A crying shame?

Posted by on Oct 8, 2014 in Guyside, men, Uncategorized, work | 0 comments

I recently picked up the telephone to a shocking call. A friend had been terminated at his job, and was calling to let me know not to use his work-issued mobile phone or email address.

It was shocking for a couple of reasons. First, even as I head towards 50, I am still naive enough to think that competent, “good” people are never fired. Second, it was only one of a very few occasions on which I can remember my friend choking up.

We men tend to be far less likely to cry than women. A report from the American Psychiatric Association in February suggests that women cry about five times as much as men.

Some point to hormonal differences in men and women as one reason for this difference in teariness.

And others point to the childhood socialization men receive. There’s a reason that the band 10cc had a big hit with their song “I’m not in love” with its iconic “Big boys don’t cry” spoken line. It resonated. And still does.


I’m not much of a crier. I’m more of the occasional leaker. I haven’t had the proverbial “good cry” since my mother’s death earlier this year. I did have one of those after my father died in 2012. But beyond that, I’m more of the person who wipes a tear away, often inspired by a moving performance of a song, than the person who sobs or needs a wad of tissues.

There are a whole bunch of social meanings caught up in the male ability or inability to cry, but it seems to me that ascribing too much meaning to your own experience of emotion is a dangerous path to go down. I don’t believe that a man who never cries is necessarily “cut off” from his emotions, and I don’t believe that a man who cries easily is necessarily “in touch” with them. I think it’s way more complex than that. And the best advice I can give you — like the best advice I give myself — is to acknowledge your emotions as they hit you and, when you can, allow yourself to experience them fully.
This weekend I was at an intimate concert by a band that I love, and the energy in their songs was so infectious it had me totally jazzed. Later that evening, a reminder of the loss of my mom had me almost instantly solemn and thoughtful. Be with whatever emotions you have, but don’t let those emotions control you.
And to give you a taste of the energizing music that I found on Sunday, here are Graydon James and the Young Novelists with “For What It’s Worth.”

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Guyside: Men, health, and denial.

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in emotions, Guyside, Inspiration, men, work, Work/occupation | 1 comment

I can’t believe I’m writing a post here inspired by Rob Ford. And yet, here I go.

This is not about Rob Ford’s politics, or about his consumption of various substances both licit and il. This is about male denial around health issues. The famous (notorious?) mayor of Toronto’s 2014 re-election campaign was derailed by the announcement that a tumour had been discovered in his abdomen on September 9. The tumour is, apparently, being analyzed in preparation for treatment at a Toronto hospital.

One of the things that leapt out at me from the first stories about this latest roller-coaster development in the Ford story was this quote from a story in the Toronto Star:

 Ford was complaining of “left, lower quadrant abdominal pain” for three months before the pain became “unbearable” Wednesday morning, Devlin said.

Since the initial tests on Ford, he’s also apparently had a lung biopsy, and an update on his health is expected later today (September 17, as I write this.)

Combine this with two other facts: one, that Ford’s father died in 2006 of colon cancer, and two, that Ford had a tumour on his appendix in 2009 that necessitated the removal of his appendix and part of his colon, and you have what appears to be the classic case of a man refusing to seek medical assistance. I’m no psychic, but I don’t have a good feeling about this.

In this, Ford is far from alone. A 2005 literature review in the Journal of Advanced Nursing showed that men are much less likely to seek medical help than women for disorders ranging from psychological disorders to physical disabilities. One UK study identified men’s refusal to seek help as the most important medical issue for men.  And another UK report points out that while men are considered “advantaged” in many areas (salaries, for example), our health outcomes are worse than women’s.

Whether it’s machismo, stoicism, putting work or other factors before health, or something else, too many men are ignoring symptoms, assuming they’ll go away, or simply lying to themselves about their health. And it’s costing people their lives. One of the saddest findings of the Men’s Health Forum report is that when men do present themselves for assistance, the disease in question is too often at a later, more serious stage. Another sad fact is that men are far less likely to seek assistance for psychological conditions like depression.

When I first saw blood in my urine in 2006, I did two things: told my partner and went to my clinic. My bladder cancer was discovered at an early stage, and I’ve been lucky enough to not require radiation, chemo, or catheterization from more severe forms of cancer. If I’d shrugged off that first sign, what might have happened?

For your own sake, and the sake of those who love you: go to your doctor, your nurse-practitioner, or whatever other health professional you ought to go to, especially when something unusual happens.

Creative Commons-licenced photo by Flickr user Alistair Gilfillan.

