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Employee Engagement: 10 Ways You Can Flourish with Nourishing Work

Work can make you well – Really!

10 Ways to Flourish with Nourishing Work

(The reading time for this post is 5 minutes and 30 seconds)

Here are 3 reasons why you should read this post :

  1. You will build your wellbeing toolkit by developing familiarity with 10 ways to flourish at work.
  2. You will be given helpful links and resources to go further into learning about wellbeing.
  3. You are one of the first people to gain access to the free illustrated e-book on 22 Tools to Overcome Grumpiness.

Introduction. Here are 10 ways you can flourish by creating nourishing work. Embrace these ways as invitations to flourish. They are not rules or tips you must follow. You are the expert on your own wellbeing. I trust these ways will give you a nudge in the right direction. The 10 ways offer a pathway to wellbeing through well-doing because specific actions are strong triggers to install and sustain wellbeing at work. This post was created in conjunction with a one hour session I facilitated for Nurses Week at Winnipeg’s Heath Sciences Centre on May 11th.

Start your day off right. Establish a solid morning routine that gets you out of bed on the right foot. Perhaps you go for a jog first thing in the morning. Or you sit by the fireplace and hug a cup of coffee. Maybe you write for 20 minutes. Or you help your children pack their lunches for school. The specifics of your routine matter less than having a routine that effectively and efficiently triggers engaged wellbeing for you. I encourage you to read a post on my morning routine and follow this up by reading a new morning routine from someone each week at My Morning Routine.  Other people’s routines give clues and cues on how to construct a morning routine that works for us.

Begin each day at work with the double endings in mind. Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” while William Bridges said that all transitions begin with an end. Know the results you want from your work and also determine what must end for those results to be achieved. Take one or two minutes every day to determine the results you are working towards that week while also attending to what must end for wellbeing at work to begin. Perhaps you want to finish a project this week and you must stop focusing on a nonproductive task. Perhaps you want to improve patient safety and what must end is a strained relationship with your manager. Know your end (result) and your endings (what must stop).

Install PERMAnent wellbeing. I don’t care for the term positive psychology, it sounds too much like saccharine and pop psychology. I know that is not the case but I know many people are dismissive of positive psychology because of this. I appreciate the research behind this discipline, especially the work of Martin Seligman. Work offers opportunities for both happiness and wellbeing right inside the very work itself. Focus your work on building and sustaining PERMAnent flourishng with:  Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

Create meaning and purpose for your work. Know why you work. Perhaps you work because you love your hospital. Perhaps you work because you care about patients. Perhaps you work to give your family the best life possible. Perhaps you work because work enriches you with relationships and achievement. We do not necessarily share the same why of working. I encourage you to determine your meaning. Here is my response to the meaning of life and here is the response of so many others. Use these sources to create a strong scaffold of meaning to support you and your work. As the Dalai Lama declared, “The question is not to know what is the meaning of life, but what meaning I can give to my life.”

Don’t forget to wear your SCARF at work. David Rock knows about your brain at work. When we align our work with SCARF (Status, Consistency, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) our work – works better. Here is a brief article outlining the SCARF model at work. Rock’s book on Your Brain at Work is an insightful book on how to improve your day with your brain in mind by following one couple as they proceed through their day and how they could improve their day if they made better use of their brains.

Pair Mindfulness-East with Mindfulness-West. Mindfulness has been sweeping through workplaces around the globe. Did you know there are two types of mindfulness? Mindfulness-East is the perspective of being aware in each moment of what you are doing without judgement. Mindfulness-West, developed by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer teaches how to engage by actively noticing novelty and distinctions. Noticing novelty and distinction engages you and brings new life to your day.

Eliminate the negative. Baumeister and others have shown that bad is stronger than good. Before you get busy trying to add additional things in your day as the pathway to wellbeing ensure you address your challenges and bad events. Some researchers suggest that bad is 2 or 3 times stronger than good. When something bad happens do not be surprised at how it can knock you off kilter and how it begins to feel so permanent, pervasive, and personal. Remember to eliminate the negative before accentuating the positive.

Take the 90 second pause. Jill Bolte Taylor a neuroscience researcher, who also suffered a stroke, suggested that the shelf life of an emotion is 90-seconds. This would mean that upset or negative emotions last only about 90 seconds, yet for many of us they seem to last a lifetime. Give yourself 90 seconds from the moment you feel a negative emotion before you act on that emotion. Also know that you must feed negative emotions every 90 seconds to keep them alive. We feed it with fragments of tragic stories, feelings of being wronged, and a multitude of tiny, almost unconscious mechanisms, to keep being upset. If you remain upset ninety seconds after the initial emotion it is essential to ask yourself: “How am I feeding my upset to keep it alive?”

