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Employee Engagement Friday Factoid #15: Wandering Mind

Turn wandering into wondering

A 2010 study of 2,250 adults by two Harvard University psychologists found that people’s minds wander an astounding 47 per cent of the time.


How much of our engagement with work and with others just wanders off with a mind that is challenged to stay focused. Can you change your wandering mind into a wondering mind?

David Zinger is a global employee engagement expert who uses the Pyramid of Employee Engagement to help organizations and individuals achieve full engagement.


Employee Engagement: 5 Prescriptions for Well Being

9. Working Well

(Part 10 of an 11 part series on how managers can improve employee engagement)

Enhance Well-being. We need to create wellbeing inside of work. There are things we can do outside of work but how we promote and enhance well-being within work is becoming increasingly important as mobile devices makes work portable and 24/7. We must eliminate toxic workplaces poisoned with a lack of respect or mutuality. We must create a profound wellbeing where people leave work enlivened and enriched rather than depleted and deadened.

Here are 5  prescriptions for well being at work

  1. Enliven the five elements of well being.
  2. Establish PERMAnent well being.
  3. Mind your work
  4. Establish and maintain psychological and social safety
  5. Be a well being heretic

Enliven the five elements of well being. Rath and Harder in Well Being state that well being is a combination of  “our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities. Most importanty, it’s about how these five elements interact” (p. 4).  About 66% of us are doing well with at least one of these elements but only 7% of us are thriving in all five areas. This leaves much room to improve well being at work by working on our career  well being, social well being, financial well being, physical well being, and community well being. By the way, I don’t think we try for the infamous work/life balance with these elements, rather we try and have healthy flow that benefits us and others.

Establish PERMAnent Well Being. Martin Seligman approaches well-being with the caution of a scientist and the optimism of someone who developed the approach of learned optimism. In Flourish, Seligman went beyond happiness work to examine flourishing and offering practical suggestions on instilling well being. His perspective of well being also has a foundation of 5 elements, different than Gallup, and structured around the mnemonic PERMA. PERMA stands for: positive emotions, engagement, relationship, meaning, and achievement. Positive emotions and the pleasant life contribute to our well being and happiness. Engagement creates well being with powerful connections to work, belonging and serving.  Relationships, one of the 10 blocks of the pyramid of engagement, in study after study is found to be one of the most salient contributors to well being.  Meaning, the most recent block we examined in this series on the pyramid of engagement is vital for health.  Achievement has been a more recent insertion in Seligman’s approach to authentic happiness and well being. Seligman examined his own love of playing bridge and realized how much achievement plays a role in well being. Achievement fits well with the top three blocks of the employee engagement pyramid: results, performance, and progress.

Mind your work. Mindfulness can be a powerful yet subtle pathway to well being. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentaly.” How well do you show up to the moment? We may reduce high levels of stress attached to the past and the future by being where we are. As Stephan Rechtschaffen declared in Time Shifting, “there is no stress in the present moment.”

Mindful leadership.  A recent Harvard Business review blog post by Holly Labarre quoted Pamela Weiss: “If you want to transform an organization it’s not about changing systems and processes so much as it’s about changing the hearts and minds of people. Mindfulness is one of the all-time most brilliant approaches for helping to alleviate human suffering and for bringing out our extraordinary potential as human beings.” Mindfulness seems so subtle, almost anemic for well being, but for a world that has gone crazy busy it can keep us well, centered, aware, connected, and present. We often seem to be searching for dramatic data-driven tools when this subtle and powerful tool is always available to us, embedded in us, and always only a moment away.

Watch the talk. I encourage you to mindfully watch this Google talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

If the video does not open in this window, click here.

Establish and maintain psychological and social safety. We have focused and improved our work on physical safety at work. We need to keep all employees safe. In addition we need to ensure that our work and workplaces are infused with psychological and social safety. Safety is created through mutual purpose and mutual respect. It means we care about each other and we care about what each other is interested in. This must be genuine and is more than a fuzzy warm feeling. People read a lack of safety in seconds and this thwarts are ability to achieve results, build relationships and be well at work. A lack of safety saps away well being at work and creates ineffective conflicts and confrontations. We seem to have a bigger safety issue than engagement issue at work. It feels unsafe for most workers to be honest, direct, and respectful about engagement. An unintended consequence of the infamous anonymous survey in engagement is that we are telling employees we don’t want to know who they are, thereby making employees invisible. Robust engagement needs a name and a face. Management also justifies anonymous surveys because they don’t believe workers will be honest unless they are anonymous. We need to stop thinking of disengagement as a punishable offence and instead use it as a trigger for meaningful listening and talking about work.

Be a well being heretic.  I believe we have too much fluff and far too many mistaken notions about specific wellness approaches at work. I have believed this for 30 years but just recently has it coalesced together into the  Heretic’s Manifesto of Well Being. I do not write about this frivolously having been an employee assistance counselor for almost 20  years and a university educator in educational and counseling psychology for 25 years.

