Category Archives: Your Well-being at Work

Two Magic Words – Thank You

THank you word cloundi n many languagesDid you know that just two words can make you happy? They can reduce anxiety and depression; strengthen your immune system; lower your blood pressure; help you sleep; make you more resilient; strengthen your relationships and promote forgiveness. What are these two words that have such power? Thank you. That’s it, just thank you! There is no cost involved, and on the job, it can lead to increased recognition, esteem, and maybe even bigger pay raises than you might otherwise receive (see below).

What is Gratitude?
Gratitude or thank you is an appreciation for what one has received. When someone helps us with “no strings” attached, we express our gratitude by saying thank you. According to Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California Berkley and an expert on the topic:

Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves… We acknowledge that other people – or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset – gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

Georg Simmel, an early twentieth-century sociologist defined gratitude as the moral memory of mankind.

In fact, gratitude – saying thank you is a universal human notion. It exists in all cultures around the world, and history is filled with discussions of gratitude. Gratitude and references to giving thanks appear throughout the Bible as well as in Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist texts. The Greek philosopher Cicero (106 – 43 BC) said, Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.

Gratitude at Work
More than ever before, we are connected to one another. Thanks to computers, smart phones and other technologies, we are never alone. This is true, especially at work. My friend Lisa is a Six Sigma Black Belt who is constantly on call for questions and issues related to the process improvement projects she leads. She said that the only way she could get away from e-mails and phone calls was to go to Antarctica – literally!

Because of this constant interconnection at work, establishing and maintaining good relations with co-worker, superiors, and customers are more important than even. Saying thank you is essential in that effort. Yet, according to the results of a 2012 study conducted by the John Templeton Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on creativity, gratitude, freedom and related topics, you are less like to say or hear “thank you” at work than in any other situation. According to the study, only 10 percent of workers regularly say thank you to their co-workers and just 7 percent thank their bosses. In fact, we are more likely to say thank you to a stranger who opens a door for us than we are to say it to a co-worker. According to Professor Emmons, gratitude is a relationship strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.

Saying Thank You at Work
Effective expressions of gratitude at work at timely, sincere, specific and brief.

  • Timely: Don’t wait a week or two or even a day to two to say thank you. The closer in time the thank you is to the action that elicited it, the more meaningful and powerful the thank you.
  • Sincere: When thanking a person, make eye contact, smile and don’t mumble – speak clearly.
  • Specific: Tell the person exactly what they did and how it helped you.
  • Brief: Keep it short; do not go into great detail.
  • Do it Yourself: Do not use “fill in the blanks” templates and do not have your assistant write a thank you note or e-mail on your behalf.

Saying Thank You is Enlightened Self-interest
Enlightened self-interest tells us that saying thank you can bring us tangible benefits, in addition to the physical and emotional benefits desired in this article. According to a study conducted by Adam Grant and Francesca Gina in 2010, saying thank you increase prosocial behavior in the workplace. (In other words, being nice and helping others.) If we say thank you to our co-workers and managers, we are more likely to get help from them when we need it.

In addition, other studies report that workers who say thank you regularly are respected, seen as  good team players and more productive, which may lead to better performance evaluations and merit pay increases. Think about it. Saying thank you enhances your well-being at work and may even enhance your paycheck.

Consider this…
Feeling Gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~ William Arthur Ward.

To whom have you forgotten or neglected to say thank you?  Say it today. A late thank you is better than none at all!

Emmons, Robert, “Ten Ways to Become More Grateful” Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley, February 17, 2010,

 Shelton, Charles, S. J., Gratitude, Moral Emotions and the Moral Life, Poynter Center, IN\Indiana University, 2002,

Grant, Adam M.; Gino, Francesca, “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude


Problem Solving with Perspective

Quote: A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.~Samuel Grafton and image of the north star partly covered by a pennyLife is a matter of perspective. Both the cause(s) of a problem and its potential solutions are a matter of personal perspective. When a problem arises at work, what is our typical reaction? Is it, I don’t know what to do, or I know what is wrong, or I’ll just fix it? Many times, we know exactly how to fix a problem, but what if the problem is new, complex or one, we haven’t seen before?  We tend to act in a context of: We know what’s wrong. Let’s just fix it. But, do we really know what’s wrong or is it just our personal perception of the problem? Understanding other people’s perspectives and the reasoning behind it can help us in problem solving by defining the situation and helping us see the problem clearly.

