What’s Really Going on at Amazon

Amazon and the Problem of Modern Work Culture

I typically have to flip to the Business section of The New York Times to get to the news I can use–information about workplace culture and management practices—all relevant to my job as an organizational consultant and executive coach. Imagine my surprise to see a long feature article, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,”on the front page of the Sunday paper. What could possibly be so big that it made front page news? Drones that can talk? Books that read themselves?What's the big surprise?I started reading and didn’t get it. Business review meetings that are anxiety producing? Aren’t they all? Putting in long hours and then logging onto email at night? A common practice for many, unfortunately. Employees who are put on “performance review plans”? Again, no different than countless other large corporations. As the title suggested, some people flourish in this fast paced, hard-charging environment, while others do not.A pointed rebuttalAfter reading the Times article I did a little poking around and found Nick Ciubotariu’s LinkedIn Blog debunking many of the claims against Amazon. Nick heads up Infrastructure at Amazon. His experience over the last 18-months has been quite different. And, if the over 600 comments (at the time of my writing this post) was a Gallup poll, we would find employees who have both flourished and floundered at Amazon. Before you cheer or damn Amazon, consider this one sentence that grabbed my attention:Thanks in part to its ability to extract the most from employees, Amazon is stronger than ever.”Extraction vs. InspirationClients often ask my co-author, Senia Maymin, and me, “How can I get the most out of my people?” We suggest they ask themselves a somewhat different question—one that doesn’t conjure up images of sucking every last ounce of energy out of employees, such as, “How can I get people to perform at their best?” The answer is simple. By getting them to identify, cultivate and use their strengths every day. Improving productivity using a strengths-based approach results in an energy-producing work environment where employees want to do their very best and will go that extra mile to accomplish their work and more.Negativity biasIt sounds simple enough, but in reality, focusing on strengths is very difficult for some people due to what psychologists call negativity bias. We are keen at finding fault. Many of us view the world through a deficit lens and are constantly asking questions such as: What’s missing? What isn’t right? What needs fixing? What are our gaps?From the Times article, it would appear that Amazon may be more focused on finding fault (and pointing it out immediately and vocally) than in cultivating strengths. Then again, Amazon has an amazing success record, which indicated they are doing something right.The danger here is that other companies eager to emulate Amazon’s success and looking for a quick fix may actually try to adopt some of the practices reported in the Times, even though the article was meant more as an exposé than a how-to. Amazon has been successful using the “squeeze-the-most-out-of" approach, but buyer—or job candidate—beware: Consider what work environment will bring out the best in you.Margaret H. Greenberg is an organizational consultant and executive coach, and the co-author ofProfit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business.She is also the Live Happy Positive Work columnist with Senia Maymin. For more information about Margaret, visitProfitFromThePositive.comandTheGreenbergGroup.org. Follow her on Twitter @profitbook andFacebook.com/ProfitFromThePositive.
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Bullying’s Ripple Effect