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Midlife mishap: blurring the boundaries between work and home

Posted by on Dec 7, 2012 in aging, work, Work/occupation | 3 comments

Telecommuting is the new black, right?

Not so fast.

Researchers say that while telecommuting (i.e. working regularly but not exclusively at home) has gained traction in the American workplace, the foothold remains elusive and the proportion of workers with flexible work options has been essentially flat over the past decade and a half. Additionally, the number of hours that workers actually telecommute on a weekly basis is less than one full day, a mere six hours. Although the reasons for this are numerous, it appears that managers remain reluctant to relinquish supervisory control, even though on average, telecommuters work harder and longer than their colleagues who are tied to their office chairs.

Do the math: Fewer telecommuting hours still equates to longer working hours.

What this brings to mind is the potential impact that telecommuting has on our lives outside of work, especially when work takes place at home? And how does this impact in turn, affect stress, which of course, has been linked to worsening of menopausal symptoms such as weight gain, hot flashes and depression?

I have been working at home for 20 years now, having started a business in 1992. While I am not a telecommuter, I am very aware of the black hole that one can fall into and how that has affected my ability to shut it down after a certain time of day. This ability has grown more difficult the more connected the world is and I find that I am consistently interrupted by clients during gym workouts, breaks, early morning coffee reentries and late day ratchet down.

Data demonstrate that my experience is often the norm and not the exception.

Let’s take a look at what the research shows. Analyzing trends from two national data sources — the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Panel and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Study — Sociology Professors Mary Noonen and Jennifer Glass from the University of Texas at Austin learned that while the number of weekly telecommuting hours is relatively modest (just 6 hours, per above), most of the 30% of respondents who work from home add at least five to seven hours to their work week. In fact, 50% to 67% of telecommuting hours reported in these surveys push work hours past the 40 hour workweek model and are essentially overtime work. Just think: if you feel that you are already pushed to the brim in the office and volley for work at home hours, you may actually be relocating hours but not eliminating them. Moreover, your employer may be raising his or her expectations not only of what you deliver but when, including evenings and weekends.

Study findings also show that there is a misconception that telecommuting is more prevalent among parents with dependent children. In fact, parents are not likelier than the general population to work from home; rather authority and status in the workplace appear to drive telecommuting hours.

The researchers note that “telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers and supervisors [thereby] potentially increasing the penetration of work tasks into home time.” A 2008 Pew Study supports this contention, demonstrating that the majority of ‘wired workers’ use technology to perform work tasks, even while sick or on vacation.

The perils run deep when the boundaries become blurry between work and home. Moreover, over wired means overload, and the ability to shut off our brains becomes increasingly difficult. Adrenal fatigue may set in, where after prolonged periods of cortisol production overdrive, the adrenal glands can no longer keep up with outside stressors and the body’s demand to handle stress and protect the immune system. In turn, the ability to handle life stressors declines.

Do blurred boundaries yield diminishing returns, midlife mishaps, a mishmash of expectations?

What do you think?



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Menopause, an occupational hazard?

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 in aging, women's health, work | 1 comment

Two years ago, I wrote about a UK-based study examining the challenges that women face while working through the transition. Among working women surveyed, a majority reported that the primary factors affecting their ability to function in their job were menopausal-related fatigue and insomnia. During an email exchange, the study’s author noted that “evidence suggests that some women do experience a lot of difficulty – largely tiredness – much of which can be resolved with sensible line management and flexible work. ” However, “as with any other long-term health condition, employees should feel empowered to discuss health conditions with their line manager/supervisor,  otherwise the latter are not in a position to help.” Not soon after, I wrote about a study examining how menopause affects occupational health specifically, with study findings showing that total work ability scores declined by almost a half a point for every one point on the total symptoms scale score.

Importantly, these results have finally been published and appear  in the March issue of Menopause. 

Let’s step back a moment.

If you are unfamiliar with the term “work ability,” it refers to a concept “built upon the balance between a person’s resources and her work demands” and can be used to “predict future impairment and duration of sickness absence.” Within the confines of this definition, it’s no surprise that by and large, women have higher raters of sickness absence than men; just look at the multitasker caretakers in your own circle of friends! Moreover, women that are in the age range most commonly associated with perimenopause and menopause, i.e. 44 to 60, also reportedly have the highest incidence of absence from work, begging the question, is menopause playing a role?

In case you missed the first post on this study, women were asked questions about individual and lifestyle factors that might influence work ability, e.g. BMI, physical activity, smoking status and education. Additionally, menopausal symptoms were measured and analyzed using a scientific scale, and a tool – the Work Ability Index – was employed to evaluate how well the 208 women participating in the study were able to currently perform work. The latter tool focused on work ability compared to best of a lifetime or current demands, impairment due to illness, how often they took sick days over a year’s time and what life was like in general, both at work and at home.

