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We have entered yet another holiday season. It is a time of giving, a time of celebration, and a time of pseudoscientific advice. Even passive readers of various business and management blogs and news stories will find themselves inundated with a plethora of advice (assuming past trends apply this year, of course).

One of the biggest pieces of pseudoscientific advice will likely focus on the need for managers and businesses to double down on stress management tactics during the holiday season. One of the recurring “truths” with which we will get peppered (as we already have here) is the belief that the holidays are a time during which depression, anxiety, and sadness spike.

This, of course, is a myth, robustly debunked by a variety of sources, including the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which reports that suicide rates are actually the lowest in December.

None of this means, of course, that employees are always a barrel of sunshine and rainbows during the holidays. There are employees who may have some added mental health concerns, such as those who may be having relationship difficulties and those who have recently lost a loved one. However, the belief that holiday stress is a major mental health problem is just plain hogwash.

For example, a 2015 Healthline survey found that only 18% of people reported the holidays were very stressful, with another 44% reporting they were somewhat stressful. However, in the most recent American Psychological Association Stress in America survey, 63% of Americans reported being stressed about the future of our nation, 62% reported being stressed about money, and 61% reported being stressed about work. Hence, being stressed during the holidays doesn’t seem to be radically different from the amount of stress people experience at other times of the year.

Now, all that being said, there are some issues that surface during the holiday season that are uniquely tied to the holidays. Many of these exist as a result of a sudden shift in the demands on people’s time, energy and money (this includes have-to and want-to demands). Holiday parties, shopping, decorating the house, extra cooking and cleaning and a host of other demands often get added to people’s plates during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Unfortunately, for many people, this increase in demands does not come with corresponding increases in time, energy or money. Instead, most employees are expected to accomplish their regularly-scheduled demands in addition to holiday-specific ones. They may cut some corners (e.g., eating out more often, cutting back on sleep) as a way to meet the time and energy requirements of these added demands. This would explain why, according to a 2006 APA survey about the holidays, more people cite fatigue than they do stress, sadness or loneliness as a negative emotion they experience during the holidays.

So, while some people may experience holiday-specific stress, this stress would not necessarily seem to be all that much more severe than stress they experience the rest of the year. Still, there are opportunities for managers and employers to intervene to some degree. Primarily this might involve the deliberate refusal to add a bunch of demands that require employees to allocate additional time and energy to work. Holiday parties may seem like an ideal opportunity to show employees they are appreciated, but for many employees, these events could become an added demand for more time and energy (to accompany the regular work demands they already have to meet).

If managers and employers want to minimize increased demands and stress during the holidays, there are three very practical recommendations they can implement:

Ensure the added time required to participate in work-related holiday festivities is accompanied by reduced expectations in other areas of work. This may sound counterproductive to the goals of corporate America, but if we want employees to be engaged in our attempts to show them how appreciated they are, these appreciation efforts cannot add time, energy, and financial demands. Otherwise, we run the risk of adding to employee stress instead of reducing it.

Offer greater workplace flexibility. Whenever possible, offer a bit more flexibility in terms of when and where employees work. Give them an opportunity to move more seamlessly between work and non-work demands so they can more effectively meet various non-work, holiday-related demands that may require added coordination. This will allow employees to spend less time and energy worrying about competing demands and more time and energy actually meeting those demands.

Allow employees to utilize some of the time off they have accrued. This can be somewhat tricky as there are often a lot of deadlines that correspond with the end of the calendar year. However, a rigid requirement to be in the office is antithetical to a desire to alleviate holiday stress. Limits may have to be set on how much time off employees can take due to impending deadlines, but any active support on this front is likely to make a difference. In addition, the greater the control employees have over which days they have off, the greater the likelihood those days will be used to respond to the demands that add to holiday stress.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dapuglet / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hurricane Relief poster-300w.jpg

Natural disasters occurring one after another can often leave employees feeling helpless. However, your organization can empower its employees to give back to the world around them in small but meaningful ways. The American Psychological Association realizes the importance of supporting employees in this way, and also acknowledges that giving back is good for their physical and mental health. Emotions and behaviors that are others-focused are associated with better well-being, health and longevity. Yes, being altruistic could help you live longer!

