Come “Relax for the Holidays” with WorkLife Connections & Employee Wellness

All faculty, staff, and students are invited to stop by the Memorial Union Ballroom B1 on Wednesday, November 18, any time between 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. to attend an open-house style Lunch and Learn event, “Relax for the Holidays.”  Attending employees will earn 500 HuskyPAW points!

LunchandLearn-imgflyer
Relax for the Holidays Flyer

The “Relax for the Holidays Open House” will feature several relaxation stations, including chair massages with Christian Baker, Aromatherapy with Vicky Sleeman, Yoga and Guided Relaxation with Joan Kero, as well as a coloring station, bubble wrap popping and light therapy, and a chocolate station. Attendees will be eligible to enter a free drawing for one of three spa packages: two 30-minute Swedish Massages or a 30-minute infrared Sauna with Spa Shower from J. Jukuri Spa and Salon. Additional aromatherapy and other stress-relieving items will also be given away to attendees.

Bring your lunch and eat in our stress-free lunch environment, try out different relaxation techniques, and take a breather before the busy holiday schedules roll around. Tea and hot chocolate will be provided.

 


The Chill Chipmunk

The Chill ChipmunkWe’re told by our loved ones to take care of ourselves, but being able to actually do that is often a whole other story. Good intentions don’t always make it into action. We may get fresh fruits and vegetables from the store to make a vitamin-filled smoothie and then what happens? The fruits and veggies sit in the fridge and never make it to the blender. The same thing happens for the grand idea we had to make homemade soup when the weather turns cold. And then all of a sudden we’re sick and overwhelmed while our fruits and vegetables still sit in the fridge. We’re working hard, running errands, and still adding things to our agendas. And doing everything but taking care of ourselves.

I was watching a little chipmunk the other day. He was almost in my way on the sidewalk, so I stopped. He wasn’t running away as I inched closer, so I thought maybe he was injured or something. No, he was just chilling and eating his acorns, no worries! I had to laugh as I realized that to him, making sure he got his little meal was more important to him than responding to his fear and running way. Only once he had his cheeks stuffed did he scurry into his little tree burrow.

This makes me think, if the chipmunks can do it, can’t we? Can we just stop a little and take some time for our health and wellbeing?

A large part of mindfulness, I think, is being intentional. Take a break and don’t let the stress enter your break. The stress can wait a few minutes while you relax your pulse. And like the chipmunk, don’t let anything get in your way.


First Annual WorkLife Quality Survey is Open

The WorkLife Advisory Committee invites you to take the first annual WorkLife Quality Assessment Survey by clicking here. (URL: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/worklife_connections)

This survey will provide baseline data to help identify the services that are most needed to support work-life blending, as well as to assess the quality of work-life blending that all of us in the Michigan Tech community experience. All responses to the survey are completely anonymous. The report for the survey will be made available on the WorkLife website.

Your feedback is important as it allows us to address topics of importance and provide resources and services that are valuable to the campus community. The WorkLife Advisory Committee appreciates your assistance.


Meditating is Weird

meditateI am terrible at meditating: I don’t like to sit still, I fidget, I can’t keep my eyes closed, my mind tends to wander about and worry about the next thing on my calendar, and my legs just won’t twist into the pretzel-like lotus position if you paid me a million dollars to do it (although, I’d really try hard to get there if someone wanted to pay me that much to do it!). Meditating is weird. And, for me, it feels weird to meditate at work.

Mindfulness has become a buzzword among businesses and leaders in the last few years, and many businesses and organizations are incorporating mindfulness practices at work as a way to help their employees reduce stress and become more productive. When we hear the word, mindfulness, many of us (myself included) conjure images of workers in our business attire silently sitting in a dimly-lit room while struggling to balance in lotus position and sitting on those thin yoga mats, trying to meditate in silence while we struggle to keep our minds from wandering to our next task. Over the past year, however, I’ve learned that my imagination is very inaccurate when it comes to mindfulness at work.

What is mindfulness?