Sharpen progress while making setbacks dull. Most of us fail to maximize the benefits of progress and minimize the impact of setbacks. Progress and setbacks are so pervasive at work and daily life that we often fail to fully notice their impact. End each day by taking a minute to notice what stood out for you that day. When progress stands out ensure you let it soak in, celebrate it, and determine ways to extend it. When setbacks stand out ensure you determine what you can do next, how you might learn from it, or what you can do to let it go. Know that work and life often resemble a real-life game of snakes and ladders and our job is to climb ladders and squish snakes.

Use 22 tools to exit from grumpiness. Does work make you grumpy or do you find yourself surrounded by grumpy people?. I just completed an e-book, illustrated by John Junson, on 22 Tools to Overcome Grumpiness. Click on the cover below to enjoy this short, yet engaging, book.

22 Tools to Overcome Grumpiness Cover

A Short Reading List. Here are 9 books that can improve your motivation and skills to flourish with nourishing work:

  • Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle.
  • Ellen Langer, Mindfulness.
  • David Rock, Your Brain at Work.
  • Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Tom Rath, Are You Fully Charged?
  • William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.
  • Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
  • Martin Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation is Everyday Life.

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada who works around the globe helping organizations and individuals improve work engagement and engaged wellbeing.

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

A 21-Point Employee Engagement Manifesto

If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything

Heart Diamond Engagement

Have you taken a stand on employee engagement? I wrote this manifesto to declare my beliefs and practices for employee engagement. I invite you to read it, to reflect upon the statements, to act upon the statements that make sense to you, and to determine your own stand on employee engagement.

Here is the beginning of the manifesto:

Our current practices and approaches to employee engagement are failing. They are failing to achieve organizational results and most employees fail to experience the benefits of their own engagement. These failures may result in widespread abandonment of employee engagement. This is intolerable and unacceptable as engagement has the potential to create excellent experiences of working for individuals fused with organizations capable of creating robust results. Let’s work together to ensure we avoid the loss from a failure to engage!

Read this new 21-point manifesto outlining my core beliefs, principles, and actions to improve employee engagement and work. Notice that each item is a verb directed towards action. These are strong declarations. You will discover where I stand on the major elements of engagement because “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” If you or your organization align with some of these statements I welcome and invite you to work with me.

Simplify employee engagement into an 8 word definition: good work done well with others every day.

Change engagement by changing behaviors and actions. We change attitudes, emotions and culture by changing behavior.

Make employee engagement actions and behaviors simple, small, strategic, significant, and sustainable.

Rewrite the grammar of engagement from the noun of engagement to the verb of engage.

To read the other 17 declarations view the slides below:

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert.

Employee Engagement Survey: Black Hole or Portal?

Does your survey shed new light on work and the organization?

Employee Engagement Black Hole

Employee engagement surveys are instruments to penetrate the blackness of our knowledge about our employees’ attitudes and perspectives about work. They should offer insight leading to action leading to increased employee engagement leading to real improvement in other key metrics we want for our organization and for our employees.  Yet often the results seem to get sucked into a black hole, employees are poorly informed about the survey results, and even employee comments made on the survey are kept secret. I encourage you during July and August to determine how you can ensure your survey is a portal to better engagement rather than a black hole that in the process of measuring engagement actually disengages employees.

David Zinger is an Employee Engagement Speaker/Expert from Winnipeg, Canada.

Employee Engagement Micro Lesson: Put Your Heart into Stopping

Employee Engagement Micro Lesson: Stop before you Start

I loved the heart shaped stop signal traffic lights in Akureyri, Iceland. I believe we can all benefit by putting our heart into what we can stop before we launch our next employee engagement survey, program, or initiative.

Stop for Employee Engagement

David Zinger, from Winnipeg, Canada, is an employee engagement expert and speaker striving to make engagement simple, small, strategic, and sustainable by engaging with daily behaviors that build engagement.

If You Are Stuck in Employee Engagement, Get Sticky.

Are your employee engagement ideas sticky?

David Zinger - Employee Engagement Speaker

Is 15 Minutes of Employee Engagement Sufficient?

What is your engagement time zone?

Reading time = 2 minutes and 15 seconds


Why should you read this post? We often ask too much of engagement and find that there are many times we postpone, procrastinate, and struggle to get going with a specific element of work or well-being (right now, I am writing this rather than completing some tax work). The solution is to find and dwell in your unique engagement time zone.

Our work occurs in moments and our well being is also to be found in moments. Yet how well do you show up to, and use your moments? How long can you stay engaged with your work or a given task? I think it is vital to know our engagement time zone. The way to do this is to start working with a timer and to set a specific time period for work. This work can be project work, writing, exercise, cleaning, or another task. Perhaps start with 15 minutes and see if you can both engage and sustain work in that zone. If you can’t stay engaged – lessen the time. If it is simple to lengthen your time zone if you find the current duration too easy.

