Mental Illness at Work – Erin Sutherland’s experience

This video shows Erin Sutherland, an employee of the Canadian government, talking about her experience with mental illness.  It speaks to the power of the workplace and leaves us with some of her lessons learned.


BEWARE: The Food you Eat Affects Your Productivity

Think back to your most productive workday in the past week. Now ask yourself: On that afternoon, what did you have for lunch?

When we think about the factors that contribute to workplace performance, we rarely give much consideration to food. For those of us battling to stay on top of emails, meetings, and deadlines, food is simply fuel, but food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.

Here’s a brief rundown of why this happens. Just about everything we eat is converted by our body into glucose, which provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. When we’re running low on glucose, we have a tough time staying focused and our attention drifts. This explains why it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.

So far, so obvious. Now here’s the part we rarely consider: Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and BLTs) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.

Most of us know much of this intuitively, yet we don’t always make smart decisions about our diet. In part, it’s because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when deciding what to eat. French fries and mozzarella sticks are a lot more appetizing when you’re mentally drained.

Unhealthy lunch options also tend to be cheaper and faster than healthy alternatives, making them all the more alluring in the middle of a busy workday. They feel efficient. Which is where our lunchtime decisions lead us astray. We save 10 minutes now and pay for it with weaker performance the rest of the day.

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Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss

There’s an age-old question out there: Is it better to be a “nice” leader to get your staff to like you? Or to be tough as nails to inspire respect and hard work? Despite the recent enthusiasm for wellness initiatives like mindfulness and meditation at the office, and despite the movement toward more horizontal organizational charts, most people still assume the latter is best.

“Tough” managers often mistakenly think that putting pressure on employees will increase performance. What it does increase is stress—and research has shown that high levels of stress carry a number of costs to employers and employees alike.

Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy and her research partners have also shown that leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. Why? One reason is trust. Employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.

And an interesting study shows that when leaders are fair to the members of their team, the team members display more citizenship behavior and are more productive, both individually and as a team. Jonathan Haidt at New York University Stern School of Business shows in his research that when leaders are self-sacrificing, their employees experience being moved and inspired. As a consequence, the employees feel more loyal and committed and are more likely to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to other employees. Research on “paying it forward” shows that when you work with people who help you, in turn you will be more likely to help others (and not necessarily just those who helped you).

A large healthcare study showed that a kind culture at work not only improved employee well-being and productivity but also improved client health outcomes and satisfaction.


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Walktober at Dal – Stepping Up to Health…. Together

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The month of October is being transformed into “Walktober” for 2014. Walking groups are being assembled to track activity, motivate each other, and support the goal of increasing physical activity among employees at Dalhousie. While a daily goal of 10,000 steps is agreed to provide health benefits, the overall goal of Walktober is participation and increasing current levels of physical activity.

This initiative is being coordinated with support from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the President’s Office, and Human Resources, and coincides with October being National Healthy Workplace Month.

How does Walktober work?

The idea is to form teams of Dalhousie employees, organized by a champion or team leader, who will help each other to accumulate steps or other forms of physical activity during the month of October. Each team will have a group presence on the WalkaboutNS website, where individuals can enter their daily step counts or activity levels. Each week, participation prizes will be drawn at random for individuals who have accumulated days with physical activity. You can use the website to challenge other teams, or simply to help encourage members of your team to become more active. The website can even be used to challenge teams from other institutions who are participating in the WalkaboutNS project. There will be a celebration of our collective walking achievements at the end of Walktober where additional participation prizes will be awarded. Individuals and teams will receive updates by email, providing tips for increasing physical activity and walking, and identifying prize winners and step count leaders.

Want to create a team? Visit, create your personal profile, then create a new team under the “Groups” tab, using Dalhousie at the beginning of your team name to help track institutional participation, i.e. “Dalhousie Medicine Marchers.” We would be happy to help team leaders get started: email or Teams can consist of any group of Dalhousie employees, whether they are already established walking buddies or work colleagues who wish to support each other. Please help spread the word to your colleagues to increase the number of people participating.

Want to join a team? Visit, create your personal profile, then join an existing team.

How do you track activities?

There are many affordable – or free – tools that can help you monitor your activity:

-          Decide what tools will help you monitor your activity:

o   Pedometers – If joining a team, some pedometers may have already been provided to your team champion or many options are available in local retail outlets.

o   Mobile apps – Most smart phones (iPhones and Android) have pedometer options through the application centre. For Example, on the Apple App Store, there is great free pedometer app entitled “Pacer.”

-          Not a walker? Convert other activities to steps on Under the “Walkabout Info,” you will find the “Resources” tab that has a section on step conversion, titled “Track Your Steps.” Here you will find activities listed with their step conversions.

Add to your step count each day from your profile page on and watch your step total grow along with your team’s total. Setting a big goal for your group and watching your progress over time can be motivating, helping you achieve more than you thought you could. Typical goals include accumulating days with 10,000 or more steps, or collectively walking enough steps to reach Cape Breton from Yarmouth!

Helpful resources

The website has been designed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation to provide a wealth of information on many topics, including (but not limited to):

- Suggested walking routes around campus

- Why 10,000 steps a day?

­- Tips for sneaking in steps each day

- Devices to count steps or monitor activity levels

Inquiries: or