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The Right Side of History: Musings from Workhuman

Disclosure: I am compensated for attending Workhuman and sharing my thoughts and commentary on the conference. No one at Workhuman directs what I am supposed to write or how I cover the conference – I am simply invited to share my impressions of the experience. 


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend my FIFTH Workhuman conference. The conference was started by Globoforce to highlight not only its recognition platform, but because the company believed there was a better way to work. The first event was, shall we say, “intimate” – not a lot of people, but a lot of buy-in around the idea of treating employees like human beings and acknowledging that they bring more than their productivity to the workplace.

The buy-in was so strong that the conference has grown 600% since that first gathering, and Globoforce has since changed its name to Workhuman, outwardly reflecting the commitment to an idea that has been internally held all along; and the conferences shall henceforth be known as Workhuman Live.

Enough about the backstory. How was the conference, Mary?! 

In short, the conference was really good. Through the years, the event has experienced some growing pains, particularly in the area of registration and picking up your badge. The image that comes to mind is locusts on a field of wheat with a couple of people waving their arms around to try and calm the masses…but that might be a bit dramatic. What really happens is everyone arrives about the same time, and when you have pre-conference sessions that people what to get to in a short period of time, it can get crowded. Add to that an unfortunate technical issue with a badge printer, and you get some long lines. But as always, the conference staff handled it well – apologies, smiles, and handing out water to the people waiting in line.

It’s hard to sustain a unique event experience year after year. At some point, conferences get so big that you have to scale your logistics in proven (read: “traditional”) ways – keynotes, breakouts, etc. Workhuman continues to set itself apart by limiting the “expo hall” (which they call Workhuman Central) to a few product demo areas, one or two partner booths, and a focus on connection. The Gratitude Bar (where attendees can use the Workhuman platform to recognize others) took center stage, and for every recognition shared, Workhuman contributed to three local charities. The Studio Sessions offered smaller, conversational style discussions on topics, and everywhere, there were places for attendees to sit, rest, connect, recharge.

Yeah, yeah…what about George Clooney?

Yes, Workhuman does a very good job of booking speakers. And many of you may wonder, “What the hell does Gary Hamel/George Clooney/Kat Cole/Geena Davis/Brené Brown/Viola Davis/etc. have to do with working human?!”  (Okay, maybe Gary Hamel, Kat Cole and Brené Brown make sense. And they were phenomenal. And I got to meet Kat Cole, so there.) Aside from the obvious star power that these names bring to the conference, I am always impressed at how Workhuman identifies speakers who live the values the event espouses. I was struck by the humility and humanitarian focus of each of the speakers. Yes…George Clooney is impossibly charming and every inch the movie star…and he uses his platform to do good things. Humanitarian efforts are personal to both George and Amal Clooney – they put in the time and work. It’s not just a cause they donate money to. Geena Davis has established a foundation called the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which engages film and television creators to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters — and reduce gender stereotyping — in media made for children 11 and under. Viola Davis speaks TRUTH – she uses her success and visibility to challenge all of us (not just Hollywood) to do better in how we think about and act on diversity and inclusion. None of these speakers were scripted – these are issues they speak about with passion and a real belief that we have an obligation to use our abilities to help others.

Any takeaways? Or are you just going to keep describing the conference?

That last piece – the obligation to use our abilities to help others – is my chief takeaway from Workhuman 2019.

Each of us has an obligation to use whatever influence/power/gifts/resources/whatever to make the world a better place – for all humans. George Clooney (I know, I know…but he was really good!) shared the values his family instilled in him early on, the importance of helping others who need it. He spoke about the role of luck in his life and acknowledged the help he’s had along the way. Most of all, he expressed his belief that those who have need to help those who have not.

Perhaps the quote that has stuck with me the most is this: “You are never on the wrong side of history when your aim is progress.” Progress is helping others. Progress is a hand up, not a hand out. Progress is teaching empathy. Progress is vulnerability and learning from mistakes. Progress is making a workplace that is welcoming and safe for all people. Progress is representation – in investing, in community, in movies, in the boardroom, in life. Progress is using your platform to advance society forward, not move it backwards.

