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Parenting Unfiltered helping Working Parents

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Ben Mand is Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing & Innovation at Plum Organics where he’s been instrumental in strengthening Plum’s core mission, developing the brand campaign, and the launch of more than 30 new products, helping to accelerate the brand from the #3 to the #1 organic baby food company. Prior to joining Plum, Ben worked in Marketing and Innovation roles at General Mills and Johnson & Johnson. While at General Mills, Ben made an impact as a change agent, driving improvements in health, sustainability, and social impact while delivering consistent sales and profit growth for well-known brands, including Progresso, Pillsbury, and Yoplait. He spoke with Stew Friedman about Plum Organic’s Parenting Unfiltered program and more.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation and the full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: Can you give us a brief introduction to the Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered Campaign?

Ben Mand: Ben MandI have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old and so Parenting Unfiltered was very near and dear to my own heart as well as for my teams. One of the things that struck us as we thought about our brand and our role as a partner for parents, and as we looked at the marketplace, marketing, and what parents were posting on social media, was that a lot of those picture-perfect moments – and they’re something we all really enjoy and they’re great when the entire family is all facing camera, all smiling – are so rare when they actually happen.

SF: And this is one of the problems of social media; we’re all feeling bad about ourselves because everybody is else projecting the perfection of their lives.

BM: That’s exactly right. You see on social media an image of when you go to the Giants game, or the Phillies game, or whatever it might be, and that is a great moment. Those moments need to be embraced and cherished, of course. Our point was that’s really one percent of what really goes on. Our thought was to share and celebrate the realities of parenting – the good, the bad, the downright smelly, whatever it is – to reveal what’s real and embrace that. Our philosophy is there’s something real and amazing that comes from the other 99 percent as well. You bring up a really important point. You look at those perfect images, whether it be a marketing ad or things that are put on social media by other parents and you think that that is the norm. You see that as the standard and you reflect on the morning you had with your family, or the last week, and that picture perfect moment is such a rare moment. The other times it’s running late out the door and the kids haven’t finished their breakfast. There’s the myriad of things you faced as a family.  And what I think is important to recognize, and what I want parents to recognize, is what we see oftentimes in social media is just the one percent of what really happens and we all have our challenges. There’s so much to this parenting thing. If you love your kids and you’re doing the best you can, then chances are you’re doing a great job.

SF: The video, which is fantastic, comes in a couple of different lengths.  Where can people see it?

BM: You can see it on ParentingUnfiltered.comYouTube or on our Facebook page. Those are easy places to see it.

SF: So it’s Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered. What is snapshot of what this video does?

BM: We spent time thinking of all the different moments that are really real, that cut through the classic, cliché beautiful moments, that are challenges, that we wanted to bring to life. Whether it be pumping at work for a mom, or that evening where you just sat down as a couple and you have a glass of wine and you’re just about to start doing some work and the baby monitor goes off and the baby is crying. You just look at each other and figure out whose turn it is. It’s just bringing to life those moments, which can be challenging.

SF: It brings to life the hard part, which is of course where so much of the sublime pleasure ultimately comes from. Your campaign is really a breakthrough in cutting past the gloss out there that makes so many people feel bad about themselves for failing to have the perfect family life as seen on Facebook. Where did the motivation come for this campaign and what’s the impact been?

BM: The motivation came from two places; business and personal. There are so many brands that have come out in the marketplace and how can we at Plum Organics stand out and be different? There was that functional business aspect of it. As we talked about it as a team, what really pained us, and this is definitely true for me, there’s so much judging that goes on and there’s so much guilt that goes with parenting and we wanted to be able to reveal that and tell parents that they’ve got this and that they shouldn’t feel like such failures. There was a personal element for us as well. We know that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. It was very therapeutic as we developed the campaign to recognize that it was really rewarding for us and helped unlock something inside. We felt there was an opportunity for us to do this with parents across the country as well.

SF: I’d love to hear more about how that unfolded, the dynamics among your team. You said it was therapeutic, can you say more about how “revealing the real” and somehow enhancing your acceptance of the real was useful to your team?

BM: As we were thinking through the different situations, we talked about things that often aren’t talked about in the workplace. You might, with one of your close colleagues, talk about these challenges or funny moments or challenging moments, but rarely in a bigger forum, and we talked about the challenges that comes with it.

SF: How did you do it? How did you make that happen with your colleagues?

BM: I think it comes from a leader standpoint. It had to come from me. I set the tone as to what is acceptable. Whether I recognize it or not, people take their cues from me. I do have a natural bias for being very transparent, so I shared these things and there are times where I’m late for work or I have to leave early, whatever it may be, and I’m very transparent about those situations. As we were discussing those things, I was pretty transparent with some of these challenges. When I talked about the husband and wife on the couch, it hit home hard for me because my wife and I have had those challenging moments where we both are trying to balance careers and being great parents. There are times where we figure out who needs time in front of the computer most. These were very real and raw resonant moments for me.

SF: By talking about the reality of tensions in your own family life and being able to fit all the pieces together, which is always a challenge, and encouraging and modeling that behavior for others, while you’re developing the campaign to display this, what are the kinds of things that other people shared that helped you to create the video? I’m also really interested to know how that changed how you worked together?

BM: I’ll start with how the elements came together for the video. As I think about, and this is not something I’ve personally had to deal with, but certainly pumping at work and how you store that even when you travel, I know my wife goes through it, that one was a no-brainer to be in the video because it was a real pain point. It is that very visceral challenge of on some level you need to be there for your little one and you want to be there for your little one, but you’re using this device and where do you do it. There were stories of being in the bathroom or various locations, there’s not always a great location to do it. If you’re traveling, how you store it and all those challenges. Those were some real moments for the team. Honestly, for me and for the team, our ability to talk about it really stems from the type of organization that we are. Our philosophy is to bring your own self to work. It actually has to start with universally being a real culture and having real conversations. When you have that as your foundation, it’s easier to be candid about the challenges of parenting.

For me, when I first started at this organization, this was the company I wanted to work for. One of the challenges of moving to the Bay Area is that it’s incredibly expensive and it’s tough to break into this market. We had two kids and one car. I rode my bike to work or took a bus or ran, which is kind of funny. I could use that run right now, as I do not work out nearly as much. I had to leave everyday by about 5:30 so I could catch a bus to get home so I could get the kids from the aftercare program, which closed right at 6, and usually I would have a couple minutes to spare. When we’re a small startup and we’re struggling to get by, I did often have these feelings that I was coming across as somehow letting the organization down or that they didn’t feel that I understood how much we had to do as an organization to survive.

SF: Was that in your head, or was that real for other people?

BM: It was in my head. I had a number of people, who after a while, pulled me aside and thanked me for doing that because they were struggling with the same things. For me, it was that I had to out of necessity. I had to pick up the kids and there were no two ways about it. It was good that it was forced that way. As a parent, I always struggle with being a great dad and doing a great job for my company and for my team. Those people were somewhat surprised that I would walk out the door at 5:30. One colleague told me that she had written and email but she would set it so that the email would not go out until 10:30 at night to signal she was burning the midnight oil, which never dawned on me. That’s the wrong behavior because it perpetuates what others feel that they have to then do. This campaign and how we’ve approached it has let us get real. Frankly, for some folks, they would say as you strive to have that integration and balance, how do you get things done? I would argue what it does is it takes the stress and guilt and it doesn’t take them completely away, but it certainly minimizes and reduces that. I think the performance is just as good, if not even stronger, because we’re honest about it and have provisions and flexibility so that parents can attend to the things that they need to and want to outside of work. When they’re able to do that, everyone is so much more committed. I’m far more productive and I feel the team is far more productive when they can be their whole self at work and know that they did the things they needed to do. This morning, I was in my daughter’s class and I worked on reading with her class. It was something I did before work, so I got to work 20 minutes late.

SF: How did that help your performance at work? Why would the people at Plum Organics be happy to know that you were doing that?

BM: One, I make every minute matter during the day and I find I’m much more productive. Two, I find ways to do the things I need to do and I’m also more selective in just making sure I’m present or participating in the things I need to participate in.

SF: You’re more focused and conscious of your real priorities, and of course, that helps everybody around you and it probably helps them to do the same.

BM: I think it does. I do see a change in behavior. I think it’s something you have to continually remind folks of, you have to be that positive role model as you much as you can, but I do see things change as an organization. I care about the long run, so I don’t want people to burn out. I want people to have the right kind of balance, and it’s different for each person. For some folks, if they have a longer commute then they’re working from home more days. For other folks, they want to come in super early and leave early. That’s fine. I find with each person it’s important to understand their situation and what means what to them, and find a solution that works for them and the organization.

SF: This is the work we’ve been doing at Wharton for 25 years, is to help people learn through our research, teaching, and practice, how to pursue what we call four-way wins. That is action that you can take that benefits your work, home, community, and yourself personally. One of the core ideas is that everybody’s different and everybody requires a different customized solution but everybody is also thinking about what they can do to make adjustments that are going to work for them personally for their families but also us as an organization. When you take that approach and you try to make it reality in your organization, you get exactly what you’ve been describing with your wonderful and really exemplary role model. You get enhanced commitment, you get prioritization, and people feel good about themselves at work. They’re more confident, they’re more able to innovate.  Congratulations on making that a reality and it’s so wonderful how you’ve woven that into this remarkable campaign. I wonder what sort of impact you’ve had on the marketplace in terms of your brand with the Unfiltered Campaign. What feedback and reaction have you gotten?

BM: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. A number of organizations that hold awards have awarded us with best social, best video campaign of the year. That’s because it’s so resonant; it actually addresses something that’s very real for parents. That certainly has been positive. For me, I found it really rewarding looking through the comments and reading what people are saying, it really is positive that they see themselves in this and they recognize that this is what parenting is. It’s endearing to see couples sharing it back and forth. Knowing that at the end of the day, we’re partners and advocates for parents and our job is to make each step better and easier for them. We do that from a product standpoint, but certainly we want to do that from a soul, mind, and body standpoint.  So if we can take some of that judgment away and help them understand they’re in the same boat as all the rest of us, then we’re successful.

SF: It’s such a powerful idea and it’s incredibly well-executed to make people feel less guilty for not being the perfect parent, and making normal the messiness. It’s a wonderful public service and it seems like such a natural and brilliant way to convey what you brand is about. I congratulate you and have great admiration for what you’ve done with this campaign. What’s next for Plum Organics? How are you going to build on this?

BM: We feel it’s an ongoing conversation. We started this journey a year ago and we’ve done a number of different things, and we’re going to continue the conversation. There are a number of smaller moments, conversations — Mother’s   Day, Father’s Day – we have some great ways to break through with parents and continue this notion of Parenting Unfiltered to bigger moment that we think will come later in the year.

About the Author

Jacob Adler, W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.


Genentech’s purpose-driven culture

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Nancy Vitale is the Vice President of Human Resources for Genentech and Regional Human Resources Head for Roche Pharma North America. She leads a team of nearly 200 HR professionals dedicated to creating a great place for the organization’s 14,000+ employees to do their best work.  Before Genentech Nancy held high level HR positions at Gillette, P & G, and Deloitte Consulting.

The following are edited excerpts of her conversation with Stew Friedman. Full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: Genentech often lands on the Best Places to Work for lists. What’s the secret to your success?

Nancy Vitale: Nancy VitaleWe make medicines to treat some of the world’s most challenging diseases. This includes discovering, developing, manufacturing medicines. This year, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary. One of our secrets to the success of being a Best Place to Work for is our culture. That is the secret sauce. We’ve been dedicated to creating a connected, inspiring culture for the 14,000 employees who come to work everyday and deliver on that mission to help people who suffer from serious diseases. We’ve been pushing scientific boundaries for almost 40 years, and given this, we’re also aware that success as an organization is tied directly to engagement and resilience of our employees.

SF: A lot of companies talk about creating a culture that engages and supports people, about resilience in the face of adversity, and about things like the capacity to persist, be creative, and diligent in getting important work done. Let’s drill down a little further on that.  Nancy, if you could tell our listeners some of the things that you do to ensure that you’ve got the kind of culture that does have that kind of impact.

NV: A lot of companies will point to programs and benefits and specific offerings, but I’d say the thing that is most meaningful to us is clarity of mission and purpose. It’s actually one of the most fundamental components, in my opinion, to building a great place to work and a healthy culture. For us, people who can anchor to our mission, focus on creating, discovering, developing medicines that can treat individuals, they feel passionate about that. Our employees absolutely feel passionate about the work that we do. It helps them to remain engaged, find joy in their work, it’s very much part of the fabric of who they are, even in times of change and uncertainty. For us, it’s clarity of mission. It’s always focused on being science-driven, patient-centered. These are important pillars to our culture and we know that inspires our employees.

SF: What’s so interesting about that is that you demonstrated that in your first words to me. The first thing you talked about was the purpose of your company and what you do, so it’s clear to me in the way you spoke about it that you take this seriously and personally and it did seem to infuse your words with a sense of pride.

NV: No matter who you would ask, they would point to that. It could be a manufacturing technician, it could be a scientist, or a business partner. I think that’s what binds us all, is this community of individuals trying to deliver on our mission each and every day.

SF: It’s such an important element of what makes for a culture that truly does draw on the passions and interests of people.  Having worked in this field for 30+ years, I can recall in the mid-80s that many of the leading firms that were in the vanguard of change – thinking and acting differently about work and the rest of life – were in the pharma business and it’s in part for this very reason. There’s a direct connection between the mission of providing life-giving services and treatments with the inspiration that people look for at work. It’s not surprising that you find that in the pharma industry.

NV: I think you’re right. For me, I’ve worked at Genentech almost 10 years and it’s the longest I’ve worked at any place. I think that speaks to the personal level of connection that people have with our company.

SF: How do you make clear the purpose and mission in such a way that each and every one of those 14,000 people feels like it’s his or her own?