There are many definitions and descriptions of mindfulness. Simply put, to be mindful means to be aware of how you are experiencing the present moment.

For example, take a moment to focus on your physical self:

  • Right now, how is your posture? Check to see if you’re slouching over your computer or mobile device: are your shoulders hunched? are you looking downward at your mobile device? are you sliding down in your chair? are your legs crossed or are your feet both on the ground? Try repositioning your body so your posture is in alignment and your muscles relaxed.
  • How does your physical self feel? any soreness or stiffness in your neck or back? If so, maybe now is a good time to look away from your screen for a little bit and stand up to stretch your muscles a bit.
  • How’s your breathing? do you feel short of breath? are you feeling a little tired? While you’re standing, take a deep breath—as much as your lungs can hold—and exhale. Try this one or two more times.
  • How’s your thirst? would a drink of water make you feel better? do you have that dry feeling in your mouth that we are so good at ignoring? Since you’re standing, maybe it’s a good time to take a little walk to get a quick drink of water.

As we get absorbed in our work, it’s easy to let our bodies slump down and succumb to gravity. But it’s important to take some time throughout the day to allow ourselves to be aware of our bodies and how they are making us feel.

And this type of practice—simply running through the above physical inventory of our physical self, and adjusting our posture and breathing for a few minutes—is mindfulness. In fact, I like to think of it as taking a moment of self-care.

The Science of Mindfulness

Sure, mindfulness includes meditation or similar practices. This article published in Mindful magazine, Rewiring Your Emotions is a useful piece that provides some information about how mindful practices can help improve our neurological health. Ultimately, simple habits like this can help us to do well in all areas of our lives: work, home, hobbies, self.


Meet Amelia, WorkLife Connections Program Coordinator Intern

Amelia Newman, Assistant WorkLife Coordinator Intern
Amelia Newman, Assistant WorkLife Coordinator Intern

Hey there, Michigan Tech. I’m Amelia, the new intern, working on Worklife Program Coordination. My job is to help the WorkLife Committee to organize events and programs, update the website, and help the committee to keep track of projects.

I’m a four-and-a-half year business management student, on my last semester here at Michigan Tech. On the one hand it feels like it’s been a long road, while on the other I often wonder, “Where did the time go?” I have loved what I’ve been studying here at Michigan Tech, and I plan to use my degree even though I don’t know where I’m moving next. I hope to live in the northern or western U.S., otherwise overseas. I also love long outdoor adventures. If it were up to me I’d spend most of my time kayaking, climbing or skiing mountains, or riding horses. I’m also generally very social and enjoy meeting new people, experiencing new-to-me cultures, playing with kids and cute animals, too. For instance, on the side I often help some friends of mine at their growing sheep farm.

One of my favorite experiences was my recent study abroad opportunity in Ireland a year ago. I made many crazy friends there and am going back to visit after graduation. I had a ton of fun in Ireland, of course, and even made time for four upper management courses taught by people with cool accents. In fact, for one of my classes, I researched and wrote a paper about the challenges of work-life integration. My work history includes working at a hotel before coming to Michigan Tech, my sewing/designing hobby on the side, working a summer for DTE Energy, and a continuing office assistance job for the university in the Humanities department.

Here are a few of the things I’m working on as the WorkLife Coordinator Intern:

  • Researching to benchmark other universities’ workplace flexibility policies.
  • Reading through some of your committee work and thoughts.
  • Building and updating the WorkLife Connections website.
  • Attending committee and sub-committee meetings as I’m able.
  • Sharing ideas, documenting the WorkLife Committee’s activities.

 

I am also assisting with scheduling and other day-to-day tasks to help support the WorkLife Connections Office and Committee activities. I’m excited to be a part of this important work, and I’m learning a lot about start-up activities in my work as an intern. I hope to start a business of my own in the future, so working with the new WorkLife Connections Office is helping me learn about some of the details and challenges of start-up organizations. Upon researching, I learned the extent of what other peer universities in the U.S. such as Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Cornell, etc. already have in place regarding flexibility/work-life initiatives. And so I’m catching on to the direction we’re heading, and looking forward to helping WorkLife Connections move toward our goals to help Michigan Tech faculty, staff, and students integrate and blend the many facets of our lives.

