Zen Your Work: A Mindful Interview with Dr. Karlyn Borysenko Part II

“Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.” – Thich Nhat Hanh


Note: This blog post is a contribution to the #SHRM19Blogger website. If interested in discovering other amazing HR bloggers, please click the link to read other posts!

Last week, I published Zen Your Work: A Mindful Interview with Dr. Karlyn Borysenko Part I.

Karlyn is the Chief Science Officer at RallyBright and the Founder of Zen Workplace. She is an organizational psychologist and executive/performance coach, who is a leader in integrating mindfulness strategies in a work setting (and other settings).

She is hosting a MEGA Session at the SHRM 2019 Conference called Zen Your Work: Creating a More Mindful Work Experience. Zen Your Workplace will be held on Tuesday June 25th from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. #SHRM19 attendees interested in becoming more aware, focused, confident, and productive should definitely make it a point to check our Karlyn’s session! Those who won’t be in attendance certainly don’t feel left out! She is incredibly accessible, and in addition, she wrote a book that is worth every penny. Without further adieu, here’s Part II of my two-part interview with Dr. Borysenko!

Paul L: Let’s discuss the term “Zen.” I believe it carries a very unique, if not misinterpreted, connotation in the West. How do you define “Zen” and how do you apply that interpretation to the workplace?

Karlyn B: My definition of “Zen” is admittedly different than most, and I think that’s OK. For me, it’s the peace of mind that comes with knowing that I have the power to change my experience at work, or in life, if I change my contribution, as well as knowing that no one has the ability to make me feel less than amazing if I don’t make the choice to allow them to. I don’t have to stress over the little things, or have a bad day because someone makes a remark I don’t like in a meeting, or question my own abilities if I’m working with someone who is perpetually negative because they’re not happy about how their life has turned out. We choose the way we feel. We choose the inner dialogue we have. We choose what actions to take, or not to take. Our experience is the culmination of those chooses – that’s what I mean when I say contribution. That’s where I believe mindfulness is actually its most powerful. It allows you to achieve a high degree of self-empowerment.

PL: I love that! Again, choice is so powerful. I think people often underestimate their ability to choose how they feel. It is truly powerful to acknowledge our choices outweigh what others do to us. So, is building mindfulness in the workplace solely an individual employee task, or do employers play a role in this, as well? If employers have a part to play in “Zenning” up the workplace, what does that look like?

KB: It’s a little bit of both. On the employee part, you have to know that you can always apply mindfulness to improve your work experience regardless of what your organization is doing. If they aren’t doing anything, that doesn’t dismiss what you can do on a personal level, and it doesn’t give you a free pass not to change your contribution. But employers should be interested in investing in this for their teams because, bottom line, they’ll get more done and the bottom line will go up. The research is very clear on this: People achieve more when they are in a positive mental state. That means mindfulness a very good investment for employers to make.

But it’s not just about employers offering mindfulness training and calling it a day. It’s about creating a positive culture that supports the type of experience you want your employees to have. This isn’t about spouting platitudes – mission, vision, values, all that. It’s about doing every day work. Think about the experience you want your team members to have, and then look at the contributions you’re making to that experience in the form of your policies, your communication, and how your managers are treating their teams. No employer is going to say “I want my employees to have a soul sucking experience,” yet many employees do have soul sucking experiences. When that’s the case, it’s because organizational leaders are saying one thing and doing another. In this case, they could be more mindful of how the employee experience is being created by the day-to-day actions the organization is taking. If they don’t like what they’re creating, make different choices.

PL: Thank you for that explanation. I often see, read, and hear about the frustrating disconnect between what leadership says and what leadership does. It’s disheartening at times, yet knowing personal mindfulness can help mitigate the negative effects is awesome. Your website showcases a lot on the DISC assessment. I’m becoming somewhat of a DISC nerd lately, so that was cool to see! How do you believe DISC aligns to mindfulness practice? What overlaps do you see?

KB: Remember, I’m an organizational psychologist first and a lot of what I do combines both mindfulness and psychology. I love DISC because it is a freakishly accurate way for people to become more aware of their personal work style and how they can build better relationships with their colleagues. Self-mastery is a key part of what I teach – understand the things you’re naturally really good at and embracing your glorious flaws as a path of growth and opportunity. DISC tells you that in a clear way.

One of the things that’s most interesting about DISC for me, though, is understanding what your comfort zone is and where you need to stretch outside of it. Your DISC profile is your comfort zone, but never make the mistake in thinking that it’s all you can be. This is where people who criticize work style assessments get it wrong – they think it puts people into boxes they can’t escape from. However, any person can do anything that anyone else can do, it just might require pushing outside your comfort zone. That is going to, inherently, make you feel uncomfortable. And this is where mindfulness comes it. If you can identify that discomfort – become mindful of it – that’s when you can make the choice to do it anyway. It’s not that you can’t do it. Embrace the discomfort as a means of growth and realize that you can do more than you thought you could!

PL: I love that! It’s so difficult in the moment to “embrace the discomfort, but it’s so satisfying to come out on the other end better for it! Who should attend your presentation at #SHRM19 and why? Again, not giving anything away, what will they walk away with?

KB: If they are interested in learning how to apply mindfulness at work in a really practical way, this is the talk you want to go to. They’ll learn tools they can use, but they’ll also learn tools they can use to coach and teach their co-workers. Spread the wealth! And in fact, I want to make this so practical that on Twitter, I’ve asked people to send me examples of their biggest pain points prior to the conference. I’ll work them in as examples to show you how to apply mindfulness to fixing some of your more pressing challenges. If your readers would like to contribute, they can just tweet at me @DrKarlynB with their thoughts. And using the #SHRM19 hashtag, of course!

PL: I will certainly be encouraging my followers to reach out to you. Awesome idea to interweave real world practice into the mindfulness approaches. Finally, is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to touch upon? What would you like readers know about you — personally, professionally, or otherwise?!

KB: In addition to the Zen Your Work MEGA session that we’ve been discussing, I’m also giving two other talks at #SHRM19. On Sunday the 23rd, I’ll be leading a pre-conference workshop called Work Wonders: A Crash Course In How To Be An Amazing Coach. If folks are interested, they should make sure to sign up for that in advance of the conference. Then on Monday the 24th at 11:50am, I’ll take the smart stage to discuss the results of a study I did last year about the employee experience of being fired. The data is something I hope every HR professional gets exposed to – I think they’ll find the results quite shocking (as I did).

And of course, if they want to learn more about mindfulness, they can pick up my book Zen Your Work: Create Your Ideal Work Experience Through Mindful Self-Mastery. It’s available wherever books are sold in paperback, digital, and audio. They’ll also be able to pick it up at the conference in the bookstore, and I’ll be signing copies of it after my talk.

Dr. Karlyn Borysenko is the Chief Science Officer at RallyBright and the Founder of Zen Workplace. An organizational psychologist and executive/performance coach, she is a leader in integrating mindfulness strategies at work to increase productivity and creativity, reduce stress, and create better work experiences. Her practice is based in the greater Boston area and serves clients all over the world. She holds an MBA and a PhD in Psychology, is an experienced trainer and facilitator, coach, and award-winning speaker. Karlyn is a contributor to Forbes.com and the author of Zen Your Work: Create your ideal work experience through mindful self-mastery.

