A hundred fifty years ago, poet Emily Dickinson described loneliness as “the horror not to be surveyed, but skirted in the dark.” Had she been running a modern company, she might have felt differently. Loneliness should be as important to managers, CFOs, and CEOs as it is to therapists. The last half-decade of research has demonstrated that loneliness threatens not only our physical health and well-being, but also our livelihood. Research shows that loneliness has the same effect as 15 cigarettes a day in terms of health care outcomes and health care costs. Yet we are often blind to this hidden drain on health and revenue. Lonelier workers perform more poorly, quit more often, and feel less satisfied with their jobs — costing employers upwards of £2.5 billion ($3.5 billion U.S.) in the United Kingdom alone. The U.K.
Recently, I was flying home from the Conference for Women, where I had been invited to speak. I was carefully holding a copy of the conference program on my lap — my mom likes to save them, and I wanted to be a good son and bring her back an unwrinkled copy. The guy sitting next to me on the airplane noticed it and asked me about the conference. I told him it’s a series of nonprofits across the country that run conferences for women from all industries to talk about leadership, fairness, and success. He then surprised me by saying, “I’m all for equality, but I’m not sure what good a conference will do.” Done with the conversation, he put on his headphones, content in his cynicism as I stewed, trying to come up with the best, albeit incredibly delayed, response.
Over the past three years, we have partnered with the U.S. Travel Association to more clearly understand the relationship between well-being and taking time off from work. Our hypothesis has been that without recovery periods, our ability to continue performing at high levels diminishes significantly. This is in direct conflict with the common misconception that the longer you persevere at work, the more successful you will become.
Our previous HBR articles outlined our research into what kind of vacations create a positive effect, debunking the idea that people who don’t take their vacation time get ahead. But a new research study, released this month by the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off, presents a high-definition picture of how overwork affects our success rates and well-being.
In the study, 5,641 adult Americans who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off from their employers were asked
As constant travelers and parents of a 2-year-old, we sometimes fantasize about how much work we can do when one of us gets on a plane, undistracted by phones, friends, and Finding Nemo. We race to get all our ground work done: packing, going through TSA, doing a last-minute work call, calling each other, then boarding the plane. Then, when we try to have that amazing work session in flight, we get nothing done. Even worse, after refreshing our email or reading the same studies over and over, we are too exhausted when we land to soldier on with the emails that have inevitably still piled up.
Why should flying deplete us? We’re just sitting there doing nothing. Why can’t we be tougher — more resilient and determined in our work – so we can accomplish all of the goals we set for ourselves? Based on our current research, we have
The most forward-looking companies are willing to take risks to achieve greatness. Most leaders give lip service to this idea, but few actually do it. We have worked with banks willing to take on toxic assets (again) and hedge funds willing to take a $100 million gamble on a failing company. But their leaders would still be terrified to ask their employees to stop working for two minutes a day to watch their breath go in and out.
In over 700 of our talks at conferences, we have only twice heard a senior leader follow up the financial goal-setting for the next year by telling the company that one of the biggest keys to success will be mindfulness. “Hard work, working faster, doing more with less” — those are the limited solutions of myopic, risk-averse organizations. The problem is that our calculus for risk and strategy
This past fall, I did a documentary with HBO, directed by Peter Berg and produced by Michael Strahan, called State of Play: Happiness. In the film, we explored how to create a positive culture in organizations where the culture or conditions make it difficult to talk about “happiness.” During the first half of the documentary, we examined the NFL to see how people create happiness in an organization where the average career is 3.3 years, where there’s a high potential for injury, where the competition is high, and where there’s a perceived culture of being too tough to talk about emotions. In the second half, we counterposed the NFL with the military, specifically the Navy SEALs. The conclusions that we drew from these case studies may surprise you. One of those conclusions was that stress actually made people feel more bonded to their organizations.
You read that right:
We’ve known for some time now that hearing negative news broadcasts can have an immediate effect on your stress level, but new research we just conducted in partnership with Arianna Huffington shows how significant these negative effects can be on our workdays. Just a few minutes spent consuming negative news in the morning can affect the entire emotional trajectory of your day.
In 2012, we conducted a yet-to-be-published preliminary study with Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania where we found that just a few minutes of negative news has a significant effect on mood. This year, we partnered with Arianna Huffington to examine the longer term impact of news on well-being and performance. In this study, 110 participants were blindly placed into one of two conditions: one group watched three minutes of negative news stories before 10 a.m.; the second group watched three minutes of solutions-focused news. This
Over the past decade, we have learned how our brains are hardwired for emotional contagion. Emotions spread via a wireless network of mirror neurons, which are tiny parts of the brain that allow us to empathize with others and understand what they’re feeling. When you see someone yawn, mirror neurons can activate, making you yawn, in turn. Your brain picks up the fatigue response of someone sitting on the other side of the room. But it’s not just smiles and yawns that spread. We can pick up negativity, stress, and uncertainty like secondhand smoke. Researchers Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio from the University of California, Riverside found that if someone in your visual field is anxious and highly expressive — either verbally or non-verbally — there’s a high likelihood you’ll experience those emotions as well, negatively impacting your brain’s performance.
Observing someone who is stressed — especially a coworker or family
Too many people limit their happiness and success by assuming that taking time off from work will send a negative message to their manager and slow their career advancement. But new research, says that the exact opposite is true. Taking a vacation can actually increase the likelihood of getting a raise or a promotion.
For the past two years, I’ve been partnering with the U.S. Travel Association to promote the business case for taking time off from work. Their new initiative, Project: Time Off, is one of the most robust examinations of how vacations affect companies and employees alike. Their analysis has found that Americans are taking less vacation time than at any point in the last four decades. Why? According to Gary Oster, Managing Director of Project: Time Off, “Many people don’t take time off because they think that it will negatively