Need for Perspective
Each of our co-workers, customers and managers has their own view or perspective of the world that is filtered by their life experiences. Even identical twins look at the world from different perspectives. Finding out what other people think about a situation is an essential part of effective problem-solving, particularly with new, complex or highly visible problems.  When deciding what input you need about a problem, consider the following:

  • Who might be able to  add to or clarify my thinking?
  • Who might be seeing something that I do not?
  • Who will need to carry out the decision and how might their view affect the planned solution?
  • What functions are not represented in my thinking?
  • Who is new on our team and what is that person’s point of view? Sometimes, that person may see things we miss or take for granted.

Ask Questions
What is the best way to learn the perspective of others? Ask questions! Not only will it give you a different perspective on the problem; it will build stronger relationship with those you ask. Remember, as much as we like to think, “I know it all,” we really don’t. Our co-workers may have more insight about the problem and clients. When seeking a person’s perspective, remember that there are no right or wrong answers. Even the “facts” of a situation depend on their knowledge and experience. Here are some tips for asking questions to elicit the perspective of others.

  • Ask different types of questions: factual, interpretation (how or why), and evaluation (opinion, belief or point of view).
  • Ask open-ended, rather than yes/no questions.
  • Check your assumptions and those of the person with whom you are speaking.
  • Listen carefully and ask clarifying questions.

Remember to ask the Five W and One H questions reporters use for basic information gathering:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. Where did it take place?
  4. When did it take place?
  5. Why did it happen?
  6. How did it happen?

Consider this…
“Asking the right questions (and listening carefully to the answers) can help you think more clearly, take   accountability for your actions, and accomplish your goals more easily…”  Merilee Goldberg, Ph.D What question do you need to ask for a different perspective on a problem?

Goldberg, M., (1997) The Art of the Question: A Guide to Short Term Question-centered Therapy, New York: Wiley.

This article was originally published on Linked In Pulse June 10, 2014.


People climbing a mountain using teamworkLook on any Internet job posting site and almost every job listed will include the phrase “must be a team player.” Ask any human resources professional and they will tell you that they hate seeing the phrase team player in a resume and will place the resume in the “no” pile. The phrase has become meaningless even though work teams, project teams, even “cross functional” teams are a fact of life in almost every work site and office.

So what exactly does bein a team player mean and who decides if you are or are not a team player? In many workplaces, being labeled as “not a team player” is the kiss of death (Italian: Il bacio della morte), especially when it comes from someone in management. Remember Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II telling Fredo “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” The consequences of not being a team player in the workplace are not quite as severe as they were for Fredo. Nonetheless they can be significant. When raises or promotions come around, your name is at the bottom of the list. When lay-offs or down sizing occurs your name is at the top of the list.

Being a Team Player
So what does it mean to be a team player, to be considered for the good assignments and promotions? It means that you…

  • Know and understand what the team is working to accomplish.
  • Are not afraid to ask questions.
  • Share information with team members and management in a timely manner
  • Understand that each person on the team has a unique skill set and that all must do their part to produce the desired results.
  • Are willing to give up a favorite theory or pet project if it does not support the teams goals.
  • Are flexible and can easily change course when necessary.
  • Take accountability for mistakes.
  • Helps your team mates when they need it.
  • Take part in team meetings and planning sessions.

This is just a partial list of team player characteristics.  The list includes many other positive characteristics such as reliability, punctuality, integrity, cooperation, commitment, effective communicator, proactive, respectful, etc.

Consider this…
According to Jeffrey Liker in his book The Toyota Way (2004), Sam Heltman, the former administrative vice president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc. summarizes the concept of team work and team players in two simple sentences.

Americans think teamwork is about you liking me and me liking you. Mutual respect and trust means I trust and respect that you will do your job so that we are successful as a company. It does not mean that we just love each other.

How do you show respect for and build trust with your co-workers, especially those whom you may disagree?