So how does APA encourage its employees to help the world around them? First of all, we have a Go Casual Day every two months during which employees can wear denim to work if they donate to one of two designated charities. The organizations are chosen and vetted by a staff committee, the Neighborhood Opportunities for Volunteer Activities (NOVA) group, made up of representatives from across the organization. While NOVA is in charge of the vetting process, any employee can make charity recommendations to the group at any time. Not only are employees happy to be wearing jeans, but they feel good knowing that they are helping a cause.

The Go Casual Days are planned well in advance, but sometimes there’s a last-minute cause that deserves the attention of the organization. For example, recently the Staff Initiatives Office received many requests from staff asking how we could help those affected by the hurricanes. We quickly organized a Go Casual for Harvey Victims fundraiser, and we raised $2,910 for Direct Relief and Houston Food Bank. This was an easy way for employees to give back without having to spend time researching on their own or traveling somewhere else to donate.

Other hurricanes followed Harvey, so we needed a more long-term solution to support disaster relief. We devised a system so employees could donate on their own to whichever organization they choose, email the amount to us or drop it into a jar anonymously in the building lobby, and we have been tracking it on a large thermometer in the lobby. Employees could support the charity of their choice and feel that they are helping build momentum for a bigger effort.

Our Executive Management Group donated some of their contribution funds to hurricane relief as well, and in the course of a month we have already donated nearly $20,000 toward hurricane relief in various states and countries. This is incredible for those affected by the hurricanes, but It also has effects on the employee, as research shows that giving, and even just thinking about giving, is linked to improved health and well-being.

Your employees may not be able to travel to another country to give direct aid in times of disaster, but there are plenty of other ways they can help, and it’s even better if your organization can be supportive and remove barriers in this process. It’s important to think about what your staff truly need at a specific moment in time when deciding which programs to implement. Though giving $5 to wear jeans may seem small, its effects are far-reaching, both to the communities that need help, to your organization, and to your employees.

Tara Davis is director of APA's Staff Initiatives Office.


Whole Foods gets acquired by Amazon, and, of course, the news is abuzz about how this is going to change the way Americans obtain their groceries. However, there are also commentaries surrounding whether or not this means that the Conscious Capitalism approach taken by Whole Foods is a failure. Of course, this particular issue can be debated, but what’s clear is that being “a great place to work” does not guarantee success, regardless of what all the best employer lists might lead us to believe. Though the focus appears to be on “nailing employee engagement,” throughout much of the practitioner and business community, the Whole Foods acquisition and what has led up to it offers a warning for the employee engagement evangelists.

When examining the past five years of stock performance, Whole Foods reached its peak in October 2013, trading at over $65 per share and reached its low point in October 2016, trading at around only $28 per share. Even the boost from the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods only bumped the price to around $43 per share, which is still almost 34 percent less than its peak price.

During the past five years, though, Whole Foods has not missed Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work List (it finished at No. 58 in 2017), an award that largely emphasizes the perks employees receive. In fact, the four highlighted items from the Fortune survey for Whole Foods involve the percentage of employees who agreed they are able to take time off, can be themselves, are treated as full members of the company and feel a sense of pride.

What can be made of this conundrum? How can a company be performing so well when it comes to employee engagement and yet so poorly when it comes to stock price? The answer, much to the chagrin of the employee engagement crowd, is that being a great place to work is only part of the equation. When being a great place to work comes at the expense of business performance, it puts the entire company at risk.

In case you do not believe that was part of the problem, even Whole Foods CEO John Mackey admitted that the company prioritized its employees at the expense of customers, which hurt the company for several years. Employees loved working for the company, but customers were disappearing, and, long term, that is not a recipe for success.

