back of man

Health and Trust: The wisdom of the body

If we were asked to list the top five priorities in our lives – personal and professional – odds are high that health would make that list.

Our own health and the health of those we love is our most precious resource. It allows us to be present, to be generous, to be productive and creative. It makes Life easier.

And so it’s ironic that, when we feel healthy, many of us take it for granted. And when we feel exhausted, we just ignore it, hoping that our bodies and spirits will miraculously repair themselves.

This is especially true when it comes to how we feel at work. Sitting still. Stuck indoors. Spending long hours trying to focus…we tell ourselves that ‘work’ just has to be the way it is. 

But our bodies have so much to tell us about what’s really going on. When I am worried for a good stretch of time, even if my mind won’t acknowledge it, my body asks me to pay attention via a migraine. When I’m too sedentary, my body lets me know she’s stiff. When I’m indoors too long, she craves sunlight. Fresh air.

back of man


The truth is, we’re nicer to machines than we are to our own bodies.  We know that our cars need regular maintenance and high quality fuel.  Without planned care, they can’t do what they’re designed to do.

Manufacturing lines aren’t expected to run at 100%.  We design in downtime.  Time for the machines to be cleaned, cared for and updated.  We design in time for them to rest. There is no such thing as 100% productivity.  Recovery is always part of the plan.

So let’s make another list. Let’s make a list of the top five ways we invest our time each week. Does caring for our health make that top five? Do we spend as much time investing in our health – finding restoration and rejuvenation – as we do answering email, cleaning the house or caring for others?

Luckily, we are not helpless.  We are swimming in a sea of information, from ourselves, each other, and the research.

We can redesign our personal and professional lives to be enlivening.  Less static. There is a ton of research to help us, starting with Restore Yourself: The Antidote for Professional Exhaustion.  We can share practical approaches to common challenges.

Let’s integrate our personal wisdom with the research about professional restoration.

Let’s trust what we learn and act upon it.

Sign up for Be Healthy to join the conversation about an enlivening work life.

Be Healthy: Designing Rejuvenation into Work
Fridays, 8AM – Noon
April 1 & April 29
Madison Concourse Hotel

(Register by March 25)


Katherine Sanders, PhD

Katherine Sanders, systems engineerSystems engineer, Katherine Sanders, helps leaders make informed decisions based on organizational research. She has a BS, MS and PhD in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializing in human factors and sociotechnical systems. Katherine focuses on the design and leadership of work systems that are not only effective and efficient, but also healthy for those who work within them.

Like this post? Check out the Be Effective Series to learn more.
Fall Be Aware flyer

What Does Meaningful Work Have to Do with Health?

What does meaning have to do with health at work?  Human factor’s engineers ask exactly that. And we can help you find your way to the next level of your own personal, professional and organizational health.

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Credit Jessica Becker, WHC

My guest post in this month’s Humanities Booyah blog goes beyond talking about the ways dysfunctional work systems make us (individually and collectively) sick, and offers a list of things that people seek and need from their work to be well.

You’ll find that list here.

Meanwhile, if you’re a professional ready to explore the role of meaning in your own work systems, there’s an upcoming program just for you.

Fall Be Aware flyer

Register for November’s Be Aware program and join us as we explore ways to lead by supporting people’s progress towards meaningful goals each day.  If you lead in this manner, your team can engage their intrinsic motivation.

These small wins make all the difference.  They bring hope and a sense of achievement into our daily lives. Productivity. Health.


blood mon by greg sellek

Eclipsing Expertise: How Do We Honor the Knowledge of the Professions?

blood mon by greg sellek

My Facebook news feed showed me that a good many of us were outside watching the lunar eclipse the other night. I’m astounded by the expertise, skill (and technology!) of some of my colleagues.The photos they posted of the rare blood moon sure beat my view from the porch – which was actually still pretty cool!

In the midst of these images, my dear friend, colleague and fellow human factors engineer, Karen Dettinger, posted this article in The Federalist on “The Death of Expertise.” The author, Tom Nichols (who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College and in the Harvard Extension School), does a great job describing how the rise of social media has changed our collective view on what expertise is, and who has the right to be heard.