You may also find your time zone varies for different tasks or because of external events in your life. I often catch myself drifting away from my 15-minute time zone into a flurry of non-productive activity. Rather than looking for some underlying psychological reason or trying to sort out the neurology of work, I simply set my timer for the next 15-minute period and begin. Starting my watch timer for 15 minutes triggers engagement.

Last year, I conducted personal experimentation with the gamification of work and well-being. I worked in 24-minute time zones. Two of the most significant lessons from that year long experiment was to make my engagement periods briefer and simpler. It is easier for me to start and maintain engagement for 15 minutes versus 24 minutes and I had an elaborate game mechanism that I reduced to using a notebook and simply recording each 15 minute period I completed. My 15-minute periods focus on both work and well-being. In addition, each 15-minute period completed results in a 15 cent social donation. The amount is deliberately small yet adds up as frequent engaged time zones are completed.  My last donation was for $600 based on 15 cents for each 15 minute period of engagement. This went to the Red Cross for the victims of the Nepal earthquake.

I encourage you to enter and keep re-entering your engagement time zone and I believe you will find 15 minutes, repeated many times in any given day, is more than sufficient for achieving engaged results.

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert who uses the pyramid of engagement to increase engagement for organizations, departments, teams, and individuals. This post was based on the sixth block of the pyramid of engagement: mastering moments.

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

Employee Engagement: Start Your Day with an Engaging Morning Routine

Can you say “good morning” and really mean it?


A few years ago, the morning I spent at the Taj Mahal, with my wife, was completely engaging. The picture I took above was just one of many that reflected my wakeful and blissful awe inspiring morning. It was an incredible way to start the day and the beauty was even better than described or anticipated. Unfortunately, this was just one of 365 mornings that year – I can’t start each day with a trip to the Taj Mahal (although I wouldn’t mind).

I focus on starting my day in a way that sets the stage for meaning, progress and relationships for the rest of the day.

My routine involves getting up around 5:00 or 5:30. I put the coffee on right away. I do a very quick scan of emails and then move into 15-minute periods of focused and engaging work. I work at completing fifteen 15-minute periods as early as possible in the day. After that batch of very focus work I often feel the rest of the day is bonus time. The vital key, for me, is to START. Once I click my timer to start a 15-minute period I am away at the races.

How do you start you day? Do you have a routine or ritual? Do you know the keys to setting the stage for an engaging day or what can happen in the first few hours that derails you into disengagement for the rest of the day?

Learn how others start their day. I encourage you to visit My Morning Routine and read each week how one person starts their day. Use their stories as a stimulus to create your personalized morning routine that fosters engagement for the rest of your day. Develop a routine that awakens you, engages you and enlivens you.

After you develop a good morning routine, you will be able to say, “Good morning” and really mean it.

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

Employee Engagement: Get Connected

Michael Lee Stallard released the book, Connection Culture, today. Congratulations to Michael, Jason, and Katharine on this wonderful book. Below is an image and quotation I created based on the book. I encourage you to get connected by reading Connection Culture.

Connection Culture

21 Tools and Concepts for Employee Engagement

One of my most popular posts was on 21 tools to improve employee engagement. I have create a slide presentation on the subject.

David Zinger
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

Employee Engagement Flavors: Find Your True Vanilla

Find Your True Vanilla

Vanilla Ice Cream

I think employee engagement is simple. Please notice that I did not say that employee engagement is easy. We seem to keep expanding employee engagement with hundreds of survey questions and more approaches than you see in a desperate single’s bar on a Friday night. If you are not successful with employee engagement your approach might be part of the cause for a the lack of success.

In my ideal world employee engagement is good work done well with others every day. We don’t have a million statistics and accompanying pie charts — pies should be for eating not representing employee engagement levels. We work with the verb of engage and place the passive noun of engagement into the deep freeze of inertia-laden words.

We are each responsible for our own engagement while being fully cognizant of how what we do impacts other people’s engagement.

We can transform disengagement into engagement in about 12 seconds when we immerse ourselves in the work in front of us and connect to the people around us.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the 10,000 flavors of engagement but it you are stuck and not producing the engagement you would like to see, abandon all the flavors, find your true vanilla, and work with that every day. And if you are successful you can add some sprinkles or branch out into other flavors.

David Zinger employee engagement speaker, consultant, and coach.

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

Employee Engagement in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada

I have lived in Winnipeg for 48 years or 80% of my life. I love the community and the terrific people I have become friends with.

