more employees to offer workers an annual assessment — the “Stress Check” — which measures risk of stress and other mental health concerns based on three domains:

  • Psychosocial and other stressors in the work environment, including job demands, job control (autonomy), work intensity, and sense of purpose.
  • Mental and physical symptoms of stress like irritability, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, musculoskeletal discomfort, difficulty sleeping.
  • Social support, including connection with supervisors, co-workers, and loved ones.

The Japanese government recommends their 57-question assessment tool, the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire (BJSQ). Take a look at the English version here. Employers can use alternative questionnaires, but they’re required to include the same domains — workplace stressors, symptoms, and support.

The law — designed to help prevent stress in response to an epidemic of stress-related death and disease — mandates that

  • Employees are given the results of their Stress Check.
  • Employees found to be at high-risk for potentially harmful stress are referred to a physician.
  • Employers modify stressful work conditions (such as schedules, work location, or responsibilities) in collaboration with high-risk employees’ physicians.
Japan Stress Check program flow

Stress Check process (click to enlarge)

The law encourages employers to improve the workplace environment based on analysis of their group’s data. Specific interventions aren’t prescribed, although models and case studies are available.

The law prohibits release of employees’ data to employers without the employee’s permission, and it prohibits discrimination based on Stress Check participation or results. Though employers are required to offer the Stress Check, workers aren’t required to participate.

No one’s advocating a program like this outside Japan, but it should evoke dialog among wellbeing professionals and enlighten how we view job stress.

  • Japan — like much of Europe, Canada, and the US’s NIOSH — recognizes that job stress is rooted in workplace risk factors: lack of autonomy, role ambiguity, job insecurity, lack of social support, excessive demands, harsh environments, inadequate rewards, work/life conflict, and unfair treatment.

The Stress Check questionnaire draws on a growing body of evidence showing that it does, indeed, identify people who are at high risk of mental health-related disability.

As for intervention… There’s a lot of experimentation to be done before we can definitively say what works. To date, evidence supports organizational change more than personal interventions to prevent worker stress.

Recently, a small initial study failed to demonstrate positive outcomes for either the questionnaire alone or for workplace interventions alone. However, the researchers reported:

Combining the annual stress survey with improvement in the psychosocial work environment can effectively reduce psychological distress.

Like it or hate it, the Stress Check program is innovative. We’re reminded that innovation is not always technology driven. We need innovators to follow Japan’s example and take a fresh look at our job stress paradigms.

JD-R Job Crafting Intervention: What Works? What Doesn’t?

April 29, 2018 in job crafting

job crafting JD-R intervention with post-its

 

Oodles of studies that include workers with diverse jobs in various countries show that JD-R job crafting is an employee-forward way to improve person-job fit — a win-win for employees and employers. It leads to improved wellbeing, stronger work engagement, better adaptability to change, and more productive job performance.

But when it comes to pulling their job demands and resources into an ideal level of balance — ie. JD-R job crafting — workers often aren’t aware of the possibility, and some aren’t confident in their ability to do it. Then again, some employers haven’t yet come to appreciate job crafting or don’t know how to inspire it.

These are among the reasons we, especially those of us trained and experienced in operationalizing workplace wellbeing programs, want to know how to structure JD-R job crafting interventions and what kinds of interventions work.

In a previous post, I reported studies of what I dubbed “Job Crafting Classic,” the original model proposed by Wrzesniewski, Dutton, and Berg.

Here, let’s navigate the more rugged terrain of the JD-R job crafting landscape. The following are studies of JD-R job crafting interventions — almost every study I could find. Almost all are based on a “quasi-experimental” design, meaning that — consistent with most studies of workplace interventions — neither the participant group nor the control group was selected randomly. They’re mostly pre- and post-test study designs, meaning measurements — of things like job crafting behaviors, work engagement, levels of demands and resources, and job performance — were measured before the intervention and after.

This is a relatively detailed overview, with links to the original studies in case you want more detail. If you’re in a rush, there’s an abbreviated version on LinkedIn.

4-Week Job Crafting Intervention for Police District Employees

Van den Heuvel et al paved the way with phased intervention for employees of a police district. The first stage was a one-day workshop that taught participants about JD-R job crafting; had them assess the current state of their demands and resources; and raised their awareness of opportunities to find more meaning and satisfaction in their jobs via crafting. The workshop concluded with creation of a job crafting plan. This was followed by four weeks of independent work on their plan, which included two or three goals per week. At the end of the study period, a half-day “reflection session” was held.

The study included 39 employees in a Dutch police district and 47 employees in a control group.

Outcomes: Increased wellbeing; increased self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to effect their situation); greater access to developmental opportunities. (The same team recently published another study (in Dutch)  of a similar intervention — with only one goal per week and more participant interaction between each other and with the trainers — with 83 civil servants. They found increases in job crafting behaviors, increases in access to job resources, and improved wellbeing, compared to controls).

The researchers found the findings of their police district study, generally, to be “not significant.” But they concluded,

The job crafting intervention seems to have potential to enable employees to proactively build a motivating work environment and to improve their own well‐being.

Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria CW Peeters. “The job crafting intervention: Effects on job resources, self‐efficacy, and affective well‐being.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 88.3 (2015): 511-532. This pilot intervention was originally described with additional detail in Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria Peeters. “Succesvol job craften door middel van een groepstraining.” Scherp in werk 5 (2012): 27-49. [Dutch], worth noting because it may be the first published study of a JD-R job crafting intervention.


Simplified Job Crafting Intervention for Medical Specialists and Nurses

Intervention: Gordon et al tested a fine-tuned version of the 4-week intervention (above). They explained: “As the eects found by Van den Heuvel and colleagues were rather weak, we modified their intervention in several respects. Adjustments were made to the intervention to increase individuals’ understanding and application of job crafting behaviors into their daily work…”

The intervention started with a three-hour workshop in which participants learned about JD-R job crafting — seeking resources, seeking challenges, and reducing demands. It encouraged participants to learn from their own or others’ real–life experiences by sharing stories of how their proactive behavior changed their thoughts, feelings, or relationships at work. The workshops were customized to support the employer and its workers during a period of organizational change. At the end of the workshop, participants created individual job crafting plans to follow for next three weeks.

The team conducted one study with 119 medical specialists and another with 58 nurses. The interventions were customized for each group based on the needs of the organization and the employees during a period of organizational change.

