The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

October 23, 2016

Don’t Expect Happiness At Work

We’re obsessed with happiness in our culture, and at work. But we’re not achieving it. Maybe we should be looking for something different … Plus, even with your cell phone off, it’s a distraction at work … and we don’t need any more distractions, because productivity is down over the past 20 years, despite conventional wisdom.


View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle Weekend on KOMO News. Now a show for anyone who is or has a boss, this is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim H: Hello I’m Jim Hessler, I’m The Business Guy, I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and the co-author along with my co-host of the book Land on Your Feet Not on Your Face.


Steve M: I’m the co-host, I’m Steve Motenko, I’m The Psychology Guy. I’m a Harvard-educated executive coach and leadership development specialist. I work with Jim and his company, Path Forward Leadership Development. You are listening to the show for anyone who is or has a boss. We’re hoping to offer you a little bit of workplace wisdom with heart and humor.


Today on The Boss Show, Jim what the heck are we doing?


Jim H: Well we talk about a lot of stuff on The Boss Show, if you go to you’ll see that we record, we have all our old shows stored there. I see a lot of stuff as I’m reading I see stuff that reminds me of what we talked about and maybe shed some new light. I’m calling today’s show kind of “one more time” and we’re going to revisit and update some previous show topics.


One of them is, we’ve talked about technology in the workplace. We’ve talked about things like cell phones and email and things that are kind of distracting and not necessarily particularly productive.


Steve M: Things that make us think that we’re multi-tasking when science has proven there is no such thing really.


Jim H: Yeah, so the first thing that caught my eye in this light was a study that was done, and I know you love when I start with statements like that. This one was really interesting.


Steve M: I’m waiting for the numbers that you constantly spout.


Jim H: Well yeah you know I’m just, I’m smarter than you I know how to manipulate numbers in my head better than you do.


Steve M: There’s that.


Jim H: They took two groups of people and they gave them a series of problems to solve on a computer right? Math problems or whatever. The first group was asked to leave their cell phone in another room, just get it out of your pocket, you’re not allowed to have the cell phone in your presence while you’re doing the test. The second group they allowed to keep their cell phone but they asked them to turn the cell phone off. The cell phone was with them but it was off.


Even with their cell phone off, the people who had the cell phone with them scored 20% lower on the cognitive test than the people who didn’t have their cell phone in the room.


Steve M: Okay that’s crazy. Did they have an explanation for this?


Jim H: It’s just the distraction factor, it’s just this idea that there’s this thing that might constantly, you know there might be something really, really important that is on my phone right now. Even if it’s turned off I’m probably getting messages, oh my God what’s, I mean it’s just a distraction.


Steve M: I don’t know, that’s really kind of hard to, yeah. I mean when I’m in a client appointment or in a workshop, in a leadership workshop I never think about my cell phone until the break.


Jim H: I take my cell phone out of my pocket, I put it in my briefcase and I turn it off. It’s not anywhere, it’s 15 feet away but it’s not on my person.


Steve M: Do you ever find yourself thinking about it? While you’re in with a client?


Jim H: Not consciously but that’s exactly the point, it’s a subconscious distraction.


Steve M: Okay.


Jim H: I think there are many, many more of these than we recognize in our modern life. One of the things we’re going to talk about in addition, another subject coming up in the show is productivity, and the fact that productivity, the productivity of the American worker has not gone up for ten years.


Steve M: Okay that’s another thing that’s hard to believe. What about all the talk about the recession and how people were laid off and yet we’re becoming more and more productive all the time?


Jim H: We’re not, and it surprised me too but it was, it’s a reputable business writer who wrote about this.


Steve M: Who was recently institutionalized for mental health problems.


Jim H: Well you’re just being a science denier here so you don’t, I bring these studies and-


Steve M: Climate change.


Jim H: You say I don’t believe it.


Steve M: Bah humbug.


Jim H: I don’t believe it.


Steve M: You’re right, I am saying that about those two particular studies. I’d like to hear it, I mean I’m not going to obviously I’m not going to say I completely don’t believe them but I’d like to hear explanations that make sense, or I’d like to see them repeated.


Jim H: It’s clear Steve, one thing you have to acknowledge, is we are distracted by our devices, there’s no question about this.