NV:. There are banners that greet employees in every campus that they go to. We bring in patient speakers that are a regular reminder of why we come to work, speaking to the employees about the impact that the medicines have had on them. Our scientists are expected to publish papers and to share their research openly, so there is clear evidence of what we do and how we keep those elements of the culture and mission in front of the workforce.

SF: You bring in patients that have benefitted from your medicines?

NV: That’s right.

SF: To talk to research scientists, to talk to HR people?

NV: Everyone. In fact, every other year we have an event where anyone can sign up to attend and we bring in about a dozen different patients who are being treated with a number of different medicines that we make. But many functions, when they have a town hall or a big event, will bring in a patient speaker for that particular one. It doesn’t matter the function you’re in, it’s a long-standing practice that we have.

SF: What an awesome idea, and it’s one that must seem very natural to the people in your organization now.

NV: Typically, there’s not a dry eye in the audience because going back to your comment, the emotional connection that people have when they feel that they’re part of something bigger. They understand that their efforts are contributing to something bigger and having a big impact on society at large.

SF: Everybody wants that and we know especially young people today are demanding that in their workplaces.  So you find organizations of all types – financial services companies, tech companies, manufacturing companies – all trying to do what you’re doing. How do you translate this idea of clarity of mission and purpose to impact and significance of the work itself? How would you transfer that to other organizations where it’s not so obvious?

NV: I think going back to this notion of culture, there is no right or wrong recipe for a great corporate culture. For individuals outside of biotech or pharma industry who may not have that view of what it is as a patient they’re serving, I think going back to an understanding of what is our specific mission, understanding the values, the customs, the creations, the achievements and failures of the different individuals within that organization that really do define the culture. I think companies evolve. Some of the lessons that we’ve had might be applicable to other folks in other industries as a leadership team to take a self-examination of what is the culture you’re aspiring to versus the culture you are experiencing in the day-to-day and understanding what you need to do to nurture the culture, the work environment. That’s instilling a mission that resonates with your people. What is the purpose that unites all the employees that make up a particular organization? Inspecting that culture for cracks in the foundation, where are we missing in terms of expected and actual culture? For us, a lot of that has started from the top. We’ve had conversations at our executive committee about the type of culture we want, recognizing that we also need to evolve that culture, and rewarding employees for the behaviors that reflect the culture that we aspire to. Those would be the few applicable lessons that I would say apply to any industry.

SF: Absolutely, but not easy to implement. The idea of focusing in any kind of organization on why we are here, what we stand for, the impact that we’re trying to have on making the world better in some way and being super clear about that and as you said, inspecting for cracks in the foundation, I think that’s a powerful, marvelous idea, but one that requires a serious commitment, time and energy, to look at and to be willing to be wrong or find problems and invest in not only finding them but to fix them. Most companies would find it difficult to sustain that sort of commitment. What drives your company to take that issue so seriously?

NV: It’s a recognition and acknowledgment of what’s the secret to Genentech’s success. I think there’s a clear acknowledgment from our founders 40 years ago that it was about the people, it was about the individuals that come to work everyday. One of our founders I think once said the greatest asset of our company walks out in sneakers everyday at the end of the day and I think that has carried thtrough. But I think that you’re right, it is a discipline. It’s the rigor and discipline that goes into that inspection. We’ve looked at a number of different sources of information and we constantly examine those different sources of information, whether it’s engagement surveys or external surveys and recognition that we receive, or information on a site like Glassdoor that might inform in a simple way. Is there a crack in the foundation? Is there an opportunity, something that needs attention? And you’re right. It is a discipline, but I think it’s part of who we are for the 40 years that we’ve been a company.

SF: When you think about how you want your employees to live and to work, what’s your conception for how you make real the value proposition of embracing the whole person and investing in who each individual is and what they can bring that’s unique to them and also enables them to live the kind of life they want to lead?

NV: I think you raise a very important point. In order for people to do their best work, we need to support them as a whole person … in their work and life so they can bring their best self to everything that we do. One of the things we’re continuously reinforcing is these wellbeing pillars that we have adopted from a book called Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by coauthors Tom Rath and Jim Harter. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that work, but these pillars are centered around career well-being and social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, community and physical. These five pillars encourage people to understand their own level of wellbeing within each area of focus, because this can be something very much personal to the individual. How do I seek my own level of wellbeing? It’s about providing resources for people to explore that, a framework where people can better understand for themselves how they’re doing against these five areas of focus.

SF: You’ve also done some investment in facilities that provide resources for people to take care of themselves, is that right?

NV: That’s right. Our headquarters is in San Francisco, California and we’re actually building an expanded employee center. This center will house an expanded medical clinic that people can go get primary care services, preventative screenings, an expanded fitness center, so gym memberships are free to every Genentech employee. They can go in at lunchtime, before work, after work, whatever is convenient for them. There is also a career lab, which is an actual lab where people can explore their development desires, career development aspirations, they can have one-on-one consultations with a career coach.

SF: That’s cool. So that’s part of the wellness center?

NV: It’s part of this employee center, which is this anchor around wellbeing. We’re trying to touch upon each of these five elements within this one center, but the biggest part of it is the physical wellbeing.

SF: Yes, because that is core to everyone’s vitality and sustainable engagement, right?

NV: Right, and I say for us specifically, as we’ve been looking at this in taking a particular look at total healthcare strategy for our organization, we found that as a healthcare company, less than half our employees were getting the preventative screenings that they should get. One of the things that is challenging for that is people will say they’re too busy to go get the screenings. We’re trying to put convenience in the equation, and if you can get to the employee center readily, it’s easy for you, we anticipate that we’ll see more adherence to people getting preventative screenings.

SF: Of course, that reduces your total healthcare cost structure, right?

NV: Yeah, I’d say that’s not a major driver, it’s more centered around improving the overall health of our employees. It’s also centered around addressing the healthcare needs of employees. And you’re right that doing it could potentially reduce the overall cost.

SF: I actually wasn’t surprised by the relatively low participation rate in the total healthcare offerings because that’s typical for many companies. What else are you doing besides convenience to ensure that people take advantage of health screenings and services?

NV: There’s a lot of different theories on how to approach this notion of wellbeing and wellness and as I said, the journey of each individual is very personal. Interestingly enough, I discovered my own journey last year and some of the challenges that I experienced. Last year, I was diagnosed with very early-stage breast cancer, and it was caught during a routine mammogram screening. Early diagnosis is one key in treating a disease like cancer, and after a successful surgery, I’m going to frequent screenings, hormone therapy, and I’m doing really well. What this taught me is that my own cancer diagnosis made me think about our employees and ask this question about why aren’t people putting as much time and energy into their own health as they do the health of the patients we serve, going back to the mission. This last year, we’ve take on a renewed focus on this physical wellness component and people getting preventative screenings. One of our efforts has been in people sharing their own stories and leaders talking about their own wellbeing. I just did with you but I did with the masses at Genentech last year and had a feature story in our company intranet. The point of me doing that was to spark action by sharing my personal story and the impact it’s had on me. I don’t have any data to say we’ve jumped up that number from 50% to 80% but I think we’re on a good trend. Anecdotally, I had an employee reach out to me and say because you shared your story I went in for an overdue mammogram. She was three years overdue and something was uncovered, she was diagnosed with an early-stage breast cancer, and she said you made a difference in at least one person’s life. That was the point.

SF:  Why do people undervalue their own health, as a business issue? Why is it that people are so reluctant to invest the time and energy needed to take care of themselves?

NV: It’s a great question, and part of it is that we get caught up in the day-to-day. The frequent thing that we neglect is our self. It does take a commitment as a parent, as a partner, to focus on others. As a leader, I’m focused on my employees. But I think what we neglect to realize is that fundamentally, the first person we should be taking care of is our self, and we’ll have a lot more to offer to others. That’s why I think sharing personal stories and being open about this as a topic and role-modeling the behaviors that we desire is so important for us as leaders.

SF: For sure, and if you go a little bit further, what is the main inhibitor or barrier for people to take seriously the commitment to their own health? What do you see as the most important issue there?

NV: I think people will point to time and convenience, and that’s part of our focus and my hope is that other employers will focus on it as well. How do you create convenience for people to take care of themselves, how do you create flexibility for people to take care of themselves, how do you expect that people will take care of themselves, and how do you role-model that? Those are the things, when you talk about programs and offerings that can have a meaningful difference, is helping folks to focus on that number one person, and that’s themselves for their health.

SF: As you look to the future, what’s the most exciting to you as you think about how your company is going to evolve over the next five years in terms of its culture?

NV: As I said, this year we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary and it’s exciting for us to look and see what are the things we need to continue to nurture. So 40 years of successful history, how do we continue to nurture those elements but how do we also continue to evolve as an organization. What’s most exciting to me personally, as I think about our workforce, is how energized and passionate I know our people are about the company’s mission. I see that growing with the evolving healthcare landscape. For me, I’m excited about the possibilities as I think about our pipeline and making medicines that will help people facing these very daunting diseases.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Myths of Aging and the Workplace with Sarah Kagan

Sarah H. Kagan is the Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing at Penn, Gerontological Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Living Well Program at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center – Pennsylvania Hospital. She’s Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Older People Nursing.   She is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.  She spoke with Stew Friedman on his Wharton Sirius XM radio show Work and Life about aging, work and retirement.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Sarah Kagan: Sarah KaganI almost could not hold myself back when you asked listeners, “Are you aging? One of things I always like to start with is we’ve got to remember that aging isn’t an us/them thing, we’re all aging – biologically, psychologically, and socially – from the time we’re born. We call it development when we’re babies, but that’s an aging process.

Stewart Friedman: Sarah, are you saying there’s a bias about aging?

SK: If you’re talking about development across our lives, where we call it development when we’re young but aging when we reach some mythical point, that mythical point is a big topic for debate. Or, if we’re talking about how our careers will proceed, recognizing retirement is just a horrible idea for our health and wellbeing, and not so great for workforces because if we push older workers out, we tend to deplete the workforce of wisdom and experience.

SF: Why is retirement a horrible idea?

SK: When I talk about retirement, I talk about that mid-20th-century notion that “I’ve had my working life, I’m going to kick back and relax.” The minute you kick back and relax, you generally lose purpose and motivation and a lot of health problems actually start cropping up.  People think, “I’m so glad I retired,” but, in fact, it’s probably related to the stress of not working.  And then you have the issues of not having meaning, not having purpose, and not finding that balance and harmony.

SF: If work provides meaning and a sense of purpose and structure to one’s life, then it’s unwise to give it up as you get older even though you may have less energy and less stamina?

SK: I think there’s a bias in the idea that you lose energy and you lose stamina. Typically, what we’re finding is there are lots of studies pointing not to loss of stamina, loss of energy, loss of endurance, but rather that we’re not maintaining physical and mental health and wellbeing as we get into our seventh, eighth, and ninth decades of life. If we return to fitness, we find energy resurgence.  We find that stamina can be built over time.  I say to people, don’t think about a single career anymore. If your life expectancy at age 65 is another 20 years, do you really want to say ‘well, what lies ahead of me for these next two decades?’ That’s a lot of time, I’d suggest ‘where do I want to go next, what’s my next career, the next phase of my working life?’

SF: Do you think it’s a bad idea for companies to have retirement policies that require people to depart at a certain age?

SK: Being a nurse and not a businessperson, I’ll say yes. I really don’t think that makes a lot of sense if you think about mandatory retirement ages as opposed to different career options.  Someone with a particular set of experience or a specialized expertise can go on and do something that was different from what they’ve been doing for the past 40 years. It gives the company opportunities with a workforce that I think is much more robust.

SF: More robust than generally given credit for, is that what you mean?

SK: Absolutely, because if you think about our ageist assumptions about stamina and energy in later life, what we tend to think is that older workers are not terribly productive, but there’s a whole lot of science that says exactly the opposite.

SF: You’re saying as people age they become more productive?

SK: They become more productive or differentially productive. Depending on which industry you’re talking about and I’m not an expert on retirement, I tend to say to look at this science that suggests folks are contributing differently as they grow in their careers as they age.

SF: Sarah, you write a column called The Myths of Aging. What are the biggest myths?

SK: You’ve hit on one of them, which is it’s basically a process of physical decline. You’re going to lose strength, you’re going to lose energy, you’re going to lose endurance, but we have perhaps an even more pervasive myth that your mind will go, that you’ll become a dotty old person. How often had you had colleagues or acquaintances talk about a senior moment when they forget something? That longer processing time that many of us notice as we’re getting older is more akin to your computer’s memory being really full than it is about the health of your brain. It’s essentially that the older you are, the greater your fund of knowledge and the more time it takes to sort through the possible correct answers for what the question is, than it is a problem of brain function.

SF: And processing capacity, it doesn’t slow down with age like muscles and neurological connections in your brain?

SK: You can’t say that globally, mental function declines with age. There are certain changes that we notice. Slowed processing time is one of them, but it’s probably related to something that’s much more positive. The older you get, the more you know. You know too much, it’s going to take time to think through things. That’s not a deficit.

SF: No, especially when you have more wisdom and reason to consider all the different perspectives on an issue. When I think of a senior moment, I think of forgetfulness.

SK: Forgetfulness is typically more an issue of overload and multitasking. You know better than I the science that says multitasking doesn’t work well. It slows you down, it’s poor for production, and it degrades your sense of feeling good about yourself. There are lots of reasons not to multitask, chief among them it will be easier to remember where you put your car keys fi you’re not multitasking when you put them down at the end of the day.

SF: Of course, one thing at a time. We talk about that on this show, the myth of multitasking and how the brain really does only one thing at once and how costly it is to shift from one thing to another. Aren’t those costs greater for people who are older? I find that my short-term memory is not as sharp at age 63. I have a thought of something I want to do, like here’s a person I want to call. I go ahead and finish washing the dishes. And then when I finish washing the dishes, I know that there was something important I wanted to do before I started washing the dishes, but because I didn’t record it on my list, I don’t remember what it was!