For the past 10 years I have been focusing on employee engagement and seem more likely to work in Singapore, Doha, or London than Winnipeg. It is always a pleasure to work at home and I look forward to conducting an employee engagement session this month.

I feel honored to work with the Canadian Institute of Management, that has been around since 1942 (that’s 12 years older than me!). I plan to bring the best I have learned about employee engagement from around the world centered by being in my home city in the center of Canada. If you are in Winnipeg on April 23rd I would love to engage with you at the session.

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

We invite your contributions to a second book on People Artistry

We want your help with the next book on People Artistry at Work

People Artistry Cover

We need your help. As part of the project, I am creating portraits of People Artists in one week. I am requesting 11 minutes of your time this week to either interview you by phone or have you respond to the 5 questions below by email for a book about People Artistry.

Peter Hart, the co-author, and I are very interested in the human artistry of drawing out the best in other people at work. To understand People Artistry better, here is a link to a copy of the first book on People Artistry.

We invite your responses to the following 5 questions:

  1. How would you define a People Artist at Work in your own words?
  2. What makes you or the person you are thinking of a People Artist?
  3. Can you offer one or two specific examples of where and how People Artistry was demonstrated?
  4. What did you see as the results of the demonstration of People Artistry?
  5. Is there anything you would like to add about the topic?
  • Include your name and work position or title.

If you are willing to contribute, email me with answers to the questions above or let me know your willingness for a phone interview this week.

We welcome your thoughts, stories or examples for possible inclusion in the book. Thank you in advance for your assistance on this project.

David Zinger 


Employee Engagement in Doha: Geometry and Sun Light

I am currently in Doha, Qatar to work on employee engagement. I strive to be influenced by the sights, feel, geography and architecture of wherever I am working. Flying to Qatar from Montreal I watched a brilliant video about I. M Pei and his architectural design and work on the magnificent Museum of Islamic Art by the Doha Corniche.

Creative commons Image by Jan Smith (Flickr)

Creative commons Image by Jan Smith (Flickr)


I was very impressed with the spirit, enthusiasm, smiles, discipline, and demands I. M. Pei had for this project. Two themes really stood out for me with some metaphoric parallels for employee engagement.

Pei was influenced by sand and water and Islamic architecture. He wanted the building to change based on the movement of the sun. He stated: “the movement of the sun makes the building come alive.” It made me think of engagement in our organizations never being static and the movement of energy offers vibrancy to help the organization come alive.

Pei also made use of water in the building. He talked about the power of water for sound, movement, ripple, stillness, trickling, and reflection. I believe in the same way we need to see the properties of water within our organizations. We need reflection at times and stillness. We need sound and movement. And we should see engagement as continually flowing, not merely an annual snapshot from a static survey.

I appreciated how Pei came from New York and used his insatiable curiosity to understand what needed to be built. There are many people in Doha from other parts of the world that play a role in employee engagement in Qatar. Pei gave massive credit to his team on the project and like employee engagement in an organization no one does it alone. Pei will be 98 in April — his smile, his way of working, and his engagement is an inspiration to me as I work on employee engagement in Doha, Qatar.

Employee Engagement Speaker - David Zinger

Employee Engagement: One Big Idea from One Little Book

Employee Engagement: A Little Book of Big Ideas by Jasmine Gartner (Book Review)

Reading time = 2 minutes and 45 seconds

Susan, my wife, accused me of trying to maim her with tennis balls during our vacation in Punta Cana last week. We played tennis at six o’clock every night. It seemed like the perfect antidote before our evening assault on the all-inclusive buffet line.

Susan played on the side facing the setting sun and was blindly assailed by my lob shots. Finding shelter and solace in relationship she engaged in a dialogue with the couple playing beside us about the stupidity and ineptitude of the resort architect to have the courts face right into the sun, a simple problem that could have been solved by rotating the courts ninety degrees. I did not join them in their castigation of the resort designer because I had just finished reading Jasmine Gartner’s chapter on why companies need to include or inform employees on important strategy and organizational decisions.

How many times have you cursed the decisions of upper management and rallied your peers in bemoaning the blindness of those on top? And if you are a decision maker how many times have you failed to let staff know how decisions were reached and why certain options were rejected while others were accepted?

Jasmine Gartner Employee Engagement Book CoverLike a good chair umpire, Jasmine Gartner, with her education in anthropology, offers excellent insight and judgement on employee engagement with her delightful book, Employee Engagement: A Little Book of Big Ideas. She outlines five spheres of engagement: engaging with the company, the work itself, the team, the network, and society. I will outline how her idea on engaging with the company can save you from employees complaining about what is going on, the perceived ineptitude of leadership and management, and the feeling that senior executives are blindly lobbing tennis ball at employees’ heads.