Author’s Note: I want to thank Dr. Borysenko for this interview! She was so gracious and generous with her time and thoughtful responses! I hope to see you there are her talks at #SHRM19! If you can’t make it, please reach out to her via social media. She’s incredibly approachable! For more ideas on mindfulness practice, please don’t hesitate reaching out to her, or me! I’d be happy to share some of my experiences with you!

Zen Your Work: A Mindful Interview with Dr. Karlyn Borysenko Part I

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz

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Note: This blog post is a contribution to the #SHRM19Blogger website. If interested in discovering other amazing HR bloggers, please click the link to read other posts!

My first awareness of the concept of “mindfulness” came several years ago when I first read Thich Nhat Hanh’s masterpiece, Living Buddha, Living Christ. Today, the topic of mindfulness seems to be EVERYWHERE. Just do a Google search. But it is with great reason! I can personally attest to the benefits of incorporating mindfulness practice into my daily life. However, don’t take my word for it! I’m not the expert! Let me introduce you to someone who can much better explain what mindfulness is and how incorporating it into your life can lead to positive outcomes.

Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to interview someone I have admired for a long time. Dr. Karlyn Borysenko is the Chief Science Officer at RallyBright and the Founder of Zen Workplace. She is an organizational psychologist and executive/performance coach, who is a leader in integrating mindfulness strategies in a work setting (and other settings).

She is hosting a MEGA Session at the SHRM 2019 Conference called Zen Your Work: Creating a More Mindful Work Experience. Zen Your Workplace will be held on Tuesday June 25th from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. #SHRM19 attendees interested in becoming more aware, focused, confident, and productive should definitely make it a point to check our Karlyn’s session! Those who won’t be in attendance certainly don’t feel left out! She is incredibly accessible, and in addition, she wrote a book that is worth every penny. Without further adieu, here’s Part one of my two part interview with Dr. Borysenko!

Thank you so much for taking time to discuss your upcoming #SHRM19 presentation with me! I am a huge proponent of mindfulness practice. I was first introduced to the concept by reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ. It was a transformative read. When and how did you first get introduced to the idea of “mindfulness?” What was that like for you?

You might be surprised by this but there was a time I was huge skeptic about mindfulness. I was really interested in Buddhist philosophies when I was younger but years of formal education and existing in harsh environments led me to believe they were simply unrealistic in the real world that always seemed to be beating down on me and serving me one blow after another. So, when “mindfulness” first started creeping up as a buzzword in a business context while I was completing my doctoral work in organizational psych, I really dismissed it at first out-of-hand. I was a different person then and was really closed off to a lot of ideas that I considered to be fluff. But it was my study of psychology that actually turned me onto it. I sort of backed into it as I was exploring different types of research and was really establishing my perspective – “If X is true, that means Y has to be true…and if Y is true, that means Z has to be true,” and before I knew it, I’d landed in the realm of mindfulness. Even then, I was very resistant! But I thought “what the heck” and started practicing it little by little. I took up meditation and started exploring different belief systems and philosophies. My most transformative read during this time was Conversations with God, which is not a book about mindfulness. However, it is all about mindfulness at the same time because it’s about creating a fulfilling experience as a human being by setting aside all of the ingrained beliefs that many of us are programed with from the time we’re kids and looking at the world in a new way. And that was the thing that inspired me to learn how to integrate mindfulness into work in a way that goes beyond meditation or breathing, which is the basis of the work I do today.

I am glad you brought that up because many associate mindfulness with breathing meditation, but as you just said, you believe it’s much more than that. Without giving too much of your presentation away, how would you describe mindfulness to a beginner?

There are three core concepts that form the foundation of how I teach mindfulness: Be aware, be non-judgmental, and be in the present moment.

  • Being aware is about being fully conscious of the internal and external factors at play in any context you’re operating in, including the inner dialogue going on in your mind, the sensations you’re feeling in your body, and the personalities you’re working with.
  • Being non-judgmental is about resisting the inclination to immediately judge things going on around you as good or bad, right or wrong, better or wrong. By reserving judgment, you can explore different possibilities and perspectives and choose the ones that best serve your goals.
  • Being in the present moment is about not allowing negative things that have happened in the past influence the actions you take now with the understanding that the past may not have any relevance to what is going on right now.

To be clear though, I’m a big fan of meditation. I meditate more than the average bear for sure and have found it to be a game-changer and certainly makes it a heck of a lot easier to integrate the strategies I explore in my work. However, the reason I don’t focus there is because there are so many people who are resistant to the idea of meditation, or believe (falsely, I would argue) that they can’t meditate. If we say to people “the bar of entry to mindfulness is that you have to sit and meditate every day,” we’re going to lose a lot of people. So, I focus on teaching other ways for them to practice mindfulness that seem easier, or more practical, to help them build the habits and experience the value of it. We start with the smaller stuff, and if they experience the value and change it can bring them, I’m able to work them up to meditation over time as they release their resistance to it.

That’s awesome to hear. There are many forms of meditation. Not all require sitting with crossed legs focusing on the breathe. Breaking people in over time is a great approach. Over the past decade (and likely longer), the concept of mindfulness has really gained widespread traction throughout the Western world. Why do you think so many people have been turning to mindfulness practice? 

People are more stressed out than ever and are looking for ways to find balance in their experience. Mindfulness is something that anyone can do, is absolutely free to practice, and can make a profound impact. I also don’t think we can dismiss the impact of younger generations here too. Now, normally I’m not a fan of making generalizations based on the year someone was born, but I do think that Baby Boomers were born to be much more “tough” than the generations that came after them. I don’t mean that they have greater levels of mental fortitude. Rather, that they were willing to take a lot more grief without speaking up and saying “I deserve better” because they just accepted it as the way the world works. Think about it: How many of us were taught growing up that work has to be hard…that’s why they call it work! But that’s a big lie that’s been perpetuated so much that many accept it as truth. We can talk about the entitlement of the younger generations as a problem, but I actually see it as a really great thing. They know that they deserve to be happy, and that’s not a right they have to earn. In this way, I think that entitlement has led them to exploring ways they can take care of themselves that their parents might have dismissed off-hand. Mindfulness is one of those ways. And of course, it’s led to them expecting their employers to do more too, or they are very wiling to get up and go somewhere else.

Taking it a step further for people to be so committed to the practice, it must provide great outcomes. Could you describe the positive benefits that one gains from mindfulness practice? How does mindfulness assist people in controlling their emotions and thoughts?

To put it simply, you’ll live a more empowered life because you take responsibility for the experience you are creating every day. Becoming aware of your inner dialogue is key to this. Our brain likes to go to the worst case scenario as part of our survival mechanism, so when we aren’t working at it, we tend to make decisions based on the worst possible outcome, even if that outcome is extraordinarily unlikely!

I was working with a coaching client just the other day who is a great example. A brilliant HR pro in fact! We were talking about her implementing a new process for recruiting that she was nervous about for a variety of reasons. I asked her what the worst thing that could happen was if she went forward with it, and before I knew it, she had created a whole scenario that led to her being fired on the spot for implementing this new process that had been developed collaboratively with different stakeholders across her company! She was so detailed about it: “This person will complain to my boss, and my boss will decide to give them my job, and then I’ll be fired. Then, I’ll be so embarrassed that I won’t know what to do!” She delivered this whole story in a way that was absolutely convincing that the most likely outcome of this scenario was that she would be fired.