SK: I do hear that from a lot of folks. Without getting into specifics of the neuroscience, that’s probably pretty normal. It is to some extent an age-related change and for any neuroscientists out there who study aging, forgive me because I’m treading into territory that’s not my specific expertise. One of the things that we don’t have definitive science about is comparing your 30-year-old self and what you were doing, the responsibilities you had, all the things that were going on in your life with where the 63-year-old Stew is, and how the competing demands on your brain’s energy are taxing you in that particular moment. While we’re more likely to say what was that I wanted to do next, more often as we age, that doesn’t seem to be pathological. There are specific indicators that you should consider when you do question if you have a brain problem, and those are easily located. My favorite resource for determining if you should check it out is the Alzheimer’s Association. I think their website is really fabulous and they have great resources, both for people who have questions about if one’s aging brain is healthy and for people who are dealing with dementia, and many families are. Many sandwiched daughters and sons are dealing with just that. It helps to answer those questions. If you’re worried about that, they have some great resources. I will also say on the flip side of that, try not to listen to the ad-hoc anecdotes. Those kinds of personal experiences, as well meaning as they are, tend to do something that I think distracts from our health and well-being as we age and that is they add to the list of things that we get stressed about. If you have a worry list about what to get stressed about as you get older, one of the first things I’d say to you is stress is probably not good as you’re aging and that includes digital stress, which is why I really love the idea of digital detox. Don’t sleep with the phone, folks. Turn the TV and the music off. Take the earbuds out and just be quiet. No matter what age you are, it’s really good.

SF: What are some more prevailing myths that are pernicious and destructive?

SK: This is particularly true for people who are health-conscious: if I don’t eat exactly right and exercise exactly this way, I will probably age really badly. Moderation, harmony, and balance are good in work and life. They’re even better in exercise and nutrition. Keeping your body in motion, eating a healthy diet that is not extreme and that you enjoy is a terrific idea. Food should be something that is really good. If you’ve ever had a loved one in the hospital or a nursing home and they’ve been given a nutritional supplement to drink and said blegh, folks will take the supplement and the taste is not there. People are supposed to enjoy food and not see it as work and medicine.

SF: One of the myths is that you need to be upgrading your diet. Reducing stress is a much more important goal.

SK: Taking stressors out of your life is so important. And that connects with a myth that as you get older you become socially isolated and feel lonelier and lonelier. What we know is that as we age, rewarding social connections make a huge difference, and that’s one of the reasons work is so important in later life.

SF: To stay connected to other people through the connections we have at work. What is the correct way to talk about people who are older? Is it senior citizens, elders, wise people? What do you say?

SK: My favorite one is people. PBS Next Avenue had a poll on this, and I had not checked their results about what was the favorite term. Depending on which audience I’m with, I’ll say elder or older person.  I’m talking about people 75 or older, and some prefer seniors. I’ll commonly ask which term the person likes. I don’t know how it’s going to look in 30 years. I think that while we speak about children and adolescents and now young or emerging adults, we do that with a particular eye toward capacity and encouragement. You’re going to grow into this. I’d like to think that we could have the same kind of notion that you’ll grow into the next stage of your later life in a positive way.

SF: Expansively rather than in a declining way. How do we do that? As a child of aging parents, how do I do that? As a boss in an organization where I have older people working for me, what are the kinds of things to make sure I say so I can be speaking expansively rather than decliningly about people growing older?

SK: Let’s start personally, because I think one of the best ways to connect with our own invisible ageism is to recognize when and where we do it. My mom’s 83 and I’m 30 years younger than she is. I’m pleased to say that she survived cancer, a stroke, and two hip replacements. She lives by herself as a widow of several years in rural Michigan with two dogs. She volunteers three days a week, drives herself, everything’s honky dory, and by that I mean my mom’s living a life that she loves. Part of what I’ve had to remember is there are times when people say to me, How can you bear to live hundreds of miles away from your mom?” My mother would be the first to say, “I’d rather be dead than live with you, you’re such a bossy nurse.” My mother, when she had her first hip replacement, fired me as her nurse. She said, “It’s alright dear, you have a lot of work to do in Pennsylvania.”

SF: It sounds as though your mom is doing well. What can others, individuals do?

SK: This idea that people are having to create their own paths through a maze of health and social care isn’t really working well for anyone. For anyone who’s interested in advocacy, business, and health policy in particular, we’ve really got to see shifts in how we’re thinking about things. We’re a society that separates healthcare and social care. For example, if mom needs a homemaker a few hours a week, you’ve got to pay for that privately unless you’re very impoverished. That’s a tough situation to be in because many of us actually need some help at home. We also are seeing increasing concerns about how far should I go and how far should I plan for the kind of care I need if I’m truly very ill toward the end of my life. People have a lot of anxiety and don’t feel comfortable in many cases speaking with their physicians and nurse practitioners about what’s possible and what they want.

SF: These are questions that you need to bring to your representatives so they can produce the kind of social policy that’s going to provide the support that people need. We’ve got Monroe calling from Washington, D.C. Monroe, welcome to the show. How can we help you?

Monroe: I have a suggestion for how to refer to older people. In IT, when you’re dealing with an older system, we call those legacies. We could call them legacy people, legacy employees.

SF: We’re nodding are heads here, that’s interesting. But legacy systems have already outlived their usefulness, correct?

Monroe: One of the things I wanted to tie into what she was saying about looking into all the options, it is hard. I’m 40 years old and I’m at that age where there are people whose parents are starting to pass. Between 40 and 50 years old, many parents are 70 or 80. You’re viewing this and for those who try to be there for their mom or dad, sometimes as they get older they start to revert and become children themselves. We’re talking about maybe looking at a care home as an option or in-home care, which is a big business nowadays, that’s expensive. There are so many ways this conversation could go. With all the ways the conversation could go, I’d love to know the family unit in the USA and how if there was a stronger family unit, how all of these different nuances and complications would come down to nothingness?

SF: It’s different around the world. Monroe, let me jump in here and ask Professor Kagan to see if she could respond to how the family unit has evolved in America and what problems that’s creating and how there is opportunity to change to strengthen the family unit across generations.

SK: The question is one that I hear very often, and I hear it in a lot of different places. I teach for the University of Pennsylvania in Hong Kong every year.  We have a lot of national caregiving data that shows that most families actually do care for their own. When we’re thinking about people in nursing homes, for the most part people are living in nursing homes or in other institutions in later life primarily because they’ve outlived everybody else. Occasionally, it’s because they didn’t have a strong family or social network. Recognize that only about three or four percent of our older American population, that is people over 65, are living in an institution at any given time. That number shifts a lot because folks will go into a skilled nursing facility after surgery for example, but it’s important to recognize that most families are actually doing most of the care for older people.  We’re seeing big trends in older people actually caring for other family members. We have reached a peak in the number of grandparents who are actually providing primary care to children in their families.

SF: More and more grandparents are being called upon because with dual-earner families, where you have both mom and dad working, who’s going to care for the kids? Without sufficient childcare being provided by either the private sector or the public sector, who’s there? Grandma and grandpa. How’s that playing out?

SK: It’s playing out in lots of ways that are related to overall level of family income, because a number of older people, folks in the silent and mature generations, lost a lot of retirement income in the economic downturn. The mature generation are those who fought in World War II or are of that age. The silent generation or the greatest generation were just after them, the folks who were children and remember World War II and the Depression pretty vividly but were not old enough to fight. They probably were in the Korean War. Those are generations of people who got hit hard by the economic downturn in 2007-2008. They’ve often had to return to work, not out of choice but because they’ve had to financially. Now they have these competing demands. That can take a toll on their health as they’re trying to take care of the grandkids and then all of the sudden I’ve got to keep working at least part-time.  Then when am I going to find time to take care of myself? We see that with sandwiched daughters as well, who will make choices to care for others rather than caring for themselves first.

SF: Of course, you can’t care for other people if you’re not healthy yourself. Put that mask on in the airplane before helping the people who need air around you. What advice do you have for families where the grandparents are primary caregivers?

SK: I like to encourage people to think creatively. Most of these families are relying on that economic foundation to ensure that everybody is taken care of, but getting together for a family conclave or a family meeting is often a good strategy to check in. Don’t make it a let’s not talk to each other in a big way until there’s a crisis, but let’s try to do some proactive planning. That means don’t imagine that you can have a one-and-done conversation when things get tough. Keep talking to each other, keep the lines of communication open. Say the stuff that’s difficult like, Thanks, mom. I couldn’t work without you taking care of the kids, but I want to know is there something I can do for you?Those kinds of simple statements can be very helpful.

SF: If you have a question about how to enlist your parents as sources of childcare and sustain them in that role — if you’re a single parent or a parent in a family where both parents are working and you want your parents to be a part of your own children’s lives — what can you do to make sure that the cross-generational source of support from your parents to your kids works? That’s an increasingly important aspect of success in our business world as more and more couples are both working parents.

SK: I’ll tie it back to being heavily-scheduled or over-scheduled and relying on lots of technology. Texting to organize things, particularly if you have a parent who, as a caregiver for your kids, is cool with texting, those are terrific opportunities. But one of the things to think about is that having your parents and your kids spend time together is an unmissable opportunity. Maybe the ballet lessons go, or the second baseball team or the traveling basketball team are things you say no to for a time because your kids are going to have an experience with your parents that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.

SF: That’s great advice. What else should people know as they’re trying to work through this, because I have heard, at least very recently, of one family where the grandmother and grandfather aren’t doing a good enough job with the child? What do you do in that situation? You want to sustain that relationship, but you don’t want it to go sour?


SK: So grandma and grandpa are finding that their schedules are too busy.

SF: It’s not as much that they’re unavailable, it’s more that the grandparents are not managing the child’s behavior in the way that the parents would want.

SK: There are a number of varying situational pieces there. What are the finances? What are the options for after-school care and other stuff? How do you sit down with your parents and say look, my daughter just loves spending time with her grandparents. She’s more your granddaughter than she is my daughter sometimes and I’m getting comfortable with that because I know that spending time with you is very important to who she is as a person. But, I also recognize that you have lives that are really important to you, so what do you think we can do here? I think that we forget that intergenerational communication is like any other conversation and negotiation. If you’re asking your parents to do something for you at the age of 45, you can’t go with the ageist assumption come on, you retired five years ago, what could be so important? Your parents and you have always been juggling your own needs as individuals. Aging doesn’t change that.

SF: I want to shift gears a bit here. Back to the workplace, what can companies do to create the kind of culture of respect for not just people who are growing older, but for those who care for them?

SK: I think that’s a critical question for us today because too often business has been, as the product of larger society, okay with implicit or even explicit ageism, stuff that says younger is better. I’ve spoken with people in different industries about what ageism is and how and when it happens in their industry and I’ve heard lots of different permutations of specific ages, particular tasks, and technologic currency. My first step is to unpack, to reflect, and then to say if I take an explicitly purposeful, positive approach like that expansive approach you mentioned earlier, what do I actually see. If I force myself to turn around from the assumption that aging means decline and incapacity and say what is it that the oldest people I know give, do, share, just list them and put it down, I think what you’ll find is you’ll discover things that weren’t readily apparent.

SF: What type of things will typically emerge from a conversation like that?

SK: Typically, I hear things like you’re right, because I have a friend in her nineties who’s taught me to be much more patient and in being more patient I’ve seen options in a work task that I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes I hear the older members of our team really set a tone for civility and inclusiveness. I find that many millennials have friends in the mature and silent generations. I hear, increasingly from my students at Penn Nursing, that they’ve grown up with people who are in their tenth and eleventh decades of life, so they see that as normal.

SF: That’s interesting. So how does that shape the attitudes of young people towards older people, who are going to be more common in the workplace? There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal which was about how older women are reshaping the US job market. In 1992, one in 12 women worked past the age of 65. That number is now one in seven. With millennials being more accustomed to relating to people who are older, how do you see these demographic shifts playing out?

SK: What I hear from many millennials is they’re just people. I grew up with my grandmother, I don’t think that age is a really big issue. I think that millennials are probably downplaying categories and are very interested in relationships. In fact, I’m working with my two Nursing Benjamin Franklin Scholars seniors (elite students at the University of Pennsylvania) and they’re doing a great job looking at intergenerational values in nursing and healthcare, surveying all of our students. What they have been talking with me about is that their generation is commonly misjudged as not being terribly serious, perhaps being flighty or going from job to job, but what they’ve emphasized to me is that they’re looking for sustaining and valued relationships in workplaces. That’s something that fits really well with an aging demographic.

SF: What can companies do to make those connections more active, alive, and mutually enriching?

SK: Think about the idea that in general, we don’t put age in our diversity plan. I think that age and generation should be in our diversity plan.

SF: It is for some companies, diversity and inclusion includes intergenerational.

SK: I look explicitly at partnering youngest generations with oldest generations seeing value. Typically, I stay away from these streams but I would like to see us put millennials together with matures and silents much more often because they’re going to offer innovation that the midrange doesn’t really see.

SF: Well there’s an idea for you if you are in some way influential in your organization and thinking of ways to create connections among people in your organization that aren’t obvious, linking the young and the old in ways that are mutually beneficial is something to consider. Professor Kagan suggests you’ll see benefits such as a more inclusive environment and more innovation. Sarah, what do you want to leave our listeners with in terms of the most important message?

SK: I’d like to encourage people to embrace aging, to stop thinking about aging as an us/them thing. The joke is that old is 10 years older than I am right now. We all hope to live a long, productive, and happy life, but in order to do that what we should consider is we’ll have to confront the internal ageism we have, that self-stereotyping that is probably an unaddressed fear of our future self. Love your future self, if that’s not too corny, and say how am I going to get to know you a little better. That will help you plan, that will help you be. Meditate, be peaceful, and avoid the crisis approach to oh my god, I’m old. What am I going to do now? I don’t know what to do —  whether it’s with my old eyes, my aging brain, or my tired body. Try to think about liking your older self and who you would like your older self to be.

SF: That is a wonderful piece of wisdom that I will certainly take to heart because it’s not the way I usually think. I could see how that bias is one that’s probably pretty common. People fear death as it gets closer.

