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Company Culture: A Call for More Civility in the Workplace

Company Culture: A Call for More Civility in the Workplace

In the workplace there is little room for civility and kindness unless it is ingrained in a company culture. Business tends to lean towards being hard-nosed and competitive with people adopting the “what’s in it for me” attitude. This has resulted in an unspoken culture of incivility in companies, a behaviour that we’ve all probably engaged in from time to time but one which we don’t approve of. Incivility means that we’re disrespectful and undignified towards others, and express this by not listening attentively, by looking at our phone while someone is speaking to us, working on our laptop while talking, taking credit for a job that we didn’t do, blaming others and not taking ownership when we make a mistake, walking away from people while they’re still talking, publicly mocking or belittling people, being dismissive towards others, ignoring or excluding people in conversations, and withholding information. We may not be doing these things with malice but rather from a place of ignorance; however, in a workplace environment incivility in a company culture comes at a high cost. It doesn’t matter if you’re directly involved or if you’re observing incivility towards a colleague, it affects you just as much!

Incivility can be summarised as being blatantly rude towards others and not respecting diversity. Most leaders are actively doing their best to promote and get a healthy balance within their teams and using diversity to appreciate and leverage off each other’s many and varied talents, skills, strengths, ideas and perspectives. Incivility simply pours ice cold water over diversity. Research shows that incivility within a company culture results in decreased work performance, reduced creativity and brainstorming by up to 39%, disengagement in meetings, a lack of attention to instructions, and emotional exhaustion. Incivility comes at a high cost to organisations, but it is seldom ring-fenced as such. We think that people are under pressure to perform and busy with work tasks which makes multi-tasking acceptable, when in actual fact it is not. We’ll start to see little cliques developing within our teams and will notice that some of our colleagues are more isolated from the team than they should be. We all see it, but we don’t always take the time to stop, think about it and reflect over its impact on others, the team and our organisation. We may be directly involved and know how emotionally draining it feels to be sidelined or bullied by others, but we don’t often stand up for ourselves. We see it, we hear it, we feel it, but we don’t do enough about it to stop it, and we allow this uncivil behaviour of others to wash over us. Incivility in the workplace is not ok and it’s not acceptable. The change can come from leadership and be filtered down, but it can also start with you and be filtered down to your co-workers.

To shift the lever from incivility to being civil and respectful can start with being kind and empathetic towards others by using these tools.

  1. Saying thank you can go a very long way. These are two very simple and easy words that we only use 10% of the time at work. Be civil by thanking the people around you for their contribution, for their ideas and for their commitment. Thank you is also about acknowledging the person and being respectful of their work, time, ideas and resources. It’s about not taking other people for granted. Make a conscious effort to thank people more often.
  2. Share resources and knowledge: At work we often hold onto our knowledge believing that if we share it with others it may make us perhaps dispensable or vulnerable as others can use our work, ideas and concepts. Quite the contrary is true! When we share our knowledge and resources, we make room for innovation and allow for creativity with new ideas and concepts. Sharing is definitely caring, and often through conversation entirely novel ideas emerge. Not to mention that nowadays most of the knowledge can be googled and doesn’t have the prestige and power it did 20 or 30 years ago. Share your time and knowledge openly, frequently and generously.
  3. Give feedback generously and express gratitude: Giving someone feedback goes a level deeper than simply saying thank you as you have to be more specific. Articulate clearly what you liked about what they did and want more of, or what you think could be improved on. The art here is not to be general, but to really take the time to be specific about their behaviour, language, skill or process as that depth helps people to make the necessary change, by either repeating a behaviour, tweaking it or mastering it. Also, share what you’re grateful for in the person, and acknowledge them for the strengths and values they bring to your work.
  4. Attentive listening and attention: How often do you catch yourself listening with one ear, nodding away to the person talking, but already thinking of something else? It’s an unhealthy habit many of us have developed that is completely rude. We know very well what it feels like to be on the receiving end and we don’t like it at all, so be civil and don’t do it to others. Stop what you’re doing and honour what the person has come to share with you. Listen attentively to them about what they want or need from you. Tune into their mind and way of thinking so that you can solve a problem quicker or address their concern without miscommunication. Listening saves time and demonstrates respect towards the other person.

