Burn, Baby, Burn!

Now may be about the time that many new year resolutions are starting to wane. Maybe you’re not seeing results, maybe you have lost your purpose, and motivation.  In which case, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Or, maybe you’re killing it, in which case, nice work!  Either way, today I want to give you a bit of motivation, in the form of knowledge!

Specifically, I want to talk about exercise.  Of course there are many reasons why exercise is good for your health.  Everyone knows that.  BUT, exercise can also be good for your career!  Below I’m going to mention a few studies that show the effects of exercise on work – and all you have to do to take advantage of these benefits is to keep fit and have fun.

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1. Exercise Makes You a Better Leader (link)

  • So technically, research shows that exercise makes you less of a bad leader: Researchers found that exercise was linked with a decreased likelihood that a leader would engage in what is called abusive supervision – an abusive supervisor is one who demeans, belittles, verbally harasses… basically everything negative but physical aggressions.  The authors found that workplace stress increased abusive supervision, but when leaders also exercised, the effects of stress were cancelled out.  In this study, exercise was measured by the number of hours per week a leader exercised – it didn’t capture the type of exercise, just that it was being done.

2. Exercise Buffers the Negative Effect of Workplace Stress on Your Health

  • In some of my own (currently unpublished) research using a national longitudinal sample, my colleagues and I found that over the course of 10 years, there was a negative relationship between workplace stress and overall health (e.g., sickness, disease, mental health).  This finding isn’t new, but what we also found that when a person exercised, like in the first article, the negative effect wasn’t as strong.  Exercise weakened the negative effects of stress on our health.  Exercise was measured by the energy expenditure of exercise – very similar to the duration calculation in the first study, but also incorporating some measure of vigour.
  • Another study showed similar findings for the effects of exercise on the relationship between depression and work burnout (here).

3. Exercise, in the form of Yoga, Reduces Aggression & Counterproductive Workplace Behaviors (link)

  • Research from India shows that the practice of yoga translates to positive outcomes in the workplace.  In an experimental study (where some people were in a “yoga” group, and others were not – i.e., a “control” group), it was shown that those in the yoga group were less aggressive, and performed fewer counterproductive workplace behaviors (a counterproductive work behavior is an umbrella term for any behaviour that interferes with the achievement of an organization’s goals, for example, stealing, interpersonal conflict, or bullying).

So if exercising for your health wasn’t enough motivation, maybe knowing that exercise can improve your functioning at work, and your interpersonal relationships with your co-workers, will.  Take it a step further, and encourage your employees to exercise, create a challenge with your team to stick to an exercise plan, or have your company bring in a yoga instructor.  These are relatively cheap solutions that could have a major impact on you, your employees, and your organization.

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Smile, Sweetie.

I’ve been thinking about the act of smiling lately, probably because I watched Elf multiple times over the holidays, and as Buddy says, “Smiling’s my favorite!”.  The other reason I’ve been thinking about it is because what used to be a simple facial expression, as it turns out, is a far more complex topic than you might think.

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THE GOOD
First, the good.  Of course, there are many reasons why smiling should be your favourite.  In the workplace, smiling is related to:

  • being perceived as a better leader (more)
  • better job performance ratings (more)
  • higher pay (more)
  • a better chance of success in job interviews (more)

In general, smiling is also associated with:

  • better social relationships (more)
  • lowered stress and stress responses, like heart rate (more)
  • higher later life satisfaction (more)
  • longer lives (more)

Even more amazing, researchers have shown that there is a reciprocal relationship between smiling and positive emotions; not only do positive emotions trigger a smile, but the simple act of smiling (even if you’re not feeling it), can cause positive emotions and outcomes.  So if you’re ever feeling down, stressed, or angry, forcing yourself to smile is a great first step in getting yourself in a better mood (if you can’t force it, try repeating the letter “e” to yourself!) (more here and here).

THE BAD
So how on earth, you might ask, can smiling be bad?  Well, maybe when some random man on the street shouts at you to do it?  This is an unfortunately common experience of many women, one that inspired Tatyana Fazlalizadeh to start an art movement.

Research shows that people expect women to smile more.  When those expectations aren’t met, many people will attempt to correct this social deviation.  Asking an unsmiling women “are you okay?”, is one way this happens.  And of course, street harassers more blatantly point it out, making women feel victimized, unsafe, and violated.

But those who do smile also run into problems!  Everyday Feminism did an excellent job describing the frustrations experienced by women who do smile, including harassment, or mistaken flirtation (story of my life, I’m just friendly!).  These problems are exacerbated for female employees in the service industry (e.g., restaurants, hotels), who may receive unwanted attention daily because of a job requirement to smile (more).  In these instances, the positive benefits of smiling described earlier, may be outweighed by the negative repercussions of harassment.

In Conclusion

So, we simply want to remove the negative effects created by society’s social expectations for women to smile, and then encourage everyone to smile for the sake of their success and health. Simple.

Of course not, but the awareness created by groups like Everyday Feminism are certainly helping, and you can help by spreading that awareness.  Also, try to ignore street harassers, with headphones, or your phone.  If you are a man, never tell someone what to do with their face, never assume a smile means more than a social nicety, and if you see “smile harassment”, call out the inappropriateness and social undesirability of the behaviour.

And then maybe let only one man, Nat King Cole, tell you to smile 😉

Saying Thanks

After a long weekend eating lots of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving (or “Canadian Thanksgiving” as others may know it), I thought it would be appropriate to post a Thanksgiving-themed leadership tip.

“Thanks” is such a simple word.  A word that, at one syllable, literally takes less than a second to say.  But the impact of this word can be massive.  Coming from their leader, “thanks” can make employees feel appreciated, valued, and that their hard work is being recognized.  Employees who feel these things are more likely to continually perform high, are more likely to participate in extra-role activities that benefit the entire organization, and more likely to stick around a company longer.  But perhaps even more importantly, employees who receive gratitude are happier and healthier.  All for one small word.

So please, remember to show some appreciation for those who continually help you do your job 🙂

If you’re still not convinced, I’d like to quickly look at the other side – not saying thanks when it’s due.  In the field of leadership research, it was once thought that not saying thanks had no effect – of course the positive outcomes listed above wouldn’t occur, but could negative effects beyond that happen?

I’m writing about it, so obviously the answer is YES.  Not saying thanks, not giving someone recognition or praise when its due is actually a significant source of stress.  Think about it: If you had been working hard to deliver a project, to be met with no acknowledgement whatsoever, wouldn’t you be a bit peeved?  Of course.  And that’s what researchers found: A lack of feedback is a terrible thing to deal with.

Thanks (yes, that was intended) for taking the time to think about this small gesture that can truly make someone’s day.  Try it tomorrow 🙂

Further Reading: