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Ongoing “baby steps” needed to rewire our thinking

Many employees are neither happy nor fully engaged at their jobs, Jennifer Moss says.

Studies show that only 13 per- cent of people globally are engaged and happy at work, Moss said in a presentation to MEDA staff from around the world at the organization’s annual planning meeting.

Half are what she describes as weekend warriors, and 20 per cent actually hate going to work every day. “This is unfortunately what a huge amount of the workforce feels.”

Moss has considerable experience looking into the subject. A workplace and happiness expert, she is author of the best-selling book Unlocking Happiness at Work.

She is also co-founder of Plasticity Labs, a happiness and workplace wellness consulting company, and a member of the United Nations Global Happiness Council.

Moss believes that observing more and demonstrating empathy are important in building supportive workplace culture.

We need to look at changing the Golden Rule from “Do unto others as you would have done to you” to “Do unto others as they would have done unto them,” she said.

The average person spends 115,000 hours at work in their lifetime. That prospect may excite some and depress others, she said. At 2:39 pm Friday, people start to mentally check out from their work.

There are a number of reasons why people are unhappy in general, she suggested.

Some people suffer from breaking news disorder from a constant barrage of bad news, which sends the stress hormone cortisol through our body. As many as 28 percent of people are worn out by the amount of negative news.

The impact of technology and the volume of new media also stresses us out. Each hour there are 300 hours of video posted on YouTube. If YouTube quit uploading new content, you could watch that online channel 24 hours a day for the rest of your life and not see everything.

Loneliness is another reason for unhappiness. “The impact of lonelyness on our body is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” she said. Cigna’s chief medical officer
says loneliness is even more dangerous than obesity. Inside our organizations, we need to reach out to people, she said.

“The workplace can be a great place for people to feel connected, it can also be a place where people feel even more isolated.”

Jim and Jennifer Moss co-founded Plasticity Labs. photo courtesy the Moss familyJim and Jennifer Moss co-founded Plasticity Labs. photo courtesy the Moss family

As many as seven in 10 people feel burned out at work at some point. Passion-driven roles such as employees of non-profits, teachers and health care professionals are most at risk, according to Gallup’s 2018 state of the workforce report.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “When passion leads to burnout,” Moss debunked the age-old notion that if people do what they love, they will never work a day in their life. “It’s a nice idea, but a total myth,” she wrote.

Moss is working on a new book about burnout, which she says is a workplace issue because people don’t know how to put the brakes on. People need to have a harmonious passion for work, not an obsessive passion.

When we want to make changes in how we think and live, taking baby steps is crucial. Complexity reduces the chance of a change sticking and being adopted, she said.

Making short, incremental micro-changes consistently over time turns habits into traits.

But it can take several years to create a habit, not 21 days as some have suggested. “It is very hard to create and engineer subconscious new behaviors.”

Humans want the path of least resistance, she said. Simple actions provide complex benefits. Something as simple as setting a meeting reminder for 2:39 pm each Friday and using that time to send someone a quick note thanking them can help to spark a culture of gratitude in an organization, she said.

Happy, healthy, high-performance people have seven habits. Moss uses the acronym HERO GEM to describe these seven traits: Hope, Efficacy, Resilience, Optimism, Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness.

These seven traits increase people’s lifespan, make us more motivated to work and improve the productivity of companies, she said.

Increasing hope can be achieved by an action as basic as making your bed every morning. That habit increases cognitive hope building.

“The workplace can be a great place for people to feel connected, it can also be a place where people feel even more isolated.”

Self-efficacy empowerment involves believing that you are empowered to takes risks and have the autonomy to try new approaches at work. Instead of saying “fail forward,” companies should encourage a “culture of try” instead, she said.

Switching language can be powerful. Moss suggests saying “I get to” instead of “I have to” for a few days when facing mundane tasks. “It changes the value of what you do.”

She also encourages people to avoid saying never or always. Optimists don’t have permanence. “Always is a really unhealthy word to say. So is never.”

Our brains are very lazy, she said. Our brains can attend to only 40 things per second, but billions of things happen behind the scenes. To cope with that overload, our brain wants shortcuts.

Knowing that the unconscious brain can process 11 billion bits of information per second, but the conscious brain only has the capacity to deal with 40 bits of information per second is an important starting point. “We have to work to make our subconscious work for us.”

Our most uncomfortable moments tend to be the ones that drive us forward to the most exciting time. “We’re always rebounding (from challenges), tiny little rebounds.” People say fine 14 times a day but only mean it 19 percent of the time. We need to ask deeper questions, and “don’t accept fine if a person doesn’t seem fine,” she said.

Mindful brains exercise communication between the front and the back of the brain. When this happens, primal responses to stress are superseded by more thoughtful ones, she said.