SK: Yeah, and I think they fear that period that they imagine to be just before death, but if we spend just a little time then we might not be as fearful and we might be able to imagine what it is we do and don’t want.

To hear more from Professor Sarah Kagan and aging follow her on Twitter @SarahHKagan.

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Gopi Kallayil on The Internet to the Inner-Net

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Gopi Kallayil is a Wharton alum and Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google.  Before joining Google, Gopi was on the management team of two Silicon Valley venture funded startups and a consultant with McKinsey.  Gopi earned his Bachelors degree in electronics engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India and his Masters in Business Administration degrees from the Indian Institute of Management and from Wharton. He spoke with Stew about his new book, The Internet to the Inner-Net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Full podcast.


Stewart Friedman: How did you get here – to be at Google – the nexus of technology – also connected to eastern thought and practice?

Gopi Kallayil: Gopi KallayilIt is a long story, but the short version is just the hunger and thirst to see much of the world and experience the fullest of life on the planet.  One of the paths that many people choose, especially from that part of the world [India], is through education and professional life.  Starting from a modest family background, the search for education, business school, engineering school, and then professional expansion of career, eventually directing my sights at coming to the U.S. and to graduate school here and working in Silicon Valley, is what led to that journey and why I had Hong Kong as an in-between stop. I would say that was really the end goal in picking what I thought would be a great life experience both in terms of educational and professional growth and eventually working in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. I knew early on that the field of technology was where I wanted to pursue my career.

SF: I’d love to hear a bit more about how you knew that, but first let me ask what was it that you learned from your early family life? It’s something that’s important to us all but you write so clearly about that. What was it that your parents and your grandparents instilled in you that gave you this sense of being on a quest for useful knowledge that took you to far-off places? How did they teach you that?

GP: I don’t think they specifically taught me a technique, but I do know that they came from a set of limited opportunities and they had to step outside of that and be adventurous. In a classic tale that is retold in many families, my dad leaves his family lived in a rice-farming community and with no formal education, no qualifications, no real skillset, he goes on and builds his career in small towns and other places around India. Eventually, and this proves his street-smarts, he went on to speak nine languages, which he knew would connect him to people. I would say a skill I learned from him was how to connect to people.  That emotional intelligence or social intelligence is a huge driver of success. He took himself out of his comfort zone and to new environments.  You can learn and teach yourself skills and there is a large body of human knowledge out there that you can tap into and the more you learn and apply it, the more you thrive in whatever you choose to do. But along the way, I think one key piece of wisdom that I picked up was that so much of our life is based on interdependencies with other people and therefore the network of relationships you build is so crucial in how you do in whatever you choose to do professionally.

SF: He taught you a lot through his own example about how to learn and continue to grow your own capacity through meaningful connections to people who are different than you.

GP: Absolutely, and that’s why as much as the internet is a great technology to connect with information and objects and people, there is this whole network of relationships you have to establish with other people at a very human level. That was one of my biggest takeaways, that in the midst of all the technology, our social connections with other people are fundamental and that is never going to change.

SF: So you had an early grasp of the importance of technology, and you gravitated to that field. How did you know that was something that was going to be important for you and for the whole world in terms of the emergent digital age?

GP: I wish I could say that I had a very clear idea of how the world would look, but I can safely say that even five years ago, I didn’t have an idea of how things would evolve. When I was at Wharton, the internet was just beginning to get popular.

SF: You were Class of 1998, let me just clarify that.

GP: Last January, for example, we hit an inflection point where the number of mobile devices in the planet is estimated to have exceeded the number of human beings, 7.2 billion estimated mobile devices. The fact that we would now carry in our pockets a handheld technology the size of playing cards that allows you to listen to music, order milk, check in for your flights, and take photographs…I would never have predicted that. [phone connection to Gopi got cut off]

SF: How ironic, that we were talking about basic human connection and the unfathomable power of this technology, and then we lose that connection. It’s great to have you back.

GP: It’s a humbling reminder that anything can get disrupted. Part of what these practices teach you to do is to be unflappable through the course of it all and bounce right back.

SF: That’s what we’re trying to do right now. You were talking about how much has changed over the last five years and that the transformation of our lives in this digital age that is so rapidly advancing is something you couldn’t have predicted. How can that be, that even over such a short period of time things could change so far, so fast?

GP: It is remarkable, and I think it’s a culmination of several factors. The first and foremost is there is this amazing energy that is manifest among human beings in terms of being innovative and creative and looking at different problems and situations and how human beings work and play, and trying to come up with very, very creative solutions. One example of that is Uber, as the story goes, one was frustrated he couldn’t hail a cab in the rain and saw a lot of cars going by in the same direction and imagined what if I could somehow communicate with that person and say give me a ride, since you’re going in that direction, and I’ll make a small donation. Out of that, just trying to solve that simple problem of occupying an empty seat in a car going in your direction is what led to this amazing service called Uber that more and more people are using and you can see popping up in more cities. That’s what I mean by there is this tremendous energy of human beings looking at these kinds of things and saying let me come up with a creative way to solve the problem. But supporting all of that, there is this powerful, underlying platform, a collection of technologies, we broadly call it the internet, backed with many other pieces from giant databases of information that is available, open sharing of standards and information, many things I can point to, that was simply not available to us three, four years ago. I think we’re just taking advantage of all of those pieces and there is this creative outpouring of fantastic solutions to various problems that human beings are having.

SF: It’s such an exciting time, and yet, it’s for many people a frightening time. Your wonderful book The Internet to the Inner-Net helps to remind us and really provides some guidance about how to continue to stay human in the context of the digital revolution. What do you mean by the inner-net?

GP: It is a play on the word, one of the most iconic words of our times, the internet, which most people understand. It is this collection of technologies that connects us to all of the world’s information, other people, other objects. In the midst of all this, I wanted to send a message that the most important connection that all of us have is the one with ourselves. As much as we get enamored with these amazing technologies, there is one technology that you and I and all of our listeners get to use every single day. I playfully refer to it as a technology, but in some ways I think of it as the most sophisticated, most complex technology that is known to human kind, and that is right there inside of our body. It is an important technology, if you’ll allow me to call it so. I see this highly complicated, highly sophisticated brain.  We’ve barely even began to understand it yet all we have to do is watch a three- or four-year-old learn language and learn rules of grammar before being taught formal grammatical constricts. We just watch a toddler pick up language and that’s fascinating. How does the brain work?  You realize that you are dealing with sophisticated computers and neural networks that you can’t imagine. All of our life experience is filtered through this particular technology, the inner-net, to use that word. If it’s a piece of food you eat, or if you’re trying to process this conversation you and I are having, or listening to a piece of music and that is making an imprint on your mind and your emotions, all of that is filtered by this inner technology called the inner-net. Therefore, understanding it, nurturing it, having a relationship with it, knowing how to fully use it is an important predicate on the quality of our life.

SF: Absolutely, and of course that is the question for all of us.  We all need to have as deep and rich an understanding of who we are and our connections to the rest of the world. Tell us a little more about these five ways that you write about in The Internet to the Inner-Net that help people develop that kind of consciousness and capability in today’s digital environment. And by the way, I think the analogy that you use is a lovely one and helps to bring it home. The five ways, briefly, what are they?

GP: I thought of how do you incorporate these practices, because the way to find that moment to connect with these inner technologies is known to humankind and there have been elaborate practices and wisdom traditions that have been developed — meditation and various other practices.  But I kept asking myself how can I make it all work for me in a way that I will actually stay consistent with, and I came up with these five rituals that I practice on a regular basis.

The first one, I call it focus on the essential, meaning know clearly what is most important to you. If you know clearly what is important to you, you know what to say yes to and what to say no to. In living the kind of frenzied life that we live now with technology surrounding us, you’re constantly being pulled in different directions. If you know what is essential, you know how to say yes to a few things and say no to most other things. That’s one of the five rituals I tell people to be clear about it. In my own case, there are five essentials that I have come up with, and without getting into the details, I know what my top priorities are and I focus on them. I focus most of my energy and time on those.

The second ritual is as simple as do one thing at a time. It is incredible, the extent to which we go on in modern life thinking we’ll be the first generation in history to be able to do five things at the same time and be able to successfully execute. The thing with our brain is it’s extremely good when it’s focused on one task and if you ask it to do five things, it falls apart. Even with all of these people who have these debates about multitasking, and I ask this simple question: If you had to go for open-heart surgery, how would you feel if your surgeon said ‘hey, I’m also interested in baseball and the stock market, so in the operating room I’m going to have the TV turned on to two channels and simultaneously keep my eye on the game and the stock market.’ Would it make you uncomfortable? Where you see examples of peak performance, you don’t have multitasking. If you look at a musician, they never sit there rehearsing a piece while still watching something on TV. One thing at a time, simple idea, but it seems to help you get more things done.

The third thing I talk about is pick whatever it is that allows you connect to the inner-net, however broadly it is you may define it for yourself. It may be going out for a walk in the park or playing with your baby or reading poetry.  For me it’s yoga and meditation. I say commit to just one minute every single day, the idea being bring it out the lowest threshold you can’t say no to. Most people understand the wisdom behind it, but they’ll tell you they don’t have the time, they’re too busy or traveling. I stumbled across this idea of committing to just one minute a day when I told a good friend of mine at Google of my own struggle of finding a daily practice around yoga and meditation and he looked at me and said: “Gopi, why don’t you start with one breath?” Even if you’re trying to meditate for one full hour, it’s really 600 breaths strung together, it’s just one breath to get to the second and third. Since I’m a compulsive, neurotic overachiever, I said, “I can do better than that. I am going to go a whole minute!” That was the genesis of that.

SF: One minute a day to connect with what is inside of you.

GP: At least. I’m not saying stop at one minute, but at least one minute. The idea is there are 1,440 minute in a day, pick one to at least nurture some connection with your inner-net. What happens, at least in my case, now a week went by, two weeks went by, and for the first time in my life I could look back and say I did my practice every single day, even if it was for just a minute. But at least you feel you have integrity towards it. What came next was the delightful surprise, too, and that was on most days I would sit for a minute on the cushion meditating or commit myself to one minute of my yoga practice, coupled with some salutations, and the minute it’d go by, the next thing I knew my mind would be saying this is so wonderful, why rush to go do something else? What else can be more important? One minute can easily grow into five minutes and 10 minutes, so that was a way I could work over the hurdle.

The fourth ritual I talk about is among the 168 hours in your calendar, which we all feel gets hijacked by somebody else’s schedule, at least pick one non-negotiable slot every single week, once a week at the same time when you will commit to something that nurtures your inner-net. In my case, Monday at 5:30, I teach the Yoglers [yogis at Google]class and for nine years, if I am in Mountain View, I never missed a class.

SF: What is the last practice, just in brief?

The fifth one is even as I use social media to connect with thousands of other people, make sure you take time to friend yourself. Listen to the tweet from the heartbeat, listen to the chat request from your brain, and the status update from your body.

SF: How do you do that?

GP: By taking that one minute, at least to begin with, and finding whatever it is, that practice for inner-connection. For me, it is that time at the yoga mat or meditation or journaling or doing a gratitude practice, that allows me to step away from the noise and frenzy and the technology around me and refocus on what’s going on in my mind and my body and connect with my inner-net.

SF: It seems so simple, doesn’t it? And yet that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

GP: It is very simple, but it is very hard to practice. That’s why you call it a practice, it takes an entire lifetime and a lot of work and mastery, but enjoy the journey of the discovery. You’ll fall off the wagon and fail, I fail every day, but just getting back and trying again and just making one tiny step forward is itself part of the process, part of the joy of establishing that connection.

For more information about Gopi Kallayil and his new book, visit his web site Kallayil.com

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.


Workplace Wellness by Design

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Keith Perske is the Executive Managing Director of Workplace Innovation at Colliers International. Previously he was Senior Director of Global Workplace Innovation at Johnson & Johnson.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about Collier’s recent survey of wellness programs.

Keith Perske: Keith PerskeColliers is one of the largest global real estate services firms. We have about 16,000 people in 500 offices in 67 countries. And we help our clients with all of their real estate needs. My team and I help clients design work places, and programs to make people productive, and make their companies competitive.  We’re not a design firm, like an architecture or interior designer, rather, we help companies isolate their business objectives and their cultural goals and then, through good workplace design and programs to support those goals, clients can be more productive.

Stew Friedman: You don’t work with the people inside of Colliers so much as you do with your clients in the real estate world?

KP: That’s true. We’re doing work internally. Whenever we have an office remodeled, I am involved in that. We’re changing our offices as well, but most of my work is client-based.

SF: Got it. Tell us about this wellness study. First, why did you do it?

KP: I’ve been in the workplace conversation for a quite a while now, and the subjects kind of come and go. It used to be about mobility and then technology. And the topic that’s been coming up over the last five years has been wellness in the workplace. It’s about creating harmony, creating places where people can make choices about being healthy in the workplace. We wanted to know more about that. When we think about the workplace, we don’t think about it as panel heights and assignment of offices, we think about it as a more holistic system.

SF: Panel heights, you were referring to the panels that surround cubicles? Is that what you mean by that?

KP: Yes, a cubicle height and those kinds of things. It could be a big topic. We don’t talk too much about that. We think about the workplace as a place to craft experiences for employees that make them productive and engaged. So, by thinking of the employee at the center, then it makes us think about things like how do you connect them to the brand of the company? And how you enable the culture of the company through the workplace? And how do you make sure that wellness is part of this conversation?

SF: What motivated this now?  These things do go in phases? We were just talking to Professor Barry Schwartz about the history of how work is organized, and what’s needed now. What is it about the present moment that has given rise to this intense interest in wellness? Is it that people are so stressed out and overwhelmed by the 24/7 nature of work in the digital world? Or is it something else?

KP: I think there’s some of that and I think some of it is the millennial work force; they are approaching work a little bit differently. And I don’t want to lump them into a single category, but there are expectations that are different than, for instance, boomer’s expectations about work. There’s more of a sense of needing balance. There’s also this idea about being at work any time, not just between nine and five. By having different demands from this different work force, employers are having to pay attention to things like wellness, and things like balance.