 


Mindful Moment: How Do You Breathe?

How do you breathe? It’s not something we usually think about, yet it has an incredible influence on how we feel, both physically and mentally. Everything we do is powered by the oxygen we absorb when we breathe. Why we don’t take a few minutes every day to focus on breathing is beyond me. In fact, let’s do that right now. Stop reading, sit back in your chair and fill your lungs; really consider what your body is doing to draw air in. Hold that breath for a moment, and push it back out.

Done? Welcome back. First, I’m betting you’re feeling at least somewhat refreshed. Second, how were you breathing? Let me guess: your chest puffed out, your shoulders rose, and you pulled your stomach in as you inhaled, while everything relaxed as you exhaled. This is how we’re taught to breathe at a young age, so, for most people, this is the natural way to inhale and exhale. Unfortunately, we have all been lied to because this is entirely opposite to the way our bodies are predisposed to breathe.

The diaphragm is the major muscle involved in respiration, and it’s located right below the lungs near the solar plexus; this is the muscle responsible for expanding and compressing the lungs. The diaphragm stretches down toward the pelvis (which also pushes your abdomen out a little) to fill the lungs to the bottom and relaxes to its original position when you exhale. This is what the diaphragm is supposed to do. The way we are taught to breathe actually forces us to do the opposite: using the chest and neck muscles to expand and compress only the top lobes of the lungs. These muscles aren’t meant for continuous respiration and using them as such inevitably prevents us from filling our lungs to capacity. These upper body muscle tend to become overtired and distressed over time as well. Interesting, right?

If you ever watch an infant or a pet breathe, especially when they’re asleep, you can see their stomachs puff out because they breathe with their abdomens rather than their chests. Unfortunately, as we grow, we learn to breathe with our chest and tend to forget about abdominal breathing—unless we are taught otherwise. The good news is we can still re-learn how to breathe properly as adults. All it takes is spending a few minutes a day focusing on expanding the stomach and keeping the chest still while breathing. With consistent practice it can, again, become your body’s automatic breathing reflex. Breathing naturally has been shown to reduce the body’s stress responses, as opposed to chest breathing, which activates them and causes stress-related problems such as anxiety, hypertension, and headaches. So, if stress is bearing down on your shoulders and you’re feeling tense, try breathing with your diaphragm for a few minutes. It can do wonders for your well-being.

 

 


Laugh in the Face of Adversity: Maintaining a Sense of Humor in the Workplace

Humans are social creatures and humor is one of the greatest interactions we have that connects us to one another. We laugh in countless situations in countless settings, from family dinners to friendly get togethers. Even when first meeting someone, a well placed and proper joke does wonders in breaking the ice and paving the way to more casual interaction. Humor is fun, easy, usually free, and makes us feel comfortable being around each other in everyday social settings—something that is often overlooked in the workplace.

The workplace: “no pain, no gain;” “work isn’t supposed to be fun;” “work before play;” “no rest for the weary.” These are phrases often used when discussing our work and career. We seem to be under the impression that we should not be having fun at our jobs, which is where we spend much of our time. Plus, work can be frustrating: your boss piles you with files, forms, and impossible due dates; you ran into a co-worker and dropped your lunch; you’re tired and your patience is frayed. It’s no wonder we feel so stressed out and frazzled by the end of the week—nay, day—we typically have more things to complain about than rave about when we are asked about our days at work. This is a serious health problem that can be alleviated by a simple change in attitude to allow ourselves to make our jobs more enjoyable. In other words: Be funny; it may improve your health!

Studies have shown that laughter really is medicinal. In fact, laughing is similar to exercising in that it works your core muscles and stimulates the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. When you have a good, hearty chuckle, your body increases endorphin levels and reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Subsequently, your body’s stress responses diminish: blood pressure lowers, muscles relax, and mood improves. Not only will you feel refreshed after a good giggle fit with your colleagues, but that shared chuckle over the ridiculous demands of your job and home lives also helps your immune system stay active.

