Address Employee Retention through Relational Onboarding

Relational Onboarding improves employee motivation and retention.

Relational Onboarding improves employee motivation and retention.

Employee retention continues to be a hot topic for businesses worldwide.  Studies suggest that close to twenty percent of new hires are lost within the first three to six months of being hired.  

Employee attraction and hiring is expensive, so a success rate of only 80% can be financially devastating to smaller organizations.  

Curious about what the employee retention rate is at your organization?   SHRM, provides an easy to understand employee retention rate formula:

Divide the number of individual employees who remained employed for the entire measurement period by the number of employees at the start of the measurement period and multiply the result by 100.  

In other words, if company Acme X has 327 at the beginning of January 2109, but only 294 of those employees remained at the end of December 2019, Acme X’s retention rate for 2019 would be approximately 90%.  Using this formula, workers who are hired during the 2019 calendar year would not be counted until January 2020.  

Orientation versus Onboarding

I was recently speaking with an HR colleague who told me that she was surprised at how few businessses provide onboarding opportunities for their new employees.  She also remarked that sometimes she even has to explain the concept of “onboarding” to the leadership within a company. My colleagues experience mirrors some of mine own, but also highlights the need for greater communication, from those of us in the HR realm, to managers.  According to ….Onboarding is one of the most valuable tools a business can offer it’s new employees to improve employee satsification and retention. So what exactly is the difference between an employee orientation and employee onboarding?

An employee orientation usually occurs in a meeting, or a series of meetings, during an employee’s first week at a company.  Often, this orientation is accomplished through a self-guided online training, sometimes even offered to a new-hire before they arrive at the new company for their first day.  During employee orientation, an employee is introduced to the company’s mission and goals. Sometimes (and unfortunately) this event includes an introduction to the company given by long-standing employees who tell war-stories (read: patronize and pontificate) about their time with the company.  During an orientation a new hire is also introduced to the company’s benefit plans, employee behavior expectations (e.g. sexual harrassment training), standard health and safety information, a review of administrative procedures and internal policies (e.g. computer login, company network use policies, building security procedures, etc), and occassionally industry role-specific trainings.  

An employee orientation usually emphasizes the rules and regulations of a company, the functional role of the position that the employee is filling within the company, and information about how the employee can access resources in order to fulfil the requirements of that role.  Employee orientations are usually transactional in nature; there is a checklist to be checked off. In other words, employee orientations often feel a lot like:

“We are very busy here.  You are new and something of a bit of a nuisance.  We are, reluctantly, taking a break from our very busy schedules to deign to tell you what you can do and what you cannot do.  If you do your job well, you won’t get in the way, you won’t get in trouble and we will pay you.”

We aren’t suggesting that employers stop orienting their employees.  Information is power. Your employees need information. So, with the exception of the pontificating employee, by all means, please continue providing employee orientations.  But, an employee orientation coupled with a onboarding process is one of the most effective ways to retain your employees.

An onboarding process is a much more robust, individualized, strategic, and relational activity that focuses on helping your employee feel as if  they have landed in their occupational home. Usually a Relational Onboarding process takes at least 90 days, while some consultants recommend that the most successful organizations sustain the onboard process  for at least a year.   

Relational Onboarding involves a series of workshops, meetings, one-on-one conversations, initial collaborative co-working projects, and mentoring that are all designed to help the employee deeply understand the culture of their department, organization, industry, and ultimately how to be successful in their role.   During this time employees are introduced to their department, they are given multiple opportunities to ask questions, to make connections, and given ideas about how to prioritize and complete key tasks necessary to their success. Ideally the employee’s manager acts as a facilitator of this process which gives the employee essential face-time with their manager which often results in a greater of manager/employee comfort with conversations and engagement.

The goal of a Relational Onboarding process is to create enough positive relationships and experiences for the employee so that they feel like:

“I am really valued here.  I have a great connection with my boss and my co-workers.  I am excited about my future here and I believe that people care about me here.  I have an amazing team that I work with and I am sure that during my time here I will have the opportunity to do some really great things.”  

One of the beautiful aspects about this kind of employee onbaording process is that, while it is always ideal and preferable for an organization to value this essential practice and create formal HR policies around onboarding, in the absence of this ideal, an informal onboarding process can be still be implemented by a good (we believe excellent) manager at the departmental level.   

Want to learn more?  2Human Strategies loves helping organizations and managers create robust Relational Onboarding strategies. Contact us for more information.  

Partnering with Success

"Confidence equals job success!"

"Confidence equals job success!"

People who spend their time in service to others often report an increased sense of self-worth, happiness, and well-being.  And now, it appears that research is starting to back up that up (Santi, 2015).  At 2Human Strategies, the idea of working together in a service capacity is a priniciple that we hold dear.  We seek out and welcome the opportunity to partner with companies and organizations within our community whose values are in close alignment with our own.

One such opportunity that has recently presented itself is the chance to work with the local chapter of Dress for Success (DFS), located in downtown Seattle.  For those not familiar with this wonderful non-profit, DFS offers “long-lasting solutions that enable women to break the cycle of poverty.”  It is “part of a global movement for change, empowering women to obtain safer and better futures.”

While I was no stranger to the organization (which has chapters worldwide), I truly had no idea how the whole process worked until I took our intern Claira and visited our local chapter.  Temporarily housed in the basement of the YWCA building downtown, the space offers a veritable cornucopia of textile delights in the form of high-quality, stylish, boutique style clothing, all perfectly organized and ready to be put together into outfits.  Alongside the racks of clothing are a dizzying array of brand new make-up, hair supplies, and other necessary beauty products.  And shoes.  And scarves.  And handbags.  All beautiful, all in excellent condition, and all ready to help make a woman feel her professional best.

Which is, of course, the entire point.  As Catherine, our Seattle chapter liaison pointed out on our visit, the clients that come to Dress for Success have, for one reason or another, fallen on difficult times.  Whether living on the streets, fleeing an abusive relationship, or simply finding herself the latest victim of the recent economic downturn, the women that are referred to DFS have lost their jobs, and, more importantly, at least a little dignity.  Which is why the vision of the organization goes far beyond simply providing clothing and instead seeks to reaffirm the client’s sense of self with the hope of furnishing women with "a confidence that she carries forever and the knowledge that she can actively define her life, the direction she takes and what success means to her.

Walking through the area, we could really sense how much thought is put into this idea of success.  Not content with an average thrift store aesthetic, the staff has created a space with both the look and feel of a stylish boutique, complete with three-way mirrors, comfy chairs, and fashion magazines for inspirational content.  This is where a client comes to consult with her own personal shopper, be fitted with an interview outfit that reflects her own personal style, receive a make-over if she chooses, and, in essence, be given back, well, herself.

Should the employment interview go well and the client finds herself with a new job, her relationship with DFS is not over yet.  At that point, she will come back to the shop and pick out a few more outfits to get her through until she has established herself financially.  And after that there are myriad opportunities for her to stay involved through programs designed to foster job retention and further her professional skills.

This last benefit offered by DFS is, perhaps, its greatest gift of all.  It has been observed that, “compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities” and that success is often correlated "just as closely with competence" as it is with confidence (Katty & Shipman, 2014).  In other words, confidence equals job success!

Factor in time out of work, homelessness, the emotional fall-out from a recent move or relationship issues, or any of the other issues these women have faced, and it’s a safe bet that their confidence has taken a pretty big hit.  Knowing that DFS is there to provide tools to boost both their confidence and their competence gives them something solid to fall back on in an otherwise shaky time.

After spending quality time with the staff at our local DFS (and also partaking in their fabulous quarterly boutique sale...Prada anyone??), 2Human Strategies is excited to share both our support as well as some of our profits to benefit this amazing organization.  To that end, we will offer two tiers of tickets to our upcoming Women’s Workshop Series.  The higher priced ticket ($50) will enable us to donate $20 per ticket to DFS and its ongoing efforts to continue empowering women in the Seattle area.  We are thrilled to be partnering with Dress for Success, and look forward to future opportunities to serve them as they are serving others.