SF: Tell us about the study. Clearly, there’s an interest in this topic. What was your motivation for the study itself and what hypotheses or hunches did you have going into it?

KP: We had been talking about wellness for a while. We went to 200 of our clients, a cross-section of large and small, and local and international firms.  We wanted to know what they were doing about wellness. We had this suspicion that it was part of the conversation. But what are people actually doing about this? We wanted to know about their motivation. What was causing this conversation to show up on peoples’ radars? And many said it was in the top three in their priority list of things they were really focusing on.

SF: Let me jump in here for a second, make sure we understand what we mean by wellness. Is wellness about physical wellbeing? Is it about having the capacity to be physically healthy, to be able to move around and eat healthy foods? Or is it also the psychological health of people, and their spiritual health too? What is wellness after all?

KP: We thought about it as the basics of disease assessment and management; heart disease and diabetes. We thought about it as lifestyle management; stress and substance abuse. And we thought about it as wellbeing; mental and emotional health. That’s how we defined wellness. It’s really not a normal topic in workplace circles. When you think about those things as programs that all together help an employee be healthier, it really is a workplace issue.

SF: Absolutely, work is where we spend much of our waking time.  It’s a societal issue as well because it affects the health of society and of course, that has all kinds of implications. How many people were in your study, companies, sectors? Give us a sense of the scope and then tell us what you found.

KP: It was 200 companies. We serve 200 companies around the world in all sectors: technology, pharma, finance.   We didn’t break it down by sector, we were looking at the holistic approach of how these companies were approaching this. Back to your previous question — what was really motivating companies to think about this? — the number one thing was employees were asking for it. Employees were asking for programs that help them live healthier work styles, help them stay healthy in an affordable way, and employers were responding to that because it’s really good part of their recruitment and retention. This is part of their choice matrix.

SF: You said it was top three among the issues that they worry about on the people side?

KP: They did and the reason they look for it is because employees were demanding it. The second reason they were looking at it was they were trying to keep up with their peers.

SF: Competition with the labor market?

KP: Yes, the competition with the labor market. Many people used this as part of their selection criteria when they are thinking about changing jobs.

SF: Right. So, what were the big findings? Give us the headlines.

KP: When we looked at the big findings, I kind of broke it down. The big one was we’ll give you a fitness center if we have a large facility. Smoking cessation and weight loss are the top three big ones, and that’s pretty normal. Stress management was right behind that and heart screening. The top five are some of the top five issues in our society. And the lesser ones would be chronic lung disorder, cancer, and depression was actually lower as well. We were surprised to find that so low.

SF: It could be under-reported because there might be stigma associated with that. People might be afraid of reporting it.

KP: That’s very possible.

SF: But please continue.

KP:   When employees have these kinds of choices for these kinds of solutions, they pick companies, all things being equal, who offer these kinds of options.

SF: Tell us more about what companies are doing. What are the cool things that are happening on the horizon that are starting to get traction across the different sectors of the economic landscape that our listeners should know about?

KP: I think the things for me that were exciting were things that people were doing with design in the workplace. Access to natural light and ergonomics and providing restorative spaces were big things.

SF: What’s a restorative space?

KP: Quiet spaces, spaces to retreat to. There was a client I was working with where we had a whole floor that was relatively open, but one side of the floor was quiet and the other side was open or more noisy. And they regulated themselves, but the idea was there were places you could go to during the day where it was very quiet and you could work and that was important for some people – I guess for all people, at some point. And by being mindful about how they laid out the space, having those restorative spaces, was really a good thing.

SF: And giving people choice about whether they can use them? Is that a part of the package? Because clearly some people like noise and others like quiet.

KP: And choice is actually a mental health issue as well.   Choice and control about how you plan your day and work your day. What happens if there’s a choice to go to a quiet place or a noisy place based on what was good for you? That was a really empowering thing and companies are starting to do that as well.

SF: You know, Dan, our engineer, used to work at Ikea. And he tells me they had a quiet room there where you could go and relax and take a nap if you needed to.

KP: That’s what we’re talking about. It’s a smart idea.

SF: What else did you see that was particularly exciting that you think our listeners would want to know about trends in workplace wellness?

KP: Another one was this idea about tall ceilings; studies have shown that people who work in places with higher ceilings feel more free and more creative and are better able to handle abstractions, which are all related to innovation. A lot of companies that we work with these days are looking for ways to create places for innovation and to motivate innovation. And there appear to be ways through natural lighting, different types of spaces, and tall ceilings that help promote innovation as well as wellness. That means higher ceilings make people feel freer and more open. One other things is access to greenery, to be able to look outside and see plants or see the ocean, to see natural colors.  That is shown to promote mental acuity and it has a calming effect.

SF: Let’s say you’re living in a city far away from the ocean and there’s nothing green around. Many of our listeners work in such companies. What do they do to try to affect some of these states of peacefulness that induce creativity?

KP: Plants on the interior are always a good thing. But colors are also helpful. Blues and greens and browns are attractive to our eyes. And at certain places being able to use that helps. Reds create angst and concern. Many companies’ colors are red, so there’s ways to make sure you don’t have some of that there because of the branding. Offsetting that with greens and blues and browns is a smart thing to do.

SF: What would you recommend that Target do, for example? Target, of course, has the red and white logo– very red and white.

KP: You have got to keep pictures of greenery, green accent walls, natural plants, natural light.

SF: How do people learn about how to manage workplace design in this way? Does your study inform people about the kinds of initiatives that seem to be most effective in today’s work environment?

KP: In a sense, the white paper goes over those things. It lists the key aspects to put into a workplace that help create wellness or senses of wellbeing.

SF: What else is in there that we haven’t heard about that you want to make sure our listeners can hear about now, and then go explore further at your website to read the white paper.

KP: Another one is this idea of a sit-stand desk. Desks that raise and lower by a crank or a motor because sitting as know has become – as a headline a few years ago said — “Sitting is the new smoking.” It was a great headline. The idea is that movement is very important, especially from sitting to standing positions.  Many companies these days are providing sit-stand work stations.

SF: So, movement, sit-stand desks, are all the rage.

KP: The other one is treadmill desk. If you remember that, it’s still around and people still use them, but not very much. And our surveys showed that was true.  When people deployed these treadmill desks that they just weren’t used very much. I was working with a client two years ago when we put one of those in the ground floor of a three-story building, and the VP on the third floor said, “Hey, we want one of those on our floor,” and I said, “we surveyed the units on the first floor and it’s not used very much. There’s capacity there.” And their answer was, “That’s just too far to walk!”

SF: Do people get too tired walking or is it something about the physiology of thinking and working that you can’t do it while you’re walking?

KP: I will say that people do use them – there is a treadmill that goes about 2 miles per hour and you can read email, you can work conference calls while you’re on it – people use them, it’s just not a big upgrade.

SF: Interesting. So, treadmills…not really happening? What is happening though?

KP: One of the things that was interesting was we asked if they were seeing reductions in healthcare costs. There’s a lot of ways to measure the effectiveness of these kinds of programs, like employee retention and satisfaction and reduced sick days. But the most capturable thing was what are your healthcare costs and are you seeing reduction? And about 60% of the firms we surveyed said they did see reductions in healthcare costs and they were attributing that to the wellness programs they were putting in place. But the curious thing there was that only 10% of them – only 10% of them – were reporting it and actually recording it.

SF: What does that mean? They were not reporting it internally or to externals?

KP: Or externally. They were capturing it. They were saying, “Look, we have captured the fact that we’re reducing our costs”, but they don’t broadcast it. They don’t talk about that. And the reason I think that’s important is these are enterprises. Anything that gets expanded, that gets really abstracted from the bottom line doesn’t have much of a chance of getting funded. Part of my job – and maybe yours too, I don’t know – is to try and draw cause and linkage between these programs and how they affect the bottom line. If you capture that, then you report it, then the next year when it’s time to get funding for you, you have a better chance of getting it.

SF: How do you help people do that? How do you help companies make that connection? I know there are critics of this field of inquiry who are asserting that indeed wellness programs might be costing more than they yield in terms of value. Are you familiar with those criticisms?

KP: I am, and I’m hearing some of that. I think you have to really be specific about where the criticism is. I do think that you can throw good money after bad at a program that’s not serving you. It’s important to figure out those that are working well. I think that blanket criticism of the entire idea of wellness in the workplace is false. But I would say that if you pick apart some of the pieces, there are places to get better. That’s for sure.

SF: I want to make sure that our listeners get some advice from you as to how they can proceed, whether they are a small company or an independent operator or part of a big organization, perhaps managing a part of a big organization. What is it you want to convey to people about what they can learn about how to make their workplaces more conducive to wellness?

KP: First, I would encourage folks to download the white paper. There’s a lot of information in that and it’s free, and you’re not obliged to anything.    There are a lot of studies that are going on these days. Harvard Business Review regularly releases studies about the positive financial impact of these kinds of programs. The American College of Occupational Environmental Medicine has a corporate health achievement award that shows that companies that have healthcare work forces are actually more profitable and make more money than the standard S&P 500. I’d say educate yourself, get the white paper, look at some of these studies that are available on the internet, and really think about the workplace as more than just panel heights and space layouts. It’s really a holistic system, and wellness is a part of it.

SF: And you really can have an impact on a person’s life in the way that you design your work setting can’t you?

KP: That’s what motivates me and my team. We help companies make money, and be profitable and maximize space. But we also help people.  That’s the important part of this. We spend so much time at work, and many work places are just dismal. If we can help pull those into a more modern type of work setting, it’s gratifying. You can really help people. And when you do, they thank you. They never go back. They love these new work places.

SF: If you are an employee looking to create a change in your work environment, what’s your quick important word of advice about how they ought to proceed?

KP: This usually relies on the HR area, the HR department. There might even be a wellness office in your company. Ask them. Start demanding these services. Bring information to them. But I think the more that employees speak up, the more employers are likely to hear them. So, make some noise.

SF: Make some noise, but keep it quiet for those people who want to have a quieter work environment, right?

About the Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Employee Well-Being at Marriott — David Rodriguez

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

David Rodriguez, is the Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources for Marriott International.  He has a doctorate in Industrial/Organizational from NYU and has held various HR positions at Citi and Avon before joining Marriott. Rodriguez is on the Board of Directors for the Human Resources Policy Association and a member of the Personnel Roundtable, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, American Psychological Association, and Board of Governors for the American Health Policy Institute. He spoke to Stew Friedman about providing and maintaining employee well-being at Marriott.

Excerpts of their conversation below:

Stew Friedman: So, David for those few people who are listening who may not know, what does Marriott do?

David Rodriguez: David RodriguezWe’re one of the world’s leading lodging companies with over 4,300 properties in 81 countries and territories under 19 brands – everything from our namesake Marriott and JW Marriott hotels to luxury brands, like Ritz Carlton. The company was founded by the parents of our current executive chairman, Bill Marriott in 1927.

SF: Your firm has consistently been ranked one of the best places to work. What is the secret to your success to attract and retain the top talent in your field year after year?

DR: If you examine company documents and videos, you find a phrase that appears again and again: If you take care of the associates, they will take care of the customers, and the customers will come back again and again, and the business will take care of itself. If you talk to just about anybody in our business, and ask them what separates us from our competitors, they probably will say it’s our company culture, and our core values.  We are a very people-centric business. In essence, we believe the foundation of our business models never strayed from its early roots. And that’s a focus on employee well-being.

SF: So, that’s been there from the start?

DR: It has. It’s grown over time, as we’ve grown. We started as a small little root beer stand, then the restaurant business here in D.C., then we grew in the U.S., and then we got into the hotel business in the late 1950’s. That’s become the core of who we are today. This focus on well-being has never strayed from its roots, but it’s evolved. It has three components. First, we believe that people have to feel good about themselves. We provide resources to support physical, mental, and emotional health.

SF: What exactly do you provide and how do employees use it to help them feel good about their physical and emotional health?

DR: We have a nationally recognized wellness program with a number of resources and activities directly related to helping people maintain good health. As you and I know, there is a big expenditure in this country in helping people who are sick get well. There needs to be more focus on prevention. Our wellness program, in part, helps people by giving them the knowledge, tools, and resources to maintain a good health.  We also have what we call our associate resource line. Let’s say you have elderly parents, then you need to become better educated and know what options there might be and how to consider, say elder care.  Whatever issues people face at different stages in their life, we know that to the extent we can help them to face those issues, it has a great impact on their general well-being.  We also provide courses and resources for people to become better financial stewards.  A big focus, particularly with our hourly employees, is on providing them with career development guidance and programs. Let’s face it, the path to a more secure retirement and to financial security – I think the minimum wage debate in the country is a very important debate –- is for the private sector, for companies, to look at their practices and make sure they’re doing all they can to help people develop the skills that make them recession-proof and give them the opportunity to get higher paying jobs. It all falls under this umbrella: people have to feel good about themselves in order to participate fully and productively.

SF: What’s the signal differentiator of your programs?

DR: It’s multi-faceted. I think it’s been recognized for a couple of different reasons. One, it’s global.   We have worked to make it relevant locally in many different cultures and companies.

SF: So, you’ve had to adjust your policies to fit the local culture?

DR: Yes.  Some cultures are smoking cultures, for instance. So, how do you introduce wellness and help people live healthier lives, while being sensitive to cultural messaging that is a bit at odds?   The other thing that distinguishes our company is that we have literally hundreds of what we call “wellness champions” across the company.  These are associates who, in many cases, have been helped and want to give back by becoming wellness champions and helping at our hotels and other locations to lead the effort and to get those sites to adopt healthier practices.

SF:  Do they get extra compensation for that or is it seen as a boost for their career development prospects? What why would somebody sign up for being a wellness champion?