The time has come to reduce incivility in the workplace and to shift into humane engagements that value respect and honour diversity and kindness. Don’t wait for others to kick-start this; be courageous and start with your team and your co-workers.

Take this brief civility assessment to establish what your score is as well as areas that you can improve on: http://www.christineporath.com/take-the-assessment/

Do your bit to change your workplace into a happy environment.

The Importance of Recovering After a Work Day to Make Employees Happy

The Importance of Recovering After a Work Day to Make Employees Happy

Encouraging recovery can make employees happy, create a more productive work environment and ultimately improve staff retention

Want to make your employees happy? Well then it’s important to take two minutes to read this article.. In the last decade the term ‘work-life’ balance has become very popular especially for those talking about ensuring happy employees in the workplace. Everyone strives towards it, are told how important it is, and does their best  to figure out what mechanisms work. There is no one-size-fits-all for all employees though. Calling it work-life balance appears paradoxical, almost like two opposing poles; work is life and life is work. Perhaps it’s about balancing life with its various domains. The term ‘work-life balance’ per se has no standard definition and means different things to different people. So, how do we begin to engage with work-life balance with so many unknown variables?


An aspect of work-life balance that I’ll write about, as it’s frequently overlooked or ignored, is the concept of recovery during and after work. Often, we associate recovery as the process of getting healthy after an illness, and link it to the opposite of fatigue or burnout. But we seldom view recovery as a much-needed process during a working day as well as part of recuperating from a full day’s work. Professor Stevan E. Hobfoll, from the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center in America defines recovery as the replenishment of mental and physiological resources used for the external demands placed on us.

In a work environment we experience two types of fatigue:

  • Physical fatigue – is associated with hard labour and muscular aches where appropriate rest time during the day is often adequate to rejuvenate the body.
  • Mental fatigue – is linked to cognitive thinking, planning, problem solving and attending meetings. A short rest period, as would be adequate in physical fatigue, is not enough here.

And that is where the challenge begins. We need longer and more frequent breaks in the mental fatigue mode to uphold our stamina and energy, but seldom take the necessary breaks.

Short breaks can lead to more motivated employees a more productive team and a happy workplace.

Furthermore, we are able to distinguish between internal and external recovery. Internal recovery refers to the short, scheduled breaks we take between work tasks to shift our attention or even purposefully distract us. We recognise that our mental stamina is temporarily depleted and we shift tasks, take short breaks, chat with colleagues or engage in a completely different mental activity. The short breaks delay our fatigue but are not enough to recover from the day’s mental fatigue. External recovery provides us with that much-needed rest and restoration time between working days, weekends, pubic holidays and holiday time. Working after hours cancels out our entire recovery time, and we go to work the next day, maybe with a reduced work load and fewer emails in our inbox, but with lower energy, and reduced performance and productivity levels.

Healthy Employees are Happy Employees

From a health point of view, getting enough rest and recovery time reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, sleep problems, fatigue and burnout. That being said, activities that positively influence and assist with the recovery process are sports and physical activities, connecting with friends, performing household activities and caring for your children. The sports and physical activities are shown to have the most significant effect, which is understandable because of the additional adrenalin and happy hormones that we feel afterwards. But there is more to why sports and physical activities win first prize, and that is because our brain can’t engage in the activity and simultaneously ruminate over a work situation. It’s one or the other which is fantastic for our brain to be able to get some forced downtime.

Allowing your employees to get into a rhythm will improve team motivation and employee happiness.

The final thing that I want to write about is the relevance of our circadian rhythm, our biological body clock. By nature some of us are early morning risers, while others are night owls and peak later during the day. Working with our biological energy system influences our entire human system from our hormones, body temperature, and sleep patterns, to our insulin and glucose cycle and moods and emotions. In short, it determines when we are physically and psychologically at our best. Unfortunately, working life doesn’t always allow us to work predominantly from our best performance state, and we often have to demonstrate peak performance when our body isn’t in that mode. We’ll need extra energy to think harder, stay alert, pay attention to detail and remain connected with people, with the end result that in the evening our energy is more depleted than normal. Our brains have used up all the energy possible, and we need to engage in additional recovery, rest and restoration time to return to a homeostatic balanced mode. Recommended techniques are for you to engage in down-time practises such as yoga, meditation or reading, and refraining from any stimulating activities.

