Thanksgiving and the role of gratitude in your health

Gratitude Changes Everything

Martin Frobisher was an English seafarer, famous for his search for the Northwest Passage in the sixteenth century. He made it as far as Baffin Island, where the present-day Frobisher Bay commemorates his voyages. When he landed, he held a “thanksgiving” feast in gratitude for survival of the perilous journey.

It’s the earliest likeness to the Thanksgiving we celebrate in North America. Today, Canada’s formal day of Thanksgiving is observed on the second Monday of October. (As it has been since the proclamation by Governor General Vincent Massey in 1957.)

This Thanksgiving Day, Monday, October 12th, probably has more relevance than any in recent memory. The events of 2020 have been punctuated with doom and gloom, but they can still be a catalyst for gratitude. And gratitude has therapeutic effects for our mental and physical health that are only just beginning to be understood.

According to the website positivepsychology.com, mental health researchers have established a strong connection between gratitude and good health. Something as simple as a daily “gratitude journal” has been found to decrease stress, improve the quality of sleep, and build emotional awareness.

The feeling of gratitude stimulates chemical reactions in the brain that have implications for all aspects of our health. Some studies suggest that when gratitude is part of a daily routine, the positive health effects can rival that of some medications.

Expressing and receiving gratitude causes the brain to release dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters make us feel good. Gratitude is positively correlated to more vitality, energy, and enthusiasm to work harder. (Enthusiasm is one of Prospect’s brand values!) The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA has found that gratitude changes the neural structures in the brain, making us feel happier and more content.

So in this year of unprecedented pessimism, what is there to be thankful for?

You can start your gratitude journal every morning with the fact that you woke up. As an Albertan, odds are you probably have safe access to some of the best water in the world. If you have adversity in your life, take heart in knowing it will most likely make you stronger. Be grateful for a friend (and tell them, because that will stimulate good neural reactions for both of you). You can read, so be grateful for Canada’s literacy rate and the opportunity for more education. Alberta’s libraries are welcoming places worthy of gratitude. Family, no matter how dysfunctional it occasionally gets, is worthy of gratitude. As are music and medicine.

Within our organization, Prospect’s people are placing more candidates into jobs than prior to the pandemic. Canada’s political climate is moderate and sensible. And Alberta’s Premier announced last week that the coming harvest is likely to be one of the best on record.

Opportunities for gratitude are out there. And as we go into this Thanksgiving weekend, we would like to express our gratitude to everyone who makes our work possible.

Are the robots really coming for your job?

Robots Taking Over Jobs

Technology is a source of innovation, revolution, and freedom. It’s hard to imagine a life without social media, search engines, and YouTube cat videos.

But technology can also be a source of displacement and depersonalization. Automation of human jobs, data tracking, artificial intelligence, and privacy invasions have made many people suspicious and mistrustful of technology.

For businesses, automation has undeniably delivered greater speed, efficiency, and cost control. Robots don’t phone in sick, don’t require dental, and make fewer mistakes. The pandemic has hastened the upheaval, as companies move to replace human contact with technology. An August 2020 article in Time Magazine reports that many positions, from bridge toll operators to food preparers and hotel attendants, are being replaced by sensors or robotic options. Customer service agents have been unseated by chatbots.  

Is this an irrepressible trend with implications for the future of all employment? The answer seems to be… partly.

Even with the current state of artificial intelligence and machine sophistication, human beings often still hold the edge in judgement and dexterity. One example comes from a surprising industry: the automotive sector.

A Bloomberg report from 2018 cited managers from major automakers such as Honda, Toyota, and Mercedes saying that human judgement is an essential part of manufacturing. The chief operating officer of Honda’s Ohio manufacturing unit stated, “We can’t find anything to take the place of the human touch and of human senses like sight, hearing and smell.”

Two years prior, Mercedes Benz stated it was “de-automating” in some areas and “relying more on humans” for the wide range of luxury options its customers demanded.