Steve M: If the devices are on! It doesn’t make sense to me that we’d be distracted by them if they’re off.


Jim H: Well that’s why maybe you need to be even more concerned about the role that these devices play in our lives, if they have that sort of an impact.


Steve M: I’m sorry, what were you saying? My cell phone’s vibrating and it’s off, which is really bizarre.


Jim H: When we come back another follow up, we’ve talked about body language. We’re going to talk about body language at work again when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle Weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Steve M: Hi I’m Steve Motenko, I am The Psychology Guy.


Jim H: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m The Business Guy and today on The Boss Show we’re talking about some previous topics we’ve talked about on The Boss Show, and maybe casting some new light. As Steve loves, I like to cite little news items I’ve found in the New York Times, or Psychology Today, or the Atlantic magazine. Or any of the many publications that I read.


Steve M: I like to refer to, I like to refer to my co-host as Cliff Clavin. Cliff Clavin of the workplace.


Jim H: All right, so here’s now, you can pretend that you don’t believe in anything that I’m saying and I’ll just go on with The Boss Show without you …


Steve M: As I did in the previous segment, okay.


Jim H: Here’s one, so we’ve talked about body language on The Boss Show. One of the things we talked about was how you carry yourself physically has impact on how you feel about yourself. Now would you agree with that Mr. Psychology Guy?


Steve M: Absolutely I would agree with that. It’s actually kind of counter intuitive, we’ve talked about this before. It’s kind of counter intuitive but they say that when you smile you can actually make yourself happier.


Jim H: Endorphins.


Steve M: When you stand in a posture that is upright and a straight vertical, I guess that’s upright, you can actually feel more of a sense of power, more of a sense of groundedness.


Jim H: The Wonder Woman pose and all that kind of stuff.


Steve M: Yeah and you know there’s a lot of yoga, a lot of that in yoga.


Jim H: Yeah. Anecdotally I can tell you that’s absolutely true for me, if I’m feeling-


Steve M: Me too yeah.


Jim H: If my energy flags, if I literally stand up maybe stretch, get my shoulders back, stretch out, take a more assertive posture towards whatever situation I’m in I definitely feel better almost immediately. This is an interesting one because this speaks to our body language in reference to people who are more powerful than we are, or people that we perceive as more powerful than we are.


They found that people when they’re addressing someone who they perceive as being a high power individual, they’ll make significantly less eye contact, and tend, their eyes will tend to look down like to the persons torso, or even down to their feet, rather than making eye contact. I found that really, really-really interesting.


Steve M: Yeah.


Jim H: There’s so many ways, there’s so many ways in which, we talk about this in our workshop. The fact that one individual is designated or perceived as having more power than another changes the dynamics of that relationship in many, many ways.


Steve M: Right, yes and that shows up in body language. It’s clear and-


Jim H: It’s not always the more powerful persons fault what shows up as a result of that.


Steve M: Absolutely, it’s the structure, it’s the hierarchical structure built into the organization. Those structures, organizational hierarchical structures are representative of power relationships in all of nature right? In all living beings. You could, everything from bees on up I guess.


Jim H: Yes, the bull elephant and the silver back guerrilla right?


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: Things like that yeah.


Steve M: Right, and we are subconsciously acting out those power relationships through our body language. The difference with us is that we have the capability of being aware of that body language, those power relationships which no other species do and thus doing something about it.


Jim H: Yep. There’s really an element almost of the dog pack here right? Where you see how differently dogs present themselves physically to the leader of the pack versus somebody who’s lower on the totem pole. I’d say there’s a message here for both the boss and the employee in this idea, that we actually make less eye contact and tend to kind of cast our eyes downward when dealing with a more powerful person. If you’re in the boss position please understand that there’s an intimidation factor often that comes from that regardless of whether you intend it or not, so lower yourself, put yourself, invite eye contact, try to make it comfortable.


Steve M: Don’t stand above a person who’s sitting down.


Jim H: Don’t stand above, don’t stand in a menacing position, things like that. The other thing is if you’re the employee, you’re the person who’s less powerful in that interaction to be aware of any tendency you might have to, to lose your courage, your confidence, and your sense of yourself in the presence of this other person.


Steve M: Yeah and one way to do that speaking of body language is to consciously stand in an erect posture, especially around people who have higher status institutionally than you do.