Santi, J. (2015). The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others. TIME Magazine [on-line periodical].  Retrieved from

Katty, K. and Shipman, C. (2014).  The Confidence Gap.  The Atlantic.  Retrieved from

A Visit From Our Intern: Claira Eastwood

I began interning for 2Human Strategies last December. In my head, this seemed almost like a “coming of age” moment, and I immediately said I would love to be involved. I became the Communications Intern and started by editing some blog posts. Considering that I am not located in Seattle and am technically a full-time student, ninety percent of what I do is on the computer and via video chats. However, during the month of July this year I was able to work at 2Human Strategies in person for a few days, and the following is my reflection on this experience. First of all, the office space is gorgeous. This may seem like an odd place to begin, but bear with me for a moment. The space is welcoming and aesthetically pleasing. When you enter the building and look to your right, you see two blackboards with the words “Feel Good, Make Good,” and that is exactly what seems to happen. If where you are working isn’t motivating you to do the best you can and encouraging you to reach your goals, you aren’t going to a) be excited to work, or b) work as well as you could. The positive workspace was definitely both inviting and motivating.

Although working in a good environment is incredibly important, I must also mention the mental health aspect. As someone who tends to get anxious about every little thing, it was good to work in a place that understands that anxiety is very real and makes sure that everything is working for everyone. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise that a company who makes sure employees in other companies are taken care of kept checking in with me to make sure that I was doing well, but it was helpful nevertheless. During the days I was working in person, I was able to grow not only in my working abilities, but personally as well. Making sure that employees are taken care of and are growing as people, workers, and teams is a good thing, and that is definitely what I got out of this experience, and what I hope to continually gain in the future.


Up Your Compliment Game

    I can live for two months on a good compliment.                                                                      ~Mark Twain

    I can live for two months on a good compliment.                                                                      ~Mark Twain

Workplace compliments can be powerful.  Academic research is rich with studies that confirm employee motivation and productivity can be correlated with honest, well-placed affirmations (Ariely, 2016; Rath & Clifton, 2004).  Whether given by peers, subordinates or superiors, an astute recognition of effort and accomplishment can improve self-image and productivity at work.

If workplace compliments can be powerful, it follows that they can either help or hurt morale.  For example  “But you are such a brilliant admin!” could be seen as condescending to someone working their way into management. Saying “That was such an amazing effort!” after a missed goal, in public might overemphasize a missed goal. The rest of this article assumes that you mostly escape these traps and that you are ready to up your compliment game.

2Human Strategies has devised a technique that we feel can be more effective and less prone to misinterpretation.  We call it The Public Salute.  A Public Salute takes place when a person in a position of authority (The Initiator) creates a space for a group (The Audience) to recognize and affirm the behavior of a group or individual (The Recipient).  A common example of this behavior occurs at wedding receptions. Someone, often a person close to the couple, sets the tone of the activity by telling a positive story about the newly married couple and then offering the microphone to other attendees to do the same. This behavior is more than just giving compliments; it is a Public Salute because the first person to give a toast often models positive, affirming behavior and then encourages others to do the same.

A Public Salute is not without its risks.  It can and usually does, lead to some mild social discomfort in the Recipient.  Initiating a Public Salute also opens up the recipient to affirmations from less skilled complimenters who have not escaped the traps outlined earlier.  This may necessitate some on-the-fly fixing from the Initiator. However, our own anecdotal experience shows these pitfalls to be rare.

Here are some hypothetical examples of a Public Salute in action:

1) Sal is being promoted to a position of leadership for the first time.  His boss wants him to feel confident in his new role so she initiates a Public Salute to conclude a meeting that announces Sal’s promotion.  After offering her own praise and well wishes, she could invite other employees to participate in the Public Salute  by suggesting prompts like:

-What do you admire about Sal?
-Which of Sal's traits will serve him well in his new position?
-Are there times when you remember Sal doing something particularly admirable?

The exact prompts are not as important as the way in which they are selected.  They are selected to elicit spontaneous positive feedback about Sal’s talents, traits, assets, or specific memorable moments.

2) Maria is leading a marketing campaign for a groundbreaking new product.  While this initial effort was marked by some successes and some failures, her confident leadership has shown the viability of this direction for her company.  Her efforts lost money but have paved the way for the long term success of the company.  To mark the occasion, her boss, the Initiator, could conclude a meeting with a Public Salute using the following prompts.  Note that she is careful to steer the group away from any criticism.

-What did Maria’s team do well?
-How have Maria’s accomplishments changed your own perspective about what is possible for the company?
-What can we all learn from Maria’s leadership style?
If Maria and Sal leave a Public Salute with newfound confidence and awareness of others’ regard for their talents, efforts, and accomplishments, then the Initiator has done well.

Not every accomplishment or success warrants a Public Salute.  Sometimes the Recipient has a high degree of social anxiety or the Audience cannot be trusted to give constructive affirmations.  In these situations, a less public method may be warranted.  At 2Human however, we believe that the Public Salute offers a unique opportunity to increase workplace morale and invigorate your employees’ sense of self-worth.  We encourage you to give it a try.

If you have tried a Public Salute with your team, we invite you to send us your feedback to


Ariely, D (2016) Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. New York, Simon & Schuster

Dahl, M. (2016, August 12). Just say ‘Thank You’ to the people you work with. Science of Us. [periodical blog] New York Magazine.

Dahl, M. (2016, August 29). How to motivate employees: Give them compliments and pizza. Science of Us [periodical blog] New York Magazine.

Rath, T. & Clifton, D. (2004, July 8). The power of praise and recognition. [online periodical] Gallup Business Journal.

Workplace Pride: Is It Worth It?

USA Pride.png

Over the last twenty years there has been increasing formal and informal pressure from the LGBTQ community to “come out” at work.  Early academic models such as the Cass (1979) or Troiden (1988) models of LGBTQ development suggested that “full” integration of one’s sexual orientation required some aspect of coming out and most models implied or required that this also happen in the workplace.   

However, nearly forty years after the publication of Cass’s first model we think a bit differently about identity in the workplace.  The unfortunate reality is that at the time of the publishing of this newsletter there are STILL (yes, in 2017, STILL) many states that have absolutely no LGBTQ or gender identity protection laws.  They are:

Idaho            South Dakota        Louisiana        Mississippi

Wyoming         Nebraska        West Virginia        Florida

Alabama        Kansas        Tennessee

Arkansas        Oklahoma        South Carolina

North Dakota        Texas            Georgia

Questions to Consider

The human rights campaign recommends asking yourself some questions about whether or not to come out at work.  We feel that the most important questions may be:

Does your state or locality have a nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity expression?

What is the overall climate in your workplace?  Do people tend to make derogatory comments or jokes?  Are any of your co-workers openly LGBTQ?

Is there a LGBTQ employee resource group at your workplace?

There can be many benefits of coming out at work, not the least of which is a feeling of being more fully authentic with co-workers and customers. However, personal safety should always be a paramount concern.  Here at 2Human Strategies we STRONGLY privilege the safety and comfort of individual employees.  The unfortunate reality is that it may not be safe for someone to come out at their workplace and that individual is BEST suited to decide if they feel safe in their work environment. 

How can workplace allies be most helpful?

Sometimes well-meaning folks in the workplace identify an individual that they think might be gay but isn’t out.  These well-meaning folks then try to ask questions or insinuate to this person that it is O.K. to come out.  Unfortunately this may not be the most helpful course of action.  The reality of an LGBTQ person is that they will come out to you if they want to and if it is important to them.  

So what can a well-meaning advocate do?  There are many possible solutions. The key is to stop thinking on an individual level and start thinking on a more systemic/HR policy level.  For example:

Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy?  Does it specifically cover sexual orientation and/or gender/identity/expression?  Do the insurance benefits that your employer offers explicitly cover domestic partner benefits?  Does your health care policy cover transitioning costs?  Does your employer’s harassment policy explicitly cite sexual and gender orientation in its language?  Do the forms that your employer’s HR department use have options for non-binary gendered responses?  Are individuals ever asked about their preferred gender pronouns during the on-boarding process?    