Now, of course that’s not the case. There is a very low probability of that actually happening, but what this exercise made her aware of was that she had unconsciously created this very detailed scenario in her head and had been ruminating on it for a bit. That’s why she was so stressed about pulling the trigger – she had convinced herself that if she did, she would be fired. But all of that was going on in her subconscious, so she wasn’t overtly aware of it. Our exercise brought that inner dialogue out to the forefront and made her consciously aware. And that’s where we get to the good stuff because once you’re aware of a story, you can disrupt it. This is how you take control – by making the choice to take responsibility for those thoughts by becoming aware of them, evaluating if they serve your goals, and then choosing to have different thoughts if they don’t! Don’t like the story you’re telling? Replace it with another one. Don’t like how you feel today? Take a few deep breathes and choose to feel a different emotion. These choices are always available to us. We just have to take advantage of them!

I love that phrasing! “Choices are always available to us!” It’s something so simple yet we forget it, or don’t realize it. We are always in control of how to feel. We just need to remember it! So, how would a beginner incorporate mindfulness practice into a day at the office?

There are a few really simple things anyone can do, that seem deceptively easy: Turn off your email and block your calendar.

When you keep your email on all day, you keep yourself in a constant state of multi-tasking in which your attention is draw from a task you should be focusing on to answering every message as soon as it pops in. This inhibits your productivity – it may seem like you’re getting more done, but this constant shifting energy makes that impossible. So instead, turn it off for the first 45 minutes of every hour. Use that to focus on the task at hand. For the last 15 minutes, turn it back on and answer any messages that need answering. Believe me, if it’s an emergency, someone will come and find you. And frankly, we shouldn’t be emailing in the case of an emergency anyway! You have to train your co-workers that they are not entitled to an immediate response for all messages – it just makes no sense. Over time, they’ll learn and behave accordingly.

When you keep your calendar unblocked, you open it up to being scheduled for meetings at all time. Your work time is no less valuable than the time you spend in a meeting. In fact, many people would agree with the statement “meetings in my organization are unproductive,” which means your work time is actually MORE valuable. So treat it that way. Try blocking off an hour every day. This is your time, and it is sacred. Use it to focus on making measurable progress on your goals and you’ll get more accomplished. That means you won’t be working all hours at night, or stressing out over how much you didn’t get done.

Part II will be released later this week. Until then, please read more about how awesome Dr. Borysekno is! Her bio is below with links to her other work and social media sites!

Dr. Karlyn Borysenko is the Chief Science Officer at RallyBright and the Founder of Zen Workplace. An organizational psychologist and executive/performance coach, she is a leader in integrating mindfulness strategies at work to increase productivity and creativity, reduce stress, and create better work experiences. Her practice is based in the greater Boston area and serves clients all over the world. She holds an MBA and a PhD in Psychology, is an experienced trainer and facilitator, coach, and award-winning speaker. Karlyn is a contributor to Forbes.com and the author of Zen Your Work: Create your ideal work experience through mindful self-mastery.

The Expert with a Beginner’s Mind

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” – African Proverb


Note: This blog post is a contribution to the #SHRM19Blogger website. If interested in reading other amazing HR bloggers, please consider reading other posts there!

On March 19th, I had the privilege of presenting to the Rural Transit Assistance Center (RTAC) Conference in Springfield, IL. I was asked to present on the topic of HR challenges that rural transit operators face and how to overcome them.

As I was being introduced, the MC called me an “HR expert.” I was a little surprised by that description! I never really thought of myself as an “HR expert” before. It was a great compliment! Being considered by my peers to be an expert on something is an honor (so long as we don’t become complacent and stop learning; as the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” Always stay hungry for new learning!).

This got me thinking. Where does “expertise” come from? It’s certainly not something we wake up with one day out of nowhere! Expertise shows itself after years of many different experiences. First and foremost, it comes from our daily practice. The old adage is appropriate: Practice makes perfect!

Additionally, my own experience has shown that I have gained much knowledge from my peers. Networking to me isn’t about finding a job. It is about finding people who share similar and different experiences from which I can learn and make meaningful connections. Networking is about gaining friendships and a greater understanding of the world around me.

This is where I believe much of our “expertise” comes from – interaction with others! Some of the most amazing interactions I’ve had have come through my involvement with the local SHRM Chapter.

In 2016 I joined the Illinois Fox Valley SHRM Chapter, which is based in Elgin, Illinois. Immediately upon joining, I was impressed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was! The program was awesome, too! I learned so much that I had to stay involved.

Getting involved at the SHRM local level has been incredibly beneficial to my professional growth, my personal growth, and my organization. But don’t take just my word for it! The IL Fox Valley SHRM Chapter recently did a survey of membership, and here’s what some members said about why they joined the local Chapter:

I’ve been with ILFVSHRM for over three years. ILFVSHRM provides monthly luncheon meetings with relevant topics and great speakers, but the really great thing is the people. Being with a group of HR professionals that are facing the same challenges and issues allows us to share both our problems and solutions. The legal updates help us to stay current with the ever-changing laws. When any of us face a question without an answer, an email is sent, and almost immediately, the chapter members reply with great advice or solutions. I don’t know how or why an HR professional would want to do this process on their own when there is such a wonderful option – ILFVSHRM! – Warren Krupp, HR Manager, RESTORE Hair, Oak Brook, IL

I have been in ILFVSHRM for almost 11 years. The local SHRM chapter provides CEU opportunities every month – with excellent programs on various HR topics. The cost is very reasonable for the monthly meeting and gives me the opportunity to network and meet the wonderful HR professionals in my area. The knowledge and experience of the HR professionals in my local chapter is one of the best resources I have in my daily work. I am connected to people who openly share their wisdom and experience with me that allows my organization to make informed decision on HR topics and policy. – Judie Childress, Controller/HR, RPS Engineering Inc., Elgin, IL

I started with ILFVSHRM in 2007 when my company was purchased and I was looking to connect with HR professionals closer to my home. I quickly felt at home with this chapter as everyone was so welcoming, and began serving on the Board of Directors to give back to the HR community that supported me. Professionally, the chapter has kept me abreast of all HR breaking news and industry refreshers. I get charged up after each meeting to bring back what I have learned and apply it. The Chapter members are open to helping and sharing ideas too, so outside of the meetings we have each other as resources for HR questions that pop up. I have grown personally in the leadership experience I gained on the Board, and have made so many wonderful friends. I will forever be a part of this amazing chapter. –  Susan Oswalt, VP of HR, IPMG, St. Charles, IL

In addition to these testimonials, here’s some other comments from IL Fox Valley SHRM members:

  • Networking opportunities mixed with an educational environment amongst other HR professionals.
  • Keep me up to date on HR topics that affect my business.
  • Teaches me how to grow in my new HR role.
  • Learning and certification credits.
  • Becoming more informed and bringing topics back to my employer.
  • Keeping up to date. The networking and the education on diverse topics.
  • Helping me maintain my certification current for many years!!
  • PDCs, career growth, network building, making closer HR contacts and friends.
  • Earn PDCs, gain knowledge, remind me of new laws.
  • Networking and certification credits, updates and fresh ideas.

