This past January, I decided it was time to be a little more active in my daily routine, and I began walking an hour a day thanks mostly to my good friend, novelist, marketing guru, and community outreach specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State, Steven Porter. Steve had chronicled his weight loss experience here on his blog, and on facebook, and was truly inspirational. As Steve points out, walking during the winter in New England is best done inside, and not just because of the weather, but because of the lack of real estate available with the snow drifts. In order to maintain a healthy heart rate, I used the treadmill at the local gym, and walked at a setting that changed the incline of the apparatus to ensure my heart rate stayed at the target of 120 beats per minute. On average, I’d walk approximately 3.8 miles worth of treadmill during the hour, and would do this just before work, just after, or later in the evening, depending on my schedule. I’m happy to say the results have been significant and welcome- reduced stress, weight loss, and general increased level of fitness and health. By mid-March, my pace had increased to over 4 miles per hour to maintain that healthy heart rate, and I was beginning to incorporate some interval running work as well.
As the weather warmed up, the notion of driving my car to a gym to walk indoors became increasingly ridiculous in my mind, particularly as I live in a very safe, very beautiful part of the world. I just couldn’t justify being indoors to be active and healthy, and I began to walk outdoors, ultimately finding a very nice 5 mile loop from my front door. Maybe it was the endorphins, maybe it was the positive effects of an undiagnosed seasonal affective disorder, or maybe it was the school crossing guard that I pass with regularity when dropping my daughter off at school who waves to all passers by; but for whatever reason, one day I decided to wave at cars as they passed by. It actually started when someone I knew drove by, and by the time I waved they were already by me. I realized that there were likely many people in the cars driving by my walking route that I might know, and so I began smiling and waving at every car as they passed me.
I quickly found that nearly everyone will wave when waved at, especially when driving 35 to 40 mph, and that nearly everyone will smile as well. As I thought more about it that day, I realized that the simple act of waving has a far greater impact than I may have first realized. I’ve conclude that my waving to oncoming traffic is important on three levels. First, as I continue to wave and be acknowledged by cars on my route, I’d be building up awareness that people are walking on this rural route and hopefully drivers would be more careful along this stretch of road. Second, since there are likely people I know driving by that I can’t recognize until they are too close, I’m acknowledging (and not accidentally giving the cold shoulder) to my friends and neighbors. And third, and maybe most importantly, in some small way I feel I’m helping contribute to a sense of community. This last idea was reinforced on maybe my fifth or sixth day of walking the route, when I began to get preemptive waves and smiles from passers by who were beginning to recognize me and expect my wave. In a world of growing dissociative behaviors, shrinking familiarity among neighborhoods, and a general sense of hurry in all aspects of life, a brief moment of acknowledgement can have a great impact on someone’s perspective of the world for that moment… and maybe longer.
As I think on this further, I can’t help but think of a new hire we have in our Boston office, Matt. I work in the office at least one day a week, the rest remotely from my home office or traveling, and every time I’m in the office, Matt makes a point to come into my office and shake my hand to say hello. In fact, just about everyone in the office makes a point to stop by to say hello and check in. While, I can’t be sure, I do believe they do that every day with each other and it’s not just reserved for me due to the infrequency of my presence. This, in my experience, is not common, and it’s just one more reminder of how fortunate I am to work for this organization in this place. In other organizations, it was more common that employees and management often walked by each others workplaces without any acknowledgement. The excuses are obvious and simple- I have too much on my mind, I’m focused on a work issue, there’s just too many people to acknowledge them all, i don’t want to distract people from their work, I don’t want to intrude, and on, and on, and on.
What do you think? Would taking a second to wave or nod your head to acknowledge people as they pass by during your work day make for a better workplace? What impact would this small practice have on employee morale, engagement and commitment? Is it too impractical, or just too uncomfortable? If you work in a place where there’s minimal acknowledgement of passers by, I challenge you to acknowledge everyone you possibly can for a week, as significantly (hand shake and a verbal greeting) or insignificantly (a wave or nod of the head) as you wish, and pay attention to people’s reactions and the change in those reactions over the week. Sometimes we forget that employees and managers and senior executives are all just people, and people want and need to be acknowledged.