Accountability at Work

Woman holding an accountability signIn the workplace, your responsibilities are listed in your job description – the tasks, functions, and deliverables you are paid to do. Accountability is the quality with which you chose to complete those tasks, functions, and deliverables. Accountability means owning the results of your work, your behavior and the choices you make on the job, regardless of the outcome. It is about rising above your circumstances, living your values and doing what is necessary to complete the responsibilities of your job to support effective, reliable services and products based on the goals and values of the team and the organization.

When you are accountable. you ask questions like, “What can I do to solve the problem,” and not statements like “It’s not my problem, I did what I was told.” When you avoid or refuse to be accountable, you blame others, make excuses or wait and hope that the problem goes away.

The nice thing about accountability is that you get to tell the truth. You don’t have to remember who you blamed or what excuse you used. It is much less stressful, saves time and is easier to tell the truth, to say “I made a mistake,” “I screwed up,” “mea culpa,”  ”my bad,” or even “oops!” You don’t have to worry about hiding the truth because it always comes out in the end.

Being accountable leads to healthier relationships with your co-workers, managers, subordinates, clients and friends. People know they can trust you, that you keep you word and will not “throw them under the bus” when things go wrong.

Being Accountable
Being accountable is an easy process that requires courage.  Here are the steps:

  1. Make sure you know the tasks for which you are responsible. Read your job description. If you don’t have a written description or it is not current, ask your manager to clarify your responsibilities.
  2. “Performs other duties as apparent or assigned.” Some companies include this blanket statement at the end of every job description. This means you are expected to take the initiative to do things related to your assigned tasks but are not spelled out. Again, check with your manager to clarify what is expected of you. Ask for examples, if necessary. These types of tasks seem to flourish in the white spaces of the organizational chart – those areas between internal departments where responsibilities may overlap or processes require input from several departments or teams to complete them.  According to Hal Amens ( 2009) the white space in any organization is filled with tasks or issues where misunderstanding occur, communications break down or roles change.
  3. When working on a task or project with others, clarify expectations – both their’s and your’s. Ask questions to make sure you understand the situation. Agree on deadlines and deliverables , then send an e-mail to those involved documenting the agreed upon details.
  4. Stay in the present. Do not dwell on past problems or situations. This is where you can show compassion by working cooperatively with those you disagree with or with whom you do not get along. Deal with “what is” and not what should, would or could have been.
  5. When a problem occurs, use “I” rather than “they, we or you,” as in “I made a mistake.”
  6. Don’t wait for others to point out your mistakes. Speak up now instead of waiting.
  7. Maintain your perspective. First, acknowledge your emotions about the situation. Then, stick to the facts. Go into Dragnet mode – “Just the facts, ma’am.” What happened? Collect and analyze the information. Ask yourself some questions:
    • What am I doing or not doing that may be contributing to the problem?
    • What can I do to correct the situation?
    • Do I need to ask for help? If yes, who can help me?
    • Who needs to know about the problem?

Consider this…
Roger Connors, one of the authors of The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability (2004) summarizes accountability on the job:

When you take personal accountability, you own it. You tell yourself, “this is mine: I’ve got the ball.” You ask yourself, “What else can I do to make progress, overcome obstacles, and achieve the result?” You don’t waste time blaming others or waiting for someone else to solve your problems; you actively engage and deeply pursue solutions.

Read more about responsibility and accountability.


Responsibility and Accountability

sign posts placing blame

The Difference Between Responsibility and Accountability
The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.

Responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeably. However, they don’t mean exactly the same thing. The example above from Michael Armstrong, a former CEO of companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Hughes Electronics illustrates the difference. The engineer was given the responsibility of building an arch. He assumed accountability for the quality of his work by literally putting his life on the line.

Today, life is corporate American is tough. Fortunately, it is not that tough. You don’t have to risk your life for a report, a customer service transaction, or a block of computer code – the tasks in your job description for which you have been given responsibility. Nonetheless, the question remains: Are you willing to “stand by your work” to say “yes I did this?”  Most people are willing to stand by their work when it is excellent. In fact, they are eager to take credit. There is nothing wrong with that. But are you willing to say, “yes I made a mistake?”  What does lack of accountability look or sound like?  Here are some examples. Do any of them sound familiar?