Jim H: Yeah, think about how you’re showing up and think about how the way that you’re standing in relation to this person might be effecting the way you feel about that person.


Steve M: The way you feel about yourself.


Jim H: The way you feel about yourself and the interaction you’re having with them. More follow up when we come back, you’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko, this is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim H: Hello I’m Jim Hessler, I’m The Business Guy.


Steve M: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m The Psychology Guy, you can find us, The Boss Show, on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to know more about us you go to our website where you can download all our podcast as well as subscribe to the podcast and have them delivered in the future to your little portable device automatically.


Jim H: Convenient to listen to while you’re walking the dog, or mowing the lawn.


Steve M: Yeah, working out.


Jim H: Making dinner or working out.


Steve M: Driving.


Jim H: Driving.


Steve M: There’s so many opportunities to listen to The Boss Show.


Jim H: Yes, why would you not listen to The Boss Show?


Steve M: I do twenty-four-seven, as does my wife, and my dog.


Jim H: Hey, today on The Boss Show we’re revisiting maybe with a new perspective some things we’ve talked about on The Boss Show in past episodes. One of them that’s come up, and it comes up a lot in blogs and articles, this whole idea of pursuing happiness in the workplace.


Just to tee this up and get our conversation started, there’s a blog by a woman named Ruth Whippman, there’s a name for you. This is a British born person.


Steve M: No wonder she’s trying to find happiness.


Jim H: Yes exactly.


Steve M: With a name like Whippman.


Jim H: Yes, she a Brit who’s lived in the United States for many years and she said one of the things that British people often comment on when they come to America or spend time in America, is how kind of obsessed we are with being happy. In the British culture they don’t really just talk about it that much. She did some research and found some research, that indicated that the more the people made happiness a life goal the less likely they were to be happy.


Steve M: That makes total sense to me. The reason that it does is that happiness is the wrong life goal. We did, I know that’s kind of am audacious thing to say. We did a show a little over a year ago called why happiness isn’t the goal. If what you’re, if you make happiness the goal, happiness is always a femoral. It’s never something that’s going to be sustainable, so if you set the expectation that happiness is the goal and then you’re not happy which is always going to happen to everyone in life, periods of unhappiness.


Jim H: Or stuff happens, yeah.


Steve M: Or stuff happens exactly. Then not only are you not happy but you’re not reaching the goal you set for yourself which makes you miserable.


Jim H: You’re not happy about not being happy.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: Right? It’s a really circular thing.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: I think you tend to start thinking that you’re doing something wrong because, one of the other things she cited in her blog is the happiness, measured happiness of Americans hasn’t changed at all since 1973, which was when they really started measuring it. That’s about thirty percent of people who consistently describe themselves as being happy people, it stayed at about thirty percent and this is despite twenty years of Oprah shows and Tony Robbins seminars, and the Secret. All these things that you see on PBS shows and stuff that are telling you you should be happy.


Steve M: Right, and they promise routes to happiness.


Jim H: Promise routes to happiness and we’re not getting any happier. In fact, as a country we only rank twenty-fifth among countries where this is measured. One of the countries that ranks ahead of us is Rwanda.


Steve M: Oh my God, seriously?


Jim H: People in Rwanda are, consider themselves happier. Also by a wide margin we’re also the most anxiety ridden culture among any that are measured. Not only are we less happy but we’re also more anxious and nervous about the fact that we’re not happy.


Steve M: I know a lot of that has to do with materialism. Those cultures that are not, and I’ve been to a few of them.


Jim H: Bali, yeah.


Steve M: Right. They’re happy with what they don’t have.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: There are more important things to them than the accumulation of things.


Jim H: When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk more about this happiness and we’re going to take it into the workplace. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: KOMO News, The Boss Show is back on a Northwest Lifestyle Weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve M: Welcome back to The Boss Show, I hope we’re making you happy today. I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the Psychology Guy.


Jim H: That’s are job to make you happy. I’m Jim Hessler and I’m The Business Guy.


Steve M: You should be happy all the time.


Jim H: Because I get to work with you?


Steve M: Well, actually I was talking to the listeners.


Jim H: Oh okay.


Steve M: Because you’re just living your life wrong if you’re not happy all the time.


