Category Archives: Intentional Well-being at Work

Appreciative Inquiry – A Mindfulness Tool


Cartoon Appreciative inquiry as a tool for mindfulness: idenitfy, appreciate, adn build on your strengths

In Chapter 33 of the Tao te Ching Lao Tzu taught: “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” Translator Stephen Mitchell describes true wisdom as” “When I know myself, I know others; when I master myself, I don’t have to master others” (1). This is mindfulness.

Finding Fault
Unfortunately, we are very quick to identify and label our faults and weaknesses. We are much less likely to identify, label and appreciate our strengths and the good things we do. This is self-talk – the inner critic who always has something negative to say about what we are doing or thinking.  This running commentary includes all those “shoulda, woulda, coulda, oughta”, things we tell ourselves. “I should have worn the blue blouse instead of the red. I ought to speak up more in meetings.”

A wise, anonymous person said, “If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend?” Most people would not put up with it and yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Mindfulness can help us stop “shoulding” all over ourselves. The question is, how do we learn to stop focusing on our faults and appreciate our strengths.

Appreciative Inquire
Believe it or not, organizational development research found a way for work groups to identify and build on their strengths to improve performance, productivity, profitability and employee and customer satisfaction. It is called appreciative inquiry (AI). It was developed by David Cooperrider, PhD, at Case Western Reserve University, in 1980.

Cooperrider and his associate, Diana Whitney, developed the following definition of AI

Ap-pre’ci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems 2. to increase in value, Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING.

In-quire’ (kwir), v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION, STUDY.

This is an element of mindfulness – discovering, studying, valuing, and honoring the best in ourselves and the world around us. Appreciative inquiry is not about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, or the “power of positive thinking.” AI operates on the assumption that in every situation, there is something that works and by identifying and focusing on what works, you can build on it. In addition, change is easier if you can carry forward parts of your past that worked.  Generally, it is done in a group, but it works very well as an individual process, particular if you do it as a written exercise, such as a personal journal.

Practice AI for Mindfulness
Think about a recent experience and answer the following AI questions:

  • What strengths or talents did I bring to the situation?
  • What was challenging for me in this situation and did it change how I see myself?
  • Who helped me in this situation and how did it make me feel?
  • What did I learn about myself?
  • What did I learn about others?
  • What did I learn in this situation and how can I apply it in my daily work?

Ponder This…
one thing you learned about yourself and/or your strengths in the above exercise. Now, identify one thing you can do this week to use and build on that strength. Set up an alert n your smart phone, electronic pad or computer to remind you to apply your AI insight in your daily life.

A Final Thought
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult; we just need to remember to do it.” ~ Sharon Salzberg, (2010) Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation


Lao Tsu, Tao te Ching, Pocket Edition, Stephen Mitchell, Translator, New York Harper Perennial, 1990.

Cooperrider, D. & Whitney, D, A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005

Read About Another Mindfulness Tool

Mindfulness @ Work

Photo of Mark Twain on a cruise ship and quote relating to mindfulness and well-being, "It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so." 

You think you are doing OK. You are getting things done, but how are you really feeling? What do you think about your work, its quality, its importance and the people you work for? Are you enjoying your work? Are you challenged, overwhelmed, or just going through the motions? Stop right now and complete these two sentences: 

  •  At this moment, I am feeling…
  •  At this moment, I need… 

The concept of mindfulness or awareness dates back to the Buddha: Do not dwell in the past; do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.  

Mindfulness Definition

Being mindful means that you live in the moment, noticing your physical and emotional state along with what is going on around you, and that you accept your current state of being and the situation without judgment.  This is mindfulness, also called awareness, and it is the foundation of well-being. You must look at yourself, your attitudes and emotions objectively, because they define your actions. You cannot enhance your well-being without being aware of your surroundings, and how your actions and attitudes affect those around you.  


  • Is the ability to pause and look inside yourself, to observe and think about your behavior, your opinions, attitudes, knowledge and how they align with your personal values and, at work, with the organization’s values.
  • Helps you be more productive, by using your strengths and identifying opportunities to overcome or compensate for your weaknesses.
  • Helps you remain calm and objective in difficult situations, which allows you to choose an appropriate response rather than just reacting.
  • Enhances your relationships with your family, friends, co-workers and customers because you can be more authentic and caring. You are aware of how you connect and communicate with others. 
  • Requires that you look at yourself and your surroundings objectively, noticing any emotions you may be hanging on to such, as anger or frustration, and be willing to let them go.
  • Means noticing your fears, thoughts and beliefs, then questioning them.

Ponder This…

Re-read the quote by Mark Twain at the top of the post.  What do you “know for sure” about yourself or your work situation that  “just ain’t so?” This is the first step in mindfulness.

Your Weekly Noodle: Mindfulness

Next: Appreciative Inquiry – A Mindfulness Tool


What is the cost of improving my well-being at work?