But that’s what happens when a company is so focused on being a great place to work instead of also trying to optimize key performance metrics, such as financial performance. The belief that focusing on employees first will inevitably result in long-term viability is a mistaken one, one that Bob Corlett soundly argued against four years ago.

Employee engagement, like other types of initiatives (e.g., wellness programming) has almost taken on a panacea-like aura, with many consultants and practitioners treating it as a magic bullet that will cure all the ills for organizational performance. But there is no magic bullet, no wand to be waved. Long-term, sustainable, organizational performance requires attention to the entire business, not just one or two elements that contribute to it. While Whole Foods may have become an employer of choice, it slowly lost the mantle of grocery store of choice for many of its original customers. And that is a lesson from which many organizations could learn.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brokentrinkets / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Don’t let your Work, Stress and Health conference experience be one of all work and no play. Take a break, get outside, find a piano and make some music. Send a video of your very impromptu performance – whether it’s a Chopin or a BangOnSomeKeys -- and you could be the recipient of one of APA’s leading books on workplace well-being.

Painted pianos are located throughout downtown Minneapolis for a public arts project, Pianos on Parade. Local artists painted the pianos with scenes representing summer in the city. Beyond being visually interesting, the pianos can be played by anyone.

We took note of this interactive art, and think it can be key to enjoying the city. We hope WSH conference attendees will tune in. (Puns intended.) Here’s how:

  • Explore the city and find an outdoor piano (Hint: there is one very close to the Hilton).
  • Position fingers on the keyboard and play – it doesn’t have be a concerto or even Chopsticks. Make up your own song if you want. We’ll never know!
  • Capture your performance on video. (This step works best if you’re accompanied by a fellow attendee or colleague whom you trust with your smartphone or camera.)
  • Send the video by email to abrownawell@apa.org or upload it to Twitter, mentioning @apa_excellence and using the conference hashtag, #wsh2017. If you email the video, we’ll upload it and share on Twitter. We’ll retweet any Twitter submissions.

We’ll randomly select one of the submissions to receive a copy of “The Psychologically Healthy Workplace: Building a Win-Win Environment for Organizations,” edited by Matthew Grawitch, PhD, and David Ballard, PsyD, with APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

To get started, here's Candy Won, APA's director of convention and meetings, playing a short song as a group of APA staff returned to the hotel from a lunch break.


Engagement’s in a dire state! Workers are disengaged! Employees are going to turn over in droves! If you read much of what is written about engagement in the workplace, that conclusion might seem obvious.

However, the results from the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey offer a different take on this topic. As it turns out, 31 percent of American workers report experiencing work engagement fairly often (at least once a week but as high as every day), falling into the high or very high categories, and 47 percent report experiencing engagement an average amount of time (defined as somewhere between “a few times a month” and “once a week”). Only 21 percent reported experiencing work engagement less often than that.

On a 7-point scale (ranging from 0 to 6), the mean score for respondents in 2017 was 3.83, and, as I recently pointed out in a previous post regarding past data, these results represent a fairly normal distribution with a slight negative skew.

In other words, there is no epidemic of disengagement, though, admittedly, there is definitely room for improvement.

And there appears to be a reasonably strong association between work engagement frequency and planned retention (see figure below). In the very low engagement group, for example, more than 56 percent of respondents planned to stay with their employer for two years or less, with only 20 percent planning to stay for 10 years or more. This can be easily contrasted with those in the very high engagement group, where a little more than 11 percent planned to stay for two years or less and more than 56 percent planned to stay for 10 years or more.


Other insights can be gleaned when the work engagement results from 2017 are compared to those from the 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey.

  • High engagement frequency (the percentage of high or very high) is up by about 8 percent (31 percent in 2017 vs. 23.2 percent in 2014).
  • Low engagement frequency (the percentage of low and very low) is down by about 4 percent (21 percent in 2017 vs. 25.2 percent in 2014).
  • Average engagement frequency is down by about 5 percent (47 percent in 2017 vs. 51.6 percent in 2014).

These results point to a slight uptick in work engagement (the mean in 2014 was 3.62 compared to 3.83 in 2017), but in general indicate that work engagement has shown a fair amount of consistency across the two time points.

