I remember being formally introduced to the “Ripple Effect” when I was a senior in High School.  My physics teacher, Mr. Pitt, demonstrated Newton’s third law of motion by dropping a stone into a container of water.  The resulting waves illustrated the idea that if a force acts, then an equal and opposite force must act upon another body. There are countless other definitions for this term, but what is important to understand is that this “ Law of Physics” has and continues to have profound impact on our daily lives.  Like molecules in a body of water, we are connected through a social tapestry, and like a stone, our actions create ripples that travel and affect those in our lives.  Their reactions, in turn, affect others.  In essence, the choices we make each day have far-reaching capacity.  Knowing this, why not use this law of nature to make someone else’s day better.

According to Vivek Murphy, former Surgeon General of the United States, loneliness is a growing health epidemic.  We live in an age of unprecedented social connection, yet 40% of the adults in America report feeling lonely.  In the workplace, many employees and half of the CEO’s report feeling alone in their roles.  Murphy’s recent post in HBR, Work and the Loneliness Epidemic, contends that there is a dire need to reduce isolation at work and that taking this action is good for business.  Murphy states, “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. But we haven’t focused nearly as much effort on strengthening connections between people as we have on curbing tobacco use or obesity. Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making. For our health and our work, it is imperative that we address the loneliness epidemic quickly.”  So what can be done?  While coffee breaks, happy hours and team-building exercises build connections among colleagues, they fail to help people develop deep relationships. Murphy suggests five deliberate steps that can be pursued to help build healthy productive relationships in the workplace:

1 Evaluate the Current State of “Connectiveness” at Your Workplace – ask questions such as, Do staff feel that their colleagues genuinely value and care for each other? Does the organization have a culture that values giving and receiving kindness?  What drives relationships within the organization, genuine care for one another or an “I’m looking out for me” attitude?

2 Build Understanding of High Quality Relationships – “Strong social connections are characterized by meaningful shared experiences and mutually beneficial two-way relationships, where both individuals give and receive.”

3 Make Strengthening Social Connections a Strategic Priority – Does the current culture, policies and most important, behavior of senior leaders, support the development of trusted relationships?

4 Encourage Colleagues to Reach out and Help Others and Accept Help When Offered – “Giving and receiving help freely is one of the most tangible ways we experience our connections with each other.”

5 Create Opportunities to Learn About Colleagues Personal Lives – Create places for sharing.  It may be a informal get together to share lunch and share something happening in your family or the Friday sharing session (two things that went well this week and one thing I’m looking forward to this weekend)

Murphy ends with a powerful challenge, “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society.  Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick, and alone. We must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities — and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us.”  Now there is a challenge to be embraced!

Would you agree that it is difficult, not impossible mind you, but difficult, to be lonely when you’re happy?  It seems to me that facilitating happiness in the workplace can serve two important functions.  First it serves to decrease that sense of loneliness addressed by Murphy.  The research also tells us that a positive work environment, one in which employees are happy, serves to foster engagement, productivity and ultimately the organizational “ bottom-line.  Harvard psychologist and professor, Sean Achor, considers this challenge with his fast-paced, humorous TED talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work. Achor argues that we follow a scientifically broken and backwards formula in seeking success and happiness. The current formula?  If I work harder, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I will be happy. Achor’s formula?  If we can find a way of becoming happy in the present, our brains work more successfully as we are able to work harder, faster and with greater intelligence thus enhancing success.  He ends his talk by encouraging us to implement “Five Changes that Ripple Outward” for 21 days

1 Three Gratitudes – On a daily basis write down three things for which you are grateful

2 Journaling – Journal about one positive thing that has happened to you within the past 24 hours

3 Exercise – Exercise teaches your brain that behavior matters

4 Meditation – In a world where multi-tasking is embraced often by sacrificing focus, meditation helps us regain that ability and concentrate on the task at hand

5 Random Act of Kindness – Write an email to someone in your network praising their efforts or thanking them.

These actions will serve to not only create ripples of positivity, but may begin that change in your workplace you’ve been hoping to see.  Change begins with you, embrace it!

Let’s end with a video, “ The Ripple Effect: The Heartbeat to Eternity“, re-examines the idea that we are all connected.  It reminds us that everything we do and think affects the people in our lives, and their reactions in turn affect others. The choices we make have far-reaching consequences. Each of us carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse. We can use the Principles of the Ripple Effect to magnify our actions and their effects.

Embrace the Challenge