Bullying’s Ripple Effect

Teenage bullies can inflict emotional and physical pain on their victims in countless ways—calling kids names on the playground, flipping books out of their arms in school hallways or flaming them in cyberspace. Researchers have long known that bullying can trigger depression in adolescents. British researchers now suggest that depression can reach at least into early adulthood. The findings have educators renewing calls for more effective programs to curb bullying and its effects.From bullying to depressionAt the University of Oxford, a team led by Professor Lucy Bowes, Ph.D., found that nearly a third of early adult depression cases could stem from bullying in teenage years. Her team also found that kids who were frequently bullied at age 13 are more than twice as likely to be depressed at 18 as those who were not bullied. Their study results were reported in The BMJ (British Medical Journal).“We had anticipated that we would find a link between peer victimization in the teenage years and clinical depression,” Lucy told Reuters. “What was surprising was the proportion of depression that might be explained by peer victimization if this really is a causal relationship—nearly 30 percent in our sample.”Read More: Teen Angst or Teen Anguish?Age 13, the most vulnerable timeHer team analyzed bullying and depression data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term look at 14,500 families in the Bristol, England area. Nearly 7,000 kids reported bullying at age 13, when they were asked whether and how often they had experienced peer victimization including exclusion, rumor spreading or physical violence.At age 18, they returned to complete assessments that identified people with depression. Of the 683 teenagers who reported bullying at more than once a week over six months at age 13, 14.8 percent were depressed at age 18. Of the 1,446 teenagers bullied one to three times over six months at age 13, 7.1 percent were depressed at 18. Only 5.5 percent of young teenagers who did not experience bullying were depressed at 18.What can be done about it“There are many school-based interventions targeting bullying, but these need to be more rigorously evaluated so we can understand which are most effective at reducing bullying and support schools in implementing these,” Lucy says.In an editorial that accompanied Lucy’s research, Maria M. Ttofi, Ph.D., a University of Cambridge psychological criminology lecturer who has also studied youth victimization, says, “societies need to take measures to protect vulnerable young people…Bowes and colleagues’ work offers clear anti-bullying messages that should be endorsed by parents, school authorities and practitioners internationally.”For more on bullying and how it can be prevented, look for the October 2015 issue of Live Happy magazine.Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.
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Norman the Therapy Pig!

Norman the Therapy Pig Hams It Up

Bleary-eyed college students are hunched over their laptops in the library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, cramming for final exams. Several lift their heads when they hear a loudspeaker announcement: “Norman the therapy pig is in the lobby for a study break." Laptops snap shut as students crowd the lobby to stroke the pig, snap selfies and grin at the first therapy pig in North Texas. Norman entertained the crowd by honking a horn, riding a skateboard, tossing a ball in a miniature basketball hoop, completing a three-piece shape puzzle and giving his handler, Misty Carter, a sloppy pig kiss. But mostly he good-naturedly accepted the students’ attention until they returned to their studies. Animal attraction “Animals are a really good source of de-stressing, especially a pig,” said SMU freshman music therapy and psychology major Caitlyn Etter. “Bringing a therapy pig to campus is a really good idea.” When Norman joined Shane and Misty Carter’s household last year, he fulfilled Misty’s longtime dream for a pet pig. He joined a growing menagerie of dogs and chickens at the couple’s comfortable log home in rural East Texas. The Carters soon realized, however, that Norman was no ordinary pig. He quickly learned to respond to commands and took his place as an inside pet with the family’s four dogs. On a leash at local festivals, the 70-pound Juliana pig charmed neighbors wagging his tail and wearing a custom-made ball cap. “He just makes people happy,” Misty said. A good and humble pig Last January, Misty discoveredPet Partners, a national pet therapy organization that accepts rabbits, donkeys, horses and pigs. She trained to become a therapy pet handler, then trained Norman to remain nonplussed around wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, unexpected noises and large groups of people. “He already knew the typical dog commands of ‘come,’ ‘stay’ and ‘leave it,’” Misty said. Norman passed the pet therapy certification test on his first attempt. Since then Misty has taken him to visit nursing homes, assisted living centers, children’s hospitals and schools, particularly when Charlotte's Web is on the reading list. Her work with Norman is voluntary and often takes place on her vacation days. The importance of animals The importance of viewing nature, especially animals, appears to be deeply imbedded in the human psyche, says Alan M. Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. Companion animals can help people feel less lonely, find comfort with touch and find reasons to laugh, he said. Alan doesn’t expect pigs to replace the most popular therapy pet–dogs. But he sees a role for unusual therapy animals like pigs and even llamas. “They can play an important role in schools and other places where they are a novelty and pull upon children’s natural interest in animals.” For Shane Carter, who compares life with Norman to living with a celebrity, Norman’s popularity is simple, “It’s just a feel-good thing.” Nancy Lowell George is a freelance writer living in North Texas.
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Cat videos help us lick the blues