By creating systems that not only communicate but actually afford an increased level of safety, individual LGBTQ employees may feel more free to share their authentic selves within their work communities.  

Looking at the numbers

According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, the top twenty states with the highest median household income are as follows (listed in order of highest household median income to lowest household median income):

Maryland        New Hampshire    Delaware    New York

New Jersey        Virginia        Washington    Rhode Island

California         Hawaii            Wyoming    Illinois

Connecticut        Minnesota        Utah        Vermont

Massachusetts    Alaska            Colorado    North Dakota

State employment Protections for LGBTQ AND Gender
Only Protection for State Employees
No state level protection

Only four (20%) of these top income earning states do not have protections for the LGBTQ  employee.  The reality, from an employment perspective, is that it may make far more sense to move both businesses and employment to a state that offers LGBTQ protections, regardless of whether someone is a member of the LGBTQ community or not.      


Cass, V. (1979). Homosexual Identity Formation: A theoretical Model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4(3), 219-235.

Troiden, R. (1988). Homosexual Identity Development. Journal of Adolescent Healthcare, 9(3). 105-113


What Can We All Learn from a Pride Parade?

Pride Parade.jpeg

Over the past 40 years, academia has created a handful of theoretical models attempting to explain the development of a LGBTQ self identity. These models (Cass,1979; Troiden 1989; D’Augelli, 1994; McCarn-Fassinger, 1996) all acknowledge the deep psychological benefit of coming out to a greater community beyond family, friends and coworkers and suggest that doing so in a public and enthusiastic way may contribute to a more fully integrated self.  As Pride Weekend approaches many will take this opportunity to claim and celebrate their Queer identity--some for the first time.

Some research (Legate, Ryan & Wenstein, 2011)  indicates that the act of coming out publicly, at an event like the Seattle Gay Pride Parade, is an important part of an overall sense of well-being and that the level of support from one’s community is particularly instrumental for the psychological well-being of a Queer person who is engaged in the process of coming out.  A supportive environment can lead to significant psychological payback, such as greater sense of subjective well-being, greater workplace confidence,  more social connectivity and the associated benefits of having a robust social support system.  With less supportive or hostile groups these benefits are canceled out. (Legate, Ryan, Weinstein, 2011)

For 2Human, the notion of the importance of support inspires us to ask questions such as: “What hidden aspects of our own identities need a metaphorical Pride Parade?” We are also curious about- “How might we benefit from a supportive audience that celebrates our individual and unique identities”? A quick survey of the 2Human office indicates that if we were to borrow the notion of a celebratory parade from the Queer community we might individually benefit from an "ADHD Pride Parade" a "Highly Sensitive Person Pride Parade" and even perhaps a "Slightly Neurotic Person Pride Parade".  These are aspects of ourselves that might be different from the majority of the population but they are aspects of our own identities that we choose to claim and celebrate because they make us who we are.  Throughout this month we encourage you to follow the lead of the Queer community by celebrating your own unique identity.

*2Human salutes the bravery of the Queer Community for its continued advocacy for
people of all types to be recognized for who they are.



Advantages of Having Anti-Discrimination Laws in the Workplace

It might come as no surprise that anti-discrimination laws have a positive effect on not only the LGBTQ population, but everyone else in the workplace as well.  Even though those who identify as LGBTQ are a relatively low number compared to the population at large, the benefits of providing a safe, secure work environment has far-reaching advantages.  

According to the  UCLA’s Williams Institute, just 3.8% of the total U.S. population self-identifies as gay or lesbian. Perhaps not surprisingly, the highest number of people identifying as LGBTQ are Millennials (7.3% in 2016, as opposed to 3.2 Gen X’ers and 2.5 Baby Boomers).  However, despite the rising number of people identifying as gay, lesbian, or transgender, national data analyses shows consistently that men in same sex relationships AND gay men earn 10-32% less than similarly qualified cisgendered men with different sex partners (e.g. heterosexual men).

Conversely, women who identify as lesbian actually make MORE than their straight counterparts, up to 20% more in the United States.  Possible explanations for the wage gap include theories that lesbians are inherently more competitive, are perhaps more educated than straight women, and are less likely to have children, although none of these reasons have fully explained the disparity and some of these explanations may be related to unfortunate stereotypes. Despite this anomaly, however, the fact remains that in many states around the nation, there are no or, at best, very few laws in place that protect the inherent rights of members of the LGBTQ population in the workplace.  

As of January 28, 2016, at least 225 cities and counties prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment ordinances that governed all public and private employers in those jurisdictions.  Research shows that not only may having such policies in place increases earnings for members of the LGBTQ population by decreasing the risk of discrimination in hiring and firing practices, as well as chances for promotions or pay increases,  but this protection also leads to an overall positive work space.  When you are no longer concerned about being fired or passed over for a promotion solely because of your sexual orientation, it allows you to focus on your job.  This, in turn brings about positive business outcomes, including greater job commitment, improved work relationships, increased job satisfaction, and improved health incomes among LGBT employees.

And that can only be beneficial to you, your colleagues, and everyone else with whom you come in contact in the workplace.



We're Moving!

MAKERS space; our new workspace

MAKERS space; our new workspace

2Human Strategies is thrilled to announce that we are making a move!  As much as we have loved our time at the WeWork office downtown, we realized that as our business is growing, so are our needs.  Motivated by the need for more space, as well as the desire for a deeper sense of community, we are pleased to let you know that as of June 1, 2017 we will be happily ensconced at the MAKERS space, located at 92 Lenora Street in beautiful, diverse Belltown.  The MAKERS space “is designed with history and sustainability in mind,  industrial and chic, (with) welcoming natural light and a clean open feel.”  This lovely building will allow us to accommodate our teammate Ben Lidgus, as well as give us opportunities for collaboration and partnerships with other businesses. It will also afford us the opportunity to provide a more conducive space for hosting additional workshops, networking mixers, and collaborative forums.  

Speaking of events, please mark your calendars now for the evening of Thursday, June 15-- please join us for our Open House/Welcome to the Neighborhood Party!  In addition to giving you the chance to tour our new office space, you will have the opportunity to meet Ben and experience the unique qualities that he brings to our company.  Please refer to our Events page on our website for the latest details regarding this event.

In the meantime, we would love for you to come by and say hello the next time you’re in our new neighborhood.  We can grab a cup of coffee from the in-house coffee cart, stake our claim on one of the vintage sofas, and enjoy the warm, welcoming environment (perhaps we’ll even chat about how 2Human Strategies help make your workplace a more enjoyable place to be?)  If you want to make sure that we are around and not helping our awesome customers , please feel free to make an appointment by contacting us through our 2Human website.  And while you’re on the website, why not sign up for our monthly newsletter and make sure that you don’t miss out on the latest news and information in the world of positive psychology and human resources!

We hope to see you soon!



Leaders: Affected by Mindset

Encouraging leaders to foster a growth mindset can lead to increased positivity, trust, and opportunity.  

One of my favorite educational psychologists is Carol Dweck.  Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset” has been around for a little over a decade and is currently being applied widely in both educational (e.g. as a way to help students combat math anxiety) and business settings.  The concepts behind Dweck’s research are quite simple and I believe it is this simplicity that accounts for much of the theory’s broad application and success.  

Dweck’s research (2006) demonstrates that when people have a fixed mindset they tend to believe that most traits (their own and others’) are inherited and cannot be changed.  People are either smart or they are not.  They are athletic or they are not.  They are musically talented or they not.  Dweck’s research demonstrates that the primary problem with this perspective is that when “smart” people and students believe that they are smart they tend to seek out overly easy or simplistic tasks that confirm their beliefs that they are intelligent.  These individuals tend to be very fearful of failure and extending themselves to tackle difficult cognitive (and even physical) tasks because they are afraid that when they do not succeed at these tasks they will be perceived (by others and themselves) as stupid.  So these folks tend to avoid new challenges and behaviors.  Essentially they avoid change and fail to push themselves toward achieving new challenges.  