Closer to home, a Statistics Canada report published earlier this year forecasts that artificial intelligence and automation have resulted in 40% of workers being at moderate or high risk of being displaced. The authors used examples such as driver-less vehicles, computer-aided medical diagnostics, and robo-writers. (So if the next blog post here sounds a little impersonal, you know what happened.)

But again, the forecasts are not all dire. The study also concluded that “a high risk of automation does not necessarily imply a high risk of job loss”, but rather “a certain degree of job transformation”.

Of course, there’s one foolproof way to avoid being displaced by a robot: augment your skills and join the growth field of artificial intelligence. You’ll always have one advantage over automated workers, and that is the capacity for self-determination.

Why we’re ecstatic that we didn’t win the Calgary Chamber’s Resilient Business Award.

Calgary's Resilient Business Awards

On September 8th we received word that we were not chosen as a finalist in the Calgary Resilient Business Awards. We had entered in the category of RBC Resilient Business Award: SME. (For those of you not up on your acronyms, SME is “Small to Medium Enterprise.”)

So why are we ecstatic?

It’s not that we’re content with participation ribbons. Despite being empathetic, compassionate people working at a not-for-profit on behalf of Albertans, Prospect staff are competitive, motivated and determined. We like winning as much as the next organization. For proof, look at our record in the Calgary Corporate Challenge. (But don’t look too closely.)

And it’s not that Prospect isn’t resilient. As the consolation e-mail acknowledged, “You are still a resilient business and are doing amazing things in our community. We are inspired by your grit and determination.”

It was this grit and determination that enabled Prospect to adapt and move 90% of our services from in-person to on-line and remote delivery – all within 36 hours of the COVID shutdown. Many of the workshops we use to help clients were adapted to video formats. Seminars became webinars. Staff helped our clients with new technologies and learning styles. For people with disabilities, mental health challenges, or substance abuse issues this was very labour-intensive.

But back to the original question. We are ecstatic because the fact that we weren’t even a finalist is evidence that there are lots of resilient organizations in Calgary. The competition must have been fierce. And that makes us very happy. Because Prospect needs thriving, resilient employers as partners in what we do: helping Albertans overcome barriers and find rewarding jobs.

Resilient organizations are often diverse and inclusive. We know this because a number of the organizations that were finalists or sponsors of categories are already working with us. SPUD is a recipient of a DEAM Award (Disability Employment Awareness Month). ATB Financial has partnered with us on many occasions.

We would like to congratulate all the finalists, and the Calgary Chamber for such a relevant recognition program. We promise that next year, we will do everything we can to claw our way into contention. Because it looks like resilience is going to be a prerequisite for every organization in the months to come.

We owe this long weekend to a bunch of Toronto typesetters.

Monday, September 7 is Labour Day in Canada. It’s the last long weekend of Summer, which officially ends on September 22nd but as Albertans know, can actually end any time, without warning.

You might think it’s a bit odd for “Labour” Day to be a day off. But the day doesn’t celebrate work (despite being called “Fête du Travail” in Quebec). It celebrates the labour movement in Canada.

Labour Day has been observed in Canada for 126 years. The catalyst was a social movement known as the Eight Hour Day Movement, which advocated for eight hours for work, eight hours recreation, and eight hours of rest each day. The idea helped create laws in England limiting the work day for children to ten hours. (That’s good ammo for anyone with children who protest having to do the dishes.)

But we digress: back in 1872, a mere five years after Confederation, a strike was staged by the Toronto Typographical Union, fighting for a 58-hour work week.

At the time there were still laws criminalizing unions in Canada. This enabled some of the typographers’ employers to call for their arrest. Police rounded up 24 leaders of the Typographers Union. If not for the Toronto Trades Association throwing the support of its 27 unions behind the Typographers, we might all still be working on the first Monday of September.

The massive show of support and a demonstration in Ottawa caught the attention of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald, and he abolished the outdated union laws. Soon after, the Toronto Trades and Labour Council organized an annual commemorative parade. In 1894 (things moved slowly back then) Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson made Labour Day an official annual holiday to be held in September.

So this Monday, whether you are spending time with family, pulling bounty from a garden, chilling with Netflix, or joining friends on a patio, enjoy the long weekend!