Jim H: Yeah we were talking about happiness and some of the indications that Americans aren’t getting any happier despite all the focus, we’re kind of obsessed with it as a culture. There’s a lot of negative, negativity that comes in to our lives when we compare ourselves to other people and we compare ourselves to some standard of “happiness.” It’s really very subjective anyway, but I want to bring that into the workplace as well.


Steve M: Yeah, before we do I want to say that happiness is, we’re under this mistaken impression that we can take the state of happiness which like all states, like all emotional states are passing, are a femoral, and we can sustain it throughout life. No emotion is sustainable throughout life. As appealing as happiness is, it’s not meant to be something that’s sustainable. Emotions, the purpose of emotions in my mind are they’re sign posts to meaning, or to change. In other words, you experience and emotion and it tells you that there’s something right that you need to, so that you need to kind of perpetuate those conditions.


Jim H: Your happiness draws you towards that condition.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: In a way that’s helpful to you.


Steve M: Right, and it tells you okay I need to reproduce the conditions that are producing this happiness more and more in my live because then I’ll have more states of happiness and that’s a good thing. That doesn’t necessarily mean, that doesn’t mean period that happiness is sustainable throughout life. Similarly with other emotions, with anger and frustration, and sadness, they’re all telling you something that you need to pay attention to that points to meaning in your life. It’s the meaning that matters, not the emotional sign post that points to the meaning.


Jim H: Got it, interesting. Putting this in the workplace I think I can say with confidence that a lot of bad leadership practices come from an emphasis on making employees happy.


Steve M: Say more.


Jim H: Well I think when we say that we have to have happy employees, I think that’s a, that’s dangerous. I think that we have to be careful with that because I think an employee can be very happy and very unproductive and really not very, not very good employee at all.


Steve M: Right, yeah absolutely.


Jim H: Some of the happiest employees I’ve ever known I wouldn’t trade them for a nickel.


Steve M: When I walked into the studio today Jim you were kind of staring out the window, you had your feet up on the desk, and I obviously gave you crap about it because it’s what I do, it’s what we do to each other. I mean you could be very happy in that situation. Somebody could be paying you which they’re not for the show.


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: Somebody could be paying you, you could be sitting with your feet up on the desk reading a good book or looking at Facebook and feel happy, and you’re contributing nothing to the organization.


Jim H: Yeah, and I also think there’s a style of management that, where they’re kind of hovering around people hoping that they’re happy. Really that’s not the question, the question is are they engaged? Are they in support of the mission of the business? Are they feeling well used? Are they feeling like their talents are being realized? This is all so much more important than whether they’re happy, because some of the toughest times I’ve been through in my career are some of the ones I look back on most fondly. I was being tested, it was something really dynamic and interesting happening, happening there. I wasn’t happy.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: What would I described as happy, but I was living this very rich and full experience of trying to do something significant and important, and wonderful. That to me is different from happiness.


Steve M: Absolutely. There might have been stress, there probably was stress with it in many of those situations.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: Where you’re trying to hit a deadline or trying to achieve the level of quality or standard that you’ve set for yourself or the team, and you’re afraid you’re not going to hit it, and that causes stress and anxiety. It’s the good stress if you will allow it to be, it’s the stress that’s about achieving something. Again I’m going to use the word meaningful. Then if you do it and you do it well, then after the product is delivered, then maybe you’re really happy. Again it’s a passing state.


Jim H: Yep, so as you’re letting your employees bring their dogs to work, and you’re stocking the refrigerator with beer, and you’re doing all these obvious things to help them be happier at work you might be missing the bigger point which is what people really want to do, is be part of something that’s really meaningful and interesting. More on happiness at work, you’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle Weekend on KOMO News, The Boss Show continues.


Steve M: Welcome back to The Boss Show, I’m Steve Motenko, I’m The Psychology Guy.


Jim H: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m The Business Guy. We’re doing kind of a magazine show, touching on a number of issues we talked about on the show before. Certainly the issue of productivity’s come up and I was really kind of shocked, there’s a writer that I respect Rana Faruhor, in Time Magazine. She wrote a column recently that points out that personal productivity has been in a gradual decline in America for about the last ten years. I was kind of gobsmacked by this, this really surprised me because I think I might have just made an assumption, with all the tools we’ve got and all the technology and the way that PC’s and smartphones, and all this stuff, are moving forward that we were getting increasingly more and more productive.