Outcomes: Overall, the participants experienced increases in their job crafting behaviors, improved wellbeing, and better performance compared to controls. The medical specialists improved adaptive performance — that is, their ability to effectively modify behavior in response to changes at work. Consistent with other JD-R research, reducing demands did not clearly lead to positive outcomes — a dynamic that’s not yet fully understood.

The interventions led to “medium to large” increases in job crafting behavior and wellbeing.

The researchers concluded that the intervention was…

…a promising job redesign intervention strategy that individual employees can use to improve their well-being and job performance… Individual and organizational interests … can be integrated by adopting the theoretical framework of the ‘job demands-resources model.’

Gordon, Heather J., et al. “Individual job redesign: job crafting interventions in healthcare.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 104 (2018): 98-114.


Blending The Job Crafting Exercise and JD-R Interventions for Healthcare Workers

Van Wingerden published several studies of job crafting interventions in recent years. She and her team published a relatively early study of a JD-R job crafting intervention, delivering a hybrid of the style of interventions described above and the Michigan Job Crafting Exercise™. The subjects were 67 healthcare workers who diagnose, identify, and treat hearing-impaired patients.

The intervention led to increased work engagement and improved job performance in the participants. Van Wingerden continued to use this “hybrid” (my word) intervention, weaving the JD-R model into the Job Crafting Exercise framework, in other studies.

Wingerden, Jessica van, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “A test of a job demands-resources intervention.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 31.3 (2016): 686-701.


Comparing Resource Interventions and Job Crafting Interventions for Special Education Teachers

Van Wingerden et al compared different interventions for primary school special education teachers at multiple sites: 26 participants took part in an intervention geared exclusively to increasing personal resources  (specifically, psychological capital… hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience); 32 participated in a complete job crafting intervention; 26 participated in a combined personal resources and job crafting intervention. 18 study subjects were assigned to a control group.

The study found… 

  1. The personal resources intervention improved work engagement
  2. Job crafting intervention can, in contrast to  Van den Heuval’s study above, increase employees’ job crafting behavior.
  3. An intervention combining personal resources and job crafting leads to improved performance, but not increased work engagement.

The researchers concluded that job crafters probably should focus on increasing resources if they seek to boost work engagement. They suggested that, in addition to interventions, senior managers could do more to support employees’ balance of demands and resources, especially by expanding available resources.

Van Wingerden, Jessica, Daantje Derks, and Arnold B. Bakker. “The impact of personal resources and job crafting interventions on work engagement and performance.” Human Resource Management 56.1 (2017): 51-67. [first published in 2015]


Lasting Effects of Job Crafting in Teachers

Van Wingerden took it a step further in a study of 75 teachers, in which she and her team evaluated the sustainability of outcomes one year after completion of a JD-R job crafting intervention, in addition to the measurements they took shortly after the intervention’s conclusion.

They found that

  1. Participants exhibited significantly increased job crafting behaviors one week after the intervention was completed and 1 year later.
  2. Feedback, professional development, and self-efficacy resources had increased at the conclusion and one year after the job crafting intervention.
  3. Significant performance improvements weren’t found at the conclusion of the study, but were found one year after the intervention. The researchers explained this lag by suggesting that participants increased their challenge job demands during the intervention, which could result in a short-term suppression of performance improvement but long-term growth.

They concluded…

The job crafting intervention may be a promising tool to facilitate a resourceful work environment which enables employees to achieve their personal and organizational goals.

(This study, which focused on reducing hindering demands, did not lead to increased work engagement — a recurring finding in JD-R studies. A study Van Wingerden led and published in 2017, Fostering Employee Well-Being Via a Job Crafting Intervention, however, found that an intervention focused on increasing challenge demands did lead to increased work engagement.)

Van Wingerden, Jessica, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “The longitudinal impact of a job crafting intervention.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 26.1 (2017): 107-119.


Broad Study on Effects of Job Crafting Opportunities

Finally, Van Wingerden and Poell published a study in 2017 that, based on questionnaire responses of 2,090 Dutch employees from various walks of life, supports the value of job crafting interventions: “Results indicated that individuals who experience a high level of opportunities to craft reported higher levels of job crafting behavior. In turn, perceived opportunities to craft and job crafting behavior related to higher levels of work engagement and subsequently performance.”  [Emphasis added.] Interventions are one means of creating “opportunities” to craft jobs.

The research team advised:

Managers who positively influence employees’ perceived opportunities to craft before offering job crafting interventions, in the organization, can create optimal conditions that may in fact strengthen intervention effects.

Wingerden, Jessica Van, and Rob F. Poell. “Employees’ Perceived Opportunities to Craft and In-Role Performance: The Mediating Role of Job Crafting and Work Engagement.” Frontiers in psychology 8 (2017): 1876.


“Awareness” Intervention in Chemical Plant Workers

Tims et al surveyed chemical plant workers regarding their levels of demands, resources, work engagement, job satisfaction, and burnout. Surveys were sent at the outset and at the conclusion of a 2-month study period, with another survey specific to job crafting sent midway.  All participants received standardized feedback that scored their levels of job demands and resources, with examples illustrating how demands and resources can be crafted by employees. 288 workers completed all three surveys and were, therefore, included in the analysis.

(This study generally isn’t described as an intervention, but it obviously is one — more of an “awareness” campaign rather than a behavioral intervention, but an intervention all the same. In health promotion terms, it’s comparable to, say, assessing someone’s level of physical activity and, if it’s low, providing boilerplate feedback on the risk of sedentary lifestyle and strategies people use to add physical activity into their life. The fact we aren’t telling them what they have to do or that they have to do anything at all doesn’t mean it’s not an intervention. In fact, it would be a fairly typical health intervention.)

Access to different types of resources had increased for respondents who reported, at the midway point, that they craft resources. This was positively related to increased engagement and job satisfaction, and decreased burnout. Those who said they craft job demands did not necessarily experience a change in job demands, but crafting challenge demands was linked to increases in wellbeing. This is consistent with findings in other studies that suggest, perhaps counter-intuitively, that positive outcomes may be rooted in the empowerment to engage in job crafting, if not with actual changes in resources and, especially, demands.

These researchers offered this caution:

Our results do not suggest that employees should be held responsible for their work environment and well-being. Rather, they suggest that management interventions should focus more on the effects of job demands on employee well-being because employees seem to change their job demands less often than their job resources.

They added…

These results obviously suggest that employees can optimize their own well-being when allowed to. Therefore, organizations should not only facilitate employee well-being by providing sufficient job resources and an optimal level of job demands, but they should also offer opportunities for employee job crafting.

Tims, Maria, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “The impact of job crafting on job demands, job resources, and well-being.” Journal of occupational health psychology 18.2 (2013): 230.


