The majority of us spend most of our time at work and our experience of work definitely affects or mental health and vice versa. So it seemed to be a really good idea to get support around how we can relate to our jobs in way with a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction. Jeff Klein, CEO of Cause Alliance Marketing, writes in his new book Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living, “We live in a time of great change, significant challenges, and tremendous opportunity.” He encourages us to integrate work with positive social change and to bring mindfulness to the workplace. 

It is my pleasure today to interview Jeff so we can all glean some of his wisdom around a topic that is so relevant to all of us.

Question: What is Working for Good and why should people aspire to engage in it?

Jeff:  Working for Good is a way of showing up for work in which we cultivate and express our full humanity. In my pursuit and practice of Working for Good over the past three decades, I’ve found that how we work is as, if not more, important than what we do. We can work in a green business, a social service organization, or some other endeavor focused on making the world a better place, but if we treat others and ourselves with disregard or disrespect in the process, we end up creating something far short of our intention. The process is the product.

If people want to become more fully human, to pursue a path of self-actualization through their work (considering that work is an essential and substantial aspect of life, and if they want to fulfill their potential at all, they probably want to focus on it in the context of their work), connect with others more deeply and establish a deep foundation for collaboration, then they will probably want to cultivate the skills of Working for Good!

Question: One of the key points that you mention is how “awareness is essential, but if it isn’t embodied in actions, its effects are minimized.” How do we get over inertial and “walk our talk.”

Jeff:  Good question Elisha. Well, to some extent different people have different approaches to overcoming inertia (in general and in this context). Some of the things I find useful (for myself and others) include:

  • Apply awareness to our actions. That is, observe our actions and their effect on others. Make our observations explicit and even discuss them with others. This process of observation, expression, and conversation is a process of embodying awareness in itself.
  • Move! Yes, if we want to walk our talk, it helps to walk! And reflecting on the relationship between our intentions and our actions while we are walking (or otherwise moving) helps to bring the awareness and intention into our bodies, so we can em-body them. I practice many forms of moving meditation – including dancing, ChiRunning, martial arts, and body surfing – during which I focus on issues that are up for me and I look at how I am acting them out in the way I am moving, and work on the mental and physical simultaneously. Call it self-therapy in motion.
  • Ask others to keep us honest and do the same for them: We can support each other to get moving, and we can provide feedback to each other with respect to how we are or are not walking our talk, and we can support each other to get on track when we fall off.

Question: How we relate to our work seems to have a fundamental effect on whether we actually enjoy what we do. In your book you suggest that working for good is meant to be “an antidote to the violence people do to themselves and each other through business and work.” How do people do violence to themselves and what is the individual and collective impact?

Jeff: Another great question Elisha. Violence at work takes many forms. Among them are the violence we do to ourselves by compromising our purpose, passion, values, and more by settling for work that is unfulfilling and that does not bring out the best in us – stretching us to learn, grow, and express more of our talent and potential. This is violence that leads to a slow death – first of spirit, then of mind and body.

While there are many forms of violence to others, among them are the ways we put and hold each other down – whether through competition, fear of losing control, and other motivations – constraining expression, creativity, productivity, and more.

Clearly, these constraints on expression, which I am referring to as violence, have profound implications for individuals – who suffer the violence – and to the collective, which is wasting untold potential, creativity, and productivity.

Question: If you were sitting across the table from a reader of The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog right now, what pieces of wisdom could you impart on how they could get started on making a change at work, for good. 

Jeff:  I love your questions Elisha! The first thing I suggest is for them to slow down, get quiet, and tune in to what is up for them at work. What are the deep questions they have in relationship to their work. It can be personal questions about their relationship to their work – are they really doing what they want to be doing, are they alive at work or working like they are half-dead, not bringing themselves fully to it or not receiving what they need from it. It might relate to challenges they are facing with others they work with. It may be a question about the way their company conducts itself. Or something else.

This process of slowing down, reflecting, and inquiring is among the most powerful things we can do. Another and next step can be to invite someone else we work with to do the same with us, to slow down, and have a conversation about the issues that one or both of us might be considering or concerned about.

After all, business is simply a form of human social organization focused on producing specific outcomes – producing products or services, generating wealth and value, creating jobs, among others. And as a form of human social organization, it provides an opportunity to be and become more human, and to access our humanity to more effectively accomplish the objectives of the business and the people comprising it. Drawing on awareness, our ability to connect and collaborate, and bringing our highest intelligence to bear, are essential to Working for Good.

Simply put, another way to answer this question is “begin with yourself.” That is, cultivate your own embodied awareness, listen deeply and connect with others. Become skillful at facilitating collaboration.

Question: In your book you write and provide a good deal of mindfulness-related practices to integrate into work life. What do you see as the key benefits to weaving mindfulness into the workday and can you give us an example of a practice that readers can start using at work right now?

Jeff: To some extent I addressed this question in my last response. I will add that mindfulness connects us to our experiences – our feelings, thoughts, sensations. It also helps us to distinguish between our perceptions and responses to experience and the experience itself; to recognize when we are building stories on top of experiences, which may or may not be true. These insights cultivated by mindfulness practice can be essential to making wise decisions, avoiding unnecessary conflicts, and more fully and accurately observing and understanding people and situations.

As I did above, I suggest simply slowing down, taking some time and space to reflect, and to observe what is up for you is a good place to start. In mindfulness meditation, we simply observe our sensations, emotions, thoughts. Perhaps naming them as we observe them. For instance, sitting quietly, we can watch our thoughts, feelings and sensations come and go and name them as we recognize them. As we name them “anxious, anxious, anxious… sore neck, sore neck, sore neck.. hunger, hunger, really hungry…stomach aching… afraid, afraid.. afraid…” they move one into another.  If we take the time to watch the rush hour traffic in our minds this way, it eventually slows down, and we can shift our attention to specific questions we want to explore and be more present for whatever presents itself.

Question: A common complaint I hear from people that I meet is about having difficulty with the many personalities in the workplace. Whether it’s their boss or another co-worker, sometimes the environment can become a drag. How can we relate to difficult people in the workplace to be more effective and happier day to day?

Jeff:  What a great focus for mindfulness! Really. And an object of inquiry. Why do we find someone difficult? What does it matter so much to us? What skill or capacity can I cultivate to work more effectively with this person? Is there something they are reflecting about myself that I cannot or don’t want to look at?

One thing you can do is to look at the whole “ecosystem” of characters and personalities you work with and picture them as characters in a story or perhaps as fish in a big fish tank. What does this character or fish look like? How does he behave relative to the other characters (or fish)? And what is your relationship to him, and to the whole ecosystem of characters? How does your relationship change based on your circumstances and state of mind?

I find the interplay of people – personalities, egos, etc – to be among the most interesting and challenging aspect of Working for Good.  It is the raw material of Working for Good, and what we do with that raw material is our opportunity for creating an incredible world.

Thank you for your thoughtful questions Elisha and for giving me the opportunity to reflect on them for your readers.

As always, please share your thoughts, questions, and stories below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.