Therefore, regardless of what the alarmists might scream from the mountaintops, there is not a disengagement epidemic. However, managers and senior leaders should recognize that there is room for improvement when it comes to the frequency with which employees experience work engagement.

In both 2014 and 2017, work engagement and organizational trust were highly predictive of employee well-being (accounting for more than 50 percent of the variance in each survey). How workers perceive various types of psychologically healthy workplace practices demonstrate fairly strong correlations with both work engagement and trust.

  • Employee perceptions of involvement, growth and development, and health and safety were most predictive of work engagement.
  • Employee perceptions of involvement, recognition and communication were most predictive of trust.
  • These same variables were identified in both the 2014 and 2017 surveys, accounting for about 28 percent of the variance in work engagement and 40-50 percent of the variance in trust.
As such, organizations may want to allocate effort and resources toward shoring up various psychologically healthy workplace practices, as these efforts may produce benefits for trust, engagement and even overall retention.

Hardly a week goes by without some headline discussing the dire state of engagement. Typically, these headlines are propagated using data from a consulting firm, whose data indicate that scores of people are disengaged or, at the very least, unengaged.

However, APA’s national poll in 2014 using a scientifically validated measure of work engagement (as opposed to a consulting firm’s made up definition of engagement) showed that in the general population work engagement manifests as a close approximation of the bell curve, just with a slight negative skew (i.e., more people fall into the higher engagement categories that the lower engagement categories). While those results are now a bit dated (after all, that was more than two years ago), I would suspect that a more updated poll would show much the same thing.

This issue surrounding many of the engagement headlines is a big reason why I was pleasantly surprised to read a piece written by Rodd Wagner last month in Forbes. He echoes the rallying cry against this engagement alarmism (or the Chicken Littles as he refers to them). When considered within the context of other data I have discussed on this blog, along with some of the scholarly research that has been published, here are few of the key pragmatic, non-alarmist and rational takeaways about the state of engagement in the workplace.

  • There is a difference between work engagement (a scientifically validated construct) and employee engagement (a consulting firm’s hodgepodge of satisfaction and commitment items).
  • Work engagement is about the employee working experience and its pleasantness/unpleasantness. Employee engagement is about how the company can convince employees to work harder and longer (i.e., “discretionary effort”).
  • Work engagement exists as a normal distribution, with a somewhat higher percentage of employees in the high engagement group than in the low engagement group. However, the vast majority of people will report average levels of engagement.
  • Employees do not have to be in the high engagement category to be high performers, and in fact, there is some evidence that higher performers are not always the most engaged.
  • In terms of a psychologically healthy workplace, work engagement is most associated with employee involvement, growth and development, and health and safety practices.

There is room for improvement when it comes to the way organizations approach work engagement, but most employees will not be enticed by cheap gimmicks (Don’t tell some of the tech companies that rely on said gimmicks to keep employees at the office for longer hours). If organizations want to actually enhance work engagement, they will need put forth their own discretionary effort to address issues in the corporate culture, in the way work is designed and in more adaptive and flexible work environments.


Psychologists attending the Work, Stress and Health Conference can earn up to 14.5 hours of continuing education credit. There are dozens of sessions to choose from during the three days of the conference, all for a single fee of $60.

Unlimited CE credit will be offered for designated conference sessions. A single fee of $60 allows you to earn CE credits for as many of these identified conference sessions as you would like to attend.

Sessions offering CE credits for psychologists have been reviewed and approved by the American Psychological Association Continuing Education in Psychology Office. The APA CEP Office maintains responsibility for the content of the sessions. Full attendance at each session is required to receive CE credit.

Learn more about the conference and how to register at apa.org/wsh.