By now you may have noticed that your recovery processes during the day and after work are actually ongoing. They require your continuous conscious and self-regulated attention. The downside to not recovering enough is that ruminating thoughts, negative emotions, disturbed attention span, fatigue and distorted sleep creep into our lives. Our health and overall well-being levels drop severely. I hope that with this article you are inspired to review and amend, where necessary, your recovery process between work days.

Want to read more about how to make employees happy and motivated? Click Here to find out about 5 Ways to Motivate Employees


Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualising stress. American Psychologist, Vol. 44, 513-524.

Zijlstra, F. R., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). After work is done: Psychological perspectives on recovery from work . European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 15(2), 129-138.

Zijlstra, F. R., Cropley, M., & Rydstedt, F. R. (2014). From Recovery to Regulation. An attempt to reconceptualise ‘recovery from work.

Gratitude: What it is and what it isn’t

Gratitude: What it is and what it isn’t

Society holds gratitude in high esteem. Everyone wants to be more grateful which is a desirable human characteristic, however few of us actually are. Gratitude is about acknowledging that we have received something from someone else that we value and appreciate. The purpose of being grateful is to make life better for ourselves and others and to overcome the human tendency to take things, people or situations for granted. We shouldn’t feel entitled to the benefits, or to resent others for their benefits and nor to take credit for our own success. There were always others involved but supported, guided and believed in us.

But why do we struggle so much with this hugely inspiring characteristic? Gratitude doesn’t come naturally for most of us, whereas resentment and entitlement do. Gratitude is a virtue, which means that it needs to be taught, modelled, and regularly practiced until it becomes an automatic habit.

To complicate matters, gratitude has been identified as a trait (hereditary pre-disposition), an emotion and a mood. It starts off as an emotional reaction of feeling thankful and recognising the contribution others have made to our life and well-being. It then develops into a mood of a subtle, longer-duration of conscious state and ends as a permeable character trait.

There are multiple benefits to enhancing our level of gratitude:

  1. Promotes optimal functioning
  2. Promotes feelings of empathy, forgiveness and helping others
  3. Facilitates coping with stress and loss
  4. Reduces upward social comparison that often results in envy and resentment
  5. Reduces materialistic striving
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. Allows us to savour positive and pleasant memories
  8. Builds social resources
  9. Motivates moral and ethical behaviour
  10. Fosters goal attainment
  11. Promotes physical health
  12. Increases one’s spirituality


After reading those powerful benefits, I am certain you are excited to learn and grow your gratitude levels. Here are some ideas on how to do exactly that:

  1. If you enjoy journaling, this one is for you! Take five minutes at the start or end of your day where you write down what you are grateful for. It can cover a wide range of things from the mundane to the magnificent. However, vary it and challenge yourself to look for new gratitude nuggets.
  2. Express gratitude directly to another person. Write to them or tell them directly what you appreciate about them as a person or what they did for you. Expect some tears with this one!
  3. Take note of an ungrateful thought that popped into your head and consciously reframe it to a positive thought. This takes some practice in catching the thought.


Whichever idea you use, remain curious and open-minded. If one suggestion doesn’t work, swop it for another one. Experiment and play with this. Keep it varying and fresh. As the year draws to an end it’s the ideal time to reflect and express gratitude to the people who have supported you through the year.

Have fun and spread gratitude!



References: Chapter 16 – R.A. Emmons & A. Mishia pg. 248-262 Watkins

How to Create Job Satisfaction and Retain Your Best Talent

How to Create Job Satisfaction and Retain Your Best Talent

Finding the right person for the job, training them up to standard and then watching them walk out the door is the reality of any industry. However, there are strategies which can be used to help retain skilled talent and reduce the burden of high turnover and recruitment.  The truth is while the times have changed, so have people’s perceptions of what a ‘good job’ looks like. People are no longer bound by company loyalty and if they do not have job satisfaction (an overall positive experience at work) they are highly likely to look elsewhere.