This morning I’m thinking about timelines, the distance we’ve traveled since I graduated from high school in 1982. I think that was the last time we saw a lunar eclipse while at perigee (aka a super moon – thanks for teaching me that Greg!). And I’m even more sure that, just I was entering college, there was still an easy distinction to make between the world’s experts and non-experts:

Experts spoke and non-experts listened.

Over the last few decades we have all witnessed the political and technological shifts that make it possible for many more people to have their say. For the most part, I am a big fan of more people finding their voices and being able to express themselves and their truths.

But I have been surprised by the way this access has altered public and professional discourse. Instead of more information, it seems we have more misinformation, and much less rigorous thinking.

That plays out on a regular basis in my professional life. I’ve worked with a number of project teams in which team members felt comfortable calling themselves “engineers” and “work systems experts” even though their credentials had nothing to do with, well, engineering or work systems.

In reality, they confused their qualifications with their experiences: many had worked in jobs where they observed what they considered inefficiencies. They had ideas about whom or what was to blame. And they had strongly held opinions about what others should be doing differently.

Often these folks say that they can just feel the right approach – which is, of course, the right or natural approach for them. It is their truth, with a little “t.” Whether or not these approaches are in the best interests of a larger population, or even the rest of their working group, however, is another matter.

I’ve learned over the years that there is little point in arguing with people who claim expertise they don’t have.

If someone feels they can be an engineer with no education, or with just a few hours of exposure to basic concepts, then I think they should have at it! Do engineering. See what you create. Live the consequences. Then, if things don’t go as you hope, go find and hire an actual engineer.

This topic takes me back to what I learned about multiple truths while writing my dissertation in UW-Madison’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the early ‘90s. To be sure, there was no talk about “worldviews” in my department – I learned about it from colleagues outside of the College of Engineering. Specifically, I remember talking with Professor of Higher Education Clif Conrad, a faculty member in the School of Education, who had written a lot about postmodernism. I asked him about relativism and how to make use of it in my work with organizations. He said:

“There are many truths, but some are more compelling than others.”

In “The Death of Expertise,” Nichols does a great job of explaining just this: how some truths are more compelling than others. Professionals who have spent a career exploring an area render an expert opinion. Lay people who want to contribute their thoughts should be considered just that – people with opinions based upon their own experiences, but having little to do with the topic area.

As someone who really believes in the beauty and relevance of the professions, and of education itself,

I want to recall and honor the expertise embedded in each profession.

I want to bring professionals into collaboration with one another. I don’t want to negate people’s individuality, but rather help them to appreciate the depth in other professionals’ work. If we can co-create to integrate the depth of knowledge across professions, then we’re on to something BIG!

But to negate expertise in another profession does us no collective good. Just because you’re a brilliant physicist doesn’t mean you’re also a brilliant organization psychologist just because you have opinions about why people behave in certain ways at work.

We have everything to learn from each other and from our educational worldviews.

blood moon by greg sellek

Our perspectives, whether from the back porch or through a telescope, are valuable. But they are not equivalent.

There is no benefit to eclipsing another’s specialization. We need to respect expertise that is different than our own, and work together to create something better than we could alone.

Katherine Sanders, PhD

Systems engineer, Katherine Sanders, helps leaders make informed decisions based on organizational research. She has a BS, MS and PhD in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializing in human factors and sociotechnical systems. Katherine focuses on the design and leadership of work systems that are not only effective and efficient, but also healthy for those who work within them.

Like this post? Check out the Be Effective Series to learn more.

Work Systems Model

Sign Up for Fall!

It’s back-to-school time, and that means the Be Effective Series programs are coming up soon! I’m rethinking our traditional 12-week format, looking to make the programs shorter at the same time as I refresh the content.

Be Aware: The Research Behind Leadership & Management is the starting point.  It’s where we translate decades of research into our daily working lives. It’s where we experience the wisdom of a group. (Our conversation about work is *so* rich because we’ve all learned along the way.) And it’s where we discover how much we know intuitively about leadership and management, and how much we have in common with professionals from different industries.

Be Aware is where we discuss what has gone largely unexamined: what does a healthy workplace rely upon For example, if trust is important to creativity, innovation and productivity, how do we cultivate it? How do we repair it once it’s damaged?