DR: They become passionate about it. It’s on company time so they are being compensated for it. But, they’re doing it because they’ve become passionate about it. And yes, these are great learning opportunities for many people. It can be one of the first opportunities to show leadership.  So people get very excited about that, and there are some great stories that come out of it. I am a direct beneficiary of our wellness initiative. I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic Leukemia just a year and a half ago.  One of the reasons I am alive today is because of our wellness initiative.   Through the initiative even someone like me, who is fairly well-educated, was able to learn a great deal about how to take better care of myself. I keep all of my own health records. If I ever go see a physician, I know a lot more than they do about my personal chemistry and so forth.

SF: And that’s something that you’ve learned through the program and company?

DR: Absolutely. And many people say this. So, what do you need to know to be able to manage your health and know what are signals that require you to take action? There are many stories of people who become inspired.  a fellow, who I was talking to the other day lost 60 pounds. He got inspired by hearing some of the success stories in the wellness initiative. He essentially said, “They inspired me. I need to do this for myself and my family. ” But he also realized if he succeeded in this, he would also be in a position to inspire other people. That has sustained him throughout the process.

Let me move on because I mentioned three pillars. Secondly, I feel good about myself, but I have to feel good about the workplace. And a lot of that has to do with relationships in the workplace. Our belief is: if our associates don’t have to worry about whether or how they can fit in, they can, instead, use that energy to build relationships in the workplace, be creative, be productive, and that creates a virtuous cycle for everyone in the workplace. That’s part of our approach to global diversity and inclusion. It is about making sure that we not only feel good about ourselves, but also that we feel great about the relationships in the workplace. And the last pillar: people have to feel good about the company itself. That’s about the company’s mission in society, its purpose. What we do for a living is providing a home away from home for people who can’t be home.  We help people who are on business travel.  Or we provide great venues for family and friends to re-energize while on vacation, or for gatherings of people from across the world to share perspectives. People at Marriott feel very good about what we do in society, and feel very good about the company’s citizenship.  When these three elements are in place, employees really engage with the company, the mission of the company. What we find is they also get very inspired to give back to the community.

SF:  And that’s going to enhance your brand. If you’re employees are your ambassadors for why this is a great place to stay. As a person travelling or convening with friends or family, as you described, there’s no better advertisement.

DR: Let me tell you a great story. I was travelling outside the United States. I land at the airport and my colleagues say, “David there’s a housekeeper that wants to speak to you. Would you be willing to speak to her?” And I said, “Of course.”  I was wondering what am I about to hear?  What has gone wrong somewhere? What complaint? I get there and I meet this woman. She was a single mother with young children and she proceeded to tell me about a life of generations of poverty and domestic violence. And what she said to me was that Marriott to her, when she went inside the doors of our hotel, it was like walking into an oasis. She found dignity and respect that she could not find outside the workplace in a place that believed that she could grow as a person. So, she said to me – here’s the catch – she said, “David, because Marriott takes care of me and my family…” in essence because it broke that cycle of poverty and lack of self-respect, “I am going to make sure that all my co-workers feel like family. And that every customer that walks into that hotel feels like family.” Stew, how could you not be successful if you’re in the service industry?

SF: If you get everyone to feel that way? So, how do you get everyone to feel that way?

DR:  It’s the goal and objective of the CEO and every one of his direct reports, including me. And it’s focused on employee well-being.

SF: So, that’s a measurable objective and everyone is held accountable?

DR: I’ll give you an example of the penetration of our “Take Care” well-being program. Our Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, Bill Marriott, and our President and CEO, Arne Sorenson, won’t rest until that becomes ingrained in every single one of the thousands of hotels that we manage.  It starts with the philosophy of the three pillars I talked about. Underneath all those pillars are specific programs and actions that people are measured on.

SF: How are you doing this year? What’s your rating going to be on that metric?

DR: I don’t have a final metric for the year.  Every year as we globalize the wellness program, what we look at is the adoption rate by hotels. Year after year we will exceed our goals for the number of hotels that have jumped on board and are actively, not just knowledgeable about it, but are self-sustaining in terms of the energy and activities they have in the wellness space.

SF:  I know that a number of our listeners are thinking, “Well this sounds great for a big company, like Marriott. But how do we do it in our company? Or a company that’s not a service business, where you are really dependent on the attitude and passionate engagement of your employees at all levels who are directly customer facing?” What advice do you have for other businesses to help them to see the value in this investment in well-being that your company has been so successful in creating and benefiting from?

DR: Certainly the story I told you about – having an associate describe how integral her work experience has been and how committed she is – a lot of our employees describe our hotels as their hotels. Not the company’s hotels, but ‘their hotels’. It’s like they’re taking care of their homes. I think you achieve that by having senior management held accountable. They have to share the philosophy. And they have to be held accountable.

SF: That’s really making it a key priority that people are measured on?

DR: Yes, at the very top.  And it can’t be a tactical thing.  This company takes great pains making sure people understand our business model stands with employee-centricity. When you’re in the service experience, part of it is the hotel has to look beautiful and up-to-date and so on and so forth. But that experience is entirely dependent on our employees and the degree to which they are enthused about creating great experiences. So, people get it here and we make sure there is accountability.

SF: What’s the second key point you want to leave our audience with?

DR: The second key point is that it can’t just be at the top. It has to be from the grassroots itself. You need to give people the forum and the mechanisms where they internalize this, they think of the company as their company, and they’re invested in making it the best place it can possibly be

About The Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

High Pressure Work and Drug Abuse — Will Wesch

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Will Wesch, the VP of Admissions at Novus Medical Detox, who has spent nearly a decade working to improve the lives of those afflicted with addiction, and helping them to recover with dignity and humanity. Drug abuse in the tech industry is growing as is national use of prescription pain killers. Silicon Valley has the country’s second-highest rate of illicit drug dependence and abuse among 18 to 25-year-olds. Friedman and Wesch spoke about the trend, especially in the tech industry, of drug abuse associated with work pressures. Wesch urges tech employers to take a proactive approach to substance abuse.

Stew Friedman: California, home to Silicon Valley, the hub of the tech industryhas the country’s second-highest rate of illicit drug dependence and abuse among 18 to 25-year-olds. Emergency room visits for stimulant abuse in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties is more than 5x the national average. Why do you think those in the tech industry are taking prescription medications and drugs?  Is it new or are we, as a society, just more aware of and open about drug use?

Will Wesch: WESCH_Will+Bryn (3)You can take this all the way back to college, or even high school, where kids have the pressures of school and use drugs like Adderall to stay awake for three days before an exam, for example.  As they get older and go into the work force, they know that they have these “tools” to help them stay awake and be more productive.

SF: So, the drugs are framed as a tool, as a resource, as something that compels one to a better performance?

WW: Exactly.  What happens is when you get into the tech industry is that you have a situation where there are deadlines; there’s a lot of pressure. People are working 18 hours a day. Some of them might not sleep for two days at a time just to meet those demands.  It’s a tough industry perhaps because they replace people that aren’t producing rapidly. So, you have a young kid sitting there and he has to be awake for 24 hours. It worked in college, it will work now.  What you’re seeing is a culture of becoming dependent on the drug to get through their day-to-day lives in that type of field where the pressures, timelines, and targets are very high.

SF: So, these patterns start earlier. And people are bringing them into the workplace from college where it’s “normal” to use these stimulants to help stay focused and get course work done?

WW: Correct. I have a son who graduated college and he would tell me the stories. His friends, who had to pass an exam or would fail, had these drug readily available to them.

SF: And what compelled them to use them?

WW: Seeing others using them, having to stay awake for long periods of time, and seeing that this could help them to be able to stay up and study for 24 hours if they needed to.

SF: So, they bring this into the workplace, and what are you seeing in your practice? What kinds of problems are people having as a result of their drug dependence and the increasing scope and scale of this problem?

WW: First and foremost, you’ve got the habit of methamphetamines, pain pills, or Adderall.  You have to have financial resources to do that. So, you will see depletion in that.

SF: You’ll see depletion in their funds you mean?

WW: Exactly. So, you’re also going to run into situations where people are overly tired. It’s not good for their bodies. They’re not eating correctly. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but you see forms of depression. There are a lot of different manifestations that come from using these medications to fulfill a need they have in the workplace.

SF: So how does an employer help notice and intervene in ways that are useful for the employee?

WW: There’s various ways to spot this. An employee abusing drugs is three times more likely to be late to work. They have two and a half times as many absences of 8 days or more. I think they use three times the normal level of sick benefits. They’re five times more likely to file worker compensation claims. And they’re 3.6 times more likely to be involved in accidents. These are things that an employer can look for.  In addition to that, drug testing in the workplace helps.

SF: You’re an advocate for that?

WW: I am. If you have somebody running a piece of machinery, and they’ve been up for 4 days, they’re fatigued and this person can really hurt themselves. Do test them.   But what’s equally important is that an employer has an employee assistance program (EAP), a place where employees can go to get help on a confidential basis. People are scared that they may lose their job.

SF: So tell us about that. How does an employee assistance program work at a typical company? And how do people get access to it without feeling stigmatized, as if there is something wrong with them which may be holding back from getting help?

WW: They can go through various Human Resources agencies and find different programs available in their area, and they can offer that benefit to employees. And it goes further than that. It can be therapy. It can just be counseling. It can be other personal problems.. But substance abuse is one of those factors where a program like that could actually have an employee reach out on a confidential basis and get help that they might not otherwise receive.

SF: So, confidentiality is key? Are there other things that an employer can do, assuming there is an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) in place in your organization? Is there anything a supervisor or co-worker can do to encourage someone whom they think is having a problem to help them to take advantage of that support?

WW:  You can always promote different resources and benefits that the company has. One of the way situations you have here, Stew, is that it gets a little bit tricky. Different states have different regulations. You have federal regulations with respect to police. My best advice for any employer is to talk with a local attorney, have them review your substance abuse policies, and then act accordingly. They will help set that program up so that it’s safe for everyone.

SF: Safe for everyone did you say? So, getting legal counsel to make sure you are proceeding within the local ordinances, and state and federal regulations is critical. But is more that can be done to encourage people to reach out? Todd is calling from Philadelphia. Todd welcome to Work and Life. What’s your question?

Todd: I had a question about Adderall. I had a problem focusing, prioritizing, being motivated, and getting things done. I’ve been self-employed for about 20 years now. I had depression. A doctor recently put me on Adderall and Zoloft. I was wondering what does that do to your body? And are there other ways of correcting those types of problems?

WW: If you’re working with a medical professional, you definitely want to go with your doctor’s advice. That being said, you also want to take a look at how the drug is affecting you. There’s a few ways of looking at this. From a medical standpoint, he probably is correct in getting you to focus, etc. From a long-term position, is taking Adderall the rest of your life a solution? In typical cases, it’s not. So, there’s got to be something else that needs to be done.

SF: Something that is more behavioral, and less chemical?

WW: It could be, absolutely. We run into it in our facility quite a bit. We will have people go to a nutritionist and have their blood drawn, and just make sure their hormones are balanced. There are people who just have trouble sleeping. They only get 3 hours of sleep a night. Well why is that? The body is supposed to produce gaba that is supposed to help you rest and go to sleep. And we find, in a fair amount of cases, that something is imbalanced.

SF: So, the key is to get data, right, to get information? To do assessments with people who know how to look for effects of different kinds of drugs on your body, and also to diagnose whether there might be some other cause?

WW: Correct. So what you want to do in a lot of cases is rule out the physical aspects of it. Mental health problems do exist. You also want to make sure you are covering the mental aspect and the physical aspect. I’ve just seen it too many times where somebody comes in, they are not doing well one way or another, having anxiety attacks and things like that. They get physicals, their hormones are out of balance, or it could be allergies, it could be a number of things. You want to attack it from both ends. That would be my advice.

SF: Todd, thanks for calling and I hope that advice is helpful. We got John calling from San Diego. John, thank you for calling Work and Life. How can we help you?

John: I heard you talking about anonymity and confidentiality, and the importance that that plays in the workplace. But I tend to think that is actually creating more of a problem. I tend to think that there is obviously a stigma with people who deal with an addiction whether they’re in the workplace or just in normal life. And I feel like anonymous approach is almost fostering a shame in which not just the addict themselves, or the person dealing with the drug issues themselves, have to deal with, but also the families of these addicts. That creates a kind of shame that really keeps people in the workplace from being upfront with what they’re dealing with. If we’re going to call it a disease, let’s treat it like a disease. I don’t understand why workplaces have punishments in place for failing a drug test. The American Medical Association looks at it as a disease. I don’t understand why the workplace doesn’t do that.

SF: So, people are afraid to ask for her help. That’s a great point, John. Will, what do you have to say about that?

WW:  Federal HIPAA laws protect the privacy of the individual. I’ll give you a perfect example. You have a CEO who is an alcoholic and he has a hundred employees.  He might not want his employees to know because he’s the guy running the company and providing the money for their salaries and everything else. Having places where the person can go on a confidential basis and get help is a good thing in that sense. Now I understand your sense as well. You look at it and say addiction is a disease. I’ve heard both sides.  But an individual isn’t going to want others to know that he has this problem. He may be looked upon really well and he’s got a lot of responsibility. So, I think the HIPAA laws laid out by the federal government are correct in a lot of ways. They’re not going to get anything 100% correct. Is it a 100% right? I don’t think anything is a 100% right.

SF:  The question I think that John is raising is how can we remove the punitive elements of disease, as it is experienced by people.  How can we make it more likely, therefore, that both employees and employers are going to be encouraging people who are suffering to seek help, right?

WW: I think in a lot of cases you’re right. But as we touched on earlier, Stew, and John, is that in some cases it’s just not a reality. We go back to running machinery where you can cut your arms off. An employer has to intervene. They have to. So, how about a school bus driver driving your kids around? So, there’s got to be scenarios where you’ve got to step in, and the employers have to say this is a drug-free workplace. But on the same point, if you’re going say that, it’s best for the employer to have an option for the employees to go somewhere and talk confidentially to somebody, and get help.

SF: So, John, quick reply?

John: I don’t really understand when you say that there are two sides to the disease aspect of addiction. I haven’t heard the other side of that.

SF: Good question, John. So, Will what did you mean ‘both sides?’ Disease versus what? Versus intentionally self-destructive behavior?