Harvard Meta-Analysis: Job Crafting is Associated Positively with Work Engagement, but Interventions…

Harvard’s Frederick and VanderWeele conducted a meta-analysis on job crafting. A pre-print of the study is available on a limited basis. The researchers searched for studies of various outcomes, but only found enough studies of sufficient quality to examine work engagement as an outcome.

Their analysis showed that job crafting is positively associated with work engagement, but they weren’t able to say the same thing about interventions, specifically.

The studies of interventions, rather than just job crafting behaviors, that we did identify found no effect of the intervention (Van den Heuvel et al., 2015; Van Wingerden et al., 2015).

Presumably, they mean “no effect” on work engagement. Frederick and VanderWheele acknowledge that the intervention studies may not have had sufficiently large subject pools to demonstrate such an effect. Take note, however:

  • The authors don’t mention Van Wingerden’s 2016 and 2017 studies (above) — perhaps they were published after the meta-analysis was conducted — that did demonstrate increased improvements in work engagement.
  • The analysis didn’t include Tims et al’s “Impact of Job Crafting…”  stealth intervention from 2012 (above), understandably since the authors didn’t describe it as an intervention. But it was an intervention and it did lead to greater work engagement.

If you’ve paid close attention, you may notice a few red flags about these studies: small populations (n), apparently homogenous demographics, limited number of studies, and a concentrated group of researchers. In a future post, I’ll offer my assessment of these studies — strictly from my perspective as an American employee-wellbeing practitioner — and (spoiler alert!) I’ll share why job crafting is, by far, the most exciting thing to happen to employee wellbeing in a long time.

Gauged: Job Crafting Intervention for Meaning and Purpose, Part I

April 27, 2018 in Featured, job crafting

Desktop measurement instruments

We wellness professionals are an interventionist lot. Once we see that job crafting “in the wild” enhances wellbeing, reduces burnout, boosts performance, and eases adaptation to change, we want to know how we can make it happen.

And if we’re going to offer job crafting programs… We want to know what what works, based on evidence..

Let’s look at interventions based on two branches of job crafting:

  • What I call Job Crafting Classic — as I described in I Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name is Job Crafting — in which workers modify the tasks of their job, the personal interactions they have, and their perception of the job in order to experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose, and to increase work engagement, satisfaction, resilience, and thriving.
  • What I call Job Demands-Resources Job Crafting — as described in my article The Good, the Bad, and the Crafty: Challenges and Hindrances in JD-R Job Crafting — in which workers seek resources, seek challenges, and ratchet down “hindering” demands in order to achieve much of what’s achieved in Job Crafting Classic, but with more emphasis on well-being and, theoretically, health.

Job Crafting Classic

In a controlled study at a large tech company, employees were happier and more effective in their jobs 6 weeks after completing the Job Crafting Exercise™. This quick video Job Crafting Classic intervention and some outcomes…

As far as I can tell, outcomes from this particular intervention, which was spearheaded by Amy Wrysznewksi, Jane Dutton, and Justin Berg, weren’t published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A Japanese study delivered a variation of The Job Crafting Exercise to 54 manufacturing managers and 25 psychiatric hospital workers. The intervention led to improved levels of work engagement, reduced stress, and an increase in job crafting behavior.

Increasing job crafting behavior — Wrzesniewski et al describe a job-crafting mindset — is important. The intention of these programs is not to have participants modify their jobs at the intervention workshop and then go about their merry way; it’s to have them re-envision their jobs as malleable and to develop their skills and their sense of empowerment…so they can establish and continuously improve their person-job fit.

Interventions and evidence for JD-R Job Crafting are a different story — one that will be told in Part II.

Do Employees Pick Up the Wellness Programs You Throw Out There?

April 7, 2018 in Featured

A truck worker in a snowstorm

On a snowy winter day, as I listened on a conference call with a client, I watched through the window of my cozy home office as the curbside recycling truck lurched to a halt.

A burly guy jumped off the truck, where he’d been clinging in the blasting snow and arctic wind. In his orange reflector-striped parker, snow-dusted cap, and humongo gloves, he lifted my recycling bin out of the snow bank where it’d been half-buried by the city plow and in one swift move heaved the clinking and clanking contents into the backend of the truck.

He tossed the emptied bin onto my snow-covered driveway and stepped back onto the rear of the truck as it grinded away. With its amber caution lights flashing and sparkling in the icicles that hung off its rim like a damaged chandelier, the truck — its passenger clutching the back and ducking his head out of the wind — vanished into the whiteout.

“What kind of wellbeing program would appeal to this guy?” I thought. “What would be useful to him?”

On my conference call, the client was chatting about placing fruit-infused water stations in break rooms.

Would the recycling worker want a fitness challenge to track his steps? Would he like a health coach to call that evening to “nudge” him to eat fewer carbs? A work-life balance lunch-and-learn?

In the latest iteration of employee wellbeing, where all the buzz is about purpose, authentic self, mindfulness, and gratitude, would the recycling worker pick up what we’re throwing out there?

I don’t know what this individual worker wants and I won’t make assumptions. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but, like you, I chat with blue collar employees, manual laborers, and lower-wage workers every day. Some I meet in the course of my daily business, some are friends, some are family members. And I do ask what they want and how their workplace can support their wellbeing.

_____

The above was originally the preamble to my LinkedIn post, “How My Dad Proved Steve Jobs Wrong About Loving What You Do…”, but I cut it because of length, relevance, and tone. Still, I’d love to hear from you. How can we serve employees in job classes like this recycling worker? How can we best support their wellbeing? 

Mindfulness: For Sale By Owner

March 29, 2018 in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

lotus representing meditation and mindfulness

I’ve practiced mindfulness and meditation since 1977, and have had the good fortune to have learned from some of the greatest teachers in the world. 

In 2000, I took personal vows to commit my life to mindfulness (admittedly, I haven’t been diligent in recent years). 

In my 2003 book — now out-of-print — the longest chapter was called, “Mindfulness: The Secret to Health Change?”

 Around 2004, I founded a small mindfulness group in upstate New York that is still going strong. 

If I had final words of wisdom to offer my kids, I’d commit my last breaths to advising them to practice mindfulness.

That said, I still believe mindfulness is being oversold in the corporate and wellness worlds.

Job Crafting: Challenges, Hindrances, and Resources

March 24, 2018 in job crafting

Job crafting worksheet

Job demands cost energy and affect job stress and health. Job resources affect motivation and performance and can buffer the negative affects of demands.

