Looking at the modern workplace today, we see two very different and competing worlds. In one world, we see a clear manifestation of the burnout disorder: a business culture single-mindedly obsessed with quarterly earnings reports, maximizing short-term profits, and beating growth expectations. In the other world, we see an increasing recognition of the effects workplace stress can have on the well-being of employees—and on a company’s bottom line.
One company that did wake up to the importance of employee health was Safeway. The supermarket chain’s former CEO Steve Burd recounts that in 2005 Safeway’s health care bill hit $1 billion and was going up by $100 million a year. “What we discovered was that 70 percent of health care costs are driven by people’s behaviors,” he says. “Now as a business guy, I thought if we could influence the behavior of our 200,000-person workforce, we could have a material effect on health care costs.”
So Safeway offered incentives for employees to lose weight and control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It established a baseline health insurance premium with behavior-based discounts. As Burd explained, “If you are a confirmed non-smoker, we give you a discount. If you have cholesterol under control, a discount. Blood pressure under control, a discount. And so behavior becomes a form of currency for people to accomplish their lifestyle changes.” And it was a huge success. “You allow and encourage your employees to become healthier, they become more productive, your company becomes more competitive,” Burd says. “I can’t think of a single negative in doing this. Making money and doing good in the world are not mutually exclusive.
Healthy employees, healthy bottomline. As simple as that.
At the personal level, there are three simple steps each one of us can take that can have dramatic effects on our well-being:
- Get just thirty minutes more sleep than you are getting now.
- Move your body: Walk, run, stretch, do yoga, dance. Just move. Anytime.
- Introduce five minutes of meditation into your day. Eventually, you can build up to fifteen or twenty minutes a day (or more), but even just a few minutes will open the door to creating a new habit—and all the many proven benefits it brings.
Wisdom is precisely what is missing when—like rats in the famous experiment conducted by B. F. Skinner more than fifty years ago—we press the same levers again and again even though there is no longer any real reward. By bringing deeper awareness into our everyday lives, wisdom frees us from the narrow reality we’re trapped in—a reality consumed by the first two metrics of success, money and power, long after they have ceased to fulfill us. Indeed, we continue to pull the levers not only after their diminishing returns have been exhausted, but even after it’s clear they’re actually causing us harm in terms of our health, our peace of mind, and our relationships.
Wisdom is about recognizing what we’re really seeking: connection and love. But in order to find them, we need to drop our relentless pursuit of success as society defines it for something more genuine, more meaningful, and more fulfilling. Everything that happens in our lives—every misfortune, every slight, every loss, and also every joy, every surprise, every happy accident—is a teacher, and life is a giant classroom. That’s the foundation of wisdom that spiritual teachers, poets, and philosophers throughout history have given expression to.
There is a big difference between stoic acceptance and resignation. Cultivating the ability to not be disturbed by our lives’ obstacles, disappointments, and setbacks doesn’t mean not trying to change what we can change. And the wisdom to know the difference comes from our ability to move from our narrow, self-absorbed world to a world that encompasses a larger perspective and a higher altitude. And it all starts with daily, tiny, positive changes that move us in the direction we want to go. Here are three suggestions:
- Listening to your inner wisdom, let go of something today that you no longer need—something that is draining your energy without benefiting you or anyone you love. It could be resentments, negative self-talk, or a project you know you are not really going to complete.
- Start a gratitude list that you share with two or more friends who send theirs to you.
- Have a specific time at night when you regularly turn off your devices—and gently escort them out of your bedroom. Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition, and creativity.
Wonder is not just a product of what we see—of how beautiful or mysterious or singular or incomprehensible something may be. It’s just as much a product of our state of mind, our being, the perspective from which we are looking at the world. Countless things in our daily lives can awaken the almost constant state of wonder we knew as children. But sometimes to see them we must look through a different set of eyes. The triggers are there. But are we present enough to experience them?
There are three basics, three simple practices, that can help you live more in the moment:
- Focus on the rising and falling of your breath for ten seconds whenever you feel tense, rushed, or distracted. This allows you to become fully present in your life.
- Pick an image that ignites the joy in you. It can be of your child, a pet, the ocean, a painting you love—something that inspires a sense of wonder. And any time you feel contracted, go to it to help you expand.
- Forgive yourself for any judgments you are holding against yourself and then forgive your judgments of others. (If Nelson Mandela can do it, you can, too.) Then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.
Wellbeing, Wisdom, Wonder: 3W are critical to redefining success and thriving, but they are incomplete without the fourth element of the final metric: Giving.
We are in the midst of multiple crises—economic, environmental, and social. And we cannot wait for a leader to ride in on a white horse to save us. We all need to find the leader in the mirror, and take the steps needed to make a difference, both in our own communities and at the other end of the world.
Imagine how our culture, how our lives, will change when we begin valuing go-givers as much as we value go-getters. Social entrepreneurs are classic go-givers. They build their work on a foundation of adding value to people’s lives. Even in everyday business dealings, giving is becoming an increasingly valuable coin. As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin put it:
The irony of “getting in return for giving” is that it doesn’t work nearly as well as merely giving.… Bloggers who measure the return on investment of every word, twitterers who view the platform as a self-promotional tool instead of a help-others tool, and those that won’t contribute to Wikipedia and other projects because there’s no upside … these folks are all missing the point.…
It’s not that difficult to figure out who’s part of the online community for the right reasons. We can see it in your writing and in your actions. And those are the people we listen to and trust. Which, of course, paradoxically, means that these are the people we’ll choose to do business with.
Studies of the effects of giving in the workplace are equally dramatic and show the impact of volunteering on creating a healthier, more creative, and collaborative workforce. In the words of Arianna
At AOL and The Huffington Post, we offer our employees three paid volunteer days each year to serve in their communities and we match up to $250 a year of charitable contributions per employee. It is a reward system that should be incorporated into how we think about health care.
Givers also end up getting ahead at work. (Nice guys don’t finish last!) In his best-selling book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant cites studies that show that those who give their time and effort to others end up achieving more success than those who don’t. Salespeople with the highest annual revenue are those who are the most motivated to help their customers and coworkers; the engineers with the highest productivity and fewest errors are those who do more favors for colleagues than they receive. The highest achieving negotiators are those who focus not only on their own goals, but also on helping their counterparts succeed.
Just like every other habit, the habit of giving starts with small daily steps. Oour daily life is the ultimate training. If you told yourself that the goal is to write the great novel, you might never begin. But you would be far more likely to begin if you told yourself to write one hundred words a day. It’s the same with transforming ourselves:
- Make small gestures of kindness and giving a habit, and pay attention to how this affects your mind, your emotions, and your body.
- Make a personal connection with people you might normally pass by and take for granted: the checkout clerk, the cleaning crew at your office or your hotel, the barista in the coffee shop. See how this helps you feel more alive and reconnected to the moment.
- Use a skill or talent you have to help someone who could benefit from it. It’ll jumpstart your transition from a go-getter to a go-giver, and reconnect you to the world and to the natural abundance in your own life.