  • Ignore/deny: Failing to see that a problems exists. Example: “I don’t see a problem.” “We can’t do anything about it.”
  • It’s not my job: Narrowly defining a job as a specific and sometime ambiguous task and not as achieving a desired result. Examples: “It’s not my job.” “Someone ought to tell him/her.”
  • Finger pointing: Blaming others, as well as things, for failures to produce the desired results. Examples: “We were given bad information.” “He/she obviously didn’t listen.”
  • Confusion and tell me what to do: Claiming confusion or lack of direction in the face of unclear priorities, changing goals, and competing requirements. Examples: “We can’t do both. So what is you priority?” “Do you actually expect me to meet that deadline?”
  • Cover your tail: Establishing innocence by documenting potential excuses for missed results. Examples: “This is what the consultant recommended.” “I sent you an e-mail informing you about this last week.”
  • Wait and see: Putting off action and relying on wishful thinking and the passage to time. Examples: “All we can do is wait and see.” “We’re in transition, things will get better over time.”

Think about a time you failed to take accountability for your actions or work outcomes. We’ve all done it. I was project team leader and one team member did not do her assigned special project. It wasn’t a huge task or vitally important. It was one of those things that needed doing, but was not a priority, until it because a priority. By that time, she had left the organization. When my manager asked me about it. I said something like “I told Hermoine to do it before she left, but she didn’t.” My manager, a very wise woman, peered over the top of her glasses at me and sighed. She didn’t say a word and I felt about three inches tall. I should have said, “It didn’t get done. I dropped the ball. I’m sorry and I will take care of it right away.”

How did you feel when you “dropped the ball?” I felt humiliated, annoyed with Hermoine and angry with myself that I did not follow-up with her to check on her progress with the project. In hindsight, it was a tedious, uninteresting assignment and if I had been Hermoine, I probably would have put off doing it too.

Consider this…
Personal responsibility is not only recognizing the errors of our ways. Personal responsibility lies in our willingness and ability to correct those errors individually and collectively.  ~ Yehuda Berg

Think about a mistake you made.  Were you accountable for that error? How did it feel to be accountable or shift blame to someone or something else?

Image courtesy of The Vortex Me.

Practical Compassion

Two women conforting and upset male co-work an act of compassion

This is the second article on compassion at work.

Compassion benefits both the receiver and giver. This concept is what makes compassion practical. It benefits all involved. In the last 30 years, extensive research has been conducted on compassion. Psychologists such as Martin Seligman and Ed Diener found that those who show compassion to other have better physical and mental health and. Other research shows that compassionate people have lower levels of anxiety and depression. (1) It serves as a buffer again stress, which supports longevity.

Compassion makes us more attractive. In a dating preferences study both male and females participants reported that kindness was an important factor in choosing a date. It also build connections between co-workers and promotes teamwork.

In addition, compassion is contagious. When we see others being compassionate, we are more likely to be compassionate. In 2014, Paulina Firoizi, at The Tampa Bay Times reported that in one day, 378 people using the drive thru at a local Starbuck’s “paid it forward,” by paying for the coffee to be purchased by the person in the car behind them. That one day, at that one Starbuck’s, compassion was contagious

Strengthening Your Compassion Muscles at Work
The first step to compassion on the job is to define the concept of compassion for yourself. Every person has a unique view of the world based on their life experiences, knowledge and background. My definition of compassion and kindness may differ from you definition. You need to know exactly what these words mean to you. Take a few moments to develop your personal definition for compassion (kindness).

Your Compassion Definition
Answer the following questions

  1. When you read or hear the words kindness or compassion, what pops into your mind? It can be words, memories or images.
  2. How have others shown compassion to you?
  3. How do you show compassion to others?
  4. What behavior or characteristics do you have that show compassion or kindness

Using the answers to these questions, write your personal definition or description of compassion (kindness).

For me, compassion is recognizing and respecting the pain or suffering of another without judgment or pity, then offering help and support, based on the person’s desires. For compassion or kindness to be authentic, it must be what the person wants so that (s)he goes away from the encounter with the perception of being helped or supported.