If you’re interested in participating in a program this fall, send me a note. Let’s make this happen!


August 4 workshops coming up!

The Be Effective workshops are coming up on Tuesday, August 4 (from 9-3) at the Madison Concourse Hotel.  I hope you can join me!

A Job Worth Engaging: In the morning we’ll dive into employee engagement using a work systems approach. We’ll start with an overview of the foundational theories guide organizational research to this day. Then we’ll go into the specifics of how to create an engaging work environment with Richard Hackman’s fantastic book, Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances.

I love, love, love this book. If I could only recommend one leadership book, this is the one. Hackman is a giant in organization research, and he wrote this how-to book using examples from decades of research projects inside real companies. He understands how complex and creative leadership is, and how it can never be a one-size-fits-all quick fix.

This book… even if you can’t attend on August 4, buy this book and read it with me in our private Be Effective Facebook group! It will be worth every minute you spend on it – dense with wisdom and practicality. A must-read for everyone who shoulders the responsibilities of leadership and management.

Enlivening Work-Life Balance: In the afternoon we attend to the other half of the equation for a healthy working life – building in space for joy at home and at work! It sounds easy, but we are all sitting/walking/working examples of the fact that it’s not.

I teach this stuff, work from home and create my own job every day, and I still have to use phone apps to remind me to do the things I need to thrive. Why is that?

Let’s talk about it together – in the session, and afterwards online. I’ll gift you with a copy of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, written by award-winning journalist Brigid Schulte. Schulte sets out to discover what’s driving the societal love affair with busy-ness and uses what she learns to transform her own life.

And if this all sounds great, but August 4 doesn’t work for you, consider joining me this fall for Be Aware: The Research Behind Leadership & Management. We spend 12 weeks in a small group exploring what makes work healthy and productive… We have time to talk about the BIG issues: what work means to people, what trust is and how it forms, the impact of performance reviews, and so much more. This is the place where the research meets your lived experience.  If you’re ready for this, online registration is ready for you!

Katherine Sanders, systems engineer

I’ll be speaking at the InBusiness Expo on October 21, 2015!

I’ve happily accepted an invitation to speak at the InBusiness Expo & Conference on October 21, 2015 at 3:30PM at the Alliant Energy Center. I’ve got 25 minutes to talk about “occupational stress, job design and health with evidence from the research and what business people can do to create healthier workplaces.”  

It will be a fun challenge to address all those topics in a meaningful way in such a short session!  I’ve got my fingers crossed there will be some fun folks there willing to start a conversation about Healthy Work. I’m thinking about including my “Worst Practices” list… We all know what makes people want to quit. The tricky part seems to be doing the opposite consistently.  🙂

You can find more info about the Expo and speakers here.


New workshops on June 30 & August 4!

I’m excited for these new workshops, and this is unusual for me! You’ve not seen workshops from me in the past, as I believe people learn best with time in between conversations. A multi-meeting format allows new ideas to sink in. We can see the concepts and theories playing themselves out in our lives between meetings. Another important benefit of the multi-meeting format is that we can explore many more topics.

But the downside to the longer formats is that they are expensive investments of time and money. And if you want multiple folks from your working group to participate, scheduling is a challenge. These big investments pay off in big ways, but we all have budgets to work within, and sometimes they just aren’t feasible.

We all know that a workshop can start a conversation! It just took me a couple decades to figure out how I could support individuals and organizations in growing and sustaining these conversations after the workshop ends.

Here’s what I’ve come up with – a hybrid. Each half-day workshop includes:

  • a book so that you can go deeper into the content after the event, and
  • an invitation to our private, online discussion group so you can discuss what you’re learning, get feedback and support.

I’m proud of this hybrid design, workshops with the potential to support you going forward. You can increase their power if you attend with colleagues, friends and/or your spouse! Learning together creates social support, part of the formula for successful change at work and at home. And it just plain makes things more fun.

I hope you can join us.


Close up business man using a laptop and mobile phone

Join our private Facebook community!

Our new, private Facebook community is starting up – send me an email if you’re interested in participating.