Overall, menopausal symptoms were negatively associated with work ability, in particular, physical symptoms (body aches, joint pain, numbness, feeling dizzy/faint),  psychological effects (irritability, feeling blue, anxiety, depression) and education level.  Moreover, both physical and psychological symptoms accounted for as much as 36.5% of the different results in work ability among women. Yet, vasomotor symptoms — hot flashes and night sweats — appeared to have little influence on the ability to work, most likely because in this particular set of women, vasomotor symptoms were reported as existing but not (yet) bothersome.

What was lacking in this particular assessment were women who worked outside health and social service industries, who might be engaged in jobs that are less strenuous and physically challenging. Indeed, even in the earlier study, the women were mostly civil servants, i.e. police officers. The researchers note that the group of women they followed may have also had easier access to self help and lifestyle interventions because of their occupational backgrounds, which could have also influenced outcomes. Still, it seems that on some level, symptoms influence work ability and contribute to absence from work. More troubling is the fact that it is well known that women who work appear to have better menopause quality of life.

In essence, we define ourselves, at least in part, by our work. And when we suffer, our work suffers. How do we bridge the gap between work, life and demands of the transition if those demands impact our quality of life in ways that we might not have previously considered? I don’t have any answers.  Do you?


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Health, wellbeing and social support. Give to the Max is setting a new revolution in motion…

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 in aging, Inspiration, women's health, work | 0 comments

I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about health and wellbeing and how the foundation for the two starts (and ends) with social support. Indeed, research has shown that women’s innate ability to nurture and nourish ties, coupled with overall satisfaction with work significantly predicts wellbeing especially during midlife and over the menopausal transition. It may even affect how long we live. Nowhere is this more important than in the communities where we reside because as much as many of us complain about how busy we are, there is a deep, soul stroking satisfaction in being able to help one another.

That is why it saddens me when I witness women building one another up in the community only to tear one another down in the workplace.

A line from a wonderful article that appeared in the New York Times in 2009 acknowledged certain stereotypes continue to perpetuate bad behavior. And, that as Author Peggy Klaus so aptly wrote, “the pink elephant is lurking in the room and we pretend it’s not there.”

Klaus’ point was that rather than help build each other’s careers, women often work to derail each other, engaging in “verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority and destroying of relationships.” She cited data suggesting that this type of behavior is directed from women to women more than 70% of the time, while the men who are “bullies in the workplace,” direct their aggression equally to both genders.

She encouraged us however, not to determine the why but rather, engage one another to put an end to this type of behavior.

Here’s an idea. Let’s start by supporting and building more power, self sufficiency and emotional equity from within businesses and from the top down. In other words, why not make an effort to support female-owned/founded businesses in our communities, especially those businesses that are working to eliminate inequities and promote the very qualities that improve health and wellbeing?

I recently learned that there are several female-founded nonprofit organizations  in the region where I personally live that truly embody these principles:

  • Suited for Change  Founded in 1992, Suited for Change provides professional clothing, career and life skills education to low-income women in order to increase employment and job retention potential. Their clientele include homeless women, survivors of domestic violence, teen mothers, senior citizens, returning citizens, and women who have overcome addiction.
  • Back on my Feet DC is an organization that promotes self sufficiency of homeless women (and men) — not through provision of shelter and food — but through physical activity, i.e. a running program to build confidence strength and self esteem, and teach the value of hard work, equality, respect, teamwork and leadership.

These nonprofits are only two examples of female-founded organizations that work to build self efficiency from the ground up and the top down, helping thousands of  individuals learn the value of self assurance. mutual respect and support. I can only imagine what hundreds of other organizations are likewise doing to break down barriers and build wellbeing.

Want to help me find out?

If  you know a local nonprofit that could use some extra support. then you need to know about  Give to the Max. And if you are ready to engage other women to learn how we can consistently build one another up, then you will want to know about Give to the Max.

On November 9, thousands of organizations and residents in the region are uniting to take part in Give to the Max Day, a one-day regional online fundraiser to support local nonprofit programs. Give to the Max provides DC, Maryland and Virginia 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organizations visibility and even a lasting web presence to conduct ongoing fundraising initiatives after November 9.  Most importantly, however, it’s a fantastic way for the community to give back and to support one of the region’s most important economic drivers at a time when the economy is taking a toll on charitable giving and simultatneously creating overwhelming demands for social services. For women, in particular, it’s a great start to breaking down the barriers that are destroying us in the workplace and finding ways to improve how we treat one another and why.