Conversely, when someone has a growth mindset they tend to believe that intelligence is malleable and can be developed with effort, practice and persistence.  When we have this perspective we tend to view “effort” as being highly positive.  This effort tends to “ignite” our intelligence and helps it to grow.  Dweck considers the brain to be similar to a muscle and the more we work that muscle the stronger and bigger it gets.  Dweck’s research shows that students who maintained a growth mindset consistently and significantly outperformed their peers academically.

But how exactly do you promote a growth mindset in a leader?  

By trying to convince the leader to not only do things differently (e.g. to risk and change) but to do them while being more positive!  Does this sound too simplistic?  It actually isn't.  Getting a leader to express gratitude can actually be quite difficult if the leader feels that there isn't really anything to be all that grateful about.  However, if the leader can learn to express gratitude then there are benefits for everyone!   Research shows that expressing gratitude is a particularly effective way to increase trust among others is because doing so tends to increase the self-esteem, happiness, and increased pride in both the individual who expresses gratitude and the individual to whom gratitude is expressed (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).  We have seen this work in action when we have coached leaders to consider increasing the amount of gratitude that they express toward their employees.  It is amazing how entire office cultures can shift when leaders start to focus on their employee’s strengths.    

One of our most powerful tools here at 2Human Strategies is our use of some of the tools that positive psychology offers.  A growth mindset is highly aligned with our adherence to the tenets of positive psychology because a growth mindset acknowledges the capacity and capability of everyone.  ALL of us can be successful if we are given enough support and if we choose to believe that we can improve and change.  


Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.  

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 337–389.  


Improv Training Enhances Workplace Communication

Going to an improvisational comedy show can be an experience of alternating emotional poles between anxiety and excitement.  The actors do not work off a script but create comedy spontaneously based on suggestions taken from the audience.  When it goes well, the audience is treated not only to a stellar performance, but to the privilege of witnessing a group of people in perfect communication and flow.

Flow, also known as ‘the zone,' is a mental state where people are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this "optimal experience" they feel "strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” This term was coined by Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990).  As an improv comedian myself, I can verify that the best shows I have participated in contain a substantial experience of flow and a joyful ease in communication with my fellow improvisers that has kept me returning to this art form for years.

The experience of flow leading to enhanced communication is exhilarating.  Comedians, inspired by this experience, sometimes choose to teach improv training workshops on communication so that individuals in the workplace can improve their overall communication patterns.  In these workshops, participants are offered a variety of improvisation techniques and tools.  However, I would argue that the experience of enhanced communication through the "flow state" is enough on its own to change the way people relate to each other in a business environment.  

So what exactly does "flow" feel like?  If you think back over your life you may discover that you have a persistent memory of an experience of flow on a playing field, on a stage, or just in a moment with friends.  In these moments everything just seemed to click.   The experience of feeling like everything is just “clicking” into place is a surefire marker of being in a flow state. The exciting thing is that these experiences don’t have to come at a grand or dramatic moment or when you are in front of an audience.  They can be experienced in relative isolation: chopping wood, serving a perfect meal, or even just a quiet moment with someone you like very much.  

However, if you can share that state of flow with others, you may find that you have a recipe for some great relationships. I would guess that your high school teammates, college travel friends or anyone else with whom you shared an experience of flow with are people that you communicate with exceptionally well.  I know that having the opportunity to meet up with people I have shared such experiences with always gives me the feeling of reliving our shared flow state.  As a result, our communication is as natural as any I have ever experienced.

Although there many skills and concepts taught in improv training workshops, I contend that the memory of the shared flow experience with coworkers provides the lion’s share of the value. When an experienced improv instructor brings people who work together day after day in the same office, and that instructor can collaborate with those individuals to create an experience of "flow, that experience and the connections felt in those moments can often be accessed and drawn upon at times when communication may not flow so smoothly in the workplace (Scinto, 2014).  That’s why it is so beneficial for employers to organize events that provide a shared flow experience like improv training.  An improv workshop at your company can have a team working together in a flow state quickly and laughing while they do it.

Interested in finding out more about improv and how it can improve communication in your workplace?  Register here for our fun and free upcoming workshop led by Ben!


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins Publishing.  

Scinto, J. (2014). Why improv training is great business training. Forbes. [on-line periodical] Retrieved from:

Embracing Workplace Emotions

Emotions are inevitable.  What if we embraced them?

Emotions are inevitable.  What if we embraced them?

Here at 2Human Strategies, our mission is rooted in the principles of positive psychology.  This lens helps us approach our clients in a positive manner as we work with them to foster their growth and development.  However, this lens can also lead some of us to get a bit worked up about some of the Human Resource literature that is published on social media.  Specifically, I get a bit riled up about what I consider vapid commands for employees, managers, and leaders to avoid emotions in the workplace.  Usually, this brand of terrible advice appears in a seductive (read: “clickable”) headline that is written as something like, “TOP TEN THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO AT WORK THAT WILL KILL YOUR CAREER” or “TOP FIVE ACTIONS THAT WILL GET YOU FIRED.”   Usually, the articles contain pithy exhortations about the dangers of “emotional hijacking” and the need to control your emotions at work because this keeps you “in the driver’s seat.”  

The primary reason I take issue with these “suggestions” is that I believe that they constitute a colossal workplace myth.  This type of advice seems to suggest that it is advisable and possible for people to control their emotions at work, at all times. This notion is absurd and unrealistic, and even though we may act as if it is possible and advisable, it isn’t.  Here’s why:  A full-time employee will spend approximately 35% of all their waking hours (which includes weekends) at work. Let’s say that an average individual begins work at age eighteen and then works 40 hours a week until age 70.  That individual will spend approximately 104,000 hours of their life in the workplace.  During that time among many other deeply impacting familial and personal life events, this individual will experience births, falling in love, marriages, break-ups, divorce, illness, and death.  Even if we exclude the nearly twenty percent of the American workforce that has been diagnosed with a mental illness (Harvard Medical School, 2010), it is simply absurd to expect anyone to be able to “hold it together” and fiercely control their emotions for all 104,000 hours of their life.  

The second reason I don’t like this type of post is that they usually suggest that if you lose control at work, you will be “labeled as unstable, unapproachable, and intimidating.”  While I am certainly an advocate for boundaries and limits in the workplace (especially when it comes to bullying),  I think that this statement offers some significant challenges.  Specifically, it  ignores the fact that this perspective of individuals who are not in control of their emotions at all times in the workplace has been fostered and reinforced by legal and HR departments, managers, and leaders who seem inconvenienced, baffled, and annoyed by relatively “normal” variations in human emotion and behavior in the workplace.  Somehow these individuals have created a type of culture that values and rewards emotionless production machines rather than creative, emotionally intelligent, and soulful humans.  

But what if there was another way to manage individuals?  What if it is possible to not only accommodate a fuller range of authentic emotional expression and behaviors in the workplace and discourage pejorative labeling and workplace marginalization resulting from emotional expression?   What if we learned how to genuinely affirm and foster each individual’s strengths and natural emotional fluctuations in the workplace?  When we utilize a positive psychology framework we attempt to focus on an individual’s capacity to emote positively, engage with others, create meaning, achieve and create good relationships (Seligman, 2012, p. 70).  In other words,  individuals are “creative, whole and complete” and may just need some support to access these aspects of themselves.  Although this perspective may seem a bit pollyannaish to some, the reality is that we know that a positive focus on an individual’s strengths works to create more engaged and productive employees.  At 2Human Strategies, we believe that individuals can find solutions to their problems and that this process can be facilitated when employees are given the type of support that occurs when an organization adopts positive psychology coaching practices and techniques.

Not sure how to implement positive psychology coaching practices in your workplace?  Here at 2 Human Strategies, we offer workshops specifically designed to teach managers and leaders positive coaching strategies that can help you improve your employees' happiness and productivity in the workplace.    


Harvard Medical School. (2010). Mental Health Problems in the Workplace. Harvard Mental Health Letter  [Newsletter] Retrieved from:

Seligman, M. (2011).  Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.