Abstract image of laser lights of black background representing the chaos of change and well-being

Long ago, map makers drew dragons or wrote, “there be dragons here” on maps to warn sailors that they would be entering unknown territory. Some sailors took this literally and turned back while others saw it as an opportunity, a door to an unexplored territory. Similarly, you have a mental map of your world complete with dragons, one of the largest of which is change. The change dragon is the greatest cost item on your voyage to well-being.   

Personal Changes
Although the changes you make to improve your well-being are personal, they are also public. Eventually, people around you will notice you are changing, and it will affect their relationships with you. You will be coping with your own resistance and others’ resistance to your changes because, essentially, you will be re-defining your relationships with them. American abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher described how our work relationships change: “Our days are a kaleidoscope. Every instant a change takes place. New harmonies, new contrasts, new combinations of every sort. The most familiar people stand each moment in some new relation to each other, to their work, to surrounding objects.”  

When you intentionally work on your well-being, you have control because you are choosing what and how to change. You get to listen to and observe others in a calm, non-judgmental way as they become aware of the changes you are making. Even small positive changes bring fear and resistance because you must let go of your traditional comfortable ways of doing things to discover new and better ways.  

We are not talking about large, earth-shattering changes; just small transitions. Improving well-being happens in steps and sometimes we are uncertain or inpatient when the changes seem to take longer than we expected. James E. Faust, wrote: “If you take each challenge one step at a time, with faith in every footstep, your strength and understanding will increase. You cannot foresee all the turns and twists ahead. My counsel to you is to follow the advice of Jesus, “Be not afraid, only believe.’ ” (Mark 5:36) 

Ponder This… 
How will you co-workers react when they realize that you are changing? How can you support them during the change process to support your own changes? 

Next: Taming the Change Dragon

Well-being: What is in it for me?


Image of Rodin's sculpture The Thinker

When it comes to well-being at work, we know what is in it for employers. Organizations care about employee well-being because it affects productivity and profitability. In fact, there is extensive research on well-being and business success. Researchers Harter, Schmidt and Keyes (2002) report that employees with higher levels of well-being are more cooperative and more helpful to their co-workers. They make better use of their time, and have fewer absences than those who report lower levels of well-being.(1)

What is in it for you and me as employees? Why should we care about well-being and how will it benefit us? In August 2013, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network published a paper on the benefits of “subjective well-being.” Using surveys, interviews, and experiments, researchers were able to quantify well-being. For their paper, The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-being, DeNeve, Diener, Tay and Zuereb, reviewed 162 studies on well-being and summarized the findings. They found that well-being offers both short and long-term benefits in work productivity, satisfaction and income; personal, family and social behavior; health and longevity. (2)

What is in it for me?
Workers with positive levels of well-being benefit in many ways. They:

  • Tend to receive superior performance evaluations from their managers, which mean they receive larger merit pay increases than other employees.
  • Are more likely to receive interesting, challenging assignments because they are more reliable, curious, creative and motivated.
  • Experience high levels of cognitive flexibility. This allows them to see “all sides of an issue,” and they make better decisions.
  • Spend less time dwelling on the negatives and can remain objective in stressful situations.
  • Are more likely to help their co-workers, get along with others and work well as part of a team, reducing conflict and increasing creative problem solving.
  • Share the credit and take responsibility for mistakes.
  • Thank others for their help, which means they are more likely to receive help when they need it.
  • Have positive working relationships that lead to higher self-esteem and a positive reputation, which positively influences family and social relationships.

Physical Benefits of Well-being
People with positive well-being are more likely to:

  • Use a seat belt when driving and less likely to get in traffic accidents.
  • Have improved cardiovascular, immune and endocrine systems, which reduces the likelihood of heart attacks, stroke and viral infections.

In addition, a strong link exists between well-being and healthy eating, exercise, weight, smoking and alcohol consumption. Finally, according to Edward Diener, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, there is a positive relationship between well-being and successfully reproduction. Well-being is affects the frequency of sexual intercourse and fertility. (3)

Ponder this…
Make a list of benefits you would like to experience as a result of improving  your well-being at work.  

Next: What is the Cost of Well-being at Work


  1. Hunter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., and Keyes, C.L. (2002) “Well-being in the Workplace and Its Relationship to Business Outcomes, A Review of the Gallup Studies. In C.L. Keyes and J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: The Positive Person and the Good Life (pp 205-224), Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association
  2. DeNeuve, J.E., Diener, E., Tay, L. Zuereb, C. (2013), “The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-being, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network
  3. Diener, E., Oishi, S., and Suh, E. (2012) Positive Emotion Offset was Essential to Human Evolutionary Success. Paper submitted for publication, University of Illinois

Well-being at Work is About You

Photo of two people frolickin on the beach in the sun to show that well0being is an active process Well-being is not a new concept. It has been around for millennia. Philosophers like Confucius (551–479 BC) and Aristotle (386 – 322 BC) discussed it at length. However, scholars and philosophers have been unable to agree on its definition. Each field studying it – philosophy, psychology, sociology, theology, economics, health care, human resources – has its own definition of well-being.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers a simple definition: Well-being is “the state of being or doing well in life.” Notice the action verbs being and doing. According to Nic Marks of the New Economy Foundation, in a radio interview on BBC 4, “Well-being is not a beach you go and lie on. It’s a sort of dynamic dance and there’s movement in it, and that movement is the true level of well-being” (January 7, 2012). Intentional well-being is your thoughtful, deliberate effort to address the demands of daily life using your knowledge, experience, spiritual, social, physical and psychological skills. Simply stated, well-being is a choice. You must choose to attend to your well-being.