Sessions that are approved for CE

Thursday, June 8

9:30-10:45 AM

  • Worker well-being: Concept, measurement, impact (Paper Panel Session)
  • Overlapping vulnerabilities in the creation of occupational health disparities: Knowledge base, opportunities, and recommendations for future research (Symposium)
  • Safety training and intervention effectiveness (Paper Panel Session)
  • Successful recovery from burnout (Symposium)

11 AM-12:15 PM

  • Implementing integrated approaches to Total Worker Health® in different national contexts (Symposium)
  • Mental health and psychological well-being in the workplace (Paper Panel Session)
  • Organizational and Individual outcomes of workplace mistreatment and bullying (Paper Panel Session)

1:30-2:45 PM

  • Metrics of Integration for Total Worker Health® Initiatives (Symposium)
  • Novel approaches to safety climate research (Symposium)
  • Measurement Challenges and Opportunities Regarding Job Burnout (Symposium)
  • Individual and job-related factors linked to well-being at work (Paper Panel Session)

3-4:30 PM

  • Balancing Well-Being and Effectiveness: Practical Challenges to Optimize Success (Interactive Paper Session)
  • Stress and health risk factors (Paper Panel Session)
  • Advancing Participation in Health Research and Practice with Minority and Immigrant Workers (Symposium)

Friday, June 9

9:30-10:45 AM

  • The Harvard/NIOSH TWH Center of Excellence: Research innovations in healthcare, construction, and small/medium-sized businesses (Symposium)
  • Leadership in healthcare: Influence on climate, performance, and well-being (Paper Panel Session)

11 AM-12:15 PM

  • Participatory Action Research in Corrections: Individual and organizational factors affecting health behavior and employee well-being (Symposium)
  • Illustrating key principles for designing, implementing and evaluating interventions in organizations (Symposium)
  • Firefighters and Miners: Environmental Factors and Interventions to promote Occupational Safety and Health (Paper Panel Session)

1:30-2:45 PM

  • HealthPartners Experience in Promoting Emotional Resilience in a Large Health Care Workforce (Symposium)
  • Improving Occupational Safety and Health Training for Vulnerable Workers (Symposium)
  • Stress and mental health in police populations (Paper Panel Session)

3-4:30 PM

  • Incivility, bullying and their links to well-being and performance (Paper Panel Session)
  • Workplace practices, interventions, and leadership support to promote work-life balance and well-being (Paper Panel Session)
  • Safety climate measurement and assessment (Paper Panel Session)

Saturday, June 10

9:30-10:45 AM

  • Effectiveness of Total Worker Health® interventions and dissemination strategies of the Oregon Healthy Workforce (Symposium)
  • Understanding the needs of the aging workforce (Paper Panel Session)
  • Bullying and violence and environmental hazards in healthcare settings (Paper Panel Session)

11 AM-12:15 PM

  • Latino Immigrants at Work: Challenges and Perspectives (Symposium)

1:30-2:45 PM

  • Trauma-Informed Best Practices for Responding to Workplace Bullying and Mobbing (Symposium)


The Work, Stress and Health Conference addresses the ever-changing nature of work and the implications of these changes for the health, safety and well-being of workers. The 2017 conference gives special attention to contemporary workplace challenges that present new research and intervention opportunities. The conversation would be incomplete without talking about the rise of the sharing and gig economy.

The conference's opening session plenary brings together three speakers who will share insights on research and personal experiences in what some are calling an emerging trend for the future of work.

John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, LLM, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, will provide an overview of how work arrangements have changed and how those changing arrangements relate to risk.

Sarah Kessler is a reporter for Quartz.com who covers the future of work and is writing a book about the gig economy. She previously worked for Fast Companyand has been published in CNN.com, Sierra Magazine, WBEZ Chicago, Salon and USA Today, among others. Kessler will talk about what she's learned about the changing nature of work and her experience as a freelance writer.

Dave DeSario, a labor activist and documentary filmmaker, will provide an overview of the temp industry, with special attention to occupational stress, safety, and health of temp workers. DeSario's film, "All in a Day's Work," will be shown later in the conference.

Get a preview of Kessler's experience in a presentation she made at the Aspen Institute in 2014.