WW: You definitely have the disease portion of it. But let’s take a scenario where you have a lawyer who gets a back surgery and is given 60mg of pain pills, Oxycodone, to help with this pain.  This guy goes out and functions. He’s a good lawyer. He takes care of his family. He doesn’t abuse his script. He wants off of it, but he’s having trouble coming off of it. So, he reaches out to a facility, like Novus, and says, “Can you help me taper off of this?” So, we bring that person in. You have to realize there’s two things. There’s addiction and there’s dependency, and those are two separate categories. That’s all I was talking about. One individual has to get up every morning and take them to get high. Whereas, when you have a dependency, an individual is hooked on the drug. He’s not stealing. He’s not doing things that an addict would do. You know spending a lot of money, not taking care of his wife or kids. He just needs to come off 40 or 60 milligrams of Oxycodone. Do I say that guy has a disease? I don’t think the guy has a disease. I think he has a dependency to the drug. And he has to come off. That’s all I’m saying.

SF: So, it helps direct the treatment when you think of it in those terms.

WW: It’s a debatable point. I’m just saying there are people that say just what I said and there are people that say it’s a disease. I think both are valid.

SF: I want to thank you John for calling and raising those questions. I want to move on to another question, which is how do you approach detox? Why is personalized detox program more successful than cold turkey? Explain to us how you go about that.

WW:  In a lot of cases, depending on the individual, if they just quit taking the drug and their body could go into shock and they could go into very hard withdrawal, and then there is a likelihood that they’re going to pop another pill to help them. Now that’s going to be a very high percentage of it. In most cases, the individual has got to be tapered down, stepped down slowly for a couple of reasons. One is, what if the person has a bad heart valve and they quit taking the drug? It can spring a heart attack just like that. What if they are running on high or low blood pressure and they don’t know it.

SF: So, you really have to look at the whole picture, the whole person, and personalize it?

WW: You have to look at it from a medical standpoint. To quit drinking, if you’re an alcoholic and you’ve been drinking for many years, or quit taking drugs without medical supervision, is very dangerous. You can get seizures, strokes, and stuff like that.

SF:  If you hve a loved one who is experiencing this kind of addiction, Will, what’s your best advice?

WW: Well, I think that consulting the individual and just having a talk with them, seeing if they’re willing to acces help, and then help them find that support. There’s plenty of help out there, and it’s individualized help. What’s going to be right for one person isn’t necessarily going to be right for another person. So, you want to get on a phone with an expert. They may need a medical detox, they may not. Have an expert walk you through the different scenarios of what the options are and pick what’s right for them. Now, if that loved one is being defiant, doesn’t want to be in treatment, then hire a professional, like an interventionist, to come in and help the parents out, or whoever it may be, to get that person help. The wrong thing to do would be to do nothing about it.

SF:  I am so glad you’re concluding on that. That’s such an important idea.

WW: My last point is that you have no idea what will happen to that kid, that adult, in the next couple of days. One more shot of heroin, overdosing on pills, and there is nothing worse than saying, “I should have done something.”

To learn more about Will Wesch’s work go to www.novusdetox.xom.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies

My Summer at Vynamic: Experiencing the Power of a Healthy Culture

By Leah Davidson

According to a 2013 Gallup survey, in the corporate world, there are twice as many unhappy employees as happy employees. An Accenture report traced dissatisfaction to a lack of recognition (43%), inability to act on employees’ entrepreneurial desire (35%), a lack of empowerment (31%), and a loss of trust with managers (31%).

“Is it possible to create an environment of empowerment in a more traditional industry like consulting?” This is one of the questions I asked myself as I started my internship at Vynamic, a boutique healthcare industry management consulting firm in Philadelphia founded by former Accenture executive Dan Calista in 2002.

Redefining the Consulting Model

When I first met with Dan in March, he described Vynamic’s company purpose as a belief in a better way to do management consulting. Vynamic has a unique staffing model, each consultant is in control of where they work and what they do, enabling consultants to select projects based on their career interests and skillset. Staying true to its commitment to a healthy culture, Vynamic promotes physical, mental, and emotional well-being at every level of the organization.

The company’s distinct qualities come across during an initial visit to the office, where every room is painted a unique team member’s “I Am” color to represent diversity and inspire a thriving creativity (my favorite was an office colored and named “Livestrong Yellow”); treadmills, sit-to-stand desks, balance balls, and elliptical bike chairs round out the seating options; and a Balance Bar offers an array of nutritious fruit and snacks. It is clear that, as Stew Friedman advocates in his Total Leadership model, Vynamic defines what’s most important and aligns actions with those values.


Davidson post livestrong

davidson post bike

A few of the programs organized internally at Vynamic to promote healthy living include:

  • Choose Your Own Community Adventure – During the summer, Vynamic team members organize service projects to benefit the local community, such as helping the Penn Vet Center with clean up and stuffing envelopes with Food Bucks, which provide healthy food to low-income families. Some Vynamic employees bring children and spouses along to share in the experience. Vynamic donates $100 to a charity of choice for each team member who volunteers an hour of his or her time, and team members can also vote for two charities to receive a $5000 corporate donation. I spent a Sunday afternoon in the beautiful Franklin Square volunteering at the Big Brothers Big Sisters Annual Picnic, a celebration for 900 children and mentors filled with Star Wars characters, food, crafts, and carousel rides. CYOCA is a perfect example of what Friedman calls four-way wins integrating work, home, community, and the private self. Community service increases work commitment and spiritual uplift and also allows the entire family to partake in company activities.

davidson post thrive live

Courtesy of Vynamic

  • Thrive Live – Every month, Vynamic coordinates social events to promote team connectivity. During my 11-week internship, I participated in a cupcake competition (so delicious!), a Dave and Buster’s arcade night, and a cheesesteak testing around Philadelphia with the new Indego bike-share program.

davidson post feast

Courtesy of Vynamic

  • Women at Vynamic Experience (WAVE) – To support women’s professional development, Vynamic offers personal coaching as well as quarterly breakfasts on themes such as executive presence, networking, and the art of self-promotion. These offer a forum for women to discuss the unique challenges they face in the workplace and engage men in conversations about leadership.
  • Be Your Best Self – Vynamic has a dedicated Health and Care Lead. As part of the programming, team members can set quarterly goals toward healthy living and receive $100 per quarter (up to $400 per year). This benefit encourages employees to try out new activities, such as learning a foreign language or trying Pilates for the first time.
  • zzzMail – The company has a policy to not send emails between 10 pm and 6 am or on weekends to reduce stress and allow people to enjoy more restful sleep and family time.
  • Healthy Hour – From financial planning sessions to healthy cooking demos, Vynamic holds activities on Fridays in the office to foster continuous education. I met Andrew Stober, a city council candidate, and heard his views on the future of public transportation in Philadelphia, learned how to make delicious Mediterranean orzo salad, and discovered the art of mindfulness during my first yoga session.

Engaging The Entire Person

With a core value of “growing for our people, not at the expense of our people” and “thriving with freedom to apply our unique strengths,” Vynamic offers an alternative to the typical corporate hierarchy, structured yet non-hierarchical. New hires are asked to choose a color that embodies their personality, and these are proudly showcased on business cards, the website, and the office wall.

The company uses Yammer as an internal social network to post updates, praise team members, share healthcare industry news, and commemorate company events through photos and videos. They also leverage a document repository, which gives employees access to everything from deliverables from all completed consulting projects to recruiting materials and scores from past happiness surveys (yes, there is a quarterly “Happiness Survey”!). Even as an intern, I appreciated feeling engaged in the company’s culture and knowledgeable about the strategic vision.

Too Good to be True?

Before joining Vynamic, I spoke with a Wharton alum about why she chose Vynamic. She explained, “I used to get anxiety about receiving that phone call, saying you have to be on a plane the next morning. And I knew that as I progressed at a larger consulting firm, I would still have to be away from my kids several days per week. This is the first time that I’ve woken up each morning and felt excited about coming to work.” My immediate thought was that Vynamic sounded too perfect.

After a summer at Vynamic, I can tell that employees face the same challenges as anyone would expect in a demanding client-facing role – many also juggle parenting multiple children under the age of five; however, the organizational design doesn’t force people to choose between their personal and career aspirations. Instead, it embraces the full person.

Vynamic shows how companies can foster four-way wins to promote effective leadership in all aspects of one’s life. Hopefully, more will heed its example.

About the Author

Leah Davidson, Wharton class of 2016, is majoring in Economics with concentrations in Management and Global Innovation and a minor in English.

Leah Davidson

How to Focus and Be More Productive: Dr. Ned Hallowell

Contributor: Arjan Singh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dr. Ned Hallowell, a child and adult psychiatrist, leading authority in the field of ADHD and a former faculty member of the Harvard Medical School. He is a New York Times bestselling author and founder of the Hallowell Centers, which are located in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Dr. Hallowell spoke with Stew about his most recent book Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Dr. Hallowell, you have just published Driven to Distraction at Work, which is a super hot topic now. Everyone seems to be overwhelmed or driven to distraction. As a psychiatrist, you bring a medical perspective to this issue. So first, let’s start with what is clinical ADD? And what is run of the mill everyday distraction?

Dr. Ned Hallowell: Ned HallowellI often ask, ‘do you have true ADD or a severe case of modern life?’ Five to ten percent of the population has true ADD or ADHD.  I would say 75 to 80% have a severe case of modern life or what I call, attention deficit trait, ADT. That’s not an inborn condition. If you have true ADD, you are born with it. ADT is induced by modern life – the busyness of modern life.  In many ways, the great thing of modern life is you can do so much. But the curse of modern life is you can do so much.

If you don’t take control, then you become the victim of modern life. And instead of being wonderfully productive, you feel like you’re running around in circles, feeling kind of frazzled and frantic and frenetic and forgetful and frustrated. If you’re not careful, the world takes you over. One of the rules of modern life is if you don’t take your time, it will be taken from you.

The good news is that this is a problem everyone can solve. Every organization can solve. Every family can solve. Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, is turning that company around. A major policy he implemented that is driving the turnaround is what he calls ‘10% think time.’ He requires all his executives to spend 10% of every workweek thinking.

SF: Let’s back up for a minute: How did you get into this?  And what are the big costs that you are seeing?

NH:  I wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform.” They told me that the biggest complaint they were getting from executives was being able to focus. And that was the genesis of this book. As you let your circuits get overloaded, you tend to underperform and you feel frustrated. Most people’s solution to everything is simply to try harder. It’s imperative that you work smarter, not harder. It means creating boundaries and prioritizing. It means clearing out time to think.

There is this massive “superficialization” of life. Relationships become ‘sound bite relationships.’

SF: What are ‘sound bite relationships’?

NH: “Hello.” “Goodbye.”  “What are we doing this weekend?” Just short-takes and no in-depth conversation or any conversation more than a minute or two.

SF: What are the consequences of this superficialization of our relationships?

NH: The human cost is less than a full and satisfying life. Economic cost is many, many, many billions of dollars. The bottom line is that it is a lot of time. The good news is that it is eminently solvable.

SF: What’s a good place to start?

NH: Start with your screens, because that is the biggest sinkhole. Look at how much you give into “screen-sucking.” Screen-sucking refers to the very common tendency of I’m just going to check my email and then you’re still there an hour later. You’re not aware of how much time you give away. The first step is to find out how much time you give away to screen-sucking.  The easiest way to become aware of that is to turn the device off and not allow yourself access to it. Step two is to reserve time to think. That can be to write a proposal, to try to work through a problem or reason your way through a personnel or marital problem you are having.  But to ponder, think, wrestle with.  Reserve an hour. Step three is taking stock – what are your priorities? You would be amazed at how many people do not know what their priorities are. So sit down and ask yourself what matters most to you.

I had one patient who called her husband’s laptop his “plastic mistress.” He was with that laptop far more than he was with his wife.

Another important intervention – watch out for the modern habit of multi-tasking. The brain cannot focus on two tasks simultaneously.

SF: What do you say to your boss who says I need you 24/7?

NH: You come as a group. The boss that insists on that is going to get fired. The idea of 24/7 is over. Management is all about brain management. How do we partition time – online, offline, available, not available? You do your best work when you’re ‘not available.’ And the enlightened managers know this. You want to begin the discussion in your organization. What is the best way to get the most out of all of our brains? Raise it as a question.

SF: Let’s talk for a minute about entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity here at the Wharton School and around the world. What we hear from so many young people is the idea that their entrepreneurial startup is a 24/7 proposition, and that they have to be in work mode all the time. Do you work with people of that generation and in that kind of environment? And if so, how do you help them deal with distraction, overload, burnout?

NH: Yes, indeed. The book that I am working on now is about the mind of the entrepreneur. The working title is Race Car Brain: Tuning up the Mind of the Entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have these race car brains.  They are incredibly fast, and they love it that way. Their challenge is learning to strengthen their brakes, learning how to plan more effectively, learning not to jump the gun, learning how to ‘ready-aim-fire’ instead of ‘fire-ready-aim.’

Keep in mind 90% of new businesses fail. The best advice you can give an entrepreneur is “don’t do it.” But, these people are un-dissuadable.

SF: What is the one best way for an entrepreneur to strengthen his or her brakes?

NH: Choose a partner wisely. Choose someone who is different than you. Someone who has good brakes and will you pull you back and say ‘let’s think about this’ before we sign on the dotted line. A big reason for failure is the two people with a great idea, both have brains with no brakes, and they blow up. Try to slow down to learn a bit.  You do not be so stubborn and headstrong that you think you have all the answers. Do not let your bravado and incredible energy burn you out, bring you down, or blow you up.

To learn more about Dr. Ned Hallowell, please check out his website and his new book Driven to Distraction at Work.

About the Author

Arjan Arjan Singh (2014_02_10 08_00_04 UTC)Singh is an undergraduate junior at the Wharton School.

