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.


Your feedback is appreciated!

We are seeking your feedback to help us as we re-vamp the WorkLife Connections website. You might have noticed the SEND FEEDBACK button on the bottom-right of the website. Please…send us your feedback!

What do you think is missing from these pages? What would you like to see? What do you think isn’t necessary on the website? The SEND FEEDBACK button will be there through the end of February, so please, let us know how you think we can improve this website for you.

Thanks for your help!


You’re invited

We recently held our second WorkLife Programming Advisory Committee (WPAC) monthly meeting, and we’re beginning the hands-on work of understanding the quality of worklife blending here at Michigan Tech. Many issues have been brought to us: everything from childcare and elder care needs, to mentoring and professional development, and discussions of the technology infrastructure and services that are necessary to support a strong and flexible work environment.

While I  hope you’ll take time to take this informal survey, I’d also like to invite you to get in touch if you’d like to participate on any of our subcommittees. Specifically, we are looking for interested individuals to help out with:

  • Childcare and eldercare issues and concerns
  • Policies that support a good work-life blend for University employees
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • IT service, software, and technology infrastructure needs that support worklife quality and flexible work options
  • Professional and career development needs and interests

You can email me directly if you’re interested in helping out: amkitalo@mtu.edu.

Thank you!


How’s your work-life blending going?

It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day responsibilities (both work and home), and forget to take a quick breather for ourselves. I know I often feel as if I am running from task-to-task and place-to-place trying to meet obligations, and feeling as if I am on auto-pilot.

The WorkLife Programming Advisory Committee would like to hear from you—When it comes to blending work and home lives, what are your concerns? challenges? interests?

To make it easier for you, we’ve set up a simple survey. We are asking you to login to the survey so only Michigan Tech community members can take the survey, however we are not collecting your username, so your responses are entirely anonymous. You can also login to change your responses later, if you’d like. The survey will be available until

We’d appreciate it if you can take a few moments (and a breather!) to take the survey and let us know what’s important to you. Thank you!


WorkLife Programming at Michigan Tech

I am pleased to share with you Michigan Tech’s revitalized commitment to elevating and continually improving the quality of work and life blending here at the University. About four years ago, we built this website as a first step toward developing WorkLife programming. The site was intended to provide a central repository of resources and supporting services to the campus community.

Since then, it has become clear that we want to do more to help our colleagues—students, faculty, and staff—to find effective ways to blend work and life. We all face similar challenges as members of the Michigan Tech community: tight schedules (class or job, or both), commitments to family and other important people in our lives, and a need to find ways to take care of ourselves…among many other things. As a first step to address these common work-life challenges, a small group of us worked on collecting information via focus group discussion about the specific challenges faced by by different groups of people that make up the campus community. Some of these challenges weren’t surprises: childcare is, of course, one of the more common topics. Others came as a surprise; for example, a need and desire for mentoring by all the groups was rated as quite important.

As a result of this work, the University has committed to forming a new committee, the WorkLife Programming Advisory Committee (WPAC). Our group includes faculty, staff, and graduate student representation, and seeks further input and participation from interested undergraduates. Specifically, we are charged with:

  • Regularly assessing WorkLife quality at the University.
  • Reviewing and providing input on University policy to support WorkLife blending.
  • Benchmarking other institutions’ WorkLife programs.
  • Providing programming and resources to the campus community that support a high quality of WorkLife blending for all.

If you are interested in participating, please get in touch! I can be reached at amkitalo@mtu.edu. We’re looking forward to talking to you.