Fearless Females, Part 2: Creating Connection

Theresa Nguyen, State Farm

Theresa Nguyen, State Farm

It's 9 a.m. on a Monday morning, and the team at Theresa Nguyen's State Farm office in Bellevue, Washington is already hard at work. The hushed tones of phone conversations and tapping of fingers on keyboards offer auditory evidence of serious insurance agents getting an early start on the business of the week.  And yet, the minute I walk in all activity pauses and I am greeted with warm friendly smiles and a sense of camaraderie not usually  associated with an insurance agency.

But then, most agencies aren't run by Theresa Nguyen.  Most insurance agents also don't spend their weekends delivering coats to local homeless shelters--coats collected from their many clients who, like Theresa, have realized that, while it's certainly important to work hard, life should be about more than work, and that if you love what you do, and the people with whom you work, everything else will fall into place.

This seemingly revolutionary idea of loving what you do, and the people you serve, is one of the principles upon which Nguyen, a first-generation immigrant from Vietnam, has founded her business.  It's what drives her to be her best, and part of the spirit she infuses into her relationships with her employees, her clients, and all the people with whom she interacts.  It's a spirit you can't help but feel when you walk into her office.  You come in for the expertise; you leave with a new friend.

It's a trait that Theresa Nguyen comes by honestly.  Just three years old when she left Vietnam as one of the famed post-war "boat people," she continues to be amazed by the forces that combined to bring her to the place she's in today.  Even though she was too young to remember most of the journey, what she is completely aware of are the ways in which her parents risked so much to ensure her safety, and that of her brothers and sisters.

"It really hits home for me now," she ruminates.  "Because I look at my own family, and I wonder-- if I had to pick up everything and move right now, and start over, what would that be like for me?  How would I do it?"

“I always keep the spirit of my mom alive, because what if she had said- ‘I can’t do this’?  In my life, it’s not- ‘I can’t, it’s just- I have to get it done.’”
— Theresa Ngyuen

Her story is incredible.  One that has been repeated over and over throughout the years.  Different countries and slight variations of course, but always a similar theme:  Parents who want the best life possible for their children, and who will sacrifice everything to make that happen.  Theresa's story goes something like this: After the Vietnam War had ended, the family of twelve stayed for a few years.  They weren't wealthy, but her mother owned a small business, which was taken away after the fall of the government.  Soon it became clear that the only way the family would survive was if they fled the grip of communism and tried to make a better life elsewhere.  Eventually her father, a colonel in the Vietnamese army, took one sister and one brother and emigrated to Canada, which was one of only a handful of countries accepting refugees at the time.

That left Theresa's mom with the monumental task of getting ten children and her youngest sister out of the country via fishing boat.  Because the Vietnamese dollar was nearly worthless, the fishermen only accepted payment in gold bars, and unfortunately, not all of them were honest.  This  meant that time and again, Theresa's mother would hand over some of her precious gold, tell her children to meet her in a specific place at a certain time, and the boat wouldn't be there.  And then the scenario would repeat. But her courage and determination were stronger than any potential deterrents.  And that courage was eventually rewarded with a boat captain who showed up when he was supposed to.  And so the journey began.

Imagine, if you will, a small fishing vessel with a capacity for twenty people, which is now jammed with 200 people.  And now imagine that tiny, overfilled boat, designed perfectly for near-shore fishing, heading out into the open waters--a journey for which it is totally unprepared.  

Theresa remembers that her mother "was scared, but she just didn't think about it, because in her mind this was the only way for her to get her kids out of there and to give them some sort of future.  So she couldn't look back.  We floated for days...we ran out of water, my brothers drank sea water, and got sick and dehydrated."  By all accounts, a nightmare.  And yet, it could have been so much worse.  Although no one knows for sure how many people attempted to leave Vietnam at the end of the 1970's, estimates have been as high as 1.5 million.  And of those, between 50,000 and 200,000 of them didn't make it, often drowning or being kidnapped or murdered by pirates (Trueman, 2016)

Fortunately, Theresa's family was among the lucky ones.  After several days at sea, a ship came to their aid and took them to the Philippines, where they waited in refugee camps for six months until they were able to get sponsored by her uncle, a Catholic priest in Portland, Oregon.  The refugees were assisted by relief organizations, but there was never enough to go around.  So once again, Theresa's resourceful mom sprang into action, and developed a little side business brokering jewelry at the camps to put away some extra money for her family.

Eventually, the family made it to Oregon, where they were reunited with Theresa's father and siblings, and where they lived a cozy existence in a little two-bedroom house with a loft for the boys.  These "humble beginnings," as Theresa describes it, were the breeding ground for lifelong lessons about how to dream big, and how to work hard and use your intelligence and resourcefulness to make those dreams come true.  

They were lessons that would prove valuable to her throughout her undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon, in her subsequent career in mortgage banking at a financial services company, in her graduate work at the University of Washington (where she met her husband, a fellow Vietnamese refugee), and, perhaps, most poignantly, on her most recent journey as business owner and “den mother” to her employees.

"I think that's what drives me and what keeps me going," she comments about her ability to always move forward, despite whatever personal or professional challenges she faces.  "I always keep the spirit of my mom alive, because what if she had said- 'I can't do this'?  In my life, it's not- 'I can't, it's just- I have to get it done.'"

And get it done she does.  As a female business owner and someone who is "built to work," Theresa admits that finding balance in her life is a constant challenge.  While she is blessed with a team who understands and supports a woman's need to care for her health and family, as the team leader, she admits that even when she's not in the office, it is difficult for her to get out of work mode.

Theresa's position as a woman in charge is becoming more and more common in our culture.  In 2015, data from the National Association of Women business Owners found that more that 9 million U.S. companies were owned by women (Fernandes, 2016). What this means, of course, is that women's roles within the workplace and family structure are continuing to evolve, often more rapidly than the culture as a whole.  Even though women are widely represented in the business world, they still continue to maintain their household roles as the primary caretaker at home as well.  So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that female employees are far more likely than their male counterparts (60% to 48%, respectively) to say that work-life balance is "very important" (Gallup, 2017).

"I feel like there has become more acceptance around women having more of a work/life balance," Theresa explains.  "And I think the flip side to that is that because I DON'T work 9-5, there is no boundary, and I have to put the boundaries on for myself, so that I don't end up working all the time.  I have to be able to shut it be emotionally present for my family."

Nguyen further states that, since female entrepreneurs do tend to face additional  unique challenges, it is important for them to figure out what is most important for them early in their career.  This includes identifying ”the top three things that mean the most to them personally.”  According to her this means no negotiating or bargaining with yourself and no taking short cuts.  For Theresa this manifested in making a commitment to herself that no matter what was going on at the office, she would try her best not to miss out on important events in her children's lives because of work.  While difficult to keep at times, she prides herself on staying true to that promise.

If there is one thing that Theresa Nguyen deeply understands, it is the power of commitment to the people she holds dear.  She may have been young when her parents made the life-altering decision to seek asylum in America, but every moment for her since then has been informed by that journey.  Every decision she has made has been grounded in the knowledge of the monumental sacrifices made by her family, coupled with a desire to make the most of the opportunities that she has had and will continue to have because of those sacrifices.

"My parents gave us the gift that keeps on giving," she states.  "They gave us an education and a future.  It's so important for me to remember that nothing is a given in this life."  

This dedication to her life shows up in everything she does.  From the incredible leadership she exhibits at work, to her commitment to her marriage and family, to her volunteer work both abroad (she is currently in the planning stages of a trip back to Vietnam later this year with her husband and friends to work with Habitat with Humanity), as well as on a community level.  One of the aspects she values most in her entrepreneurial role as an insurance franchise owner is the opportunity to impart the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise that she has gained along her career path, not only to her employees, but also to the next generation of female business owners that she encounters in her volunteer work with the local high school career counselling department.

"Let's be honest," she says, "Insurance is not that sexy.  It's not glamorous.  But it can be life-enhancing in so many different ways.  In our role as insurance agents we get to see the full gamut.  We have babies coming into the world, we have 16-year-olds getting ready to drive, we have new homeowners, we have folks do we help them at every stage of their lives?  And in this capacity we're able to do that.  It is very gratifying.  And the most gratifying part is the opportunity to develop personal relationships."