Registration is open for the 2017 Work, Stress and Health Conference. Choose from more than 80 session and six pre-conference workshops that bring together researchers, students and practitioners all interestested in how psychology can improve the health and well-being of workers. More information and registration is at APA's Work, Stress and Health conference site.


There is untapped potential for companies looking to get ahead in today’s competitive environment. While the C-suite has, for decades, been accused of doing nothing but implementing the next management fad, there is a small, but emerging industry that could revolutionize how we approach strategic decision making. Services provided by professionals, per a video from Fast Company, that amount to about a $2 billion industry, and that certainly has the capacity to grow in this age of data-driven technologies and a renewed emphasis on evidence-based decision making.

That industry is composed of professionals who serve in the role of “corporate intuitive.” It involves training people to use “their psychic awareness, their intuition, whatever their gut response is to ascertain what the person needs in their business.”

Um, come again?

Did Fast Company really produce a segment on the use of psychics in business?

Why, yes, yes they did!

So, while society in general wrestles with the issues of fake news and alternative facts, CEOs and others are spending money (remember, about $2 billion per year) on strategic initiatives that are equivalent to Peter Venkman’s ESP test from Ghostbusters (1984).

Not surprisingly, the scientific merit for the claims of these corporate intuitives is rather dubious. There is no systematic credible evidence (yes, credible, not the flimsy, anecdotal, confirmation bias, or retracted kind of evidence) for the existence of psychic powers of any kind. The CIA has even attempted to conduct a number of experiments to find evidence for the existence of psychic powers, but that has not worked out in the psychics’ favor. No, in fact, when any kind of rigorous controls are put in place, psychic powers surprisingly disappear.

So, at the end of the day, these consultants emphasize the need to embrace intuition and rely more heavily on gut instincts, except that a great deal of research shows that is likely to lead to some major decision-making errors. The Fast Company video even concluded by arguing that “you should take the chance” because “you have nowhere to go but up,” but as Simons (2002) pointed out, there is a high cost paid by organizations, managers and senior leaders who lose credibility or sacrifice the trust workers place in them.

I caution organizations to avoid reliance on corporate intuitives to assist them in solving any of their problems. I will not attribute any malfeasance to those who claim they possess such skills (as most of them seem to be genuine in their belief that such skills exist). However, the evidence for the existence of those skills is largely based on anecdotal evidence and storytelling, which leads to an overemphasis on hits and an increased likelihood of attentional bias. This is akin to developing a wellness program using the guidance of those who practice alternative and complementary medicine.

Decision making, in general, can be difficult, and strategic decision making can be even more difficult. There is a lot of risk, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of data to be considered. While it may sound like a low-risk shortcut to employ a psychic to assist in guiding you, honing your inner psychic abilities, or advising you based on their unique insights, remember that the recipe for effective decision making involves a systematic process, the use of evidence, and the inclusion of various credible perspectives. None of these characteristics have ever been used to describe those who claim to possess psychic powers.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/whita / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Marlene Ramos makes a difference in the lives of older adults who live at the properties managed by HACE Management Company, an organization that provides housing and social services to low-income seniors in North Philadelphia. Her submission was the selected pick of the week during our "I Love My Job" campaign in February that highlights the positive aspects of work.

Here is why Marlene loves her job:

I love my job because here I have gained 103 grandparents. I get to bring them joy by doing things like play Bingo or trips to a mall, casino, or the Philadelphia Flower Show.

I will never forget one morning when an 82-year-old resident came to my office crying and told me she depended on her children for everything. As she cried she mentioned she used to be so independent, but now she feels useless without her children and she hates it. She mentioned she has not been to the mall in years and would love to go before she passes, just to remember old times when she could do those things on her own. Her children work full-time jobs so if they can't take her, she won't go. After hearing her story, I coordinated with my colleagues, gathered the funds, and now have a trip planned to the Philadelphia Mills Mall. When I told her she would be going to the mall, she cried of happiness and thanked me for listening to her.

It goes to show that small gestures really do go a long way and meant the most to our seniors!




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