Cat Videos Help Us Lick the Blues

And you thought your coworkers were just being silly and wasting time. Turns out they were instilling positive emotions throughout the office! Yes, an Indiana University researcher has discovered that watching cat videos is actually good for us. (Sigh, make joke about academia here.)Cat video viewing is more than a procrastinator's tool, says assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick, Ph.D. Theyboost our energy and positive emotions and decrease negative feelings, she said after surveying the moods of almost 7,000 cat video viewers. Her study results were published in Computers in Human Behavior.One internet feline phenomenon, Lil Bub, even helped with the research. Bub's owner, this is, Mike Bridavsky, who lives in Bloomington, home of Indiana University, helped distributed the survey via social media."Some people may think watching online cat videos isn't a serious enough topic for academic research, but the fact is that it's one of the most popular uses of the Internet today," Jessica told IU's news agency about why she chose the topic.More than 2 million cat videos were posted on YouTube in 2014, she says. With almost 26 billion views, cat videos had more views per video than any other YouTube content category.Among study highlights of cat video viewers:They were more energetic and felt more positive after watching cat-related online media than before.They had fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness, after watching cat-related online media than before.They often view Internet cats at work or during studyingThe pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating."Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward," says Jessica, who owns a pug but no cats.So, if you've got something important to do now, wait and watch a cat video first. You may feel better for it afterward. Your work will still be there.Important research, or, um, an epic waste of time. You can be the judge.Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who splits his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.
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B Corps are changing the way we do business

B the Change

Do you know the saying “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”? Well, a growing number of businesses are doing just that.Business as a force for goodBusinesses have a tremendous impact on our lives, as owners, employees, consumers and community members, and now B Corps are using that power to solve social and environmental problems.The B Corp designation is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. Today, 1,281 Certified B Corps from 41 countries and over 121 industries are working together toward a single unifying goal: to redefine success in business.Getting the B grade to redefine successA business interested in becoming a B Corp goes through an assessment process that measures the social and environmental performance of everything it does, including accountability and transparency. If the company scores well, then it’s eligible to obtain the B Corp certification from B Lab, the supporting nonprofit organization.All shapes and sizesB corps come in all shapes in sizes, from small firms with sole proprietors to global brands like Ben & Jerry’s. Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry’s global director of social mission, led the company’s effort to obtain its B Corp certification. “At first, the whole idea of assessment can be intimidating, but then people realize the benefit of the tool,” he says.The certification process has helped the company affirm what it’s doing well and provided insight into opportunities for improvement. So far, Ben & Jerry’s management has benefited the most from the guidance provided by the assessment process. With its deep social mission, the company is committed to supporting the B Corp movement. “There is true power in movements—much stronger than any individual company,” Rob says.Aligned ValuesMany companies join because there is strong alignment between a company’s established values and that of the B Corp movement. That was the case for Founding B Corp member King Arthur Flour, an employee-owned business. King Arthur Flour Chief of Staff Carey Underwood says the existing employee engagement, management transparency and employee-owned culture all contributed to the company’s high social scores during the assessment.Sustainable, Inside and outFor Patagonia, taking care of the planet has always been a driving value, so the B Corp designation was a natural fit, says Elissa Loughman, the company’s manager of corporate responsibility.The company knows that examining its own business practices and the way it uses resources are essential to being a responsible company. The outdoor clothing company uses organic cotton, makes fleece jackets from recycled plastic bottles and traces all the down used in their products back to the geese farms to ensure humane animal practices. Patagonia also uses wool from sheep raised sustainably in the Patagonia region of South America.Patagonia is also a founding member of 1% for the Planet, through which companies donate 1 percent of sales to environmental nonprofits.What Members AppreciateBeing part of a community and movement with shared goals has its benefits. Because B Corp certification is so rigorous, it validates and values the good work member companies do and helps them identify opportunities to improve. Members benefit from a culture of collaboration and exchange that even includes the signing of a “Declaration of Interdependence.”Additionally, for companies like Cabot Creamery, the first dairy farmer cooperative to become a B Corp, building brand awareness has been very helpful. Cabot Creamery Director of Marketing Amy Levine says “being a member has helped educate and communicate to consumers how a co-op is a beneficial business model” for the broader community and their high-quality products. The company appreciates that the assessment recognizes its acts of gratitude and volunteerism.Just Getting StartedThough it’s growing quickly, the B Corp movement is just getting started. B Corps range across all types of businesses and industries, from food to finance, from clothes to consulting and from consumer products to waste management.“All these companies are united by one common goal: to be best for the world,” says Katie Kerr, B Lab’s director of communications. Certification helps companies differentiate themselves and improve, helps consumers align their purchases with their values and helps people find good places to work. Building the brand and movement go hand in hand—both increase well-being for all.Are you ready (consumers and businesses) to “B the change”? If so, check out bcorporation.net, watch the “We Have a Dream” short video, begin an assessment and find a B Corp to do business with.Contributor Brian Kaminer is the founder of Talgra, a certified B Corp and consulting firm, and the creator of Invest With Values, an education website for people looking to align their money and values.
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The Happiness Booth Can Determine How Happy You Are Feeling

