92. Does culture and learning still have a place in today’s workplace? | Dr. Marie Gervais


Dr. Marie Gervais | Does culture and learning still have a place in today’s workplace?



Welcome to Episode 92 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

For the next three episodes we are joined by Dr. Marie Gervais, a leadership coach, author and fellow podcaster who believes that a happy workplace is a productive and profitable one. And we aim to unpack that and see exactly what Marie means when she says we should think, speak and do sole enhancing rather than sole diminishing actions.

In this first episode we get back to basics and explore the changes in cultural awareness in the workplace following the pandemic.



Marie Gervias Web


Dr. Marie Gervais's mission is to build workplace leadership capacity characterized by real communications that acknowledge people for who they are. Using the S.W.E.L. model of safety, wellness, encouragement and learning, Marie provides online courses and transformational leadership coaching to help managers build inclusive, confident organizations where people can’t wait to show up for work.

She hosts the podcast "Culture and Leadership Connections", named the 5th of 20 top leadership podcasts in 2022. Her book "The Spirit of Work: Timeless Wisdom, Current Realities" is now available for purchase on online book directories around the world.





[00:00:00] - Marie Gervais
The last one is learning. A workplace that learns is a workplace that is able to move forward. When people stop learning, when any group stops learning, that's when the decline kicks in.

[00:00:18] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to Episode 92 of Chaos & Rocketfuel, the Future of Work podcast. This is the podcast that continues to look at everything in the future of work. It's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I'm Doug Foulkes, your host, and I'm with Claire Haidar, who's the CEO of WNDYR.

[00:00:35] - Doug Foulkes
Claire, what are we talking about today?

[00:00:39] - Claire Haidar
Doug, we have Marie Gervais as a guest on the podcast today, and she is author of a book about work. She is also a podcaster, and she is a management consultant, essentially. Very busy woman that has been exposed to many, many different elements of work.

[00:01:03] - Claire Haidar
But one of the things that interested me most and actually grabbed my attention when I was talking to Marie for the planning call for this podcast was actually her academic background. Forget the management consulting, forget the book, forget all of those. It was actually her academic background around specifically culture and how cultural norms impact workplace habits. That really tweaked my interest. We sparked a bit of a conversation there, and we bring some of that into this podcast.

[00:01:36] - Claire Haidar
What makes Marie really interesting is that she herself has an extremely multicultural background, which she shares in her story with us during the course of the conversation. But I think, Doug, the one thing that's really important for you and I to call out about this conversation is that both of us came into the conversation with a preconceived mindset about what it was going to be, and we were both really surprised. Do you agree on that?

[00:02:03] - Doug Foulkes
Definitely, yeah. I think for one, I thought, topic, I thought maybe it could be a little bit too philosophical or even ethereal. But I was pleasantly surprised just how practical and holistic the whole thing was.

[00:02:16] - Claire Haidar
She just shared so many practical frameworks. If you look at this segment one, what we're getting into here, is actually just going right back to those roots, so culture and learning in the workplace. We asked her about her research, we talk about the title of her book and how that relates back to the research that she's done in her past.

[00:02:36] - Claire Haidar
Then we just asked, are things like culture and learning some of the best levers that companies can use today to actually change themselves into a better state of being? Very interesting conversation in segment one. Then naturally moving into segment two, which we'll cover soon, things get a lot more practical.

[00:02:56] - Doug Foulkes
Yes, let's not jump ahead of ourselves. Let's head on over and have a listen to Marie Gervais.

[00:03:03] - Claire Haidar
Marie, hi. It's so good to have you on the show with us today. This topic is not a usual one that we cover on this podcast. That means that I'm really looking forward to it. I always like taking the road less traveled with topics and authors and various people who are coming at work from different angles.

[00:03:24] - Claire Haidar
Welcome. It's good to have you here with Doug and I today.

[00:03:27] - Marie Gervais
Well, thank you for hosting me. It's a pleasure to be here.

[00:03:30] - Claire Haidar
Marie, I'm going to dive straight in. Before we actually get to the book that you've written as well as your specific research focus today, I actually want us to go back a little bit and look at your very early research work. You've done extensive work in the areas of culture and learning in the workplace, which has very much informed the book that you've written. Can you give us a description of the workplace today based on what your research has revealed to you?

[00:04:00] - Marie Gervais
I would say that workplaces range because it's not like everything in the world is a homogenized experience for people at work. But there seem to be some polarized experiences that people are having. I can speak to probably three of them. One is people are extremely stressed in their work, and they also have their home situations difficult.

[00:04:23] - Marie Gervais
We have five generations in the workplace right now. Then people are dealing with young children or young grandchildren. They also are taking care of aging parents, or relatives, or other dependents, and then they are still dealing with work. That stress is constant for many, many people. Then if they're working remotely and they have a young family or an aging relative that they're caring for, it makes for added stress. There's that.