Steve M: Yeah, gobsmacked is a good word and I felt the same way because I’d thought that I’s heard all sorts of stats about how when the recession hit and people started getting laid off, we actually became more productive because we were, most organizations continued their level of productivity or even increased it with fewer people.


Jim H: Yeah, and apparently, at least, again I’m not an economist so I haven’t studied this personally, but at least according to this source that hasn’t been the case. Now a couple of interesting things about that. Well let me tell a little story about something I actually heard this morning on the way to a workshop I was doing. That is, they like to talk on radio programs about gadgets, I’ll just call it gadgets. Now they’re developing a dishwasher, an automatic dishwasher for your kitchen that will not only recognize when you’re running out of automatic dish washing detergent, but which will order more of it from Amazon, I think you know where I’m going with this.


Steve M: Yeah that makes total sense, I mean that that technology exists.


Jim H: Well here’s what bothers me about it, and I know probably a lot of people in Seattle are going to be-


Steve M: Can I guess?


Jim H: Well, you know world peace, hunger, climate change, a transportation system that’s woefully unprepared for the future, people dying of preventable diseases everyday, and we’ve got six brilliant people sitting around for three months trying to figure out how to build a dishwasher that orders dishwasher detergent.


Steve M: That orders dishwasher detergent.


Jim H: For you. This is what comes up for me, is how much is technology really making life better? I know I sound like such an old codger when I say that, but they said productivity increased dramatically between 1945 and 1973, right? This is in the dawn of the computer age, so maybe many or most of the benefits that we’re going to get from computerization have already been realized and I know there’s a million people that want to slap me right now. If you look, there’s nothing that’s happened in the last twenty years in my opinion, that is comparable to the development of electricity, or the interstate highway system, or indoor plumbing.


Steve M: The internet doesn’t count?


Jim H: Or the telephone.


Steve M: The internet is not comparable to the development of those?


Jim H: I’m not sure. Well, I don’t know? If it’s not increasing our productivity, I would argue it’s certainly not making us smarter.


Steve M: The internet isn’t making us smarter?


Jim H: No, no I don’t think it is.


Steve M: I don’t know how you’d argue that, because all the worlds information is at our fingertips now.


Jim H: So what? So what, it’s still how we use it that matters.


Steve M: Oh, so it’s not making us wiser, is that what you mean?


Jim H: Well, I’m not even sure it’s making us particularly smarter. I mean if you walked up and down the streets of America today and asked to name our neighbor to the north and our neighbor to the south, an astonishingly high percentage of people-


Steve M: That would be Jim and Mary Sue.


Jim H: That’d be Macedonia and Singapore I think is if I’m recalling. I’m not sure it is making us smarter, so that’s.


Steve M: What do you think? Let us know at our website or on Facebook and Twitter. Let us know what you think, is technology making us smarter? You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko, this is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Steve M: Welcome back to The Boss Show, I’m Steve Motenko, I’m The Psychology Guy.


Jim H: Steve’s laughing at me because I’m on a rant.


Steve M: I love your rants.


Jim H: Here’s, sitting in this city of Seattle with this amazing technology industry, with all these people doing these incredible things I realize somebody might be launching a missile towards the studio right now as I’m talking.


Steve M: A drone.


Jim H: I’m picturing, is life any better because you can sit in your living room and have a drone deliver a box of socks to your house? Is really life any better because we have that technology, right? I’m, the answer to me is absolutely not, that does not make my life in any significant way a better life, so there you go.


Steve M: How do we get all these brilliant minds to design things that really make a difference in the world instead of those that simply contribute to materialism?


Jim H: It’s a great question, challenge us on that. Talk to us at The Boss Show, loved to hear from some high tech people.


Steve M: Talk to us at, that’s our email address.


Jim H: The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions and our sound engineer is Kevin Dodrill.


Steve M: If you missed any of the show you can get it in it’s entirety online at our website Where you can also go to subscribe to our podcast, or contact us to bring us into your workplace.


Jim H: Thank you for listening.


Steve M: Don’t forget, rule number six.


Jim H: Rule number six.



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