All job characteristics can be thought of as either demands or resources. This is the foremost proposition of the Job Demands-Resources theory of job stress and motivation, which I described in Stay Woke About Work: Job Demands and Resources Shed Light on Stress and Motivation.

Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman’s classic 1984 book, Stress, Appraisal, and Coping, defined different kinds of stressors: challenges and hindrances. Jeffery LePine and his team at University of Florida expanded on this and found that challenge demands are linked to improved job performance; hindrance demands lead to impaired work engagement and performance.

Opportunities and Obstacles

We’ll get to some examples, but for now know that:

  • Challenge demands cost energy but are viewed by workers as opportunities to grow, improve, advance, achieve.
  • Hindrance demands cost energy and are perceived as unnecessary obstacles, thwarting personal growth, wellbeing, and achievement.

(By the way, there also are different types of resources — for example, job resources and personal resources. Job resources include things like performance feedback, training, and autonomy; personal resources include self-efficacy (confidence in your ability to have an effect) and optimism. For a more detailed and expert analysis of different types of demands and resources, see Maria Tims and Arnold Bakker’s article, “Job Crafting: Towards a New Model of Job Redesign.”)

Demands-Resources Job Crafting

In job crafting with the JD-R model, employees

  1. Seek resources
  2. Seek challenge demands
  3. Reduce hindrance demands

Some of what researchers point to as resources — like performance feedback and training — are sometimes viewed by employees as hindrances. And occasionally there’s a fine line between a resource like autonomy and a hindrance demand like role ambiguity.

For clarification, it’s helpful to see what experts consider demands and resources. Below are examples adapted from a book chapter called “A Critical Review of the Job Demands-Resources Model: Implications for Improving Work and Health,” by Wilmar Schaufeli and Toon Taris.

Job Demands

  • Cognitive demands
  • Computer problems
  • Downsizing
  • Emotional demands
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Job insecurity
  • Work-family conflict
  • Difficult customers
  • Physical demands
  • Reorganization
  • Inadequate rewards
  • Role ambiguity
  • Harassment
  • Unfavorable shift work schedule
  • Unfavorable work conditions
  • Work pressure
  • Work-home conflict
  • Work overload

Job Resources

  •  Advancement
  • Appreciation
  • Autonomy
  • Rewards
  • Goal clarity
  • Information
  • Innovative climate
  • Leadership
  • Professional development
  • Participation in decision making
  • Performance feedback
  • Procedural fairness
  • Positive customer interactions
  • Quality of the relationship with the supervisor
  • Safety climate
  • Social support
  • Skill utilization
  • Strategic planning
  • Task variety
  • Team harmony
  • Trust in management
  • Values

Personal Resources

  • Emotional and mental competencies
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Self-determination
  • Optimism
  • Organization-based self-esteem
  • Resilience
  • Self-efficacy
  • Values

Wellbeing — What Is It Good For?

March 20, 2018 in industrial organizational psychology, job crafting, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Pie illustrations depicting wellbeingIn previous posts about the transition from wellness to wellbeing, I neglected to address the studies of wellbeing — including many attempts to define it — that were done before corporate America appropriated the term.

As legendary occupational psychologist Sir Cary Cooper says, “Define wellbeing? We can’t even agree on how to spell it Hyphen or no hyphen?” (I’ve paraphrased Sir Cary.)

One employer survey defined wellbeing by contrasting it with health and wellness. In an article called “Survey Shows Shift from Wellness to Holistic Wellbeing,” the investigators declared:

“Wellness programs focus on physical health while well-being addresses ‘all things that are stressors in an employee’s life.’

So far, so good.

Then they wrote:

Improving employee health was the most frequently mentioned (82%) reason for offering well-being programs, followed by: decrease medical premiums and claim costs…”

If those two quotes don’t have you scratching your head, you’re reading too fast. Please back up and keep rereading until you’re appropriately distressed.)

Gallup’s Essential Elements of Wellbeing

In recent years, Gallup describes wellbeing, based on their massive surveys, as consisting of (these are verbatim):

  • Purpose*: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

In 2010, Gallup’s Tom Rath and James Harter published “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.”  The book served up the same five elements that Gallup advocates today, except the book used the label “Career,” whereas Gallup now calls the same element “Purpose.” Hmmm.

Gallup, with their partner Healthways (which eventually was acquired by Sharecare — creating the Gallup-Sharecare pair) argues that employers should address all five elements of wellbeing. For a price, they offer consulting services to help.

Employers faithfully adopted the five elements, depicting their wellbeing program goals with circles perfectly divided into equal parts — each representing one of the five elements — sometimes shoehorning in another element or two, like “emotional,” “environmental,” or “spiritual.”

But employers have not been well-served by their simplistic pie diagrams, which are used as virtual checklists to perfunctorily confirm that each element is addressed…

A fragmented effort to address what is in wellbeing, rather than a cohesive strategy to support what wellbeing is, may be one reason why, in practice, nothing but the name has changed.

Subjective Wellbeing

Since his groundbreaking review, “Subjective Wellbeing,” first appeared in 1984, psychologist Ed Diener has probably published more wellbeing research than anyone. Though Diener evaluated the elements of what he calls “subjective wellbeing,” he defined it not by its elements but by the experience. To Diener, wellbeing is…

“…how people evaluate their lives — both at the moment and for longer periods… These evaluations include people’s emotional reactions to events, their moods, and judgments they form about their life satisfaction, fulfillment, and satisfaction with domains such as marriage and work. Thus, subjective wellbeing concerns the study of what lay people might call happiness or satisfaction.

“Happiness or satisfaction.” Isn’t that what we always knew wellbeing to be, before we picked it apart?

I Feel Good! 

With the various definitions of wellbeing circulating helter skelter, Uncle Sam (in the form of the CDC) played peacekeeper:

“There is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning. In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good.”

Rath and Harter’s description of wellbeing and other definitions of wellbeing emphasizes how you get there — the road to wellbeing. Diener and other psychologists emphasize how you are when you arrive.

Wellbeing and Burnout

Diener mentioned marriage and work, referring to domain-specific wellbeing. Here’s where that comes into play…

In job crafting research — as with a lot of organizational development research — “wellbeing” often is measured in the work domain only. Work wellbeing doesn’t just mean job satisfaction; it goes deeper to how employees are.

How do you measure how employees are at work?

For perspective, consider the symptoms of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion
  2. A feeling of not making a difference
  3. Cynicism

It’s not unreasonable to say that the opposite of burnout is work wellbeing — having energy, purpose, and optimism at work. This is why burnout metrics have, sometimes, been used to measure work wellbeing.