The Happiness Booth

Step into a booth these days and you may either confess to a machine how happy you are, or it may tell you.Therapy in a boothIn a University of Southern California therapist's office, a computer named Elliediagnoses post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Patients sit in a private booth facing Ellie, and the computer makes its (her?) judgments based not on what you say but on your tone, and every detail of your facial expressions, which she captures with her camera eye."Contrary to popular belief, depressed people smile as many times as non-depressed people," psychologist Albert "Skip" Rizzo told NPR. "But their smiles are less robust and of less duration. It's almost like polite smiles rather than real, robust, coming from your inner-soul type of a smile."He developed Ellie with computer scientist Louis-Philippe Morency for the military as soldiers sometimes find it hard to talk to human therapists.Meanwhile in Dubai ...Halfway around the world, officials in Dubai, United Arab Emirates' largest city, are installing "Happiness Kiosks" at popular malls where shoppers are encouraged to air their happiness, satisfaction, complaints and suggestions about civic services, the Khaleej Times reports. It's all part of an initiative to make Dubai the happiest city on Earth, officials say.Each kiosk will be staffed with two government workers to help visitors record suggestions and complaints and forward them to a municipality call center for follow up, the newspaper reported.Making people happyIn October, "Happiness Meters" were activated at 14 Dubai Municipality offices so customers could rate services and record their happiness and satisfaction on websites, apps or in person, the official Emirates News Agency said."Today the world is transforming very fast and people's expectations too are changing rapidly," says Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE prime minister and Dubai ruler. "The ultimate goal of all our initiatives is to make people happy and make their lives simpler."Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who splits his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.
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Happier students do better in school.

Happier Students Make the Grade

If you want your kids to get good grades in school, a Harvard researcher says, make sure they're happy.It helps, too, if you keep teachers happy, British researchers say.Happy students tend to get better grades, says Christina Hinton, Ed.D., a Harvard Graduate School of Education neuroscientist and lecturer. She says her study also found what makes students happy: school culture and relationships that students form with their teachers and peers.Happiness doesn't cause students to earn higher grades, Christina told the Deseret News. "Some students could be unhappy and still do well," she says. On average, "if you're happy you're more likely to do well."Christina collaborated with the K-12 St. Andrew's Episcopal School, near Washington, D.C., where students took surveys about happiness and motivation. She compared result with data on students' grade point averages.Among key findings:Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related.Happiness is positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.Teacher well-being also has a positive effect, helping send exam grades up 8 percent, according to a 2014 study from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University in England."Unlike other factors, such as the social class of students, the rate of pupil absence and the number of children with special educational needs, teacher health and well-being may be more amenable to intervention and change," researchers said."If schools want to support student well-being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students."Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who splits his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.
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Is Facebook making us depressed?

Is Facebook Making Us Depressed?

