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When something boosts your mood, your brain releases neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Studies have shown the simple act of smiling can release some of those chemicals — and the feeling is contagious. Smile to a room full of coworkers, for example, and others will likely do the same.
That’s an easy way to help create a happier workplace. But it’s not the only factor involved in building a fulfilling career. So what are the rest?
That’s one question Arizona State University alumna Melanie Katzman addresses in her new book, “Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work.”
As a graduate student at The College, her trailblazing research into bulimia was one of the first studies to focus on the topic and led to the first treatment manual for professionals.
She went on to build a clinical psychology practice of her own, and her passion for research also led her down another path as a consultant on workplace diversity and women in leadership. She founded Katzman Consulting in 1999 and has since worked with some of the largest companies and government institutions in the world.
Katzman recently came back to ASU to talk with psychology students about that journey. Now she says her book, to be released Oct. 22 by McGraw-Hill, is the coalescence of her multifaceted career.
“I've had the unusual position of being a psychologist seeing people individually in my clinical practice, and often on the same day going across town to see people in their offices as a consultant,” she said. “The book is really a combination of my experience and insights operating in these two very different spheres — I really wanted to decode and help people understand what makes themselves and others tick at work.”
We caught up with Katzman to hear more about the psychology of satisfaction in the workplace and how her experience informed the book.
Question: You have spent 30 years juggling psychology, research and consultancy roles. How did this unique combination lead to your writing about the workplace in this way?
Answer: I’ve spent a lot of time both working with individuals as a psychologist and working in offices with groups of employees and leaders as a consultant. One of the things that struck me is that people in my clinical office would talk about feeling devalued, unmotivated and detached at work. Then as a consultant, I’d hear the same kinds of things from people trying to manage and lead their organizations.
I realized that the people who are concerned about not getting what they want out of work are often the same people who are in positions that could actually make a difference about how people feel about work. People weren’t realizing that there are often very simple things that can make a huge difference in their lives. I wanted this book to serve as a tool kit for how to do the right thing for yourself and others around you.
Q: Dual careers in workplace consulting and clinical psychology might not seem like the most natural combination to some people. How did you end up becoming involved in both tracks?
A: From the very earliest stage of my work as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I was in an experimental psychology lab looking at how control and predictability affected rat subjects. It was within that context that I realized that there was a problem called binge eating disorder and bulimia, and they weren’t in the diagnostic and statistical manual. I came to ASU to continue studying that illness and was part of the first group of researchers to document that bulimia existed. I was part of a field that was being created at the same time as the science was being discovered. So from a very early stage in my career, I was in an entrepreneurial space.
That research led me to look further into women’s roles in society and the pressures they face. Then I began working overseas as a researcher focused on changing gender roles and stress, which led me into a space where I became a diversity and female leadership consultant for corporations.
Q: Fast-forward 30 years — how would you say the work you began as an undergraduate morphed into advising someone trying to figure out how to be happy in the workplace?
A: Years ago, I observed the occurrence of binge eating in the rat lab as a result of the animals being stressed about their lack of control. This book was meant to address that sense of not being in control for people in the workplace. So in that sense, there's a direct correlation to my years in the rat lab and the book you see now.
There are many different books written about work culture and how to influence it, but most tend to be written for the manager or the company CEO.
I wrote this book as a testament to the idea that people can regain agency over their own work experiences by changing simple things about the way they address relationships every day. All of the points I make are grounded in 30 years of academic research and clinical experience. And they apply to you whether you're at the low end of the workplace power continuum, or sitting in the corner office.
Q: You describe this book as a tactical resource outlining clear and actionable steps in 52 digestible chapters. What is the most important thing you hope readers can take away?
A: This is really a book that takes small behaviors and builds on them to give you a guide on how to create meaning and purpose for yourself and others at work.
I think some people look at it and think it’s just about smiling more and saying please and thank you. Those are the basics we start with, but they lay the foundation upon which the latter stages of the book are built. By the end, you are learning how to clear conflict and channel your own fear about the future to impact the greater good.
The most important message to me is that everybody, no matter what position they hold in an organization, can play a role in creating meaning and joy, while also contributing to the success of the organization itself. It doesn't matter where you sit or the job title, we all have the power and the responsibility to make a difference, and you can achieve tremendous impact through the intentional use of small things. Simply put, connecting first at the human level doesn't cost anything and doesn't take a lot of time, but leads to more success and greater happiness.
Video by the ASU Department of Psychology
Find more information about Katzman and her forthcoming book here. Robert Ewing contributed to this story.