The Importance of Choice
No matter what type of work you do, there is one thing that can never be taken away from you without your permission – the power of choice.  You get to choose whether you will work on your well-being and how you will go about it. Although you cannot control everything that happens on the job, there are things you can control, and you need to focus your attention on those things to support your well-being.

Viktor E. Frankl, Author, Psychologist, Neurologist, Holocaust Survivor,  Hero

Viktor E. Frankl, Author, Psychologist, Neurologist, Holocaust Survivor, Hero

A Lesson on Choice
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau for nearly four years. He never knew, from moment to moment, if he would live to see another day. One day, alone and naked in a small room he became aware of what he later called “the last of human freedoms.” This was the one thing the Nazis could not take away – his power to choose how he would respond.
His captors controlled his every movement every day; even so, they could not control his self-awareness. He decided how all the pain and deprivation would affect him. Rather than reacting, rebelling or giving up, Frankl responded to the horrors of life in the camps by relying on what he called his “inner hold” – his beliefs, one of which was being able to cope with the challenges of the moment while looking to the future.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1959), he wrote: “Almost in tears from pain (I had terrible sores on my feet from wearing torn shoes); I limped a few kilometers with our long column of men from the camp to our work site. Very cold, bitter winds struck us. I kept thinking of the endless little problems of our miserable life… I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly, I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method, I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment.”

Stephen Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), calls this response-ability. You get to choose how you will respond to a specific situation. You can choose to respond in a way that supports your well-being, or you can react, allowing yourself to be influenced by your surroundings, people, and feelings. Simply stated, your well-being depends on how you choose to respond to any situation.

Well-being is about you. You get to choose what you will do and how you will do it.

Ponder this…
Think about your work situation and identify one thing that affects your well-being, over which you have control. What choice will you make to improve your well-being in that situation?  

Next: Your Well-being at Work Model

Introduction to Your Well-being at Work

 Image of pink wild flowers growing in socky soil

If you are reading this blog, you work for a living as most of us do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 247.4 million people in the United States were working in April, 2014, 79 percent of whom were employed by service/information businesses, non-profit organizations, local, state and federal agencies.(1) If you are like the typical services/information worker, your average workday is 8.8 hours, your productivity increased by 27.3 percent between January 1, 2000 and February 28, 2013 while your wages for the same period remained flat.(2) You sometimes take work home, and you rarely take a break during the workday. 

Now, pause for a moment, read and quickly answer the following questions:

  • How many hours do you work in an average day?
  • How many hours do you spend thinking about work when you are not at work?
  • How do you feel physically, emotionally and mentally about your work?

If the above information or your answers to the questions left you feeling depressed, it is not surprising. Depending on which employee satisfaction survey you read, anywhere from 52 to 79 percent of employees are unhappy or very unhappy with their jobs.(3) While employers have a “duty of care” (that is the legal term) for their employees; that duty is limited and must focus on well-being as it affects productivity and profitability.

Well-being at Work Is About You
This blog is about you because, ultimately, worker well-being is personal and private, and it is up to you to choose how you will respond to the many demands of work. Almost every day you struggle with many problems, such as managing your workload; adapting to constant workplace changes ; dealing with customers, co-workers and managers; and struggling to reach some degree of work-life balance.

Well-being at Work is for you – for the workers “in the trenches” who do the work,  serve the client, write the code, make the product and keep the business running. It draws on the “real work life experiences,” both successes and failures, of Your Humble Scribe, her co-workers, friends, and others who agreed to be interviewed and to share their experiences. The well-being model and suggested tools uses published research in psychology, sociology, and employee training and development.

This blog is not about climbing the ladder of success nor is it about thinking happy thoughts to get through the day, although success and joy are side effects of enhanced well-being. It is about enhancing and sustaining your personal well-being in situations where you may have limited discretion or autonomy but where you can choose how to respond. It is about finding peace and meaning at work; about making the most of the time you spend at work to help yourself, your family, co-workers, friends, and yes, your employer and community.

Samuel Smiles was a Scottish writer, reformer and one of the first self-help authors. In his book Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct,published in 1859, he wrote: “Men must necessarily be the active agents of their own well-being and well-doing; they themselves must in the very nature of things be their own best helpers.”

Ponder this…

  • What aspects of your well-being at work would you like to improve?
  • How can you be your “own best helper” at work?

Next: Well-being at Work is About You


  1.  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation – April, 2014 (Farm workers and military services members are not included in this number.)
  2. Mishel, L., and Shieholz, H., A Decade of Flat Wages: The Key Barrier to Shared Prosperity and a Rising Middle Class, Economic Policym Institute, August 21, 2013,
  3. Gallup, 2013 State of the American Workforce Report,