Being Compassionate at Work
Take a moment and think about what happened at work today. Ask yourself:

  1. Did I see someone in pain? It could have been physical or emotional pain – even anger and frustration are forms of pain.
  2. How could I show compassion for this person in a respectful, supportive way?

In answering the second question, remember that the basic rule for being compassionate is commonly known as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do until you.” (Matthew 7:12). Here are some simple ideas for being compassionate at work:

  • If a co-worker appears frustrated, upset or stressed out, invite the person to take a break with you. Buy him a cup of coffee or a soft drink and ask what is going on. Listen carefully, without offering advice.
  • Invite a new employee or someone you do not know well to take a break or have lunch with you. Get to know the person.
  • When a co-worker is struggling to complete a task, offer to help and be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Do what you co-worker asks you do, not what you think they need. Remember, no means no. Don’t force help on the person.

Quick Tips for Kindness at Work 

  • Keep your word – when you say you will do something, do it.
  • Refrain from gossiping.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Refrain from judging – give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers.
  • Listen more than you speak.

Remember, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop


  1.  Seppalla, E., (2013). “HealthBody, Healthy Mind, The Greater Good Sciene Center,


Reader Comments

Mr. Bill on April 14, 2015 at 7:30 PM
Nice work, Diane!  I’m not a “Bible quoter” but is Luke 6:3 accurate for do unto others…..?  Keep up your good work, words, and ideas!

What Does Authenticity Look Like?

Seattle skyline seen through myopic lenses represents seeing clearly by being authentic

René Descartes (1596 – 1650) described an authentic person as one who follows a moral inner voice that drives that person to act and think responsibility. But, what exactly does that mean?

What does an authentic person do? How do they act? What do they believe. Being authentic means…

Being Honest
Telling the truth without “spinning” things or withholding information, Telling the truth defuses stressful situations. Managers and co-workers will not go “Greek” and “kill the messenger” who brings bad news if you present it in a tactful, respectful way.

Sharing Information
Information is power and in some organizations, people withhold important information to exert influence or power over others. As co-workers and managers what more information they need about a specific situation.

Asking for Feedback
Don’t wait for your performance review to find out how you can improve your job performance. Ask your manager

Living Your Values on the Job
Review your values and how you live these values. Practice them daily. You may want to write a short affirmation for each value. An affirmation is a statement that expresses a desired situation, that when repeated regularly leads to positive actions that support the statement. For example: “I value compassion and I live it by recognizing and responding to the needs of my customers and co-workers in a caring, respectful and timely manner.

Notice that it is written in the present tense with active verbs – not “I will recognize”; but “ recognizing.” Affirmations help use change our thinking and actions in the present, not at some future time.

Keeping Your Word
If you make a promise, keep it, even if it is an implied promise such as “Let me think about it and I will get back to you.” Acknowledge and apologize when you break a promise and then fix the situation. This builds trust.

Keeping an Open Mind
Do not make assumption. Keep an open mind and give others the benefit of the doubt.

Check You Authenticity
Use the questions in the Your Well-being @ Work Profile to find areas when you can enhance your authenticity. Specifically, look at these statements:

  • I have someone at work that I can talk with confidentially about personal matters.
  • I get along well with my co-workers.
  • I communicate openly and respectfully.
  • I recognize and thank others for their help.
  • I am good at my job.
  • I am dependable; people can count on me to do what I say I will do.
  • I strive to live up to the duties and responsibilities given to me by others.
  • I am proud of the work I do.

Consider this… Remember, like most things in life, being authentic is not a destination but a journey and it is not always an easy one but it is the most satisfying journey you will ever take. Actress and author Shirley MacLaine has some good advice about being authentic:

I think of life itself now as a wonderful play that I’ve written for myself, and so my purpose is to have the utmost fun playing my part.

Building Connections and Community at Work – Part 2

San man in empty office illustratiing the need for connection with coworkers for well-beingNote: This is the second article about developing connections at work using the concept of Ubantu. Click here to read more about it.