A wellbeing epiphany and dodging a bullet. Late last year, I was teaching a short course for blue collar workers on overcoming stress and engaged well being. They were a skeptical group who did not want to be there and approached the topic with a high degree of defensiveness and disdain. This was no time for fluffy soft skills yet I wanted to fully contribute to their well being and knew they could benefit from a focus on well being that was real, robust and respectful. I deviated from my plan, connected with the group and realized their rapt attention and interest was bringing out my personal weave of wellness in a way that even I had never fully heard before. When the session was over one of the guys came up at the end. He told me he hated motivational speakers and that he got nothing from them. Before the workshop he borrowed some change from a friend for Tim Horton’s coffee and his friend had a small caliber bullet in his pocket (gives you an idea of the audience).  He picked up the change from his friend plus the bullet saying he may need it as he had to listen to some speaker (me). After everyone else had left at the end of the session, he handed me the bullet, the most creative expression of gratitude I have every received as a speaker, voiced a big thank you, and really did make my day! And this was in…Beasejour, Manitoba! The impromptu and honest rant with the group during that session resulted in the articulation of the following 33 point well being manifesto:

A Heretic’s Manifesto and Guide to Better Well Being at Work:

    1. We must find wellbeing inside of work and not wait until we are outside of work at the end of our day or in retirement.
    2. Hope is a misguided future perspective taking us away from where we can really make a difference, right here – right now.
    3. There is no stress in the present moment so strive to be where you are.
    4. Self-esteem is an evaluative trap that snares you like cheese snares a mouse with the snap of the trap. Accept yourself don’t evaluate yourself.
    5. Life comes before work and work/life balance and any balance is dynamic like a teeter totter.
    6. Well being is only a concept until we engage in well doing.
    7. Ignorance is more important than knowledge in fostering and enhancing well being. We being by not knowing.
    8. People don’t actually hear most interpersonal feedback unless they feel safe and safety is the only way to overcome most of our problems.
    9. Genuine caring trumps professional competence in almost every relationship.
    10. Achieving  happiness is a shallow and insignificant approach to living.
    11. Structure trumps willpower in promoting and fostering well being.
    12. Powerful questions we ask ourself are the ideal WD40 for a brain clogged by an amygdala seizure.
    13. Wellbeing is strong stuff. We must know, live and leverage our strengths in the service of others.
    14. It take energy directed towards well being to get energy and when you are depleted this is a real hindrance to experiencing well being
    15. Relaxation is the anemic aspirin of stress management and can actually cause stress.
    16. What lessens your stress today could be a major contributor of stress tomorrow.
    17. There are no algorithmic certainties of well being only heuristic probabilities of success.
    18. In life and work you are going to fart, fumble, and fall. You are human. It is not about avoiding falling down it is about how you pick yourself back up again. Everyone is screwed up: I am not okay, you are not okay and that is okay.
    19. Placebos are examples of caring made tangible.
    20. Employee wellbeing is not a soft skill just as accounting is not a hard skill.  Wellbeing embraces fluid skills when the fixed parts of our life are in need of repair.
    21. Reality is overrated, living through positive illusion, not delusion,  is powerful and practical.
    22. Wellbeing is more than a personal endeavor it  is a social phenomenon.
    23. Only you are responsible for your own well being but others are accountable for your well being just as you are accountable for their well being.
    24. No one can upset you after 90 seconds.
    25. Compliance is the anemic byproduct of power.
    26. We do not resist change we resist coercion and the gravity of the familiar is what holds us in place.
    27. If life throws you a lemon — duck, determine where it came from, think about what you can do about it and only then contemplate making lemonade.
    28. Positive thinking must be changed into a more authentic constructive thinking. Lots of  bad things do happen and positive thinking may be a disrespectful glossing offer the richness, albeit ruggedness, of human experience.
    29. Bad is at least twice as salient as good in most situations so we must tip the scales of good for good.
    30. Most of what we know really isn’t so.
    31. Wellness tips like this without personal evaluation and experimentation can create a  misguided tyranny of tips leading towards more stress. The Buddha said, “we must be a lamp unto ourselves.”
    32. Contradiction is only troublesome if you are locked into rigid thinking and a fixed mindset.
    33. Take a long shot, Charlie Chaplin once said, “life is a tragedy in close up and a comedy in long shot.” How long does it take you to get a long shot on things?

Read these 5 sources to be well on your way:

    • Tom Rath and Jim Harter, Well Being: The Five Essential Elements.
    • Martin E. P. Seligman, Flourish: A visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.
    • Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are
    • Stephan Rechtschaffen,  Time Shifting: Creating More time to Enjoy Your Life
    • Polly Labarre, Developing Mindful Leaders, Harvard Business Review Blog, December 2011.

Next post in this series: How to enliven energy for employee engagement.

David Zinger built the 10 block pyramid of employee engagement to help managers bring the full power of employee engagement to their workplaces. If you would like to arrange to have this course or workshop for your organization or conference contact David today at 204 254 2130 or