However, this day is not simply about women and women-owned nonprofits; an ‘Eight Neighbors Group’ alliance of the area’s leading nonprofit and civic organizations (Center for Nonprofit Advancement, Greater Washington Board of Trade, Leadership Greater Washington, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington and the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers) have joined forces with the online fundraiser Razoo, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and the United Way of the National Capital Area to insure that nonprofits have an opportunity to raise thousands of dollars in donations and grants on a single day.

But why should you care if you don’t  live in the DC/MD/VA region?

Give to the Max is just a start, an incentive for other other regions around the country to take back the health of their communities and leverage the individual for the collective wellbeing. As women, we have an opportunity to engage one another to end destructive behavior — not only in the workplace, but where we live.

Health and wellbeing start from where we all dwell; the heart. Let’s Give to the Max on November 9 and set a new revolution in motion.
















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Reaching the Gentler Sex: Why Marketing to Women Requires a Holistic Approach. A guest post by Andrea Learned

Posted by on Aug 3, 2009 in emotions, work | 4 comments


I’ve written a few posts on the value of connections and the unique relationships that women have with one another, and with the world at-large. Not only do these connections provide a sense of security and enrich our emotional, psychological and physical fabrics, but they can teach us a lot about how we relate to others and how others relate to us as women.

Midlife is a time when many changes occur, particularly on the career front. You may find yourself reevaluating what you are doing, or better yet, how. I think that Andrea Learned has an interesting perspective on how women relate to the products they buy, because it says a lot about how we relate to ourselves and each other: holistically.

So, when I saw this post on Andrea’s Site, Learned on Women, I asked if she might do me the honours of reframing it for Flashfree. It’s a terrific, informative piece, whether you are interested in marketing or not.

Enjoy!!! And show Andrea some love!

Part of what makes women seem so complicated, from the marketing perspective, is the fact that their purchase decision-making paths can be a bit winding. For most women, there is more to a decision than bullet points listing product features on the side of a package.  They take it all in — from the causes a brand supports, to the friendliness of a retailer’s employees, to knowing that a brand actually does interact with women like them (and so has much better ideas how to serve them).

Women certainly consider the usual suspects of linear product facts: like price and quality.  However, their buying curves give them even more to ponder. They may have checked off everything on their list, be close to a decision, and then hear that your company sponsored the run they participated in last weekend. Boom! She’s sold. Or a woman may be 99 percent decided or buying from a retailer, have a short conversation with a sales team member who was a little too hard-sell — and, boom, the deal is off.

The key to understanding how to reach women buyers is understanding how they think.  And, it is in a very holistic – take it all in – manner.

Not surprisingly, a woman’s more typically holistic buying characteristics are founded in the extra-connectedness of her brain. In fact, in comparison to a man’s brain, a woman’s brain typically has more connecting fibers between cells and a larger connecting tissue (corpus collusum) between right and left hemispheres. (Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, is a great resource for more brain science information.)

Noted socio-anthropologist Helen Fisher wrote in her book The First Sex: “As women make decisions, they weigh more variables, consider more options and outcomes, recall more points of view, and see more ways to proceed.” Fisher refers to women’s tendency to think in terms of interrelated factors (as opposed to men’s tendency to think more in a straight line or in steps) as “web thinking.”

As a result of web thinking, she says, women have easier access to both sides of the brain in any given decision, and are better able to integrate the emotional (is this company doing well by their employees and the environment?) with the rational (price, features, quality of product).

In Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, the author points out that “the left hemisphere handles what is said; the right hemisphere focuses on how it’s said.” Women can tap right hemisphere concerns (nonverbal, usually more emotional) much more easily, on average, then men.

In fact, as Face Time author Dan Hill found, emotions may play a larger role in the way women think about everything. This is worth noting, as he also mentions that emotion seems to drive reason more than reason drives emotion.


Given this perhaps more right-brained, emotionally-driven thinking, the curved path of a woman’s buying decision-making process makes a lot of sense.  In today’s tough economic and environmental situation – this more holistic perspective comes in very handy.   How and what anyone buys needs to be more deliberate.  And, what I see happening now in terms of consumer behavior is that men are starting to learn these “women’s” ways and use the finer points of such decision-making themselves.

What’s that phrase?  It’s all good.


The above was excerpted/edited a bit from Andrea’s original piece for a building industry publication.  You can see that full article here:

If you are a twitter fan, you can stay easily updated on Andrea’s thoughts/ideas/blog posts by following: @AndreaLearned.

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