 

What can you do to build a sense of humor in the workplace?

  1. Start with a smile (even if it’s a fake one)—“Fake it ‘til you make it,” as the old adage goes, and it goes for a reason. A conscious smile can go a long way to make it easier for a real smile to creep onto that face of yours.
  2. Take a step back and look for what’s ridiculous—It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re in the middle of a project. Try to look at your situation from an observer’s perspective, and you may find it easier to recognize some of the absurdity of what you’re doing. It might even help to think about your life as a sitcom. In other words, sometimes the important things we do can give us a good chuckle.
  3. Take short breaks—Make time to read your favorite webcomics or watch short, funny videos. Use these breaks as rewards for getting things done and you may see improvement in how you feel by the end of the day.
  4. Make sure your friends and co-workers are on board—You may need to be the one who initiates the humor in your workplace, so make it a point to start days off by sharing a video you found that cracked you up or by telling your colleagues about something hilariously stupid that happened to you the other day.

 

Now, get out there and use that humor of yours to laugh at all these lemons life inexplicably puts in your pockets.

 


The WorkLife Challenges of Higher Ed Community Members

One of my co-workers and I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2015 Conference for College and University Work-Life-Family Association in Portland, Oregon from May 6-8. First of all: what a beautiful city! This was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and flying in above the clouds and over the greenery and mountaintops certainly didn’t disappoint.

More importantly, we were able to meet with many other dedicated professionals who are seeking to support their colleagues—both staff and faculty—in creating ways to better manage our work-life integration. I learned that, in many ways, Michigan Tech isn’t all that unique in the challenges we face with regard to work-life quality. While Michigan Tech is in a rather rural location and can feel pretty isolated, we do have a strong and supportive community to reach out to. Like those at other institutions, many of us at Michigan struggle to find quality, affordable child care, including the challenge of finding such care on short notice when there are snow days or our kids are sick. Many of us also face challenges of caring for aging relatives, especially at a distance. So many in the higher education community move away from family in pursuit of their careers, but those family obligations and ties remain, all with the added challenge of fulfilling our familial responsibilities from far away.

Caregiver challenges notwithstanding, however, one of the greatest gaps in the lives of those of us working in higher education is the need to find time to take care of ourselves. This hit home to me while on the flight returning from Portland. During the standard safety talk given by the flight attendant, we were told to make sure to get our own oxygen masks on first before helping anyone else around us, including children. Why? Because if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we won’t be in any shape to help those around us.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve listened to (and tuned out) this talk on the many flights I’ve been on, but perhaps it was because I was coming home from a conference where self-care was emphasized that it finally, truly hit home. As a mother of three boys of a wide age range (ages 21 down to one year old), it’s easy for me to skip my own care when I get home from work. The youngest two depend on me to feed them and ensure their health, the oldest depends on me as he moves into adulthood and navigates college experiences. When would I have time to take care of myself?

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t quite figured that one out yet, but I’m thrilled that Michigan Tech has renewed its commitment to work-life programming to support its employees and students. If you read through our newly-updated Strategic Plan, we even state that one of the University’s strategic goals is to “enhance work-life blending for all members of our community” (GOAL 1.2). I look forward to finding ways to help make this happen.

 



Instructors – please join us for Coffee Chat

Today’s teaching methods and tools enable communication with students from virtually any place at any time. Instructors often struggle to achieve a work-life balance that enables them to teach in an increasingly connected environment and still have time for family and personal interests. The WorkLife Programming Advisory Committee and the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning will co-host this coffee chat to explore tips and techniques for balancing the many demands placed on today’s instructors. We’ll also brainstorm other possible solutions, such as workplace flexibility and resources, that the WorkLife Programming Advisory Committee can advocate to help instructors balance their roles.

This coffee chat event is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 26 from 3:30–4:30 p.m. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided to those who register by Monday, February 23. Click here to register.