In discussing the first of five spheres of engagement Gartner admonishes companies who fail to let employee know how they made decisions and the sense of unfairness many employees feel about decisions that affect them. Influenced by her work with Derek Luckhurst, Dr. Gartner encourages companies to engage employees in key strategy decisions either with input, if possible, or a full understanding of how a decision was reached.  She stated: “the key is that everyone needs to understand strategy, or the big picture of why the company works the way it does, and everybody needs to feel that change is fair, rather than a personal attack on staff” (page. 34).

Leaders, mangers, and writers banter abstractly about transparency, understanding, fairness, and trust. I applaud the specific advice of Gartner and how her concrete idea brings meaning and meat to transparency, fairness, trust, and understanding. Staff need to understand the process of important strategies and decisions and that includes all the strategies managers considered before arriving at their preferred option. Staff need to know why other strategies were rejected or they will believe that upper management is blinding them with the tandem of ignorance and ineptitude.

Back to my wife, there may have been a very reasonable explanation of why the tennis court was positioned as it was but she lacked information and the information lacuna quickly generated negative stories and judgements of incompetence towards the resort designer. It is possible the designer was ignorant, but it is also possible drainage, the placement of nearby roads, or the angle of the sun during different seasons played a role in the court placement.

So don’t double fault at work. Ensure employees can engage with important decisions and when they can’t be part of the decision making process because of government regulations or confidentiality issues, engage with them about how the decision was reached, what else was considered, and why other options were rejected.

I encourage you to read Gartner’s 100-page book as she serves up some more big ideas including engagement differences between  small teams and a large organisation, “the lesson here is that the values that work in a small team can ultimately lead to disaster in a large organisation. Large organisations have a different culture to small ones, and they must live by different values and rules” (p. 67).

David Zinger - Employee Engagement Speaker


One Small Step For Work: One Giant Step for Employee Engagement

Get a small win and keep on going

Reading time = one small minute

I have been advocating for the importance of small, simple, strategics, significant and sustainable behavioral actions as a key in employee engagement for the past 5 years. I also think we fail to focus enough on the impact of progress and setbacks on work, workers, and engagement.

Small progress is significant and even small setbacks can disengage. I encourage you to view this short slide presentation from Daniel Goleman in support of Teresa Amabile’s work on progress. I have been very focused on progress and setback’s since my conversation with Teresa Amablile on progress in August 2011.

After viewing the slides, if you want to increase employee engagement: think small, make progress.


David Zinger - Employee Engagement Speaker

Employee Engagement: Chop Wood, Fetch Water

David Zinger - Employee Engagement Speaker

15 Great Employee Engagement and Work Cartoons You Can Use

15 Work Cartoons to Make Your Day

EEN Junson Cartoon E-book

My friend and resident Employee Engagement Network cartoonist, John Junson has created an e-book with 15 free cartoons that you can use for work. Pass it along to a colleague. Use it in a presentation. Pin one cartoon to your wall or cubicle. Choose one a month and put it in your newsletter. Stress is a staff infection and humour is contagious so use the humor here to fight stress at work.

If you would like to download a PDF of this book click on the image above or, click here.

Here is a slide presentation of the cartoons for quick viewing:

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert who appreciates the lighter side of work.

10 Second Employee Engagement Survey: Where Should We Focus Our Efforts in 2015?

Take 10 seconds or less to complete this one question survey. Thank you for your response.
Q Zing Survey Button

Employee Engagement: Good is the New Great

Why good is good enough in employee engagement.

Reading time = 1 minute.


We need to keep things simple and real with employee engagement. I think when we move to superlatives such as great work and exceptional engagement we create a credibility gap and a trust issue. I have been in a number of workplaces that declared they were great workplaces yet many employees tell me it is not as great as they say.

My definition of employee engagement is short, real, and simple:

Good work done well with others every day.

Good work is both believable and attainable and sustainable. When we strive for good we will at time touch great or exceptional. I will take consistent good days of work over a few great days anytime. I also like how good work done with both intention and consistency will at times touch greatness.

I like good in reference to employee engagement because it refers to both the adjective of good or the quality of work and the noun of good about the benefit of the work. I like work that is of good quality and is good on many levels for employees, customers, and the organization.

I hope you have a good day of work that is also good for others.

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert striving to do good work every day.