[00:04:53] - Marie Gervais
Then there's also this a disbelief that with many employers that they feel they can somehow go back. You can never go back in life. You can only move forward. If you stop, you die, and there is no back. Unless you do that through some other psychic realm, there is no way to go back to anything. You're always moving forward.

[00:05:15] - Marie Gervais
If people try to force everyone back into the office in the same way, in the same time, doing things the way they were pre-COVID, it's not going to happen. That is causing disconnects and difficulties.

[00:05:30] - Marie Gervais
Then any problems that became highlighted during the worst of the pandemic, and we're not over it yet, and there will probably be another 10 years of pandemics that we can look forward to, people didn't address any of those issues that came up, then they're going to come back stronger and stronger until we do. That would be, for example, issues of misogyny, racism, lack of diversity of thought, not taking care of people at all and just forcing the vision of one person on everybody all the time. Those kinds of things, technological divides, all of those things that if they haven't been dealt with any injustices that haven't been looked at and reflected on are now coming back stronger.

[00:06:17] - Marie Gervais
All of that is what I'm seeing. When I first started doing research on cultural learning in the workplace, all of those things were there, minus the influence of technology and awareness of the environmental dangers that we're all living in right now. All those things were there, but nobody was willing to talk about them.

[00:06:34] - Marie Gervais
I was shouted off the stage twice when I was trying to give a presentation of my research. One was that people said there is no injustice and no racism in our system anymore. We've removed it. That was the first shout off.

[00:06:48] - Marie Gervais
The other one was I said, if we really want to look at diversity in workplace, we also have to look at what people's experience of religion is because between 50 and 80% of people say that they have an affiliation with their religion, and that was shouted off the stage as well. That was back 20 years ago.

[00:07:05] - Marie Gervais
I'd say we're addressing them, at least in speech. I don't think we've necessarily come to a practical way to deal with them in the workplace.

[00:07:14] - Claire Haidar
Marie, the title of your book, which I'd love for you to share with us as well as the blurb, alludes to the opinion that you believe work needs to be something different, which is very much confirmed by what you've just shared with us. Is this an accurate insight on my part? What is that something different that you believe it should be?

[00:07:35] - Marie Gervais
Yes. Well, the title of the book is The Spirit of Work, Timeless Wisdom, Current Realities. It looks at work from three different perspectives. One of them is to look at what did the sacred texts of all of the world religions that I could find that were speaking about work in the workplace directly or indirectly? What did they have to say? Would any of those things be able to inform us to a new future of work?

[00:07:58] - Marie Gervais
The second one is what does science have to say about how we can bring our best selves to work? And the third one is what do businesses that are showing promising advances, what are they doing right? How can we encourage that? There are some examples of businesses that are doing something that's not very promising. How could that be readjusted so that it can move forward rather than being stuck in the past?

[00:08:22] - Marie Gervais
Those are the three frameworks. The other piece of it is that I look at the workplace from the individual, the community, and the institutional perspective. What do individuals need to do? What do we need to do as community of people or communities of people? Then what are the corporate or institutional governmental responsibilities for healthy and happy workplaces that are also productive?

[00:08:45] - Marie Gervais
There are some very useful things in the book about the workplace. I think the most useful and immediately applicable principle is the one of choosing to think, speak, and do soul-enhancing rather than soul diminishing actions. Soul-enhancing would be things that expand human potential, purpose, connectedness, helping people to feel included, paying attention to what is possibly an injustice or a marginalization happening and power differentials, and finding ways to say and do things and think things that are going to really affect for the good.

[00:09:23] - Marie Gervais
An example of how powerful thought would be, I was giving a talk to a high school. I don't remember what the context was, but it was a high high school, and there were a thousand high school students in this auditorium. I was talking about how important it was how they showed up at school and what they were thinking about each other.

[00:09:39] - Marie Gervais
I had them do what's called a muscle test, where you put your arm up, and someone else pushes down on it, and you see if your arm is strong, depending on what you think or what substance you're holding in your hand. I asked for a really strong guy to come up and we tested how strong his arm was, and obviously he was very strong, and everyone could see that.

[00:09:58] - Marie Gervais
Then I asked everyone to just think negative thoughts about him. His arm went down. He said, "I can't believe it. I can't hold my arm up. What's going on?" Then I said, "Now, let's think how much he matters to you and how important he is to this school." They did that for less than 20 seconds, and his arm was so strong, I could hang from it and swing from it. That's the power of thought.

[00:10:19] - Marie Gervais
If we are thinking negative things about each other in the workplace, then we are actually handicapping the productivity of the workplace from a practical standpoint. From a morale standpoint, it makes everybody feel bad about being at work. When we do the opposite, it has a huge effect on the workplace.