If you are in a position of management then this is no small concern. Research shows that three quarters of people who leave their jobs state reasons for leaving are directly related to management. Research by Gallup estimates the cost of turnover to be anywhere between one half and 5 times that employee’s annual salary, and that is per employee!

It is thus vitally important that managers become aware of the needs of their employees and learn the staff retention strategies necessary to keep and build a skilled and committed workforce.

 The Relationship between Engagement, Job Satisfaction and Turnover

It is widely understood that employee engagement is a fundamentally important part of job satisfaction as it results in a sense of fulfilment and enthusiasm for one’s work which brings people’s passion and best performance forward. In fact, it has been found that employee engagement accounts for 96% of the organisational satisfaction and turnover relationship.

When we are perceived as a valuable asset to the company, are personally recognised for our contributions and experience opportunities for growth and development we are more committed to the job and the company strategy. In fact, people perceive a lack of development and career advancement to be the most important reason for leaving their job. And this may be the key to retaining skilled staff, as 92% of people are more likely to stay in company if they believe their development is considered and integrated by their managers.

So why do people leave?

People seek certain basic needs to be met before they feel a sense of job satisfaction. The fundamental needs required for employees to feel engaged, valuable and productive are listed below:

  • They need to know what is expected from them at work
  • They need to have the resources and materials required to perform the job
  • They need to be individually and consistently recognised for their specific task performance
  • They require good co-worker connections where there is equity of accountability across the board
  • They need to see a future in their work, one that is recognised and supported by the organisation

These fundamental needs enable employees to experience job satisfaction at work and in turn reduce any chances of intention to quit.

Management Strategies for Staff Retention

Managers are the mediators between the task and individual however many are not aware of the vital role they play in ensuring employee engagement and satisfaction and in turn their direct impact on staff retention and turn over. Below are a few strategies that can help you to keep and build your skilled workforce:

  • Have regular progress discussions

People want to know they have a future in their work and that the company they commit to is committed to developing them. Having regular progress discussions allows you to recognise these desired areas of development and helps facilitate integration of these goals into task allocation and adjustments. These discussions should be separate from the yearly performance reviews and can also help to improve attitudes towards the review process.


  • Strengths focus and good Interest-Job Fit

While the work doesn’t necessarily change having an awareness of your team members individual strengths can help to not only increase engagement and fulfilment in tasks but can help to ensure a good interest-job fit. This is fundamental part of an employee’s experience of job satisfaction and fine-tuning tasks to meet the strengths of you team members will result in greater co-worker connections and overall performance.

 It’s not about money- it’s about value

Despite popular belief, financial incentives and pay are not an effective strategy for retaining staff. In fact less than 22% of people site this as their reason for leaving. People want to be recognised for the value they bring. This is done through regular feedback and recognition, that is personal and specific to their unique work task and performance.

  • 360 Degree Feedback

This can be bold step for many managers as it involves receiving feedback from all levels (subordinates, peers and higher management). This process of communication allows those around you to provide feedback and in doing so allows you to see your situation without biases. It can also increase trust in your employees as they feel there is a two-way street, creating a mutual connection through feedback and learning. This method of feedback can also be used within your team and can help to increase connections and performance.

In Closing

Employee retention is an ongoing concern in any industry and the cost on the company is the high. Managers, being the mediators, have a big role to play in ensuring staff experience engagement at work and in turn have overall positive experiences in the workplace. When people are satisfied and feel a company is interested in their success, they become committed.  To the task, to their co-workers and the company as a whole. The staff retention strategies mentioned above are intended to reduce employee turnover however they are also clear steps for managers to take in creating more positive workplace environments.


The Power of Yet

The Power of Yet

If you’re thinking of embarking on a great adventure, there is no doubt that you’ve already begun to prepare yourself. In this article, we will introduce the idea of the growth mindset and some simple practical tools that could help you reach the highest peak on your journey.

We all know that when we want to get fitter we need to train, stick to our exercise program, stretch correctly, eat properly and get enough rest. However, what we often don’t consider is the way we’re considering our goals.

The danger of this oversight is that perhaps after a week, a month or even six months, we’re not yet at our goal weight or fitness level. Now what do we do?