Employee Engagement: 22 Tools to Overcome Grumpiness

How not to be grumpy at work (or in the rest of your life)

Reading time = 13 minutes

Download a PDF of this article: 22 Tools to Overcome Grumpiness by David Zinger


grump·y ˈgrəm-pē\ : easily annoyed or angered : having a bad temper or complaining often : sulky, bad-tempered, crabby, ill-tempered, short-tempered, crotchety, tetchy, testy, waspish, prickly, touchy, irritable, irascible, crusty, cantankerous, curmudgeonly, bearish, surly, ill-natured, churlish, ill-humored, peevish, pettish, cross, fractious, disagreeable, snappish, grouchy, snappy, cranky, shirty, ornery

Do you find yourself being grumpy at work or grumpy with other people?

Some people have told me that I’m grumpy; it’s not something that I’m aware of. It’s not like I walk around poking children in the eye…not very small ones, anyway. ~Dylan Moran

My father was an executive for a Canadian railway but as a young boy I would sit around the dinner table and hear his grumpy ramblings and rants about work and the organization. Much of it was disheartening and the cumulative effect was to cause me to lose an appetite for work if working resulted in being grumpy even when you are at home with your wife, three children, and a hearty meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Dad inadvertently convinced me never to work for someone else because you will end up being grumpy (more on this later — how you can work with an organization rather than for an organization).

Preventing or intervening in grumpiness is more important than being happy. It is important not to be grumpy at work because bad is almost 3 times as powerful as good. As Roy Baumeister, a noted researcher on psychological experiences, and others stated in a landmark article entitled Bad is Stronger than Good:

The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.

We may get more return in both relationships and results by investing more energy into the 22 tools not to be grumpy rather than striving blindly towards the elusive pursuit of eternal happiness in our daily toil. Instead of don’t worry be happy, we need to realize that it is okay to worry, not to be happy, but we can still avoid letting ourselves be grumpy about it. In all probability, you will encounter an equal number of blisters and blissful events at work.

I am now 60 years old and I have glimpsed the early warning signs of an aging lapse into becoming a grumpy old man. I swore I would never become one of those grumpy old guys and I am pleased to report that I am aware of being grumpy when I feel it, I don’t let grumpiness last, and I have developed 22 ways to not be grumpy while I work. By the way, I plan to work until I am 75 and I believe not being grumpy will be a major contributor to my work longevity.

I don’t promise that these ways will prevent you from ever feeling grumpy at work but I do believe they will

  • ensure that you are mindful of being grumpy,
  • your grumpiness will not be as severe or intense,
  • grumpiness will not last as long, and
  • you will be equipped to prevent much of your grumpiness before it festers from an emotional state into a rigid way of being.

An invitation. If you know someone else at work who is grumpy I encourage you to invite them to read this article, just watch out that they don’t get even grumpier because you told them they were grumpy. It is ironic but grumpy people are often quite sensitive about being grumpy.

I think some of Bob Sutton’s bad bosses, outlined in his brilliant book, The No Asshole Rule, are at least partly that way because they don’t monitor, manage, master, or transform their own grumpiness.

22 Anti-Grumpy Tools

(1) Know your G-spots. Your G-spots are the spots, interactions, thoughts and triggers that make you grumpy. Perhaps it is being thwarted in an action or maybe being snubbed or not getting enough sleep. Catch these triggers before they catch you and cause you to sink into a grumpy funk. Use foresight and anticipation to avoid those triggers that are avoidable.

(2) Be mindful of the roots of your grumpiness. Grumpiness does something to you and it may also do something for you. What is the benefit of being grumpy? What is the source of being grumpy? Does getting to the root cause offer you insight or perspective on constructive actions you can take? In this way rather than being triggered into grumpiness you are using the experience of being grumpy as a trigger to take constructive action to address the root cause.

(3) Assume the best intentions of other people. Before you create a negative melodrama at work about what she said or what he did, start by assuming best intentions about the behavior of others. Just because you start with good intentions does not mean that you have to stay there but begin with good intentions and ask questions or hold a conversation to check out other people’s behavior. Assuming best intentions will stop a downward grumpy spiral and pave the pathway to more constructive action.

(4) Hit the pause button for 90 seconds. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a very engaging brain researcher who studied her own stroke from the inside out, suggested that the shelf life of an emotion is 90 seconds. Yet many of us seem to hold on to an emotion for years if not the rest of our lives. Give yourself 90 seconds from the moment you feel grumpy before you act on that emotion. Also know that you must feed your grumpiness every 90 seconds to keep it alive. We feed it with fragments of tragic stories, feelings of being wronged, and a multitude of micro, almost unconscious mechanisms, to keep being grumpy. If you remain grumpy ninety seconds after the initial emotion it may be valuable to ask yourself: “How am I feeding my grumpiness to keep it alive?”

(5) Drop your sense of entitlement. You are not entitled. When you think you are entitled and you do not receive the expected entitlements it tends to create grumpiness. I don’t care if you have been working 30 years or you have a big office or you are a new hire with exaggerated expectations…just drop the sense of entitlement and watch your grumpy meter also drop.

