Don’t Let the Water get Stagnant: Tips for a Learning Organization

By Amelia Newman

We are an output society. Education has taught us this. From the time we start college, for instance, we push out assignments. One after another, just to get it done, whether we truly understand what we’re doing or not. A common phrase in the scholastic world is, “I’m good at BS-ing.”

So we morph to fit into a society that’s more about the doing than about the understanding. And so do our organizations. At some point many of us shut our brains down and are no longer learning new things, but rather going off of what we already know.

Therefore the question is raised: how do we mix up the stagnant water? How do we keep moving toward a culture of learning organizations? Here are a few tips that any one of us can either initiate or start practicing to help keep our schools and work environments moving in a healthy direction.

Tip 101:

Be question-friendly. Show that you can both be asked a question and can answer one for someone too. This is huge. Many people either in school or in the  workplace get stumped on something with a simple solution all because they are afraid to ask a question. We’re afraid to appear dumb in a smarter and smarter world. So laugh a little about your mistakes, and in the process say what you’ve learned. This will help a shy person feel that you are approachable and they may come and ask you a question.  Maybe there are even some things you’ve thought you should ask your boss recently, but then you told yourself,”No, I’ll just figure it out.” Well, why not go ahead and ask?

Tip 102:

Out with the old, in with the new. Talking about what’s new, trying out new fads, new technologies, and new health options can really help make the workplace more exciting. When a work culture is too sedentary, it does not encourage learning and change within the organization. But showing a co-worker how you utilize your android phone for organizing and planning, sharing how your new version of software has really improved your job, or how your new desk chair has really improved your back posture, can help your organization overall to stay up to date.

Tip 103:

Read books related to what you do. One can always improve and learn more. Have some fun with this and don’t treat it like a college textbook that you want to avoid. There are many good, creative books out there with tips for a healthy workplace, and you are a big part of what gives your organization its own culture.

Tip 104:

Inspiration is key. This is fundamental for other things such as a creativity, innovation, invention, etc., so do what it takes to stay inspired. Maybe it’s certain people in your life that inspire you, a nature photography hobby you do on the side, or traveling to a place you’ve never been. Whatever it is, take some time between your work and personal life to stay inspired.

Tip 105:

Take a break to recharge. This goes along with focusing on your breathing, especially when you’re stressed out. It also means taking care of you. If you’re like me, stress takes a huge toll on you mentally and physically. I find that when I’m especially stressed out, I’m sitting there not breathing well and not really learning anything in class or at work. If I try to work on something I have to do, I can’t focus. So I have to stop and recharge with something relaxing, in order to re-feed the brain.

We are real people with real lives who need to make real decisions that have important things at stake. We are not computers, simply calculating and functioning—though sometimes we may feel like it. Whatever the case, we all need to stop a little and recharge, taking a little thought for what we are doing.


Benefits Services & Employee Wellness offering Dietitian Services

In the recent WorkLife Quality survey, many respondents indicated they would be interestested in working with a registered dietitian. I’m pleased to share the following announcement sent out by Michigan Tech’s Employee Wellness:


Benefit Services invites you to participate in a new wellness initiative between Michigan Tech and Aspirus Keweenaw. This is an 8 week program that gives employees access to a registered dietitian. The program includes:

  • One 60 minute initial individual consultation (in-person)
  • Two follow up phone calls during weeks 2 and 4
  • One final consultation during week 8 (in-person)

The program is divided into two groups Nutrition Basics and Nutrition Enhanced.

Nutrition Basics is designed for employees interested in paying more attention to foods they eat or employees that need guidance on where to start.

Nutrition Enhanced is designed for those who have already made changes to their eating habits but need additional support. Employees may choose the plan that best meets their needs. For additional program information, please visit the wellness website.

This is a pilot program for active, benefits eligible employees that will begin onMarch 14, and run through May 9. Space is limited to 15 employees in each group.

You may register for the program here. Enrollment is based on a first-come first-served basis. Enrollment into the program will close at 8 a.m. on Monday, February 29.

 Please contact Benefit Services at 7-2517 or email benefits@mtu.edu if you have any questions.


WorkLife Annual Survey Still Open

We in the WorkLife Advisory Committee appreciate the feedback you have provided to us thus far regarding your concerns and challenges when it comes to work-life integration.

Our first annual survey remains open, and will be open until December 28, 2015. This survey asks for information relating to challenges you face between work-related demands and home-life responsibilities, childcare needs, adult-care needs, and self-care needs. We also ask about what areas of work-life blending you would be most interested in or find most helpful.

Please help us out by taking about 10-15 minutes to provide your feedback. Click here to take the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/worklife_connections .

All answers are completely anonymous.

Our goal in the New Year is to develop new programs for you, based on the data provided through the survey.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at worklife@mtu.edu . If you are interested in serving on the committee, please email us as well.

Thank you for your help.


“Oh No…It’s a Snow Day!” Lunch & Learn

Join us Wednesday, December 9, from 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM  in the Memorial Union Ballroom A1 for a panel discussion and idea sharing Lunch and Learn event: “Oh No…It’s a Snow Day!”

Despite this year’s mild weather, the Keweenaw is notorious for receiving large amounts of snow and experiencing below freezing temperatures. Snow day closures of the local school systems are pretty much a given, and it can be very challenging to figure out what to do at the last minute.

Bring your lunch to the “Oh No…It’s a Snow Day!” lunch and learn to hear from Eva Hatfield, Director of Little Huskies, and Jada Gullstrand, Director of Recreation, Programming, and Development at the SDC. Eva and Jada will discuss some options and ideas on how to manage this challenge. The group will spend time sharing ideas for building a local network for childcare options, and learning more about local resources.

Faculty, staff, and students—especially those who are new to Michigan Tech—are encouraged to attend, whatever the age of your children.

Light refreshments will be available; participating employees will earn 500 HuskyPaw points for attending.

 


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.