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, wrote a book called Mindset in which she explores the different mindsets for success. Her research into the topic started with observing how school children responded to a challenging test. What she saw was that while some expressed excitement and motivation to take on the task, other children became completely distraught, as if the task was a test of their intelligence; a test they had failed. What Dweck realised was that their difference in mindsets was key to their success.

Fixed versus Growth Mindset

If we think of the above example, someone with a fixed mindset would most likely quit their training, telling themselves “I’m just not strong enough; I’ll never reach that goal because I’ll never be strong enough.”

The reason for this is that people with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are predetermined, cast in stone and that they’re stuck with what they have been given. People with a fixed mindset are trapped in what Dweck calls “The Tyranny of Now”. This is quite an apt phrase for our desire for instant success and the expectation that what we have now will or won’t be enough to make it now.

On the other hand, a person with a growth mindset would most likely persue their fitness goals. Perhaps even pushing themselves harder than they were before, saying “I’m not there yet but I’m on my way there, I can see the change in my body already and can’t wait to reach my goal!”

The difference between the person who gives up and the one that keeps going is the belief that their abilities can be developed through dedication and effort. That they’re growing towards their goals and only with perseverence will they achieve their success, and when they do, man will it feel good!

This is what Dweck calls “The Power of Yet”. We haven’t reached the summit yet, and may still have miles to go, but every step is getting us a little closer to that point.

So what’s the key to having a Growth Mindset?

A process focus.

Do you remember Finding Nemo’s character Dory, where she sings to the captive fish in the net “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming”, and while they’re struggling to move, each fish keeps on swimming until eventually they push hard enough and break free. This for me is a perfect example of process focus. The song reminds us that if we just keep on going we will reach our goals, especially if we push each others to do so.

At this point, while reading this article, you may be thinking that it’s simple, and the truth is , it is. But when you reach the brick wall in your energy for the day and you have miles more to climb, a process focus will become a useful resource in helping you reach your next rest camp.

So how can you keep a process focus?

By celebrating the tiny wins.

So when you hit that slump on your trail, instead of fighting against yourself or getting frustrated try taking a moment to reflect on all the successes you’ve had until that point. Perhaps acknowledging how far you have gone to get there, how many kilometres you’ve walked that day or how close you are to reaching the end. It could even be as simple as appreciating your surroundings and the beautiful people with whom you’re sharing this challenge and being grateful for the journey. Snapping photos and savouring them later in the day.

Celebrating even the tiniest wins can be a helpful technique to maintaining your process focus and in turn helping you see how far you’ve come. This will help to keep you motivated to carry on, and the best part… while you’re going, you will be growing new abilities.

“Everyone wants to live on the top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” – Andy Rooney

How fit are you for your next expedition?

How fit are you for your next expedition?

We’ve all seen pictures of beautiful snow-capped mountains, the sunrise over the mountain tops, and the tranquil landscape. So, it’s no surprise that the mountaineering bug has bitten you!

Preparing to climb a mountain is a deeply personal journey underpinned with various techniques and programs. The same can be said about the actual climbing experience and post summit achievement which is internalised differently by everyone. No climber faces the same challenges. Each trip and mountain brings with it different memories.

When we hear the word “fitness”, we naturally think about physical stamina and strength, being able to endure the long walk while maintaining a healthy cardiovascular fitness level. On the one hand taking recovery and rest phases into account to not over exhaust our muscles, and on the other hand pushing our body to its limits. But is that enough preparation for an excursion? Is physical fitness reliable enough to ensure we master our adventure?

We strongly advise a more holistic fitness approach that encapsulates the physical with the psychological. Positive psychophysiology is the study of the body and noticing how thoughts and emotions impact our level of well-being both on the physical and psychological level. They go naturally hand in hand and should be trained separately.

To make sure that a climber has a positive memory of the accomplishment and journey, many intricate aspects need to culminate at the same time. During the journey, things such as the climate, unforeseen equipment failure and physical ailments and injuries are beyond our control; however, our mental attitude and emotional well-being state in mastering and coping with adversity is in our control. Some people are genetically better equipped with a positive and strong mind-set, while others are less fortunate and must acquire, learn and practice these skills.