If you’ve ever considered joining a local chapter but just haven’t for whatever reason, I encourage you to try one out! SHRM has a great search engine that helps people find local chapters that are close to you. Even if there isn’t a SHRM affiliate near you, see if there are any other local HR peer to peer groups. One example is the Kishwaukee Association of Human Resources in Sycamore, IL. The point is that networking with and learning from your contemporaries should be a nonnegotiable part of what all serious professionals do! Taking the time to invest in these groups has benefits that far outweigh the simply earning recertification credits. Investing in these groups brings forth professional blooming for the individual, the collective, and the business.

Remember, we are never alone! There are so many awesome people to help you along your journey to becoming an expert! Go and meet them!

Five Non-HR Books HR Peeps Should Consider Reading!

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Haruki Murakami

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Writing is one of my great loves. Of course, can someone love writing without loving reading? I’m not sure, but safe to assume that reading is also one of my great loves!

One of my favorite things to do is peruse “must read lists.” Not necessarily so I can read what everyone else is reading for the sake of it, but to see if there are any books that will expose me to new thoughts and ideas. I am always looking to “think different.” I want to see if I can apply an “outside” technique or model to the industry I’m working in, or just to see if something can fit my own personal life!

Sometimes, we find solutions in the unlikeliest of places. In an HR context, this is a necessary skill for HR pros to learn. We must stay agile. We must stay open minded. We must always be looking for unorthodox answers.

So, to keep with that theme, here’s my list of five non-HR books all HR peeps should consider reading!

1. Essentialism by Greg McKeown

“Now let me ask you this: Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilized? Have you ever found yourself majoring in minor activities? Do you ever feel busy but not productive? Like you’re in motion, but never getting anywhere?

“If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the way of the Essentialist.” – Greg McKeown

This book entirely changed not only my view on how to work, but on how to live. Greg McKeown argues that a vast majority of what we encounter in a day is non-essential. A non-essentialist mindset is one that argues “yes, I can do that!” A non-essentialist lives by the mindset that “more with less.” This means never saying “no” to a meal despite your plate runneth over. These non-essential items, projects, ideas, actions, thoughts, requests, etc. suck people’s time, energy, money, emotions and offer very little return on investment. An Essentialist, however, lives by the mindset “less, but better” because they know that doing more with less often results in less! We only have so much time, money, and energy, and Essentialism is a way to sort through what’s truly important, and what isn’t. Essentialists are meticulous with what they give their precious time to, because time is the one thing we lose forever once it’s gone.

HR Connection: HR practitioners are bombarded EVERY DAY with non-essentials. It’s up to us to figure out what is truly worth our time so we can do less but better. It’s immensely difficult, but once implemented, McKeown argues that our lives will be transformed for the better, and we will add more value to our lives and to our organization. It’s a radical notion, yet all ideas that changed the world are.

2. The Art of Living by Epictetus

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.” – Epictetus  

I’m not shy in professing my love of Stoicism, the philosophy that espouses that we should focus our energy on mastering those items that we can control, most of all, our own minds. Epictetus isn’t the founder of the philosophy, but he is one of the most prominent figures in the philosophy’s long history. Born into slavery in ancient Rome, Epictetus eventually overcame his difficulties to become teacher to Marcus Aurelius, future emperor of Rome, and a stoic himself. The Art of Living is a newer condensed translation of his works (the Enchiridion and the Discourses) by Sharon Lebell. This was the book that got me into stoicism as a philosophy and as a way of life. It’s short, portable, and a quick read FULL of wisdom that is easy to understand. I keep a copy next to my bed because being stoic is difficult. I often fail, and that’s OK! Rereading portions of this manual every night gives the reader an opportunity to refocus and to relearn this timeless insight.

HR Connection: HR needs to remember to keep a clear distinction between what we can control and what we cannot. We cannot control how the C-Suite views HR. We can’t force the importance of HR’s role on them. However, we CAN control how we think about HR and how we practice HR! By controlling our own management style and owning it, we can go about our business in a productive, strategic way. Over time, we will make GREAT strides by being ourselves. Eventually, others will take notice.

3. A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell

“When American history was first written, it featured and often celebrated politicians, military leaders, inventors, explorers, and other ‘great men.’ … A Renegade History goes deeper. It goes beneath what the ‘social history’ portrayed as the bottom. It tells the story of ‘bad’ Americans – drunkards, prostitutes, ‘shiftless’ slaves and white slackers, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated beneath American society – and shows how they shaped our world, created new pleasures, and expanded our freedoms.” – Thaddeus Russell

I was a history major in college. I LOVE history. All the history! As I got older, I craved new interpretations and new histories I never heard before. Enter, Thaddeus Russell. His book A Renegade History of the United States tells stories about the American “misfit.” The main theme isn’t that these renegades should be in charge of the country, or their way of living would be better. It’s simply to tell their stories and how they helped shape American culture for the better in certain areas. It’s a thought provoking and fascinating look at portions of American society that have never gotten much attention from this point of view.

HR Connection: While it isn’t an exact parallel, I find many similarities between Russell’s thinking and the disruption movement that’s been undertaking HR management over the past decade or so. Disruption is about changing our way of thinking. It’s about recognizing that there are different ways to interpret challenges and how to approach those challenges. Thought influencers like Adam Grant, Steve Browne, Dr. Melanie Peacock, Jennifer McClure, and so many others have helped usher in a new way of thinking. Old ways of thinking will not solve new challenges, so we must always reinterpret and rethink how we approach things, just like Russell.

4. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” – Cersei Lannister

I am not a big fiction reader (unless comic books count as fiction). However, much like my love for comics, my inner nerd controls my destiny when it comes to high fantasy epics! Like Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones (book one of Martin’s seven book magnum opus A Song of Ice and Fire) is set in an alternate medieval world of swords, kingdoms, and magic! Unlike Tolkien’s works, however, Martin’s world is much less black and white. Fantasy novels tend to focus on absolutes – these are the good guys, and these are the bad guys. The bad guys always lose due to the good guys’ code that never waivers. Martin shuns this line of thinking because the world is much grayer. Good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. Good people can become evil, and vice versa. People scheme and plan to position themselves to win. At the end of the day, loyalties waiver and absolutes are anything but. The only absolute is that dragons are pretty damn cool!!!

HR Connection: I know what you’re thinking, maybe. “HR isn’t anything like A Game of Thrones!!! For one thing, there’s a lot less gratuitous violence and nudity.” While technically true, hopefully, I’d argue the principles Martin focus on match up pretty well to how HR needs to approach our work, especially in two main areas. First, the world is gray. We should live in that world and navigate accordingly. So throw the policy book out the window!!! You won’t find every situation in there, and even if we did, we can’t fit every little scenario into the fine print. It isn’t fair and won’t work well. Second, HR needs to be strategic. This notion has been played to death, except, HR is still seen as transactional by a lot of CEOs and HR pros themselves! To truly add powerful value, HR needs to think more like a Lannister and less like a Stark! No, don’t be a backstabbing jerk – if that’s how you play the game, you’re doing HR wrong (and life). What I mean is, we need to think several moves ahead. We need to set the trends, not merely read them months after new trends emerge. We need to position ourselves as forward-thinking challenge solvers to problems the C-Suite didn’t know existed! And hopefully, HR can find some dragons to swoop in on!