Facebook and other social media have done a lot to bring the world closer together. We know when friends and even far-off acquaintances have life milestones, like a birth or a marriage. We also know more mundane things like what they had for breakfast and what their daughter wore to her first dance recital. Stay on the sunny side The problem comes when we see only the sunny, positive images and moments and none of the bad, depressing, the boring. We see the vacations, not cubicles. We see anniversary dinners, not mundane arguments. We are human, so of course we compare. And then, according to a study, we suffer for it. The study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology reveals a connection between depressive symptoms and time spent looking at Facebook for both genders. To many of us, this may not come as a huge surprise. The "highlight reel" “It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand,” said Mai-Ly Steers, the University of Houston researcher who led the study. As Mai-Ly states in a University of Houston press release, it’s important, if you are going to spend time on Facebook, to remember that what your friends are posting are essentially “highlight reels.” “Most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad … this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and, conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.” Dance like nobody's watching So keep things in perspective. No one’s daily life is filled with camera-ready smiles and impromptu dinner parties; Facebook just makes it feel that way sometimes. One solution? Turn off the computer, get out there and have some fun. Emily Wise Miller is the web editor at Live Happy.
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The secret formula for happiness.

The Magic Formula for Happiness

Count on scientists to conjure a mathematical formula for happiness. What's even better, they've developed an app that lets the world at large participate in their happiness experiment.To sum it up, "happiness depends not on how well things are going, but whether things are going better or worse than expected," says Robb Rutledge, senior research associate at University College London and lead author of the study that came up with this formula:Happiness (t)=w0+w1∑j=1tγt−jCRj+w2∑j=1tγt−jEVj+w3∑j=1tγt−jRPEjRobb explains the formula this way:Happiness (t) depends on:· Safe choices (certain rewards, CR),· Expectations associated with risky choices (expected value, EV)· Whether outcomes of risky choices were better or worse than expected, reward prediction error (RPE), the difference between anticipation and realization.How it works: Say you plan to meet a friend for dinner, your happiness should increase in anticipation, Robb says. If you get a last-minute reservation at a popular new restaurant, your happiness might increase. If the meal is good, but not quite as good as expected, your happiness should decrease.Robb's team developed games that test memory, impulsivity, attention and decision making to support its formula. They scanned the brains of 26 subjects playing the games and examined the results of 18,000 others who downloaded an app to play them.You're invited to play along. Check out Robb's Apple or Android app at the Great Brain Experiment. See if winning points while contributing to neuroscience and psychology research multiplies your happiness.Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who splits his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.
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More sex doesn't equan more happiness?

Frequent Sex Not Always Linked to Happiness

Our culture holds the general belief, backed up by self-help books, that sex within a committed relationship will make you happy and healthy—and the more the better. Academic study In the first study to ask whether having more frequent sex actually makes people happier, Carnegie Mellon University researchers assigned some couples to have more sex than others and observed both groups' happiness over three months. The results, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, show that simply having more sex did not make couples happier, in part because the increased frequency led to a decline in wanting more sex and enjoying the sex they had. The study involved 128 healthy people, ages 35-65, in married male-female couples. The researchers randomly assigned the couples to one of two groups: The first received no instructions on sexual frequency. The second group was asked to double their weekly sexual intercourse frequency. Enforced date night At the end of the study, surveys showed that the couples who were asked to did have more sex, but that it led, surprisingly, to a small decrease in happiness. These same couples reported lower sexual desire and a decrease in sexual enjoyment. This may have had something to do with the fact that their turbo sex lives were initiated at the behest of a university study—not the most sexy of circumstances. "If we ran the study again, and could afford to do it, we would try to encourage subjects into initiating more sex in ways that put them in a sexy frame of mind, perhaps with baby-sitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so," George Loewenstein, Ph.D., the study's lead investigator, told the Carnegie Mellon news center. Basically, ignore this study, lead investigator says Despite the study's results, George says he continues to believe that most couples have too little sex for their own good, and thinks that increasing sexual frequency in the right ways can be beneficial.
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