Focusing on work wellbeing — which, on the surface, seems to be just one domain — may be heresy to employee wellness leaders looking to check off their list each element of wellbeing.

But employee wellbeing programs risk getting in their own way if they try to do too much. Would it make sense to help employees thrive at work — the domain over which employers have most control — before trying to get them to thrive in, say, relationships, community, or even physical health?

On one hand, focusing on work wellbeing seems to contradict arguments against checking the elements off one-by-one. On the other hand, if the elements are interdependent, bolstering work wellbeing helps support the other elements. And if the others are supported at the appropriate time and place, work wellbeing will benefit.

Job Demands-Resources: Untangling Stress and Motivation

March 3, 2018 in Featured, job crafting, Stress
Still shot from Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" illustrating high demands, low resources, no social support on an assembly line.

High demands, low resources. No social support.

To understand what job crafting has to do with employee health and wellbeing, it’s important to understanding the inner workings of job stress and motivation.

In a previous post — “I’ve Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing: It’s Name Is Job Crafting” — I explained how, in 2001, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton proposed that employees tweak their job tasks, workplace social connections, and perspective about their role to gain a greater sense of purpose and meaning, potentially leading to better job performance.

Around that same time, in the Netherlands, Evangelia Demerouti, Arnold Bakker, and others introduced their model of Job Demands-Resources (JD-R), which has since been fine-tuned and validated as relevant to a full range of occupations and outcomes in countless studies around the world.

If you’re familiar with job stress research, you know that job stress has causes, and shouldn’t be dismissed as a choice employees make.

Forget trendy notions that “stress is good.” It’s wishful thinking based on cherry-picked evidence. If stress is so great, why aren’t employees demanding more of it?

Forty years of research has shown that harmful job stress is a result of jobs that have low levels of autonomy and high demands.

Job Demands and Autonomy Are Linked to Health Problems

Over the years, job autonomy (or control) has been defined different ways, but can be broadly understood as limited flexibility (for example, with the tasks of the job) and limited decisional latitude, meaning the employee isn’t permitted or encouraged to make decisions in their work or about their work.

Job demands originally meant the psychological intensity of work, but ultimately can be understood to include workload, time pressure, and physical demands.

Job strain illustration shows relationship of demands, control, social support, and health.

Job strain

Robert Karasek introduced the theory of demands and control in 1979. He and others have shown that jobs in which workers consistently encounter high job demands with low job control — the combination of which is called job strain — are linked to a variety of health issues, especially high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, as well as depression, anxiety, burnout, and metabolic disorders. Reducing job strain can improve productivity.

Karasek later learned that social support “buffers” the negative effects of high-strain jobs. Social support originally meant supervisors’ and co-workers’ support for performing job tasks, but can be understood in all of the many ways it’s been defined: Having a sense of “belongingness” at work; having co-workers who are empathetic and confidantes; having supervisors who take a genuine interest in the personal and professional lives of team members; and having a best friend at work.

In sum, high demands and low control are an unhealthy combo. (High demands and high control are not necessarily bad.)

Effort-Reward Imbalance Is Linked to Health Problems

Unhealthy job stress has been framed in other ways. Germany’s Johannes Siegrist found that work in which the required effort is disproportionately high compared to the job rewards— effort-reward imbalance — leads to the same kinds of health problems that result from job strain. “Rewards,” here, doesn’t just mean financial compensation, but also career opportunities and level of esteem within the organization.

The effort-reward imbalance model reminds me of an encounter I once had with a business analyst who transferred to another department because she didn’t feel valued in the department she was hired into. When I asked her, “What would have made you feel more valued?” her answer was not “better pay” or “someone saying ‘good job’”…

“I just wanted someone to listen to my ideas,” she told me.

A worker who doesn’t feel valued (i.e. esteemed) by being “listened to” is likely to have a higher level of disengagement and health impairment. This offers a glimpse into how management style, job design, organizational culture, performance, turnover, health, and wellbeing are all interconnected.

Overtime, Job Insecurity, Injustice, and More…

Several other causes of job stress have been identified, and most of them can in some way fit into the demand-control and/or the effort-reward imbalance model:

      • • chronic overtime
      • • job insecurity
      • • work-life conflict
      • • role ambiguity (not being clear of what’s expected, receiving contradictory direction, duplication with other workers’ roles, or not understanding how the work fits into the overall organization — all of which are among the most common complaints I’ve heard from employees who report high job stress).
      • • organizational injustice (being treated unfairly, which at the extreme includes bullying and harassment)
      • • lower levels of status within the organization
      • • sustaining high levels of vigilance (e.g. first responders, air traffic controllers, etc.)

Back to Bakker

The overlaps between and the nuances of these job stress theories makes them difficult to understand and apply. That’s where Bakker and Demerouti’s Job Demands-Resources model comes in. While building on the existing theories and expanding upon them, it also provides a simpler way of making sense of job stress and motivation. I consider it a comprehensible and practical  unifying theory.

JD-R posits that all job traits can be categorized as either demands or resources. 

      • • Demands require sustained effort from employees. They’re an expenditure of personal energy.
      • • Resources help fuel progress toward work-related goals. They’re restorative, buffering the effects of job demands —and activating personal development.

I interpret JD-R to mean that Karasek’s “demands,” Siegrest’s “efforts,” as well as role ambiguity, job insecurity, injustice, tedium, and work-life conflict are demands.

Job autonomy, social support, rewards, recognition, feedback, task variety, and training are examples of resources.

Side note: If you’re familiar with Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory — popularized in the Daniel Pink bestseller, Drive — which tells us that motivation and flourishing depend on autonomy, competence, and relatedness (i.e. social connection), you may recognize that job resources generally can be matched to the components of self-determination.

So…

      • • Demands regulate job stress. 
      • • Resources regulate job motivation and engagement. 
      • • And the two forces may act upon each other.

Looking Forward…

That’s enough theory for now. What I’ve come to appreciate about JD-R is how, according to research by Bakker and others, it serves as a foundation for a practical application: job crafting.

JD-R takes job crafting beyond meaning and purpose — which has received most of the public attention — and ties it directly into health and wellbeing.

I’ll spell this out further in a future post, and also draw the important distinction between positive and negative job demands. I’ll share what research shows about the effectiveness of job crafting interventions for improving employee wellbeing, work engagement, absenteeism, performance, and productivity. And I’ll offer evidence-based tips on how you can prime your organization for job crafting.