Which, for Theresa Nguyen, seems to be the whole point.

At 2Human Strategies we seek to strengthen and enhance both our personal and our professional relationships.  We are inspired by strong women like Theresa Nguyen and her mother, who display not only the courage necessary to live their best lives, but the leadership capacity to inspire others to do the same.  For more information about Theresa Nguyen please click here.  For more information about 2Human Strategies and our services click here.  


Fernandes, P. (2016). 6 challenges women entrepreneurs face (and how to overcome them). Business News Daily [Periodical} Retrieved from

Gallup Poll. (2017). State of the American Workplace. Gallup Organization [whitepaper] Retrieved from:  

Trueman, C. (2016).  Vietnamese Boat People. The History Learning Site. {website}. Retrieved from


Tumultuous National Politics Affect Workplace Wellness

National politics affect the workplace

National politics affect the workplace

The last few weeks in the United States have been unusual and extraordinary.  “Politics as usual” seems to be a thing of the past.  Multiple protests have been held in most major cities in the United States, and social media ranting and grandstanding has escalated from mere rumblings to  full blown cacophonic  levels.  Regardless of an individual’s political orientation, preferences, or beliefs, all of this activity is probably producing an increased level of stress.  

Just this past week President Donald Trump glibly commented on the low ratings former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger was receiving for his new role as host of the television show “Celebrity Apprentice.”  Former Governor Schwarzenneger responded by suggesting that President Trump take back his former job and allow Schwarzenneger to take over as president, thereby allowing the American “people to sleep comfortably again.”

Governor Schwarzenneger’s concerns about Americans’ ability to sleep is definitely well founded.  Sleeplessness significantly (and recursively) increases stress (Randall, 2012) and unfortunately it appears as if stress has a major impact on workplace performance.  Specifically, managers should expect an increase in errors,  difficulty with learning, and even an increase in workplace absenteeism.

Increased stress has an effect on multiple biological systems, including: the musculoskeletal system (tense and sore muscles), the respiratory system (difficulty breathing), the cardiovascular system (decreased oxygen supply to the brain and poor blood circulation), the endocrine and limbic systems (difficulty with memory), the gastrointestinal system (upset stomach), the nervous system (jumpiness and restlessness), and the reproductive system (APA, 2017).  If an employee is navigating even just one of these physical symptoms it is easy to imagine how workplace productivity might be affected. Specifically, stress affects areas of the brain where we both learn and remember important tasks.  If we are significantly stressed, not only the amount of work we are doing but also the quality of the work produced is likely to suffer from significant errors and mistakes. he reality is that our brains are simply not able to function at their optimal levels when we are under significant stress (Randall, 2012).     

Potential Workplace Stress Reducers:  

Break the routine and acknowledge employee feelings:  

While it is unproductive (and inappropriate) to rant about the actions of one particular political party or another in most workplaces, it might be helpful to explicitly acknowledge the increased stress of fears experienced by employees who are trying to mentally navigate significant political shifts and events in recent days.  Regardless of whether an individual is happy or dismayed about these changes we know that significant change (or even perceived change) affects our stress levels.  Sometimes just acknowledging this fear can produce a greater sense of well-being (North, et al, 2013).  

“Beg” employees to get additional exercise:  

If employees are listless or unproductive at work consider a group walk or a meeting held while walking.  Strongly consider giving employees an extra hour or two to go “hit” the gym.  While it might cost an extra hour or two of production up front, research indicates that the potential payoff for this investment is significant considering the possibility for increased gains in performance and productivity as the employee will have an increased ability to focus and is likely to have the effect of simultaneously reducing the number of careless errors made as well as increasing overall levels of productivity (Schwarz & Hasson, 2011).  

Encourage mental health days:

If your workplace offers benefits for “mental health days”  it might be a great time to encourage a stressed employee to take a day off for self care.  While many workplaces wouldn’t think twice about strongly encouraging an employee to take off of work if they had a physical problem such as a severe cold or flu, we often don’t think about the potential of rest on our mental well being.  Reducing stress takes time.  When we are able to devote that time to ourselves we tend to function more effectively.  

Practice thankfulness:  

While it might seem absurd and petty to practice thankfulness, research shows...celebrating even small successes can help alleviate stress and improve overall well-being.  Whether looking for an extra aspect about an employee’s performance to praise or having a full blown employee celebration/thankfulness event, a little display of gratitude can go a long way. Some research even suggests that stress hormones are as much as twenty three percent lower in individuals who actively practice gratitude (Emmons & McCullogh, 2003).     


Sometimes the best way to reduce employees’ fears is to simply acknowledge that you have heard the employee express those fears.  Subsequent efforts to refocus the employees’ attention on the task at hand can also be helpful.  Asking questions that help the employee to focus on the agency that they do have in their own lives and in their own role in the workplace can have a significant impact on how they perceive external threats.  Asking questions such as, “what are you thinking of doing next?” or “How will the work that you do improve the lives of others?” can be very helpful in arresting a pattern of perseveration on anxiety producing thoughts about both perceived and real threats as “action” often act to reduce anxiety.  

Do you need additional tips on fostering wellness in your work environment?  Contact us to find out about our Workplace Wellness assessments.  


American Psychological Association (2017). Stress effects on the body. [Whitepaper].  Retrieved from:

Emmons, R. & McCullough, M. (2003).  Counting blessings versus burdens: An experiential investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life.  The Journal of Peraonality and Social Psychology (83)2 pp. 377-389.

North, C., Pfefferbau, B., Hong, B., Gordon, M., Kim, Y., Lind, L., & Pollio, D. (2013). Workplace response of companies exposed to the 9/11 World Trade Center attack: a focus-group study. Disasters (37)1.  pp. 101-118.  

Randall, M. (February 3, 2011). The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. [website]. Retrieved from:

Schwarz, U. & Hasson, H. (2011). Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels.  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 53(8).  



Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Healthy Workplace

"SAD" and Depression are often  misunderstood in the workplace.  

"SAD" and Depression are often  misunderstood in the workplace.  

This is the time of year when we tend to see a lot of glib reminders about the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some authors even tie “leadership by example opportunities” (Iste, 2017) to the disorder.  Most of these reminders seem to be compassionate and certainly well-meaning reminders about this phenomenon, and that there are considerable numbers of individuals among us (especially those of us who live above the 37th. parallel) who are affected by this disorder.  

Unfortunately, most of these shiny, graphic-laden (but still pithy) reminders do not seem to place enough emphasis on the real culprit lurking behind SAD: depression.   While the cause of this particular type of depression may allow us to be tempted to deal with it in a rather glib manner (e.g. “it is just transitory--therefore it doesn’t really count as depression”), the reality of living with any kind of depression (even in “just” the winter months) is a quite a different manner.  Unfortunately living with depression can be seriously debilitating and this type of mental challenge is often grossly misunderstood.  

According to the DSM-V (APA, 2013), the symptoms of depression include at least five of the following nine symptoms which are present nearly everyday:

1. Depressed mood or irritable most of the day: (either because the person states that they are sad or depressed or others notice this)
2. Decreased interest or desire for pleasure: in most activities, most of the day, every day
3. Significant weight change or change in appetite: often seen as a 5% or more difference in weight, skipping meals or eating much less at meals
4. Change in sleep patterns: which can include difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, or too much sleep and difficulty getting out of bed
5. Change in activity: sometimes observed as restless behaviors, fidgeting, or a significant slowing down of activity
6. Fatigue: or complaint of a loss of energy
7. Guilt/worthlessness: the individual expresses feelings of irrational worthlessness or an excessive or inappropriate guilt
8. Concentration difficulties: often accompanied by a diminished ability to think, concentrate, make decisions, be efficient and complete work correctly
9. Suicidality: thoughts of death or suicide or an actual suicide plan

SAD is more likely to affect individuals who live above the 37th. Parallel, and the farther north you live, the more likely you are to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (Johnson, 2010).  Seasonal Affective Disorder is related to Vitamin D deficiency and in areas like our Pacific Northwest we have a significantly increased risk and prevalence of SAD than in other areas of the United States.  Vitamin D (or cholecalciferol) is made naturally by our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight.  Vitamin D is utilized for multiple functions in our bodies such as calcium regulation, bone health, lung health, immune system regulation, and cancer inhibition, but probably most noticeable in the workplace is mood regulation.   