5. No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is a true treasure of this world. A Zen Buddhist monk exiled from Vietnam during the war in the 1960s, his teachings transcend religion. Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and everyone in between can read his works and not feel preached to. He takes traditional Buddhist thought and philosophy and makes it accessible for everyday life. I chose this book to highlight because as I’ve written before, the World is suffering. But in keeping with the Zen proverb that “the obstacle is the path,” Hanh teaches us that suffering can become the nutrients we need to grow and blossom. By taking this gentle, empathetic approach, Hanh teaches that our minds can lessen our suffering by adjusting how we think and believe.

HR Connection: HR is fun. It can be a dance party! HR is also difficult. It can feel like going half a round with Mike Tyson, because that’s about as long as anyone of us would last in the ring with him! We must remember to transform our suffering into productive means. We must also remember that others suffer, too. Be empathetic and nonjudgmental in your approach. Try to find the lotus in the mud that bogs us down. It’s there if you look hard enough! Life is going to be muddy. We need to accept that fact. Yet, without mud, there can be no garden, thus no life.

Comma Splices, LSD, and Being an Influencer: The Writing Journey of a #SHRM19Blogger

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

person holding white paper and typewriter

My love of writing grew from Mr. Kuhn’s College Compensation class my senior year in high school. The class was meant to prepare students for college level writing. To say Mr. Kuhn was eccentric is an understatement.  He would always flail his hands about like Popeye’s Olive Oil in trouble when trying to make his point.

He had a slight lisp that he purposefully played up when he got fired up. “NO! This isn’t how you use a comma!!! Repeat with me, ‘duh duh duh, COMMA SPLICE, duh duh duh!!!'” (He’d chop his hand like Bruce Lee when he yelled “comma splice” to make his point more pronounced.)

Also, he lived in Chicago and commuted to the suburbs every day to teach always telling us, “I’m on LSD twice a day! Yes, I’m a little nuts!” At the time, I didn’t know LSD meant Lake Shore Drive, so I naively thought we were being taught by a drug addict! But that’s besides the point!

The best papers were always marked with a red “FIRST CLASS” stamp on top to showcase how awesome the writing was. My inner competition meter kicked in – I SOOOO wanted a red First Class stamp!!!

My first paper I got a B minus, which didn’t enthrall me. I followed up that B minus with a C plus and a C minus. I felt frustrated, so I went to Mr. Kuhn and asked how I could get better. He was goofy, yes, but he cared about his students. He wanted them to get better — otherwise, why was here there!? After some coaching, it finally clicked with me.

My next paper was a B plus, followed by an A minus. Still not First Class, so I kicked my style into high gear! The final two papers were an A and an A plus/plus — both First Class papers!

I felt so on top of the world for something so relatively minor. That’s the power of an influencer, and Mr. Kuhn was an influencer.

Fast forward 17 years to last week. I was asked to join the #SHRM19Blogger team. I was completely floored to be considered for such an amazing program!

According to a post about the #SHRM18Blogger team:

These highly talented HR professionals are not only “social influencers” who can reach a huge global audience, they are people with a passion for learning, sharing and networking.  HR practitioners, consultants, educators and business owners, the #SHRM18 bloggers will be heavily engaged with attendees from start to finish, while virtually connecting millions of HR professionals from around the world.

Not unironically, or maybe a little bit so, this blogging journey of mine began at #SHRM18 in Chicago when I randomly met several amazing #SHRM18Bloggers, many of whom I have stayed in contact with and consider friends.

I was very inspired by their work as bloggers and as people. Their work pushed me to finally break down my own self-imposed barriers and begin sharing my own writing. Again, this is the power of true influencers, and the #SHRM18Blogger team was full of influencers.

I’ve never considered myself to be a “social influencer” or just a regular influencer. I’m just Paul. All I want to do is share stories and make connections. If doing so means something to at least one other person, then that works for me.

Writing is something I am very passionate about and coupling that with my passion for human resource theory, practice, philosophy, and management has been an incredible journey so far. I wouldn’t have been able to start if it weren’t for an eccentric high school teacher who taught me the importance of knowing that a common splice is bad and LSD is bad, too, mkay.

Thank you to SHRM for allowing me this opportunity. Thank you to the #SHRM18Blogger team for inspiring me last year. Thank you to the #SHRM19Blogger team for doing what you do! I cannot wait to meet you in Las Vegas!

#HRMixTape2019 – Metallica Edition \m/

“Music is the soundtrack to my life.” – James Hetfield, Metallica guitarist and vocals


Earlier this week, I took Steve Browne’s challenge to write a blogpost that centered on an #HRMixedTape2019 – HR Edition! My “mixed tape” of songs was a nod to my heavy metal roots! I named some of my favorite heavy metal anthems I thought described HR situations.

I made it a point to showcase my love of Metallica in the article. While I am a metalhead through and through, all my musical appreciation begins and ends with the Bay Area thrashers. Well, after reading the article, my friend Jeff Palkowski told me he enjoyed it and was waiting for me to write an all Metallica edition. I thought he was kidding, but he insisted he was looking forward to knowing which Metallica songs best described the HR profession!

Jeff challenged me to write a post about Metallica AND human resources – two things I am extremely dedicated to and passionate about?!?! Come on! I couldn’t pass up this challenge one bit. So, here is my #HRMixTape2019 – Metallica Edition, dedicated to my friend, Jeff, but also dedicated to James Hetfield. If Lemmy Kilmeister is God, then James is at least, I don’t know, Thor.

“Whiplash” – Kill Em All (1983)

I start this out with the thrash masterpiece, “Whiplash.” A song about the rough touring life of an upstart metal band made me think of the tough life of an HR professional!

The show is through, the metal’s gone
It’s time to hit the road
Another town, another gig
Again we will explode
Hotel rooms and motorways
Life out here is raw
We’ll never stop, we’ll never quit
Cause we’re Metallica

It’s no secret to HR practitioners that the profession is a tough gig. That’s not to downplay other jobs that are difficult. ALL professions have their challenges. However, HR has an advantage. Like a band that can find connectiveness and bonding in what they do, so can we as HR professionals. I cannot write enough about how networking and reaching out to other HR pros has helped lift me through some tough times. Don’t let the “whiplash” of the profession make you lose your passion for it. It’s a back and forth, but let the better times lead your headbanging ways!

 “Fade to Black” – Ride the Lightning (1984)

When it first came out, “Fade to Black” was divisive in the metal community. How dare Metallica write a ballad!!! That’s not heavy! That’s not thrash! Well, the song isn’t “thrash” per se, but it deals with a heavy topic – suicide.

Things not what they used to be
Missing one inside of me
Deathly loss, this can’t be real
I cannot stand this hell I feel

Emptiness is filling me

To the point of agony
Growing darkness, taking dawn
I was me, but now he’s gone

Hetfield’s lyrics are eerily beautiful. It should come as no surprise that there is a mental health crisis in the United States (and throughout many places in the world). I’ve written about the crisis and how it affects the workplace here and here. It is my firm believe that HR MUST be involved in helping create work environments that promote mental health and wellbeing. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this belief. It’s not just the ethical thing to do. It’s good for business. Much like Metallica not holding themselves to the standards of others, HR shouldn’t hold themselves to the standards of those who do not commit to mental wellbeing.

“Master of Puppets” – Master of Puppets (1986)

 Often considered Metallica’s magnum opus, Master of Puppets is full of amazing songs. The title track reminds me of one of HR’s Achilles’ heels: Policies!