*************

For an excellent overview, see Bakker and Demerouti’s 2016 article: Job Demands-Resources Theory: Taking Stock and Looking Forward

Dealing With Burnout

February 27, 2018 in Uncategorized, Stress, industrial organizational psychology

burnt out personIf you can find some downtime (or some treadmill time?), listen to “Dealing With Burnout” the Wisconsin Public Radio Morning Show. One of the guests was Monique Valcour PhD CPCC, who has a gift for articulating, in super-practical terms, the connection between work and wellbeing. Monique explains what burnout really is, and delivers keen insight when the first caller makes a reference to the role of autonomy in addressing his own burnout. She talks about burnout as an “interpersonal phenomenon” and notes the supportive effects of mindfulness and emotional intelligence. And she provides practical tips for workplace leaders.

By the way, not only is it essential for us wellness professionals to address the burnout that occurs amongst employees, but I’m observing that it’s increasingly common within HR, Employee Benefits, and Employee Wellness teams. So if you don’t feel the need to learn about burnout for your organization, learn about it as an act of compassion for yourself.

https://www.wpr.org/shows/dealing-burnout

 

 

6 Surprising Ideas That Will Transform the Employee Wellness Industry (Webinar)

February 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

surprise faceRajiv Kumar, M.D., and I explore 6 surprising ideas that will transform employee wellness in this webinar recording from Thursday, February 22, at 2 PM ET.  

I’ve had the pleasure of co-presenting with Rajiv on several occasions, and the conversations always take a turn toward the unexpected. I elaborate on my latest passion, job crafting, and how it may surpass other popular solutions for health-related job stress, burnout, and disengagement.

Rajiv brings his unique perspective as a community-minded entrepreneur, physician, and vendor. I’m always enriched by our conversations, and I think you will be, too.

19 Tips for Employee Wellbeing Program Evaluation

January 16, 2018 in Employee Wellness Programs, Featured, Uncategorized

Wellbeing Data ChartsThe process of evaluating employee wellbeing and sustainability programs depends on the organization and its goals.

Here are tips that can be applied in almost any situation to assure your findings meet your needs:

  1. Have a plan. Include program component evaluations, communication (and other process) evaluations, and overall program outcome evaluations.
  2. Identify metrics based on program goals. You wouldn’t, for example, spotlight biometric screening data to measure a program’s effect on culture or employee engagement.
  3. Rely on data. Use story and data visualization to communicate and provide insight into data.
  4. Benchmark against reference groups, including vendor book-of-business, national norms, and (yes) sometimes non-participants.
  5. Understand biases, including the powerful affect of selection bias.
  6. Leverage existing sources of data, such as HRAs, biometrics, safety, employee engagement surveys, EAP, HR info systems, and disability.
  7. Identify relationships between findings. How are physical health, productivity, employee engagement, behavioral health, and well-being strategies affecting each other?
  8. When using surveys, use validated instruments, when possible.
  9. Engage in-house experts (eg data analysts), if available.
  10. Require vendors and consultants to provide expert evaluation consultation.
  11. Take vendor self-evaluations with a grain of salt.
  12. Be conservative in conclusions.
  13. Communicate evaluation findings throughout the organization, including to participants.
  14. Be transparent about findings, even when they are disappointing.
  15. Follow participant cohorts to show change over time.
  16. Generally, seek to measure sustained outcomes, not just results immediately post-program.
  17. Understand intent-to-treat methodology, and use it if you’re trying to do a rigorous analysis of health interventions.
  18. Evaluation goals differ – for example, garnering program support vs. quality improvement. Establish methodology accordingly.
  19. If in doubt,  strive to be as rigorous as possible, but don’t get bogged down in perfectionism unless you’re publishing research.

If your organization needs help with its program evaluation, contact Jozito LLC’s principal consultant, Bob Merberg, using this website’s contact form.

I’ve Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. Its Name Is Job Crafting.

December 29, 2017 in Featured, job crafting

Crafting clay

First, the Premise: Work Shapes Wellbeing

The foundation of employee wellbeing isn’t employee behavior — it’s workplace exposure. Exposure to things like…

  • the physical environment,
  • the psychosocial environment,
  • the policies of the organization,
  • the work itself.

Designing jobs to optimize these exposures is a direct path to creating healthier work.

The employer that values employee wellbeing will design jobs that offer

  • autonomy,
  • manageable demands,
  • well defined roles,
  • fairness,
  • appropriate rewards,
  • plenty of personal and professional support.

As the business world crams countless sections into its wellbeing pie charts, it persistently omits the core: For a sustainable workforce, healthy work comes first.

What Is Job Crafting?

In job crafting, employees tweak any combination of…

  • their tasks,
  • their workplace interactions,
  • the way they view their jobs.

One of the most commonly cited examples comes from Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, who first coined the phrase job crafting in 2001. In their study of hospital housekeepers, some workers distinguished themselves by envisioning their role as part of the care team, taking the initiative to chip in where they could to make the environment more patient-friendly — adjusting a picture on the wall of a patient’s room, delivering a glass of water, or spending more time interacting with patients and visitors.

The researchers wrote,

When hospital cleaners integrate themselves into patient care functions, they are able to see their work as being about healing people and to see themselves as a key part of this process, thus enhancing work meaning and creating a more positive work identity.

A variety of workers studied, from machine operators to engineers to sales professionals, have been found to experience greater job satisfaction, better performance, less burnout, and enhanced wellbeing by bringing more meaning to their jobs via self-initiated or intervention-based job crafting.

I’ve come to see job crafting as the workforce sustainability intervention many of us have sought: An evidence-based, employee-centric methodology that can enhance employee wellbeing in a manner aligned with employers’ priorities.

Job crafting is not the solution, but it may be the keystone for employers that have their house in order. It’s one answer to the question, “Okay, we value autonomy, employee engagement, a supportive environment, and the rest… But what do we do about it?”

Job crafting is a tool — not a substitute — for good management.

If you may be interested in hosting a job-crafting beta workshop later in the coming year, touch base via the Jozito.com contact form.


A version of post was originally published on LinkedIn on December 28, 2017.