(6) Steer clear of energy suckers. Grumpiness can be a staff infection. Avoid Debbie Downer, Nellie Negative, Peter Pouty, and Arty Angry. Who you hang out with can kindle and ignite your grumpiness or add fuel to the fire of your negative state. In addition, ensure that you don’t become one of those energy suckers, when you are inflicted with the grumpy staff infection it is advisable to experience and express it in isolation to lessen the spread of contamination to others.

(7) Do something for someone else. Grumpiness tends to be a very self-absorbed state of mind and emotions. Get out of your self-focused shell and do something for someone else even if you don’t feel like it. Often emotions and attitudes follow behavior so don’t wait to feel altruistic to act altruistically. You just might find that your grumpiness is diminished after an act of kindness or caring.

(8) Know that you work with an organization not for an organization. We often feel impotent and useless when we believe we are at the bottom of the pyramid or at the mercy of someone else’s whims about work. Our words and metaphors around upper management, front lines, and report up, create and sustain a sense of being subservient when you are an employee. We are equal in our humanity within the organization and there is no “real” up or down, top or bottom. Stop believing that you work for someone or for an organization. Turn yourself into a partner by knowing and acting in ways that demonstrate that you work with others not for them.  Your sense of competence and confidence can be a great antidote to grumpiness and may also improve your working relationships.

(9) Fixate on a specific task for the next 15 minutes. Stop all the internal chatter and external negative behavior that swirls around being grumpy. Find a task and work with your full focus on it for the next 15 minutes. Set a timer on your phone or watch for 15 minutes. When the timer chimes after 15 minutes of time check back into your grumpiness…you might be amazed how often it has dissipated if not completely disappeared.

(10) Cease your shallow or simplistic characterizations of others and even yourself.  Avoid the miserable mental gymnastics of seeing people as good guys or bad guys, or helpless pawns. You are not a victim, there are very few real villains at work, and stop pretending there is nothing you can do about your situation beyond feeling grumpy and ranting incessantly about how bad it is.

(11) Seize the next moment. Ask yourself what you can do in the next moment to stop being so grumpy, you don’t have to be happy just shift from reverse into neutral.

(12) Neutralize the neural almond brothers with a question. The amygdalae are the two small almond shaped parts of the brain that are the source of much emotion and drive towards action. When you are grouchy there is a good chance the amygdalae are running the brain – these “almond brothers” are not good drivers for your life or your work. Because the amygdala is not a language center you can remove them from the driver’s seat by asking yourself a question. When you transform your judgement into curiosity with a good question it can transform your grumpiness. By the way, there are good questions and bad questions. A bad question for a person who is grouchy is a judgemental, “what’s wrong with those people?” A good question is: “how can I look at this differently to short circuit my grouchiness?”

(13) Expect setbacks and unfairness. Teresa Amabile and her husband, Steven Kramer, demonstrated that the single biggest source of daily disengagement for knowledge workers is setbacks. We need to expect the inevitability of setbacks while not sinking into grouchiness when they occur. A setback does not in and of itself create upset. We can learn from setbacks, we can experience the loss without getting grumpy, we can bond with others, and we can have resolve to keep going. I love watching professional tennis players like Serena Williams or Novak Djokvic bounce back after a bad call or a double fault. It is inspiring to watch a figure skater fall in a major program at the Olympics and get right back on their feet and land a quad. You maintain your edge when you stay sharp and avoid becoming edgy when things don’t go right.

(14) Grow out of a fixed mindset. The gestalt of grumpiness is based on our mindset. Carol Dweck encourages us to distinguish between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Know that being right all the time is wrong even if you are right. In the fixed mindset, every situation calls for a confirmation of your intelligence, personality, or character. The growth mindset focuses on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts and you can change and grow through effort and experience. If you want to fix a grumpy mindset you need to believe you can grow out of it.

(15) Just see what you can do. You don’t have to be part of the mass of people who live lives of quiet desperation or be over the top brimming with positivity. I am not a fan of the positive thinking that is similar to putting a coat of paint on a wall to hide a broken foundation. Bad things happen. I have had more than my fill of positivity and at times of struggle or strain it can be okay just to shift into neutral. When my youngest son was an 8-year old hockey goalie, he aced the idea of being neutral. He knew he would get scored on and it would never bother him or be a source of post game grumpiness. I asked him how he mentally prepared to go into the net before each game and he told me he just said to himself, “I will see what I can do.” I loved his statement; it was neutral, open, curious, and constructive. Tomorrow when you go to work I encourage you to just go in to “see what you can do.” Of course, watch out if someone shoots a puck at you!