Master of puppets, I’m pulling your strings
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams
Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing
Just call my name, ’cause I’ll hear you scream
Just call my name, ’cause I’ll hear you scream

Polices are necessary. They help HR and organizations maintain consistency, offer guidelines for resolving conflicts, and assist in providing order. However, sometimes HR pros default to policy for everything. This creates an unnecessary barrier between HR and the employee. When we constantly rely on following policy to the letter of the law, we become stiflingly bureaucratic and robotic. We risk losing our humanity, and thus, losing our ability to stay in touch with the humans we are charged with being a resource to. We risk becoming a puppet to the policies master. A better way is using policies as guidelines to help us reach logical, reasonable solutions.

“Sad But True” – Metallica, aka The Black Album (1991)

The album that turned Metallica into a worldwide sensation comparable to the Beatles, or dare I say, Michael Jackson. The Black Album (as it became known as) sold 17 million copies in the USA alone, and still regularly sells 1,000s of copies per week. “Sad But True” is a song about duel lives and how it takes a toll on someone.

You (you)
You’re my mask
You’re my cover, my shelter
You (you)
You’re my mask
You’re the one who’s blamed
Do (do)
Do my work
Do my dirty work, scapegoat
Do (do)
Do my deeds
For you’re the one who’s shamed

A lot has been written about brining your whole, authentic self to work. It’s a topic worth discussing. How many HR pros have two selves – work-self and home-self? I bet more than you’d expect! People put on masks as a defense mechanism. Wearing a mask at work gives us the false impression that we’re protected and safe from people’s judging eyes. What really happens, however, is the mask causes suffering. We end up losing a portion of who we really are and have to keep up the charade. Ultimately, being yourself is far less stressful and more fulfilling. Be you. Be proud. Be happy.


“Fuel” – Reload (1997)

 The mid- to late-90s were a controversial time in Metallica’s career. They found themselves experimenting with their sound, which transitioned from a thrashy hardcore vibration to a bluesy hard rock sound. One of the best songs from this era is “Fuel.” It’s an adrenaline shot of hard rock riffage!

Gimme fuel
Gimme fire
Gimme that which I desire

What do you desire as an HR professional? What’s fuels your passion for HR? Is it diversity and inclusion? Is it recruiting? Is it podcasting? Whatever your desire, whatever your fuel, make sure it provides you with the positive vibes you need to keep going full steam ahead! Whatever you do, make sure your HR passion grows so you can provide relevant and impactful transactions in the workplace. Whatever that means to you, make sure you keep your fuel burning hard, loose, and clean!


“Spit Out the Bone” – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)

Hardwired… to Self-Destruct sees Metallica returning to their thrash roots! The best track on the record, in the opinion of many, is “Spit Out the Bone,” which is about machines taking over the world, not unlike Terminator! In the context of the workplace, that scenario sounds vaguely familiar.

Long live machine
The future supreme
Man overthrown
Spit out the bone

Artificial intelligence is a topic that’s on a lot of HR professionals’ minds. I’m not a luddite. Mankind has prospered due to our ingenuity and resourcefulness. Technology, whether a stone wheel or a robot, is part of that story. But we must remember that change, especially change that alters the economic dynamics of how people make a living, must be handled delicately. It’s too early to know where this is going, but let’s hope it doesn’t end with machines ruling over us!

#HRMixedTape2019 – Heavy Metal Edition! \m/


“Without music, life would be a mistake.”Friedrich Nietzsche

Since the age of 12, and likely even earlier, I have been a music lover, more specifically, a diehard metalhead. I love fast, heavy, aggressive, and thought-provoking music. I love the “chug chug chug” of a great riff. I love the artistry of a great solo. I love the fantasy imagery that the lyrics project.

Like many teenage metalheads, I had a bit of a superiority complex regarding my music, but as I grew older, I came to appreciate other music, too. For instance, I really like Electronic Dance Music (even though I can’t dance to save my life). In my heart, however, I remain a diehard fan of all things heavy metal.

This week, Steve Browne wrote a new blogpost called #HRMixedTape2019 – HR Edition! In it, he challenges HR bloggers to post a “mixed tape” of songs that connect to HR concepts. I thought this was an awesome challenge, so I accepted! Plus, writing about heavy metal AND HR really excites me! So, here’s my #HRMixedTape2019 – Heavy Metal Edition! \m/

Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath”

Any heavy metal list MUST begin with Black Sabbath. Without them, the entire genre wouldn’t exist. So, I chose this song to satirize how HR is sometimes seen as the devil!

What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me
Turn around quick, and start to run
Find out I’m the chosen one
Oh no!

Many HR pros have likely been there! “Shhhh, HR is coming!” Looked at as an evil force that is out to get employees rather than someone that’s an employee resource! It’s a tired story, but one HR pros must keep rewriting by showing employees we can be a positive influence for and with them!

Exmortus – “Moonlight Sonata”

Exmortus are Californian power thrashers, who have some incredible guitar picking chops! I chose this song because it symbolizes to me the seemingly hidden value HR has to offer the world. Such is Exmortus when taking a beautiful Beethoven classic and adding some metal edge. It comes off so masterful! It’s is akin to HR showing up and demonstrating why high employee engagement is great for the bottom line, but doing it while headbanging!

Iron Maiden – “The Trooper”

Who doesn’t love guitar harmonies!?!?! Two guitars strumming the same riff at the same time enhancing the power from the epic hook! Few metal bands perfected the guitar harmony better than Iron Maiden. So, much like a great guitar harmony, HR colleagues can create amazing music together when they support one another. We know that HR professionals have a difficult job to do, and we must be troopers and stick together! Many of us live this every day by connecting via social media (#HRTribe, #HRPeeps) and in real life (shout out to my peeps in the #StateLineCrew in IL/WI!) Forming bonds is essential for HR pros to develop in the profession.

Dio – “Holy Diver”

Not all metal is gloom, doom, war, and evil! Sometimes, it’s pretty damn fun – full of exciting fantasy worlds where dragons roam the sky, knights save villages from trolls, and princesses save their kings from magic spells! Almost no one was better melding fantasy worlds with metal than the late, great Ronnie James Dio (also in Rainbow and Black Sabbath for a period). His voice is legendary! Many HR professionals know to have fun, too! It’s not all policies, PIPs, and performance reviews! Offices full of lava lamps, Magic 8 Balls, Funko Pops, toys, and many other awesome items create an atmosphere that relaxes people and invites them to come in and join the fun.

Metallica – “One”

I am biased. Metallica is my favorite band. Like, not just favorite – I am borderline obsessed with Metallica! So, it was tough to choose one song to put in this post! (See what I did there?) I decided to post “One” as a shout out to HR Departments of One! Often left to do it all themselves, HR Departments of One likely feel paralyzed at times, unable to move forward – trapped by a world that doesn’t give them much help! OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but still. HR Departments of One, you rock! Also, the double bass drumming in “One” is just so sweet!

Rammstein – “Ich Will”

I took German in high school and fell in love with the language, the culture, the food, the beer! 😊 Naturally, I gravitated towards the industrial metalers, Rammstein. With their huge stage theatrics and controversial lyrics and themes, it was a young rebel’s dream band! Why did I choose “Ich Will” (I Want). Well, the lyrics are an interplay between the band and the crowd talking (if you will) back and forth navigating a world of understanding and misunderstanding. It seems to me this describes HR’s challenge communicating with employers and employees! Sometimes, HR pros are great at creating an understanding, open environment. Other times, not so much! At least Rammstein creates a more entertaining medium to work with misunderstanding situations!