9 Hopes – Not Predictions – For Employee Wellness in 2018

December 23, 2017 in Stress

employee wellness predictionsInstead of offering predictions about what will happen in employee wellness in the coming year, here is what I hope to happen:

  1. When we advocate new strategies, we’ll cite peer-reviewed evidence to support our case.
  2. We’ll assess and listen carefully to what employees really want.
  3. Organizational leaders will recognize that employee wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility — not just the wellness coordinator’s.
  4. Wellness coordinators will recognize that employee wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility — not just theirs.
  5. We’ll study models of job stress, including demand/control/social-support (job strain), effort-reward, organizational fairness, and job demands-resources (JD-R), and understand their relevance to overall employee wellbeing.
  6. We’ll open up to the possibility that behavior change isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of employee wellbeing.
  7. We’ll expect vendors to accept their fair share of financial risk for results, without just baking it into their pricing.
  8. We’ll identify a forum for wellness practitioners and industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists to experience cross-learning about assessment and enhancement of work, wellbeing, and productivity.
  9. Our major wellness conferences will connect their attendees with nonprofit (or under-resourced) employers in their host cities to model wellbeing interventions for employees who otherwise might not have access.

This post is excerpted from 9 Employee Wellness Trends that Won’t Happen in 2018 (and 9 that Should), originally published on LinkedIn on December 12, 2017.

The Secret About Wearables Is That There Is No Secret

October 31, 2017 in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

physical activity trackersLast year, online media had a field day when a survey showed that one third of respondents who owned a “wearable” activity tracker stopped using their device within six months. The firm that conducted the survey referred to this as “the dirty secret of wearables.” But it’s premature to judge this disengagement rate, and there’s no secret to keep. Sixty-six percent adherence for wearables after six months may, in fact, be something to celebrate.

Is It Time to Disengage from Disengagement Rates?

We haven’t identified universally accepted goals for activity trackers (by “trackers,” we’re talking here about devices like Fitbits, Jawbone Ups, and the like). Is the purpose to increase activity? To lose weight? To (perish the thought) have fun? Without goals, there’s little we can say about effectiveness or the significance of disengagement rates.

The assumption behind the negative publicity for disengagement rates implies that users should wear their trackers indefinitely. But…Says who? Many consumers wearing a tracker for the first time will see, within a few days, that they aren’t as active as they thought. This may be a first step to modifying behavior, even if they ultimately rely on non-tracker strategies to make changes, and even if those strategies take place at a later date.

Business Insider writer Erin Brodwin recently published an article called, I Tried Fitbit for a Month, and Taking It Off Was the Best Decision I’ve Made. Judging from the title, we might think that Brodwin’s story is a testimonial to the transience of tracker engagement (or that she needs to make better decisions in her life). And it may be. But this observation she makes near the end of the piece may exemplify unexamined potential of wearables:

I still do some of the healthier things I learned to do with my Fitbit, like taking the stairs at work and going for a walk when I take a phone call.

In Brodwin’s case, sustainability of her Fitbit use would have been the wrong metric if her goal was to increase physical activity.

Do One Third of Users Disengage with Wearables after Six Months? Or Do Two Thirds Continue?

What benchmark are we using to judge sustainability of engagement with wearables? Do we compare it to the 20% of patients that drop out of psychotherapy early? Or to the attrition rate for Crossfit, physical therapy, yoga, walking groups, Weight Watchers, or gym attendance? What about mindfulness, our panacea du jour? What percentage of mindfulness practitioners sustain their efforts for more than six months?

I don’t have credible citations for disengagement rates on any of these potential benchmarks, because hardly anyone’s even asking the question. But, by most accounts, a 66% adherence rate after six months compares favorably to…well, just about anything that requires effort.

Previous research on pedometers and early-day accelerometer devices has shown they can be useful tools for increasing physical activity…when they’re integrated with a sound behavioral program. And this was the optimistic conclusion of the “dirty secret” survey — that use of wearables can be sustainable when integrated with behavioral approaches.

Through my job, I’ve overseen the distribution of thousands of pedometers and hundreds of modern tracking devices to people engaged in top-tier behavioral programs lasting several weeks, often offered periodically throughout the year. The pedometer users, I did indeed find, are usually eager to abandon their device in the junk drawer after a program ended. But those who stop wearing their pedometer after eight weeks tend to be perfectly happy to resume wearing it when the next program rolls around. And I’ve seen unpublished data showing that the effects of this intermittent participation on activity levels is sustainable for more than a year. Using it or not using it for the first six months of ownership doesn’t seem essential.

Our wearable technology is ahead of our research. Do we know what consumers expect from trackers? Not everyone wearing a tracker wants to change. Some may be quantified-self devotees. Some enjoy a tracker as an expensive toy.

As for me: I need to have an activity tracking device because I’m in the business, and I’m extra motivated to continue so that I can contribute my data as a subject in the Heart Study (which, I hope, may ultimately resolve some of our questions about wearables). If my job was unrelated, I doubt I’d pony up the bucks for a glorified pedometer.

Calorie-counting apps have come under similar criticism, but there’s no arguing that expectations of these apps are more clearly defined. Consumers come to these apps to lose weight, though research shows that attrition is high and that the apps, perhaps like wearables, are useful as a measurement tool and not a standalone strategy.

I use MyFitnessPal to track calories for 3 to 4 weeks each year. In the first three weeks I used it, I suffered the revelation that I consumed more daily calories in snacks than I did in meals. While I caution that n=1 — my experience may be irrelevant to anyone else’s — approximately three weeks was all it took to trigger a lasting change in my eating patterns. I consider that a win and, as of this moment, it’s no secret.

[This post was originally published on Medium.com on May 18, 2015]

Dollars…and Bias…Who Cares? Oh My!

September 15, 2017 in Employee Wellness Programs

Wizard of Oz man behind curtainPay No Attention to the Magnate Behind the Curtain?

In 2000, a bunch of diet “gurus” were assembled to debate the pros and cons of different weight loss diets. Robert Atkins, Dean Ornish, John McDougall, the Sugar Busters guy, Barry Sears, and Keith-Thomas Ayoob from American Dietetics Association were in attendance.

At the time, the Atkins diet was booming in popularity. The low-fat guys demanded from Atkins data supporting his advocacy of high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diets. Atkins said he hadn’t been able to secure research funding.

Ayoob chided, “Excuse me, 10 million books in print and you can’t fund the study?”

Eventually, Atkins funded his own studies, which demonstrated that his’ conclusions about carbs and fats were not something to be ridiculed (they influences much of today’s emerging thinking about weight loss). Many of these studies were published in distinguished journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Regardless, they were viewed warily because they were funded by Atkins.

In other words, skeptics belittled Atkins for not funding studies of his diet. Then, when he did fund them, they dismissed the results as biased…because he funded them.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Almost all employee wellness research is commercially funded, and I do believe bias and distortion are prevalent. On the other hand, I respect companies that endeavor to publish their results.