Mountaineers receive well-designed training programs, climbing equipment schedules and travel timetables that prepare them physically for the journey. Their mental state of mind and attitude, however, is left entirely up to them. Dan Gilbert’s research shows that human beings are often not accurate judges of their own psychological well-being and forecasting for the future.

4Seeds has partnered with Adventures Global to provide a holistic framework to ensure that you are fit from a physical, psychological and emotional level to embark on your mountaineering expedition. Through practice, training and repetition we will assist you to develop cognitive tools and techniques to be psychologically and emotionally equipped to master unforeseen challenges and experiences prior, during and after the mountaineering experience. Our monthly talks will equip you with skills to:

• manage various life situations by using practical tools
• be aware of self-observation of mental sinkholes
• understand positive and negative emotions
• build a routine of positivity that you can draw on in a time of need
• be resilient during adversity
• strike a vital balance of focusing on your strengths and weaknesses
• reduce stress

And so much more!

The amazing part is that these tools can be applied in all your life domains, be it at work, in your personal life, your relationships and with your families. You are gaining life skills that shift you from surviving to thriving. At 4Seeds our slogan is “Don’t go through life, grow through life” and that means having a positive mind-set and attitude towards life.

If you are interested in attending such a monthly talk please email Lisa Gering lisa@adventuresglobal.net and we will let you know when the next one is happening.

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 2

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 2

Last month we discussed the first question regarding whether there is a dark side to happiness. We specifically spoke about whether there is a wrong quantity of happiness. The secret lies in moderation – everything in a balanced quantity. Excessive extreme happiness swings are unhealthy for us and may even come at a cost.

This week we continue with questions 2 to 4 on the dark side of happiness.

Question 2: Is there an inappropriate time for happiness?

Our emotions are phenomenal as they prepare us to attain goals and expand our thinking and equally guard us from dangerous situations. Emotions are our internal guiding compass and if we tune into them we can obtain important guidance about situations and people. However, we try to regulate our emotions through consciously supressing unwanted feelings. We must understand the pros and cons every emotional state brings. For example, experiencing positive emotions makes us feel safe and we might be less persuasive in negotiations. Likewise, it’s almost impossible to be fair, empathetic and open-minded towards others when in an angry state.

Happiness is like humour, a delicate balance for when it’s appropriate to be happy and when not. Happiness is also in the eye of the beholder.

Question 3: Is there an incorrect way to develop happiness?

This question is quite intriguing. You will have seen many social media posts and articles that urge us to develop our level of happiness because it leads to positivity and fulfilment. We are constantly being encouraged to work on and increase our happiness level. But should we actively be striving for this? I get a sense that we are commoditising happiness as if it is a competency that with practice and continual usage we will improve on. If we do precisely that, then we are indeed going about it the wrong way. The reason is that we are treating happiness as a goal that needs to be attained. We set standards and benchmarks that determine how happy we are. We put more and more in and the opposite happens; we become more and more disappointed and unhappier. Research findings show that an active pursuit to attain happiness has resulted in greater social disconnect and feelings of loneliness. Again, the answer to this conundrum lies in our emotions. When we pursue happiness, we try to supress or avoid negative emotions which fuels more unhappiness. Our aim is to bring in more awareness, mindfulness and acceptance to our emotions. Going inward and being observers of our emotional, physical and cognitive mind. Being fluid and allowing ourselves to be human beings not controlled machines.

Question 4: Are there wrong types of happiness?

Are things black or white; right or wrong. This mindset demonstrates a level of scarcity and fixedness. Happiness is many things, but not that. Happiness has multiple flavours, textures and colours. What determines if something is right or wrong is our value system. The same can be said about happiness from a cultural aspect. What one culture deems virtuous, another does not. As an example, Asian countries value socially engaged emotions such as harmony, friendliness and kindness. In contrast, the European countries value pride and personal achievement. We need to be aware through whose lens we are looking, and also need to be tolerant and respectful that we all wear different lenses. There is no wrong happiness; but what is valued and resonates for you.

So, we need to tread carefully and not make happiness the benchmark for psychological and emotional well-being. We need to become aware that the power lies in balancing the positive with the negative in a harmonious way. Finding what the right dose is for each of us, the dose that makes us flourish and be our best possible self.