Researchers have suggested that Vitamin D stays in our bodies for about three weeks after it has been “made” (Garland, 2003).  Anecdotally, for the almost two decades in which I worked as a psychotherapist in Seattle, I would notice a significant increase of individuals coming into my office complaining of depression during the last two weeks of November and the first two weeks of December. For years I misattributed this occurrence to difficulties with the holidays.  When  I learned about the importance of Vitamin D and the effect it has on mood, I began asking my clients to have their doctors test them for Vitamin D deficiency. Eventually, a physician with whom I worked asked me to stop asking my clients to do this as insurance companies would no longer pay for tests for Vitamin D deficiency in Seattle because the tests “almost always come back as being positive.”    

The good news is that Vitamin D supplementation is a very easy way to address Vitamin D deficiency and often eliminates many of the symptoms of SAD.  Some researchers suggest that most people who live in Seattle should probably be taking a Vitamin D supplement during the winter to help avoid mental illness symptoms (Cannell, 2008).  However, individuals should always check with their primary care physician before taking any vitamin supplement.   

 The unfortunate reality is that women are diagnosed with SAD nearly four times as often as men (Melrose, 2015) and, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (2005) SAD also disproportionately affects individuals with darker skin tones.  Ironically, these are the same populations that tend to be at greater risk due to inequitable social practices.   

What can be done in the workplace?

It is strongly inadvisable (not to mention illegal) for workplace leaders and managers to attempt to “play doctor” and start diagnosing employees with specific mental health diagnoses.  However, many of the classic HR admonishments to “refer the employee to the EAP (Employee Assistance Program)” may simply not be effective enough (especially if the employee chooses not to visit the EAP).  

I am proposing that a more effective solution may be found in standard HR practices that sometimes tend to go unfollowed or devalued in busy companies.  Take a moment and humor me and scroll back up to the list of nine criteria for Depression.  Now, think of specific ways that an employee’s work in your organization might be affected if the employee was navigating any one (not to mention five) of these symptoms.  I suspect that most of us would be able to develop a rather significant list of concrete behaviors (or lack of behaviors) which could then be connected to the specific requirements of a job description.  

One of the best ways that companies can maintain a healthy and productive environment for its workers with both treated and untreated mental health challenges is by creating and maintaining a ROBUST performance management system.  In particular, at 2Human Strategies, we strongly favor performance management practices that focus specifically on employee strengths. 

An effective performance management system is comprised of a couple of crucial components.  First of all, consistent manager observation and subsequent documentation.  Without regular observation and documentation managers and evaluators are subject to a few types of bias that virtually eliminate the validity and reliability of a performance evaluation.  By following a robust performance management system, most of these biases can be eliminated.  Secondly, and just as importantly, employees need to be given feedback on their performance on a relatively frequent basis. This will not only help employees and managers identify potential problems, but will also reinforce desired behavior/performance and assist in the employee’s professional development.     

By following these classic--and necessary--HR practices related to performance evaluations, it will be much easier for managers and leaders to identify behavioral (and sometimes seasonal) indicators that something is wrong. It is not only rude, but also illegal for a manager to make a statement such as, “I think you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, you should go get that treated.”  It may, however, be appropriate for the manager to observe performance with the employee and state, “The data here indicates that for the last three years your performance has dipped in January and then we see a significant improvement in March.  What are your thoughts about what is going on here?”  Quite often an employee will bring up symptoms that are associated with SAD.  At this point, it would be appropriate for a manager to express compassion and concern (without diagnosing!) and recommend a visit to an EAP.  Because this conversation occurred within a constructive discipline context (e.g. coaching), the employee may be more willing to seek, and follow through with, getting assistance.        

At 2Human Strategies, we are excited about helping companies create a performance management system that not only works for their employees but has the potential to help the company increase its bottom line by increasing employee mental health, satisfaction, and productivity.  Please contact us for more information.  


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.   

Cannell J. (2008). Vitamin D and Mental Illness. [whitepaper] Retrieved from

Garland, C. (2003). Sun avoidance will increase incidence of cancers overall.  British Medical Journal, 327.  

Hoffman, R. (2010).  What lies behind the vitamin D revolution? The Clinical Advisor: For Nurse Practitioners, 13(3), 31-37.

Iste, C. (2017). 3 ways understanding SAD makes you a better leader. Multibriefs:Exclusive [white page] Retrieved from:

Johnson, L. (2010). Vitamin D Insufficiency Due to Insufficient Exposure to Sunlight and Related Pathology. Inquiries Journal 2(12).

Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression Research and Treatment. Vol. 2015.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2005). Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 19, 20. 

Are Your Leadership Trainings Tone Deaf?

One of my most formative experiences with an outside leadership "consultant" occurred while I was working in a university setting.  The dean of the college had been replaced and had some fantastic ideas about how to move the college in a new direction.  Unfortunately the dean’s change management strategies were not quite as effective as what the college required.  Most specifically, the dean failed to communicate an emotional need for change.  The dean also failed to build an effective coalition of the existing faculty to assist in implementing the new vision for the future of the college.  This resulted in some faculty “rebelling” which led to a very negative work environment for many faculty and staff members within the college.

The dean’s response was to call in a “trainer” to establish “communication norms” within the various working groups within the college.  Unfortunately this particular trainer approached the situation from a “feel good can’t we all just get along and play nice” perspective and subsequently seemed to ignore many of the power dynamics that were occurring within the college.  After multiple training sessions (many of which went unattended by the exact individuals who were actually causing significant problems within the college) the entire group was left even more frustrated and upset.  Some individuals were even calling for a “no-confidence” vote on the dean’s leadership. 

Unfortunately this scenario is far from unique. According to the Harvard Business Review (2016), leadership training activities are notoriously ineffective; yet in the United States corporations spend close to $160 Billion dollars on employee training and education.  Many trainers fail to utilize a systemic approach in their trainings.  For example, one of the most commonly held logic flaws of trainers is the belief that problems of organizational behavior stem from individual choices and behaviors.  However, we know that these issues are more often the result of poorly designed and ineffectively managed systems. When changes are made to how these systems are managed and constructed we know that individual behaviors often change significantly (seemingly  automatically) and dramatically.

In the scenario above the trainer and the executives within the college failed to obtain an accurate assessment from the employees about the dynamics that were occurring in individual work groups.  This type of assessment and analysis is essential to properly understanding and strategizing about how to change negative behaviors that are occurring within the workplace.  This type of information can be obtained through candid one-on-one conversations, surveys, observations, and requests for anonymous analyses.  This particular group was highly skilled (with many of the individuals involved held PhDs in a leadership field). However, few of the individuals within this group were actually consulted about what their needs were and what dynamics they felt were occurring in their workplace.  The result was a training process that was relatively ineffective and actually exacerbated tensions instead of having its intended effect of  improving the work environment. 

Beers, Finnstrom & Schrader (2016) suggest the following steps for identifying the need for and implementing development trainings:

1.     Is the leadership aligned around a clear, inspiring strategy and set of values?

2.     Has the team collected unvarnished employee feedback about barriers to effectiveness and performance—including senior managers’ own behavior?

3.     Has the team redesigned its organization, management systems, and practices to address the problems revealed by that diagnosis?

4.     Is HR offering consulting and coaching to help employees learn on the job so that they can practice the new attitudes and behaviors required of them?

5.     Do training programs properly support the change agenda and will each unit’s leadership and culture provide fertile ground for it?

The case above highlights the importance of clear communication and the need for leaders to solicit candid feedback from employees regarding relational dynamics that are occurring in the work place.  It also serves as a cautionary tale for trainers because a failure to accurately assess the systemic dynamics occurring within an organization can significantly exacerbate existing tensions. 