My job, as a consumer of science information is:

  • to be aware of the potential for bias;
  • to try to understand how bias may or may not influence outcomes;
  • to seek less biased sources;

…and then to use my own critical thinking skills to reach or reject a conclusion based on all the information I have at hand.

[This post was adapted from a reply I wrote in response to Ted Kyle’s blog post Head Spinning Bias About Funding Bias. Ted blogs prolifically about obesity on his ConscienHealth – website, and is uncommonly faithful to scientific evidence. He’s a voice that needs to be heard.]

What is Workforce Sustainability?

September 2, 2017 in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Modern Office for Sustainable Workforce

I’ve compared, in a separate post, the terms health, wellness, and wellbeing, making the case that they’re more similar than they are different. Typically, many have seen them as an expanding progression, in which health is simply the absence of disease, wellness is physical health, and wellbeing is holistic flourishing of multiple dimensions of human experience.

But, for employees, even “wellbeing” doesn’t go far enough. The term, as it’s typically used in employer circles, overlooks the interaction between an employee’s wellbeing and their work — the job conditions, the people they work with, the support they receive… indeed, all the way to the very way work is done. The consequences of a sustainable workforce are the very ones employers seek: work engagement, productivity, consistent attendance, and retention.

One of the best descriptions of workforce sustainability is offered by researchers Ellen Kossek, Monique Valcour, and Pamela Lirio in their chapter, The Sustainable Workforce: Organizational Strategies for Promoting Work–Life Balance and Wellbeing, published in the book Work and Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide:

“A sustainable workforce is one where the work environment is caring and supports employee wellbeing. Employees are not seen as primarily resources that can be deployed (and depleted) to serve employers’ economic ends. Their skills, talent, and energies are not overused or overly depleted. They are not faced with excessive workload nor with a relentless pace of work for weeks or years on end. During times of crisis (e.g., natural disasters, sickness), employees are given time to recover or seek the extra resources they need to be able to perform in the future. Burnout is avoided and workers are given time for renewal.

“When human resources are used in a sustainable way, employees are not only able to perform in-role or requisite job demands, but also to flourish, be creative, and innovate. Sustainable human resource management practices develop positive social relationships at work, which enhances business performance, including greater cohesion among organizational members, commitment to common purpose, hope for success, resilience, knowledge sharing, and collaborative capacity.”

There’s no secret sauce to achieving a sustainable workforce. But it’s important to understand the essential elements of workforce sustainability when implementing a wellness program, so that program offerings are crafted through a sustainability lens.

Health, Wellness, and Wellbeing Are the Same

September 2, 2017 in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

dimensions of wellness

I recently read an article about business’s revolutionary transition from employee wellness to wellbeing. “Historically speaking,” the author wrote, “wellness has been thought of as strictly pertaining to physical health, usually measured by biometrics.”

But, accurately speaking, this is not so.

Of course, there’s no single arbiter who can proclaim what exactly health, wellness, or wellbeing mean, but it’s worth understanding some of the ways these words have been interpreted in order to fully appreciate the implications, or lack thereof, of the “transition” from wellness to wellbeing

“Health” was defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1946 as

a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

WHO’s definition, incorporated into its constitution, remains unchanged to this day. But in 1986 the organization held an International Conference on Health Promotion in Ottawa, which resulted in the famous Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion that elaborated on the definition, stating,

An individual or group must be able to identify and realize aspirations, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is, therefore, seen as a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.

The Charter went on to list the conditions for health: peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, and social justice. A far cry from biometrics.

In the late 1950s, the chief of the US Office of Vital Statistics — Halbert Dunn, MD — described a dynamic state-of-being he called “high-level wellness.” This is generally considered the founding of wellness, and Dr. Dunn’s sermon-like lectures reveal his concept to be anything but a simple embodiment of physical health. Dr. Dunn said…

The state of being well is…a fascinating and ever-changing panorama of life itself, inviting exploration of its every dimension.

I believe Dr. Dunn was amplifying — not refuting — WHO’s original definition, and the Ottawa Charter later adopted much of his take on wellness as a never-ending interaction with the environment.

But Dr. Dunn’s framework may have proven too cosmic for the mainstream. And many thought leaders have since distilled wellness into the sum of its various dimensions.

The National Wellness Institute adopted a model that incorporates six dimensions of wellness — occupational, physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social. Others have divvied wellness up into five, six, seven, or eight dimensions, sometimes tossing in a “relationship” dimension, sometimes “environmental,” “financial,” or “community.” A quick image search reveals a galaxy of multidimensional wellness models in the shape of pies, hexagons, prisms, Venn diagrams, concentric circles, and geodesic domes.

I don’t know exactly how “wellbeing,” in the last few years, worked its way into the hearts of employers and the wellness industry. But one catalyst probably was the bestselling book, The Five Elements of Wellbeing, by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. Both authors are workplace consultants with Gallup (a partner of wellness vendor Healthways) and entrepreneurial marketers with a track record of successfully persuading employers to their way of thinking.

Rath and Harter argue, based on Gallup findings, that wellbeing is more profound than health and wellness, incorporating career, social, financial, physical, and community wellbeing. Sound familiar?

In practice, employers are rallying around mindfulness programs and financial planning, and repackaging stress management as resilience, and using these incremental expansions of the status quo as markers to distinguish wellbeing from wellness. Ultimately, the transition amounts to little more than a name change.

That’s fine.

I’m more than happy to dispose of the word “wellness.” I never cared for it — not because of its definition, but because it has failed to resonate with employees or the public at large. And I see no harm in calling it wellbeing instead of wellness. Certainly, while the employee wellness industry has been celebrating this “transition,” I doubt many employees have noticed a difference.

Besides, I’m open to the evolution of language, as long as it isn’t contrived to cover up a deception (like calling participation “engagement,” which I’m sure no self-respecting wellness professional would ever do).

Here’s my bottom line based on this incomplete and superficial exploration of the terms health, wellness, and wellbeing: Some people are inclined to see connections, whereas others are more drawn to compartmentalize. Maybe surgeons and benefits directors are more likely to see what’s tangible and quantifiable, while artists and farmers see the whole and the dynamics it contains. Both points of view probably deliver value.

Either way, I’m guessing that anyone who views health and wellness as only physical phenomena is likely to see wellbeing the same way. Others who view these concepts holistically are likely to do so regardless of the labels we attach to them.

Health, wellness, wellbeing: In the end, what we call it won’t matter as much as how we think of it…and how we act on it.

(Originally published on LinkedIn May 3, 2016)