Gruber, J., Mauss, I., & Tamir, M. (2011). A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. Perspectives on Psychological Science Volume: 6 issue: 3, 222-233.

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 1

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 1

As humans, we are instinctively drawn to the positive. We tend to move towards positive situations, people and life-giving energy. This is referred to as the heliotropic effect. Positive energy allows us to process information more accurately which leads to an improved recall process. We learn and grow faster in positive environments, we perform at our best and we are much kinder to others and ourselves. So, this positive heliotropic effect should naturally be good for us. Likewise, pursuing happiness has scientifically demonstrated that it allows us to flourish, perform at our optimal, increase our well-being, broaden our attention span and become more goal orientated. But can too much of a good thing be bad for us? And what is too much?

Researcher June Gruber (2011) explored the concept of a dysfunctional dark side to happiness. At its minimum level, happiness includes life satisfaction experiencing more positive than negative emotions and moods, combining the emotional with the cognitive well-being. The automatic answer appears to be no. The questions Gruber asked are relevant to understanding the dark side of happiness:

Question 1: Is there a wrong quantity of happiness?

The first question is interesting as it questions whether  too much of a good thing is bad for us. Can too many positive emotions be maladaptive? We know that too much exercising can lead to physical injuries, too much working results in stress and possibly burnout, too much ruminating causes procrastination, decision-paralysis and exercise dieting results in bodily–organ–systems damage.

The same applies to happiness. An excessive level of a psychological state, negative or positive, is believed to be unhealthy and may lead to maladaptive behaviour and thoughts. The secret lies in moderation – everything in a balanced quantity. Excessive extreme happiness swings are unhealthy for us and may even come at a cost.

  • Decline in creativity;
  • Increase in riskier behaviours such as alcohol or drug consumption, binge eating and drinking, and promiscuous sexual activities;
  • Ignoring warning signs of threats and danger to our well-being;
  • The inability to feel or allow negative emotions.

Even people who have developed and grown their happiness levels experience negative emotions and feelings. They equally have bad days, disappointments and low moods. However, they manage them with a curious, open mind and don’t aim to deny or suppress those emotions; using a balanced approach.

We need to tread carefully and not make happiness the benchmark for people’s psychological and emotional well-being. Learning that the wisdom lies in balancing the positive with the negative in a harmonious way. Finding what the right dose is for each of us, the dose that makes us flourish and be our best possible self.

Next week, we’ll continue exploring the answers to questions 2 to 4 on this topic.

The missing link in New Year’s resolutions

The missing link in New Year’s resolutions

We are constantly being bombarded by the media and social networks with tips and advice for making New Year’s resolutions. You can’t open any social media platform these days without seeing recommendations on goal setting, planning, resolutions, statistics and self-improvement advice. The suggestions are endless… “try this, stop that, and change this…”, and the list goes on!

 Research shows that more than half of the population do not make New Year’s resolutions. I’d like to know how that figure can be true if we look at the information flood in the media? Also, a meagre eight percent of people successfully accomplish their resolutions. The generation who are under 30 seem to be the most successful with thirty-seven percent of them who are successful with their resolutions. With such a low success rate, I find it hard to believe that we still continue with this “mindless” tradition.

 Let me transgress for a moment and explore the origin of this tradition. New Year’s resolutions date back 4000 years to the ancient time of the Babylonians who celebrated New Year for three months from January to March. During this time, the Babylonians promised their Gods that they would dutifully repay their debts and return borrowed objects to their rightful owners. These intended gestures were so that the Gods could bestow blessings and good fortune onto the people. Fast forward to the 21st century and this religious tradition has shifted to us making promises to ourselves on self-improvement and development.

Studies have shown that self-improvement focuses on four main topics. Forty one percent of people resolve to enhance their personal development and education, followed on the heels by forty percent promising to improve their money matters. Then there are thirty-four percent who focus on health and weight topics and twenty-two percent on cultivating healthier relationships.

Also, the origin of the word “resolution” stems from the 14th century Anglo-French and Latin language and directly translated means “to break down into small parts”. Taking the lead from this definition, it provides a possible answer as to why by the end of January our positive intentions have petered out and lost energy.