In the United States, where we prize individuality, living in accordance Ubuntu may seen like a form of co-dependence. Yet, in the workplace ubuntu is essential for both personal well-being and for getting the job done. Every person has unique personal and professional goals; and to reach our goals, we must work with our co-workers who have different, even competing goals. Even as a freelance writer working at home, I must have strong, respectful relationships with my clients, my editor, and computer support person.

John Donne summarized the Ubuntu concept in his famous poem No Man is an Island, the opening lines of which are

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Read the complete poem at the end of this post.

We work together; we must depend on one another to get the job done. Often, we succeed or fail together. Because of this interdependence, we must interact with one another in ways that are respectful, accepting, collaborative, and compassionate. However, this does not mean that we accept poor work or tolerate bad behavior. We accept our co-workers for who they are and when necessary, tactfully and discretely call them on their poor performance or bad behavior. You don’t have to be a manager to pursue ubuntu. It is a holistic, grassroots process.

Applying the Lessons of Ubuntu on the Job

Ubantu offers us many lessons that we can apply to build a strong, productive and supportive relationships with our co-workers, manager and clients. Some of these lessons include:

  • Focus on solving a problem, rather than assigning blame.
  • In stressful situations, keep your emotions under control.
  • Every person is important and valuable – treat them respectfully
  • Mutual support and concern supports each person in the group in doing their best work. When people care about us, we don’t want to disappoint them.
  • When the team succeeds, everyone on the team succeeds. Remember no man (or woman) is an island.Take a few moments and answer the following questions:

A Personal Ubuntu Exercise

  • How do I feel when someone treats me with courtesy and respect?
  • What does it look like when I behave with dignity?
  • When was the last time someone rally listened to what I had to say? How did it make me feel?
  • What does it take to really listen to my co-workers, manager or clients?
  • What one thing can I do to improve my listening?
  • Who did I ask for help today or this week?
  • Who asked me for help today or this week?
  • What does it feel like being excluded from a group?
  • How does being excluded affect my self-esteem?
  • What things unite me and my co-workers, no matter what our differences may be?

Using your answers to these questions, identify on thing you can do to build the spirit of ubuntu in your workplace and do it. Share your ideas with us in the Comments fields at the end of this blog.

No Man Is an Island– John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind, A
nd therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.


  1. Bhengu, M.J., Ubuntu: The Essence of Democracy. Cape Town: Novalis Press, 1996
  2. Tutu, Desmond, No Future Without Forgivness, London: Image Publishing, 2000


Building Connections and Community at Work

Image of a tapestry being woven showing how we are all connected to one anothera at work

Connectedness @ Work
Work is like a tapestry. It involves many threads and all must come together to form a product. This is what connectedness is all about – coming together as a group to produce a result or an end product. Even someone working alone, in a stock room like my friend Joe is part of a larger tapestry. It was his job to make sure that the products were received from the vendor, had a price on them and were available in the store for the customer to see and buy.

Connections are what make the threads of the tapestry come together and stay together. We show our connectedness at work through the

  • Frequency of our contact with others
  • Nature of our personal relationships
  • Engagement in a group or team
  • How much we know one another
  • How much we self-disclose.(1)

We play multiple roles at work, both official and unofficial. As a technical writer, I was a co-worker, trainer of new writers, editor, writing coach, communications specialist, customer service guru, friend and sometime competitor for the best assignments. I was also the team clown, cynic, process improver and occasional grump. How we fulfill each of our roles at work and how we interact with one another determines the nature and strength of our connections.

Having a sense of belonging and connection supports well-being by reducing isolation, anxiety and depression, strengthening the immune system, increasing self-esteem and self-efficacy. Finally, if you are employed full-time you work a minimum of 2080 hours each year, while in reality you are working approximately 2,500 hours a year. So, you might as well spend that time in a situation where your feel connected to your co-workers and have a sense of belonging. So how do we build or strengthen connections with our co-workers?

Ubantu  – Building Connections
The African concept of ubuntu is the “art of being a human being” (Bhengu, 1996).(2) The concept exists in every African language. In Kenya, the Swahili word is utu. In Ghana, the Akan word is biakoye and in South Africa, the Afrikaans word is menslikgeit. It is an ancient world view that incorporates caring, sharing, respect, compassion and similar values, to promote the well-being of both the person and the group.