We all may define progress differently, but this is the definition of progress I want to see and promote.

I want to be on the right side of history.


Workhuman Live (the new conference name) will take place in Denver in 2020.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Conference Posts

 

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WorkHuman 2019: The journey continues

Okay, yes. That’s a super cheesy blog post title. But cut me some slack – I’ve been writing about WorkHuman for a really long time! The first post I wrote about it was in 2015, which feels really long ago. I’ve been to all of the WorkHuman conferences (here’s a quick overview of the history). I really like them. I’ve attended as a speaker, a moderator, a member of the social media team, and as a mere participant (who also still wrote and tweeted because I apparently can’t attend a conference without doing that).

So why do I keep going back to WorkHuman?

Well, for one thing – they invite me. 🙂 I really appreciate that. There are a lot of people out there who can write and tweet about a conference, and I am grateful they see a value in bringing me back each year to help the promote the event. And I also appreciate the fact that while I do receive some compensation for promoting the event, I have never once been directed about what I should say or how I should say it. They have always let the conference speak for itself and ask people to be open and honest about the experience. I can’t say enough about the team that puts on the event – they are fantastic people who love what they do, and it shows.

Every year, the conference is a different experience because the team experiments with different set ups to encourage as much human interaction as possible. It’s much different than most conferences I’ve been to. Last year in Austin was really amazing – a large space for downtime, networking conversations, indoor food trucks, gratitude trees, coffee bars. It was a fantastic set up and I can’t wait to see what they do this time!

I also go because I get to see so many people who want to learn more about how to work differently. The topics at WorkHuman aren’t focused on compliance or laws (although the conversation DOES come up). Most speakers talk about the importance of making a human connection, and the attendees really respond to the message. People are frustrated at work. The lines between work and home continue to blur. The more we acknowledge the social nature of human beings (yes, even introverts), the more we recognize the need to change how we approach our interactions. The people at WorkHuman are there to learn from the speakers’ sessions and I love talking to them throughout the conference.

And let’s talk a little bit more about those speakers. When you look at the roster of speakers that WorkHuman has gotten over the years, it’s mindboggling – Arianna Huffington, Adam Grant, Shawn Achor, Simon Sinek, Michael J Fox, Brene Brown, Salma Hayek, MICHELLE FREAKING OBAMA – just to name a few. All the keynote speakers brought unique perspectives and research and experiences to the conference, challenging the attendees to see the humanity in everyday life. And last year, WorkHuman featured a spotlight on the #metoo movement, with a memorable panel featuring Tarana Burke, Ashley Judd, and Ronan Farrow. This year promises to bring even more amazing speakers to the forefront – Viola Davis, Brene Brown (back again!), George Clooney (Amal Clooney spoke last year), and others – including me!

So I’m counting down the days until I get to join all my friends at WorkHuman – this time in Nashville, TN. I hope to see you there!

There is still time to register! Use discount code WH19INFMFA when you sign up here.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2019 in Conference Posts

 

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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 2

In Part One, I shared the story of what actually happened to my ear. Here’s the rest of the story (with apologies to Paul Harvey).


What I Learned Through This 

I’ve been dealing with the whole left ear thing for about 6 months now, and I’ve learned a few things in that time:

  1. SSHL can hit anyone at anytime: One of the ways I’ve always handled situations is to get as educated as possible about the topic, so I’ve read a LOT about SSHL and know there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. It just happens. So sleep well tonight, everyone!
  2. Hearing loss has been tied to accelerated mental decline: This was surprising to me, but after reading about it, it makes sense. I notice I’m more withdrawn in group situations, and I still have one great ear! Imagine having almost no hearing. Experts think that the gradual withdraw from all social situations impacts brain stimulation, which can accelerate dementia. They aren’t sure yet, but the National Institute of Health has a study that will be completed in the next few years that should shed some light on it.
  3. Hearing aids are wicked expensive and seldom covered by insurance: My hearing aids will cost more than $3,000. If I was under 18, they’d be covered by insurance. For adults, there is very limited support. Even Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids fully (if at all). I’m lucky to be in a position where I can afford them (as well as the constant purchase of batteries). The fact they aren’t covered, and yet may help those suffering from cognitive decline, really bothers me. Luckily, Costco and other discount offerings are available for some models. [Note: In a kind of cosmic circle of life, my mom reminded me that my late Uncle Billy had multiple patents on hearing aid technology. It would be kind of cool if his work ended up in my ears.]
  4. Diagnosis and treatment took a lot: All told, I had 1 urgent care appointment, 3 specialist appointments, 1 MRI, 1 CT-Scan, and 1 hearing aid fitting. Oh, and I still need to actually GET my hearing aids, then do a follow up, and get yearly checkups. All of these appointments have happened at different times and at very different locations (opposite ends of town). Because I have good insurance and a job where I’m allowed to leave for doctors’ appointments, this wasn’t (much of) a problem. My out of pocket was negligible (yeah – even with an MRI and CT-scan). I can’t imagine what I would have done if I was in an hourly position trying to juggle childcare and no sick time, making $11/hour with a high deductible healthcare plan. We really need to work on this as a society and not make basic healthcare something that can threaten someone’s job and/or financial security just because they need to go to the doctor.
  5. The reactions of others were surprising: When I started sharing the diagnosis and ultimately the prognosis and need for hearing aids, I got different reactions. Some people chose to make a joke (note: probably not a good idea to make a “what?” joke to a person who just told you they are now deaf in one ear). My guess is these people didn’t know how to respond. Other people reacted like I told them I had a serious disease. I appreciate their sympathy and concern, but felt like it was out of place. I’m not dead. I’m not kept from doing what I like to do. I’m going to be okay. Really.
  6. It’s still pretty freaking annoying: If anything, my left ear is an inconvenience to me. I get frustrated sometimes – I can’t sleep on my right side and hope to hear anything, like an alarm, so I have to be aware of my sleep position. And the tinnitus gets annoying sometimes, but I’ve already adjusted somewhat. It’s tiresome to have to use my right ear for phone calls because now I have to hold the phone with my left hand but write with my right hand, which means I drop the phone. A lot. This may be one of the things I’m most looking forward to fixing with hearing aids. It’s the little things.

    Another “lend me your ears” joke. I clearly have a problem.


Why I Shared This Story:

A few reasons. It’s a quick way for me to update people I know but don’t see on a regular basis. It’s a way to help people understand why I may not have been paying attention to them in a crowded setting. I didn’t find much shared from people who experience SSHL, so maybe this will help someone else who finds themselves in this situation. Sharing my story is also a way to help people realize that health stuff hits people anytime, anywhere, for no real reason. So if you’re one of those people who blame people for their health problems, you’re likely to hear from me…and it won’t be pleasant.

I also thought it would be good to shed some light on the challenges of ongoing healthcare for a non-life threatening issue. Loss of hearing in one ear is hardly comparable to cancer, MS, ALS, or any of the other thousands of health issues facing millions of people every day. It does require treatment, though, which includes follow-up care. Does the fact that you can’t immediately notice I can’t hear out of my left ear impact the way you’d react to my requests for time to see the doctor? It could. Do you have an employee who misses a lot of time for doctors’ appointments? Do you find it suspicious? I bet someone in the office has made a joke about job hunting about that person (or even me, for that matter). Our health issues are supposed to be confidential, but make no mistake – people who are managing health issues KNOW others are judging them and often share details they’d rather not share just to avoid the ongoing bullshit and side-eye they get from their coworkers or boss.

I also shared this story because I was surprised at what I learned about hearing loss and mental decline, particularly in the elderly. I hope the National Institute of Health’s study points to some tangible actions we can take to help mitigate this and maybe throw some damn funding towards helping more people get GOOD hearing aids who need them. Technology has improved tenfold (my hearing aids will have an iPhone app), but prices have not come down. Yes, technically you’re getting more for your money now, but that money is a pretty high amount, especially for those on a limited income.

I hope to get my hearing aids fitted some time in January 2018. I’ll keep you posted on what that process is like and how they impact my day-to-day.

In the meantime, sorry if I was only half-listening to you the last time we spoke.

At least I have an excuse. 😉

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Authenticity

 

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