Perhaps the answer lies in our mindset thinking? Our New Year’s resolutions might be hairy, audacious goals that we truly want to achieve, but with an unrealistic timeframe. It took us time to master our existing habits, and obviously, they cannot be undone in 10, 30 or even 90 days. We consciously, or sub-consciously perhaps, repeated the negative habit on a very regular basis, which allowed pathways to be developed in our brain. If we look at neuroscience, the evidence suggests that neurons that fire together wire together. To replace negative with positive wiring, we must undergo two simultaneous processes. Firstly, we must stop thinking and doing the negative stuff so that with time the neuropathways starve and die-off. At the same time, we should very diligently and regularly engage in new positive behaviour to get new pathways connecting with each other. This process of the new neurons starting to fire together can take anything from ninety days to six months, depending on the conscious regularity. Only after six to nine months does the new positive habit become automated and part of our natural behaviour.

A second reason for the high New Year’s resolution failure rate is that we are not crystal clear of the underlying reason, the WHY, for the desired change. The WHY factor is a very important and often overlooked component and is the motivation driver that keeps us focused and committed when we have wobbles, self-doubt, exhaustion or feel overwhelmed. Start with understanding the WHY for the New Year’s resolution. Write down reasons and benefits WHY you want to pursue change.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to change for the better and setting resolutions, however it’s a mindset to keep throughout the year. Going back to the Latin origin of the word “resolution” (break into small parts) we should consider breaking down our resolutions into monthly ones. At the end of every month we should take stock of the progress made, the learning experienced and then celebrate our wins. It’s important to do all three of these elements every time.

New Year’s resolutions are positive intentions and promises for our own self-betterment and improvement, so let’s move the success ratio upwards.

Anonymous work feedback friend or foe?

Anonymous work feedback friend or foe?

Receiving feedback can be a touchy subject. We all know it is necessary for us to grow and develop mastery skills. However, we often receive useless criticism that leaves us feeling ineffective and incompetent. The “good intention” of feedback seldom leaves us with a clear understanding on where, what or how we need to develop. In the work environment feedback, appraisal reviews and team assessments can have an extremely negative connotation. Some companies introduced the 360-degree anonymous feedback survey where superiors, peers and team members rate an employee on their work performance. The collated feedback is then presented to the employee with the intention of providing fair, objective feedback on their work. But is it fair and is the anonymous feedback of value to the employee?   Recently after reading Kahn’s book “Coaching on the Axis”, a new aspect came to light for me with something regarded as common business practice that was put into question. Kahn said that anonymous feedback is more destructive to the employee and team relationships than anticipated. His key reasons are summarised below:

  1. The feedback is out of context because no objective examples or situations are provided. This makes the feedback subjective and the person receiving the feedback has no clear reference point for their respective score.
  2. People naturally try to decipher who said what about them. This psychological, albeit unconscious, process impacts on the team relationship, and if this is not enough, the relationship becomes extremely tense when one figures out from whom the feedback has come. The receiver may not confront the giver because the survey was anonymous and they might be mistaken with their assumption. Nevertheless, below-the-surface tension develops in the team relationship.
  3. In 1996 Antonioni proved that anonymous feedback means the person giving the feedback may not reflect over their feedback provided. This results in them not applying themselves to the level they should.
  4. In the end, a coach might be used to collate, analyse and share the feedback with the person. This can unintentionally place additional strain on the coaching relationship because the client will wonder if the coach is sharing everything. Furthermore, the coach might be aware of who said what and has to refrain from sharing this knowledge. Trust is likely to be tarnished which is detrimental to the coaching process, success and relationship.
  5. Lastly, anonymous feedback could be used as a hidden safe agenda to get back at a colleague. Nobody can prove it but there might be a malicious attempt to bully a colleague.

Feedback is important but perhaps we should opt for open feedback where the comments provided can be discussed. Open and transparent feedback creates lasting impetus and change because the person can place the comments into context.   Meaning can be placed on “what” is being said both from a content and intent perspective. This often alleviates the norm of feeling criticised and/or victimised.   The person providing the feedback has to apply their mind and focus on the message intended versus haphazardly circling an assessment score. Open and transparent feedback proves valuable information that enables a person to grow and develop whilst preserving work relationships and trust.