(16) Don’t let being skeptical lapse into being cynical. I love working with skeptics. They are the best people to conduct experiments with. But there is a fine line between being a healthy skeptic and a grumpy cynic. I believe that a cynic is often locked into a negative view and is not open to having their grouchy beliefs and declarations disputed and challenged. Here is the short test to determine if you have moved from skeptic to cynic: Can you be skeptical about your cynical beliefs and thoughts? If you can, skepticism can be a primary pathway out of grumpiness.

(17) Drop your grouchy security blanket and face your fears. Being grouchy for an extended period of time begins to feel like a toxic security blanket. It feels familiar and it may even feel safe. But what this toxic security blanket often covers are your fears. Fear may be one of the primary root causes of grumpiness. Start to examine your grumpiness as a mask for fear and see what is behind it. Do you fear being wrong, being left behind, not belonging, unable to handle setbacks and challenges, your future at work, being successful, failing at your work, interacting with someone in authority, or a host of other potential fears masked by grumpiness. It might be helpful to have a friend, family member, coach, or counsellor create a safe relationships as you hold a conversation to uncover and move through the fears masked by grumpiness. Dr. David Martin from the University of Manitoba, one of my counselling educators, helped me learn that the only way to overcome a fear is to experience it while also feeling safe and that the safety found in a supportive and understanding relationship was the mechanism that extinguished the fear

(18) Transform engagement in grumpiness into engaged working. It takes a lot of energy to be grumpy. Unfortunately it is a constant energy drain for yourself and others. Energy is the raw material of employee engagement. If you let go of some of the grumpiness you may be left with energy to engage more fully in your work.  This use of energy often results in an energy gain as opposed to an energy drain and as you learn to fully engage in work you may also fully experience how work makes us well.

(19) Discover empathy as an antidote to grumpiness. Empathy is our ability to understand others, to see the world from their perspective, to walk in their shoes. It is not just an expression of mushy emotion, it is the courage to leave our own views and perspectives behind as we fully understand another person. For many people who are grumpy, empathy is a rare commodity. Empathy can crack the hard and brittle shell of grumpiness. And as Leonard Cohen sang, there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

(20) Challenge yourself towards gritty, real and authentic optimism. We too often confuse optimism as shallow positive thinking. Martin Seligman taught me that optimists see bad events, they are not naive and superficial thinkers. After a bad event, rather than gravitate towards grumpy, optimistic people view the bad event as temporary, specific, and they don’t blame themselves or others for what occurred. They recover, they are resilient, they bounce back and they are less grumpy. Embrace a sense of impermanence after a bad event and you will move away from grumpiness towards equanimity.

(21) Give yourself fully to one grumpy day. Take one day a year to get fully into your inner grumpiness. Exaggerate it. Maybe you can find and wear an Oscar the Grouch costume and let your expressions of grumpiness permeate each moment and every relationship for the entire day. Or you could be Grumpy, one of the seven dwarfs in Snow White. I bet you will find it a difficult challenge to be grumpy all day as you wear one of those costumes and you get exhausted continually cursing others and your fate. You might even end up seeing the humor of it. Those who laugh have a hard time making grumpiness last. A Chinese beatitude points the way: blessed are those who can laugh at themselves they shall never cease to be entertained.

Oscar the Grouch

(22) Anticipate the benefits of being grumpy-free. Other people will not avoid you by ducking into the nearest cubicle when they see you walking towards them. You will have stronger relationships at work and at home. Your team will probably be stronger and accomplish more. You may look forward to work with anticipation rather than dread. You will probably show up to each moment with more energy, awareness, connection, and caring. There is a good chance work will be an energy gain not merely an exhausting energy drain. You won’t bring the nastiness of work home with you, and you and your family can truly be nourished by a hearty meal of spaghetti and meatballs topped with caring conversations.

A bigger okayElisabeth Kübler-Ross who knew more about death and dying and how to live than anyone else I know once offered a short mantra on how to be okay even when things are not okay:

I am not okay, you are not okay, and that is okay.

Let your harrumph become a heartfelt hurrah. If you choose to dwell in grumpiness know that you will never fully experience the possibility that work can make you well. When you decide to stop being grumpy you will experience more space in your life for real joy, happiness, and well-being. Bad does not have to trump good when we get good at 22 tools to overcome, manage, or master grumpiness. Overcoming grumpiness can transform your last harrumph into your next hurrah!

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David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert from Canada who works around the world on leadership, management, engagement, well-being, and work. He has encountered many grumpy people during his sixty years. He is firm in his resolve to not become a grumpy old man while also helping others use the 22 uplifting tools and levity to overcome their downward gravitational pull towards grumpiness.