A person who strives to live in accordance with the concepts of Ubuntu is

described as kind, generous, friendly, modest, helpful, humble and happy. In ubuntu, people work together for a common goal, cooperating not competing, respecting not criticizing one another.

Consider this…
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” ~ Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (2000)

Do one thing at work each day to build or strengthen you connections with others through cooperating, respecting, communicating, supporting or getting to know someone. Share your experience with us in the Comments section below.

Next: Learn more about connections and ubantu.


  1. Vancouver Foundation (2012), Connections and Engagement: A Survey of Metro Vancouver. (ancouver, British Columbia: Vancouver Foundation)
  2. Bhengu, M.J., Ubuntu: The Essence of Democracy. Cape Town: Novalis Press, 1996

Why is a sense of belonging at work important?

Image of lion bear and tiger getting along illustration no matter how different people are they can still work togetherThe average workplace is often a struggle. Work moves at the speed of technology, priorities change constantly and we must “do more with less.” In addition, every person is unique, has different skills, temperament, knowledge, skills and abilities. But, no matter how different we are, we can find common ground, develop a sense of belonging and  work successfully together just as Baloo the bear, Leo the lion, and Shere Khan the tiger did. Jointly called BLT, the wild animals formed an unbreakable bond through years of captivity and neglect. Twelve years after they were rescued, they live together peacefully, spending their days “playing, cuddling and eating.”

Humans are social animals. We are hard-wired with a need for belonging and connection. Most of what we do and our need to belong drives our behavior. To a certain extent, we define ourselves and measure our self-worth through our connections to others. We need positive consistent and stable personal relationships. We need to care about others and know that they care about us. In fact, our strongest emotions are tied to our sense of attachment and belonging – love and hate. Belonging is defined as a feeling of choosing, wanting, and feeling permission to be part of a community or group, such as a work team, department company, volunteer organization, church, sports team, etc. A sense of belonging gives us a feeling of being valued and respected. (1)

Need for Belonging
Research conducted by psychologists Geoff MacDonald at the University of Toronto and Mark R. Leary at Duke University found that when we have a sense of belonging, when we feel accepted, welcomed and included, we are more likely to experience positive emotions such as happiness, calm and satisfaction. (2) And, as workers. we are likely to:

  • Be more productive.
  • Be more helpful to our co-workers without the need for personal gain.
  • Encourage and support one another.
  • Work more cooperatively with other teams.
  • Take fewer sick days or be late to work.

According to Greg Stewart, Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Iowa, A sense of belonging and attachment to a group of co-workers is a better motivator for some employees than money. (3)

Joe’s Story
My friend Joe gave me permission to tell his story. Like millions of others, he lost his management job in the Great Recession of 2008. However, Joe was fortunate that a friend offered him a part-time job as a merchandize clerk in a retail business while he looked for a full-time management job. The part-time job helped Joe and his family stay afloat financially; but it also posed a challenge for him.

Joe is excellent at building relationships, helping employees develop their skills and serving customers. However in the stock clerk job, he had no one to manage or develop but himself; there were no customers and no co-workers for form a team. He worked alone in the early morning hours before the business opened. Even when the store opened, he worked in the stockroom, isolated from other employees and customers. He was a team of one.

He felt isolated and adrift; but Joe, a smart and resourceful person, worked to end his isolation. He talked to everyone who crossed his path – delivery drivers, vendors, custodians, and sales clerks who came into the stockroom.  He developed positive relationships with those who crossed his path, so he felt he was part of the store team, even though he worked alone. That sense of belonging helped him enjoy his work and feel useful and productive at a very stressful time in his life. And yes, he found a full-time management job at which he excels and it is a pleasure doing business with him.

Consider this…
Our desire to belong is universal, but expresses itself in different ways. ~ S. E. Hinton

How does your desire to belong express itself in the workplace? Share an example with us in the Comments section below.

1. Cobigo, V., Stuart, H., and Mahar, A. Conceptualizing Belonging.(Disability and Rehabilitation. Vol 35 (12). June 2013. P.1026-1038)

2. MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 202-223.

3. Snee, Tom, “Friends at Work,” Iowa Now,” March 8, 2012,

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