[00:10:37] - Claire Haidar
Doug, time for you to jump in.

[00:10:39] - Doug Foulkes
I'm definitely going to jump in. Marie, very nice to meet you from my side. Thank you for that really encompassing introduction, if you like, to our podcast and the work that you've done.

[00:10:51] - Marie Gervais
Nice to meet you too, Doug.

[00:10:53] - Doug Foulkes
I've got a couple of things. I've got a question here, but just running off the back of what you said. It's very obvious that what you're talking about is a very holistic view of the person and the work. I did read that you say that currently you believe that work and being human are not connected. How do you practically bring your whole self to work and not just turn up to do the work?

[00:11:18] - Marie Gervais
Well, in the book, there are five themes, although there are eight chapters. The first theme is bringing your soul to work, which I talked about already with soul-enhancing so people can see that in a practical way, thinking thoughts that are going to help people instead of hinder them and help yourself instead of hindering yourself. That's the first one.

[00:11:36] - Marie Gervais
The second one is bring your mind to work, bring your body to work, bring your heart to work. You are bringing your community to work, do you know who you're bringing? Each of those gives very specific things that you can do.

[00:11:47] - Marie Gervais
Bring your mind to work talks about thinking styles and learning to work with people who don't think like you, which is really necessary right now. That's part of it, part of that one. Bring your heart to work is about how we actually can't have a thought without an emotion and how being aware of our emotions allows us to be more emotionally regulated, not less emotionally regulated at work.

[00:12:10] - Marie Gervais
Bring your body to work has a whole series of themes starting with breathing and getting enough oxygen into your blood all the way up to how you would deal with eating on a night shift and dreams and how they affect our health. It goes all the way through every piece of physical health.

[00:12:26] - Marie Gervais
Each of those has very practical nuggets in it for what you can choose to do. If you're doing one of them can make a big difference. Stopping to breathe deeply a couple of times a day can make a big difference in how you show up at work. There's that piece.

[00:12:42] - Marie Gervais
Community is about the main inequities that people face in the workplace and how we can become both aware of what they are and also aware of our potential for growth and expansion as an organization as we move past those into something that's much greater than what we were before. That has to do with being courageous and knowing how to do things in a politically appropriate way, so the oppressed doesn't become the oppressor, things like that.

[00:13:08] - Doug Foulkes
Thank you. Certainly very practical. Claire, have you got anything you'd like to jump in on there? Because certainly...

[00:13:14] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, there's a lot of ideas there. Marie, the question that floated up to me while you were walking through those five different areas there, the soul, community, heart, mind, and body, when you shared with us in terms of how you actually structured the book, going back to the sacred traditions, looking at actual businesses and what they're doing today, both good and bad, and then you also said you went back to the science. Can you maybe share with us specifically the science?

[00:13:44] - Claire Haidar
Hone in on that piece, share with us some of the sources that you consulted. Did you come at it from a neurobiological angle? Did you come at it purely from a psychological angle? What was the science that you were tapping into to put the book together?

[00:14:00] - Marie Gervais
Great question. I was expecting someone to ask that question much earlier, not for this podcast. But I've been on quite a number of podcast interviews, and I keep saying someone's going to ask me, "What science are you talking about here?" So thanks for asking that.

[00:14:12] - Claire Haidar

[00:14:13] - Marie Gervais
Well, first off, there are 25 pages of single-spaced references. This is a very carefully referenced book. I didn't just come to this with a bunch of opinions that I was going to throw out there. Although I started that way. Then once I started doing the research, I thought, you know what, I really have to start thinking about this.

[00:14:29] - Marie Gervais
I think something that's worth mentioning is that I tried to find as much as possible Indigenous applications of things as well. I'm looking for Indigenous approaches to the workplace and Indigenous approaches to science, which comes up a few times in the book. Then I looked at a lot of different workplace happiness and workplace health surveys and indexes from around the world.

[00:14:53] - Marie Gervais
One reference that I referred to several times is Graham Lowe's book called Creating Healthy Organizations, Taking Action to Improve Employee Well-Being. That one talks a lot about how people have taken a lot of steps to do things like, for example, daycare at work and having a gym at work, but people are still not any healthier, and they're not taking advantage of those kinds of wellness perks that are there. It's because it's not based on purpose and unity of thought and actually acknowledging people and talking to them.

[00:15:22] - Marie Gervais
Here's another one, Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance by J. Pfeffer. There are lots of them.

[00:15:30] - Marie Gervais
I think the one that came to mind immediately when you asked that question is just actually the research on dreams, which was very interesting to me. That was that I looked at a lot of medical journals and neurobiological research, and then I also looked at what the sacred traditions had to say about dreaming. Then I looked at what psychology and sociology have to say about dreaming.