Resilience: Eric Greitens

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Eric Greitens, a former Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar, and Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, and founder of The Mission Continues, a non-profit that helps returning veterans continue to serve in their home communities.  Eric is also the author of the New York Times best seller, The Heart and The Fist the just-released, Resilience: Hard Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Why is this book called Resilience and why did you decide to write it?

Eric Greitens: Eric GreitensI got a phone call from friend in trouble.  Zach Walker was a tough kid from a Northern California logging family.  Went through B.U.D.S. (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training) together. He graduated and went to Afghanistan on a combat deployment. He came back and became an entrepreneur. He was a good father to his two young kids, then his life was just hammered by hardship: his brother died, he lost his business, and one day he pulled his truck into his driveway, got out and dropped to the ground because he thought there was a sniper watching him.

SF: He was paranoid. He was hallucinating, perhaps.

EG: He laid there for hours and then he went into the house. He had post-traumatic stress disorder. And then Zach started drinking. And he did nothing in moderation so it was not a six pack but a cooler full of beer that he would be working through on the weekend. He called me after he’d been arrested. So now my friend who is a Navy SEAL war hero entrepreneur has now come home and is the unemployed alcoholic guy on disability who’s looking at the prospect of having his kids come to visit him in jail.

I got home that night and I wrote him a letter about resilience, about how you actually get better when things are hard. We all have times in our life when we have to deal with fear, with pain, with suffering. When you have resilience you can make it through the pain and you can actually become wiser. You can confront fear and become more courageous. You can move through suffering and become stronger. We all know people who’ve been broken by tragedy but you can also be strengthened by it.

The book is 23 letters to my friend which draws on a lot of ancient wisdom about how we can approach things that are hard and actually use those as opportunities for growth and to become stronger.

SF: So what’s the purpose of the book? Why publish the letters?

EG: I want everybody to know there’s hope and that you can build resilience. You’re not stuck with how much resilience you have or don’t have. This is a virtue you can build in your life and there are a lot of really practical things that you can do. Zach told me that the process, these letters, really saved his life. If this can be helpful to other people who are in tough spots — and it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Zach’s. When people retire they often wonder ‘what do I do next?’ When people go through a job transition or when things are difficult at work or at home – everybody faces different kinds of hardship – and hopefully this can be helpful to them as well.

SF: So what happened to Zach?

EG: He found that the process of reading the letters and reflecting on them created a lot of clarity in his own mind. Each letter addresses a different thing that you can do in your life to build resilience. For example, there was a letter about how you build purpose in the face of pain. We can always bear hardship better when there’s a reason behind it; when we know why we’re moving through it. And one of the things Zach was struggling with was the lack of sense of purpose. He’d been a Navy SEAL and every day he woke up and he had a mission to conduct and a team around him and all of a sudden all of that had been taken away. We talked about how you could start to build that.  And what’s really cool is that he did! He did a number of different things: he did some counseling, he did some volunteer work at his church. And what really ‘caught’ for him is that he’s coaching. He coached football last season. I just spoke with him this Sunday and he’s coaching a baseball team of kids. They’ve got their home opener in a couple of weeks and he’s doing really well because he figured out to build purpose.

There’s a chapter, for example, about responsibility. How you get rid of excuses and take control of your life even when everything seems out of control. He took each letter, now each chapter, and digested it, thought about how it applied to his own life and then, took action.

SF: So how do you get someone to take responsibility especially when in state of mind of not really being fully able to listen?

EG: You are not responsible for everything that happens to you, but you are responsible for how you react to what happens to you. If you’re going to ask somebody a single question to measure how resilient they’re likely to be, the question that you want to ask them is, ‘what are you responsible for?’ You find that the more responsibility people take, the more resilient they’re likely to be. And the analogy that I used for Zach:  I said, “Remember when [in the Navy SEAL training] they taught us how to survive if we were ever taken prisoner of war? Remember how they said that you can have your freedom taken away, your ability to stand, you have no control over your food, your schedule, your sleep, but what they taught you is you can still maintain control over your thoughts. You can maintain control over the way that you breathe?” And what people do in tough situations where everything seems out of control is they figure out what they can control and then they start to take ownership of that.

And then we started to talk about a really important piece, and you and I have talked about this in the past, is why excuses take hold and how you get rid of those.

SF: So how do you go from a victim mindset to one of having a sense of control?

EG: Excuses take hold because we use them and other people offer them to us because they prevent pain. People use excuses because they work! Something comes in and it looks like it’s going to be kind of hard and somebody makes an excuse. It’s kind of like putting on armor; it shields you from pain. Then something else comes in and you put on another sheet of armor and it does protect you. That’s true. But what also happens is that you can’t live a full life. How well can you run when you’re wearing armor? Or how well can you swim? How well can you hug your kids? So while it protects you in the short term, over the long term these excuses actually prevent you from living a full and flourishing life.

People can take away a lot of things from you. They can take away your home. They can take away your freedom. They can take away your material possessions. But no one can take away your excuses. You have to give those up yourself or not at all. And he took responsibility for his own life, let some of those excuses go and he started to push himself and to take responsibility.

SF: How do you get past doubt and fear to a point where you can let go of the armor of excuse and assume responsibility for what you can control? What’s the first step toward that more hopeful life-fulfilling direction?

EG: There are five key mental toughness techniques that people can use in the face of fear.  One that was relevant to Zach was that he was worried all the time:  “How am I going to support my family? Should I go back to school? Would I be able to make it?”  He was worried about his sense of identity; he used to be a Navy SEAL and everybody admired him “and now look at me.” He had all of these worries in his life and friends, family and doctors were saying, “Don’t worry so much. You don’t need to be worried.” And that’s advice we hear in our culture but it’s usually terrible advice because you’re going to worry! And now you just feel bad about the fact that you’re worrying!

You have to learn how to worry productively. If you go back to the Stoics, 2000 years ago they had a practice called the pre-meditation of evils. Marcus Aurelius, for example, in his meditations he quotes Epictetus who says that every night when you kiss your children you should say to yourself they may not be here in the morning. That was their reality 2000 years ago. The likelihood was that your kid might not make it past age 5. So what the Stoics did, not just with their kids but with everything, they allowed themselves purposefully to think about things that might go wrong. But instead of thinking about this in an endless loop of worry what you do, in the pre-meditations of evil, is the practice we call rehearsal.  You imagine:  “how will I react if this thing goes wrong?  How will if find my way through? And then if I react there, and something else goes wrong, then how will I react to that?” You purposefully imagine yourself all the way through difficulty until you get to a place where you’ve achieved excellence.

Athletes do this, Navy SEALS do this when practicing for physical things. But you can use this premeditation of evil in every practice.  You could use this when you’re heading into an interview. You feel your heart start to beat and that nervousness comes. Imagine what will you do then, what will you do to regain control over yourself? How will you be calm? That’s just one technique. But it’s really important to learn how to confront fear productively.

SF: So what’s the first step out of doldrums?

EG: You need to take positive action that rooted in your identity. The problem today (and for Zach) is that our culture has flipped the way we used to think about actually achieving success. Today there’s too often an emphasis on feeling. The first question people ask is “How are you feeling? How does it feel to you? How’s your job? How are classes?”  The trap there is that you start to believe that if you feel a certain way, then you should act a certain way. And then, of course, the way that you act actually shapes who you are, your character, your identity. Broadly speaking, in the ancient world they flipped that on its head. What Aristotle said was,  “You know what the good thing is by seeing what the good person does.” You look for a model to create an identity for yourself and then you say,  “if I want to be that kind of person, how should I act?” And then you act that way. And then the way you act, of course, shapes how you feel.

In the Chapter on Identity I asked Zach, who do you want to be? He was able to say I want to be this kind of father, I want to be this kind of husband,  I want to be this kind of leader in my community. And then we created models for him to follow and he took positive action. That was how it started. He grabbed onto this sense of identity.  And I should say: None of this is magic. All of this is hard, struggling work that he had to do, but he did it and he got out.

SF: So what about models? You were there for him, you challenged him and gave him ideas.  Is it necessary to have someone helping you?

EG: I think it is necessary and it’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, so that people could read it and they’d have, hopefully, a friend who’s asking them these hard questions that they can reflect on. That’s what people used to think Philosophy was for. Now when we think about Philosophy we think of it as something that happens in classrooms. It used to be that Philosophy was a shared endeavor and it was not so much about sitting and thinking as it was about thinking and living. You measured a Philosopher by the impact they had on their students. So Cato, who never wrote, was considered a Philosopher. Marcus Aurelius, who only wrote in his private diary, was considered a Philosopher. This is an old practice of how you have friends help you to live a good life.

In terms of Models: I said to Zach, “if I brought you a giant bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces and I said you have to put the puzzle together then what would you ask for?” And Zach said, “I’d ask for a picture.” Of course!  You want to know what you’re trying to make. The thing is life only hands you pieces. But you have the opportunity to pick a picture.

Zach was talking about his brother dying, losing his business and more. I said, look I have two brothers, they’re both alive. I don’t what it’s like to lose a brother but I know there are many people who have lost loved ones and have been able to deal with it. You need a model for that. Is there a person you know who’s lost their brother and who you admire how they dealt with it?

SF: So, you’re looking for someone is similar circumstance who found a way to thrive?

EG: Exactly, an entrepreneur who had post-traumatic stress syndrome, somebody else who was struggling but became a great father. Let’s look for those models and then when we see how other people have dealt with what we now have to face it often gives us confidence about what we can create in our own lives.

SF: It takes a dialogue that is rooted in identity and real action. I know you’ve done this kind of outreach before. What motivates you to do this kind of work as a philosopher yourself?

EG: In the beginning this was just my buddy who needed help. And Zach was a guy who always took care of me when I was going through the SEAL team training. We took care of each other. Then he calls me and he’s in trouble. I said, “Come on, man, I can help you here.”  And he wrote back to me. And just like any endeavor where we find we’re being of service, we learned so much from it. It, of course, made me a stronger person as well, the process of writing the book.

SF: What’s the hoped for impact?

EG: I’m hoping that for other people that are in a tough spot, or whose friends or family members are in a tough spot I really hope that this book will be hopeful. In the sense that they see that there are really practical things that they can do to build resilience in their lives. This is NOT easy. It’s tough to build virtues. It’s tough to move through hardship. It’s tough to change the course of your life. But it is possible to do. And I think because it draws on a lot of wisdom from our religious and philosophical traditions about how we do this in our lives in a practical way I hope that it will give people hard-won and real lasting hope.

SF: How might this apply to organizations? To society? What can companies be doing to build resilience in their employees?

EG: One, is, just like with individuals, you have to take responsibility to be resilient. When you have a community or company where people are in the habit of saying I am responsible for this, it leads to resilience. The big distinction I make is between the morality of intentions vs. the morality of results.  People say, “I really wanted to help. I was thinking of helping.” The example I share is I have an 8 month son at home and when Sheena [my wife] asks me, “Did you feed the Joshua?” I don’t get to say, “I wanted to feed the baby. It was really important to me.”  No, you either did it or you didn’t do it. And too often the morality of intentions says that what matters is what I say or intend, not the result that I created in the world. People who are resilient pay a lot of attention to the actual results that they create in the world. And because they’re always paying attention to the feedback that that get it creates a kind of humility. And at the same time enables a kind of boldness because they see the actual results that they’re getting. And really great leaders in organizations model that kind of responsibility.

SF: Can you give an example? What’s a good model?

EG:  Obviously you get great examples of this in the military.  One of the things that you saw in the military, especially the Navy, was a ceremony called the Change of Command ceremony. At a very particular instant in time one captain of a ship, for example, passes responsibility, hands over command, to another captain. And at that moment the new captain is immediately responsible for everything that happens on that ship. And there’s no sense where any Navy captain would ever say, “Well, you know, I really wanted to do this, but I got handed a bad deal or was handed bad cards or I’m going to blame something on my predecessor.”  There’s an immediate sense that you are responsible for everything that happens on your ship.  And I saw that kind of leadership in the military and I think that’s one of the things that helped us to maintain resilient communities in the field teams and beyond.

SF: What about for society? I know you have plans for potential service in public office. What are the priorities for us as a nation?

EG: For us to build the kind of political culture that we need to build resilience we have to look back.  America has always been a resilient country. Perhaps one of the most resilient in the history of the world. And one of the reasons why we were resilient in the past was precisely this thing that we’re talking about – you had leaders who took responsibility. It engendered a tremendous amount of trust and confidence in government even when people disagreed with the individual decisions that leaders were making.

For example, Harry Truman had the lowest approval ratings of any President that we have ever measured – 22% toward the end of his term. And this was because he made tough decisions. He fired McArthur. That was unpopular. He promoted the Marshall Plan which was initially unpopular. He did a lot of unpopular things but at the same time as his personal approval ratings was in the low 20%, Americans’ confidence in government was in the high 70% low 80% because he was saying, “the buck stops here.”

And in that same way you John F. Kennedy in the Bay of Pigs — he took responsibility. People knew he was taking responsibility for the Cuban Missile Crisis. The classic example of Dwight Eisenhower, when he was General Eisenhower, writing a letter of resignation in case D-Day went wrong saying that he was going to take responsibility for it. So there was this sense that you had leaders who grew out of this culture of saying, “I’m responsible for results.”

What makes people despondent is not so much when there’s something really hard in front of them, it’s when they feel like there’s powerlessness and people at the top aren’t taking responsibility.

SF: So how are you going to change that?

EG: I’ve set up an exploratory committee for the Governorship of Missouri. A lot of people are saying that we need a new approach. We need some innovative ideas. That’s what I’m looking at right now.

SF: What’s your hope? What would be your priority if you get there?

EG:  One of the things that we’re doing is building a vision for the State for people buy into and to generate a sense of well-founded excitement and hope. I think that you have to have a vision. What I’m doing is visiting farms and businesses and schools and prisons to actually meet people who are solving real problems and putting their hands on things. I think that if you bring a kind of nuts and bolts leadership perspective to this you start to see what it is that needs to be done.

To learn more about Eric Greitens, go to www.ericgreitens.com and follow him on Twitter @EricGreitens.

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