At 2Human Strategies we believe that employees often provide the MOST valuable information regarding their own workplace.  We seek to consult these employees as experts who can inform administrators about their needs.  When leaders are able to understand these needs, they can often align their vision and motivational message with employee needs, thereby promoting an exciting discursive potential for growth and improvement. 


Beer, M., Finnstrom, M. & Schrader, D. (2016). Why Leadership Training Fails—and What do Do About It. Harvard Business Review. 94(10) pp. 50-57.      

Bullying in the Workplace

When someone talks about a “bully” most of us immediately think about bullying behaviors that occur in elementary, middle or high school.  Unfortunately, bullying is a relatively common phenomenon in the adult workplace.  Bullying is expensive and has lasting effects upon an organization. 

·      Between 35 and 50% of Americans have experienced bullying in their careers. (Lutgen-Sandvik et al, 2007)

·      Bullying can affect the mental health of ALL employees—not just the employees being bullied.  (Hogh et al, 2011).

·      Bullying can cost an organization directly in terms of reputation, litigation fees, early retirement pay-outs, long-term absenteeism, workers compensation and counseling costs (Bond, 2010)

How do I know if there is bullying at my workplace?
Bullying can occur in multiple ways within an organization and bullying behaviors are not always explicit.  Bullying can come from a boss or a colleague, but it can even come from an entire work group.  Bullying is occurring when someone:

Verbally abuses you

Questions your adequacy and commitment

Undermines your work

Unnecessarily monitors your work

Spreads rumors about you

Isolates you at work

Takes credit for your work

Uses dismissive body language

Intimidates you on a regular basis

Intrudes on your privacy

Overloads you with work

Impedes your success

Assigns work that is below your ability

Evaluates you unfairly

Does not allow you to speak

Deliberately chooses to mispronounce your name

These behaviors can cause a company wide, “cessation of ideas, downturn in employee morale, loss of talent, and hostile litigation” (USA Today, 2015) all of which affect a company’s bottom line. 

Why do people bully?

Some research have suggests that slightly more than 25% of all bullying in the workplace is instigated by only 1% of the employee population who researchers call “corporate psychopaths” (Boddy, 2011). However, this means that the majority of workplace bullying may be occurring by well meaning (or at least not ill intentioned) individuals.  


There are two main hypotheses found in the academic psychological literature regarding systemic workplace bullying.  The first is known as the “work environment hypothesis” (Leymann,1996).  This theory considers bullying at work to be largely due to poor psychosocial working conditions.  In other words, a negative work culture.  The other major theory is that individual characteristics of an individual play a prominent role in workplace bullying. 


Unlike the workplace (where most folks tend to focus on an individual being bullied versus the larger work system) in the literature about bullying most attention is given to negative work culture.  However, recent research suggests that an individual’s perception of a high stakes/high demand work environment “creates conditions of vulnerability that make employees more likely to become targets of negative behaviors” and that when an individual believes that there is little that they can do to control that environment they may choose to behave in ways that explicitly and implicitly shift blame for failure or the potential of failure to others.  For example, an employee may choose to criticize another’s work, or withhold information that affects another employee’s job performance (Francioli et al., 2016). 


What this means is that it does not necessarily matter if an environment is actually abusive.  If a business is engaged in a high stakes/high demand work environment then the conditions are ripe for that individual to perceive that they are being bullied.  


This is the primary reason that we believe that being proactive about creating a work environment that explicitly fosters a collaborative culture is essential to a business operating at optimal levels. 


What kind of workplace is most likely to foster bullying behaviors?

In addition to being a “high stakes” environment, David Cory, an expert in emotional intelligence in the workplace suggests that certain types of  “Traditional Dominance” or “autocratic business leaders” can create cultures that foster bullying.  Immediately following the industrial revolution managers were recruited for businesses from the ranks of officers in the military. These individuals were able to create order and necessary human organization within, often dangerous, factories.  However these individuals brought with them an autocratic method of leadership.  While this leadership practice might have been very appropriate during the industrial revolution it is far less appropriate for a contemporary business that relies on motivating and inspiring its employees.  The message that is transmitted by an autocratic leader is one that sounds like, “If I can dominate you then I can MAKE you do what I need you to do and therefore I will be able make this company successful.” 

The problem with this approach is that humans really do not like to be dominated.  And while this approach MIGHT be appropriate for very young (and sometimes undisciplined) men serving in an early twentieth century military, a contemporary workplace is characterized by far more diversity, a focus on information, and a need for collaborative teamwork. 

Here are some primary features of both dominance and partnership paradigms as they relate to management and leadership styles:


Dominance Paradigm

  • Top Down
  • Power over
  • One way Communication
  • Commands given
  • Compliance Focus
  • Limited Scope (to leader's vision)
  • Simple Leadership

Partnership Paradigm

  • Bottom Up
  • Distributed Leadership
  • Creativity focused
  • Dialogue favored over commands
  • Collaborative Focus
  • Unlimited Scope
  • Complex and Flexible Leadership

Isn’t this just a fancy way of saying that all hierarchical authority is bad?

Not really.  What we are saying is that there are serious limitations to autocratic styles of leadership. If we demand and command we are often not entering into dialogue to find out the best way of doing something for the business.  It is also possible that we are ruling with fear and when other managers within an organization emulate our behavior our organization becomes more susceptible to bullying behaviors. 

How can 2Human Strategies help our organization?

We are SO glad you asked this question.  At 2Human Strategies we are REALLY good at helping you to understand your self and your employee culture.  This is called emotional intelligence.  We also excel at helping organizations shift to utilizing a partnership leadership paradigm versus an autocratic paradigm.  We believe that very few managers seek to drive organizational behaviors downward, and we also believe that VERY few individuals actually want to engage in bullying behaviors.  However some specific skills are required in order to move an organization to a partnership paradigm.  When we utilize a partnership paradigm we are far more concerned with how do people feel about the organization?  How do they feel about working there?   

Most often managers within organizations are promoted to manager positions because of some sort of technical expertise that the manager might possess.  However, just because an individual has technical expertise does not mean that they know how to support other people or that they know how to motivate or manage people effectively.  We are very good at helping managers understand how to do this.  

One of the tools that we use to investigate these questions is the EQ2.0.  The EQ2.0 is based on the way people view and think about themselves.  It also assesses several domains that are crucial to working relationships.  These include: self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal knowledge, decision making, and stress management skills.  With this helpful tool we can start to discern whether or not people in an organization are in-touch with their emotions and whether they are involved in a role that promotes the development of relationships that translates into effective working behaviors and relationships.  Our goal is to improve behaviors will allow individuals to take a more considered approach toward both themselves and others.  We help your organization to create a culture that empowers versus bullying. 




Boddy, C. (2011).  Corporate psychopaths, bullying and unfair supervision in the workplace.  Journal of Business Ethics.  100(3), 367-379. 


Bond, S. A., Tuckey, M. R., & Dollard, M. F. (2010). Psychosocial safety climate, workplace bullying, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress.Organization Development Journal28(1), 37.


Hogh, A., Mikkelsen, E. G., & Hansen, A. M. (2011). Individual consequences of workplace bullying/mobbing. Bullying and harassment in the workplace: Developments in theory, research, and practice, 107-128.


Francioli, L., Høgh, A., Conway, P., Costa, G., Karasek, R., & Hansen, Å. (2016). Do personal dispositions affect the relationship between psychosocial working conditions and workplace bullying?, Ethics & Behavior, 26:6, 451-469,


Leymann, H. (1996). The content and development of mobbing at work. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5, 735–753.


Lutgen-Sandvik, P., Tracy, S., Alberts, J. (2007).  Burned by bullying in the American workplace: Prevalence, perception, degree and impact.  Journal of Management Studies. 44(6), 837-862. 


Rayner, C., Hoel, H., & Cooper, C. L. (2002). Bullying at work: What we know, who is to blame and what can we do. London: Taylor Francis.


USA Today (August 1, 2015).  Bullying Bosses Bad for Business.  


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