[00:15:52] - Marie Gervais
The thing that stood out for me in the neurobiological standpoint is that we actually have five sleep cycles a night, 3-5 sleep cycles a night, and there are four phases to each of those cycles. That if we don't have three complete cycles, then what happens is that we come to work with the same effect as if we had a hangover. Usually, we need five of those sleep cycles. People can have those sleep cycles in between 6 and 10 hours of sleep, depending on their own biological sleep pattern requirements.

[00:16:26] - Marie Gervais
But they need to go through a complete cycle for the body to regenerate itself. That's why sleep is so important. Then we don't sleep well if we can't rest. Then all the research that was based on resting and what we need to do to rest; and what is rest and play; and how to rest, play, and sleep; and dreaming all interact with each other. There are lots and lots of references on there. I don't think I want to quote too many more.

[00:16:53] - Claire Haidar
No question.

[00:16:54] - Marie Gervais
Give you an idea. I didn't just jump in there and say, do whatever. I actually researched it really carefully. Then I found out what do sacred texts have to say about dreaming. They were very clearly across four different religious backgrounds in their sacred texts. I found specific references to the importance of dreams, how to interpret dreams, and what dreams you should take seriously, and how a dream would be affecting your health adversely.

[00:17:21] - Marie Gervais
Dream is also part of the neurological science. Adverse dreams mean you have dreams where it's just a disconnected, discombobulated bunch of series of events that don't mean anything. If you have dreams where you're thinking, where you're remembering those things, that is a sign that your body is not healthy.

[00:17:38] - Claire Haidar
Let me just clarify this, sorry, because I'm not sure I understand you fully. Are you basically saying that if the dream itself is not cohesive while you're dreaming it, it doesn't follow an actual storyline or a progression of events that would represent reality, and it's just a mangled mash of things happening, that that's a sign of unhealth?

[00:18:01] - Marie Gervais
No, that's not what I'm saying. I think a way that you can look at it... Because dreams are often not representations of reality, they're very different.

[00:18:09] - Claire Haidar
Exactly. Yeah, that's why I'm-

[00:18:11] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, it's a completely different state of being. Each of the dream cycles has put you into a different state. Our awake lived experience is really a small part of who we are. No, it's not going to follow that pattern, which would be limiting.

[00:18:24] - Claire Haidar
But if you wake up in the morning anxious with a whole list of, I've got to do this, I've got to do that, that's a sign that your dreams are, I guess, what a Buddhist would call monkey mind dreaming, which means that they're all over the place, and they just promote anxiety. The way you can tell if your dreams are promoting anxiety or not is how you wake up in the morning.

[00:18:45] - Claire Haidar
Yes, that does help to clarify. It's basically reconciling your state of being at the point of waking up and tying that back to your dreams.

[00:18:57] - Marie Gervais
I'm not saying that when I'm researching this book that each of the pieces that are in there are things I can do. I can do a lot of them, but I'm still always learning. The things that I think I know, I find out there's lots more to learn or that I might change my mind completely about it.

[00:19:11] - Marie Gervais
The whole piece about dreaming has really influenced me because I'm thinking I rarely remember my dreams. I was concerned about this idea of waking up anxious and how does that reflect in other parts of my life. I have been thinking and working through that a lot myself. I wouldn't say I'm there yet. I could say, "Look, here's an aha moment." But doing the research certainly sparked that interest.

[00:19:33] - Claire Haidar
Marie, I know that you listen to some of the previous podcast episodes that we've done in preparation for our conversation. If you haven't listened to the series that we did with Dr. Eric Coram, I would highly recommend that you go and look at that because a lot of what you're touching on and a lot of what you've researched touches his research. The reason why we brought him onto the podcast was actually for that exact reason is to talk about sleep because he's actually done a PhD in sleep.

[00:20:02] - Claire Haidar
One of the things that he mentioned, Doug, I don't know if you can remember this in our conversation with him, but what his research has revealed is that the importance of dreams is actually one of the functions. Naturally, sleep overall is this, but there's a very specific function that dreams play in actually cleaning the brain.

[00:20:21] - Marie Gervais
Yes, exactly. That's what I also found. Well, if you're looking at the performance management research, it's very clear. Performance management was one of the areas I looked into quite seriously when I was writing the book. I'm totally going to listen to that episode. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

[00:20:36] - Claire Haidar
Definitely do. Both Doug and I, it was one of those episodes where we both literally, immediately straight off to the podcast, went and made some changes in our lives.

[00:20:49] - Doug Foulkes
That brings us to the end of the first part of our conversation about creating a more spiritual workplace with Marie Gervais. To follow the conversation further, make sure to catch the next two parts on Spotify, Google, or Apple podcasts, or on WNDYR's website, wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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