Slayer – “Seasons in the Abyss”

Oh Slayer. How many concerts have I been to where some random person yells “Slllllllllllaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyerrrrrrrr!” for no reason? Does every single one count? Well, no metal list could be considered whole without a nod to the thrash titans! They’re controversial. They’re talented. They’re legendary. Seems like HR and Slayer have a lot in common. If anything, “Seasons in the Abyss” is a GREAT name for some of the situations HR finds themselves in! Raise your hand if a manager asks you how to discipline an employee, yet he or she has no documentation…. Feels a lot like the following lyrics:

Close your eyes
And forget your name
Step outside yourself
And let your thoughts drain
As you go insane, insane

Killswitch Engage – Rise Inside

Killswitch Engage is my second favorite band. They’ve helped me through some very difficult times in my life, as well as been there for me when things have been great. I’m ending with this band and song to showcase an important point. We all must watch our biases, unconscious or otherwise.

“With a name like Killswitch Engage, they must be violent, hate filled people!”

(Unfortunately, this is actually a common comment I hear all the time about my beloved music genre).

Well, not in the least! The band members in KSE are incredibly kind, positive people. The band has written songs about women overcoming abusive relationships, individuals fighting through mental illness and depression, and groups working to overcome hate with love. At the same time, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re FUN as all get out – after all, they covered Dio’s “Holy Diver,” which is a fun song! (Go watch the video if you don’t believe me).

I chose “Rise Inside” because it’s their call to action – a call to putting aside all the petty differences that keep us separate. It’s a call to finding common ground to stamp out hate with love and understanding. It’s aspirational, yes, but isn’t that what HR is all about at the end of the day? When done right, HR brings people together.

Hidden Track! Led Zeppelin – “Immigrant Song” (Metal Cover)

 Hidden tracks are awesome! So, I chose a metal cover of the Zeppelin classic, “Immigrant Song.” The original is better, yes, but I needed to stick with the theme! Much like the Viking explorers Robert Plant sings about, HR needs to be fearless as we chart new waters and face challenges never before seen — AI, anyone? Doing things the same old way isn’t an option. Like the Vikings, HR professionals must adapt and overcome as we explore the new worlds in front of us!

Be a Seal Lion: HR Can Help Others Swim


two sea lions in ocean at daytime
Be a seal lion to someone who can’t swim.

“In conversation, one should attend closely to what is being said, and with regard to every impulse attend to what arises from it; in the latter case, to see from the first what end it has in view, and in the former, to keep careful watch on what people are meaning to say.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week, I wrote a blogpost entitled “Just Keep Swimming.” It was my way to encourage others to keep moving forward when life breaks them.

Sometimes, however, the waves or currents of life become way too much for people that swimming becomes impossible. What happens when someone can’t swim?

Kevin Hines is a motivational speaker, author, and mental health advocate. His story can be found here. After jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in an attempt on his own life, he survived with the aid of a sea lion, who helped him stay afloat until the Coast Guard pulled him out of the water. He adopted the sea lion as his emblem for his work in suicide prevention and mental health advocacy with the motto #BeHereTomorrow.

There is a mental health crisis in the United States. The crisis costs employers billions in lost productivity yearly. And worse, it costs families, friends, and colleagues much suffering and heartache.

Unofficially, the llama is sometimes used as the spirit animal for HR. I think the profession can have multiple spirit animals. HR can be like Batman – a symbol that is malleable to whatever the situation needs at that moment in time (via The Dark Knight).

Like the sea lion that helped Kevin stay afloat, HR should assist employees through the unnavigable tides and currents of their suffering. HR should be advocates for policies that promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. I believe this because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the compassionate thing to do. Some C-Suite leaders have to be persuaded through the raw numbers, and that’s OK. The business case is also evident.

Mental health solutions in the workplace is still a difficult discussion, which is why many would rather talk retention rates, turnover rate, employee engagement, payrates, bottom lines, recruiting challenges, the skills gap, and so on.

However, ALL those topics are affected by the mental health of employees. Healthy employees lead to a healthy workplace. Take care of employees, and the rest takes care of itself.

In addition to advocating for workplace policies that support mental health, what can HR do on a more basic level? Several small ideas include:

Being Present. Leave the office and go visit with people. Notice the details. If someone is acting out of their normal habits, make it a point to say hi and ask them how their day is going. Actively being present in their day can (and often does) let employees know someone is there and someone notices them. That simple act can be all the difference.

“I was walking up to the bus driver hoping he would see my pain, but I couldn’t say it overtly. I could not tell him look at me and say ‘hey, kid, are you OK? Is something wrong, can I help you?’” – Kevin Hines discussing his thoughts before he attempted suicide.

Listening. Active listening is a tremendous skill. It’s one that every HR professional should develop, and it’s increasingly crucial in helping others who may be suffering. To actively listen means to be fully present so that you can “hear” or “see” things that are actually being said. Often times, someone with a mental health issue will say “I’m fine, it’s just a headache.” Or they may say, “I’m tired. All good.” These seemingly innocuous statements are often said to hide someone’s pain, or subtle cries for help. Active listening can help people notice something deeper. In addition, listening is just that and mostly only that! Listening is more powerful than speaking. Often, speaking is doing too much. Let the person explain. Let the person talk. Being there and hearing what they have to say is worth more than any hollow advice they weren’t asking for in the first place.

“You listen not for the purpose of judging, criticizing or analyzing. You listen only to help the other person to express himself and find some relief from his suffering.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Knowing What You Don’t Know. One of the many “jobs” HR professionals have is psychiatrist. I’ve joked with many about this, but the truth is, HR pros (more than likely) have no professional training in diagnosing or directly aiding people with mental health issues. And that’s not HR’s job. HR’s job in this context is to be of assistance to the employee. The best thing to do is to listen, offer support by asking what they may need. On a related note, hopefully everyone has access to an EAP – if not, you can help the employee find a mental health professional in the area if they wish.

“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca

Being Unafraid to Have Difficult Conversations. One of the most important things anyone can do in any context regarding mental health is opening themselves up to the conversation. People are afraid to discuss these topics for many reasons. “Will I lose that big promotion at work if I discuss my depression?” “Will I be ostracized at work if I discuss my anxiety issues?” So the stigma makes people bottle it up deep inside where the emotions fester and grow into something more dangerous. A key part of removing the stigma surrounding mental health is to allow open conversations to be had in a safe space without judgement.

“One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.” – Linda Lambert

HR can be and should be a powerful advocate in addressing the mental health crisis that cripples the workplace. Overall, HR can’t solve the problems others are afflicted with. We don’t have to, though. At minimum, we just need to be kind, empathetic, and present. We just need to be available to help them stay afloat until additional help arrives. We can help someone keep swimming when they don’t know how. We can be someone’s sea lion.

For more information and ideas on how HR can be advocates for mental health workplace policies and programs, some articles can be found here, here, here, and here.


If you or someone you know is in need of help, please know there are millions of others who have gone through or are going through similar challenges. They understand. They feel it, too. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of power. Keep swimming for yourself and for others in your life. Just keep swimming. I got the following information from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255.

Just Keep Swimming

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”  – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

clownfish under water

When Finding Nemo first came out, I liked the sweet movie about a father doing all he could to find his lost son. Now, as a father myself, I appreciate it on a different level. My son likes the movie a lot—as many toddlers do. We had watched it not that long ago, and he really liked the goofy fish, Dory – voiced superbly by the amazing Ellen DeGeneres.

In the movie, Dory is a seemingly aloof blue tang fish with a short-term memory. She serves as the comic foil to the grumpy clownfish, Marlin, voiced by the equally suburb Albert Brooks. Throughout their adventure, Dory keeps trying to cheer Marlin up, who hasn’t been happy in years. No matter what Dory does, she annoys Marlin.

My son and I were watching, and he was laughing and I was smiling when Dory sang her famous line. No, not “I will name him Squishy” — although that was a pretty good line. The line that pretty much sums up what I believe to be the theme of the movie.

“Just keep swimming.”

It’s such a succinct, beautiful way to describe perseverance.

Perseverance is a remarkable skill, but a hard skill to learn and to master because to learn it, we must be broken. At some point, life will break us all, sometimes it will break us over and over again. However, that’s how we learn perseverance. If people are never broken, how can they learn to put themselves back together?

There’s a Japanese art form called Kintsugi. When a cup or a plate is broken, rather than throw it away, the item is glued back together and dusted with gold creating a beautiful sparkling seam. The item was clearly broken, but now it’s stronger than before, as well as more beautiful. The art of Kintsugi acknowledges that we can’t separate the broken pieces from our history. Whatever we faced in life, and overcame, is now a part of us. We are stronger at the broken places. It’s important to remember this — always.

I understand the irony of using a Hemingway quote to begin a post about becoming stronger when the world breaks us, but I did it intentionally. While Hemingway lost his final battle when the world broke him for the last time, we need to remember to never allow ourselves to get to that point.

At the end of Finding Nemo, Marlin and Dory kept swimming. Through it all, they kept swimming. Both Marlin and Dory had moments where they were tempted to stop swimming. Yet, they ultimately decided to keep it up, and they found Nemo.

Perseverance is will. It’s a matter of endurance – nothing will stop us, not even ourselves! All the great philosophical and literary quotes on perseverance can be incredibly challenging to keep in mind when the world is in the middle of tearing us apart. That’s why I feel Dory’s line matters. It’s simple. It’s powerful. It’s inspirational. It’s truth.

When life is breaking you, just keep swimming. Your Nemo is counting on it.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, please know there are millions of others who have gone through or are going through similar challenges. They understand. They feel it, too. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of power. Keep swimming for yourself and for others in your life. Just keep swimming. I got the following information from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Company We Keep: Live On Purpose

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” – Epictetus

Selfie with Steve Browne at #SHRM18. This photo is symbolic of my transformative experience at the Conference. It’s a journey I’ve been on since! #HROnPurpose #LiveOnPurpose

Having introverted tendencies can be a challenge. You know you need to go out and fulfill certain obligations, but it’s so tiring! Ugh, if only I could stay home with my books and music and Game of Thrones.

But alas, even introverts need human contact! It’s what makes us human. It’s what KEEPS us human! And this is a good thing, of course. Personally and professionally, we all have those people in our lives that help us find our internal strength, courage, and energy. Those people are the ones we should focus our time on. This blog post will blur the lines between professional and personal – because life is blurry.

Plenty has been written about introverts and their goofiness. (Same goes for you extroverts and ambiverts). And plenty has been written about how we need people in our lives to help us through the good times, bad times, and every time in between – especially in an HR context where the battles we face seem never ending.

This post is about those themes, but my focus is more about sharing a quick personal story rather than a profound list that helps introverts (or others) win friends and conquer enemies.

It was June 2018. I was at the SHRM National Conference in Chicago. As my first national conference of any kind, I was quite blow away! The magnitude could have been stifling. Amazingly, 20,000 people attended the conference – all of them in the McCormick Place conference halls. 20,000 people is more than the total population of a lot of cities and villages.

Upon arriving to Chicago, I checked into my hotel and immediately felt determined to make the most of this experience. I connected with some people I “knew” on Twitter and met them at a nearby restaurant. This was so out of my normal comfort zone! I sometimes have a hard time speaking to people I know, and here I was going to meet people I wasn’t even sure existed in real life! I mean, at least half my Twitter followers are bots…. 😊

Upon meeting these amazing people out and about (yes, they were real peeps), I immediately gained confidence and felt a desire I never felt before. I was going to try to meet as many new people as I could, even if it meant, GASP!, walking up to them and introducing myself.

This experience of getting out of my comfort zone culminated with a personal goal I had since I first registered for SHRM 2018. At the time, I had read “HR On Purpose” by Steve Browne of LaRosa’s Pizza fame. The book, if you haven’t read it, please do, really helped me reexamine my own outlook on HR management, and life in general, really. So, I wanted to meet Steve. Thankfully, he was booked to give several presentations at SHRM 2018, and if I attended them, I had a chance to meet someone who was a major influence on my professional development!

So, I went to his first presentation a little early – probably way earlier than I needed because I was one of four people in this giant hall. But I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.

I was waiting patiently when I saw him, well heard him, coming – a giant man with a booming voice and a bright tie dye shirt was yelling as he walked down the hall that he couldn’t wait for us all to get “geeked;” he had an infectious laugh while yelling at us.

It was intimidating! I felt nervous and almost backed out… How could I just go up to this man unannounced? He’s busy! I’m not important enough. He’s got other things to do.

Nonsense, I told myself! Stop that Old Paul. The New Paul cares not for your excuses! I felt that desire and determination again! I wasn’t going to let my emotions control what I wanted to do.

I got up and walked right up to Steve to introduce myself. Steve smiled and said he was happy to have met me in real life – he remembered us interacting on social media! I was humbled that this giant in the industry remembered me! I told him that his book was a game changer for me, and I thanked him for writing it. He thanked me, and I then spontaneously asked if I could take a selfie with him. “Of course!” he said. I took the selfie, and he said come see him after the presentation! I did, along with a ton of other new people I got to meet in line, and he signed my copy of “HR On Purpose.”

This was transformative for me. SHRM 2018 was the beginning of me challenging my internal struggle to make meaningful connections simply because I was afraid to approach people I didn’t know. I let myself be vulnerable enough to make new connections. And I was lucky because the people I met were more than willing to help me, they were active participants in my transformation, whether they knew it or not!

Since then, I have kept in contact with many of these #HRPeeps. Some of us have even formed the affectionately named #StateLineCrew – a group of IL and WI HR pros (and more importantly, friends) who meet once every other month or so on the IL-WI state border. We meet, talk, laugh, and grow. I have confidence enough to say we’ve become pretty good friends, not just colleagues.

What this has taught me is at the end of the day, keep good company. Most of all, remember to keep good company within myself! This will help in more ways than anyone can truly know!

I was originally going to end this by naming all the people I met at #SHRM18, but that would be incredibly difficult the more I thought about it. I would inevitably forget someone. I met so many wonderful people and continue to do so! However, I want to send a special shout out to Claire Petrie (Twitter: @_strclaire) for helping me get started on this journey with a simple Tweet – “We’re meeting at Elephant and Castle on W. Adams if you wanna join!” So incredibly glad I did! Thanks for the invite, Claire! And thanks to everyone who I’ve met along the way!